Tue Jun 3 2014
I know I’m late to the party, but Game of Thrones, man. Wow.
Spoiler level: Somewhat high, but only for Season 1.
I could talk about these characters and their stories forever, but today I want to focus on Ned. Head of the noble Stark family. Warden of the wintry North.
In many ways, Ned is the prototypical hero figure: a strong, handsome man governed by his own sense of honor and morality. He’s a loving father and husband, and a successful leader who is fair to those he rules over and serves.
All of these good qualities are what endear him to us — but unfortunately, they are also what lead to his downfall.
Out of loyalty, Ned follows an old friend into treacherous territory. Out of compassion, Ned warns an enemy about impending danger. Out of love for his children, Ned compromises his integrity and is forever branded as a traitor to the king.
In most stories, we would expect Ned to find a way out of his predicaments. He’s a hero! He’s not supposed to lose.
But Game of Thrones isn’t most stories, and Ned doesn’t win.
It’s such a twist on our expectations. It’s a slap in the face to the long-held tradition of good always triumphing over evil.
The boldness of George R.R. Martin’s decisions is hugely appealing and inspiring to me. (And to many others, it seems, based on the popularity of the series.) It’s not that the good guys can’t ever come out on top — it’s that GRRM makes us really think about whether or not they will. He makes them earn it.
Of course, this also works because there is no one single hero in Game of Thrones. It’s an ensemble cast with many compelling characters. I’m sure this won’t be the last time I talk about them.
Now excuse me while I go binge-watch Seasons 2-4…
Thu May 1 2014
In case you missed it, the YA community is spearheading a charge for increased diversity in contemporary literature. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is amazing, and you can find out how to participate here.
For my part, I’m tweeting and re-tweeting, and I’m writing diverse stories, and I’m now (as ever) sharing my own personal thoughts and experiences.
Last night, I caught a rerun of the 60s television show Bewitched, which I used to love as a kid. The hijinks of a witch and her ad exec husband — what’s not to like? Best of all, they had a kid. A HALFIE kid. Like me. And even though little Tabitha didn’t do a whole lot in the story, I adored her. She was one of the few “biracial” characters I knew growing up.
Other favorites included Evie, the half-alien star of Out of This World, and Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation, who was half-Betazed. Noticing a pattern, anyone?
There’s more. My favorite Disney princess was Belle, a brown-haired, brown-eyed book lover, and my favorite anime character was Sailor Jupiter, a brown-haired, brown-eyed tomboy. No matter that they were French or Japanese, respectively. I was looking for myself in stories, and these were the closest resemblances that I could find. Not precisely right, but better than nothing.
Now imagine a kid who can’t see herself anywhere. Not even in these pale approximations. The idea of that honestly makes me cry.
We need diverse books — and movies, and music, and teachers, and business leaders, and politicians, and everything else. We need them, and we shouldn’t have to justify why. The reasons are pretty evident.
Thu Oct 24 2013
First, a very relevant shout-out to my mother: Happy birthday, Mom! Thanks for always supporting me in the pursuit of my dreams.
After a series of controversies, Dillon Panthers star running back Smash Williams finds himself without a scholarship. Which means he can’t afford to go to college. Coach Taylor lines up one last opportunity, but Smash isn’t sure he’s going to take it.
Smash: Hey, I’m not going to the walk-on next week.
Mrs. Williams: What?
Smash: Alamo Freeze made me an offer. They want me to be a regional manager. It’s a good job, and I can help you —
Mrs. Williams: Alamo Freeze? Hell no.
Smash: Well look, I decided. And I’m gonna tell Coach tomorrow.
Mrs. Williams: All you’re gonna tell Coach is thank you. After all that man has done for you? He could have lost his job, Brian.
Smash: This is not how it was supposed to be. I mean, I was supposed to buy you a house.
Mrs. Williams: I did not have kids to buy me a house. What is wrong with you?
Smash: I’ve done everything right. I’ve done everything I was supposed to do, and it’s still not enough.
Mrs. Williams: And you’re gonna keep doing things right. That’s what makes you a man. The son I raised is a man. So you’re going to that tryout, and you’re going to play like God made you to, and you are going to go to that college.
Smash: What if I don’t take your help?
Mrs. Williams: Oh, you’re gonna take my help. I am your mother. Maybe you’ll get the scholarship, but if you don’t, I am going to help you. You let me be your momma. That is my job.
Mon Oct 21 2013
When people say they love Friday Night Lights, they generally mean the TV show. FNL, if you’re in the know. Dillon, Texas. Go Panthers. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.
Since I tend to resist things that are hugely hyped, I avoided FNL for a long, long time. Finally, the dust settled — to the point that I forgot about the show entirely, in fact, until a friend brought it up in book club last year. Then, thanks to Netflix, I was able to watch all 5 seasons of what I can now say is one of my all-time favorite TV series.
Why do I (and millions of others) love FNL so much?
Coach and Mrs. Coach
Contrary to the popular belief that marriages make for boring television, the Taylors serve as the backbone for FNL and all its drama. But they are not the source of drama, usually. They love, respect, and support one another, even when they completely disagree. And through 5 seasons, there are no affairs, no big deceits. Coach and Mrs. Coach tackle a lot of problems over the years, but always as a team. In a world full of adultery and backstabbing, both on screen and in real life, that is so, so refreshing.
Eric: “You know who I miss? I miss the Coach’s wife.”
Tami: “You know who I can’t wait to meet? The principal’s husband.”
From the very first episode, this show is about people that no one believes in. No one thinks that Coach Taylor can take the Dillon Panthers to the state championship. No one thinks that Saracen can hack it as a quarterback. No one thinks that Riggins or Tyra (or, like, half a dozen other kids) will escape the chains of their broken homes. And later on, no one thinks that East Dillon’s ragtag football team can amount to much of anything.
I won’t give away who succeeds and who fails, but I will say that FNL takes you on one heck of an emotional roller coaster to find out.
Shades of gray
Black-or-white morality tales are for kids. Real life — and therefore, good stories — live in the gray. It’s not about “good” versus “evil” — but rather, a bunch of flawed human beings doing their best. Each character is just fumbling toward their hopes and dreams and ambitions, and making mistakes along the way.
Example: Tim Riggins, everyone’s favorite bad boy. He feels guilty for not protecting his best friend. Anguished about loving a girl he can’t have. Ashamed of his drunkard father and loser brother, and even more ashamed of how much he takes after them both. He’s a playboy with a good heart and a lot of talent. He wants to be better than the path he’s on.
Or: Buddy Garrity, the former Big Man on Campus, the hotshot, the hypocrite. He’s a lousy husband, and not much better as a father, but he loves Dillon and he loves the Panthers. He’d do anything for his team — even if it’s a little shady.
Characters like these (and oh so many more FNL favorites) are the reason I read and write.
Something FNL does exceptionally well is flip between the adults and the teens. Most stories let one or the other be props. I mean, there are a lot of orphans in YA lit, and a lot of kids taking care of themselves off-screen in television and movies.
But in Dillon, TX, we get to see things from both sides. Student or teacher, player or coach, child or parent — every character is nuanced, everyone gets treated as real and worthy of our attention. This means the storylines appeal across a wide age range. We get to see things from multiple sides. And we get deeper, more genuine relationships.
There are probably a dozen other things I could point out that make FNL great and set it apart from most other TV shows, but I think you get the point.
(Also, FYI: you really don’t have to like football, or even understand it, to enjoy the show.)
Part of the reason I’m picking FNL apart today is to remember and share what the series taught me as a writer. Another reason is that all these elements are on my “wishlist” as a reader and viewer — they’re what I want to see more of in the stories that I consume — and there was a big discussion about that on Twitter today. You can check out #RBWL (reader/blogger wishlist) for more.
Fri Sep 13 2013
More than once, I have joked that I wanted to be the Taylor Swift of writing. Meaning that I wanted to become a hot-shot novelist in my teens (and ideally continue to put out hits for the rest of my life). Obviously my teens have come and gone and that didn’t happen. But it’s all good. Maybe I can be the Katy Perry of writing instead?
Recently I watched both Taylor and Katy’s biopic/concert movies, and I came to some realizations:
- They work really hard. Yes, they’re doing what they love, and the’ve managed to become rich and famous from it. But that doesn’t take anything away from all the heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears they put into their music. And in addition to the singing and songwriting, they spend a lot of time designing their concerts, rehearsing and performing and marketing their work, connecting with fans, and making decisions that impact the dozens (if not hundreds) of people in their employ. They are in fact young businesswomen. It’s impressive, humbling, and inspiring.
- They have achieved a lot of success at very young ages, but it didn’t happen overnight. Both struggled to be taken seriously, to be allowed to express themselves in the way that they wanted. At one point, Taylor walked away from a good opportunity with a major record label because she believed that she could do better. She ended up taking a chance on a startup, and together they skyrocketed to the top. (Guts!) Katy spent years bouncing between record labels, all of whom knew she was talented but weren’t sure how to market her and thus were reluctant to invest. Despite the frustrations, she always went back to the music, writing songs and playing gigs until finally someone decided to back her all the way — and even handed her the reins. (Perseverance!)
- I think part of what appeals to people (certainly to me) about their music is how much of themselves they put into it. Their personal experiences, their emotions, their style. Taylor is infamous for writing about her famous ex-boyfriends, and Katy makes no secret that many of her recent hits are about her the ups and downs of her relationship with Russell Brand. Some people think that’s tacky; I think it’s brave and endearing. I can relate to their excitement, their doubts, their hopes, their heartaches. And it makes their songs stand out from some of the more generic stuff.
- As much as I might joke about wanting to be the Taylor or Katy of writing — and as many similarities as there may be between our dreams (artistry, storytelling, entertaining the masses, etc.) — one key difference is that being a pop star usually requires a youthful appeal. They probably have a limited window of opportunity for mainstream success, whereas writers are not judged by the marketability of their faces/bodies, but by the
quality marketability of their stories.
- At one point, Katy’s sister talks about how people were trying to get Katy to be the next Britney, or the next Avril, or whoever, and how she never wanted to be the next anybody. She wanted to be the first Katy. Good point. I don’t want to be the next JK Rowling, the next Stephenie Meyer, or the next Suzanne Collins. I want to be the first Kristan.