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

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.

nerve-poster-750x500

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.

bad-moms-movie-300mb-download

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).

adhm-alizeh

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.

adhm-sabaa

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?

facebook_1478185583964

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. 

8 Badass Babes in Romance Novels

badasswomen

Image Credit: Rob Bricken

Romance novels, and, in particular, the heroines who’ve driven these stories, have had a peculiar evolution as times have changed.

From the simpering 70s secretary who has the hots for her Alpha male boss, to the more adventurous journalist or ad exec of the 90s to the current breed of business women dominating romances, literally and sexually – romance writers have always had a strong sense of what is politically correct, or, often times, incorrect and been a part of the larger social conversation in a sense. We wrote Erotica and Same-Sex love stories, way before it became culturally ‘cool’ to be sexually adventurous and/or gay.

Even Historical Romances from popular authors didn’t have wilting violets as female leads. These women were kickass. They wore flounces and bustles with as much pride as they did their sneaky feminism. Who can forget that iconic scene in Julia Quinn’s The Viscount Who Loved Me where Kate wins a memorable game of pall-mall by sinking Anthony’s ball in the lake, on purpose? She struck a blow for love and empowering women everywhere with the Mallet of Death.

Whether it was a powerful witch in Nora Roberts’s “Face The Fire” or a quieter empire-runner in Barbara Taylor Bradford’s “Woman of Substance”, I have long since maintained this conviction that powerful women tell powerful stories. I am not just talking about the authors behind these wonderful creations but the characters themselves who undergo tragedy, heartbreak, adversity, apocalypses and come out stronger and triumphant at the end of it all.

They don’t just wait for the writer to come up with their happy ever after. They freakin’ make their own.

Inspired from Buzzfeed’s 19 Powerful Female Characters, here are my list of 8 totally badass heroines who have been a symbol of powerful females everywhere. (Not to be confused with feminist heroines…that is a post for another day). SPOILERS AHEAD.

HEA, Nora

Image Credit: Bloomsbury Press

1. Parker Brown from ‘Happy Ever After’ by Nora Roberts – Parker is a warrior in French plait and high heels. Whether it is planning a wedding down to the last detail, booting out her best friend’s abusive mother, or making sexy with her hottie Malcolm Kavanaugh, Parker doesn’t let anything stand in her way. She is calm, confident and her closet is a thing to be envied. See it for yourself, if you don’t believe me.

2. Emma from ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen – Often overlooked for the most badass woman in literature, Elizabeth Bennett, Emma nevertheless has a quiet charm and strength about her that shine through her interactions with the others. Whether it is playing bumbling matchmaker, trading barbs with the adorbs Mr. Knightly or running her father’s large household single-handedly, Emma does it all. Now, if that doesn’t make her badass I don’t know what will.

3. Dulcie Clark from ‘Don’t Fence Me In’ by Kathleen Korbel – This was the first legit M&B romance I’ve ever read. It was when I was still a starry-eyed teenager, so my expectations from romance were not particularly high. But what caught my eye was how small-town ranch girl Dulcie Clark managed a sprawling ranch estate, a precocious eight-year old musical prodigy of a daughter and a handsome man who was basically Cary Grant, reincarnated. Color me Drooling!

4. Amy Dunne from ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn – Granted Gone Girl is more killer than romance, but you have to hand it to beautiful, sweet, put-upon Amy, who cold-bloodedly and efficiently plans the downfall of a henpecked husband and her stalker ex-boyfriend. And she doesn’t get caught. Behind every successful murder…

5. Rumi from ‘Butterfly Season’ by Natasha Ahmed – The first thing I loved about Rumi was that she was no early-to-mid 20s going through a quarter-life crisis woman. She was 30, had trained as an architect and knew exactly what she wanted including hottie publisher Ahad. And she made some hard choices when she realized true emancipation came from freeing oneself from one’s own prejudices and not just those imposed by society! A personal favorite.

6. Draupadi from ‘Palace of Illusions’ by Chitra Banerji Divakaruni – She took on five men, a strong mother-in-law, was born out of fiery vengeance and could call the Most Badass Hindu God as her BFF. Enough said about Draupadi – the woman who made Karna’s heartbeat flutter. I so SHIP Karpadi!

bitch

Image Credit:Giphy.com

7. Miranda Priestley from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ by Lauren Weisberger – I know, I know. Andy Sachs tears free of this tyrant’s oppressive rule with a well-timed ‘Fuck you’ in the middle of Paris Fashion Week. But come on, can you even imagine Miranda-Meryl as she talks to you in her quiet, snake-cold voice about her lunch order, which you still haven’t got EXACTLY right? Isn’t she just so badass as she runs the world’s best fashion magazine making or breaking careers and people willy-nilly, as she pleases!?

8. Gauri Rao from ‘His Captive Indian Princess’ by Tanu Jain – Tanu Jain’s romances are full of Technicolor drama reminiscent of a wonderful 70s Bollywood movie. Women wear saris and heave their bosoms, but they also kick ass. Gauri, HCIP’s protagonist is a kickass lawyer at a slightly tender young age, an illegitimate princess and a crying shoulder for Vikram, the neighboring prince who totally falls for her hook, line and sinker. And who wouldn’t! She is demure without being coy and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself with the evil grandmother. Go, Gauri!

9. Honorary Mention goes to Mia Devlin from Nora Roberts’s ‘Face the Fire’ and Hermione Granger from the ‘Harry Potter series’ by JK Rowling. The only reason these two haven’t been waxed lyrical on is cuz I have to adhere to my personal blogpost length.

Who are your personal badass Babes of Romance? Like, share and comment to let me know. And we can discuss more about these awesome women.

Xx
Writer Gal

Image Credits: Giphy.com/Rob Bricken