Monthly Archives: January 2015

Girl Meets Boy Who Lived, Part Two

Hi Everyone!

I am delighted at the response that this has gotten. Not just because it brings people to my blog (which is always awesome), BUT ALSO because I have had so many conversations IRL about it! Which means I get to talk about BOOKS! My favorite subject. With many people whom I did not know were big readers. And that has been a real pleasure. So that’s one thing I will say, again, for JK Rowling–whatever you think about her writing or these books, they certainly get people talking, and talking passionately. They are the most-beloved books of any books I’ve ever known, and that can’t just be luck. So kudos, JK. I respect you big time.

That said…this book wasn’t my most favorite. Don’t get me wrong, for a sophomore slump, it was fairly spectacular, and I still tore through it in a day, but it wasn’t quite as magical for me as the first one. I don’t know if all of the books will be less great than the first one because you can never re-meet the magical stuff for the first time again, but right now I just have a sample size of two. Also important to note: this is the last movie I’ve seen until HP 7, Parts 1 and 2. Because I was told by my friend who shall not be named that there were no spiders in this movie. Because I am terrified of spiders. And then there are GIANT SPIDERS and I buried my head in her lap like a small child and then I didn’t see another HP movie for eight years, until this dorky guy I was dating named Tom begged me to see the last ones with him 🙂 Here are my thoughts:

1. I was really, really sad that nobody wrote to Harry over the summer. I couldn’t imagine him going home to the Dursleys. Perhaps it’s because I picture all of them how they look now (like, D-Rad in “Horns” and “What If”, not baby D-Rad [yeah, I call Daniel Radcliffe D-Rad. As far as I know, I coined the term. Let’s make it catch on!]) but it’s preposterous to me that he has to go back to the scene of his childhood torture. I’m like, get an apartment or something! You’re an adult! Then I remember he’s not an adult, he’s twelve. But I was very worried about him. Dang it, I’m starting to care…but not about-

2.  Dobby. DOBBY. He is the Jar-Jar Binks of HP so far. I immediately hated him. I don’t like cryptic BS and I was sick of his antics in about ten seconds. I know he dies and it’s a big deal and Harry has to bury him, but right now I can’t possibly fathom how anyone could shed a tear over this repulsive, annoying little pest. So we’ll see how that goes.

3. Not enough quidditch in this one. Not enough Lee Jordan. I demand more Lee Jordan! It’s funny because I hate real sports but I ❤ quidditch.

4.  Prof. Lockhart is the WORST. I got sick of his shtick right away, even though I know he’s Kenneth Brannaugh and I love KB. I was like, why is Maggie Smith putting up with this nonsense! Fire this dude! Hermione’s crush on him bothered me too. Because she is the smartest ever and I know that she would see through that pompous windbag in a heartbeat.

5. I knew about the Tom Riddle/Voldemort thing from the movie, so that wasn’t a big deal, but I bet it would have been had I not known. So well done, JK.

6. Can we talk about Ginny? I have to believe that JK didn’t plan for Harry to marry her when she introduced her. But knowing what a crazy planner she is, JK probably did. And I have a ton of issues with that. Because hero worship does not a great relationship make! She is (not yet, at least…I am sort of willing to give her a chance) in no way his equal. It was sort of cool that she got possessed, and I was glad Harry saved her, but bleh. Not really a match for Harry. I am already rooting for Harry and Hermione to get together. I can feel some serious resentment growing in me about this (like I feel about Pirates of the Caribbean, because I think Jack and Elizabeth are a better couple than Will and Elizabeth). But Ginny…pretty lame. So far. She’s a walking punch line when Harry’s around.

7. Am I a bad person when I thought Ginny caught Percy masturbating? I am a bad person. It was still funny that he was macking on a Ravenclaw, and that “Fred looked like Christmas had come early” when he found out (I hope they tease him ALL summer) but I was sure that she’d caught him stroking the wand.

8. Isn’t it awesome that Hermione totally solves the mystery, even while out of commission? I can see her being like “boys, you morons, why didn’t you visit me sooner? I was LITERALLY holding the answer in my hand and it still took you forever to get it.” Also, when she says “oh no” when finals are canceled I lol’d. She is super-fast growing on me. Maybe it’s the meme version of her and not the real her, yet, but I am into it.

9. Yay that Gryffindor won the House Cup this year! And they earned it this time. Wouldn’t it have felt so much better if this was their first win? Yes. Yes it would. This is my only serious quibble.

10. Harry always dashes right in to save people, without a moment’s hesitation. And that’s part of what makes him awesome, but can we also for a moment talk about Katniss? Because I love, love, LOVE that sometime she’s all “hell no, that’s scary as shit, I’m not interested in your politics I want to go home to my sister and maybe go hunting.” Because on a typical day, I identify much more with her than with Harry. It was a revelation for me to see a hero who often did the right thing, but sometimes thought about not doing the right thing. Or at least acknowledged her fear of doing the right thing. So, ten points for Katniss, I guess.

11. Related, but maybe not the same as my last point: I’m not thrilled about the part where Harry talked to Dumbledore at the end and D-dore told him that he wasn’t a Slytherin. Because I really dig that Harry fears the darkness inside of him, because we all do that. So to be told “the bad parts of you are residual magic from the bad guy. There’s nothing in you that’s bad.” Because there are things in me, and you, and even in Harry probably that are bad, and to have all that explained away is disheartening. Again, this is still for kids, and I know dark, morally complex shit is coming later, but right now, I felt like there was a tiny hint of character development, which was quickly revoked by D-dore.

The whole thing just felt too similar to the first one, for me. Not enough growth, not enough change. The kids are still doing what they did in the last book. The adults are still doing what they did in the last book. With the exception of the introduction to Ma and Pa Weasley, there’s nothing really to be gained here. I feel like you can skip all of this book and still be ready for Year Three.

But what the heck do I know? I guess I’ll find out when I read the next one! Stay tuned for Girl Meets Boy Who Lived, Part Three.

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BONUS short story: Outside the Cumberbatch Wedding

Hello, dear Readers!!

I just finished Harry Potter Two and I will blog about that by the end of the week, so stay tuned for that! But…

I have been hard at work on my pirate book for the past two weeks and I needed a break! It occurred to me that with all this nonfiction research and writing, I haven’t stretched my fiction muscles in a loooong time. So today to scratch that itch, I wrote a short story. It’s nothing magical or incredible, but it made me smile and I hope it might do the same for you! So here you go, World Premiere here of my newest short story, available ONLY to readers of my humble blog: (and shout-out to the Toast’s Nicole Cliffe, who composed the playlist that inspired this story: http://the-toast.net/2014/11/06/playlist-standing-outside-benedict-cumberbatchs-wedding-venue/ )

Outside the Cumberbatch Wedding, by Laura Sook Duncombe

By around four o’clock, most of the crowds had dispersed. Earlier, there had been hundreds—flashbulbs exploding, necks craning, voices shouting—but once the bride and the groom exited the limousine and were ushered by bodyguards into the reception, followed quickly by the VIP guests, most people realized the spectacle was over and went home, comparing the pictures they’d snapped on their phones over the heads of the crowd. Now, only the most dedicated and deranged spectators lingered outside the stately London home serving as the reception hall, perhaps unable to let go or perhaps without anywhere else to go.

A short, slightly overweight teenage girl stood pressed up against the barricade, holding a boom box into the air. She had not moved for three hours. The boy watching her wondered how the antiquated machine had not run out of batteries. At first, he thought the boom box was silent, a symbol rather than a functional device, but as he inched closer to her he realized there was in fact music spilling out of it, just very quietly.

The girl was silent, but all afternoon tears had been making tracks down her cheeks, ruining her mascara until she looked like a rejected member of KISS. The boy wanted to hand her a tissue, offer to hold the boom box for her, do something so that she could wipe the wrecked makeup off her face. She was sort of pretty, he thought, and dressed in her Sunday best, and the black streaks down her face were jarring.

“Here.” He thrust a tissue in her direction. She tore her eyes from the reception hall and looked at the tissue like an alien thing.

“What?” She asked. She spoke like she was just waking up, confused.

“For your face. You’ve got—here.” The boy, shocked at his own boldness, swiped at the girl’s face with the tissue, collecting the debris best he could. He had never been this close to a girl before. She smelled nice. He wondered how she could possibly still smell nice in the sweltering June heat. He was sure he was rank about now. Hopefully she didn’t notice.

“See? Your makeup. It looked sad.” He explained, waving the blackened tissue at her. Her eyes focused on it and she appeared to come more to life.

“Oh, sorry. Thanks. I…I guess I hadn’t noticed. I must look pretty foolish.” She said, embarrassed.

“Nah, I don’t think so. I mean, I’m here too.” The boy pointed out, coaxing a small smile from her.

“So, bride or groom?” He asked, assuming he knew the answer but not wanting to presume.

“Groom. I just…it’s hard to explain. I feel so stupid. But I saw him in ‘Hamlet’ last summer at the Barbican, and he signed my playbill after.  Even though there were thousands of people there, he stopped and chatted with me, even took a picture. He made me feel like I was the only one there. And I know he would never, I mean, I’m only sixteen and he’s almost forty…but I’ve never felt that connected to another person in my life and I just…I don’t know. But I felt that I should be here. I had to be here. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, I don’t usually talk to strangers like this. But you seem…different.” She finished, looking him square in the eye. Her eyes were a confusing shade of blue-green-grey, not unlike the actor whose reception they were currently crashing.

“How about you, bride or groom?” She asked. He fidgeted.

“Well, I’m actually covering the story for my school paper.  I don’t know much about either one of them, really, but I’ve seen that show your bloke’s in on telly, that detective one, and it’s pretty good.” He admitted, hoping that truth would endear him to her.

“So you’re a reporter? You don’t even care? You’re just here for the story?” She accused, making him feel three inches tall.

“I guess, yeah. But that’s not why I came over here, to talk to you, I mean. You don’t have to be part of my article if you don’t want. I just wanted to help you. You looked sad, like I said. Aren’t your arms tired from holding that thing up?” He asked. She considered his statement for a moment and apparently decided to take him at his word, because she replied,

“Yes.”  She went to turn her eyes back to the hall, but he did not want to lose her attention so soon.

“’Say Anything’, right? That’s where you got the idea? Now, that movie, I love. John Cusack is one of my all-time favorite actors.” He tried. She shrugged, which must have been painful considering how much weight she was holding.

“It’s okay. Not my favorite.” She said.

“Then why do it here? Why not just hold a sign or something?” He persisted.

“I thought about a sign first. But I couldn’t figure out what to write on it. I didn’t want to be crass or anything. I mean, what do you say? ‘Don’t do it, marry me instead’? That’s stupid. He’s not mine and he never will be. And I’m happy that he’s getting married, I really am. I know how much he’s always wanted kids, and now that she’s pregnant it seems like he’s getting everything he wanted. I want that for him, too. I just…I feel so deeply for him. I know I don’t know him, not really, but the characters he plays, I know them, so, so well. And they’ve taught me so much and made me be better and…I owe him, I guess. He’s a part of me, even though I’m not a part of him. And I wanted to…bear witness, I guess.” She trailed off, studying the gravel path under her shoe.

“Attention must be paid?” He asked, “Like ‘Death of a Salesman’?” She studied him curiously.

“Is that all you do, make analogies to plays and movies?” She asked, not unkindly. He blushed.

“Well, I am the pop culture writer on the paper. It’s sort of my job.” He said.

“School job.” She countered. He noded.

“Yeah, school job. But I hope it’s my real job someday. I love this stuff. How you can watch a movie and just disappear for a few hours, just cease to be. I guess that sounds dumb.” He said. She smiled again, the same small smile.

“Not to me.” She replied. Throughout their whole exchange, the music continues. Sometimes a sorrowful warble, sometimes a strong guitar, a few songs he knows, but most he doesn’t. Their sad melodies wash over them, spinning a cocoon around the pair. Inside the music, they are safe.

“So what do you want to be when you grow up, then? Assuming you’re not still here, holding that boom box.” He asked.

“Dunno. A teacher, maybe, or a nurse, something that helps people. Haven’t quite figured it out yet. Got two years before uni, guess I’ll come up with something by then.” She offered.

He is utterly entranced. Who is this mystical pixie: this perfectly ordinary, sensible girl who burns so brightly inside for a movie star that she’s abandoned comfort and good sense to stand vigil outside his wedding for hours? He wants to know everything about her.

“How much music do you have left? Where did you even get that boom box, anyway? And how come I haven’t seen you change CDs or tapes or whatever that old thing takes?” He asked.  She winced as he mentions the boom box, as if remembering how heavy it is. He longs to offer to hold it for her but is not brave enough.

“It’s one of those new retro thingies, that looks old but actually isn’t. It’s got Bluetooth, and it’s connected to my iPod in my pocket. So the whole playlist can play uninterrupted.” She admitted, a little bit of pride creeping into her voice. She’s thought this out.

“That’s really clever. And how long is the playlist, anyway?” He asked.

“Seven hours and fifteen minutes,” She said, and does not redden or flinch. She is not ashamed of this.  “I started adding songs about how I was feeling, no real plan, and once I got started I just couldn’t stop. It sort of got out of hand, but when I was finished I realized it was perfect.”

“Huh.” He said, momentarily flabbergasted by the sheer volume of her devotion. He knows he will never understand the depth of her love. Still, he wants to. He wants to do a million things at once: ask her to dance, kiss her, put his hands next to hers and shoulder some of the boom box’s weight without ever saying a word. His mind is ricocheting from crazy scheme to crazy scheme, totally unmoored. What has she done to him?

“There’s about two hours left.  I was outside the wedding this morning, too,” She said. He just nodded. They stood in a companionable silence, each thinking similar thoughts about very different people.

“So what will you do when it’s over?” He asked, after a while. She shrugged again.

“Go home, I guess. I haven’t really thought that far ahead. The reception will be over by then. Everyone will be gone. There won’t be anything left.” She said.

“There’s a great chip shop just around the corner that’s open late. I’d be happy to buy you dinner, if you want. You must be hungry—I haven’t seen you eat anything.” He said quickly.

“You would buy me dinner? Why?” She asked, eyeing him warily. Now it is his turn to shrug.

“Dunno. I like you. You’re interesting. I want to find out more about you. Is that okay?” He asks.  He looks right into her blue-green-grey eyes and hopes she sees the truth in his. It feels like she is peering into his very soul, which thrills and terrifies him. Finally she nodded.

“Okay. Fine. Thank you. But I feel like if you’re taking me to dinner I should know your name.” She said.  He quails inside. This could break everything, ruin the fragile trust she’s placed in him. He could lie, but he knows instinctively he will never lie to her.

“It’s Ben.” He breathed, unable to look away.  She froze. Her expression is one of shock. Then the most extraordinary thing happened. She laughed.  Her whole body shook as she gasped in between gales of laughter, and the boom box swayed precariously in her arms.

“What’s so funny? I mean, I know it’s the same as your bloke—well, not really, I’m Benjamin but still, it’s not like it’s that uncommon of a name…” He trailed off, unable to continue in the face of this all-consuming laughter.

When her giggles subsided, she gingerly lowered the boombox until she was holding it at her side by the handle. She used her free hand to wipe the tears and the last of the makeup from her eyes. Her face looks younger now, more free. She extended her hand to join him.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Sophie.” She said. Seized by the spirit of this wild, improbable coincidence, this alignment of the stars or the loom of fate, he clasped her hand warmly, then pulled her to him and kissed her on the cheek. She dropped the boom box in surprise.

“Come on, Sophie, let’s get out of here and start our own story, eh? What do you say?”  She looked from the boom box to the reception hall, back to the boom box, then to him. She rolled her shoulders, issuing several satisfying pops as the long-abused bones and muscles relaxed. Finally she nodded.

“It’s probably time for something new.”  She said, and doesn’t let go of his hand as she started to walk away.

“Don’t you want your boom box?” He asked, reaching down to pick it up. She shook her head.

“Nah.  Maybe they’ll find it as they leave. It will be my wedding present.” She said, then turned her back on it. He spared one last look at the reception hall, where through the big bay windows he saw the bride toss her bouquet into a sea of single ladies.

“Thank you,” he whispered, then spun to catch up with his Sophie.

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Selma and Boycotting the Oscars

Oh man, you guys…I don’t know what to say about “Selma”. I mean, I can’t express how important it is, how brutal it is to watch, how necessary it is for all of us to see it, and how absolutely terrible it is that Ava DuVernay wasn’t nominated for Best Director. But all of these things are true.

What I’ve come to is this–white people, like myself, are a race of oppressors. We have held people back because we are afraid to cede power. Black people (and all people of color) should not have to fight us for power. We never should have had it to begin with. Racism is not a black people problem, it’s a white people problem. The ability to end it ultimately stands with me. So I’m going to cede. I am going to stop grumbling about ‘quotas’ when people of color are admitted to college, given jobs, and nominated for awards. Not that I grumbled much, mind you…it’s just that white gaze and white privilege runs so deep, I don’t always recognize it. Well, I’m going to actively root it out. I will go to more movies starring people of color, read more books by people of color, and demand more representation of people of color in every facet of life except jail and poverty, where people of color are already disproportionally represented (which is a white problem, too, but that’s another story.)

I thought about all it’s after seeing a movie. Movies are important. Storytelling is important. And that is why it’s repellent to me that all the major Oscar categories, save Inarritu for Birdman, are full of white people.
How can more minority stories be told, how can more minorities see themselves on page, stage, and screen if we don’t recognize them? The Academy is just that–an ivory tower of white maleness. And I am so over it it’s not even funny. I am boycotting the awards this year, and I will continue boycotting, until people of color are given the recognition they deserve and we stop composing Ode to the Angry White Man over and over again. It’s a tired story. And I’m sick of hearing it.

I didn’t plan on writing this much.
I meant to just post three articles that I think say it better than I do. But after seeing a movie like “Selma” it’s hard to stay silent.

(salon, on point:)
http://www.salon.com/2015/01/21/maureen_dowds_clueless_white_gaze_whats_really_behind_the_selma_backlash/

(Lindy West at the Guardian, ostensibly talking about gay representation but touches on this)
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/20/billy-crystal-wrong-on-gay-sex-hollywood-lack-of-diversity?CMP=share_btn_tw

Roxane Gay:
http://the-toast.net/2015/01/16/thoughts-2015-oscar-nominees/

Anyone else over it? Let me know!

Love to all.

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Girl Meets Boy Who Lived, part 1

Greetings!!
So, many of you may have heard…I have a shameful secret. I have never read Harry Potter. I know! It’s shocking! Me, who has read approximately every book ever, somehow missed out on the leviathan juggernaut that is the Harry Potter saga.

Now, I’m not a complete HP novice…I’ve seen several of the movies and my mom, sister, and brother are fanatical fans, so I’ve heard a lot about it. I have even been to Harry Potter world in Orlando at the behest of my husband. Plus, you just can’t exist in total ignorance of HP. You’ve seen every flavor beans in a candy store. You’ve scrolled past countless Buzzfeed listcicles. You’ve heard someone use the phrase “my Patronus is ….” And “Accio (whatever)!” It is a part of the world culture in a big way–there’s no escaping it.

So I know a bit, but I have not read these books? Why? Well, it’s complicated. I was a really non-conformist kid. I was religious about not doing what everyone else was doing. When bell bottoms were in, I wore capris. When capris came in, I wore skirts. Why was I like this? Who knows! Teenagers are really weird. I was unnaturally tall (5’8″ at age 11) and I felt like a freak, so maybe I was subconsciously trying to laugh first so nobody could laugh at me…I dunno. Fact is, I wasn’t into following the crowd.

Also, Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” books were coming out at the same time, and I thought they were the best things since sliced bread . I was irritated that they were not getting as much acclaim as HP. I wondered if it had anything to do with the fact that Harry was a boy and Lyra was a girl. I was indignant on Lyra’s behalf, and Meg Murry’s behalf, and on behalf of all female heroines whose books are not as popular as their male-hero counterparts.

So I just skipped them, long story short. I watched my friends love them. In weak moments in my early 20s, I yearned to belong with them. But it was too late, I felt. I’d picked my side.

Well, no longer! I’ve decided, for many reasons, that now is the time. For one, I am a grown-ass woman and I do what I want. Two, I love Emma Watson and any character that catches her eye is likely worthy of my interest. Three, my agent suggested it. And lastly, as someone who aspires to write books that inspire and captivate young kinds, I wanted to see how it was done.

So, I started. I got them on Kindle so nobody could see me read them. And on a long flight from Baltimore to San Diego, I read Page 1. Later that night, I finished it.  A few observations:

1. The Cinderella-esque story about the hated, tormented orphan isn’t terribly original. I know this one was expressly for small kiddies, but I was not particularly impressed. Until he freed the snake at the zoo. I like snakes.

2. JK must have had a really clear vision of where the whole thing was going when she wrote this, which is pretty damned impressive. Some of the hints she plants here make me think she had the whole thing mapped out. As someone whose writing philosophy is “let’s see what happens today”, I am amazed at her forethought.

3. Professor McGonagall has black hair? But…I thought she looked like Maggie Smith? I like the idea of the younger, sexier Prof. Even though Maggie Smith is the coolest girl in school and everyone worships her because she’s Heaven. H

4. Hermione is priiiiiiiiiiiiiity terrible. I know, I know, she’s the best and all that, but how long has it been since you re-read this first book? She is a total know-it-all brat. And not in a “wow, girls can do anything” way. In a stuck-up, isn’t she annoying way. I’m happy to know she gets cooler (and gets hotter, apparently) later on, but it’s depressing to me that all strong female characters have to have a she’s-all-that transformation. She’s described as “bushy hair, rather long front teeth.” That’s our first glimpse of Hermione. So, something to think about, at least.

5. I love Lee Jordan! The Quidditch announcer is the best. He is my favorite character so far.

6. Wow, Ron seems dumb. I’m already outraged he ends up with Hermione. It’s going to hurt like when Topanga gave up Yale to marry Cory, which even 12-year-old Laura knew was wrong. Come to think of it, this whole series is a lot like Boy Meets World, except the main character (Harry) is Shawn, not Cory (Ron, obvi). So that’s interesting.

7. The worldbuilding is flawless. She meticulously describes Diagon Alley and Hogwarts without dragging and getting boring. One feels a sense of wide-eyed wonder, which is of course exactly what Harry’s going through at the time. So the reader gets to be with Harry as he sees all this for the first time, which is just really, really cool.

8. JK’s structure is also really excellent. Each chapter has a discrete incident (the troll, the quidditch game, the banquet, etc.) but each one builds on the other. The narrative moves at a brisk clip which still manages to feel somewhat leisurely. She doesn’t skimp on the , but the book keeps moving. This is something I have trouble with as an author and I hope to learn from her.

9. Neville! Poor Neville. I hope I am not unduly influenced by the fact that I know he gets super-hot later, but I really feel for this kid. Because we are not always the heroes in the right place at the right time. Sometimes we are the ones who say “hey, don’t break the rules, things don’t work that way and I don’t want us to get in trouble.” And it can be a thankless job. Which brings me to my last point…

10. I felt the ending, with Gryffindor winning the House Cup, was really unsatisfying. Because they beat the bad guy, alright? They drank the iocane powder and played giant scary chess and fought with Audrey II, and they won. Wouldn’t it have been better for them to know they are winning the war, even though they lost that battle? Because sometimes Slytherin does win, and it’s not because they are the good guys or because they’re right, it’s because they have the most points and that’s how you win. Maybe that’s the difference between YA and MG–but I just was let down that they STILL win with a Deus ex Dumbledore. I’ve been warned there is some heavy shit coming down the line, so I’m not worried this is all rainbows and butterflies, but this was disappointing.

11. (okay I lied, not last point:) I did not see Quirrel being the bad guy. But I did spend a big portion of the book yelling “IT’s THE CARD! CHECK THE CHOCOLATE FROG CARD! FLAMEL IS ON THE FROG CARD!” And wouldn’t Ron, who is obsessed with frog cards, remember that name? No, of course not, because he’s Useless Ron.)

So, what do you think, HP fans? Am I totally off-base? I have to say, I enjoyed it a lot. I wanted to write about the first book before I started the second one to keep my recollections clear, and it’s been a struggle not to read it. I can certainly see what all the fuss is about. I will keep you posted as I read more!!

Have you read my new column yet? http://the-toast.net/2015/01/19/literary-ladies-cage-fight-titans/

It’s going to be bi-weekly, and I am very proud of it! Let me know what you think about it. And if you have ideas for future matchups, send them my way!

Love you all!

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NEW COLUMN!!! And MORE PIRATES!!

Dear Readers,

This will be brief, because I should be WORKING on said column, but I have big news! I have sold a new column to Roxane Gay’s new vertical on The Toast, The Butter! Every other Monday, I will be bringing you, via the Butter, “Literary Ladies Cage Fight!” This is my first solid bi-weekly column and I am a tiny bit terrified of having to produce a column every other week, but I am also delighted. Not going to lie, when my inbox had an email from Roxane Gay, I might have squealed a little bit. But I need your help, readers! I will need lots of lots of literary heroines to fight each other. So send me your beloved characters, your dream match ups…anything at all, really! And ESPECIALLY send them to me if they are women of color. One can only take so much Jane Eyre, mmmmkay? (Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE J.E. Like, so much. But this column will not be a dusty refuge for the all-white canon of yore. I already went through St. John’s, thankyouverymuch, and I’ve had enough of that. It is 2015 and we are all about EQUAL REPRESENTATION around here!)

Also, thanks to all your wonderful readership, Jezebel is publishing another pirate piece! So get psyched for Sayyida al-Hurra, Islamic Pirate Queen. Coming soon! I will post it here as soon as it’s up, likely by the end of next week.

Lots going on, y’all! Stay tuned for more news! Thanks for being you. And send me your match-ups!!

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Very apt summary of my Glee feelings…

http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2015/01/09/376152951/cmon-glee-bring-it-home

Uneven is a great word for glee. It was great, and then it was not so great… Then it was pretty bad. But it didn’t stay bad, there were some amazing moments in there. Some performances I’ll never forget. The show went up and down. But so does life, I guess. I’m hoping this final season will wrap things up and give closure to a cultural phenomenon, which happened at a very important time in LGBT history!

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Happy Birthday, Sherlock Holmes! My first BSI Weekend

Hello All!!

I had an AMAZING weekend and despite a long list of other things to do, I wanted to tell you about it while it was still fresh in my mind. Be warned…this is a pretty dear-diary style entry on the blog, as I am just besotted with the Sherlockian crew I met this weekend and the hijinks that ensued!

A prologue: I have been a fan of the world’s only consulting detective since I was very young. Mom somehow found a VHS tape of an Australian animated adaptation of “The Sign of the Four”, which I remember very clearly and loved. Also, obviously, the Great Mouse Detective was a big part of my early childhood. I fell in love with Laurie R. King’s pastiche Mary Russell series at 15 and was off and running from there. But, I was mostly alone. As a nerdy child, I generally thought if I liked something, others did not like it. Apart from my best friend Alicia, who read the King novels with me (sometimes on our laps at stop lights–sorry, Mom!) I doubted there were others like me out there who shared my love of the great brain and the good doctor.

Things started falling into place when I was introduced to BBC’s “Sherlock” at the end of the 2012 Obama campaign. I realized that for a show of that caliber to happen, it must be made by people who love Sherlock and John as I do. There  must be others. I re-read the canon stories by ACD. I re-read the Mary Russell stories. I spent a lot of time on Tumblr. I cautiously dared to hope I was not alone.

For my birthday this year, I asked for a copy of W. S. Baring-Gould’s “Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street”. My mom bought it online, and it arrived to me with a note from the secondhand bookseller. The mystery man penned a quick missive about how if I liked this, I would surely like the Nero Wolfe novels, which were written by an Irregular. “Irregular…what?” I mused, and took to the internet. You can probably picture my delight as I discovered that the Irregulars were the Baker Street Irregulars, a club of people who loved Sherlock just as I did, and that there were Scion societies all over the world, including a few in my backyard! I set out to join at once, and I have never looked back.

Which brings us to this weekend. Every year, the Irregulars throw a big bash for Sherlock’s (supposed) birthday, 6 January in NYC. The Irregulars are a highly selective, invite-only group, but the weekend’s festivities are open to all who love Sherlock save a few events. My scion, Watson’s Tin Box of Maryland, had a few folks going up and I was going with them! I only knew my scion-mates by name and knew not another soul, but I was going. And I was terribly frightened.

I am not one for purely social gatherings. And I am not one to jump into things headfirst. I was worried I wouldn’t make friends, that everyone would already be in groups and I’d be left out, that I didn’t know enough about the canon, that I was too young, too silly….my husband basically had to force me out the door. (Shoutout to encouraging husbands, who know just when to give us a nudge and when to let us stay behind!) I arrived at my first event–the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes ASH Wednesday dinner–terrified of what might ensue.

photo 1 (2)(observe the terror in my eyes)

I should not have worried. From the moment I stepped into the pub (in my knitted deerstalker from Miss Laura Dupuy, craft enchantress extraordinaire) and ran into another first-timer on the stairs, I felt welcome. Sherlockians are, to a one, amazingly nice. What surprised me most was how little I actually talked about Sherlock Holmes this weekend. It was as if, seeing all one’s brethren plainly, it was okay to just talk and exist, not worried anyone would somehow get wind of one’s ridiculous Sherlock Holmes obsession. We were free just to be ourselves, unmasked as we were. And it was quite lovely.

I hardly remember what I talked about all night. But we did go on all night! I met New Yorkers, Iowans, Philadelphians, A Brit or two, and of course my fellow DC-area friends (whom I got to know in more depth). We were young, old, wealthy, poor, students, teachers, librarians, strippers, authors, massage therapists, and everything else under the sun. It was my first time–it was some people’s 30th time. And it was just absolutely, almost indescribably wonderful.

The next day, I prepped for the 20s-themed Baker Street Babes ball. the BSB are a lovely group of ladies who run one of the leading Sherlockian podcasts. They put this ball on each year to raise money for the Wounded Warriors Project, which I think is a really wonderful thing. In the midst of this utterly silly weekend, it was great to be able to use my dorkiness for good. And they raised tons of money! Over 7,000 this year! My hats off to the talented and sweet Baker Street Babes. It was a delight to meet some of you this year! (I only met some–but each was a delight. I didn’t mean I met some delightful, some not. I am entirely sure the whole roster of Babes are a delight.) As I got out of the cab, decked out to the nines, I felt like a million bucks. I seldom feel like that–that I am dressed perfectly, at the right place at the right time. And it was a glorious feeling. 🙂

photo 1photo 2 (2)photo 2

(my fabulous 20s ensemble. I never miss a chance to dress up like Phryne Fisher! Shoutout to Alicia for meticulously finger-waving my hair!!)

When the ball was over, my new posse of friends went to a nearby diner, where we ate tater tots and chit-chatted with abandon. I felt like I had known these people for years instead of 24 hours. We all exchanged contact info so we could keep in touch during the year. It was a bittersweet parting.

Last event for me (the festivities run from Wednesday to Sunday, but I had plans at home on Friday night and thus had to leave early. Before my trip, I thought having an “out” might be nice. Once I was there, I desperately wished I didn’t have to go!) was the Gilette luncheon. Here I got a chance to meet up with some of the more senior Sherlockians, as it was during the day and most of my peers were working. It was wonderful! I breathlessly regaled them with how wonderful my first weekend had been, and they all smiled and nodded knowingly. I spent time with Susan Rice, who founded Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes,  (back in 1968, when BSI was all-male. They did not change this until 1991! So ASH was started as a place where women could celebrate Holmes and Watson. And I love the group with all of my heart and hope to be able to join someday!) Scott Monty, of the “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” podcast, and LAURIE R KING!! She is, for those woefully not in the know, the author of the previously-mentioned Mary Russell series, which operates under the assumption that Sherlock and John were real, ACD was their annoying literary agent, and Sherlock retired to Sussex to keep bees. At the turn of the 20th century, young Mary Russell stumbles across Holmes on the Sussex Downs and an unlikely friendship is born. The two are a marriage of true minds, and they solve crimes together (and eventually fall in love). It is a wonderful, wonderful series that has meant so much to me over the years. When I first discovered the books, I was 15 and so was Mary. I truly feel like we’ve grown up together. While I did not end up marrying Sherlock Holmes, I did watch closely and she and Holmes built a marriage of equals, a partnership where each loved ardently but also respected and gave space to the other, and I have tried to fashion my own marriage in a similar fashion. These books are a huge part of my life, and when I saw Laurie R. King enter the luncheon, I nearly fainted. I hovered awkwardly just behind her, hoping she’d notice me and also that she wouldn’t. I was petrified–what would I say? How could I ever convey how much her books meant to me? All through the lunch, I half-listened to the speakers but gazed at Ms. King, watching incredulously as she ate, laughed, and generally existed just like normal people. How on Earth had I ended up at a luncheon where she was also invited?

A new friend took pity on me and introduced me to Ms. King. I babbled on about nothing, and she smiled politely, offering me some wisdom about the Mary Russell fan club (which I had not known about!!). She graciously posed for a picture and I thanked her profusely. As I slipped out into the freezing January New York City air, I marveled at the events of the past few days. If anyone had told fifteen year old Laura that one day she would be having lunch with Laurie R. King, and that she would be an author, too, and she would join Sherlockian parties with the full support of her wonderful husband, I am pretty sure 15 year old Laura would declare it all too good to be true. And, dear reader, it feels like it is too good to be true sometimes. Which is a lovely way to spend a weekend, all things considered.

Since I’ve been home,  I’ve been scrolling through facebook and twitter constantly, checking out what my new friends are up to and all the fun I am missing. It’s safe to say I am addicted. I can’t wait until next year! And I am so glad that my home scion, Watson’s tin box, meets every month so I don’t have to go a whole year without my Sherlockian fix 🙂

photo 4(me and Lyndsay Faye, author and member of the Baker Street Babes)

photo 3 (2)(me and some of my new friends!!)

photo 3(ME AND LAURIE R KING!!!!! Observe the pure joy on my face)

That’s all, dear readers! See you tomorrow for a big announcement–I know I said it would be today, but I am worn out after all this Sherlock-love. So tomorrow it is!!

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