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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The East: The Best Movie You've Never Head of

To say that I enjoyed the movie The East is a significant understatement. It may in fact be in the top five of my favorite movies of 2013. Not just because Alexander Skarsgard’s ass was truly stunning in the film, though it and his fantastic performance alone make the movie worth seeing.

The entire movie from start to finish is at once compelling and thought provoking. It not only putting the lead character, and by extension the audience, in uncomfortable and morally gray areas, but does so cleverly and with a clear intent. 

In the age of Hackivism, Occupy Wall Street and Social Justice, The East hits just at the right time and asks all the right questions. It shines both a sympathetic light on activism culture, while not softening it’s rough edges and glaring flaws. So much of how the movie depicts reality is in the subtle performances of the incredibly talented cast, all of whom hit it out of the park and left me emotionally raw after watching. 

This was my first introduction to creative team of actress Brit Marling and director Zal Batmanglij. I am impressed. Marling’s performance was stunning, and the execution of the film was flawless. Alexander Skarsgård, and Ellen Page turn in equally impressive performances. Skarsgård especially shows just how his talent is wasted on True Blood. Page showed a very realistic, human side of a character that could have easily been overplayed.

While on the surface The East appears to be a straightforward thriller about a former FBI agent turned high-end private investigator going undercover to investigate a social activism cult. The tale it tells is a much more complex reflection on modern culture, both in how we lie to ourselves about the evils of corporations, but also how equally problematic some forms of activism have become. Putting forth an age old question of can two wrongs really make a right? 

The East challenges us to not demonize either side, both of which are populated by very real and often deeply flawed human beings, but instead to look for better answers. It even offers up one of its own, a move that has draw criticism from some movie critics calling it too neat. I strongly disagree with what I see as a cynical backlash from critics who have grown far too comfortable with open-ended, disparity that they reject anything resembling hope as silly. The East makes a bold move, that is a very important of the narrative and nailed it. Leaving me with a deep sense of hope, but still very thoughtful about how it reflects on the real world. 

In the end, everyone should judge for themselves whether The East is a revelation in social commentary or just a thriller with a high-handed message. Either way, it’s a great film featuring a female lead the likes of which we haven’t seen since Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. 



Monday, December 2, 2013

Breeding & Slave Kink with a Surprising Side of Gender Politics.




I swear, when I picked up Breeder in a recent Loose Id discount sale, I wasn’t looking for a deep story. I like breeding and slave kink stories. Many of them can be extremely problematic, rife with sexist stereotypes, misogyny and just generally poorly written. Still I continue to search, ever hopeful that one day I will find a well written stories, with all the kinks I love, that doesn’t make me cringe.

Enter Breeder by Cara Bristol.

The science fiction erotica about Commander Dak, and his breeder, Omra. They are Parseon, a very human like alien species who live in the quintessential Patriarchal society. The Alpha male masculine ideal isn’t just an idea, it’s the basis for the entire society. Dak himself isn't just an Alpha he is The Alpha Commander of his district. One of only a handful of ruling Alphas on his planet. 

In accordance with Protocol, the social laws of Parseon culture, he has a male companion, a Beta, because another man (who is a lesser) can be the only suitable companion for an Alpha male. Protocol also gives allowances for the propagation of the species, and that is where Omra comes into the story. She is the breeder Dak chooses to “incubate his offspring.” Both their worlds are turned upside down when Dak starts to feel what is considered deviant desires, for Omra and starts to question the truth of Protocol and the very foundation of Parseon society. 

While Dak without a doubt an Alpha male, he has a depth, compassion and intelligence that sets him apart from the cliche he’s based upon. We watch his facade of dominance and strength slowly fall away to reveal a man who feels the weight of his responsibilities and the strain of maintaining the unnaturally guarded state in every avenue in his life. Omra is a slave, there is no doubt about that, but she has a similar kind of empathy for others and intelligence, though she doesn’t credit herself for it. She has surprising dimension, and pragmatism, while she accepts the oppressive world she’s born into, she doesn’t like it. 

It was so refreshing to see real people beneath these archetypes of the Master and slave. I especially to see safe, sane, BDSM play integrated into the story in a way that highlighted how different it is from the violent brutality of the real slavery in the world. It’s a tricky line to walk, but I think Bristol pulled it off with flare. 

What stood out to me was how this story really shows how disparaging and damaging a patriarchy is to both men and women. Parseon is a misogynist’s wonderland, where women are chattel, and masculinity is the epitome of superiority in every way. While Alpha’s have male companions, who they have “appropriate sex” with, these are not portrayals of homosexuality. Which is such an important distinction to make. 

The Alpha/beta dynamic in Parseon is similar to the mentor/boy sexual relationships of ancient Rome. They are not heathy relationships based on equality and love, but a powerful man using a less powerful man as a sexual object. (I’ve being trying to explain the difference between this oppressive abuse of power, that is essentially socially acceptable rape, and homosexuality for years.) There is no give and take. A Beta is always a bottom, and must comply even if they are heterosexual. In fact, according to Protocol heterosexuality is the ultimate sexual perversion. An Alpha should only ever engage in sex with a woman to procreate, in the hopes of producing a son. Proving that true homosexuality has no home in Protocol either.  

Breeder demonstrates how no one is happy in this kind of society, aside from the privileged few, the Alphas. In fact, it is Omra who comes to this conclusion in the narrative, as she begins to better understand the politics of her world. Once Dak opens his eyes to this reality too, and understands that not all Alpha treat those beneath them with the consideration and care does he begin to see the true horror of Protocol (aka Patriarchy). 

All of this, and we get some sexy Dom/sub play, spanking, and with a growling Alpha male overwhelmed by his intense desire to plant his seed. Not to mention more cunnilingus than I have ever read an erotic novel in a long time. I'm talking lesbian erotic levels of going downtown. 

Seriously at one point Dak is so turned on by how wet Omra is, he literally rubs his face in her pussy. *cue me sliding out of my seat into a puddle on the floor*

 

If any of these kinks appeal to you, check out this book.  

Straw Feminism: The Problem with Katniss Everdeen and The 'Better Girl’ trope


[For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I am going to only address the characters and events in the first book in the Hunger Games series. ]

The Better Girl is a subset of the Smurfette Principle (or the Fighting Fuck Toy) where a single female (usually the main character) is elevated above other female characters in the story, often at expense of authentic representation of women. Where a Smurfette character is the only woman in a world of men, The Better Girl is the only worthwhile woman among a cast of female characters, many of whom embody sexist stereotypes. The Better Girl shows that she alone can rise above the faults and failings of her gender, and she does so by exhibiting idealize masculine behavior. 

She isn’t just a girl, she is THE GIRL! Every guy want her, and every girl want to be her, because the Better Girl is the only woman worthy of male attention and respect. Ironically, a big part of the reasons she’s held in such high regard is the Better Girl is essentially a male character, in the body of a woman. This stems from the misogynist ideal that believes men want (and thus the a ideal woman should be) a man with a vagina.

The Characteristics of The Better Girl:

  • She is not a girlie girl. The Better Girl defies gender stereotypes in dress and/or behavior, but she is still considered traditionally beautiful and appealing to men. She doesn’t need make up or pretty dresses to outshine other women. [Note: If the Better Girl is a Fighting Fuck-Toy she can be both sexualized and still emulate stereotypically masculine behavior, because she is the ultimate male fantasy, a sexy version of himself.]
  • Her mentor(s) are men. Whether it’s her father, an older brother or some unrelated male in her life, the Better Girl needs a man to teach her how to be better. Sometimes even to counter act the negative female influences in her life. Her story sometimes even revolves around avenging, finding or proving herself to her male mentor/father figure.
  • She is only friends with boys. This idea is closely tied to the male mentor cliche, in that it values relationships (even platonic ones) between men and women more than relationships between women. It’s often done in an attempt to make the Better Girl appear more relatable to men, aka a male audiences/readers. Which feeds an age old stereotype that the ideal woman (or Better Girl) can be “one of the guys” while also being an object of men’s desire.
  • She is so much cooler than those other girls. The Better Girl is often noticeably so because she stands out from a crowd of other, undesirable female characters in the story. Whether they’re shallow, vain, slutty, ugly, nerdy, awkward or the worst of all, angry, outspoken (straw feminist) man-haters. The Better Girl will cast in a better light, by comparison, because she will appear to be the only female character who isn’t a negative stereotype of women. Though she will openly hate other women, sometimes more than the male characters in the story. She will be the first to slut shame, and victim blame other female characters, to help reminds us of how much better she is than “those other girls.”
  • She always gets her man, and everyone else man too. The Better Girl is the object of desire, whether she wants it or not. Men are unable to resist her charms and often fall at her feet for inexplicable reasons. This is usually a big pain in the ass for the Better Girl who just wants to shoot arrows, fight monster, or do whatever masculine idealize activity that’s so much more important that girlie stuff. This also further proves she is better than other girls, while justifying why she has no close female friends (unless they are lesser to her in beauty, physicality or is a relative), because she’s the target of other women’s jealousy. Because secretly every girl wants to be the Better Girl. 
  • She is a protector, but not a caretaker. Much in the way the Better Girl is modeled after men, she too can only fulfill stereotypically male roles as fighters, protectors, providers, but few every display nurturing, or are real caretakers. Sure, she will fight and even die to protect younger siblings, friends, lovers, or even innocent strangers, but she is not shown actively being a nurturing mother, sister or female friend or any in any traditionally female role that is stereotypes as weak. Those roles are reserved for the other women in the story. [If a Better Girl is shown in these roles of mother or nurse, they’re awkward and obviously uncomfortable, much in the same manner stereotypically masculine men are often show to be out of place in female roles, aka Mister Mom.]
  • Her story will pass the Bechdel test with flying colors. Which highlights one of the biggest flaws in using the test as an indication of whether a book or movie is feminist. The presence of women does not automatically prove the presence of a female stories, or even of women aren't just two-dimensional stereotypes created for the entertainment of men (See the movie Sucker Punch).

Many Better Girl stories feature familiar, and even cliched, themes already explored ad nauseam by stories with male leads, but they’re considered “fresh” and “new” because they simply replaced a man with a woman. However none of them actually tell female stories, or allow the female leads to be multidimensional and reflect the complex nature of real women. Not to mention these stories rarely bother to elevate any other female characters in the story. There are no mentoring mothers, strong sisters who fight beside the female leads. Other women are obstacles and burdens, because the Better Girl, like the idealize masculine heroes she's emulating, don't need women. 

This trope is not isolated to the mainstream, or male-dominate genres. The Better Girl can be found in the lead roles of popular Romance, Erotica and especially in Young Adult novels aimed at girls. Actually, any genre aimed at women will feature the Better Girl trope, because sadly many women buy into this ideal. Even sadder, many of the authors of popular stories featuring the Better Girl are women.

While the stories aimed at women are usually romances told from a female perspective, they still revolve around and value men above women. The Better Girl has to overcome jealous haters, slutty adversaries and the inherent failing of being a girl to win her man. The male characters are the focus of the story, because they are the prize at the end of female version of the hero's quest. Often understanding, helping or developing the male character takes a great precedence over the female lead’s own character development. Any changes she does make is in the pursuit of become the Better Girl in order to get her man. This is how you make a woman’s story about a man, even when she’s the main character. 

This is why there’s an inherent problem with comparing Katniss Everdeen and Bella Swan. Though they appear to be different women with very different stories they are both prime examples of The Better Girl trope. Despite being the main characters in what look-like female stories, written by women, these stories perpetuate  some of the worst stereotypes about women.

Ironically, Twilight is publicly criticized for it’s sexism and racism more often because of sexism in our culture that holds any female-centric media to be lesser. A romance about a teenage girl and a sexy 100 year old virginal vampire is easy pickings for feminists and misogynists alike. 

While Hunger Games is marketed as a science fiction thriller ‘with romantic themes.’ A distinction that gives it an appearance of legitimacy in a market that cringes at female sexuality, but is content to watch the violent murder of children. The Hunger Games has action, death and a female lead who all but shames her own sexuality. Misogynists and feminists alike agree again, saying it isn’t as bad as Twilight.

Why would we openly mock teenage girls’ sexual fantasies, but applauds while they murder each other? Because remotely feminine or female oriented is often viewed as lesser than even by women. How else do we explain why so many women turn a blind eye to the plight of every female character in  the Hunger Games who isn’t Katniss?

When you dissemble Katniss’ story you begin to see glaring signs that she is the quintessential Better Girl. Every important person in her life, who is an equal or better, are men. Her mentors, peers, enemies and (in the end her only true) family are men. Conversely when the other women in the series are set beside Katniss each one can be easily filed into one of two categories: Adversary or Lesser

Lesser

  • Katniss’ mother is mentally weak and ultimately a failure as a parent. It was Katniss’ father who taught her to hunt, and gave her the biggest advantage in the Games. [Given the futuristic setting there is no reason to not make Katniss’ mother the mentoring parent. In fact, it would have made in an interesting contrast to modern expectation of men, that could have helped highlight Katniss’ role as a mother figure to Prim, for her father to be the mentally broken parent. Rather than perpetuating the stereotype that women are broken and lost without their men.]
  • Prim is effectively Katniss’ child, but she serves little purpose other than an emotional focus, and a exploitable weakness for Katniss. [Prim is used as many female characters are for male characters, to complicate Katniss’ story, but never given a real, separate life/story of her own. She is a damsel in distress, waiting for her savior, Katniss.]
  • Rue is a child who requires Katniss’ protection, who services as a living reminder of Prim, and who’s death services Katniss’ story. [Killing off a black girl to service the story of a white girl, is no better than killing a woman to service the story of a man. In fact, I personally feel it’s fucking worse. An ism is an ism.]
  • Madge is a privileged, but ultimately weak girl. She served as a reminder of Katniss’ disparity, but also as her ‘superiority’ in strength and endurance to those in the upper classes. [Her character was little more than a plot device, and her over all impact on the story was so unimportant that her most significant actions were given to another, similarly lesser character in the films. She’s the cowardly popular girl cliche, the popular girl who is friends with unpopular kids, but is too afraid to acknowledge those friendships in public.]
  • Effie Trinket is the first person from the Capitol Katniss, and by extension the readers, meet. She embodies the Capitol, as a naive, self-centered, vain woman more concerned with the Games than children who will die in them. [The choice to embody the Capitol’s shallow, ignorant opulence in a overly made-up, clownish woman in ridiculous fashion isn’t a new thing. It’s a classic misogynist narrative that casts the vanity of women as face of a corrupt society, rather than indicting the sexism within a society that only values women for their appearance. Collins could have expanded Effie’s presence within the story, made her a whole character and allowed her to form a relationship with Katniss based on respect and understanding that all the citizen of Panem are trapped in their own way. While there’s a weak attempt at this, it ultimately fails and she is relegated to be being a sad clown only deserving of Katniss’ pity.]

Adversary

Clove, Glimmer, and Foxface (aka the Mean Girls) these three tributes can be boiled down into the the common high school stereotypes of popular girls. Each one is duly punished for her failings. Demonstrating that even adversaries are lessers in the end, because they’re women after all. /sarcasm [Note: While I draw connections with the movie Mean Girls, these sexist female archetypes have existed in media for a long time in many forms and are essentially embodiments of the classic sins of Lust, Pride, Vanity.]
  • Clove is the Slutty Head Bitch, the Regina George of the Hunger Games. Using her sexuality to secure a male protector, Cato, and cold blooded calculation to form alliances to ensure her elevated position in the group. She is murdered by Thresh, who bashes her head in with a rock. [Do I have to point out how disgustingly racist it is that the most overtly brutal display of violence in the entire book is the savage murder of a sexualize white girl at the hands of black man?]
  • Glimmer is the Pretty but Dumb one, most of the remarks about her in the book revolves around her beauty. Her death is the result of what’s presented as a blind panic and being too dumb to survive. [Literally, she lacked the basically flight instinct that almost every animal has, and allowed herself to be stung to death.]
  • Foxface is the Conceded Bitch. Her sin is her arrogance. As a result she overestimates her intelligence and dies as a result. [The ‘irony’ is a purposeful lesson seen time and again to teach “intelligence” should be tempered with humility, i.e. an uppity women will be put in their proper place.]

There are so many simple changes that could have made to make the story more feminist. Making Katniss’ mother a mentor, rather than a burden. Making Effie a fuller character to shed light on the false face of the Capitol sooner, and showing that some women have to paint on a smile to cover their tears. Make Haymitch a woman, showing the burden of mentoring from a female perspective and give Katniss a mentor more like herself, who could explain how people (aka women) often have to play roles and do things they don’t like to survive in a world hell bent on using and destroying them. Make Madge and/or Prim empowered allies who help, support and maybe even teach Katniss a few things, instead of weaker, dependent women who add to her stress and burden. 

Lastly, humanize the other tributes in the Games, male and female alike. So the reader and Katniss feels the full impact of their deaths, and never forget that they are children, to emphasis that ALL children not matter where they come from or how they were raised do not deserve to die for the sake of entertaining the Capitol or the readers/audience of books/movies.

It’s important to point out that these are characters in a book. They and this story were constructed by a person. How the women are portrayed and marginalized wasn't done by the fictional world, but by their creator, the author. While I don’t think that Collins is aware of sheer amount of sexist tropes she was regurgitating in these books, much in the way many readers don’t see them, it doesn’t mean they are not present and very potent.

Katniss isn’t a feminist role model. Hunger Games isn’t a feminist story. It is, however, a fascinating example of the much heralded "strong female character" is actually a very disturbing sexist trope, a straw feminist, whose story doesn't teach us to be courageous, and self reliant, but instead to be better than other women, by being more like men. Just like Twilight it perpetuates the lie that the love and approval of men is all any woman needs to be happy. 

On the bright side, both Hunger Games and Twilight prove that women are a power in the literary and film markets. We buy books, and movie tickets, and we are hungry to see ourselves reflected in the media we consume. Despite my criticism and frustrations with both series, I have affection for them too. They are compelling, interesting and very entertaining stories, that remind me of what I used to be like when I was younger, and how far I've come. Because of that, I know we can do better.

We can build on this foundation, learn from Collins and Meyer’s mistakes, and write better stories. 

Stories with lots of different, complex and fully realized female characters. Stories about courageous mothers mentoring strong daughters, and supportive sisters who fight side by side for a better life. Stories 
where women can be villains and heroes and every single point in between. Maybe even all of them at once, because real women are not simple, and their fictional representations shouldn't be either.

A feminist story shouldn't be about elevating one woman over other women, or even making women better than men. It's about treating female character and female stories with the same care, respect and effort put into male characters and male stories. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Evil Dead Remake: A Slap in the Face for Fans and Women.


The Evil Dead remake was underwhelming and, despite the amped up gore, also boring as hell. The pacing was slow, the plot was convoluted and in the end I was done with the movie before we even got halfway through. I did watch all the way to the end, and there is an awesome easter egg at the end of the credits (a cameo from the original Ash, Bruce Campbell).

I would say that cameo is the only thing worth seeing in the movie, but the gore effects are pretty cool (if you like horror and gore), and actress Jane Levy, who plays Mia (aka Girl!Ash) acts her ass off in the film. She's on my ones to watch list, because she was balls out both as possessed!Mia and believable emo, drug addict Mia. Honestly, she was the best of the entire cast and story, and should have been the focus of the entire film (not just as a live-action horror prop).

That's the biggest miss of the movie, that made just about every mistake a remake can make. The things they changed either didn't make sense or were under used (like changing the gender of Ash). What they did keep from the original film didn't make sense in the new story, either because it wasn't set up or was outdated (especially when it comes the tree-rape scene that came off as more lame than scary or gross).

In the end, the Evil Dead remake squander it's potential and ended up annoying and insulting this old school fan of the franchise. By the time I made it to the home-stretch of the film, when it actually shows some promise, I was so annoyed that they made me wade through boring recycled bullshit to only spend a few minutes on a badass, chainsaw-wielding, one-handed, FEMALE Ash (The main reason I chose to see the film in the first place) that I couldn't enjoy it.

Even my husband, who watched for the gore and nostalgia was bored, and played Candy Crush on his phone in between the gory scenes. So this disappoints both old school fans of the series, fans of gore and female fans hoping for a little less rape and objectification of women.

That last bit was the hardest and most insulting pill to swallow, because the press for this film made a big deal about the change of the Ash character to a girl, and made it a selling point of the film. Then they made me sit through women being brutalized, raped and dehumanize before it gave me a handful of minutes with the empowered female protagonist they promised me.

Fuck that!

In summary, this was a really expensive, poorly executed advertisement for the Army of Darkness remake. I hope to hell they put more effort and thought into that remake or Raimi, Tapert and Campbell may have lost me (and my money) for good.

Ugh, I need a shower.







Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Sci Fi Romance That Will Steal Your Heart.


Unacceptable Risk opens with a kind of electronic poetry that is reminiscent of William Gibson's Neuromancer.

I do not make that comparison lightly. Jeanette Grey grounds this story in a tangible dystopian future world where every aspect of life, even people's bodies, are saturated with technology. Unlike a lot of other sci fi writers Grey allows the reader to experience this futuristic world and new human experience without bogging us down with buckets loads of exposition. Instead she skillful integrates technological terminology into the descriptions of how Plix experiences stimuli in her world and even in her own body. It is subtle, but incredibly effective narrative device that quickly immerses the reader in this world without causing confusion or slowing the pace of the story.

Despite the futuristic setting the heart of this story is the relationship between Plix and Edison. We see this in the very opening of the book, when Plix is at her very worst the first person she goes to is Edison, seeking his help and comfort. In her near unconscious state we get glimpses of Edison's own very telling behavior, in his tenderness while caring for her wounds and frustration with her blind commitment to her mission.

One of the things I love about this story is it takes popular fiction cliches and turns them one their ear. Here we see a gender reversal that is both refreshing and expertly crafted into something entirely new. Plix is the driven hero(ine,) haunted by personal tragedy, on a secret mission to expose a dark conspiracy. Edison is the introverted tech who nurses her back to health and pleads with her to stop her self-destructive mission. In most mainstream sci fi noir stories like this one, the gender roles would be reversed and theses characters wouldn't be half as developed as they are here.

Edison is a compelling in his quiet strength, and determination to keep the woman he loves alive even as she chases her own death. His vulnerability (that is far from weakness) grounds this story in very real emotions. Even though Edison is in a supporting role, to a female lead, he is never reduce to some emasculated stereotype. He is compassionate, earnest and never threatened by Plix. Even when she infuriates him. What I wouldn't give to see more men like Edison in romantic fiction.

In the same right, Plix has been set into a role typically inhabited by men, but never once does the reader forget that she is a woman. Her pain over her past and her struggle to compartmentalize her emotions in order to protect herself and Edison is endearing and heartbreaking to read. She is intelligent, strong, stubborn and extremely endearing in her desperation to do what is right, while protecting Edison.

How very refreshing to see a strong female character that isn't a bitchy cliche or a male character in disguise. THIS is how you write a female protagonist, like a fully fleshed out human being. I wish we had more wonderfully detailed female characters like this in every genre of fiction.

I'm going to be honest, I fell deeply in love with both of these characters, and this story. It kept my heart racing, made her giggle and gasp out loud. I was scared for them and cheered them on every step of the way.

While, it was sad to see the story come to an end, it was a satisfying and believable one. I won't be sad for too long, since I'm sure to reread this book again and again.

I highly recommend this for both readers of science fiction and romance. You get fantastic book or an incredibly reasonable price ($2.66 on Amazon). It is worth every penny and then some.

I would also encourage any reluctant male readers to give this story a chance. It has all the same language and atmosphere of a traditional sci fic novel, AND it features a tech-geek as a romantic lead. Really, geeky guys should be hoisting Jeanette Grey on their shoulders and celebrating her portrayal of a sexy, compassionate, techno-savvy guy.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Blame Game: Romanticizing Abusive Relationships


The tricky thing about abusive relationships is that even the people in them don’t always realize that they are abusive.

It is common for the participants (both abuser and victim) to have been victimized in the past, be it through neglect or active physical, sexual or psychological abuse. So often the dysfunction and abuse in their current relationship doesn’t seem bad or is more acceptable, because it isn’t “as bad” in comparison to what they’ve experienced in the past. The most complicated thing about these kinds of relationships is that sometimes these two very broken and dysfunctional people honestly do love each other, in so much they are capable of love.

All of this is true of both the characters in this romanticized abusive relationship.

Captive in the Dark is a fantastic example of why abusive relationships are so common, by utilizing two very powerful stereotypes about men and women, that are also very popular archetypes in books, movies and various forms media.

Men are violent and domineering, while women are naive and weak. Therefore a man loves through force, and a woman loves through surrender.

In this story the reader is taken on an thrilling and emotional journey of learning how to love an abuser, while disempowering and blaming a victim for her abuse. It’s a pretty simple formula utilized by a lot a similar abuse/abuser fantasies. It is a very popular theme that can be found in almost every genre of romance from Fifty Shades of Grey to Beautiful Disaster, as well as many popular titles aimed at young adults.

It seeks to forgive the abuser for his many sins by giving him a sympathetic back story and a very earnest belief that he loves (or cares deeply for) his victim. Conversely, it casts the victim in the decidedly unsympathetic light, even when she is doing heroic or very understandable things, like resisting the abuser or attempting to leave the abusive situation.

What is the purpose of casting a victim in a negative light? Easy. It diminishes the very real horror of what the 'hero' does to the victim, because “it could be worse” or “it wouldn’t be as bad if she wouldn’t fight him.” Suddenly all of the victim's choices, that in the real world would be applauded as heroic, are cast in a negative light in the story. She is seen as being unreasonable, idiotic and even cruel/hurtful to the abuser’s feelings.

He loves, and needs her. /sarcasm



The story begins when Caleb, a criminal in the sex trafficking industry, kidnaps the heroine with the intention of forcing her into training as a sex slave so that he may sell her to his enemy in an elaborate (aka convoluted) revenge plan. Based on the the set up alone this book screams dark, thriller or horror, not the erotica romance.

However, I don’t blame those who do see it as erotic and romantic, because the entire story is framed and presented as just that. Where an abusive, kidnapper is a reluctant hero and his unwilling victim is his lucky lady love.

Caleb is the protagonist of this story. It is HIS story of redemption and poor little Olivia isn’t even the antagonist. She’s merely the conduit through which he is finds forgiveness and love. Her resistance and reluctance to love her abuser is the obstacle that must be overcome.

If only she would give up her sense of self worth, and freedom to give him that love he so richly deserves. /sarcasm

Captive in the Dark is a actually very well constructed, though the writing isn’t that stellar (epic ellipse abuse, more telling than showing and an overwrought narrative style that made Caleb sound more like an aristocratic poet of a gothic novel opposed to a gritty streetwise criminal). The story pulls the reader in with the taboo titillation of seeing through the eyes of a predator, but it is littered with cut-away flashbacks and carefully worded internal thoughts that attempt to justify his actions and induce the reader to forgive Caleb’s loathsome behavior.

Judging by the glowing reviews and vocal fans of the series, it works. That alone shows that this book/series is worthy of recognition. Though, I withhold my praise, and respect when all of this work is being put forth to paint an abuser as hero, at the expense of his young, female victim.

I’m not going to judge people who like this book, because honestly I’ve loved a ton of books with questionable content. Rather I’m hoping that people who enjoyed this book, and feel affection for Caleb stop the next time they hear a story about a victim of domestic, sexual or any other kind of abuse.

When they wonder “why did she stay,” I want them to consider that maybe that victim loved their abuser as much as Olivia (and the readers) love Caleb.

At the end of the day this is a dark fantasy about female disempowerment, and male control that results in the sexual pleasure too taboo to admit to wanting willingly, aka a rape fantasy. There is nothing wrong with people wanting to explore these dark desires, but I'm very uncomfortable with labeling a rape fantasy as romance. That's a rant for another post.

0.5 star for the skill it takes to sell rape and abuse as romance, but Roberts' has to share credit with rape culture and misogyny.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Warrior Women, Friendship and Asexuality!

Trigger Warning: There are mentions of one of the characters rape that takes place in her past. Nothing too graphic, but there are no warnings for it in any of the blurbs I've seen. It's best for people to be prepared. Note: This books is a bunch of loosely connected short stories collected into one book. It does not contain the story of Tarma and Kethry's first meeting, Sword Sworn published in the Sword and Sorceresses III Anthology. While this book takes place in the same universe as Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series, it takes place in a different region of the world (the Southern lands). They are just as magical, but we do not encounter any characters from the other series and the tone of these books are different. Review proper: This books is a fantastic fun read. I highly recommend it to any fans of fantasy, especially if they are looking for female centric stories with humor and intricate world building on par of Tolkien and GRRM. Though I would hesitate to call this epic fantasy, because it's really more about the story of two women, who are best friends and warriors. I first read these book as a teenager, after unsuccessfully attempting to slog my way through various high fantasy series. As a teenage girl, and woman of color, I was longing to read about someone like me, while still exploring the concepts and world building of the fantasy genre. In other words, I was bored to death of white man fantasy. Where women were relegated to damsels, canon fodder or sexist jokes. Where there wasn't a single ethnic character, or the supernatural creatures were thinly veiled racist stereotypes ala JarJar Binks. Enter my foster mother who was tired of my bitching. She slapped down her well worn copies of The Oathbound and Oathbreakers, telling me to shut up and read. To this day I'm so grateful to her for giving me the gift of Mercedes Lackey's books. Even though it has been two decades since I first read these books they still stand as some of the most entertaining and endearing of all the books I own. If you're looking for books with a woman of color in a lead role, where a female friendship is set center stage and that has a of cheeky sense of humor these books are for you. This book also has one of the most positive representations of an asexual character I've ever read. The world has gay and lesbian characters who are viewed in a positive light. (In fact, Lackey has a prequel series set in this world, north in the kingdom of Valdemar about a gay man called Valdemar: The Last Herald Mage. Which I highly recommend too). This is fantasy with a female voice, written to entertain and amuse and it does.

Asleep...[insert joke here]


Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

I’ve never been so sad to not finish a book, but this was has dragged on for so long and I keep putting it down because the issues repeatedly pulled me out of the story. It wouldn’t be so hard if I didn’t love the premise, and he lead characters, but even that can’t save this story for me. The really sad part is a good editor could have fixed most of the problems.

The dialogue was repetitive, and seemed to flop between a formal and casual modern language. Or as I call it the Keanu Reeves effect. I get this is a fantasy, but the world presented to us is one of royalty and formality. So to have people fall into language that I could hear at my local Starbucks made it really hard to suspend my disbelief and stay engaged in the story.

There was a lot of telling over showing, where characters informed us of every nuance of their feelings, but didn’t really display any of them. I have a real hard time picturing anyone in the story. Scenes were often a few sparse details and big chunk of exposition. This is especially true of the numerous flashbacks we get in Dev’s half of the narrative, which were fun at first, but quickly became tiresome.

The story starts strong with prince Dev being kidnaped on the eve of his wedding to long time love, princess Jessmyn. While Dev struggles to stay conscious to figure out who took him and why, Jess works with their families to search for him. That’s all that happened for several chapters.

It’s like starting a story with a gunshot and spending a week looking for the bullet. Yes, it was interesting to get the back story and slow build of Jess and Dev’s romance, but I also wanted things to fucking happen in the main story. All I got was Dev sleeping, and Jess talking a lot with his brother. ZZZzzzzzzzzz

I’m sure the story picks up eventually, but it lost me so early on that I just can’t stick around to find out. Especially, when I have to wade through a lot of poorly edited writing and rambling narrative that should have been tightened up or cut all together. I am not an editor by any stretch of the imagination, which is why it’s even more frustrating to me that I found myself mentally critiquing this story, instead of enjoying it.

The really sad part is I loved Jess. She was a refreshing balance of strength and subtle femininity. Sure, she was a little cliche with the “I’m so uncomfortable in girl clothes” schtick, but I found it charming. I really liked the scenes between her and her parents, though some of the dialogue was really forced, but you could see how they raised a daughter more comfortable with a sword than a tiara.

Dev, when he was awake, charmed me too. I did enjoy how the flashbacks let us see the evolution of how this humble, loving man was once a spoiled, macho princeling. Seeing them as children was interesting, but again the dialogue was way too mature for kids their ages.

So there you are. I really wish I could have enjoyed this story more, and stuck with it, but it began to feel more like work than fun. Reading a good book should never feel like work.

1.5 stars

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fandom and Racism: Is it racist to not ship or like a character of color?


Recently, I joined the Sleepy Hollow fandom, and I’m loving it a lot. However, someone pointed out that they recently saw a post on the Sleepy Hollow tag that said the “only reason to not ship Ichabod and Abbie is racism.”

I do NOT believe not liking or shipping a character of color, in and of itself, is racist. However, I do think it’s important to talk about where this idea comes from, because it is indirectly pointing out a very real issue in fandoms and media in general.

This sentiment is nothing new, and as much as it may seem to come out of left field, it has a very real, very palpable basis. Not because fans are racist, but because of the the way people of color are treated in popular media. And how that inequitable treatment and lack of representation can be echoed in fandom.

Similar accusation have been leveled against fans, in the True Blood fandom, who didn’t like the character Tara. In the Iron Man/Avengers fandom there has been accusations of unequal treatment of the Tony/Rhodey ship. I can even remember were heated debates over similar issues in both the Heroes, and Angel fandoms. 

I used to roll my eyes when I saw these kinds of accusations fly around in the past. They didn’t make sense to me because I, like many other fans, didn’t like or ship these characters either. I knew that my choice to ship or not wasn’t based on race, but rather how I felt about the character themselves. I was left, like others in fandom, scratching my head. 

Then, I joined the Twilight fandom. Where the most popular slash pairing was not between the two male leads of the series, Edward Cullen and Jacob Black, but rather Edward Cullen and his vampire sibling Jasper Whitlock. Two white guys. 

The popularity of the Edward/Jasper pairing, confused me, given that Jasper had a smaller role, and very few scenes of interaction with Edward, when compared to Jacob. It was especially inexplicable to me when most popular slash ship I had seen in other fandoms were almost always between the two male leads (especially so if they were romantic rivals). The only difference that I could see between all those popular slash ships and Edward/Jacob was that it is a multicultural relationship.



I have a lot of friends who are Ed/Jasper shippers, who I know are not racist, but I knew there was something else at work, and I had to figure it out. So instead of judging them, I decided to listen to what they had to say about why they liked the ship, but more importantly why they didn’t like or relate to Jacob. 

Once I set aside my own personal feelings (and anger), I realized the fault didn’t lie with fans, but rather with the source material. Many of the Twilight fans don’t like Jacob Black, don’t see him as a desirable, or relatable character because Stephen Meyer didn’t write him to be one.

When you look at the Twilight series, all of the Quileute characters are underdeveloped, undesirable and unsympathetic. Their actions often bordered on racist stereotypes. From Jacob’s attempted sexual assault on Bella, to Paul’s violent temper that resulting in him shifting into wolf form and attempting to attack Bella. Even Leah’s “harpy” stand-offish behavior toward Bella, all set them in opposition of Bella, the lead character and the stand-in for the reader. They are alien to her human nature, but not in the sparkly, desirable way the vampires are, but a violent, animalistic threat to her very safety. I mean, jesus, Meyer even made them smell bad. WTF?

While other media aren’t as overtly racist in they’re portrayals of people of color, often their treatment of characters of color are no less problematic. In other words, fans might be more inclined to love and ship characters of color if there were MORE of them. If people of color were allowed to be complex, layered and most of all relatable to everyone in the audience. 

See, the issue lies within the sever lack of diverse representations of people of color, where we are not only the villains and best friends, but the lovers, heroes and more. The best way to achive this is to expand our presence in all media. Stop the token casting of a few people of color, and fill the cast to bursting with us. Show the diversity that exists in reality, where we are doctors, lawyers, criminals, geeks, and soldiers. Once we are more present, and more accessible in media, than there will be more fans rooting for and falling in love with us. 

Not liking a character of color or not shipping them isn’t racist. However, fans shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the latent racism, and lack of representation of people of color in media. Nor should they ignore how the problematic nature of the media they consume can directly affect how they react to (love, hate, mourn, etc) characters of color. 


Love who you love, ship whomever you want, but don’t ever stop questioning and examining media. We ALL should challenge content creators to do more, to do it better and do it with a more diverse cast of characters to represent EVERYONE in the audience.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Multicultural Tokenism in Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy



Recently, while I've been searching for a good "witchy" book with a non-white lead, I was reminded of one of my most loathed tropes that is still really prevalent in fiction. I found it first in the Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy genres, but it can be found in all genres of fiction. It seems to be popping up in YA a lot lately too. 

The white-passing, multicultural (mixed race) lead. They’re often female character, but the same trope can be applied to male characters too. All of them will fit one or more of the items on the list below.


  • Their non-white ethnicity is tied to or is the source of their powers. 
  • They have a Western European name, or a stereotypically ethnic last name, like Bloodmoon or Akira. Or are named after a well known god/goddess from the non-white culture's pantheon. Bonus points if they share a name with a non-white Disney character.
  • They are the result of their non-white parent raping their white parent.
  • Their non-white culture is a source of personal pain, because their non-white parent is dead, absent, an abuser, and/or the main villain of the series. 
  • They are out of touch or at odds with their non-white culture.
  • They’ve been rejected by their non-white family/culture.
  • They are the only character of color in the story.
  • If they are other characters of color they are all different ethnicity, never more than two people of the same ethnicity appear in the same book. 
  • If there is another character of the same ethnicity, as the lead, in the story they are a minor/one-off character who ends up dying to help, save life of or further complicate the lead character’s story line (aka WiR). Or they are a villain.
  • If a new reader were to pick up a book in the middle of the series they would have no idea the character is not white.
One of the problems with these characters they are not authentically representing their ethnicity or the experience of being multicultural. They are essentially a white character taking on the affectations of another culture. In other words this is just a subtle form of Cultural Appropriation.  

Cultural Appropriation isn’t just taking on the guise of another culture, but reducing the complexity of another culture down to an, often negative or disparaging, stereotype. For example, that men of color are absent parents, abusers and/or rapists. 

Now, this is not to say that all the books with white-passing, multicultural leads fall into this trope. However, even some of the good ones can stray into problematic territory. I think this happens for two reasons. First, because a person’s ethnic and cultural identity (even white characters) isn’t treated with the weight it deserves in fiction. Secondly, authors are not aware of or don’t take the existing racism in our culture into account when they write about characters of color.

Racism is real, and it still heavily influences how people of color are represented in fiction. Any author who wishes to write about them, should understand how racism affects their lives and to make the effort to not contribute to it. Nor should they attempt to avoid dealing with the complexity of the issue by erasing or ignoring a multicultural character’s ethnicity.

Our family, culture, and where we come from is a very significant part of who we are. Even the absence of them has a profound affect on a person’s own identity. The experience of being multicultural is a wonderfully complex way to demonstrate a journey toward that self discovery, but it deserves to be fully represented.

[Special note: Many of the traits of this trope can easily apply to characters who are part human and [insert magical race or species here]. It’s important to remember that even if an author has taken race (in the traditional sense) out of the story, in popular cultural and fiction, white is the default human race. So the supernatural race/species often becomes the “other” and their treatment can be just as much of a reflection of racism in our culture. Where a half human character must seek to purify or be more human to be heroic. As a multicultural person, stories like this read a lot like white supremacist pamphlets than a fantasy story about self discovery.]

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Friendship, Gay Love and Rock-n-Roll!


American Love Songs is one of the best books I have read all year. Not just the best gay romance or best romance novel, but one of the best books, period.

Ashlyn Kane has elevated this story beyond genre and sexual orientation, to a place that few works of fiction ever reach: American Love Songs is a great story about friendship, love, and the precarious nature of success in the music industry. Sure, there is the added wrinkle of how being a young gay man effects all of this, but it’s not treated like a burden, which is so often done in gay romances.

Jake Brenner is gay. His friends, family, and fans of the band all know this for fact. We as readers learn it right off the bat. Jake never bemoans his sexuality. In fact, his causal self acceptance allows the reader to quickly move past that fact to get to know Jake as a person. To know Jake is to love him.

It’s been a long time since I fell this wholly in love with a fictional character, much less a gay one, but it’s hard not to be smitten with someone so funny, creative, and loyal.

Wayward Sons’ Inaugural Post

Wow, okay, this page has eight fans now and only four of them are us, so I guess I should put something up to introduce ourselves or something. Anyway, here’s a picture.

On the left is Jimmy, our drummer. You can just see him under all the hair. Jimmy’s a great guy. Dumber than a sack of hammers, but damn, he can count.

Next up is Chris, the lead singer and rhythm guitarist. Chris can hit the high notes like a Viennese choirboy. Also, don’t let his pretty face fool you. He’s a douchebag.

The slammin’ redhead rocking the pixie cut and licking the guitar is Kylie, lead guitarist. Yes, those are her real boobs. No, you can’t touch them. Sorry, guys. Jimmy will break you, and we’re too poor to get lawyers.

Oh, hey, and the hot guy on his knees is me, Jake. Please, no blowjob jokes. People should never joke about blowjobs. I play bass. Nice to meet you.

Together, we’re the Wayward Sons, an up-and-coming (is that pretentious? To call oneself up-and-coming? Who am I kidding; nobody’s reading this, so who cares?) rock band based in Independence, Kansas.

America Long Songs by Ashlyn Kane page 5


That is Jake. A smartass, shit talker who will have you rolling and snorting through the entire book. His character voice is crystal clear, and unmistakably his own. The same can be said about the rest of the motley crew that makes up the cast of this story. Everyone from minor players like Jake’s loving mother to Jake’s love interest, Parker, come alive on the page.

Speaking of Parker...*swoons* Yeah, Parker McAvoy is the quintessential tortured genius. At the start of the story we are unsure of what tortures him, though it is clear that something not-so-good has happened in his past. What’s most fascinating about Parker, other than his incredible musical talent, is how his quiet, shy personality is the perfect counter to Jake’s loud, outgoing nature. Don’t get me wrong, Parker is no shrinking violet. He holds his own even with the likes of Mr. Brenner.

Jake plonked the bottle down in the middle of the living room table, distracting Parker from his place in Breakfast of Champions. Rubbing his eyes with one hand—he’d been at it for hours—Parker lowered his glasses with the other. His eyebrows lifted as his gaze lighted on the bottle of amber liquid.

“We’re going to play a game,” Jake said firmly, but he made sure to smile just in case Parker thought he was a psychopath.14

“Is it the one you play on your knees in front of a toilet?” Parker asked. “Because I hate that game.”

With a flourish, Jake produced two shot glasses from behind his back.

“Oh,” Parker sighed. “It is that game.” But he folded the corner of his page over and set the book aside, so he obviously didn’t hate it that much.

America Long Songs by Ashlyn Kane page 24


Side note: That “14” in the quote above isn’t a typo. It’s a marker for an annotation (see below). They are scattered through the narrative and are comments from either Jake or Parker. I have never seen anything like this before in fiction, but it is great, and never failed to make me laugh.

14In case you were wondering? It didn’t help.—PM


These two are so perfectly in-tune that you can feel the magnetic pull between them through the pages of the book. They have palpable chemistry and an adorable interplay, not to mention undeniable sexual tension, even when they are just friends. Although, when things become more complicated between them it is some of the hottest erotica I have ever read. However, the romance of this story isn’t just Jake and Parker’s journey, but the slow and steady seduction of the reader by the world that Ashlyn Kane has created.

This isn’t just a love story, it’s a Rock story, and it is jam packed with classic rock-n-roll moments. From Parker getting intense stage fright at their first big show, to the band going through endless interviews to find an acceptable road manager who wouldn’t sleep with Chris, the lead singer, and even the filming of their first music video. All these details help to flesh out the world of American Love Songs and transforms it from genre fiction to a full-developed, and wholly enjoyable fiction novel (that has a gay romance at its center).

I am passionate about this book, not just because love the characters, story, and the eyeball-meltingly hot sex scenes, but because I believe Ashlyn Kane has done something that I knew could be done if someone talented and brave enough would just do it. She has shown us that there is a place for gay fiction to sit side by side with mainstream fiction. That stories featuring homosexual relationships at the forefront can be just as enthralling and fulfilling as their heterosexual counterparts, in this case even more so. This book blows just about every romantic story (heterosexual or homosexual) that I’ve read this year out of the fucking water. No, I am not exaggerating.

American Love Songs is a hilarious, heartwarming, and romantic story of two friends finding love in the chaotic world of rock-n-roll. I hope that we have convinced you to take a chance, skip a trip to Starbucks for one day and buy this book. If you love slash fan fiction, if you love rock-n-roll or even if you just love well written fiction, this is the book for you.


Transgender Girls Need Love Too.


It’s isn’t easy to find erotic transgender romance novels. That is not to say there isn’t a wealth of pornography (both visual and literary) featuring transgender people, but not a lot of it is romantic. Which is very disheartening.

However, while I was searching I discovered this diamond in the rough. Aphrodite Calling isn’t just an erotic romance about a transgender woman finding love. It is also an urban fantasy about a lonely love god finally finding his soulmate in a very special mortal woman.

I must confess, this book charmed me from the first page. It is a fairy tale complete with love/lust at first sight, villainy, and fantastical world-rocking sex. The fact that our heroine is transgender only sweetened the story for me.

Gina won my heart. While she has had a hard road in life, she remains courageous and optimistic. I adore how she handles Himeros’ overwhelming personality. She asks the right questions, wonders if he’s for real, but also is daring enough to take a leap of faith.

Himeros is all Alpha male, and completely unphased by the fact that Gina was once Gerry. He embraces who she is and is absolutely enchanted by this unique woman. It is easy to believe he is a love god with his loud pronouncements of how sexy Gina is and his complete lack of pretense in his desire to be with her.
“Himeros.” She took a deep breath and pressed back as far as she could against the wall. “I’m not, well, I wasn’t…” Just say the damn words. Get it over with. “I wasn’t always like I am now. I used to be—”

“You were born with male genitalia, and you lived as a man for the first twenty-four years of your life. You were Gerry, and now you are Gina. I know, gorgeous woman. I told you, I already know. Open your eyes and see how much I want you right now.”

When they consummate their mutual attraction it is sweet, sensual and even a bit surprising. There is no shying away from the fact that this is Gina’s first time having sex as a woman and Himeros does everything he can to make it the best. At the same time Gina with her strength and courage breaks through Himeros’ defences, touching the man inside the god. That takes the story from a fun lusty must read to a true rated romance.


“Aphrodite? You’ve mentioned her already tonight. She was a goddess, wasn’t she? The goddess of sex?”

“Is,” he corrected gently. “She is the goddess of so many things. Love, beauty, pleasure. She is all things woman. And you have found her. In here.” He touched the valley beneath her left breast, and her eyes filled with sudden moisture.

Not again. She looked upward for a moment in a futile attempt to prevent them spilling out, then gave up and let the tears fall down her cheeks. “Yes, I think I might have. At last.” Two wet splotches rained onto Himeros and she reached out, intending to smear them away, but he caught her hand and raised it to his lips. As she felt the press of his mouth in the center of her palm she smiled. “You’re right. It is time for us to make love.”

Aphrodite Calling is a sweet, sensual, romantic tale of two people finding love and each other. It will steal your heart, make you hot and leaving you smiling once it’s over.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Plagiarism Alert: For the Summer by Shey Stahl


Whole sections of "For the Summer" by Shey Stahl were taken from a popular Twilight fan fiction, Dusty by YellowBella (a pen name used by two collaborating authors Mary Elizabeth & Sarah).

This review, by Ari of Bookzilla, displays a word for word comparison of the passages in the fan fic with the ones in For the Summer.

Below is a screenshot of the book and the fan fic (via evilwylie).
image

Oh, but it gets better. The summary for the "book" is eerily similar to the summary for an entirely different fan fic titled Pickup Truck by Mary Elizabeth.

Stahl, a "USA Today Bestselling author," is no stranger to Twilight fan fiction. She got her start as a writer in the community posting many popular stories under the pen name Jaydmommy. She went on to pull down those fan fics, reworked and published them as novels. That is until For the Summer, where it appears she may have turned to others' fan fic for the content of her latest novel.

It's important to note that this is not the first time that Stahl/Jaydmommy has been accused of copying scenes and passages from other people's works for her fan fiction. One of her popular fan fics Lapped Traffic (now the published series the Racing on the Edge), was said to contain an entire "shower sex scene" that was lifted from the another popular Twilight fan fic, The Misapprehension of Bella Swan by HunterHunting.



As of right now (9/22/13 @ 10:12 PST) the author is maintaining her innocence, and the book is still available for purchase on Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
image
All of this leaves me wondering if her other novels have borrowed passages, and did she only take from fan fic or did she "borrow" from published authors too.


Update: The Plot Thickens.

As of this morning (Monday, 9/23/13 @ 10:03am PST), Shey Stahl's entire catalogue of books have been pulled from Amazon (the titles can be viewed, but they are no longer available for purchase). Please note: some of these books were published by Simon & Schuster, which means only the publisher can pull those books, not the author.* 

*Edited: Dearauthor had originally tweeted that she was being published by Simon and Schuster, but after doing some research I could not find any official conformation that she was published by Simon and Schuster.

Shey Stahl posted to her Facebook (approx 7:00am PST), claiming she voluntarily pulled all her books and was looking into what legal action she could take against the author's she plagiarized. oh the irony.

[screen shot via dearauthor]
image

Shortly after this post Stahl deleted her entire Facebook author page.

Oh, but of course, it gets better.

A person claiming to have been Stahl's former editor, Max, came forward to attest that not only did Stahl plagiarize fan fic for her latest novel (For the Summer), but at least one of her other books has borrowed passages from other popular Twilight fan fics. Max claims to have pointed out the plagiarized passages in the book they worked on, Delayed Penalty, to Stahl who refused to remove them, and Max had to seek legal action to have their name pulled from the books.

image

Blogger/Author KT Grant made an interesting point in the comments of dearauthor's post about the plagiarism controversy.

image

While I don't believe every writer who publishes their fan fiction is capable of plagiarism, I do believe the widespread acceptance of the practice, and the sloppy, unregulated way it's rushed to print by publishers creates opportunities and motivation for plagiarism of fan fiction.

Attitudes about fan fiction not being a legitimate form of literature, and people's shaky understanding of copyright law/plagiarism do not help either. When this controversy first broke many people were questioning if that plagiarism of fan fiction was possible given it's derivative nature.

FYI, It is still plagiarism even if you stole it from fan fiction.


Another Update (Monday, 9/23/13 8:00pm PST)

Galleycat did a story on the plagiarism controversy and contacted Stahl who said: “I’m sorry you feel there are similarities but I have not read the fan fiction in question."

Stahl's current editor, Madison Seidler has posted a statement: "Professionally, I have no legal commitment to speak out, nor do I have legal ties to this book. Obviously, I can’t possibly read every single piece of text out in the world, and truthfully, I’ve never read fan fiction."

While Seidler claims she had no knowledge of the plagiarism, Max, Stahl's original editor claims she emailed Seidler about the issue.


Max is also claiming she is now being punished for speaking out about Seidler's prior knowledge of Stahl's plagiarism. Sarah Hansen of OkayCreations, who designed all of Shey Stahl's book covers and has close ties with Seidler, is allegedly refusing to do cover art for any authors who work with Max.

Shey Stahl's official website is "down for maintenance." And her Twitter account has been set to private.

And finally, it looks as thought another of Stahl's books is plagiarized. Everything Changes has "borrowed" passages from yet another Twilight fan fic, The Art Teacher by spanglemaker9The author of the fan fic left a review with screenshots and compared the passages side by side.


Yet Another Update: (Tuesday, 9/24/14 3:22pm PST)

From Shey Stahl's Facebook
Who is Shey Stahl?

A little bit of internet sleuthing bought me to Shey Stahl's other author facebook page that is still viewable (as of 9/24/13 2:00pm PST). Stahl has also neglected to delete her old blog, which displays one of her old email addresses, that incidentally enough is connected to another lesser known fan fiction pen name: pitprincess. Interestingly enough pitprincess is the only favorite author of Stahl's other (more widely known) fan fiction persona jaydmommy.

Her novel Everything Changes, that features plagiarized scenes and dialogue from the fan fic The Art Teacher by spanglemaker9  began life as a fan fic titled MOAB and was posted under the pen name pitprincess. Note the similarities to the summary of the book.

The fan fiction Stahl posted under the pen name jaydmommy also looks to have been cobbled together from the plot, ideas, scenes and dialogue of other Twilight fan fiction. Stahl's Racing Edge series began life as an over 300,000 word long fan fic titled Lapped Traffic. As I noted earlier, Lapped Traffic was at the center of a plagiarism controversy when it was pulled from FFnet to be published. Judging by the layout of the Racing Edge series, Stahl split the length fan fic into several smaller books. Which has made pin pointing which ones contain instances of plagiarism difficult, but not impossible. 

As it turns out sections of Happy Hour, the first book in Racing Edge series has been identified as having sections taken from the once Twilight fan fic and now published novel Gilded Cage. Below is a side by side comparison of Gilded Cage (in white) and Happy Hour (black background).


Another aspect of Stahl's unique style of plagairsim is how she not only borrows text, but also story structure and even plots points of other fan fics.

For the Summer, which has already been exposed for having borrowed heavily from the fan fic Dusty, but has recently found to also borrow its title and story structure from yet another fan fic, For the Summer by Camoozle.


Similarly, Stahl's novel Waiting for You, which began life as the fan fiction Watching Waiting, borrows plot points from the fan fic God Love Her by Lynyrd Lionheart


Whether this technique is truly plagiarism or shady form of borrowing or inspiration I'm not sure. However, it is a strong indication of a pattern of using other writer's work to bolster her own, and then profiting from it by publishing. 



Mini-Update: (Wednesday, 9/25/13 10:15am PST)

The second author facebook has been deleted, along with her author Twitter account. Thought the fan fic account @jaydmommy is still up. 

Stahl also has been removed from the website Trident Media Group site, her agent was MacKenzie Fraser-Bub, but one of my sources was able to obtain a screenshot via the Wayback Machine. 



Update: (Wednesday, 10/2/13)

It looks like Stahl's book Everything Changes has borrowed from yet another Twilight fan fic. The fan fic in question is The Practicum by TheFicChick. The passage used is an explicit sex scene. The top passage is from The Practicum and the bottom Everything Changes.


If you are a Twilight fan fiction author and suspect that Stahl may have plagiarized your work please contact me via Twitter (@einfach_mich or snarkycake@gmail.com)


Update: (Wednesday, 1/20/14)

Just when we thought we had seen the last of Shey Stahl, she returns to share her side of the story and reassure her remaining fans she will write again.

She returns to the internet armed with an eight page letter explaining the what she has done isn't plagiarism, but rather that her works were simply "similar" to other Twilight fan fics.  [The letter was tweeted out by the Dear Author blog. It was posted on her website, that is now up and running again.]

Nothing is 100% original. How could anything we write be 100% original, given that we share similar experiences as human beings and use common language so that we can communicate out emotions and ideas?
Spanglemaker9, the author of the Twilight fan fic The Art Teacher, which Stahl borrowed heavily from, still disputes this claim. She tweeted in response to Stahl's letter sharing a document that compares her fanfic to Stahl's work.


Stahl has began using her facebook account again, and is actively blocking critics and authors, like Spanglemaker9, who have sent her cease and desist letters to prevent Stahl from attempting to profit from their work again. 

In her lengthy letter, Stahl also laments the backlash she's experienced since the accusations of plagiarism began to pop-up.  Stahl mourns the lose of her editor, cover artist and agent over the incident, and even claims she and her family have experienced harassment and bullying by angry readers and members of the Twilight fandom. 


Please note: In the entire time I've been following this controversy I haven't witnessed any of the images of Stahl's family that are mentioned in her letter. There was most definitely disparaging remarks about her and her character on Twitter, Facebook and GoodReads, but nothing about her family. They could have been emailed directly to her, but several exhaustive searches of the internet turned up nothing online.

She also accuses her former editor of lying. Saying that she was only ever cautioned against using character names that are reminiscent of Twilight. Which would make it obvious her books were once Twilight fan fiction.

Stahl also accuses her former editor of giving out her personal information to whomever asked for it. I personally, have a hard time believing this statement since never in any of the private message conversations I had with Max, Stahl's former editor, did I once receive any personal information about Stahl. Max keep to the details of the plagiarized passages, and her request to have her name removed from Stahl's book. All the information that I have on Stahl was obtained from her public facebook account and following the trail of her old fan fiction accounts.

At the end of the letter Stahl reassures us that she has run all her books through a plagiarizer checker, and will continue to do so with her future books. She thanks her fans and to the other authors involved she wishes "all the success they deserve."

On that ominous note, I'm left wondering how will this controversy affect the future prospects of Stahl's work and if readers can ever truly trust that her work is original. Or if they must accept that, as Stahl says, nothing is 100% original.

If Stahl is right, how can we ever hope to draw a line between inspiration and imitation?


Update: (1/21/14)

Spanglemaker9 brought another interesting point to my attention in the comments of my latest Booklikes post. After doing a little research I decided that it deserved to be examined a little closer. So...

Let's talk about timelines.

In Stahl's public letter, on her website, she admits to posting her books as fan fiction form "back in late 2009" and said that none were completed before being pulled.


I can only find evidence of four fan fics posted under Stahl's two different fan fiction accounts. While I can confirm three of them were pulled before completion, Lapped Traffic was completed and outtakes were posted for it before Stahl pulled it down. There are copies of the completed Lapped Traffic with outtakes circulating on the internet.

However, what's really interesting is the date that Stahl claims to have posted her fan fic, "late 2009."

Stahl used two pen names (that we know of) to post fan fiction, Jaydmommy and pitprincess. What's interesting about them is both were created after 2009. Jaydmommy was created in 2010, and was the account under which Stahl posted Lapped Traffic, which went on to become the Racing on the Edge series (the first books that Stahl published). While the pitprincess (created in 2011) was used to post Moab, which was published as Everything Changes. 


Why would Stahl contradict the date stamps on her own Fanfiction.net accounts?  Simple, because all of the fan fics that she copied from were posted in or after 2010. 

For the Summer by Camoozle posted 4/30/10 [copied for For the Summer]
The Misapprehension of Bella Swan (2/25/10) [Lapped Traffic]
The Art Teacher by spanglemaker9 (11/7/10) [copied for Everything Changes]
A Gilded Cage by MissAlex (10/21/11) [Happy Hour]
Dusty by  Mary Elizabeth & Sarah (12/21/11) [copied for For the Summer]
The Practicum by TheFicChick (1/13/13) [copied for Everything Changes]
Pickup Truck by Mary Elizabeth (5/8/13) [copied for For the Summer]

 This is important, because it looks like Stahl is trying to give the impression that her fan fiction, which was the basis for her books, were posted first. Which would be important to any case, legal or for the sake of public opinion, that she is not only not a plagiarizer, but the victim of this situation. Unfortunately for Stahl, she never bothered to delete either of her fan fiction accounts.

All this maneuvering aside, what really intrigued me was something I found while collecting the posted dates of the fan fiction that Stahl plagiarized and publishing dates of her books.

Stahl actually pulled her fan fiction in 2011. Lapped Traffic (Happy Hour) and Watching Waiting were pulled in February of 2011. While Moab and Air Conditioner From Hell were pulled in December of the same year.

Interestingly enough several of these fan fics that Stahl plagiarized were posted after Stahl pulled her fan fiction from the internet. Which is a strong indication that Stahl was not only plagiarizing while writing fan fiction (like Lapped Traffic), but that she continued to "borrow" from Twilight fan fic while "rewriting" and editing her books (For the Summer and  Everything Changes) for publication. In the case of the fan fic Pickup Truck and For the Summer, Stahl was even copying the summaries for fan fiction to create blurbs for her published books.

When you look at the sheer scope of the copying Stahl's claims that any similarities between her work and the fan fictions listed are coincidentally don't hold water. Rightly so. This kind of plagiarism could never happen by accident.



I've seen a lot of people dismiss plagiarism as "lazy." After investigating the Shey Stahl controversy, I have to disagree. Shey Stahl did a lot of work to camouflage other writers words to pass them off as her own.

Stahl not only had to source her stolen words from multiple sources, but she had to conceal her theft by melding her writing with the work of others. She achieved this through rearranging sentences, changing tenses and even rewording sections. Which explains why her books (as she claims) "pass a plagiarism checker." Those kinds of programs are looking for exact words, and specific sentence similarities. Looking at how Stahl disguised another author's words as her own it's easy to see how she could fool a computer program.


It's no wonder after all this work to rewrite other writers words that Stahl feels she's earned the right to call it her own creation. The question is has she convinced anyone else.