Phase Four

Mixing it up with the Writer Gal Letters are short stories that I experiment with, for form, for storytelling, for exploring the darkest, most heinous side of human nature. And, because my MA lit prof once told me I could never write a short story.

Phase Four is part six of a short titled ‘Remorseless Beauty.’ I hope you enjoy it.

Short Story (7)

 

“Oh my god. OH MY GOD,” I shook my head in negation as Nurse Theresa explained that Ginger had been let go.

Because well, the common term was, she’d snapped. Right at her sick, beaten daughter’s bedside. She’d started screaming and had to be finally sedated. Which is where she was right now.

Sedated. In her own little room in the psych ward, where she was on suicide watch. It was so pathetic and sad. And who’d have thought something like that was hiding beneath Ginger’s exterior.

Nobody mentioned the nightly visits that Ned the Janitor was paying her. Nobody mentioned anything. It was too horrible. Too grotesque.

Like somebody’s nightmare had come true.

Delilah Appleton died three days after she was hospitalized from severe internal bleeding, multiple injuries and blunt head trauma that couldn’t be detected because she never regained consciousness.

Ginger Appleton had been restrained in a psych room until further evaluation.

After about six weeks, I went in to look at my favorite nurse. She was behind a locked door. A holding cell. Dressed in hospital greens, looking as lifeless as a corpse could look. Her eyes were wild with terror and grief. And something resembling hatred.

I looked at her, and sighed a little.

I have always been aware of my own power. The best and the worst in me. And I have always strived to do better than both. It’s not nature, it is compulsion. It’s what I was born with.

The most destructive of my tendencies, the most perfect of my behaviors, I have embraced them both and made apologies for neither. It’s not an admirable trait, but I don’t want to be admired.

To be figured out, to be understood is just one layer of how we operate. And I like my level better. The capability, the power of illusion, of being able to manipulate destinies is so much more. Ginger and her daughter were the rabbits in my hat.

Breaking her, in the end, had been so easy.

And I went out with Trev on one side of my wheelchair. And my parents on the other. My time in the hospital had been well-spent. And as I locked that picture of Ginger’s snapped eyes in my head for all time to come, I whispered to myself.

Phase Four, check.

I drove away from the hospital with my family close beside me. It seemed, after all, that I could do anything I wanted. To ruin someone, to manipulate their destiny, to be able to commit monstrous acts without a qualm or remorse, what kind of person would do that?

What reasons would there be for doing something like that?

I gave you mine.

I wonder, though, sometimes, is it enough?

FIN

 

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Tainted

Mixing it up with the Writer Gal Letters are short stories that I experiment with, for form, for storytelling, for exploring the darkest, most heinous side of human nature. And, because my MA lit prof once told me I could never write a short story.

Tainted is part five of a short titled ‘Remorseless Beauty.’ I hope you enjoy it.

 

Short Story (8).png

Three hours later, I sat in a state of shock while Principal Stevens explained things. Things like an internet profile, abuse of school property and gang rape echoed in my aching head. And I didn’t really understand anything. I couldn’t understand anything at all.

“Mrs. Appleton, do you understand what I am saying?”

I said nothing. Words like expulsion and lawsuits were ringing in my ears. And I still couldn’t comprehend anything. My cell phone, the one I had finally switched off in desperation, was an accusation as it sat on the oak table of the Principal’s office.

I heard THE VOICE in my head. It was all I could hear.

The principal shoved a monitor to my face. Just to get me to focus. And there it was. My picture and my profile. Nude. Bare. Laid for all to see.

Tainted. Wrong. WRONG.

The scream rose in my head again. The Principal clicked a button and Del’s beautiful face filled the screen. And the five words that were in screaming bold letters, they filled the rest of the page. I shook her head. How could this have happened? Who would do something like this to my baby girl? Who would be so monstrous?

“I’m sorry,” I said dully, for lack of anything else to say.

“Mrs. Appleton, I am sure you appreciate the gravity of the situation. You do, don’t you? You can understand why Delilah can no longer study here and I know, I know it’s a hard time for you now. But we at Hemery have enough problems and enough statistics to deal with. Delilah invited this trouble on herself and we can’t help her anymore. With her substance abuse and everything else…” Principal Stevens trailed off.

“Del, where is she?” I whispered.

“In the Trauma ward of Hemery General. I am so sorry, Mrs. Appleton. I wish–” The Principal shrugged. What could he say, exactly?

I nodded, even though the pounding in my head increased unbearably. “Someone can take you there, Mrs. Appleton. Although I think, Social Services is getting involved. Someone’s there right now, taking your daughter’s statement, if I am not wrong.” He added almost as an apology. An afterthought

I barely heard him.

Where did I go wrong? How could I face my baby now? The tears started again. I broke down. It was embarrassing and no one seemed to want to stop me. To give me comfort. The curse of a world that had seen it all. That could only condemn and judge.

I wanted to tell them, I DIDN’T DO IT. I am not that woman. I AM NOT! You know me. I am part of your school’s Booster Club. But who would believe her? There were phone calls. Emails. There was legitimacy to everything. And who would believe a Scarlett woman? So I didn’t protest. What was the point? And now my baby, my little girl, the tears came down in full force.

What had they done to her!

Monsters.

Vicious monsters. MY GOD…where was the justice in all of this?  Where was God when you needed him? Why didn’t he come to help my fourteen-year-old daughter?

####

Ginger walked in a daze to the bed of her traumatized daughter. She looked so pale, so lifeless, breathing through tubes. The nurse she was, the mother she had been cried out at the small form that lay on the bed. And there was a dark-dressed woman who was looking at her curiously. Distastefully.

That lady from Social Services.

Statistic. They were just another statistic.

Like the lives of Grace and Delilah Appleton had been reduced to two profiles on the most popular pornographic site and whatever judgments the authorities could make from then on. The School. Social Services. Every person with a penis who had access to the internet. The Hospital Board which would soon get to her. Now that everyone knew her big secret. The courts, if the school was anything to go by, would come after her too.

Prison…..Ginger started hyperventilating as spiraling images of disaster started hitting her, one after the other. All of them more horrific than the next. What was she going to do? WHAT WAS SHE GOING TO DO?

Ginger screamed then. As if she couldn’t stop screaming …

Eyes wild with unseen terror. Face tearing up in pain and agony and anger. Her body collapsing under the terrible strain it was under. And all the while her daughter, victim of a vicious gang rape lay in her semi-conscious state and breathed through tubes while a monitor beeped for her. The lady from Social Services asked for help and figured this one was a lost cause before anything could even be implied.

She thought as to what she could put in her report and not condemn the daughter to prison…

To Be Continued…

Ginger Snaps

Mixing it up with the Writer Gal Letters are short stories that I experiment with, for form, for storytelling, for exploring the darkest, most heinous side of human nature. And, because my MA lit prof once told me I could never write a short story.

Ginger Snaps is part four of a short titled ‘Remorseless Beauty.’ I hope you enjoy it.

Short Story (5)

I walk into work in a daze. Everything inside me is hurting. And it is all I can do to keep from screaming. My cell buzzed again, and my hands shake as I disconnect it. The number was from Del’s school. I frown. What happened to my baby girl? The school couldn’t have gotten wind of this…I try and keep it together, blink back tears. The last two days have been a nightmare.

I take a deep breath, round a private corner in the Nurses’ station, and punched in the green button for last call. Waited for the ringtone to sound in her ear and for the operator to pick up the call. “This is Ginger Appleton calling for Delilah Appleton. It’s her school and I got a call a second ago. Sorry, I disconnected the call before I could answer it.”

“Ms. Appleton, it is best if you come down to school immediately. Very advisable. Principal Stevens would like to speak with you on an urgent matter.” The receptionist instructed in a distant voice and I could hear her disdain and disapproval through the phone. I almost had a heart attack then and there, as I think of what could have happened.

My darling baby girl! If somehow the school found out about that porno site and they considered themselves to be Puritanical, they’d never let Del in again! Puritanical. Where is my DAMN NOTEPAD!!

I pushed the door to my favorite patient closed but not before the girl called out, “Hey, Ginger. What’s up? No word of the day. Something wrong?”

And I was tempted, very tempted to confide in the sweet girl who lay on that bed and soldiered on despite whatever hand life had dealt her. But the girl wouldn’t understand. MY god, I couldn’t understand. A prostitute…a prostitute…someone had taken all her information and turned me into a high class hooker!

And all my dreams for my daughter, a nice home in the burbs, a nifty computer and her job giving her full satisfaction. Her daughter going off to college and returning every holiday with more outrageous stories to tell…

I couldn’t stop the cry that tore out of me. The sobs that took over. I sank to the floor of the room which held  my favorite patient and leaning against the back of the door, cried like I couldn’t stop. And of course, I couldn’t. The girl was looking at me in alarm.

“What’s the matter, Ginger? Is everything alright?” She asked tentatively, while she held out one POP cast-hand stiffly. The gesture paining her. I shook my head and stood up. Tears streaming down my face. I know my nose is red and my mascara is streaking down my cheeks. I also know I have to get my act together before I go in to see Principal Stevens. I have no answer to give the girl.

My cell phone rang as I walked out of the patient’s room and into the ladies’. I repair my makeup as best as I can. Splash cold water on my face, drying it off and feeling the texture of everything that touched me. Everything that tainted me. I am an honest, God-fearing woman. I go to church, paid my taxes and kept my mouth shut when life kept on dealing lemons.

How much more was a soul supposed to endure?

I picked it up this time. And trembled, actually trembled when I heard the sweaty, smarmy voice on the line. “Hi, sweetheart. Hot Mama. I am waiting for you. Ever since I saw you I’ve been waiting for you. With the whip and my hard, hard cock and the get-up and…”

“Stop it. STOP IT. Please,” I whispered as she made the sign of the cross to ward off evil. Like it would stop the monster spouting vicious things.

“Oh, you’ll beg me. You’ll beg me to stop, won’t you? Isnt that what you like best? Playing hard to get? Delaying, denying, pretending you DON’T WANT IT.” The voice breathed and I shake so hard I am surprised I haven’t toppled over.

“Go away. In the name of God, GO AWAY.” I scream now. The voice laughed as he fed on my terror. I wished I hadn’t picked up the call. It was terrifying in a way nothing was. Not the ex leaving me, not giving birth in an alley or raising a daughter on my own. Not even watching my child destroy herself was scaring me like this VOICE did.

“I’ll find you, Hot Mama. Because you want me to, Hot Mama. I’ll find you.”

I straighten my trembling shoulders and walk back to the Nurses’ station. Theresa and Todd were there, as was Ned the Janitor. They were all looking at a computer screen and I was suddenly afraid to approach them.

What were they looking at with such intensity?

“Guys.” Theresa startled, looked at me with a guilty smile. Todd was a little slower to glance at me. In fact, he couldn’t meet my eyes at all, staring over my left shoulder. And Ned, I suppressed a shudder as I saw the way Ned was checking me out. Like he was the VOICE.

Like he was saying all those terrible, terrible things. Like he enjoyed things like that.

“I have to go, now. Del’s school called. Some sort of emergency. I gotta go. Cover for me?” I asked Theresa, already grabbing my stuff.

Theresa looked back at the screen and nodded. Just nodded.

I ran out without a backward glance.

To Be Continued…

Three Phases

Mixing it up with the Writer Gal Letters are short stories that I experiment with, for form, for storytelling, for exploring the darkest, most heinous side of human nature. And, because my MA lit prof once told me I could never write a short story.

Three Phases is part three of a short titled ‘Remorseless Beauty.’ I hope you enjoy it.

Short Story (4)

 

The Sweet Girl

Mixing it up with the Writer Gal Letters are short stories that I experiment with, for form, for storytelling, for exploring the darkest, most heinous side of human nature. And, because my MA lit prof once told me I could never write a short story.

The Sweet Girl is part two of a short titled ‘Remorseless Beauty.’ I hope you enjoy it.

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She was a sweet girl, that one.

Never complaining every time, someone came to prod her or poke her. Took her meds on time and didn’t have a hissy fit like some seventeen-year-olds I’ve seen in my time. It was nice to know that there were some children who still understood the good values their parents had instilled in them. Ooh, instilled. That was for the crossword. I wrote it down in my special notepad, where I stored such words for future use.

My own special dictionary, I pat it affectionately I slipped it back into my pocket. I straightened my sweater, and swallowing the last bit of coffee I allowed myself on the six-hour long shift. I left my desk at the nurses’ station. Time to check on my favorite patient of the day.

“How are you, sweetheart?” I read the patient’s chart and checked her vitals on the monitor that beeped continuously.

The patient smiled. “Am feeling better. Less doped up. Miss the morphine, through. My hair hurts like crazy, and I look a complete mess, I am sure.”

I felt very maternal towards this small slip of a girl. Poor thing, to be stuck like this. For weeks on end, it wasn’t fair. Thank god, at least the poor girl had survived her terrible ordeal.

“You want me to wash it for you? I could do that, if you like.” I offer instantly, adjusting the sheets on the girl’s bed. Her mother was working this week too.

“Would you? I’d be soooo grateful.” The girl smiled some more through the cannula stuck to her nose. Such a sweet and innocent girl. Would have been a shame if she had died.

“Oh, sweetheart. No need to be grateful and all that. It’s my duty to keep you nice and comfortable. No trouble at all.” I fussed with the pillows until they were just so and then stood back and watched the whole effect. Oh yes, the girl was comfortable enough.

“Now how’s that boyfriend of yours treating you? He doesn’t overtax you, does he? Physical rehab at this stage is so important. You be sure to tell him that.” I removed my pad and added Overtax to the page.

“Noah’s a sweetheart, don’t worry. Anywho, you’ve been amazing to me, Ginger. I swear I’d go nuts here if it wasn’t for you. So I did something for you. Get me my laptop, will you?”

The girl grinned with such promise that I did not have the heart to deny her. Although, the doctors had forbidden her to use the computer for long stretches of time, but what was a soul to do? People did not read books like they used to, and there was only so much sleep a body could take without slipping into a coma.

Sharp smart girl like her needed to use that brain of hers, I reasoned, as I dragged the lightweight laptop from its hiding place in her medicine cabinet. Since no one else administered her meds, our secret was safe. Placing it on the bed, I closed the door to make sure no one would interrupt our secret time, and then went back to her little pad of words.

Someday, when I saved up enough money, and my daughter was in college, I would buy myself one of these nifty machines and solve as many crosswords as I wanted to.

The laptop powered and my patient quickly tapped in a few keys. Turned the screen around to face me. I gasped.

It was me! In some very fancy clothes, but it was my face, certainly. And there was my Delilah, my fourteen-year-old daughter, next to me. It was Delilah’s prom picture, airbrushed to perfection. The prom my baby could not attend because we didn’t have the money for the dress. I am dazzled. “How did you..”

“You remember that picture of yours and Del’s that I asked for. Well, now, you have a better picture to hang in its place. And a great memory to go with. I hope you like it.”

I blink back tears. How like a mom! “Thank you. Thank you so much for this gift, baby girl,” I whisper. The girl tapped a few more keys and a CD slid out from the drive.

“Here.” She handed me the CD. “Drop this off at Kinko’s and you’ll have a sweet print. You can even blow it up to poster size if you want to.”

“Oh, dear, sweet girl,” Ginger whispered fervently. Only the girl knew how much trouble Delilah was in. With the drugs and the boyfriends and the…I suppress a shudder. Doubly grateful I know of at least one seventeen-year-old girl who was not into drugs and inappropriate boys. I squeezed the girl’s shoulder and taking the CD, wiped one hand over my eyes as I walked out.

Now if only Delilah would learn some sense from this one here…

To Be Continued…

The Red Crayon

Mixing it up with the Writer Gal Letters are short stories that I experiment with, for form, for storytelling, for exploring the darkest, most heinous side of human nature. And, because my MA lit prof once told me I could never write a short story.

The Red Crayon is part one of a short titled ‘Remorseless Beauty.’ I hope you enjoy it.

Short Story.png

Proper destruction requires careful planning. But it was going to be fun. Careful planning always was. Ultimately, it all comes down to creating the perfect lie. The perfect illusion of truth. A truth constructed like a hall of mirrors so that you entered a naïve little innocent looking for a fun ride, and by the time you came out, you were unrecognizable.

It’s why I do what I do. Sure, I enjoyed the game. And it was about seeing how well I played, how many moves I could make before somebody caught on. But…like a magic trick, I made the rabbit appear out of the hat. And everyone just saw the rabbit. No one saw the hat.

People don’t really want the truth. They prefer the lie.

You see, in truth, it was about getting away with it. And what you can do. Proper destruction meant stretching the limits, ripping the fabrics of reality and creating the most believable illusion.

Why do I do it? I ask you, dear reader, Why not?

#####

It started when I was four.

I had broken a crayon in the kindergarten class mom sent me to because she couldn’t stay home and take care of me. I had friends, I was friendly and curious just like the others in my class. Belinda, Melissa, Georgia, Aaron, Nikhil, Harun.

I had no motive to do it. Everybody liked me. My teacher adored me. They thought I was sweet and nice and I had a beautiful smile. I suppose, I still am. It’s nice to be thought of that way. Knowing what I have inside of me, knowing what I am capable of…damn, now I am getting ahead of myself.

So, anyway, I was four. The red crayon broken. Done that on purpose. And the girl sitting next to me, coloring inside the lines of her blue unicorn looked at me and smiled.

“It’s alright,” she said. Then she handed me her red crayon. “You can use mine.”

I smiled. Broke hers too. She started crying. The teacher, Mrs. Gupta, came over to see what the fuss was about. And the girl said, I broke her crayon. And then I did it. I said those words that gave me a taste of what I could do. I smiled my beautiful smile, and spoke, in a really wobbly voice.

But she did it first.

She broke my crayon, so I broke hers back. And I started crying too. Wailing actually. Tears are so easy. Tears of joy, tears of sorrow, tears of rage and frustration. Tears you cry when your stomach hurts so bad you want to rip it off. Tears of pain because you can’t live with the things that are inside of you.

That day, I cried, because it was needed. Boy, did I kick up a fuss. And, of course, the teacher never punished me. Or her. The girl never spoke to me again. I think, she was the only one, the only person who saw me for what I truly was. The perfect mirror.

A red crayon-holding girl, who was coloring a blue unicorn who didn’t want to be my friend, because I lied. I had lied so well. So convincingly. She was half right. I did it for all those reasons. And one more.

Because I couldn’t help myself.

I don’t want to bore you withthe details of who I really am. About what inner monologues go on inside of me. Suffice it to say, the day I broke the red crayon, twice, I knew. What I was capable of. What I could get away with it.

Everything. Anything.

Hearts and morality don’t bother me. Neither do right and wrong. I believe in the absolute sole value of my life based on one single rule. Why not?

It’s incredibly selfish and incredibly simple. I am not talking about ethical follies like murder, robbery, and all that pathetic anti-social crap that criminals go through to justify their behavior. I am not talking about psychiatric crap like being the best that you can be, although it rates way up there. I am not talking addiction or lying or adultery. Or any of the other million vices that we are capable of.

I am talking about things that are beyond being a pathological liar or a sociopath. You could classify me as both. It doesn’t matter. I am who I am. I don’t love misery. I have not had a rotten childhood. I like being happy, and I like people.

Sociopaths manipulate people because they don’t like the state of equilibrium the others exist in. The state of balance that they themselves can’t have because of whatever motivations have set them on their retarded path.

I don’t want people to suffer because I take vicious, voyeuristic pleasure in their pain. Not a psychopath either, for the very same reasons.

You’ll be thinking now. Okay! Big deal! She broke a crayon. My mom’s favorite perfume bottle. A fucking video game. A boy’s heart. I did all of that.

I even broke my car, wrapping it around a tree because I was too drunk to see where I was going. And of course, I wanted to see what would happen to me if I drove the car into a tree. Why not? The car got totaled, I ended up in the hospital. And I was grounded.

I got away with it, though.

And there, when I lay in bed for about two months. I figured out several things. I wanted to go to college. And become whoever made me the happiest. I wanted a gorgeous job, a pricey apartment with a view, a generous credit allowance and a man who adored me.

The time I spent in the hospital, I also realized I was deeply bored. Single linear trajectory towards a single linear goal. So, because it was no fun sitting there, plotting my own future, I decided to do something else. An experiment, if you will.

The nurse’s name was Ginger. She was sweet, a little fat, very motherly towards me and very understanding about the sneaky visits that my boyfriend Noah used to make every night. Or, almost every night, once the cast was off. Now, he made me happy. And I love him. We are engaged now.

So why did I do it? Why did I manipulate Ginger, the sweet and understanding nurse to take her own life? Well, you can actually see it. For yourself.

To Be Continued…

Writer Gal Letter #5

Let’s Talk About Alpha Assholes And How Miss Sloane Is The Ultimate Alpha Asshole

Let’s Talk About is a series of blog posts where Writer Gal gives her (unsolicited) take on pop culture – aka books, TV series, and movies – that she shamelessly binge watches in the name of ‘research.’ SPOILERS GALORE!!!

misssloane

In December 2017, I wrote an entire book watching John Madden’s Miss Sloane in parts.

I’d seen Miss Sloane before and was blown away by the music (thank you Max Richter) and the fact that this movie was written for a woman. A woman who controlled everything and everyone from the first scene to the very last.

The bare bones of the story are thus – Washington’s most famous and most powerful lobbyist takes on the gun lobby (fun fact, the second-richest lobby in the United States of America closely followed by Tobacco and Pharma) and, in the process, gets decimated for daring to do so. The story is told in non-linear narrative form and I actually contemplated writing it down for the pure pleasure framing it would give me.

As a romance writer and a feminist, this movie should have been abhorrent to me. In a pivotal scene (fuck, all scenes are, TBH), Madeline Elizabeth Sloane says super casually, “Gender doesn’t interest me.” She doesn’t consider herself to be pro-women or a feminist and is very upfront about it.

Yet, this movie spoke to me. To the heart of me. To the brain I possess that never stops asking why.

I sincerely believe that watching this movie turned Crossing Lines, the second book in GEEKS OF CALTECH, into the strongest, most coherent, best possible version of a love story I could write in 2017 and beyond.

Miss Sloane is a study in a feminine portrayal of a character that has hitherto been the bastion of males. She is an Alpha Asshole.

The Alpha Asshole

She is contemptuous of traditional heteronormative roles and relationships eschewing them for the simple transaction of hiring a male prostitute for sex. Food is just a need that needs to be fulfilled. “It’s like going to the toilet.” Nothing more. Nothing less.

She is shamelessly egotistical and uses handshakes to drive home a point as much as she uses her manically sharp laughter. Her lipstick is red, blood red, and she applies it with the same precision as a general pinning medals on his chest. And with the same casual dismissiveness – the symbolism of the act is more important than the act itself.

Sloane uses people, ruthlessly and with full knowledge of exactly what she is doing and why she is doing it.

She is the personification of the unreliable narrator – by being completely and convincingly reliable.

Sloane doesn’t form friendships and when she is defending herself at a Senate Ethics Committee hearing, you see exactly what she wants you to see. A granite wall.

When she breaks down, over a puerile quip about the Asian Republic of Indonesia, the viewer witnesses the decline of a woman who has so far held it together through nerves, balls of steels and pharmaceutical dependency. She yells. She screams. She is articulate in both. And she is aware, every single second, of what she is doing.

The breakdown of a powerful, arrogant figure, be it in politics, sports, entertainment, is always met with a kind of voyeurism that is not surpassed in human history. People love watching people fail. This generalization is probably as pedantic and judgmental as ‘History is written by the winners’ but it is factual. International espionage has been largely successful because it was set up to ensure governments, industrial and defense military complexes failed.

Failure. Is. Interesting.

Failure allows people to rise above every single prejudice and perception that society has conferred upon them and be more. Or less. That makes it interesting.

It’s exactly why Miss Sloane works.

Breaking Down The Powerful

The breakdown of a woman who takes on the NRA single-handedly and spearheads a lobbying campaign that is one step ahead of their opponents is a thing of absolute, precise beauty.

It shows itself in the way she throws everything, including her beloved Blackberry off a conference room table and takes sobbing, trembling breaths that take a long time to control. It manifests in the way she leaks tears (leaks not cries) while kissing the escort she’s hired for human interaction for the night and then realizes she’s made herself too vulnerable.

Her breakdown is never more magnificent as when she wears her dark red lipstick one last time and brings down the ceiling of Capitol Hill and the Senate Ethics Committee crashing down on her head.

Miss Sloane is a perfectly told story. It revolves around a central character who is beautiful, dark, avenging, vengeful, perfect, broken, brittle, powerful, smart, and sly. All the characteristics that make her an Alpha Asshole.

She wants, she takes, and damn the consequences. People are resources, nothing is above the cause. Not even her own career. Never mind the lives of someone she considers friend.

But the first and most important reasons that Miss Sloane is an Alpha Asshole is because she wants to win. Win at any and all costs. Win by beating down the opponent and use any methods to beat them. Win because losing means…

We never really come to know what losing means to Madeline Elizabeth Sloane because she doesn’t lose.

Lessons Learned

When I write a book, as I do now, as I hope to do in 2057, these are the lessons I hope I will remember from Miss Sloane, John Madden’s breathtaking direction and Richard Perrera’s screenplay. Yes. A man wrote it. The irony is precious.

  1. Narrative fallacies make a story unbearably interesting.
  2. As do punchy dialog and an unlikeable central character with very little in the way of backstory. PRESENT is as important as past. Perhaps more.
  3. Action matters. Tears leak out of your eyes versus You cry. How you present action matters.
  4. Winning is everything – but the way you define winning and what it means to you is what makes the story work.
  5. Female characters who hold all the power are inevitably made to pay for it. Maybe more so than a man. Telling their story is required.
  6. Writing Jessica Chastain as my Main Female Character would only improve everything I ever write. (She is not Dr. Naina Shah or Shiven Pal from Crossing Lines, though, so no comparison can be made.)

I am Aarti V Raman and I am a romance writer and a feminist. I do not endorse Alpha Assholes. But, goddamn, they make for amazing character studies.

And one day, if am really fortunate, I’d like to attempt a Miss Sloane.

Till next time,

Writer Gal

Feature Image: CityWeekly

GIF: Bestanimations

Trailer: YouTube/MissSloane

Writer Gal Letter #4

Let’s Talk About Why Haymitch Abernathy Is The Most Overlooked But Epic Supporting Character Ever

Let’s Talk About is a series of blog posts where Writer Gal gives her (unsolicited) take on pop culture – aka books, TV series, and movies – that she shamelessly binge watches in the name of ‘research.’ SPOILERS GALORE!!!

catching-fire-hunger-games-woody-harrelson-haymitch-abernathy-lionsgate

Let’s face it. Every supporting character in YA fantasy books has been measured against the sheer amazeballs awesomeness that is Gandalf the Grey and Albus Wolfric Brian Percival Dumbledore (I might have got the order of the names wrong). And, yeah, the two wizards of the wizarding worlds are EPIC BADASSES – I cannot stress enough how badass they are – and seeing their heroic, adventurous journeys unfold through books and movies has been nothing less than sheer joy and cinematic sweetness.

But, I propose another name to be added to this list. One who is, in effect, the exact opposite of everything the two heroic badass motherf*%^kers stand for.

He is neither heroic nor a badass. Hell, he is actually not even that nice. But, I recently re-watched this movie series and realized how completely and utterly effective he is.

I am, of course, talking about Haymitch Abernathy from The Hunger Games trilogy. Both the guy from the books and the cooler, oh-so-lazy drunk on a bender version played by Woody Harrelson. (Side note: Somebody give the man an Oscar, pronto! He is so good in everything!)

The Drunk Mentor

Haymitch Abernathy is introduced as a mentor in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. A Victor from District 12, the *only* Victor from District 12 who has watched young men and women be led like lambs to slaughter for too many years to count.

A mentor’s job is to keep his Tributes alive. Haymitch has failed spectacularly at his job for years on end.

So, he has taken to drinking as the next best panacea to get through the nightmarish guilt of leading kids to their deaths, knowing there was nothing he could ever do to save them. He is brash, he is uncouth, he is very often drunk as he interacts with Katniss and Peeta in the first few scenes.

In his head, he has already said goodbye to these two kids before he knows their names. And being sloshed is the only way he can deal with them. The way Harrelson plays it is such a joy. Amiable, buzzed and with only a hint of everything he’s ever had to live with visible when he says, “I’d prepare myself for imminent death.”

Then…then…Katniss throws a knife at him. Right at his breakfast. And Haymitch wakes up. Well, not literally, but he sees it. The spark that turns the Girl on Fire into The Mockingjay and shakes up an entire civilization.

He is the first to see it. Katniss’s potential. The sheer anger she keeps contained which, if pointed in the right direction, could lead to great things. Maybe, even keep her alive in The Hunger Games. And that’s what he taps into, when he starts coaching her. He taunts her, unbearably, pushing at all her buttons until she wants to murder him.

But he gets her. He understands that Katniss is not a nice person. You cannot be nice and still win at The Hunger Games. Their telepathy is actually way more believable than Edward reading Bella’s mind at times, TBH.

Their telepathy is proved later on in the arena when he starts to encourage the romance between Katniss and Peeta and that one sarcastic note with the soup that says, You call that a kiss? He could have made the sponsors send them medicines for Peeta but he fanned the star-crossed lovers’ romance, until IT became the reason to watch the games, not little kids killing each other for the amusement of an autocratic government.

A small pause here for the off-scene camaraderie between Peeta and Haymitch.

If Haymitch understands Katniss and her prickly, offensive exterior than he is equally appreciative of Peeta’s good guy heart. Not that Peeta isn’t manipulative on his own (admitting to a crush on the girl he is supposed to kill is nothing short of genius) but, with Peeta guiding Haymitch and vice versa, they are like the devil and the angel sitting on Katniss’s shoulder. Except, they agree with each other over everything!

When the happy couple wins the bloody Hunger Games, Haymitch isn’t happy. He is even more worried than before.

The Ally

And this becomes apparent in Catching Fire when he slides back to his drunk ways and spends the year leading up to the next Games in a drunken stupor. Both aided and despaired by Katniss and Peeta.

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But, never more does Haymitch’s role become clear than when he shakes some sense into Katniss in Catching Fire. At the very start of the Victory Tour, Katniss and Peeta make a very unwise, public announcement and a poor old man ends up paying the price for it. Haymitch is the one who snaps Katniss out of her hysteria and infuriates her into thinking clearly.

He understands the enemy they are up against. Knows there is no way out for any of them. Not then. And, once again, it is Haymitch who makes the hard choice and gets the surly, devastated Katniss on board the plan of keeping the two of them alive.

For me, Katniss and Peeta were always some kind of a doomed love triangle with Gale.

But, now, upon re-watching the series, I realized that Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch are like three parts of a conscience – the decency, the slyness, and the ruthless. Each emerging when required to do what needs doing.

The Strategist

This fact became clearer by the end of Catching Fire when Haymitch was revealed to be in the very thick of the rebellion shaking up the Capitol, with friends in high places aka District 13.

But, he has his softer moments too. Like, when he promises to volunteer in Peeta’s place and vows to Katniss that he’d be the one they’d save this year. Not her. Like, he hugs her so tight after she witnesses the execution of the old man in District 7 after yelling at her. Or when he admits to Katniss that she is the only real friend he has in District 13.

Haymitch isn’t there for a fair bit of Mockingjay as Katniss deals with the severe shocks she’s been dealt so far. Peeta’s gone. So’s District 12. District 13 is real. Haymitch was part of a plot to rescue her, as the symbol of some revolution and so left Peeta behind. It is this fact, she can’t live with when she almost kills him at the end of Catching Fire.

The book never establishes Haymitch’s presence while the movie explains it as him ‘drying off in a facility a mile away from District 13’s underground bunker.’

But, when The Mockingjay is ready to become the face of the revolution, it is, once again Haymitch who strategizes the best way to use her. Let her act natural. Let her be. Don’t give her words. Make her fight.

It works, almost too well, when the Capitol bombs the hospital in the District she’d just visited. Of course, that’s just one of several bombings in the concluding book of the trilogy and so egregious, so to speak.

I mentioned Haymitch and Katniss’ telepathy before. And the best, most spectacular example of this is at the very end. When Haymitch throws in his lot with Katniss about holding a symbolic Hunger Games with the Capitol’s children as Tributes to satisfy the rebels.

And he is the only one who understands, why Katniss kills President Coin instead of executing Snow like she is supposed to.

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He gets her, in the most basic of ways. And he approves of her, much like he loves Peeta, in his own fashion, for being the best among them all.

I could write a few more pages on why Haymitch Abernathy is so freaking awesome but I’ll end it here for today.

Till next time.

Xx,

Writer Gal

PS: Who is YOUR Favorite Hunger Games character and why?

Feature Image: Screener TV

GIF: Gifer

Image: FemaleFirst UK

 

 

 

 

 

Writer Gal Letter #3

The List: TOP 9 YA Characters Who Kick Ass and Take Names (and turn me into a fangirl)

The List is a series of blog posts which explores the things I love about books, reading, men, shoes, art and pop culture in, you guessed it, list form.

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Harry Potter. Edward Cullen. Percy Jackson. All genre-bending teenage/ young adult heroes that basically made even grown women’s hearts swoon.

In the case of the pansy-ass sparkling vampire, he even spawned off a successful fan fiction franchise, which let’s face it, stars a much-hotter dude than the original ever could. That being said, I am and always will be, I heart Team Edward complete with a t-shirt and everything.

It is incidental that all three heroes sold millions of copies of books and their series are the most popular thing in the history of writing. Not literature, because FSOG does not great literature make.

But as I am always ready to go on a YA-reading binge, I have stumbled across a lot of great, talented authors who could give Stephanie Mayer a run for her money. And heroes, who I SWEAR, are such cool, much awesomer than their real-life, grownup counterparts.

You call it reading, I call this research but hey, all for a good cause in search of writing the next perfect novel.

Anyway, with this much reading (35 books in as many days) I fell in love with the genre all over again and the characters who made it so popular.

Young adult love is this AMAZING space to explore so many issues of identity: political, emotional, sexual, and spiritual. And any of these authors will guarantee you a good time, so go ahead and pick ‘em up after giving this post a read.

Here are my top nine Young Adult Heroes of all time in descending order

9. Seth Summer

Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy has star-crossed lovers Seth and Grace become werewolves at different times, pulled together by a deep, abiding love that is best captured by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Stiefvater’s prose is stunning and lyrical but it is Seth’s longing that shines through clearly with each book.

Seth is reluctant Alpha in the making, wounded by his tormented relationship with his parents and his desperate, hopeful love for Grace is a thing of absolute beauty. Read it all in one sitting to get a new twist on ancient werewolf lore.

8. Prince Ash and Shakespeare’s Robin Goodfellow

Julie Kagawa has quickly become one of my new favorite YA authors to watch out for. Her retelling of the land of faerie (one of two entries on this list) using characters from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is spot on and funny and with a heroine -Meghan Chase – who is mouthy and courageous and dependable.

She isn’t prone to hand-wringing except when pining over Winter Prince Ash, or ‘Ice-boy’ as Puck loves to call him. While there is no actual love triangle since Meghan clearly has the hots only for Ice-boy, the two characters are memorable for their hateship-friendship and of course, Ash is one hot Faerie Prince. He is also very open with his feelings once he sheds his ice-boy persona and that is such a welcome change from the contemp heroes who make you work for it!

7. Percy Jackson

Between Harry and Percy, I’d choose Percy simply because he has more character flaws and he is so very messed up with his choices (choosing to take a dip in the River Styx, picking a fight with Ares!) His choices are messed up but his courage and battle tactics more than make up for his hubris.

Plus, the demigod is loyal to a fault (Harry/Ron fighting over the Horcrux!!!) and that gives this dangerous boy-next-door pizzaz that everyone’s favorite wizard lacks.

6. Rath Roiben Riven

Roiben is one of Holly Black’s many, many creations . But by far, he is my absolute favorite, although Prince Carden from The Cruel Prince is fast catching up.

Stuck up, annoying, and proper almost to a fault, Rath Roiben more than makes up for the trouble he causes Kaye Thomas from the Tithe trilogy by giving up his rightful place as King of the Unseelie Court to be with her! (Yeah, these princes and their foreswearing…lesser mortals stand no chance, do they ladies?)

Rath Roiben Riven is not his actual name but if I give it away here, y’all might use it to make him fall in love with you and we can’t have that, can we? Read the book to find out what his real name is!

5. Carswell Thorne, Wolf, Emperor Kaito and Jacyn Clay

Marissa Meyer, the other Meyer has written a fabulous retelling of fairytales with Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter. Winter is by far my favorite because it has all the heroes and their storylines merging together to form a great finale. Not a disappointment at ALL!

And yeah, Kai is a pretty great guy for falling for Android Lunar Princess-in-hiding Cinder, it’s Wolf’s absolute devotion to Scarlet and his absolute berserker that really got me. Same for Sargent Jacyn Clay with Princess Winter (their mad-love and Snow White-worthy ending made reading 800 pages of Winter so delicious!)

And if there was a prize for Most Irreverent Pirate Of All, it would go to Captain Carswell Thorne. He is badass, funny and droll! It’s an irresistible combination of charm and piquancy and unexpected vulnerability that made Cress and me fall for him, hook, line and sinker.

4. Patch Cipriano aka Angel Jev

So Becca Fitzpatrick’s Patch in the Hush Hust series has this way of talking to heroine Nora Grey that made me feel like I was in the middle of a French film. Every line was full of double meaning, innuendo and so damned classy despite it all.

And, on top of that, he was determined to save her (over and over again) when he’d been sent to kill her! He does display stalkerish tendencies but his Italian black-eyes more than make up for it and color me impressed when he gives Nora a necklace with his real name on it. Promise. Ring. Much.

3. Dimitri Belikov

Technically Richelle Mead’s baddest of the badass Dhampirs Dimitri Belikov is not YA young, (he is 24 when he is introduced to us in Vampire Academy), and when I first read of a guy who is six-seven and snooty and uptight with a liquid vodka Russian accent to boot, I was like WHAAAAT?! No, not working for me. Then I saw the movie (badly-made, deliciously cast) and I was all onboard the Dimitri train.

By book three Shadow Spell I was totally swooning over Dimitri and rooting for Rose Hathaway (she can totally take Buffy’s place as a vamp-loving demon hunter any day) to get it on with him. Honestly, he was the only Strigoi vampire I could imagine macking with, even as I read feverishly for the cure that would change him back to the loving, warm (more action/less talk) Dimitri that Rose adored.

2. Kaz Brekker And The Crow Five

So I can NOT stress enough how much I love Leigh Bardugo’s writing. She dazzled with her first Grisha trilogy, but in my humble opinion, she’s come into her own with the Crow duology! Set in the same world as the Grishas but a separate storyline, Six of Crows’ ringleader Kaz Brekker, alley rat turned king of the Ketterdam docks is that rare hero: Bad to the bone, vulnerable to just the heroine Inej (OH! WHAT A JOY SHE IS!) and so smart you could kiss him for his brains alone. He limps (a la Dr. House) and has his personality to match but there is so much going on with Kaz, it’s like reading about a character who constantly plays chess like a grandmaster.

Crooked Kingdom, the next in the duology was a revelation – in terms of storytelling, character reveals and an ending I did not see coming. But Kaz and The Crow Five have eternally earned my love and devotion forevermore.

I cannot wait for the next book in the Grishaverse – King of Scars, featuring beloved characters from both series.

1. Jace Wayland

So Jace Wayland has been my favorite YA hero since 2009 when City of Ashes, the second book in the Mortal Instruments’ Trilogy released and I read arguably, the BEST finale ever written in a book.

Sure, I find Cassandra Clare’s Clary Fairchild to be occasionally whiny, but Jace kicks ass up, down and four ways to Sunday. Jace is a jerk, an arrogant know-it-all with no apparent vulnerabilities and also vaguely stalkerish tendencies. Plus, he lashes out when he is hurt and at the end of City of Bones, he turned out to be Clary’s brother! EWWW, right? Wrong.

Cuz then comes CoA and everything I loved about young adult heroes became this boy, the yardstick by which I measure all future young adult heroes by.

Demon hunter extraordinaire, a musician in his spare time and using humor as a defense mechanism Jace is ALL that you want from a hero, YA or otherwise. He is Nephilim (half mortal-half angel) brave, badass, reckless, smart, and uses his heart to his own detriment.

His friendship with Alec Lightwood and Isabelle Lightwood is a rare and wondrous thing to read in modern books and he perfectly embodies the Perfect Outsider alienation emotion with every character reveal. He also has these amazing amber eyes that…well, you get the picture! I could gush about this boy forever!

Honorable Mentions

Magnus Bane, Alec Lightwood, Will Lightwood, Simon Lewis, Jem Carstairs: While not as exciting as Jace, the other heroes (The Mortal Instruments, The Infernal Devices) created by Clare too are worthy of also-ran mentions. Will and Jem are another perfect example of Parabatai and Will is so charmingly irreverent, he and Carswell Thorne might well kill each other or become best friends if they ever met each other. Simon is hands down, the cutest. Vampire. Ever.

Peeta Mellark: Yeah, Susan Collins’s doomed Tribute could have made the top eight if Kaz hadn’t come along and upset the apple cart. But the truth is, he is NICE enough to make a great hero, just not badass enough. He is smart as all hell though with that camouflage trick in The Hunger Games, isn’t he?

Malyen Oretsev: I am become a blade. Leigh Bardugo’s hero from the original Grisha trilogy has this tattooed on his back as the series progresses and he realizes how far apart from the heroine Saint Alina Starkov he really is, how he can never be powerful and magic like her. And how his hunting and killing skills are the only things of value he has to offer her, apart from his wasted, beautiful heart. Extreme sighs alert.

Cabel Strumheller: Lucy McMann’s words are like bullets. Fast, piercing, lovely and sure to leave a scar. Her hero Cabel is no one special. Just an ordinary high school student with a very gifted girlfriend who he is madly in love with. And that’s EXACTLY why he is so awesome. He lets dream catcher Janie from the Wake, Fade, Gone series take the lead and provides silent backup and never once tells I told you so to her even when she almost gets raped/killed in a dream. Isn’t that just what we all want in a dude?

Angel Akiva: Just his name was enough to make me reconsider all my notions of love and happy ever after, and in Laini Taylor’s first book Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I was flat out falling for Akiva (meaning shelter in Hebrew). But in the second book, things took a dark turn and he started crying a LOT. I mean, a LOT! His fighting skills took a drastic backseat and he became an also-ran instead of ending up in the top 9. May I add that the series too took a drastic turn for the depressing in Days of Blood and Starlight. 

So, there you have it, folks. My dream list of yummy heroes. Demigods, fairy princes, fallen angels, alley rats and more made the cut. Who’s on yours? Tell me in the comments below.

Till next time,
Xx
Writer Gal aka Aarti V Raman.

PS: There is one hero who I refuse to mention here who has equal claim on my silly reader’s heart as Jace Wayland: Half-Bad trilogy hero Nathan Blackwood, who becomes such a comically tragic figure in the end, it reads like an emo song. I mean! WHY! WHY did he have to die Sally Green? Why couldn’t he have just lived with Gabrielle’s happy memories such as they were?

Till next time,

Aarti

Writer Gal Letter #2

Let’s Talk About Flesh And Bone

Let’s Talk About is a series of blog posts where Writer Gal gives her (unsolicited) take on pop culture – aka TV series and movies – that she shamelessly binge watches in the name of ‘research.’

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Sarah Hay and Sasha Redetsky in Flesh and Bone, Pilot

The greatest love will, of necessity, bring us great pain – Thomas Merton

As a writer of romance, this statement holds true on all accounts for me. Actually, to all of us, doesn’t it?

Hell, never mind romance. Let’s ask Edmund Hillary or Philippe Petit or even our homegrown awesome superheroes at ISRO who launched Mangalaayan with half the money in half the time if they had an easy time of it. Theirs was a labor of blood, sweat, and tears.

In 2015, the Starz original series Flesh and Bone (8 episodes, available on Netflix) finally became available. I’d heard buzz of it on, haha, Buzzfeed about a group of dedicated ballet artists who take on the prestigious American Ballet Company of New York by storm, all over again.

I was excited, and finally free enough to start watching it. I loved the first two Center Stage movies which were set at ABC. The movies were a bit cheesy, I agree but they showcased a delicate art form in a gorgeous way.

Flesh and Bone makes no such mistake. There is no cheese in the script. It is raw and violent and visceral. Am sure, most of it is an accurate portrayal of how things are run in the business but what really struck me about the whole new cast of characters (apart from the sexy Sasha Redetsky) was that all of them are driven. Driven, determined and damaged.

All of them have great personal pain that translates to a moving rendition of choreographed movements.

It begins with the carefully colored title sequence with a haunting melody by Karen O, interspersing ballet moves with high-heels and a bird taking flight and losing blood. The stark analogy is not lost on anyone who watches the pilot.

This story is about pain.

Period.

It continues with the very first shot, that of an upturned ballerina doll lying askew on the floor. There is something so very WRONG with the picture that one cannot help but be intrigued and worried at the same time.

All hallmarks of a good storyteller. (Flesh and Bone has been created by Breaking Bad alum Moira-Walley Beckett).

But the dance is at its riveting best when Claire Robbins ( Sarah Hay, Golden Globe nominee), the naïve but painfully graceful ingénue performs a solo adagio to Debussy’s Claire de Lune, at the behest of Paul Greyson the viciously demanding artistic director (he is not Peter Gallagher, that’s for sure) I could see that it was not just dance, not just chasing perfection that was making her eyes glassy with unshed tears.

She has a secret and it hurts her soul and gives her art a dimension it would not otherwise have. I won’t reveal what it is, but suffice it to say, this is NOT Center Stage Part 3. It’s fresh and interesting and dark AF.

Singers and dancers have always been revered and yet reviled, a fate that has escaped musicians and painters. I won’t include writers in any of these categories, because hey, I am writing the post.

A haunting melody, a moving lyric or a soulful tune has touched our soul in an ephemeral way that remains with us forever. And the people who create this art, this consumable art I would say have had the touch/don’t touch tag attached to them.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that singing and dancing have long been considered a domain of people who are not interested in true exaltation. Maybe singing and dancing have been associated with courtesans and troubadours from time immemorial giving the arts a less-than-perfect shine.

Maybe people are just that weird, I don’t know.

Flesh and Bone also deals with another important aspect of working in entertainment. What does it take to become a star? Is it just talent, good looks, casting couch or more?

Anyone in entertainment will tell you how hard it is to breakthrough.

The blood, sweat, and tears that we put into ourselves (yes, now I include us writers) whether it is just to write that novel, or sell it, never mind market it into a bestseller will make an ordinary Joe weep. Yet, we plod on for the love of it. Even if it causes us great pain.

Tara Trivedi from The Perfect Fake has to answer this question: how far are you willing to go in order to get what you want? How much blood, sweat, and tears is she willing to shed?

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To find out more, read The Perfect Fake, when it comes out in July 2018.

Till next time,

XX

Writer Gal