Getting back to normal

Today and tomorrow are my last days of frantic writing before I hand over my novel to its first beta reader/editor. Last week I thought it would be a good idea to drop everything else and just write in service of making this deadline. For five days, do this one thing, focus.

Turns out this was not the best idea, both from a practical responsible adult angle and a mental and physical health one. The laundry I ignored did not disappear. Meals did not cook themselves. I felt tired most of the time. I got a weird cold/sore throat thing midweek that did not help.

Lesson learned, then. This week I’m going back to doing all the things and being a whole person. As soon as I post this blog I’m going for a run. Please enjoy this picture of my sunburned face, post-coffee, pre-running:

Photo on 2-29-16 at 9.15 AM #2
So hot right now

The sunburn is from this weekend, when I had my first ever NASCAR experience. Who knew you needed sunscreen to go watch cars make a lot of left turns? We were celebrating a friend’s 30th birthday, and other than getting fried in the sun it was a good time.

On the car ride home yesterday, my husband mentioned that another friend who lives several hours away invited us to come visit this weekend. He declined/postponed on the grounds that I haven’t spent a weekend at home in a month. He knows the way to my introverted heart.

Okay, I’m going to go do the exercise now. Current running soundtrack is Annabel Pitcher’s My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, narrated by David Tennant, aka my Space Boyfriend. See you on Wednesday with a new Magicians recap!

Short Friday post

This week has felt kind of hectic. I’m working really hard to finish a respectable draft of my novel by Tuesday. I’m not pushing so much because anything bad will happen if I don’t have it done, but because I’m very eager to get this manuscript into someone else’s hands. I’m confident that I know what story I want to tell, but I need to know what the words mean to someone who’s outside my head.

Here is a picture of my desk right now. Post its represent revision changes I want to make. It’s very satisfying. I can make a change, and then throw out the post-it. Progress!

IMG_2624
Also please enjoy the very ugly mug that I keep my pens in

There will probably be another short post on Monday. If everything goes as planned, after Tuesday I will get to take a break from this particular project, and I will be able to write some better blogs.

 

Earlier this week I got an email from Amazon saying that I had received a free seven-day trial of Kindle Unlimited. I don’t know what prompted this, and I don’t really intend to continue paying $10 a month to borrow books when libraries are free, but I did download Angelfall by Susan Ee (I’m about a third of the way through, but I am always here for post apocalyptic fiction and angel/human romance) and Dawn by Octavia Butler (I need approximately ten thousand words to explain how much I liked this, go check it out if you are into stuff with aliens, maybe don’t check it out if you are weirded out by tentacles).

Have a delightful weekend, everyone.

The Magicians 1.6, Impractical Applications

Last night I was chatting with a friend who started watching this show and is now getting into the books. I’m sure that’s the case with a lot of people and it’s really interesting to see how that changes your perspective. For me, as a book fan, watching the show is almost like reading fanfiction. It tweaks some details and fills in some things that weren’t there before, and asks “what if…” in some really entertaining ways.

MagiciansTVseriesLogo

At the end of last week, we found out that Penny had probably traveled to Fillory. For Quentin, this is exciting stuff, since it means the place that’s so important to him is real. Penny is quick to harsh Quentin’s squee, though, pointing out that the Beast is also in Fillory, and he’s holding a woman captive and torturing her. It doesn’t sound like the happily ever after Quentin was hoping for.

The revelation is hard on Quentin. This is one of the most real things about the books, even though Brakebills and Fillory are fictional. It’s possible to want something so badly that by the time you get it, the reward can never live up to your expectations. See also: college, jobs, adulthood, literally everything.

We don’t spend too much time on Fillory, though, because most of this episode is dedicated to The Trials. They’re part faculty-sanctioned test and part hazing ritual for first year students. Eliot and Margo have been left somewhat in charge, which was obviously a terrible idea. They don’t really strike me as staunch tradition-upholding types, unless the tradition involves drinking. The two of them also seemed a lot meaner this episode, with less humanizing moments to balance them out. Margo tells Quentin about how she loves Fillory, but then she gives him drugged champagne. Her dig about Penny doing gay porn was just lazy writing, and jarring.

Anyways, Trials. Penny and Quentin pass the first one by using Penny’s astral projection skills to cheat off of Alice, which is apparently what they were supposed to do. Penny’s power is supposed to be super rare and Alice is extraordinarily brilliant, and that one guy disappearing proves that good effort doesn’t count. What did the rest of the class do? What do classes that don’t have an Alice do? Very confusing.

The second trial involves getting dumped in a forest where magic doesn’t work and being given inadequate tools to complete a task, i.e. Quentin trying to catch a fish with a bow and arrow. Quentin, Penny, Alice, and Kady meet up and swap tools and skills until they’ve all completed their task. COMMUNICATION is the real magic! Corny but I am totally into it. I am really excited to see these four being friendlier.

For the third trial, everyone has to do “Secrets Magic,” which involves getting naked and revealing your innermost truth to another naked person. Gimmicky, but it’s book canon that Alice and Quentin need to be forced into emotional intimacy by wacky circumstances, so I’ll let it pass. Alice’s secret is that she’s faking being less good at magic than she is; Quentin’s secret is that he’s always running away from things. I could have told you guys that, no magic required. Penny tells Kady he loves her, Kady reciprocates by saying that she was trying to use him to steal things. I’m kind of upset with Kady over this. Like, remember that time earlier today when you punched this dude in the nose and then he actually comforted you? Penny deserved a better breakup.

Speaking of Kady, we get a reveal about her past. Back in the city, Julia tries to start her own safe house with the help of a hedgewitch who turns out to be Kady’s mom. Kady’s mom killed some people in a magical accident, and now Kady has to steal for Marina or Marina will…turn her mom in? That part wasn’t entirely clear. When Julia and Kady’s mom try to steal spells from Marina, the latter winds up violently bleeding to death from, well, everywhere. Presumably the same thing will happen to Kady if she doesn’t keep Marina supplied with stolen magic supplies.

Back at Brakebills, after the secrets magic, everyone who participated in the trials turns into a goose. This was my favorite part of the episode because that means next week is Brakebills South! I love love love this part of the books. The only thing that concerns me is that Eliot is not also a goose. That means we’re missing out on one of the best lines book!Eliot says in The Magicians. But I can’t be too upset because YOU GUYS WE’RE GOING TO BRAKEBILLS SOUTH

 

 

Post-Vacation Post

Good morning! Welcome to the last week of February. I was lucky enough to be on vacation last week in sunny Florida. The weather was beautiful and it was very relaxing.

I saw some quality sunsets
I saw some quality sunsets

I am getting close to my kind-of-self-imposed, kind-of-not deadline for finishing the current draft of my novel. I’ll be honest; I’m not as far along as I’d like to be. I thought I’d reached the point of mostly cutting things out rather than writing new stuff, but that’s not entirely true. Even where I am able to cut a whole section, patching up the bits around it so everything still makes sense is important. I’m still learning a lot, which is important.

In order to make this deadline, I’m giving myself permission to be a novelist and nothing else this week. For the next five days, everything takes a backseat to that, including this blog. I’ll still post about Magicians on Wednesday, but it may be shorter than usual. Hopefully by Friday morning I will have some hopeful news to share about my progress.

Thanks for being patient with me, everyone.

Before I go drink my coffee and get underway, I wanted to share some of what I read over the past week. Maybe being on the beach just makes me happier about everything, but I didn’t pick up a book I didn’t like the whole time. Here they are:

Written in Red, by Anne Bishop– I loved this, and I’m almost embarrassed by how long it took me to try this series. I want to write a longer post about this one soon, but for now I’ll say that it’s an urban fantasy that subverts a lot of the tropes about vampires/werewolves/shape-shifters that have been popular in recent years.

Murder of Crows, by Anne Bishop– Sequel to above, also very, very good. I finished this on Friday and found out my library doesn’t have the third one. I’ll be over here counting the minutes until I can start spending March’s book budget (February’s is long gone, natch).

Forbidden, Beverly Jenkins– A new historical romance that takes place in a mining town in Nevada just after the Civil War. The main players are Rhine, a former slave who has become a wealthy and respected member of the white community thanks to his passing looks, and Eddy, the daughter of former slaves who has ambitions to move to California and start her own restaurant.

Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez– The story of four slave women who are mistresses to their white owners in the 1850s. This one is heartbreaking. I had to keep reading because I wanted a happy ending so much, for any of these characters.

That’s all for today. I hope everyone has a wonderful week full of books and other happy things.

Indescribable

Usually when I love a book, I’ll tell my friends about it. I appreciate a recommendation from a trusted source and I like to return the favor. I try to tailor my suggestions to individual. I have my fantasy people and my YA people, some who like funny and some who like dark.

When recommending a book, it’s a good idea to say a little bit about it. “It’s about x” or “It reminded me of that other thing you like!” But what about the books that are harder to condense into a sound bite?

I started reading Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series six or seven years ago. They became some of my favorites and I reread them frequently. I hardly ever talk about them, though, because what can you say? If I need to summarize in a sentence or less, I’ll say it’s high fantasy that tries to reverse all the usual clichés—dark is better than light, society is matriarchal, the story is told from the viewpoint of everyone but the Chosen One. But that doesn’t really encompass the unique magic system or the complex story of political intrigue. There’s romance, drama, and humor, and it all comes together to be greater than the sum of its parts.

 Little, Big by John Crowley is another favorite. It’s about fairies, sort of. There’s a scene where one of the human characters sits down at a typewriter to document her knowledge of the fairies for posterity. Every time she types a fact, she remembers a situation where the opposite was also true. That’s how I feel when I try to explain the book. It’s about fairies, but it’s also about family, and architecture, and America in the twentieth century.

Then there’s Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha series, which I devoured a couple summers ago, but have rarely recommended. It’s about an assassin, and war, and it’s a sort of space fantasy? There’s magic, but there are also a lot of bugs? I can’t even describe it to myself.

These are some of my favorite books, and it’s too bad that I’m completely tongue tied when it comes to describing them. Maybe that’s why I started this blog. Now instead of trying to squeeze my feelings about books into a few sentences, I’ve got a thousand words.

The Magicians 1.5, “Mendings, Major and Minor”

I fully admitted to not loving last week’s episode, “The World in the Walls.” Is anyone else watching Supergirl? I’m asking because last week’s ep, “For the Girl Who Has Everything,” also had an “it was all a dream” plotline. I won’t say Supergirl did it better, but I will say I enjoyed it much more. We basically got to spend half the episode finding out what Kara’s life might have been like if Krypton wasn’t destroyed, which is a dream she might not actually want to wake up from. She’s got all this family (biological and found) on both sides, and I had all of the feelings that I didn’t have about “The World in the Walls,” basically.

On to “Mendings, Major and Minor.”  This post contains mentions of terminal illness, and cruelty to animals.

MagiciansTVseriesLogo

Julia has no interaction with the Brakebills gang this week. Dean Fogg has decided to ignore her, to Quentin’s relief. Cut off by Marina, she goes back to the Internet to find more magic. I was really hoping that Julia getting kicked out of the bodega safe house meant we were done with Creepy Pete, but nope, he is here in force. I actually yelled “Ugh, no” when Julia kissed him. Luckily she only had sex with him in exchange for information about other safe houses, which is gross but still 110% in character for her. Unfortunately none of the safe houses are better than the bodega, so Julia’s adrift.

Despite the barter sex, Julia still loves James and wants to let him in on the truth about her magical double life. Pete, who is cattily pissed at Julia for rejecting his advice and his penis, gets Marina to erase Julia from James’ memory. I hope this is a prelude to Julia making some better friends.

The rest of the action takes place during Brakebills Alumni Week. Distinguished alumni visit the campus to be wined, dined, and entertained, and in exchange they consider mentoring some of the graduate students. They don’t get too deep into what the “mentoring” entails, so it’s mostly a plot device. I wouldn’t be surprised if it never came up again. Quentin gets mentored by a doctor who specializes in feet magic. Q thinks this is kind of boring, but she seems happy and it sounds like like there’s a lot of money in magical podiatry. Penny gets Stanley, a curmudgeonly old man who claims to be the last Traveller to have attended Brakebills. More about him in a minute. Eliot and Margo are adorably competing against one another to be mentored by Genjii, who runs a famous resort for high profile magicians. Also, she’s Alice’s aunt.

Alice is back! She was hiding out at some kind of commune, gardening and raising chickens. Dean Fogg tracks her down and convinces her to come back to Brakebills. It doesn’t take long. Fogg felt guilty about Charlie’s death, and he thought he was sparing the Quinn family some pain by not inviting her to take the test. He tells Alice that she’s too gifted to remain untrained. Apparently that’s enough of a stroke to her nerd-ego, because back she goes.

Alice is awkward with Quentin at first, and she hasn’t completely forgiven him for trapping the niffin that was her brother in a magical box (speaking of which, I hope he put that somewhere safe. I don’t know what happens if it gets opened or broken, but it can’t be good). She does admit that the real Charlie probably died five years ago. That’s a huge step for Alice, who spent those years focused on solving the mystery of Charlie’s death.

Quentin has other things on his mind besides mending his friendship with Alice. His dad has just been diagnosed with brain cancer and is refusing treatment. It’s hard to get a read on Quentin’s dad, since the only other time we’ve met the guy he was a figment of Q’s imagination in last episode’s dreamscape. Unfortunately the nickname Curly-Q was not just part of the dream.

The father-son relationship is a little fraught. Mr. Coldwater obviously wants to repair what he can in the time he has left, but Quentin’s first impulse is to find a magical cure. His new mentor tells him there isn’t a reliable cure, but she points him in the direction of a few experimental spells. After a disastrous experiment on “Cancer Puppy,” an unofficial mascot/class pet, Quentin admits that there is not magical cure, at least not one that would leave his dad intact. (Side note: I usually get really upset about shows that kill off animals for humor or shock value, but this just left me kind of cold.)

In the end, Quentin reveals his magical powers to his father by fixing a model airplane. I like the symbolism—you can’t fix everything, but you should try to fix what you can. It also highlights Quentin’s particular talent for mending broken things, which is an important aspect of his magic and his personality.

Some of Quentin’s rage at his own impotency comes out during an alumni week Welters match. Welters is the magical sport at Brakebills, but it’s really more a game of strategy. It’s basically magical intramural Frisbee, everyone can play but almost no one is any good. Quentin channels his frustrations into a giant magical black hole, Alice does some damage control, and the Physical Kids win the match.

Penny, not being a Physical Kid, doesn’t show up for Welters, but he does get some serious mentoring from Stanley. Stan shows Penny a tattoo that anchors his body to the Earth, only allowing him to travel via astral projection, kind of like being a ghost. Kady thinks this is a terrible idea, citing all the fun stuff that Penny could steal if he continues traveling bodily.

Later on Penny gives astral projection a try and winds up in a dungeon. A woman named Victoria, who has the same tattoo as Stanley, is chained there and being tortured by The Beast. When Penny confronts Stanley, he reveals that Victoria was a member of the third year class who mysteriously disappeared. Penny sketches a coat of arms that he saw on the dungeon doors and shows it to Quentin, who calls it the “seal of Ember.” In this universe, Ember is to Fillory what Aslan is to Narnia, a kind of animal god/protector. That means the dungeon was in Fillory, further proof that it’s not just fiction.

Eliot and Margo are continuing to be mostly supporting characters, but they’re still one of the most entertaining things about this episode. I enjoyed their rivalry for Genjii’s attentions almost as much as Alice did. I laughed out loud at Margo’s “This was supposed to be a surprise, but I like ruining things.” Truer words were never spoken. She also has a moment of genuine friendliness when she commiserates with Quentin after the Welters match. I’m very excited for when her backstory comes out. Eliot cozies up to Alice even after Genjii seems off the table as a mentor. He even mixes her a drink, which is basically his ultimate declaration of love. “Friends don’t let friends drink Long Island ice teas,” of course.

 

Valentine’s Day Reads

Happy Valentine’s Day! I had toyed with the idea of doing a whole post about romance novels in honor of the holiday, but there’s just way too much there for me to parse. If you Google “romance novels” the results that come up are everything from Jane Austen to Nicholas Sparks to E.L. James. Who even knows, anymore?

The term “romance novel” conjures up images of the boxes labeled “free books” that used to crop up around the English building in college. Freshman year my best friend and I raided one for the cheesiest covers. We spent the night in her room skimming for a page with the word “throbbing” and doing dramatic readings. (Important Note: We were totally invited to go to a party that night but we had to get up early for a class the next day. BEING RESPONSIBLE IS COOL.)

Throbbing aside, I really don’t have a problem with romance novels. Unfortunately, I haven’t read any super good ones lately. Here’s a little sample of what I have been reading to get myself in the Valentine’s Day mood:

Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romances

Georgette Heyer started writing meticulously researched historical novels in the 1920s and continued until her death in 1974. Her romances, usually set in England or France in the late 18th century, established a new genre. There have been countless imitators since, but Heyer’s work holds up remarkably well.

311182

I picked up my first one, The Convenient Marriage, after reading this charming piece by Garth Nix about getting hooked on Heyer when he was twelve and recovering from bronchitis. I recently finished These Old Shades, which is set in France under Louis XV. The Duke of Avon takes in Léon, a street urchin, to be his page. Leon turns out to be Léonie, and romance ensues. I’m a shameless fan of cross-dressing plots, so I was obviously all in for this. There’s also lots of revenge, intrigue, and adventure to go with the romance.

Love Poems, Nikki Giovanni

I didn’t recognize Nikki Giovanni’s name when I bought this collection, but I realized after reading that I’ve seen several of these poems in anthologies—“I Wrote a Good Omelet” for one. The poems in the volume are approachable and fun to read, and they represent Giovanni at many different stages of her life. They’re all love poems, but what’s celebrated here is much more than romantic love.

41obN+M4wxL._SX380_BO1,204,203,200_

“The Only True Lovers Are Chefs or Happy Birthday, Edna Lewis” is all about the great cooks who pass their love along in recipes. Giovanni writes to her mother and her son, to Langston Hughes and Tupac Shakur. History, both personal and global, is present throughout. “And Yeah…This Is A Love Poem (October 16, 1995)” imagines the Million Man March through the eyes of a single participant. While some of the rhymes are cute enough for a greeting card, every poem is heartfelt and thought provoking. As of this writing, it’s still only $1.99 for Kindle, if you do that sort of thing.

Fanfiction

During the years I was in a long-distance relationship, I had a tradition for any Valentine’s Day that I had to spend away from my boyfriend: I’d get a pint of ice cream and read some fanfiction. Fanfic fills the same spiritual niche as romance novels in a lot of ways: the stories usually focus on the development of a relationship, so they’re naturally character-driven. Both genres are also mainly written and read by women. One thing I think fanfic has over published romance novels: fanfic writers include a header that lets you know what you’re getting into with their story, including a summary and a rating. No one stumbles across anything sexually explicit that they didn’t want to read, and no one slogs through a ton of pages waiting for the “good parts” only to be rewarded with a tasteful fade-to-black. Quality varies, of course, but there’s fic out there that’s better written than some traditionally published books.

That’s what I’ve been up to! Anyone else have any favorite romances or Valentine’s Day traditions? I love you all, and don’t forget to hit up the drugstore for cheap candy tomorrow.

Audiobook Review: All These Things I’ve Done

I read a lot of dystopian fiction. It’s one of those things that I just eat up, ever since I read The Giver in fifth grade. I’m happy to say that Gabrielle Zevin’s All These Things I’ve Done is hands down the best dystopian novel I’ve read since The Hunger Games.

Previously, I had read only one of Gabrielle Zevin’s books, Elsewhere. It’s not a dystopia, but I did like it very much. I recommend Elsewhere to people who liked The Five People You Meet In Heaven because it’s also about the afterlife, but with more of a YA slant.

Not actually the audiobook cover, but I think I prefer this one.
Not actually the audiobook cover, but I think I prefer this one.

I picked up All These Things I’ve Done as an audiobook. Ilyana Kadushin gives a wonderful reading. The first person narration is the perfect mix of precocious teen and frightened, weary young woman. The interpretation of the dialog is spot on as well. Kadushin gives each character has a unique and consistent voice.

I tend to like character-driven stories, but I’m not immune to the allure of a really good science fiction concept. All These Things I’ve Done is delightful in that it has both.

First, the concept: The year is 2082. The United States is in economic shambles. Gas, water, paper, and other resources Americans once took for granted are strictly rationed. Crime is rampant. A recent administration decided that the solution was a new prohibition. Instead of alcohol, now coffee and chocolate have been banned. There’s a healthy black market in both, of course (more on that in a minute). Rebellious teens drink at coffee speakeasies.

Then, the character: The novel is narrated by sixteen-year-old Anya Balanchine. As I listened, I started to think of Anya’s character, and her character arc, as having three different layers. At one level, she’s a high school student. She hangs out with her friends, tries out for school play, and complains about the cafeteria food.

Once Anya comes home, though, she’s the caretaker for her two siblings and her ailing grandmother. There are a few helpful people, like the family’s lawyer, who step in when things get tough, but the day-to-day stuff is all on Anya.

What put her in this situation? Anya’s father was a crime boss, head of the Russian mafia in New York. Chocolate and coffee are still legal in Europe and Asia, so people with family connections there can make big money on the black market. Both Anya’s parents were killed because of her father’s work. Now, years after their deaths, Anya is working hard to distance herself from the Balanchine crime family. It’s not easy when the media wants to paint her as a mob princess and her criminal relatives come by the apartment to drop off cases of contraband chocolate.

As hard as Anya works to keep these three aspects of her life separate, there is inevitable overlap and complication. There are fights brewing—between the mob and the new assistant DA (who wants to clean up the city), between competing crime families, and even within the Balanchine family itself. Anya is drawn into it all against her will, but she fights to protect the people she cares about and keep her siblings together.

Anya is scrappy and unromantic, and I love her for it. She’s street-wise, a product of her upbringing. She loved her father. She strives to emulate his sense of honor, duty, and loyalty, but she doesn’t want to follow his footsteps into a life of crime.

There’s a big cast of supporting characters, both inside and outside the family. I would cheerfully read a spinoff about Anya’s grandmother, Galina. Even though she spends All These Things I’ve Done confined to her bed, it’s hinted at that she used to be pretty high up in the ranks of the family, with all of the adventures and misdeeds that implies. I also really liked Anya’s love interest, Win. He’s the exact sort of adorkable boy that I would have been into at sixteen, and watching his romantic idealism clash with Anya’s wide pragmatic streak feels very real. Did I mention Win is the son of the assistant DA? Star-crossed indeed.

This book has some pretty heavy sections dealing with death and loss. You could probably guess that, since the protagonist is an orphan, but I wasn’t prepared for the Anya’s grief when it hit. She spends so much of the book holding her emotions in and caring for other people. When she falls apart, it’s shattering. Anyone who’s lost a loved one will see some of themselves in Anya or her siblings.

I had a hard time finding anything to be dissatisfied with here. Every hole I thought I could poke was filled in. Checkhov’s guns abound; all are fired by the last act. Sometimes the dialogue seems overly formal, but maybe tradition-obsessed mobsters and ultra-smart teenagers are a narrative justification. It might not have rung false at all if I’d been reading instead of listening. Thanks to the title I’ve had The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” stuck in my head more than usual lately, but that’s less of complaint and more of an observation.

All These Things I’ve Done is the first in a trilogy, and I will definitely be seeking out the next one. Definitely recommended for anyone who loves 20-minutes-in-the-future dystopian or speculative fiction, especially with kick-ass girl heroes.

 

 

 

 

The Magicians 1.4, “The World in the Walls”

This post contains discussion of mental illness.

I was totally unprepared for this episode, because literally none of this happens in the books. The only thing that I even vaguely recognized was Quentin calling Penny a “raging dick,” because there’s a part in The Magicians that mentions all the cool kids at Brakebills say “raging” a lot. That’s a super weird detail to remember, but that’s my brain for you. The rest is new territory!

MagiciansTVseriesLogo

“The World in the Walls” is very clever filler. Filler is not a bad thing. It just means that it has little relation to the main plot. Episodes like this can have character development and some details that would have otherwise gotten swept under the bigger arc.

We don’t find out what happened to Alice, who had packed up and left Brakebills at the end of the last episode. There are no further encounters with the Beast, or meaningful information about Fillory. There’s some pretty significant movement in Julia’s story, but not until the very end.

Quentin wakes up in a place that looks a lot like Brakebills, sans all magic. He’s been admitted to a psychiatric hospital under a court order. He can’t do magic, because magic doesn’t exist. Brakebills was an elaborate illusion that Quentin built to avoid dealing with his mental illness.

Alice and Eliot are also inpatients at this hospital, with some pretty strong delusions of their own. Penny is there too, an orderly, but he’s acting uncharacteristically subservient and speaking in an Indian accent. Dean Fogg appears as another doctor, and the infirmary worker who healed Quentin’s arm is a nurse. Julia comes to visit, too. She’s having a wonderful semester at Yale, and she and James are engaged. It’s easy to imagine how Quentin, trapped in his own head, would have made use of all these people in his hallucinations.

Lots of shows have the “was it all just a dream?” episode, but “The World in the Walls” begs one particular comparison. I’m talking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and “Normal Again.” Buffy is attacked by a demon whose poison causes extreme hallucinations. She imagines she’s in an asylum. Her doctor and her parents are telling her that the last six years of her vampire-slaying life have all been in her imagination. She’s been in the asylum the whole time.

Sounds like what Quentin’s going through, right? The thing that makes “Normal Again” great, that I think is missing from “The World in the Walls,” is the sneaking feeling that the asylum might actually be reality. The ambiguous ending caused plenty of Buffy fans to speculate that the entire series is just one long dream. There’s also the emotional drama: Buffy’s life was pretty grim at that point in the series. The asylum reality, and the possibility of not having to fight anymore, looked very appealing.

The thing is, Quentin has lived with a mental illness, and he’s even spent time in institutions like Ellsworth Downs. Why is he so convinced that Brakebills is reality? Doesn’t it make sense that he would experience some doubt about his own perceptions? I didn’t feel his uncertainty. Quentin wants to be a magician, and he’s sure that he’s trapped in a spell.

Then there’s the episode’s portrayal of mental illness itself. In some cases it’s played for laughs—nymphomaniac Alice is funny because we know she’s not like that in real life. Quentin himself veers between being pathetic and violent. It’s all overblown, caricature-like. I don’t have a mental illness, so I’m not the best person to speak to this, but I know it doesn’t always look like that.

Now, this is actually plot-justifiable, since Quentin isn’t in a real hospital. A spell puts him in his own worst nightmare. Quentin’s worked pretty hard to distance himself from mental illness of any kind. It scares him, so it makes some sense that his nightmare version would be over-the-top. I don’t think everyone in the audience necessarily gets that, though. It really plays into the already-present cultural idea of mental illness. I had hoped this show would give us a more nuanced look at a person living with depression, but it seems like we’re moving backwards with this one.

Okay, end representation rant, back to the plot. During Julia’s visit Quentin manages to make some small magical fireworks. She reveals that she can see them, and to Quentin’s view her sympathetic face is replaced by a cruel, laughing one. After Julia leaves, Quentin sees a plaque with the name of the hospital, Ellsworth Downs. Jane Chatwin shows up in his bedroom that night to tell him that the answer to his current predicament is in the Fillory books.

After his roommate shreds his Fillory books (just to keep things from being too easy, I guess) Quentin thinks that psychic Penny could be the key to escaping the spell. He co-opts a group musical therapy session to sing “Shake It Off” with the other patients, debunking my previous theory about what T-Swift song is always in Quentin’s head. I think this scene was meant to be silly and joyful, but I spent most of it cringing in second-hand embarrassment. Maybe I just hate fun, but it felt like trying too hard on the show’s part.

This has the desired affect of psychically annoying the real Penny enough that he invades Quentin’s dream. Quentin begs for help, Penny tosses him against a wall a few times for making dream-Penny a walking stereotype, and then wakes up.

At the safe house, Julia and Marina are breathing heavily and talking about how great they feel. They just did the spell that put Quentin in this dream-state. Julia seems to regard it as a harmless prank, but Maria tells her there’s a possibility Quentin won’t wake up. Kady’s there, looking uncomfortable. Marina harasses her a little before telling her to go back to Brakebills.

In the hospital, Quentin is putting the torn pages of his Fillory books back together. He finds the name of the hospital, Ellsworth Downs. Ellsworth is a character in Fillory, a magician who is cursed so he can only do “game magic,” whatever that is. There seems to be chessboards involved. Quentin can’t find the page that explains how Jane Chatwin broke the curse.

Quentin also gets a visit from his father, who we haven’t seen before. He’s sporting a scar above one eye. The doctor tells Quentin that he tried to kill his dad with a knife, and was brought in screaming about The Beast. This is one of the only times we see a crack in Quentin’s surety that Brakebills is real. He’s so disturbed by the idea that he could have hurt his dad, it forces him to re-examine his version of reality. It doesn’t really make the viewer question what’s real, though, since we already know Julia and Marina are responsible.

At Brakebills, Penny goes to the Physical Kids’ cottage to look for Quentin. Eliot is unconcerned, they had a big party and he assumes Quentin is sleeping it off somewhere. Then Kady shows up and leads them to where Q is passed out in a closet. Someone gets Dean Fogg, and he determines that Quentin is under a spell called the Scarlatti Web, and the only thing that can break it is summoning a spirit from the underworld. Fogg has to take down the wards around Brakebills to let it in.

This is exactly what Marina has been waiting for. She and Julia were waiting in the woods, and when the wards come down, they have access to the Brakebills campus. Julia thought they were playing a joke on Quentin, but this was Marina’s plan all along. Marina was expelled from Brakebills a few months shy of graduation, and she wants to go get her memories back.

Fogg and another faculty member summon the spirit, which inhabits a mechanical scorpion that crawls down Quentin’s throat Matrix-style. Quentin still needs help getting out of the dream world, so Penny uses his traveller skills to go in and help him. Quentin is strapped to a chair and about to be lobotomized by his dad, who is covered in blood, just in case anyone still thought this was the real world.

Penny convinces Quentin that nothing is real, but then everything goes black and Penny gets bumped back to real life. Quentin is still asleep. Marina has gone looking for her memories (interesting parallel that Quentin’s nightmare involves being lobotomized, while Marina is trying to reverse her own magical lobotomy), which she finds in a box. Julia is on lookout duty, but Kady finds her and convinces her to come clean before Quentin dies.

Julia goes to the cottage and confesses everything to Fogg. He says there’s nothing more they can do at this point. Julia feels terrible. Eliot calls her a “hedgebitch,” proving that he’s always going to have the best lines even if he’s barely in the episode.

Back in Quentin’s mind, he’s in a case of light with Jane Chatwin. Ellsworth Downs and his chessboard appear. Jane, more helpful than usual, reminds Quentin that Ellsworth’s real curse was that he was so afraid of losing he only played when he could win. Sounds like a good metaphor for how Quentin’s been living his life up until this point. He sweeps the pieces off the chessboard, which breaks the spell.

At the cottage, Quentin coughs up the bug spirit. Eliot fusses over him, which is cute. Quentin thanks Penny for not being too morally corrupt to let him die. Elsewhere, Marina magically pulls Julia off the Brakebills campus before the wards go back up.

Later, Fogg lectures Quentiin about keeping Julia’s failed memory wipe a secret. He also tells reminds him that magic doesn’t solve problems. Kind of rich coming from the guy who told Quentin that it was going to solve his depression. Wasn’t Quentin supposed to be on probation after that whole Beast-summoning fiasco? Have we just forgotten about that, or is he too special to be expelled, a là Harry Potter?

At the safe house, Marina has reclaimed her memories of Brakebills. She uses her powers to burn the star tattoos on Julia’s arm, which I’m assuming makes her no longer eligible to enter the safe house or similar establishments. Marina has decided to kick Julia out of the Hedge Witches for endangering her mission. She banishes Julia from the safe house, and Julia finds herself standing in the middle of the street.

I really hope some nice things happen to Julia soon. I was rereading some of her chapters in The Magician King last night and her life isn’t all bleak after Quentin goes to Brakebills. I would also like to humbly submit my headcanon that Margo wasn’t in this episode because she went to find Alice and convince her to come back to the cottage. In my head, they are off somewhere drinking wine and girl-bonding. Looking forward to having them both next time.

 

Book Review: I Was A Teenage Fairy

This post contains discussions of sexual abuse.

I feel like a lot of people are talking about Francesca Lia Block lately, especially her 1989 cult classic Weetzie Bat. Maybe people have been talking about it all along, or maybe the latest round of movie adaptation buzz has stirred up new interest. I notice two main camps: people who read Weetzie Bat as a teenager and will love it forever, and people who read Weetzie Bat as an adult and thought it was unbearable and a little racist.

I have a middle-of-the-road opinion. When I was fifteen, I bought it as a gift for a friend and read it before I wrapped it. I liked it, but not enough to buy myself a copy. Magical realism wasn’t my jam back then. I could only take so much drifting, dreamlike prose and characters with names like My Secret Agent Lover Man.

FullSizeRender

There was another Francesca Lia Block novel that I loved, though. I read I Was A Teenage Fairy (pub. 1998) over and over again, bookmarking the best passages to come back to. My favorites were these interludes where Block describes different cities as people. Just read the opening:

“If Los Angeles is a woman reclining billboard model with collagen-puffed lips and silicone-inflated breasts, a woman in a magenta convertible with heart shaped sunglasses and cotton candy hair; if Los Angeles is this woman, then the San Fernando Valley is her teeny-bopper sister. The teenybopper sister snaps big stretchy pink bubbles over her tongue and checks her lip gloss in the rearview mirror, causing Sis to scream. Teeny plays the radio too loud and bites her nails, wondering if the glitter polish will poison her…”

IMG_2524

To steal from Block’s metaphor style, I Was a Teenage Fairy is like Weetzie Bat’s savvier, more cynical older cousin. It’s still magical realism, but there’s a lot more real here. If Weetzie Bat is a fairy tale about L.A., I Was A Teenage Fairy is a cautionary tale about knowing when to get out of L.A.

In the first part of the novel, Barbie Marks is a preteen girl living in the valley. Her mother is a former model and beauty pageant queen who wants Barbie to follow in her footsteps, and her father is mostly absent. One night after looking at a photo book that includes the Cottingly Fairies, Barbie goes outside and discovers Mab, a tiny pink-haired girl with wings.

I really like fairies, which is another reason I read this book so much. have mixed feelings about Peter Pan but Tinker Bell is fantastic. When I was in high school I loved all the Amy Brown merch at Hot Topic. I love the varied European traditions and legends of the fae and the Fair Folk.

Mab from I Was A Teenage Fairy is a combination of all these. She quotes Shakespeare and reads Vogue and Psychology Today. She dresses in flower petals and lives in a dollhouse. She likes to talk about sex and have her picture taken. She might be a figment of Barbie’s imagination, a symptom of her depression or PTSD, or she might be the actual deposed queen of the fairies, searching for her kingdom.

Either way, Mab becomes Barbie’s best friend and confidant when she most needs one. In the second part of the book, she’s sixteen, still a model, and still not-quite-dealing with being sexually abused by a photographer when she was eleven.

The book deals with Babie’s abuse openly, though never graphically. The effects of that experience, combined with the neglect and emotional abuse from her parents, have left Babie profoundly unhappy. What she really wants to do is escape the toxic modeling world she’s caught up in and create some art of her own, but she isn’t sure how to do that.

Barbie discovers her own talent for photography and falls in love with playboy movie star Todd. She also reconnects with Griffin, a former child model and another victim of Barbie’s abuser.

None of it’s subtle. Not everything needs to be. The language is dreamy but doesn’t mask or forgive the terrible things that happened to Barbie and Griffin. Mab meddles, but ultimately it’s up to them to reclaim their lives.

This was magical realism I could live with when I was in high school. And a moral: sometimes things are terrible, but they can get better, and fairies are probably real. I don’t know if I’ve convinced any of the Weetzie Bat haters, but this post has led me down a rabbit hole of searching for fairy-related merchandise on the internet. If you come visit and find me curled up under this blanket, blame Francesca Lia Block.