Sunday, April 20, 2014

Call of the Clan is Available for Download Again!

So, a few years back, I published a romantic suspense novel called Call of the Clan with a digital-only publisher. It wasn't a very big imprint, they didn't have a huge marketing team, and I think they relied far too much on authors for self-promotion, so my sales numbers were pretty low (in fairness, that particular publisher was always reliable, paid royalties on time, and responded quickly and fairly to any communications I sent them). Anyway, about a year or two ago, the digital rights reverted back to me, but I just sort of sat on the files for a while, because the last couple of years have been just crazy around here.

And then this past weekend I went in, reformatted everything, built new cover artwork, and uploaded it to Smashwords - because honestly, you guys, Call of the Clan contains some of my favorite characters I've ever written, and I hated that they were just wallowing about on my hard drive with nothing to do.

Wondering what it's about? Here's a quickie synopsis:

When Brynne Marlette arrived in Scotland to claim an inheritance from the father she never knew, she had no idea that murder would be part of the package. As if that didn't complicate things enough, she's soon up to her elbows in genealogical documents, seeing ghosts in the second-floor hallway, and debating on the merits of not one but two handsome Scotsmen.

Seeing as Brynne never got anything from her father when he was alive, all she wants from her family legacy is the money. She has no use for a manor house or anything attached to it, but once she lands overseas, it doesn't take long for her to decide that life at Kilgraeme might not be so bad after all. There's a handsome attorney in residence who dotes on her, and a brooding blacksmith who makes her heart race. As Brynne starts coming to terms with the mysterious death of the father she never knew, she realizes that if she doesn't figure things out soon, she might end up in the arms of a killer. 

And just because I'm enjoying the sunny spring weather and I'm happy that this is available again, if you download Call of the Clan between now and April 30, you get to save some money - because it's $2.99 instead of $3.99. Just enter coupon code QK43W when you check out, and you'll get your discount!

Anyway, I'm thrilled to be able to share Call of the Clan with you guys again, so cruise on over to Smashwords to check it out! Call of the Clan on Smashwords

Saturday, March 8, 2014

True Detective, True Lies

What's real? What's not? Who knows?
If you’re not watching HBO’s True Detective, you’ve been missing out on one of the best crime dramas on television – no really, I mean it, you’ve missed out. The season finale airs tomorrow night. If you’ve not watched the previous seven episodes but think you might want to someday, STOP. Here be spoilers, yarrr! 

I’m not going to recap the whole series, but there are a lot of questions I’ve got that I’m hoping will be resolved tomorrow night, and I just needed to get them out of my brain and into something structured, so bear with me here. I’ve found that this is not uncommon – apparently many of those of us who watch show spend a LOT of time thinking about it. I’ll be standing there frying an egg and find myself wondering about the King in Yellow… but anyway.

When I first heard the buzz about this show last year, just from watching the trailer I knew it was going to be something worth checking out. Dark, murky, bleak… and featuring two amazing actors, with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in the lead roles. Yeah, yeah, I know. On the surface, it sounds like a goofball and a pretty boy showing up on set each morning to smoke massive amounts of weed, how good could it be, right?

Harrelson got his start playing the cleverly-named Woody, the derpy but lovable bartender at Cheers, and some dimwit cowboy parts, and McConaughey took off his shirt a lot and starred in a bunch of romantic comedies that I’ve never even seen because I hate rom-coms (admittedly, he was stunning as the lawyer in A Time To Kill, but that was the only real role of substance I remember him in, in the early part of his career). But now that these guys are mature adults instead of young up-and-comers, they’re making way more interesting career choices. Case in point: McConaughey just won an Oscar for his role as a homophobic HIV-positive rodeo star in Dallas Buyers Club, and I don’t care what anyone says, Woody Harrelson’s performance as Tallahassee in Zombieland is a piece of cinematic mastery.

So, now you put these two guys in the bayous and swamps of impoverished Louisiana, throw in a couple of dead girls and a bit of occult symbolism, and holy cow, guys, stuff just got real. The series unfolds through a series of flashbacks, as the two detectives are being interviewed in 2012 about crimes that took place in 1995.

Harrelson’s Marty Hart is the self-professed family man – he loves his wife and daughters, he’s successful, and blah blah blah. But Marty is NOT a nice guy. He sees his family – and all the women in his life – as possessions. He cheats on his wife and ignores his kids. He’s a violent and angry man, with the rage simmering just below the surface, only popping out when someone drives Marty to snap – and snap he does, on many an occasion. 

McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is the yin to Marty’s yang – he’s laid back and mellow, deeply introspective, and a lot of really disturbing existential shit comes out of his mouth. He’s a man with a troubled past too, regarding the death of his daughter and the divorce that followed it, but we don’t know the complete details on that yet. Rust Cohle might even be a more tragic character than Marty Hart – because while Marty is a miserable jerk who tries to control everyone around him, Cohle knows that none of us really have any purpose here, and it gives him the bleaker outlook on life, because there's nothing to exist for.

So, we’ve got two aging white men with no real discernible reason to be, other than to solve the riddle of the weird murders with potential occult ties. Meanwhile, much of the show’s premise is built on the idea that things are not as they seem. Marty and Rust tell one story to detectives Papania and Gilbough during the 2012 interview sessions (which I had rightly suspected were taking place all on the same day), but the camera shows us very different things. Marty’s a loyal family man? Sure… except when he’s feeling emasculated and goes off to sleep with the court clerk he keeps on the side, or the former teenage hooker. Rust needed a break and decide to go visit his dad? Yep… except he was really doing deep cover work with the meth-dealing biker gang, hoping to get a lead on Reggie LeDoux. Speaking of the biker gang, I loved every scene with Ginger, and wish we'd have gotten more of him.

The truth vs. reality paradox slams us in the face halfway through the season, as Hart and Cohle converge on LeDoux’s trailer/meth lab, and every single thing said in the interview is revealed by the camera to be falsehood.

True Detective isn’t as much about a couple of cops trying to solve a mystery as it is about making the viewer solve it.

The King in Yellow

So, questions that need some answering? The biggest one, of course, is Who Is the Yellow King? I’m not going to rehash some of the major theories that have been making the rounds, but the two big obvious ones are (a) Marty and (b) Rust. Either of these could be the case, and the show has dropped us enough hints to make either man suspect. However, I don’t think Marty is smart enough to be the leader of a renegade group of sexually deviant child molesting occultists. Not only that, if it turned out to be Marty Hart, then that makes Rust Cohle the most oblivious, incompetent and stupid cop on the entire planet.

Cohle is certainly smart enough to be the Yellow King – he’s by far the most intellectually developed character on the show – but I don’t think his moral code would allow it of him. Cohle is a protector of the defenseless, and being the Yellow King would offend his sensibilities on an ethical level in addition to a moral one. The scene in the storage locker, in particular, when he makes Marty watch the Marie Fontenot videotape, supports that. Marty – a man who has just seen a baby in a microwave and turned away from it with no emotion whatsoever – is driven to tears and rage and anger by what he sees on the tape, and tells Cohle, “You shouldn’t have that.”

Cohle’s response is, “No one should have that.”

Side note: anyone who knows any practitioners of Chaos Magic or even LaVeyan Satanism should see Cohle’s philosophy on life as very familiar.

Could Cohle be in deep cover with the Yellow King and his cabal of powerful men? Possibly, but I think it’s more likely that he’s simply watching from the edges, gathering evidence to stow away in his locker, until he’s got enough to bring them all down. This is why he appears at the 2012 crime scenes.

My suspicion is that the Yellow King will turn out to be someone we know, but not Cohle or Hart.

What About Audrey?

Marty’s oldest daughter, Audrey, has some serious issues. It’s never been addressed out loud, but it’s clear she’s been the victim of some sort of childhood sexual trauma. There are a number of scenes that point us towards this – at one point, she has five male dolls circling around a spread-eagled Barbie. Later, she gets in trouble at school for a sexually explicit drawing she makes. As a teen, she acts out sexually, leading Marty to slap her, call her a slut, and once again assert his ownership of his daughters.

As individual events, we could maybe dismiss these things, but combined together, it’s pretty apparent she’s been victimized in some way, despite the fact that her parents never seem to put two and two together. This show is very clear on the fact that nothing is a throwaway scene – if it’s there, it has a reason.

Remember Audrey and Maisie arguing in the front yard about the crown, the one that got tossed up  into the tree? Looks an awful lot like the one on Marie Fontenot in the video. 

In 2012, we learn from Maggie that Audrey is living as an artist somewhere far from home, and that Marty hasn’t even talked to his own kids in two years. Let’s talk about Audrey’s art for a minute… if you look closely at some of Audrey’s artwork, black stars and spirals appear in occasional pieces. And of course, black stars and spirals appear in all kinds of other places related to Carcosa and the Yellow King – Reggie LeDoux has black stars tattooed on him, Dora Lange, the 1995 murder victim, has a spiral on her neck. More importantly, though, is the painting of the field of flowers.

At one point, Rust Cohle goes to the hospital to visit a teenage girl named Kelly, who is virtually catatonic. Kelly, it turns out, is the little girl who was rescued from the LeDoux compound. There’s a giant mural on the wall beside her in the hospital, of a field of bright flowers. When I saw that painting, I was wracking my brain trying to figure out why it seemed familiar.

A smaller version of the same painting hangs on the wall in Marty and Maggie Hart’s bedroom. Seriously. It’s the same painting.

What has Audrey seen? Where has she been? Are the five dolls in a circle connected to the five men in masks in the Marie Fontenot videotape? Who has victimized her?

Maggie’s Dad

Above I mentioned that this show has no throwaway scenes. Everything that happens and that you see is very deliberately put there. Heck, even the title of the show is a gimme, because NOTHING is true at all, and it’s often pointed out that sometimes what you’re looking for is right under your nose. So. Maggie’s dad.

Maggie’s dad, whose name completely escapes me, is clearly rich and powerful. He’s accustomed to being obeyed. He’s the perfect profile for being part of the Yellow King’s cabal, possibly even being the Yellow King himself. And, he’s got a house on a lake in the woods, which was referenced by one of the witnesses at some point, but I have forgotten who. 

This is an ongoing theme of the show as well - fathers, and the children and families they have failed. We never hear about Marty's parents, we know that Rust's father is a wacky survivalist living in Alaska, Marty himself is a crappy dad, Rust's kid is dead and it could be his fault, and Maggie's dad is possibly a creepy pedophile.

Who is the New Victim?

We all know Dora Lange’s name, she was the first victim found in 1995. Now, in 2012, Papania and Gilbough are investigating a similar case in Lake Charles, but at no point have they mentioned the name of the victim. WHY? Is it because it doesn’t matter, or worse, is it because it DOES matter? Could it be one of Marty’s girls? I’m thinking it’s very likely.

Full Circle

I am positive that one of our two leads will be dead by the time Sunday night’s episode concludes. My suspicion is that it will be Rust Cohle, who will likely sacrifice himself in order to save Marty Hart. Although early in the season, in 1995, Cohle admitted that he just didn’t have the constitution for suicide, he’s indicated in 2012 that he’s ready to wrap it all up. I don’t see him deliberately eating a bullet of his own firing, but I can see him allowing himself to be killed to save someone else – especially Marty, or even Maggie.

Regardless, once this is all said and done, I feel like I’m going to need to go back and re-watch every episode with a fine-toothed comb, but this time understanding where the storyline is headed.

And the next time through, I’ll have a far better idea of where the truth really lies. At least, I hope so.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

How (and Why) I Became a Whovian

Unless you live in a cave or the jungles of Bora Bora, chances are good you know someone who’s a Whovian. That is, a huge fan (and by huge I mean reaching levels of geekery you never imagined) of the BBC series Doctor Who. For years, I’ve had mixed feelings about Doctor Who.

It's bigger on the inside. Really.
I wanted to like it, I really did. After all, who wouldn’t love the story of a man (who’s really an alien) flying through space and time in a blue police call box (it’s bigger on the inside) with a collection of plucky companions? And it was a bit of a throwback for me because I remember catching bits and pieces of earlier incarnations of The Doctor on PBS as a child - all I could recall was that he had floppy hair and a really cool scarf. I learned later that this was The Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, who was pretty nifty.

And who wouldn’t love the concept of a character who, because he’s a Time Lord, never truly dies? Instead, when something really bad happens, he regenerates and changes his appearance - leading to the idea that the show could go on FOREVER, which it practically has.

But I just couldn’t get into it. Sure, I loaded Doctor Who into my Netflix queue, and tried watching a few episodes, featuring The Ninth Doctor, as played by Christopher Eccleston. I just couldn’t get there. Eccleston seemed too goofy, almost as if he was trying hard to be clever, and the aliens were kind of cheesy. OK, some of them were REALLY cheesy.

But my friend Trina, who is a die hard Whovian and even has this awesome TARDIS dress, told me to stick with it. She said, “Give it a chance, just get through the first season. Things will change.”

Meh, okay. Whatever.

So I stuck with it. And you know what? Something very odd happened.

I started into Doctor Who thinking it would be a light and fluffy show about a time/space traveler and some aliens. And instead, it turned into something deeper. Somewhere near the end of Season One - right around the time I began to actually LIKE Eccleston’s Doctor - it stopped being about aliens, and more about friendship, loyalty, love, and sacrifice.

Once I met David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, it kicked into high gear. Tennant manages to take a character who isn’t even human, and give him some degree of humanity. The Doctor’s Companions - Rose, Donna, the amazing Martha - help him in this journey. As Martha says, at one point, “Sometimes you need someone. You need someone to stop you.”

Sure, sure, it’s a Sci Fi show and you have to spend your disbelief a little - okay, a lot - and the Doctor himself, as a character, does have his faults. He does bad things sometimes, although he tries to tell himself the end justifies the means. But it’s all part of the show’s evolution for me. I never get bored (and I’m wrapping up Season Four), like I normally do when I binge watch shows on Netflix.

Another thing I really love about Doctor Who is the way the show normalizes racial and sexual differences. There are a number of interracial couples - and it’s No Big Deal. No reference is ever made to skin color, because in The Doctor’s world, it doesn’t matter. Likewise, sexual preferences are just another aspect of a character’s personality, but never is used to define them. The absolutely dreamy Captain Jack Harkness is dashing, daring, and will bang anything with a pulse and an interest. He hits on EVERYONE, sometimes with success, other times not so much - and then he simply moves on. Other characters have made references to their same-sex partners, and it’s never anything of great relevance because it’s normal.

Other things to love: the time travel (Shakespeare shouting EXPELLIARMUS or Agatha Christie solving a mystery), the scary monsters (weeping angels had me hiding under a pillow), the gadgets (dude, I need a Sonic Screwdriver) and The Doctor’s jacket, which (like Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement) has an endless selection of Things We Need inside it.

I love the way the female characters, in particular, are given plenty to DO. Obviously, they’re secondary to the Doctor - it is, after all, his story and they are his Companions - but Rose, Martha and the others are perfectly capable of holding their own. Rose, who started out as The Cute Blonde, turns into a formidable force who is integral in the saving of the universe. Donna - who is a bit grating at times - is one of the most important people in the world, and it’s because of what she ultimately does to save the Doctor himself. Martha Jones, medical student, is stunningly brilliant and fearless, and goes on to work for UNIT, a secret agency that monitors alien activity. River Song, who I’ve just met recently but am well aware that I will see again, is incredible and brave and strong. These women don’t kick ass because they are the Doctor’s Companions - they are his Companions because they kick ass.

Finally, I love that watching Doctor Who is like playing Six Degrees of British Actors - so far I’ve encountered cast members from Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, and (be still my heart) The Walking Dead.

Tonight I’m going to watch the final two episodes of Season Four and - I’m reasonably certain - say goodbye to David Tennant. The Doctor will regenerate, and I’ll get to meet Matt Smith. I hope the journey is as great an adventure as it’s been so far.

Even if it’s not… now I get it. I’m not going to run out and buy a TARDIS coffee mug just yet, or wear a pair of Sonic Screwdrivers as earrings, but at least now I understand why people do.

Because it’s been brilliant.

Monday, June 10, 2013

So Game of Thrones Ended...

Yarr, here be spoilers.

So last night was the season finale of Game of Thrones, which, for those of you who have been living under a rock, was actually the end of Storm of Swords, the third book in George RR “All My Friends Are Dead” Martin’s epic series. I’m going to say right now that if you haven’t read the books or watched the show yet (even though Storm of Swords came out in 2000 and the statute of limitations on spoiling that bad boy has expired) there will be spoilers ahead, so if you don’t want to know what happens, turn off the internet and don’t leave your house until you’ve gotten caught up.

Anyway, I wanted to address the idea that some people seem to have that “girls hate Game of Thrones.” I’m not sure who these people are, although they probably spend a lot of time either living in their mom’s basement playing World of Warcraft, or maybe they have memorized every single episode of Sex and the City and can’t be bothered to do anything new. At any rate, it’s well known that there’s a lot of misogyny and douchebaggery on the internet, and when it comes to stuff like GoT, which has swords and blood and boobs and killin' and not an awful lot of attractive men who actually LIVE, apparently being in possession of a uterus makes one want to shut off the telly whenever someone shouts WINTER IS COMING or I AM THE MOTHER OF DRAGONS or YOU KNAW NOTHING JON SNAAWWW.

Here’s the thing though. GoT, and its books, to which the show is pretty faithful, contains a lot of really strong feminist characters. This is one of the reasons I love it.

I know, I know, “Cersei’s a bitch and Sansa’s an idiot and there’s incest and Danaerys is too pretty to be a warrior princess” or some other bullshit. No, seriously. Every one of the women in this show is totally badass, for one reason or another. Let’s take a look at them.

Cersei: The queen you love to hate. Yeah, ok, she’s not REALLY the queen anymore, she’s the queen mom, because her horrible incestuously-begotten son is the king. But let’s face it, Cersei is way tougher than most of the rest of the Lannisters. The biggest shortcoming she’s got (besides being homicidal, sneaky and manipulative) is that SHE’S NOT JAIME. Her brother Tyrion can never be king because their father hates him, and Jaime’s off being the Kingslayer and stuff… but Cersei’s totally qualified to sit on the Iron Throne. She got stuck marrying Robert Baratheon, and now that he’s dead she has to live vicariously through her psycho offspring, because she has no power other than what is granted to her by the patriarchy. Cersei has responded to gender inequality by doing the only thing she knows how to do - pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

Catelyn Stark: I’ll say this for the show - it makes Catelyn a whole lot more likable. The wife and then widow of Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell, does pretty much everything for the sake of her kids. Unfortunately, her need to save her children ends up dooming the lot of them, because when she frees Jaime Lannister, she sets all kinds of things in motion that have a really bad ending. Way to make heads roll, Catelyn.

Danaerys: Mother of Dragons? Sure, even though in the books she’s about fourteen, gets married off by her pervy brother to a tribal warlord, and is basically treated like property… until her husband’s death, at which point she loses everything. But! She’s Daenarys Stormborn, sister of the late Rhaegar Targaryen, which means she’s got dibs on the Iron Throne too. What does she do? Same thing any other teenage widow would do -- raises an army, collects her dragons, frees a bunch of slaves and begins making her way back to Westeros so she can claim what’s hers. Plus, the men under her command never try to say “But you’re a girl.” Props to Ser Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy for that.

Brienne of Tarth: I can’t begin to say how much I love Brienne, because she’s socially awkward, people make fun of her, she’s constantly belittled - even by Jaime Lannister, the freakin’ KINGSLAYER - and yet she remains strong, proud, and undeniably loyal. She’s a badass warrior, but what makes her awesome is not her fighting skills, but her fierce sense of right and wrong. Even when a gaggle of the Brothers Without Banners decide it might be fun to rape the Maid of Tarth, Brienne makes it clear that she might get raped but she’s going to castrate a couple of people in the process. If we were casting RPG statuses here, Brienne would be our Lawful Good warrior. She can’t help it, it’s just who she is.

Asha Greyjoy: Renamed Yara in the show, Asha is a swashbuckling pirate who decides to take the helm of the Iron Islands’ fastest ship with fifty of the best killers around so she can go rescue her poor brother Theon, who really doesn’t have a lot left worth rescuing now that he's being skinned alive by Roose Bolton's bastard. Like Cersei, Asha is fighting against the role that her society dictates for her gender, and because no one is going to give her power, she simply TAKES it. Eventually, teevee watchers will see Asha at the Kingsmoot, where she challenges her uncle for rule of the Ironborn, and while her gender may get in the way, it’s not the primary focus of why she ends up on the losing side.

Arya Stark: I love love love Arya Stark with the love of a thousand lovey suns. Unlike her sister Sansa, she’s managed to escape the hot mess that is Kings Landing and the Lannister family, and now she’s gallivanting around the countryside in the company of Sandor Clegane, the Hound himself. He’s keeping her alive, but Arya does pretty well on her own. She’s already got a couple of kills to her name, and she’s stealthy. She refuses to wait around letting things happen to her, instead Arya is completely pro-active and goes after what she needs and wants. Calm and cool, she tells the Hound, "Some day I'm going to put a sword through your eye and out the back of your skull." AND OMG I CAN'T WAIT.

Sansa Stark: I have to say, reading the books, Sansa was my least favorite character. I really disliked her until about halfway through Storm of Swords, and then I had a sort of Sansa-piphany. Sansa becomes stronger, as do the other female characters, but in a different way. She’s not a warrior, not a schemer, not a manipulator, or even particularly clever. But Sansa, for all her other faults, is a survivor. Like a chameleon, she learns to adapt to whatever horrible situation she is put in by other people - because nothing that happens to Sansa happens BECAUSE of her. She is completely at the mercy of other peoples’ whims - her parents, Joffrey, Cersei, Lord Baelish… pretty much everyone other than Tyrion Lannister wants something from her. And Sansa adapts. She overcomes and she survives.

So, despite the insistence of some bloggers that Girls Don’t Like Game of Thrones It’s Too Hard to Understand, seriously, it’s worth investing some time to watch (or better yet, read) the series. Yes, there’s lots of sex, boobies, politics, blood, beheadings, flayings, and some rapeyness, but it’s a strongly written character-driven series that’s well worth exploring.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

An Open Letter to Steubenville’s Jane Doe

Dear Jane Doe,

I don’t know your name, and most likely never will. All I know about you is that you are one of the most brave people I’ve ever read about. You were victimized and treated horribly and with no regard, and not just by the two boys who raped you when you were passed out drunk at a party.

You’ve been victimized by the people who took your photo as you were violated, turning your rape into not just a sexual assault but a party game while they looked on and did nothing to save you. You’ve been victimized by your own community, where you are receiving death threats for ruining the lives of those “promising young men.” You’ve been victimized by your peers, by other girls who go on Twitter and call you a slut. You’ve even been victimized by the American media, because CNN reporters were practically choking back tears as Trent Mays and Ma’lik Thompson were sentenced to a combined three years in juvenile detention for what they did to you. You’ve been victimized by all the rape apologists who point out that the fault is your own, because you were drunk and went to a party with boys.

You’ve even been victimize by politicians who claim that rape isn’t really rape, and that a woman’s body will “shut down” in the case of “legitimate rape,” whatever the hell that is supposed to mean.

What makes me sad is that none of this is new. While the term “rape culture” is a fairly recent one in our society, the fact is that this has been going on for decades. When I was in high school, long before you were born, Jane Doe, this was happening - especially if you go to school in some little Ohio town where football is king.

I remember overhearing Monday morning whispers about Cheerleader X getting drunk at a party Saturday night and being a toy for the whole football team. “Tee hee, what a whore,” everyone giggled. None of us were smart enough or confident enough to know that this was wrong. But I do know it made me thankful that I was unpopular enough not to get invited to a party full of jocks.

Jane Doe, here’s why I want to thank you. Not just for speaking out, not just for being brave, but for something you may be completely unaware of. Your case has CHANGED things.

Your case is, as one blogger put it, rape culture’s Abu Ghraib. Your case is the one that has people up in arms and - dare I say it - angry. Finally, after all these years, people are saying enough is enough. They’re condemning the news media for the shitty, biased, sympathetic coverage of your rapists (because that’s what Mays and Thompson are, no matter what anyone says), and they’re condemning a society in which children are being raised to have no regard for others.

And for once, it’s not just women that are angry. Men are stopping to speak out too. They’re pointing out, and rightfully so, that (a) not all men are rapists but (b) those who are should be treated as rapists, and not fallen heroes.

Trent Mays and Ma’lik Thompson raped you while you were unconscious and then laughed about it on social media. And still there are people who are sympathetic to their cause. But I’m thankful to say that it looks like finally, the pendulum is beginning to swing the other way. Finally, people are realizing - and not just realizing, but vocalizing - that it doesn’t matter how drunk you were, it doesn’t matter what you were wearing, because NO ONE has the right to rape anyone else.

Your case is one that has parents talking to their children and to each other, about what’s not okay, and more importantly, what to do if you see something happening that’s not okay.

And that, Jane Doe, is because of you.

Someday, you might decide to come forward and tell the world who you are. Or you may not. It's your choice - something you didn't have the night that those boys assaulted you. Either way, you’ve made a difference - and it’s a difference you may not even be aware of, because of all the other people whose lives you’ve impacted.

Let’s face it, it would have been pretty easy for you to keep your mouth shut and never tell a soul, despite the fact that photos were all over Twitter of you being assaulted. You could have pretended it never happened, and let Trent Mays and Ma’lik Thompson go off to college to play football, where they’d have done the same thing to drunk sorority girls.

But you weren’t silent. You spoke out, and when you were ignored and the police department dropped the ball, others spoke for you.

I know things are awful for you right now, and I know that people are being shitty to you up there in Steubenville. I want you to know that Steubenville and your school are only a very small blip on the microcosm of humanity and the world, and someday you’ll be able to turn around and flip Steubenville and everyone in it a big ol’ Fuck You.

In the meantime, understand that as awful as some people can be, there are so many millions more of us who admire you for your bravery and courage, and can only hope that other young people - both female and male - can be as strong as you have been.

Monday, February 11, 2013

I’m Not Bad, I’m Just Drawn That Way

OK, this really irks my tater. A fifteen-year-old Utah girl has been suspended from school because she dyed her hair red. OMG BOTTLE GINGERS!!!

Yes, apparently the school’s principal thinks young Rylee MacKay’s hair is so distracting that no one else will be able to learn. Man, if I had a dollar for every single time I sat in a classroom back in the eighties and thought “Holy crap I’d really love to learn more about algebra but OMG THAT GIRL HAS COLORED HAIR WHARRGGBBLLLLL CAN’T THINK!!”

Rylee has red hair! And it’s not even real! Next thing you know, she might be picking out her own clothes or cutting her own food, and we all know what those things lead to. DANCING.

It must be nice to be the principal at a school that is so full of rainbows and unicorns and lollipops that the biggest discipline problem is a kid’s hair color.

But seriously. Kudos to Rylee’s mom, who was basically like OH HELL NO YOU DON’T, and said, "I absolutely am not going to dye it brown. That is not an option … My daughter feels beautiful with the red hair. Changing her hair really changed her; she really blossomed."

But even more seriously, here’s what gets me going. We live in a society where bullying has become the norm rather than the exception. Schools are constantly addressing the issue of bullying, and for the love of Pete, kids KILL THEMSELVES because they are bullied by other kids.

How in the name of Zeus’ butthole can we say on the one hand “Don’t bully someone because they look different” when a school district is going to suspend a kid BECAUSE SHE LOOKS DIFFERENT?

And the crazy part? Rylee doesn’t look very unusual at all - there are plenty of redheads who were blessed with this shade from birth - but even if she DID, even if her hair was blue and green and she had a glittery horn sticking out of her forehead and a fucking TAIL, it’s not the school’s business to address her physical appearance.

By singling her out for the way she looks, the principal is doing what we call Othering. And if a kid is being Othered for her appearance, chances are good that she’s not the only one. Way to go, Hurricane Middle School, on establishing a culture of acceptance and diversity.

Really, folks. The day we tell teenage girls they can’t color their hair, the terrorists win.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ten Ways to Be a Good Holiday Shopper

Ten Ways to Be a Good Shopper During the Holidays

The December holidays are nearly upon us, and even though Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Solstice are still a good six weeks away, many of my friends are gleefully rubbing their hands together in anticipation of Black Friday shopping. Everyone claims they think Black Friday is an awful concept, but y’all are still going to do it, and by about noon, at least one of you will have made some poor retail employee hate you. Why? Because while there are plenty of tips on how to get the best deals, there are rarely any suggestions on how to shop without being an asshole.

Thus, gentle reader, as someone who will be at work at 7:30 Friday morning to greet the squeeing masses, I have an early Christmas present for you. Here are some tips on how to be a good shopper - the kind of shopper that makes me think, “Wow, the last ten people were dicks, but this guy was just SO NICE.”  Follow these guidelines, and it’s quite possible that you - and the people who are getting paid just slightly more than minimum wage to put up with your shenanigans - will have a much better experience.

Feel free to use these the rest of the year too.

1. Be Patient.
    Yeah, I know you’ve been out there in your sleeping bag since 5 am so you could get the Super Ossum Special Deluxe Edition Whatever. So have the other nine hundred people. Guess what. You’re gonna have to wait your turn. Employees will help you when they can. Don’t be a dick, and understand that YOU'RE SHOPPING ON BLACK FRIDAY. No matter how many employees are working, it’s not going to be enough, so suck it up and play Angry Birds on your phone for a few minutes.

2. Read the Fine Print.
    If the Super Ossum Special Deluxe Edition Whatever is on sale for a special price, and the ad says down at the bottom “While Supplies Last,” then guess what? After the store runs out, they no longer will be able to give you that special price. If that happens, accept that you didn’t get there in time. Move on, instead of throwing a tantrum.

3. Use Some Common Sense.
    Ethel the Employee is helping a customer, she’s also answering the phone, and she’s trying to look up something on a computer while four other people are waiting for her assistance. Walking up behind her and saying “Scuse me I just got a quick question!” is not cool. Use your brain, and get in line like everyone else. There are no quick questions, other than “Where’s the bathroom?”
    And it’s along the back wall under the blue Catch-22 sign.

4. Common Sense Part 2
    You see an employee wearing a name tag, but also carrying her car keys, a cup of coffee, and her purse. What do you do?

a. Ask her to help you locate that special color Super Ossum Special Deluxe Edition Whatever that you can’t find because someone just took the last one but you’re sure there’s some in the back even though you've already been told they're all gone.
b. Recognize that she’s probably off the clock and leave her the hell alone.

Choose wisely, young Jedi.

5. Don’t Argue.
    Yes, we know the online price for the Super Ossum Special Deluxe Edition Whatever is cheaper than it is in the store. That’s because it’s online, and you have to wait for shipping. You can argue all you want, but that’s not going to make me sell you the Super Ossum Special Deluxe Edition Whatever at the online price. If it makes you feel better, think of the extra cost as your Instant Gratification Tax.
    Also, don’t yell at me because I won’t price match, just because you know Best Buy and Target will do it. Best Buy is selling $2500 flat screens, so there’s a bit of wiggle room. You’re buying a six dollar paperback with a 10% Membership Discount and a coupon. How much more of a discount do you think I can give you? Spend the extra $1.03 and move on.

6. Shit Happens.
    Sometimes people make mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes will inconvenience you. If a cashier accidentally gives you the wrong change, or the guy at Customer Service points you in the wrong direction, it’s okay. It’s not done out of maliciousness or even incompetence, it’s done because it’s Black Friday and we have nine hundred people in our face screaming because we just ran out of the latest Bill O’Reilly book and there’s not enough coffee in the world to alleviate the hell that we are in. Be patient, wait your turn, and let whoever made the mistake fix it, without you making their day even more miserable.

7. Know What You Want.
    My favorite customers, all kidding aside, are the ones who come in with a list. They know exactly what they want, they just need me to show them where it is. Good for you, people - buy your stuff, and continue being awesome. My second favorite customers are the ones who aren’t sure what they want, but they are happy to take suggestions. Need a book for a ten year old boy who reads at an eighth grade level and likes monsters and magic? I’ve got a good dozen ideas for you, here they are, and you can pick which one works best for your little gift recipient.

8. Gift Cards Are Good.
    You have to pick out a present for that cousin you haven’t seen in eight years and you have no idea what he likes because you don’t talk to him anyway, but now he’s showing up for Christmas dinner. Great! Seriously, it’s perfectly okay to get him a gift card. Most people love them, because it allows them to go select their very own present at a later date. If you feel weird about it, remember that gift cards help the economy too - we get a sale when you buy the card, and we get a sale when someone comes in to redeem it.

9. Be Prepared.
    You’ve done it! You got your Super Ossum Special Deluxe Edition Whatever and now you’re waiting in line at the cash register. While you’re waiting, it’s a good time to do things like dig out all those coupons and your discount membership card, as well as write out the date and retailer’s name on your check that you’re still using even though everyone except your grandma is using debit cards today. Don’t wait til the last minute to count out your spare change, and don’t ask the cashier to wait while you run and get that damn Elf on the Shelf that you promised to by for little Skippy but you forgot to pick up. Also, if you need gift receipts, tell the cashier BEFORE they start ringing things up, not after you’ve paid and they’re waving the next customer down to the register.

10. Don’t Be an Asshole.
    Nothing says Happy Birthday Baby Jesus like making some minimum wage cashier cry. I tell all the new seasonal people at work that they don’t get paid to be abused, and if someone is being mean to them, let a manager (or someone who’s got thicker skin and gives no shits) know about it.
    I guarantee you, if you come into my store, and you make an employee cry (especially our poor little Noobs who are on their very first job ever), there is a special place in hell reserved just for you. Try to remember that the whole point of the holidays is to celebrate the love you have for your family and whatever faith it is you follow. Celebrate it by not being an asshole to people who don’t deserve it.