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!!!

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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!!!

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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

 

Writer Gal Letter #1

An Intro To The Perfect Fake

The Intro Series is a series of blog posts explaining the muses/inspirations/origins and, most times, the problems faced by Writer Gal as she deconstructs her own books.

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Bad boys.

Women hear the phrase and shiver delicately as visions of a guy in a leather jacket, a ripping motorbike (or Jeep, if that gets you going) and piercing whatever color eyes spring into their minds. Yeah, not for nothing do we have overactive imaginations and make the world go round with our bodice-ripping scenes.

Bad boys.

The quintessential hero of many a romance: dark, brooding, oftentimes mysterious, with an agenda of his own, that the heroine gets to discover really late in the game and…let’s say it, an ass that just won’t quit.

Heathcliff, Kaleb Krychek (Ok, I admit it. I LOVE Kaleb. I LOVE HIM), Sebastian St.Vincent, Derek Craven, Cian McKenna, and Shiv Naren Pal (see what I did there!) are just a few examples of these less-than-upstanding men.

But the way they love is, in the words of another bad boy Leo Ramsey “like a madman who won’t stop till he dies.”

I know. Sigh.

Bad boys.

The guilty pleasure that every romance reader looks for because if THAT bad boy can be tamed by THAT good girl, then so can mine if/when I find him.

My aim in breaking down this hero is not to objectify him (ok, not consciously) but to make it absolutely clear that when it comes to the opposite sex, we women are probably guilty of far more literary transgressions than men.

Cut to December 2015.

I haven’t written anything substantial this whole year. A variety of factors contributed to this fact, first of which is my preoccupation with doing well at my workplace. The secondary but equally important reason was, I had no one to write about. Yeah, I started a lot of cool stories and abandoned them all (Shilpa Suraj knows more about these) and nothing fit.

Nothing stuck.

Nothing made my brain catch fire and the scenes to start showing up like my own personal movie screen inside my head and my fingers to dance over the keyboard till they ached.

I, unlike Shilpa and a lot of other totally talented romance writers, need a muse. A living, flesh and blood man who makes me sit up and take notice of him and compel me to write him (TVD fans, pun totally intended!)

About two weeks ago after NaNoWriMo 2015 ended, I started my last attempt at finishing something that year.

This novel has gone through a lot of iterations and the heroine just about refused to meet the hero making it IMPOSSIBLE for me to write her. After all, what good is she without having the chemistry of a good-looking, sexy, totally relatable man to play off of?

Things started moving along. And my hero showed up, FINALLY! And he was…blue-eyed. I know, y’all are thinking, you wrote him, woman, you can make his eyes go any color you want: But have you ever had those moments where your hand moves of its own volition over the keyboard without you being aware of it and the words just show up onscreen? I mean that in a totally non-creepy way, of course. So yeah, Blue Eyes, showed up for me.

And bang, a light went on in my head. Of course, that made sense (to my feverish, writing-addled brain).

And then, I started rewatching The Vampire Diaries, because well…yeah, I do stuff like that in my spare time.

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To my folks, I explain it as doing research but really, it’s just super fun watching TV. The stories, the characters, the HOT men all make my brain buzz happily and sometimes (like now) even provide dazzling, undeniable inspiration.

Enter Damon Salvatore.

The Bad Boy with fangs who makes regular women go weak in the knees. And, he is blue-eyed, if you don’t believe me. He is a total badass who is intent on causing trouble, looks out only for himself and has absolutely zero patience with the heroine.

He also saves her every single time she needs to be saved.

And, his evolution from small-town villain to hero is so gradual, so unconscious that by the time he figures out he is in love with the heroine, you’re rooting for him to get the girl instead of cursing him back to hell. (He is a vampire, he can literally be sent there).

I have written a couple different heroes in Krivi and Brandon and The Last Time’s Abeer Goswami is nothing short of the Good Guy Next Door (more Stefan than Damon for all you TVD fans) and he was a lot of fun to write in his own sweet, unassuming but totally with a steel trap mind hot way.

I even wrote a few other versions of the Good Guy Next Door mixed with Alpha Male guy and yet…like I said, nothing fit.

Not until this Bad Boy showed up and showed me how it’s done. And this is what I came up with.

“No.” He stepped closer and placed his hands on my arm. Exactly where he had clutched at me. My skin hurt at the slight contact under the sweatshirt I wore. “I did it to protect you. You are…nothing. You have no connections, no influence whatsoever. You wouldn’t have been able to survive what Jeeva and Vanshikha would have done to you.”

“I am not NOTHING,” I whispered, tears welling up in my eyes. My nose was red and my face was numb and my eyes looked deranged and still I had tears left to cry.

It was unbelievable, but there were still levels of hurt that I could feel when he spoke.

“I am being honest here,” he shot back. “And you don’t want to hear it. That’s fine. But someone had to think clearly. Make the hard choices. And make sure you were safe from them both.”

“So you did all this for me?”

He nodded. Slowly. One tear rolled down my cheek and I couldn’t stop it.

Now, that is some morally questionable, yet unforgettable man. No?

The Perfect Fake releases in July 2018 on Amazon Kindle Unlimited. 

Till next time,

Xx

Writer Gal

Feature Image: A Shawn D’Souza Original for Aarti V Raman. Designed on Canva. 

Image Credit: Beniceorleave/Google

Video Credit: YouTube

A Tale Of Four Millennial Women

What we talk about when we talk about being loved and loving ourselves and mostly other people in 2016. Ok, what I talk about, TBH.

This is not a political post or a social issue post. It’s not even a movie review even though I am writing about movies and the Millennial women in them.

It could be termed as a pontificating rant but that’s ok, because sometimes, you just have to…just have to rant to express everything your heart is feeling *cue single tear rolling down eye as I break the fourth wall and connect with y’all, my dear readers*

Let’s start with the nerdiest woman in the piece.

Her name is Vee Delmonico and she appears in NERVE – she is 18 going on 40, a high school senior living in Staten Island and an aspiring photographer who dreams of going to art school. She is a big nerdy nerd almost directly lifted from Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me (complete with skinny jeans and sweatshirts) and crushing hard on the high school jock who doesn’t know she really exists.

Vee is all of us who were invisible, unnoticed and picked on back in high school who were just waiting to get out and do something amazing, something extraordinary with the rest of our lives. Because all of life cannot be high school, right?

Well, Vee gets a chance when she becomes a player in a real life Dare Or Dare Higher game NERVE and goes on a series of escalating dares with the totally yummy, totally strange Ian starting from kissing him, alienating her two best friends, and ending with driving blindfolded through midtown Manhattan and later on a full-on shootout in the final showdown.

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When Vee’s best friend tells her to leave the hunky guy who got her into this ugly predicament, Vee very calmly answers, “I got myself into this mess. And I’ll get myself out.” In short, Vee changes her personality a little at a time, grows up and ya know what? Gets the hunky guy.

Next, we meet Amy Mitchell from BAD MOMS.

She is 32, an overworked mom of two pre-teens living in a privileged, predominantly white neighborhood in suburban America. She also has a part-time Millennial job selling pretentious branded coffee to supermarkets, airlines and hotels and a boss who could be her younger brother. He is also a douchebag, which may or not be because he is younger but definitely contributes to the shitty time Amy is having in her life.

Amy’s biggest fear in life is that she is a bad mom because she can’t do enough things for her kids while holding down a part-time job that requires fulltime work hours. Then there is the cheating husband, the entitled white dude who takes two meetings and a nap and calls it a full day.

Amy’s barely holding it together when she realizes that the biggest bully in her life is not the husband, the kids or even the douchebag boss. It’s the PTA and the coterie of Mean Girl Stepford Moms who head it and who expect all other mothers to be as perfect and Stepfordy as them (baked goods shall not have wheat, milk, yeast, sugar, nuts, among other no-nos).

Mission: Impossible.

Amy decides to take the bull by the proverbial horns (or boobs as the case may be) and becomes PTA president, bringing about a culture of Bad Moms who are trying their level best to raise good, kind kids instead of perfect robots who go to Harvard.

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Amy tells her eleven year old son, “I need you to do your homework so you don’t grow up to be an entitled white dude who expects the whole world to be handed to him in a silver platter. So you understand you have to WORK for things and not rely on your parents for everything.”

In short, Amy makes peace with who she is when she decides to not do everything and be everything to everyone, especially her children.

AE DIL HAI MUSHKIL’S Alizeh Khan steps up to the plate next.

She is twenty-something, wealthy in a ‘raees way’ and thinks nothing of charging a strange trip with a semi-stranger to daddy’s account – but only one room because it’s out of her budget. Alizeh has no discernible job which is understandable because ‘raees,’ and I wish we were all as lucky but her life choices are as bizarre as her clothes choices. She befriends a total stranger (again, making out with a total stranger is PC given what happens next), proceeds to judge everything about him from his bank account to his choice of girlfriend, talks in Bollyverse and considers herself to be almost unbearably cool.

In fact, she is so cool, so very CHILLED that we can think she is the original ice-maiden. Unfeeling and uncaring about anything except friendship, because it is safe.

Totally relatable because who hasn’t experienced such heartbreak that your body stops being and you become a living monument to dreams that were. Unfortunately, life teaches us to dream new dreams (scalable is the business term to be used) and we move on. But not Alizeh. She ping pongs between an incredibly hot DJ ex and an aspiring singer bestie over the course of the years. And, in between, she contracts cancer (no disrespect to the disease or its victims/survivors).

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Alizeh’s parents are nowhere in the picture even when they probably get the chemo bills and she is like totally COOL with it. For her, her bestestest friend is her only ‘khandaan,’ the only family she wants or needs as she dies. And she treats him like complete shit.

Alizeh says of the name tattooed on her hand, like it’s a beautiful, fucked up reminder of her past – “Yeh naam meri tabaahi hai.” Continuing in the same vein, “Pyaar mein junoon hai, dosti mein sukoon hai.” And lastly, in blatant defiance of the friend who manhandled her two seconds ago, “Kya mera pyar pyar nahi agar tum mere aashiq nahi?”

In short, Alizeh is the new age Millennial who has been there, done that, smoked the dope and decided long ago to check out of feelings because it’s too damn HARD. Or so I, as a viewer, assume because there is zero explanation/defense/justification given for the way she behaves and acts.

Lastly, but the fairest of them all is ADHM’s Sabaa.

A forty-something glamazon with impeccable makeup and even more inexplicable Urdu expressions that took me a fair amount of time to decipher and laugh over. She is a poetess with one fat book out and is able to live from the proceeds of said book in splendor in Vienna. Her house is a reflection of the breathtaking beauty she is.

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Sabaa handles fulsome compliments and strangers blubbering over her with equanimity. And is unapologetic about wanting to be alone, completely alone and being the object of a man’s desire, because affection is too damn hard. Sabaa has an ex-husband who poetically explains why she’s the only thing he has ever loved in his life and she is not fucking required to BE, for him to love her even though when she WAS there he probably cheated on her and messed her up so badly, she is scared to commit again. While she stands there stupefied watching this strange version of a male peeing contest occurring at an art gallery.

And because Sabaa is at least trying to be an adult she gets out of a toxic rebound relationship once she realizes things are getting out of her control. Sabaa says, “Mohabaat karna humare bas mein nahi. Par us mohabbat ka kya karna hai woh hamare bas mein hai.”

In short, Sabaa learns from her previous relationship with the philandering husband and decides to let go of the young stud who has been keeping her company while singing unchecked through the streets of Vienna (I think there are laws that prohibit this sorta thing in Europe. I could be wrong.)

The thing the tale is about

NERVE, while not the world’s greatest movie has an amazing tech-synth soundtrack and hits perfectly on the nerve of a generation of adolescents who live and die on their cell phones and pretend that being adventurous online is the same as being alive in real life with all its problems and pitfalls.

BAD MOMS made me appreciate my own mom so much more than I already do. To raise a child to have good values and to be a decent human being and not so entitled in a world that teaches material success is everything is admirable. Again, not award-worthy but the message is unmistakable.

Then we come to AE DIL HAI MUSHKIL. The movie that has resonated with Millennials in India and abroad because …because WHY?

Bollywood self-referencing, check. People roaming around aimless and clueless and having vague aspirations, check. People falling in and out of love and bed with turbo speed, check. Poking fun at olde world Bollywood, check. And not giving a shit as to what collateral damage they were causing with their behavior, double triple check.

I would like to pause for just a moment here and reiterate – A movie is telling us, just like real life, that it’s ok to fuck with people and not give a damn what we do to them. A movie that is made by a filmmaker who is known for being inspirational, aspirational, and INFLUENCING every person who knows what Bollywood stands for.

I don’t blame Karan Johar for making this movie. I truly don’t – apparently he loved someone a lot and they just wanted to be friends with him and he never got over it. And that is fine. It is. It sucks but such is life and you make lemonade if you can from the rest of the lemons handed you. Karan Johar had the means, medium, and time to sit and go through this cathartic journey the rest of us never got to go through.

But so much is troubling about the movie …so much that made me unbearably sad to think that THIS… THIS is what the average Millennial in India has become.

ADHM treats themes like love, friendship and non-linear relationships with casual indifference. The characters treat each other and themselves with damaging apathy all in the name of cool. It perpetuates an idea of true love and true friendship that did not resonate with me. (I say me because there are people who are enchanted by the idea of people hurting each other in the name of feelings!)

To think that this is what constituted for true love in this movie– couched in terms of stalking, throwing tantrums, inexplicable tears, casual sex and putting self before love…where friendship meant taking the other person for granted to such an extent you don’t tell them you’re dying.

Where people talk but no one really TALKS…and fuck no, no one listens. Is this what we Millennials do? Are we so obsessed with social media and having a good time and not really loving ourselves…ARE WE SO FUCKED UP we cannot differentiate between what passes for good love and good ol’ puppy love masquerading as something grownups might/might not do?

When did we all decide that it was OK to just coast? To just drift and not have any purpose in life, when did being an entitled white/brown/any colour dude become a thing? Why did I not get the memo? When did heartbreak boil down to throwing things around and losing all semblance and nuance of self-respect and sensibility?

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You are justified in thinking I am 30 going on 99 because I don’t get it. But the sad thing is. I do get it. Treating people carelessly, concealing heartbreak in glib comments and being obsessed with pop culture, wanting everything and nothing at the same time and having no clue what life is going to do to me tomorrow. I get it. And it’s awful. I am awful.

I guess this is why I aspire to be more a Bad Mom or A Nerve Girl or even Sabaa of the drownable eyes and laughable poetry.

It’s because I know, there is a part of me that is Alizeh. Alone and drowning in my aloneness, wanting but not really wanting a way out. Ayn Rand said, “The only thing I need to learn how to bear is happiness.” And that’s who I’d like to become, slowly, gradually, day by day.

Till next time.

Xx

Writer Gal

Author’s note: Thank you Omair Tarique of Scribbled Stories for allowing me to use one of your posts for this one. I just think, it really resonates with what I am trying to say about life and love and dealing with things because we should try and be better people.