Friday, December 26, 2014

Sons of Anarchy & Hamlet, Act 1

If you’re any kind of Sons of Anarchy fan, then you know that creator Kurt Sutter (loosely) based the motorcycle-club drama on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. With all the Shakespeare I read in college as an English major, Hamlet was one drama I never read. I thought about reading it as I watched the series unfold, but it got to the point where I didn’t want to know what might happen on SOA because of what did happen in Hamlet. So I waited until now to begin reading.

I finished the first act last night, and it’s interesting to begin to see connections from the play to the show. I find myself marveling at Sutter’s imagination—how he was able to see the Sons within the play.

Within the first act, we meet King Claudius and Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s stepfather (and uncle) and his mother, who married only two months after the death of Hamlet’s father. Those connections are easy to draw to Clay, Gemma, and JT, with Jax, of course, in Hamlet’s role. Hamlet isn’t happy about the union of his mother and his uncle. He feels his uncle is unworthy, not the man his father was. He remembers the love his mother and father shared and doesn’t like seeing Claudius in this new position.

This is different from the way Sutter introduced us to the Tellers and the Morrows. When we first meet the family, Jax is comfortable with Clay, as both his stepdad and his mother’s husband. Maybe it’s because JT died so many years ago; he’s had much more than two months to process it and get used to it. Regardless, there seems to be genuine affection and respect between the two men when we first meet them.

When the play opens, two guards are discussing having seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father, and then not long after that, the ghost appears again. They talk to Hamlet’s good friend, Horatio, about it, and they convince him to come to the platform in front of the castle so that he can see it too. When the ghost appears, Horatio agrees to talk to Hamlet about the ghost, and the two wait together for it. When the ghost appears, it beckons for Hamlet to follow it. Hamlet does, and the two converse. The ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius murdered him and that Hamlet must avenge the murder—but that Hamlet must not bring Gertrude into it. Hamlet vows (while writing) that nothing else will matter except for gaining this vengeance.

For me, the ghost in Hamlet is JT’s manuscript that Jax finds early in the show and then the letters Maureen Ashby sends home with him when he leaves Ireland. They create the initial doubts he has regarding Clay’s leadership and then reveal JT’s fears that Clay (and Gemma) are plotting against him. Once Jax knows the contents of the letters, he wants revenge against Clay. The time Sutter took to build the relationship up between Clay and Jax at the beginning of the series makes the destruction of it that much better. I don’t think I’m going to get that in Hamlet between Claudius and the prince. I also liked the fact that Hamlet was writing; it connects to Jax writing in his journals.

I believe, but I’m not sure yet, that Horatio’s character is represented by Opie’s. I haven’t seen enough of Horatio to be sure of this, but I think that’s how it will turn out. I’ve seen an element of trust between Hamlet and Horatio that makes me think of Jax and Opie, but I also could see Horatio in Bobby or Chibs too. I’ll keep you posted on that.

Also introduced in Act 1, although it’s only a brief introduction, is Ophelia. Hamlet has evidently been expressing affection toward Ophelia, and she seems to be interested. However, her father, Polonius, and her brother, Laertes, don’t believe his love will be long-lasting or true, and they warn her—in her father’s case, forbid her—from being with Hamlet. In the play, Hamlet is above Ophelia in social standing, which I find interesting when thinking about Sons.

Obviously, Tara plays Ophelia’s part. (Maybe I shouldn’t say “obviously.” I guess Wendy could be Ophelia, which would fit with the whole social-standing thing better than Tara. But I think it’s Tara.) I like the foreshadowing of Hamlet’s love not being stable or true for Ophelia. Although Jax did always love Tara, it certainly wasn’t a love she could trust or depend on as a wife should be able to depend on her husband. I’m thinking that the characters of Polonius and Laertes are going to be represented in Margaret Murphy and maybe Wayne Unser. I’m looking forward to seeing how these relationships evolve in the play and what further connections I can find.

Finally, there’s a potential conflict brewing in Hamlet over lands that Hamlet’s father won from Fortinbras. Fortinbras’s son wrote to Claudius demanding the land be returned. Claudius, of course, does not intend to return the land. I’m wondering if this will be related to territorial issues between the Sons and other MCs—drugs, guns, alliances, something nefarious to be sure.

I’m enjoying the play, and I’m glad I waited to read it. I’ll post again after reading farther. I miss Sons of Anarchy, so this is turning out to be a new, fun way to revisit it (before I start watching the whole thing over again). Care to read along?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Diminishing of Christianity and Religion in General

I’ve been struggling for quite a while now, trying to understand the impetus for the various attacks on Christianity in our society. I don’t understand why so many people, and why our governments—federal, state, and local—seem bent on diminishing the presence of Christianity in our society. I mean, I just truly don’t get it.

First of all, I don’t understand how the presence of Christian symbols—the Ten Commandments, a cross, a verse from the Bible—threatens anyone. How are these things threatening? Why is it better for society if they aren’t present in public view?

I’m a Christian, but I don’t recoil at the sight of a synagogue, a mosque, or a statue of Buddha. I don’t feel threatened by those things. When I come across a verse from the Torah or the Koran, I often consider it and realize how similar it is to verses I’ve read in the Bible, how similar the sentiments are. I’m not going to jump religions and abandon Christianity because I’ve seen those images or those buildings or read those verses. I simply read them, observe them, or even ignore them sometimes, and I go about my day. I don’t feel threatened by them, and I don’t see any need to get rid of them or hide them.

So why do we have to diminish Christian symbols? How can those of other religions be threatened by those things? How can ridding society of Christianity and Christian symbols make those who believe in other religions feel better? I don’t think they do. I don’t think members of other religions are the ones at the forefront of movements to do this because I think they feel, for the most part, the way I feel about this.

However, there are the atheists. Why do atheists feel threatened by Christian symbols and the like? This one really confuses me because atheists don’t believe in any god at all. So why in the world are they so against Christian symbols, etc. in public places? How in the world can they feel threatened by or infringed upon by something they don’t even believe is real?

Pretend like you’re in San Diego and Comic-Con is going on. There are all kinds of people walking around in all kinds of costumes—there are aliens, there are Trekkies, there are zombies, there are superheroes of all makes and varieties—it’s a smorgasbord of fictional characters. (Yes, sorry, Trekkies—Klingons aren’t real.)

Are you going to feel threatened by these people who are dressed up in these costumes, representing characters and beings that you know aren’t real, that you know don’t exist? No. You’re not. And I know you’re not. You might laugh at them. You might admire their creativity in designing their costumes. You may think you want to go to Comic-Con next year.

But you aren’t going to feel threatened. You aren’t going to petition city hall to have those people removed from public space BECAUSE YOU KNOW THEY AREN’T REAL.

So what’s the deal with atheists and Christianity? God isn’t real for them, so why should they care if there are religious symbols—any religion’s symbols—out in public? Should the Easter Bunny not be allowed to come to town for egg hunts? He’s not real. Should Santa Claus be banned? Should we no longer allow any family to place a little money under their children’s pillows when they lose a tooth because—gasp!—the tooth fairy isn’t real and is a very threatening figure.

I just don’t understand. What’s wrong with religious symbols being present? Those symbols aren’t trying to convert you. They aren’t threatening you. They simply reflect certain beliefs, beliefs atheists don’t share and therefore can’t be threatened by.

Like I said, this has bugged me for a long time, and I thought it was time to say something. I don’t get it. I’ll never get it. I'll never understand, either, the government's willingness to diminish religion in public. We have to cater to those who don't believe. Those who do believe are persecuted. 

But I can tell you one thing, zombies don’t piss me off, and I don’t have a burning desire to prohibit them from walking around in public. I don’t believe in them, but I do admire their costumes.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review: Sons of Anarchy - Bobby S7.E9


I’m a die-hard Sons ofAnarchy fan. I know the mythology, the family ties, the gang ties. I have loved this show for years, and I’ve exercised patience with this final season’s convoluted, spider-webbing plotlines for eight episodes. I've trusted that Kurt Sutter is going to make it worth it in the end, that his introduction of new people in this final season, when things should be circling home and are instead spiraling out, that it’s going to be worth it.

And then I watched the ninth episode this week, “What a Piece of Work Is Man.” And I’m pissed.

I’m not pissed because Bobby died. I’m sad that Bobby’s dead, but I’ve always respected Sutter’s willingness to sacrifice major players for the sake of the story, and Bobby’s kidnapping, torture, and, finally, his death this week made sense as far as what’s going on with Jax, his ego, and his self-serving plan to eliminate Henry Lin. Bobby was one of the last few good guys, so of course, he had to be sacrificed to Jax’s rage and Gemma’s lies. I’ll miss him.

I’m pissed because Jax ordered the guys to get Bobby out of the van at the cabin and bury him there. “I want him close,” said the prince. Now, granted, they haven’t actually buried Bobby yet, but I swear that if they don’t get him a nice, Skeeter-original coffin, if they don’t clean him up, dress him up nice in his cut, put mementos in his casket, and honor that man, Kurt Sutter will hear me screaming from thousands of miles away. Because that, my friends, will be the biggest load of BS he’s asked us to swallow so far.

JT brought Bobby into the club. He’s been around a long, long time. He has served, and served, and served the club—no matter who had the gavel. His goal has been to do his best for the club. Period. He was tortured—lost an eye, lost his fingers—and he still remained loyal and strong when facing Moses.

He deserves the kind of burial that Opie got. They’re fixing to treat him not much better than Clay, and that’s not right and not fair, and those other cut-wearing brothers should be railing against Jax about this, not just digging the damn hole. But no. It’s just, “OK, boss.” We’ll dig the hole and plant this loyal soldier in it. Hell, Bobby was a veteran too.

I’m sick of the guys just blindly following Jax. I’m sick of his selfishness. You can dress it up however you want—it’s because of Tara, it’s because they’re loyal to club—whatever. I’m sick of it. These are not the kind of men who would have, say, two or three years ago, just said, “OK, boss,” and blindly followed Jax into this maelstrom of violence and vengeance and sure death. They would have spoken up. They would have fought with him. They might have even punched him—oh! What I would give to see one of them lay Jax out right now. Sutter has turned these men into puppets, and I don’t think that’s who they truly are. If they dump Bobby in that hole next week, I may not watch the end of the series because by that time, I may not give a shit.

I have one more big issue from this week, and then I’ll sign off. What the hell was that between Chibs and Jarry in the parking garage? Does FX require a certain amount sex or nudity in every episode? Did that scene fulfill some type of contractual obligation because it made NO SENSE at all.

First of all, Jarry wants Chibs to prove to her that he cares about her … by screwing her on the roof of her car in a parking garage with Quinn watching? That’s how a grown woman knows a man like Chibs cares about her? Because he accepts her demand to “take her”? I laughed—literally laughed out loud—during that whole scene. That was the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. Ever. It didn’t stay true to anything. It didn’t serve any purpose at all, other than to get a little sex into the episode. That was my “jump the shark” moment until the whole thing with Bobby happened.

This episode has shaken my confidence in the writing of this show more than any other. I will likely watch the last four episodes because I’ve invested years into this show and I have to watch at this point. Now, though, I’m truly dreading it.

I’m not dreading it because of who I’m afraid we’ll lose, who’s going to die. I’m dreading it because I don’t want to laugh—or cry—at the writing (again) and I’m afraid I’m going to.

Sons of Anarchy airs on FX on Tuesday nights, but at this point, I’d recommend just starting over and watching the early seasons. This final season isn’t worth it. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sons of Anarchy: Toil and Till, S7E2

Jax should listen to August Marks.

“Clarity settles all scores, pays back all debts,” Marks told Jax early in this week’s episode of Sons of Anarchy. Marks said one of the greatest lessons Damon Pope ever taught him was to have patience. “If your emotions say ‘now,’ your head’s gotta say ‘later.’”

Of course, Jax didn’t listen. Yes, it was too late for him to take the advice completely, but if he’d taken it when it was offered, Jury would have been saved some incredible pain, and the MC wouldn’t (likely) be facing heat from its own charters.

Jax laid out his plan to Jury, and it’s the first we’ve heard of it too. It’s vicious. It’s complete retribution—ill-placed retribution, but Jax doesn’t know that—but it’s forged somewhere south of hell. I believe the devil himself is tipping his hat to Jax, and that is so not what I wanted for this season.

What surprised me most, especially in this episode, was everyone’s willingness to follow Jax. Chibs and Bobby were so proud of him at the end of the last season for his efforts to make the club legitimate. When they had their big multi-charter meeting, those men were on board with the “escort” and the porn business too. They signed off on getting out of guns, of ditching the heat from the cops. And Jury was one of Jax’s biggest supporters.

But now, everybody is just following the prince. I understand they’re supporting a brother—their president—whose wife was murdered. I understand they bought Gemma’s story hook, line, and sinker, and that they believe targeting and punishing the Chinese is payback for Tara. But, as Jury pointed out, Jax’s ultimate plan is huge and horrible and could bring chaos and damage to all the charters. And still they follow.

I couldn’t believe it when Jax, Chibs, and Bobby walked into Renny and Gib’s place, cool as could be, and then just blew them away. I understood what they were doing as soon as Chibs pulled out the heroin, but those two stupid guys were innocent (in the world they live in), and they’d just helped the Sons out with the attack on the Chinese. Jax doesn’t care who dies. Jax doesn’t care about killing innocent people as long as it furthers his vengeful plot. And evidently, Chibs and Bobby don’t care either.

Where are the questions these two men would have asked Jax last season? Is Jax True North for these guys? Are they unable to swing away from him, to get out of his pull? How far are they willing to go? There are no rules anymore. None at all. And it’s already blowing back on them.

We can guess that, by the way Jury was cradling Renny and crying, Renny wasn’t just “the muscle” to Jury. I’m guessing he was his son. There was too much pain in Jury’s eyes for it to be other than that. And he knows … he saw the sawed-off shotgun that he had personally loaded into the Sons’ van after the fight with the Chinese. He knows SAMCRO killed Renny and Gib. He knows they set those boys up. I have a feeling that Indian Hills won’t be on board with any more of Redwood’s plans, but will Jury seek his own vengeance now? What kind of snowball did Jax start rolling?

The other sticky wicket we have is Wayne. I was so relieved when Juice let him go, and I was so not surprised that Juice didn’t leave town as Gemma told him to do. Juice never does what he should do. Ever. What was he going to say to Chibs when called? What will he say to him when the two sit down next week (as the teaser for next week showed us they do)?

But back to Wayne. When Gemma found the file in his camper, I was truly afraid she was going to kill him then and there. Just smother him or something and let everyone assume the cancer finally won.

“It’s a good thing, you putting friendship over club rule. I know that choice didn’t come easy,” Wayne said to Gemma when he confronted her about Juice staying at Wendy’s. “Let me know if I can do anything to help,” he offered. “I’m tired of counting bodies too.”

Wayne has no inkling that Gemma is responsible for Tara’s death, but he’s going to be helping the sheriff’s department with Tara’s murder investigation, and he’s smart enough, and connected enough, he’ll likely be the one who figures it out. So when he does, what will he do? Will he confront Gemma? Will he tell Jax? Will he tell the sheriff? Or will Gemma kill him before he gets a chance to do or say anything? You know she will if she gets the chance.

“Are you OK, Grandma?” Abel asked Gemma when she got teary-eyed after talking to him about Tara.

“Always,” she responded, kissing the top of his head. “Always.”

Sons of Anarchy airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST on FX. It’s getting bloodier and bloodier.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sons of Anarchy: "Black Widower" Season 7, Episode 1

Sons of Anarchy throttled into high gear as the final season premiered Tuesday night. BTW ... SPOILER ALERT!!

I’m worried about Wayne Unser. Nobody ever said Wendy was the sharpest knife (or carving fork) in the drawer, but did she seriously not consider the danger of bringing Wayne into her apartment? Did she not for a minute think about how hard it would be to hide from the former sheriff the fact that Juice had taken refuge in her home? It never registered with her that Wayne would wonder why she bought groceries—and then let them sit on the counter—if she was going to stay with Gemma for a while. He may like his weed, but Unser’s a shrewd guy. We knew—didn’t we?—that his radar was running full blast while he was in that apartment.

As soon as he turned his back to the room and opened that closet door, I knew he was in trouble. Didn’t you? Juice couldn’t afford to stay hidden, once he knew that Unser had seen his pack—and his cut. So what now, Mr. Sutter? Who wins this stalemate? Will Juice put Unser out of his cancer-ridden misery before Gemma shows up again? If Juice simply holds Wayne until Gemma’s next visit, I think (I hope, to be honest) he will find that his investment with Gemma might be miscalculated. I think if Gemma has to choose between the two of them, I think (again, I hope) she’ll save Wayne and not Juice.

And what about Mommy Dearest? If you didn’t watch Anarchy Afterword (and if you didn’t, you missed the eye roll of the century—loved that look, Katey!), then you might have thought, as my husband and I did, that Gemma told Juice, “I’m a psychopath,” when he asked her how she was able to look at Jax, to talk to him about Tara. In fact, Gemma said, “I’m not a psychopath,” which made more sense. I just didn’t hear the “not” when I watched the episode.

As Katey explained on Anarchy Afterword, Gemma’s not a psychopath. A psychopath, she said, wouldn’t feel any pain for killing Tara. A psychopath wouldn’t have trouble talking to Jax about Tara. It was hard for Gemma. So, yes, there are many things we can call Gemma, but I think psychopath isn’t one. (Although, I’m willing to revisit that argument if my psychology-majoring daughter wants to discuss it.)

Gemma says she’s the only thing holding the family together. She says that if Jax were to find out what happened, he’d lose everything—he’d lose his mother. It’s a very arrogant statement, that she’s the single thread stringing them all together, but it’s also true. Jax trusts her—to the point that he killed an “innocent” member of Lin’s gang because Gemma said he had killed Tara. (What a tangled web of lies …) Jax counts on her. Loves her. What would happen if he found out the depth of her deception? (I really hope we get the answer to that question before the club rides off into the bleeding sunset.)

Which brings us to the prince. Jax. The wearer of the bright, white shoes. (That was explained on AA also, thank God. It’s always bothered me. Evidently, it’s what bikers wear in SoCal.)

Jax is on a brutal trajectory. Gone is his desire to get on the right side of the law. Gone is his desire to get out of guns. Gone is his desire to be good. He doesn’t care anymore. He loves his club. Period. With Tara gone, Jax is grabbing the gavel with both hands, and he’s embracing the outlaw life once again.

Charlie Hunnam talked about this, along with Kurt Sutter, on AA, and I really liked what they said. Charlie said that Tara was Jax’s moral compass, that she was the one who made him want to be good, to be better, to be different from Clay. Now that she’s gone, he can stop fighting the natural flow of his life—his outlaw life—and he can embrace it and fulfill his destiny. My husband asked, “I wonder what Clay would think of this reversal?” Indeed. What would he think?

With Tara removed as Jax’s moral compass, is there anyone left who can be that for him? Yes, there are two of them. Abel and Thomas. And this goes back to my Season 7 Preview post. If Jax embraces the outlaw life and flows with the current of the life he was born and raised into instead of swimming against it, then Abel and Thomas are destined to live the same life. The cycle will never end. Last season, before Tara died, Jax didn’t want that life for his boys. He wanted her to get them out and away from it. Has that changed?

Jax refused to see his sons at all during that first episode. I think he knows the effect they will have on him. I think he knows they could become that moral compass that Tara was. And right now, that’s not what he wants. So what will Jax decide? Will he shun his children so that he can live this life he seems to be choosing? Are Abel and Thomas already lost? (Grammy Gemma is there, but who would call that a consolation?)

When will Jax see his boys? How will he treat them? What will he say to them? It just dawned on me … he didn’t even visit Tara’s grave. Wayne did. But Jax didn’t. Did he need his vengeance first? And now that he thinks he got his vengeance, which we all know he didn’t get TRUE vengeance, will he be able to let go of any of his anger?

“Truth” is a major theme in this show. But it’s always a relative truth. Like Gemma said to Juice, the two of them did the best thing they could (killing Tara and Roosevelt) based on “the truth we had.” Now, Gemma has to keep the truth from her son so that she can continue to have a relationship with him.

What happens to a relationship that isn’t based on truth? As we’ve seen in six prior seasons, it gets bloody, because the truth always finds its way through the smoke and the fog.

Will the truth destroy Jax, or will it set him—finally—free?

Sons of Anarchy will be back Tuesday at 10 p.m. on FX. I’ll be there.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sons of Anarchy Season 7 Preview

The last season of Sonsof Anarchy debuts Tuesday, Sept. 9 on FX. Are you ready? I am.

This post is chocked full of SPOILERS! If you haven’t watched every episode of Season 6, stop reading. SPOILERS AHEAD!!

So I have questions—as I’m sure you all do—about where Sutter will take his merry band of outlaws this season. Before we go there, we should take a moment to mourn (and celebrate?) the passing of some major players.

Otto was probably the baddest badass I’ve ever seen on any screen. Seriously. The man could dish it out and take it like no other. He was complicated and interesting. Loyal. Loving. Violent. Unforgiving. Ruthless. I will never be able to get that picture out of my mind of him biting off his own tongue. Ever. Whenever Otto was part of a scene, I sat up a little straighter, glued my eyes a little tighter to the screen. Turned the volume up. Otto was always worth watching. Sutter put him(self!) through hell, and Otto got an out he earned. Toric was interesting too, but I wasn’t sorry to see him go, and I was thrilled Otto was the one who got to take him out.

I despised Galen—partly, probably, because I could understand only about every other word he said. (I’m kidding—that’s not why I hated him.) Galen could never be trusted, even when he was supposed to be working with or for SAMCRO. You knew never to turn your back completely to Galen. I think the Kings were even beginning to realize Galen was a little too self-serving for their own good, for their cause. So when Jax killed Galen at the hangar, I was stunned, but oh, so happy. That dude needed to go.

Which brings us to … Clay. For me, it was hard to see Clay go. It wasn’t that I liked him. He was despicable in many ways. It was that he was compelling. Each time you thought Clay had gone as far as he would go into the dark side, he’d go just a little bit farther. I like it when characters surprise me. So many of the conflicts within the show revolved around or were connected to Clay, so I’m happy that Sutter waited until the end of the penultimate season to let him go. I think without Clay, we start to run out of story.

But let’s talk about Clay’s death for a minute, shall we? There were so many elements of that scene—and the scenes that led up to it—that were so well written, so well acted. The subtle look Bobby exchanged with Jax as Bobby lay bleeding in the van. The look on Clay’s face when he realized what was about to happen. “I guess you had another vote I wasn’t privy to,” Clay said to Jax, who says yes, and that this time it was unanimous. The best exchange though, and kudos to Ron Perlman and Katey Sagal, was the look Clay and Gemma shared through the window right before Jax shot him. The history of their life together passed in that one look. It was brutal and beautiful.

The final deaths are the ones that are going to propel this final season. They are the ones that generate the questions we all have: Tara’s death at Gemma’s hands, and Roosevelt’s at Juice’s. What a tense, emotional, scary-as-hell, tragic scene Sutter crafted and Sagal and Maggie Siff brought to life, right? Let me say this: I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING!! (And I’m immensely proud that my husband and I were able to keep the secret from our daughter. She went into that scene as blind and unaware as we did.)

I’ve thought about reading Hamlet many times since we started watching SOA. (Yes, I have a bachelor’s in English, took two semesters of Shakespeare, and never had to read that particular play. Go figure.) It’s in my queue on my Kindle. But the farther we got into the series, the less I wanted to know about the source material. I’ve read elsewhere that Sutter has strayed from the original, that’s he’s made it his own, but I don’t know where he’s strayed and where he’s stayed true to it. Hamlet will wait until SOA is over. So if Tara’s death fit with the play, I didn’t know it, and I was blown away not just by the murder itself but by the sheer brutality of it. Death by carving fork. Wow. I think I stopped breathing—literally—during that scene. I remember I couldn’t move. It was fantastic storytelling and acting.

And then, just when I thought I could breathe—a little—Roosevelt walks in, starts to call in the murder, and Juice shoots him in the back. Holy shit. Really? But it fits. Juice has always been a lost little boy. I don’t mean that in a derogatory manner either. He’s always seemed as if he didn’t know quite where he belonged, and the club meant everything to him. SAMCRO was his family, but mostly he just wanted to be loved. I always had a soft spot for Juice.

When Jax told him, “You betrayed me,” right before Jax left to head home in that last episode, Juice knew it was over. He knew he’d lost it all—until he saw Gemma on the floor, bloodied and crying, beside Tara’s corpse. Gemma had always been kind of a weird surrogate mom for Juice, and there she was—vulnerable and desperate. Juice did what he had to do to save the one person who might still love him.

So that’s where we are as we prepare to say goodbye to one of the best dramas on TV. If Jax finds out that Gemma killed Tara, what will he do? This is surely the conflict that will drive this season. There will be lies on top of lies, trying to keep the truth from him. What will he do if he finds out Juice had a part in the cover-up? That one’s easy, right? Juice will die.

But will Jax kill Gemma? I think Shakespeare would say yes. If Jax kills Gemma, everything will come full circle. Gemma signed off on the murder of JT (Jax’s dad), and that death has fueled the show. JT’s death has nearly driven Jax crazy as he’s tried to learn to cope with it, to avenge it, to move beyond it. So to kill his own mother to avenge the murder of his wife, it just seems like a very Shakespearean, tragic, choice to make.

I’ve talked with people who want Jax to kill Gemma. They feel she deserves it, and maybe she does. Hell, probably she does. But for Jax’s sake, and for the sake of those two little boys, I really hope he doesn’t. I hope he finds out, and I hope he chooses to walk away, to send Gemma to prison but not to kill her. DA Patterson told Jax in that final episode, “You’re a husband, and a father, and a man—before all of this. Own your place,” she says. I hope he remembers those words and chooses to be a better parent to Abel and Thomas than Gemma was to him. Otherwise, there is no hope. Is that the message Sutter intends to send—that we’re doomed to repeat the sins of our fathers (and our mothers)?

Next week it all begins, and it all begins to end. I’ll be blogging. I hope you’ll be reading and commenting. Sons of Anarchy airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. EST on FX.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Revision: It's not a dirty word!

Revision. I used to think that was a four-letter word disguised as an eight-letter word. When you’ve bled 60,000 words or more and have finally saved that first draft for the last time, you don’t really want to think about the fact that it’s the FIRST draft and you’ve got a long road ahead of you, rewriting the blasted thing. But if you’re serious about writing, you know that’s exactly what you have to do.

I finished the first draft of my new novel about a month ago. I’m pretty happy with it, but I know it needs work. I know there are weak spots that need attention, but I decided to read Write and Revise for Publication by Jack Smith first. It’s been very helpful, and I highly recommend it.

I’m just about ready to dive back into my draft and start ripping it up (because I know that’s what it needs in certain places), and I feel like Smith’s book gave me a good direction to get started. I’m going to start with my characters.

My book is paranormal with a bit of a time travel built in. There are parallel story lines, one taking place a little more than 100 years before the other, and they converge. There are important characters in each story line, and they interact. I need to work on them to ensure they’re as deeply developed as they should be and that they’re behaving in ways that are believable. (There’s been a niggling little doubt in the back of my mind since I reached the halfway point in the book that a couple characters might not be behaving quite the way they really should. I have to spend time on that.)

I also have to take a look at them and decide who my protagonist really is. It’s funny—now that the first draft is finished, I think the protagonist is actually a different character than the one I thought it was in the beginning. That’s cool, but it also means more revision to emphasize and expand on that. (Remember, the protagonist is the one who really drives the story, not necessarily the one you would consider the “hero.”)

As I wrote the first draft, I paid little attention to theme, and it’s an element that I doubt I would have thought much about had I not read Smith’s book. I don’t think this particular novel needs to hit people over the head with any overarching theme, but when I stopped to think about it, there are a couple themes that do come out in it. So why not pay attention to them as well and make the story richer for it?

When it comes to attacking my scene development, I’ve decided to try a hands-on, very visual method, and I’m really looking forward to this. I’m going to “blow up” each scene in the book using poster board and sticky notes. (I’m cobbling together ideas I’ve read from other writers, so credit to those who have shared on their blogs and such, even if I can’t remember where I got the ideas now.) Every scene should advance the plot or help develop the characters, so I figure if I section off my poster board for individual scenes and use the sticky notes to outline the characters’ actions within the scenes, I’m going to have a very good tool to evaluate what’s going on in my scenes and what needs to be changed.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it. But for the first time, I’m looking forward to revision. I know my book needs work, and I’m willing and eager to do that work. I think I’m going to enjoy revising. Who would have thought? 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Dragon's Daughter: One-Month Post-Release

It’s been just shy of a month since I published my novel The Dragon’s Daughter. For anyone considering self-publishing, I can only say, “Go for it!” Go for it professionally—but go for it.

As I’ve mentioned before in other posts, I was very hesitant to self-publish. However, now that I’ve done it, I’ve got nothing but positive things to say. Want to hear some of those? OK … here goes:

1.       It’s rewarding. There are no words to describe what it feels like—every single time—someone connects with me and says, “I read your book in two days—couldn’t put it down. I loved it!” I have been overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude (for people willing to take a chance on an unknown author) and happiness (that people are enjoying a book I poured so much of myself into).

2.       It’s fun! Yes, it’s also very scary, but it is so much fun to offer a book to the world and wait and watch to see what will happen. It’s fun to talk to people about it, to introduce them to my book, and to watch their eyes light up when they say, “I’m gonna check that out!”

3.       It’s challenging. I like to be challenged, so this is a positive for me. It’s challenging to continue to look for ways to reach new readers. It’s challenging, trying to figure out how best to market my book in a way that people will find it and be enticed by it. I enjoy being tested like this.

4.       It’s cooperative. I’m not doing this alone, and that’s so cool too. I have so many people (my husband, my daughter, and my mom, first and foremost) who are working with me to spread the word that I have a book out there and that it’s worth checking out. They’re having fun too, and they enjoy it as much as I do when I share a new review or update them on my sales. I may have self-published, but I didn’t do it—and I’m not doing it—all by myself.

5.       I’m in control. For better or worse—and time will tell on that—the success of my book is pretty much up to me. Without a publishing house behind me, I have to figure out (with the help of my aforementioned little army) what to do with it. But I see this as a positive too. A publishing house might give up on me much sooner than I would give up on me (which is NEVER!) and then I’d be stuck. They would have the rights to the book, and I could do very little to nudge it along.

I am so glad that I put The Dragon’s Daughter out there. I’m proud of this story, and I’m happy to say that more and more of you are finding it and enjoying it. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Thank you for giving it a shot! And if you haven’t checked it out yet, you can find The Dragon’s Daughter on Amazon and at the NOOK Book Store online.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Self-Publishing: Lessons from the First Week

It hasn’t even been a week since I published my book, The Dragon’s Daughter, with CreateSpace and on Kindle, and I’ve already learned so many things. Let me share them:

1.       I should have proofed a hard copy of my book before I made it available for sale. I didn’t want to do this for a lot of reasons—none of them good, in hindsight—and I should have. Next time I will.
2.       My interior font size should not have been 8 pt. I’m still shaking my head over that one. I can’t believe I made it that small, and I have no idea why I did. I truly don’t. I do not remember thinking, “Hey, Sharon, make that font so small that teenagers will need reading glasses to see it,” but I must have because that’s what I did. I would have caught that mistake if I had (a) printed a page from my doc before I uploaded it or (b) ordered a hard copy. I have revised the document, changed the font size (which meant I needed a different size PDF for my cover—read “additional expense”), and uploaded it again.
3.       I should have proofed the book itself—the text—as a hard copy. I should have printed out every single page and gone over it with a red pen. I missed some things proofing it digitally that I believe I would have caught on paper. Those too have now been fixed. (I hope, dear God, I hope.) Next time, I’ll hire someone else to proof it. A lawyer who defends herself has a fool for a client. An editor who proofs her own book does too.
4.       I had to raise the price of my book when I changed the font. It went from 158 pages to 268, so it will take more paper to create the book and thus, Amazon and CreateSpace say, “Charge more.” I understand, but I didn’t expect that.
5.       Checking the KDP and CreateSpace sales reports every day is not a good idea. I do it anyway, knowing this, and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon, but it’s discouraging when the numbers aren’t what I’d hoped. I do believe people will find my book, buy it, and enjoy it, but it will take some time.
6.       I have very supportive family, friends, and acquaintances. This I did know, but I have been reminded of it so strongly this past week. Every time one of them says she’s excited for me or that he’s ordered my book (or will be ordering it), I do a little happy dance.

It’s exciting—really, really exciting—putting a book out there. It’s also quite the education. I’ve just finished the first draft of my new novel, so hopefully, I’ll be putting these lessons I’ve learned with The Dragon’s Daughter to good use. Maybe I’ll get that one right the first time around. (Inside my head right now, there’s laughter.)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Origins of The Dragon's Daughter

My book, The Dragon’s Daughter, has an unusual hook: the Ku Klux Klan. Are you wondering where I got the idea? I’ll tell you a little bit about the origin of the story.

A long time ago, let’s say 1996, I was taking a speech class to complete my bachelor’s degree. Speech 101. Very basic. One of the speeches I had to give was an informative one. At that time, the Skinhead movement was in the news a lot. Their numbers seemed to be growing and a Skinhead had just punched Geraldo Rivera and broken his nose. I got curious about these Neo-Nazis and decided to focus my speech on them.

During my research, I discovered that the kid who punched Geraldo was the son of the then-leader of the White Aryan Resistance. Further research provided me the man’s phone number in California, so I called him. It was a very disturbing conversation. Why? Not just because of his obvious racism, but also because he sounded so normal as he talked about it.

We talked about the beliefs that the WAR was founded on, most of which he tied to the Bible—in a very disingenuous, convoluted way. We talked about a recent murder of a homeless black man (in Seattle, I think) at the hands of two Skinheads, and he told me the only thing he regretted about that was that two white boys were sitting in jail for that crime. Reprehensible. Almost unbelievable.

And yet through that whole conversation, no matter how much my skin crawled, I couldn’t get over how normal he sounded. He didn’t talk like Darth Vader. He didn’t yell or swear at me. He just very calmly and matter-of-factly spewed his prejudice down the telephone line.

That’s what makes these people so dangerous. They don’t look like monsters. And they ground so much of what they believe in (again, their twisted take on) the Bible. For people who are searching for a group to belong to, for people who don’t question what they’re being told, the KKK and other white-supremacist groups can quickly feel like family. Their message is God, Family, Country. Oh … and with a healthy dose of racism.

This phone call in 1996(-ish) wasn’t my only encounter with people like this. Through my work as a reporter (way back in the late 1990s), I came into contact with members of the KKK. In those encounters, I was struck again by how very normal they look and seem. I wondered how these people with families—babies, toddlers, teenagers—could live such normal lives on one hand while they propagated intolerance and racism and prejudice on the other?

This is where and how The Dragon’s Daughter was born. I couldn’t stop thinking about the families of these men. I couldn’t stop wondering what it would be like to be a child in a home like that—and what would happen if that child hated everything her father stood for? If she didn’t buy into it? If all she wanted was out and away?

That is what you get in Mariah. You get a 16-year-old girl who has known the Klan her whole life, who has been brought up in its realm, but who lives an otherwise very normal life. She has a brother who antagonizes her, a best friend she can’t live without, and a love of photography and volleyball. She just happens to be the dragons’ daughter.

And she wants out.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Dragon's Daughter: Chapter 1

My book is available on Amazon, and I want to let you read the first chapter. I hope you'll be enticed by it. If you click on the cover, it will take you to Amazon. Thanks for giving it a look!

Chapter One

 “Mom! I can’t breathe!”
“Mariah! You only have to wear the hood for a few minutes—ten at the most,” Mom had said. “You’ll be fine.” Putting a robe and a masked hood on a seven-year-old and a torch in her hand was not my idea of “fine,” but then nobody ever really asked for my opinion. If they had, I’d have told them, I won’t be fine, but I’m going to live through it. Truly, I think that’s what Mom meant too.
In the nine years since, I’d learned to cope with feeling suffocated behind the mask, but I could do nothing about the heat. Sweat trickled down my scalp and into my eyes, and it burned. I blinked rapidly, which didn’t help, so I scrunched my eyes shut, which actually made it worse. With my torch in my left hand, I reached up under my mask with my right and swiped at my eyes, trying to relieve some of the stinging. It didn’t help. I sighed. I hated these damn rallies. Where the hell was Dad and what was he waiting for? I wished he’d just light the cross and be done with it. I wanted to swim.
All at once, the others standing with me around the cross began to chant. Dad must be making his appearance. My peripheral vision was next to nothing, thanks to the hood, and I stood opposite the cross, so he approached from behind me and to the right. I couldn’t see him until he’d already passed me, but I’d begun chanting with the others. Looking like evil ghosts in our pointed hoods and long white robes, torches blazing in our hands stretched out in front of us, we threw our voices into the night, spears of intolerance.
“White power! White power!”
One year, when I was fourteen, I didn’t yell. I’d stood there, torch held high, and watched Dad in his robe—his special robe trimmed in green braid—light the cross on fire. He never wore a mask and the fire danced and glinted in his eyes. He’d thrust his torch high, grimacing as he yelled, and I’d stood silent and wondered, Who is he? How can he be my dad? How can Mom be married to him? Why on God’s earth does he believe all this bullshit? Why can’t we just be a normal family?
Gideon stood beside me that night. He gave me the creeps, even then. He made me wish for a turtle’s shell that I could shrink myself into whenever he was around. He was the one who told Dad I hadn’t yelled, and Dad beat me for it that night, in our tent within earshot of everybody else. I cried and I know I whimpered some, but I took it as silently as I could. I’d disgraced the grand dragon and I had to be punished. I knew the drill and so did Gideon. Dad drew Gideon closer to him after that night. I think that’s why he made me date him. Gideon was the picture-perfect Klan boy—surely he’d bring me to heel. We’d been together for almost two years, and he still made my skin crawl.
So tonight, and at every rally since the one two years ago, I yelled with the rest. Dad touched his torch to the gasoline-soaked, sheet-wrapped cross and the flames swooshed up the spire. With his torch burning in his outstretched hand, I saw a demon in Dad’s robe when he spun around to face us. I shivered. I yelled. I extinguished my torch. The August night had already been thick and humid before the cross burned, and all I really cared about was stripping off the robe and running for the pond. I couldn’t tell where Chloe, my best friend, had gone, but I knew she was here somewhere and probably just as eager to swim. If I could find her quickly, she’d be the buffer between me and Gideon. She’d gotten good at it.
There was a slight breeze tonight, and it brushed lightly against my skin once I stripped off the hood and robe. It felt so good that I just stood there for a minute in my shorts and halter, my eyes closed, my feet apart, my arms stretched wide, drinking in the cool air, the Klan paraphernalia on the ground at my side.
“God, babe, you look amazing.”
Gideon. Shit. My quiet little moment to myself was gone.
I opened my eyes and there he stood, his blond hair sweat-soaked and sticking up in odd tufts all over his head. His blue eyes—so like my own—drilled into me then raked my body with his gaze. He licked his lips and inwardly I cringed.
Remember, Dad likes him. That means you like him—for another two years and two months until college—you like him.
“Thanks,” I said, swiping my robe and hood off the ground as I turned away from him. “I’m taking this stuff to camp and then I’m going swimming. Chloe’s meeting me,” I added, hoping he’d get the hint that I didn’t want to be alone with him. He’d been pressuring me a lot lately to let him go further when we made out. It was hard enough just kissing Gideon. The idea of letting him … of his hands … of his … anything else anywhere else on my body made me sick to my stomach. I didn’t know how I was going to keep him off me for two more years. I shivered as I made my way across the field to my family’s camp because I knew I might not be able to stop him.
“I’ll meet you over there,” Gideon called after me. “I need to talk to your dad.” I shivered again and kept walking.
When I got to the campsite, Mom was there with Sandy Thompson. I heard them laughing before I actually saw them, and I smiled when I heard them. Mom didn’t laugh much at home. Sometimes, if we watched something really funny on TV, she’d smile, but I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard her really laugh like she was doing now with Sandy.
As my relationship with Gideon dragged on, I’d been thinking more and more about Mom’s relationship with Dad. Gideon idolized my dad—he mimicked Dad’s walk, he repeated things he’d heard Dad say, and he’d started treating me the way he saw Dad treat Mom. One night, about a week ago, he’d been over to our house and all of us were watching a movie in the living room. It was the middle of an important scene, and Dad told Mom, “Leah, go get me another beer.” He never looked away from the TV. He never said “please” or “thank you.” He’d just noticed he was out of beer and wanted another one.
Without a word or a sigh, without even rolling her eyes, Mom got up, went to the kitchen, and got Dad his beer. Although I’d seen Dad tell Mom thousands of time, “Get me a beer,” and I’d seen Mom do it thousands of times, I really noticed it that night because Gideon noticed it too.
Once Mom came back in the room with Dad’s fresh beer and sat down again to try and pick the movie back up, Gideon tried Dad’s trick out on me.
 “Mariah,” he said, “go get me another Coke.” He’d tried to do it just like Dad, without looking at me, without breaking his concentration on the movie. But he couldn’t. He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye to see if I’d actually leave my place beside him and run and fetch his Coke. I was dumbfounded.
I just stared at him for a minute as my cheeks grew hot. I looked across the room at Mom. At first, she only stared at the glass of iced tea she held in her hands. But she did eventually raise her eyes to mine, and in her eyes I saw only pity and regret. She shrugged her shoulders and looked away.
I looked at Dad, who seemed oblivious to everything and completely engrossed in the movie. I looked back at Gideon, who had also returned his attention to the TV, though I knew he felt me staring at him.
 “Mariah, you heard your man. Go get him a Coke.” Dad hadn’t shifted his gaze, but I knew better than to argue. I left my seat, grabbed Gideon’s empty can from the coffee table in front of us, and marched from the room. The recycling bin was on our back porch outside the kitchen, so I slammed the kitchen door as I went outside. And then I slammed the empty can against the wall, splattering myself with the last few drops of Gideon’s soda, and threw the can as hard as I could into the yard.
I stood there shaking for a few minutes. I think I was hoping that Mom would come out and tell me … something. Something that would give me some hope. Maybe she spits in Dad’s dinner before she serves him, I thought. I just wanted her to come out and tell me something that would make me believe that being a Klan woman wasn’t as horrible as it seemed. I think I stood on our porch for at least five minutes, and maybe even ten, but no one else came out that door. Neither Dad nor Gideon came out to yell at me for taking so long. And Mom didn’t come and offer me any hope. It was then that I began to realize, there wasn’t any hope to offer women like us.
I was thinking about that night when I got close enough to camp to make out Mom and Sandy in the dark. They sat close together in lawn chairs behind a small fire they’d started, and with their heads bent together and their laughter on the breeze, they looked like Chloe and me. Mom really confused me at times like this. She could be happy—I was seeing it right in front of my eyes. She could laugh. She could relax. Why did she stay with Dad? Why didn’t she take me and Jeremy and leave?
I knew the Klan’s beliefs weren’t her own. A year ago, I’d been rooting around in her closet for something to wear to the movies. I’d finally hit the stage—at five feet eight and 125 pounds—where I could wear Mom’s clothes. Her closet was a treasure trove of “new” stuff, even if it was old to her. I just called it “vintage” and put it on.
As I swiped hangers along the rod in the closet, looking for a blue shirt I’d had my eye on for a while, I came cross Mom’s Klan robe. I realized I’d never seen her in it.
“Mom?” I called to her, my face still buried in the closet. I pulled the rest of the clothes farther away from the robe and looked at it closer.
“Mom!” I called again, a little louder this time, still not bothering to take my face from the closet. Her robe looked almost as new as mine. I’d gotten a new one that year because I’d grown and the old one didn’t fit anymore. After wearing it twice, it was already stained in a couple places—grass stains on the back where I’d stepped on it accidentally (because I liked to throw it on the ground when I took it off) and iced tea on the front (because I was also so damn hot and thirsty when I took it off). Mom’s, I saw, was pretty much spotless.
“Mom!” I hollered, turning around out of the closet to go find her and jumping back into the closet when my nose bumped hers at the door.
“Geez!” I said, laughing. “You scared the crap out of me!”
“What are you doing in my closet?” Mom wasn’t laughing. Or smiling. I sobered up.
“Looking for that blue shirt,” I began. “I want to wear it tonight to the movies with Chloe.”
She didn’t say anything. She just stared at me.
“Um … I mean, can I wear your blue shirt to the movies tonight?”
“Yes,” she sighed a little. “But you’re supposed to ask me before you go digging around in my closet.”
“I am?”
“Yes, Mariah! Yes, you are.” She sighed louder and shook her head. “I deserve that much respect from my daughter at least, don’t you think?” I blushed and nodded.
“Sorry, Mom.” I stepped away from the closet. “I don’t have to wear it tonight. It’s okay.” I started to leave her bedroom.
“Mariah?” I turned around and looked at her. “It’s right here, right in front of your face. You couldn’t find it?” She offered me a small smile, so I smiled back.
“Oh, I guess I didn’t see it.” I walked over to her and took the shirt from her outstretched hand. “Thanks, Mom. You sure you don’t care?”
“No, I don’t care. Don’t spill anything on it and wash it for me tomorrow.”
“I will,” I said. “Thanks again.” I turned around to leave and she called me back again.
“Is that why you were yelling for me? You’re hopeless, Mariah.”
“Oh!” I remembered the robe. “No, Mom. That’s not why I was calling you.” As I turned to face Mom again, I looked at the lines around her eyes and her mouth. I took in the perpetual gray shadows that surrounded her eyes. I thought about not asking. I thought about leaving it alone.
“I found your robe.” I’d never been very good at leaving things alone.
“Yes.” She straightened her back and crossed her arms across her chest. I fidgeted with the shirt in my hands for a minute, dropping my gaze to the crystals that lined the V-neck.
“Well,” I said, still not looking at her, “it’s just that I’ve never seen you in it. I didn’t even know you had one.” I looked up at her and asked, “Why don’t you wear it? Why don’t you stand with us for the cross lightings?” What I really wanted to know was why Dad let her get away with it and how could I do the same.
“Your dad and I have an agreement about it, Mariah. That’s all you need to know.”
Shit. That’s not helpful, I thought. But I didn’t push. I decided I could leave some things alone.
“Thanks again for letting me wear the shirt, Mom. I’ll wash it tomorrow.” I left the room and we never spoke again about her robe.
Sandy saw me approaching first and broke away from the conversation she and Mom had been having. “Hey Mariah,” she said.
“Hey Sandy.” Mom turned to look at me. She glanced at the robe slung across my arm and the hood dangling from my hand.
“Any stains tonight?” she asked. I shook my head.
“Shouldn’t be. I was careful.”
“Good,” Mom said. “Put it in the tent.” I walked across the campsite to where our family tent sat in the shadows of their small fire.
“I’m going to the pond. That okay?” I folded the robe and hood and tossed them into the plastic tote we kept them all in—mine, Jeremy’s and Dad’s, anyway—at the rallies. “I’m so stinkin’ hot,” I added as I zipped the tent flap back into place.
“That’s fine,” Mom said. “Jeremy’s there already, I think.”
“Cool. I’ll avoid him.” I bent down and kissed Mom’s forehead. “See ya later. Bye Sandy,” I added.
“See ya,” Sandy responded.
“Not too late, Mariah,” Mom told me.
I waved in affirmation, watching the two of them bend their heads back together to continue their conversation.
I’d hoped to run into Chloe at the campsite so that we could cross the field to the pond together. It was pretty dark and I didn’t know where Gideon was.
“Wait up, babe!” And there he was, somewhere behind me. I didn’t stop. I didn’t turn around. I increased my speed as much as I could without turning my walk into a jog—which would only piss him off—and he caught up to me easily anyway. At six feet tall, Gideon was Jeremy’s size and almost exactly the same age—eighteen. And they were both excellent young Klansmen.
Chloe, where are you? I thought as Gideon loped up beside me and draped an arm across my shoulders.
“Gideon! It’s too hot!” I shrugged off his arm and tried to walk a little faster. It was useless. His legs were longer than mine. And I thought he was enjoying the chase just a little too much, so I stopped and glared at him. There was just enough moonlight that I could see the hunger in his eyes.
“It could be hotter,” he said. He closed the space between us and clamped his hands on my sides just below my ribs. He squeezed and it hurt.
“God, don’t you ever think about anything but sex?” I squirmed, trying to get loose from his hands, but it was no use. He was bigger and stronger. And he knew it.
“Not when I’m with you, I don’t.” He moved his hands around my back and pulled me into him. “Come on, baby, don’t tell me you don’t think about it.” I could feel him, hard against me through his jeans and the thin fabric of my cotton shorts. He wanted me to feel him, I knew. I hated him so much at that moment, and I couldn’t deny it—I feared him too. I knew I could yell if it got too ugly, but I didn’t know for sure who would hear. And what was worse, there were few who would intervene on my behalf.
“Gideon, let—me—go!” I struggled against him and I saw it in his face—the excitement. He’s getting off on my fear, I realized and immediately stood as still and confident as I could.
“Please, Mariah,” he whispered, his lips brushing against mine, “please, I’ve waited so long. You know I love you.” He slipped his tongue between my lips and snaked it between my teeth. Before I even knew what I was doing, I bit down hard on it and immediately tasted blood.
“Shit!” he screeched, jumping away from me as I spit into the grass, trying to get the taste of his blood out of my mouth. “You bitch!” He came at me fast and slapped me across the face. I fell to my hands and knees, spitting blood again—this time my own. I hung my head and tried to think.
“You are just like my dad,” I murmured.
“You’re damn right I am, you bitch.”
I looked up in time to see him draw back his foot, and I knew he intended to kick me in the gut. I dropped to the ground, drew my knees up to my chest, and wrapped my arms around my legs, turning myself into the smallest human ball I could as I waited for the blow. It never came. Instead, I heard the sound of a solid punch, of flesh and bone meeting flesh and bone. I heard a crack and a grunt and a body hit the ground. When I looked up, I saw a shadow that looked and sounded a whole lot like Jeremy, but he’d never come to my rescue once. Not ever. What the hell was going on?
 “Don’t you ever even think about touching my sister again! Hear me asshole? Not ever! Do you hear me?” I’d never heard Jeremy that angry, and I’d never been so grateful for his presence.
Gideon didn’t respond, and I saw Jeremy bend low over him. I thought I saw his hands go around Gideon’s throat.
“Answer me, boy!”
I heard muffled, frantic attempts for breath and then I heard Gideon’s voice, raspy like sandpaper. “Sucker punched me, dickhead.”
At that, Jeremy must have tightened his hold on Gideon’s neck because I heard Gideon cough and sputter. I stood and shuffled away from them.
Jeremy landed a couple more solid punches and Gideon stopped struggling and lay still in the grass. I couldn’t see them well from where I stood, so I didn’t know if Gideon was still conscious. I hoped not.
 “Mariah?” Jeremy called to me quietly.
 “Come here. Gideon has something to say to you.”
I crept through the tall grass to where Jeremy towered over both me and Gideon, who remained prone on the ground. Gideon’s eyes were open and he was breathing, though it sounded like every breath hurt him. I was glad of that.
When Gideon saw me standing over him, he clenched his jaw and narrowed his eyes, then grimaced again in pain.
 “Say it, asshole,” Jeremy demanded, prodding Gideon in the ribs with his foot. Gideon winced, sucking in air.
 “I’m sorry.”
 “What else?” Jeremy punctuated his agitated question with another kick to Gideon’s ribs, eliciting another grunt of pain from the boy on the ground. Gideon swore and coughed for a minute until he was able to catch his breath.
 “I’ll never hit you again, Mariah,” Gideon whispered. As Jeremy’s foot rose slowly one more time, he added, “And I’ll never make you do anything you don’t want to.” Jeremy lowered his foot and stood solidly beside me. I looked up at him, and for the first time, I looked up to him as well.
Regardless of how good it felt to have Jeremy’s protection, I had no words for either of them. I didn’t believe Gideon was sorry. I knew the only thing he regretted was the beating he’d just taken at Jeremy’s hands, and I was afraid I’d pay the price for that. If only Dad would let me break up with Gideon, I thought as I stood there staring at his miserable face. I didn’t see that happening, though, even after this fight. I knew I’d have to make peace with my situation and soon—at least for the next couple of years—until I could escape to college and more freedom than I dared dream about at home.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Dragon's Daughter: Introducing Mariah

My novel, The Dragon's Daughter, is available and I want to introduce you to Mariah, my main character. So, here she is, in her own words. 

Can I tell you something I’ve never told anyone? It’s a big deal, so, if I tell you, you have to swear to keep it to yourself. I could be in a lot of trouble if anyone found out. So, yeah, you say you’re cool? You’ll take it to the grave? Okay then, here it is: I hate the Ku Klux Klan.

Oh, so you wanna know why that’s a big deal? Why I can’t tell anyone else? Because I’m the daughter of the grand dragon, that’s why.

According to my dad, the Baxters have been in the Klan for, like, a hundred and fifty years—basically since the end of the Civil War. He lives and breathes it—and would beat me if he heard me talking like this. He’d tell you the Klan represents his love for his family, his country, and his love of God and all things holy.

I’ll tell you that’s a crock.

But I nod like a good little girl in my cloak and hood whenever I’m around him, or his friends, or my mom, or my brother. I have to pretend to believe. My life pretty much depends on it.

So why am I telling you? Honestly, I’ve got no clue. It’s dangerous to say these things out loud. But I’m sixteen years old and Dad’s already started to point me toward marriage—to another Klan member, of course—and I think I finally got more scared of living the rest of my life like this than I am of my dad. And that’s saying something.

Craig Baxter is one mean SOB.

I guess I’m hoping that if I’m honest with someone about what my life is like and what I want my life to be like, that maybe I’ll stand the smallest of chances of getting out of this circle of hell I was born into. So I’m gonna trust you with two important jobs:

(1) Keep your mouth shut about what I tell you.
(2) Remind me why I told you in the first place: I. Want. Out.

If you can do your part, I might be able to do mine.

Welcome to my world.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Writers -- There's support on Twitter!

I often feel isolated as a writer. I’m not one of those people who can write with a lot of noise going on around them. I don’t need—or want—music playing in the background. When I sit down to write, I usually seek out a quiet corner of the house and immerse myself in my story, with my characters as my only company. It works well for me.

I live in a VERY small town and there are no writers’ groups near me. I’ve been part of one writers’ group, a long time ago, and I enjoyed it and believe my writing benefited from it. But I don’t have that option anymore where I live. I’ve considered joining an online writers’ group, but there’s something about the idea of sharing my WIP with people I’ve never met that gives me the shivers. I’ve never done it; I don’t know if I ever will. (I would welcome input from anyone reading this on that subject!)

When I finish a section of my book, I have a few family members that I share it with, and I value their input. They’ve offered insight and opinions that have helped my stories evolve, and I appreciate that so much. They will continue to be my first beta readers. But they’re not writers. We’re not sharing each other’s pieces as you do in a writers’ group.

For all these reasons, I feel rather isolated. And sometimes, I’d like a compatriot.

What I’ve discovered is … you’re out there. Writing compatriots exist and share and vent and enthuse and support online, and I’m finding more and more of you on Twitter. I’ve found so many people on Twitter who seem to be so much like me. You’re pouring your hearts into your writing, you’re working it as well as you know how, and then you’re taking deep breaths and you’re offering your books to the world. Just like me.

Some of you are so generous with your insights and your knowledge and your experience that you share in blog posts and then post to Twitter. I’ve been learning through those posts, and I appreciate your willingness to share these tidbits with the rest of us. I’m truly hoping that, even though I don’t get many comments at all on my blog, people are finding my posts and getting something out of them.

It is with this hope, and in the spirit of reciprocity, that I continue to blog about my writing and my experience in self-publishing. I like to share, and I like to learn. I’m grateful for what I’ve been learning through others’ blogs, and I hope to be helping others.

If you’re a writer and you haven’t been paying much attention to other writers’ posts on Twitter, I encourage you to do so. As writers, we try to evolve with each piece. Sharing and learning from others—as well as from our own experiences—are ways to encourage that growth process.

Keep writing. Keep sharing. Keep learning and growing. That’s my plan.