Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sleepy Hollow

One of my favorite shows, Sleepy Hollow, returned last month. I had mixed feelings at first. You see, last season, one of the lead characters, Abbie Mills, portrayed by Nicole Behairie, died in the finale. I was devastated. Beyond the fact that she was an amazing character on her own, Abbie's bond with fellow Witness Ichabod Crane, was a huge part of the reason I fell in love with the show. (And of course, it doesn't hurt that Tom Mison is hot as hell!)

Like most other viewers, I loved the chemistry between them, which was in large part, because of the actors involved. Behairie and Mison played perfectly against each other, and Abbie and Ichabod's pairing was a perfect combination of loyalty, friendship and love. Even though Ichabod was in love with his wife Katrina, the deep abiding love between Abbie and Ichabod went deeper than that, even though it was never acted upon. 

The show in its first season was fresh and unique and filled with comedy, drama and endless scares. Washington Irving's Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman alive and well in the modern day! What a cool idea. In the second season, the show lost its footing a little bit, and I was not the only one who felt the storylines focused a little too much on showcasing Katrina (Ichabod's wife in this twist) and her son, and Abbie seemed to be relegated to the backburner, a supporting character in her own show. The missteps were troubling, but the show was still better than most of everything else on TV, as far as I'm concerned.

Season three brought the relationship between the Witnesses back to where it had been in some ways, in others it was still a little off, but for the most part was back on track. I looked forward to watching every week. But when the finale aired, and Abbie sacrificed herself to save Ichabod and the others, along with the world, I swore I'd never watch again. There was quite a bit of backlash about the character's demise, and a lot of it centered around a woman of color being cut from her own very diversely casted show. I understand, although because I really don't watch a lot of TV in general, that factor didn't home for me as much, What bothered me was that I had finally found a show that was compelling and funny and fun, and now it looked like it was all over. I did a little digging and while I don't know the entire story behind Nicole Behairie's departure, what I learned made sense. I wasn't sure whether I wanted it to come back for another season. When a fourth season was finally announced, I found myself still torn. Do I watch and be further devastated that they really destroyed the show I adored, or do I watch and hope like hell if somehow managed to recreate the magic of that first season?

I watched. I couldn't help it. Of course, the allure of Tom Mison was a big factor, but also, I reasoned that without Ichabod Crane, there really never would have been a show, so I decided to give it a chance. I'm really glad that I did.

Sleepy Hollow has once again captured my imagination and I wait anxiously for each new episode. It has also returned to inspiring me – I write like crazy after it's over. The new location of Washington, DC gives a fresh look and feel and the new characters have some fantastic chemistry with the returning characters, Ichabod, and Abbie's sister Jenny. The addition of a new Witness, a child this time, was a great twist. Ichabod works really well with Diana, who happens to be the mother of Molly, the new Witness, and is one hell of a bad-ass herself. Watching her navigate the new twists and turns her life has taken has been fascinating and Janina Gavankar has been great in the role.

There's only been one problem this season – with the show airing on Friday's my Little Guy's hockey practice interferes with my opportunity to watch the show in its entirety in its first run. I've been able to catch several episodes in full upon first airing, but for the most part, I have to DVR and watch later. Although, to be honest, I DVR each episode no matter what and re-watch it the following week.

This week's episode was one where I had to miss the first run. And damn it, of course it had to be the one when Ichabod and Jenny return to Sleepy Hollow with their new team. I finally sat down today to watch it. I can't wait to watch it again.

They jumped right into the supernatural from almost the first minute, and while the storyline was, as always, an edge-of-your-seat foray into the supernatural, what I loved most was the flashbacks and memories of Abbie. Ichabod remembering how he came to be resurrected in the 21st century was touching, but I sort of felt this episode was a tribute to Abigail Mills. For the season, so far, Abbie was never far from Ichabod's and Jenny's thoughts and I truly appreciated that she was mentioned regularly, not forgotten as if the character had never existed, as sometimes happens when actors leave their shows. But this episode was different. To me, Abbie's presence was strongly felt throughout, and the flashback and memories fit perfectly into the storyline. The usual comedic touches were A1, but the sorrow Ichabod and Jenny still feel over Abbie's loss was potent and tear-jerking. I also think the new team members gained a better understanding of the real meaning and weight behind Abbie's death, and the effect it ultimately has on all of their lives.

So, the writers and producers and cast of Sleepy Hollow – well done! I am hooked as never before and cannot wait to see where you take us for the rest of the season, and I hope like hell you get picked up for a fifth season.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Don't Bite the Hands of Your Critique Partners

Warning – this post is going to get a little ranty.

When I first started writing romance around 25 years ago, I was very lucky to find a local RWA chapter, the Hudson Valley RWA, to help me in my pursuit of  publication. Back then, there was only one way to be published – by the big NY publishing houses. The first thing I learned was that I had a lot to learn. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to join a critique group, which consisted of several fellow chapter members. Through them, I did learn a lot – how the business worked (at the time), how to manage POV and passive voice, and how to make my characters come to life, and so much more.

Through the years, the group changed – we lost some members, some who went on to become hugely successful, others whose lives took them in different directions, some who moved away, and others who just decided writing and publishing wasn't for them. We gained new members, and helped and supported each other along the way. As time passed, almost every single member of the critique group did succeed in being published over the last decade or so, especially with the advent of ebooks and lots of new opportunities.

Unfortunately (here comes the rant), we've also had a few who left us under conditions that were not, let's say friendly, to put it nicely. One critique member in particular, who at first we were very glad to have join us, soon made clear that she was not a team player.

This author wrote a very good book, and we were very happy for her when she published it. Her succeeding works – not so much. There were several issues – the main characters from that first book ended  up in every sequel after that. There's nothing wrong with that per se, I in fact, have main characters from my books show up in secondary and minor roles in subsequent books in the series. The issue with this particular author was that she made a good 3/4 of those books about that original couple, not the characters who the books were supposed to be about. We tried to help her keep her focus on the main characters in the new stories, but she was having none of that. It was her story, she'd tell it the way she wanted. As she progressed to other titles, we did what we always do – offer constructive criticism. But she didn't see it that way – she saw us as being petty and mean and get this, jealous. After all, she was published and she just knew better than the rest of us (pssst, we're published too). If we didn't heap glowing praise on everything she wrote, she would slam our work and call it terrible and that she "didn't understand what we were writing," or some other such nonsense.

I'm not one to sugar coat, though I'm not mean. If I think there's something wrong with the story, or the wording, or it's missing something, I will say so, honestly. And I will usually offer alternatives to maybe eliminate the problem and hopefully help my fellow authors. I do this because I want the same respect from my fellow authors in return. Sometimes writers are too close to our work and can't see the forest for the trees – that's why critique partners are so important. You bond with others when you share your work with them, and honestly, I've developed some of my best friendships through this group.

Anyway, after several months of the constant petulant "eye for an eye" critiques, we finally had to ask this author to leave the group. She was not helping any of us, in fact, her general pissiness made a usually fun evening uncomfortable at times. No one likes to kick someone out of a group, it's not pleasant, but damn it, if you can't play nice, then take your ball and go home.

Imagine my surprise to learn we've been publicly slammed by this author for being jealous. Yep, we were jealous that her 10 page short stories which were pretty awful were getting published. If you have a publisher that will take whatever you write, no matter if the work has merit or not, you must be doing something right. Right? Um, no. When your publisher just takes it all, without any editing or feedback and just throws it up for sale, that does not automatically mean your work is good. But not according to this author.

When she out and out lied that she was the first one published in the group, I was pissed. This author seems to be in favor of alternative facts – since she was "the first one published," she was the one who knew it all. There were a few things wrong with that assumption.

First, the founding member of our group has over 20 titles to her name and has been published since the 1970's. So technically, she was first. As for knowing more about publishing, again, another alternative fact. She dealt with a total of one publisher, whose reputation isn't exactly stellar, and seems to offer very little of the standard support that publishers give to their authors (Disclaimer: I don't have any working knowledge of this publisher, but I know a couple folks who do. I trust what I've heard). If your publisher doesn't understand how to edit, market and price your book, and is rumored to not always pay promptly, I wouldn't have much confidence in them. I've dealt with nightmare publishers – only took me once to learn my lesson. But I digress.

As for saying we "turned our backs" on her, well, that's just outright BS. It was her own behavior that led us to ask her to leave. She was not good for our group, in fact, she was very bad for it. Everyone always had to tip-toe around her when it came time to critique her. Sorry hon, not everything can be daisies and unicorns. I hate it when someone points out to me that I've royally screwed up a scene (or worse, the whole dang story!), nobody likes to hear their work isn't perfect. But that's just the reality of writing – no one has written the perfect book. There are some that are close, and readers have their favorites that they think are perfect, but reading is subjective, so you can't please everyone all the time. Heck, sometimes you can't please anyone at all. It happens. It's life. But I know where the comments are coming from. No one is trying to "slam" me. I take those comments and suggestions, and use them to figure out a way to fix things. I do not stomp my feet and call their work sloppy and nitpick things that aren't there (yes, I have been harshly criticized for something that wasn't even in the pages I had just read). I'm a part of this group because I want to learn from my fellow authors and hopefully teach them something as well, when I can. This is not a beauty pageant, babe.

This author did however, remain an active chapter member for some time – came to meetings and participated on our private loop. When she shared the sad news of some health issues that had come up, we all wished her well, praying for her, and generally offering words of encouragement and support. Apparently, that was not enough. I don't know, maybe she expected us to drop everything and be at her side daily, maybe she wanted more flowers. Whatever. The nastiness of her response to members who reached out was completely uncalled for. She did that several times to several of my friends and if it was up to me, I would have responded in kind.

But I probably would have let it go if not for the fact that we have now been publicly insulted and lied about. Granted she didn't name names, so apparently she does have some common sense, but still, it was quite obvious exactly who she was speaking of. That was the last straw in my book. You can only push me so far before the Mama Lion in me comes out and I have to defend the cubs - my critique partners.

Yeah, babe, you missed the boat, all right.