*For the foreseeable future, some Character Review posts may not be published every Thursday as they have in the past.
*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series World on Fire. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show.
There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations. It would be nice to live in a world in which whom one loves is just another aspect of who they are. But the reality is we are judged based on our sexuality and based on that judgment, assigned a value. On World on Fire, Albert Fallou (Parker Sawyers) is a Frenchman whose family is originally from West Africa. He is also gay and in love with American doctor Webster O’Connor (Brian J. Smith).
Before the Nazis invade, Albert just lives his life as anyone does. But things quickly change under German rule. Targeted for his West African heritage, the Nuremberg Laws state that Albert is a second class citizen. Fearing for his and Webster’s lives, Albert asks Webster to smuggle him out of France. He knows that while his partner may be able to fly under the radar for a short time, Webster’s sexuality could be revealed at any time.
To sum it up: It takes courage to be yourself in a world that at best denies your rights and at worst, wants you dead. But, it also takes courage to know when it is better to leave your home and stay alive rather than stay where you are and risk being killed. Albert is aware of the world he now lives in and the tough choices that must be made in order to survive.
*For the foreseeable future, some Character Review posts may not be published every Thursday as they have in the past.
*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series World on Fire. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show.
There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations. The truth of human sexuality is that it has always been a spectrum. But for most of our time on Earth, the only acceptable sexual relationship has been between a man and a woman. It is only in the last few decades (depending on where one lives) that members of the LGBTQ community are free to live and love as they want to.
On World on Fire, Webster O’Connor (Brian J. Smith) is an American doctor working and living in Paris as World War II rumbles on the horizon. He is also gay. Before the Germans invade the country, Webster is able to live openly as a gay man (well, as much as one could back then). Happily involved with Albert Fallou (Parker Sawyers), Webster does not listen to his aunt, Nancy Campbell (Helen Hunt) when she strongly recommends that he return to the States.
Then the Battle of France happens and Webster is stuck behind enemy lines. As both an American and a member of the LGBTQ community, he knows how dangerous it is to remain in France. But his Caucasian complexion and his assumed Christian faith have so far kept Webster off of the Nazi’s radar. Feeling that he has to do something, Webster and his colleague/nurse Henriette Guilbert (Eugénie Derouand), hatch a plan to get prisoners of war out of France before the Nazis can get their hands on them.
To sum it up: I suspect that many people in Webster’s situation would have taken his aunt’s advice. Having stayed for love, Webster is completely aware of the situation he is now in. But. he also knows that doing his part to save lives is dangerous. Having the courage to do that makes him a hero in my book.
Towards the end of Jane Austen‘s novel, Persuasion, there is a conversation about books and the portrayal of women within the world of literature. This conversation ends with the following statement that is as true in Austen’s time as it is in ours.
“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”
The new non fiction book, Mad and Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency, was published in the fall. Written by Bea Koch (co-owner of the Los Angeles area bookstore, The Ripped Bodice), the book tells the story of women who did not fall in the White/upper class/Heterosexual/Christian category. It shines the spotlight of women of color, Jewish women, female members of the LBGTQ community, and women who actively chose to step out of the boundaries of what was considered to be appropriately “feminine”.
I wish that this book had been around when I was younger. It is one of the best history books I have read in a long time. It is educational, entertaining, and a reminder that there have always been women who have been willing to buck tradition to follow their own path.
Soul: Though it is marketed as a kids movie, the subtext of appreciating life feels appropriate and potent this year.
Mulan: The live-action reboot of the 1998 animated film Mulan rises above its predecessor, making it fresh and relevant.
Emma.: Anya Taylor-Joy stars as Jane Austen‘s eponymous heroine, Emma Woodhouse, introduced as clever, rich, and handsome. Directed by Autumn de Wilde, this adaption is entertaining, funny, and a lovely addition to the list of Austen adaptations.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire: This LBGTQ historical romance between a young woman and the female artist hired to paint her portrait is sweet, romantic, and powerful. It proves once more that love is love is love.
Ordinary Love: Joan (Lesley Manville) and Tom (Liam Neeson) are your average middle-aged couple. When she is diagnosed with Breast Cancer, they both must deal with the rough road ahead.
The Assistant: Jane (Julia Garner) is an assistant to a Harvey Weinstein-esque powerful movie producer. She starts to notice things that don’t sit right with her.
I am Greta: This documentary follows teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg as she advocates for the world to pay serious attention to climate change.
#AnneFrank-Parallel Lives: Narrated by Helen Mirren, this documentary tells not just Anne’s story. It follows other young women who survived the Holocaust. Parallel to the stories of the past, the viewer is traveling with another young woman as she visits different countries in present-day Europe.
We all know the story of Cinderella. Her tale has been part of our culture for an untold number of generations.
Cinderella Is Dead, by Kalynn Bayron, was published back in July. In the fictional kingdom of Mersailles, women are chattel. At the age of sixteen, young girls are required by law to present themselves at the annual ball. If any one of them is unable to find a husband by the time she turns eighteen, her fate is either servitude or disappearing forever.
Sophia Grimmins is sixteen. She would rather marry her girlfriend, Erin, than be forced to say I do to a man she does know or care for. But she also knows what could happen to her parents if she does not attend. At the ball, Erin falls in line with the other girls. But Sophia is having none of it. After she escapes, she finds herself in Cinderella’s mausoleum. Meeting Constance, a direct descendent from one of the step-sisters, the girls hatch a plan to remove the King from the throne. Sophia also learns that the tale of Cinderella that has been drilled into her is missing a few critical pieces of information.
This book is interesting. A sort of The Handmaid’s Tale meets YA/LGBTQ fantasy, it is not our grandmother’s simplistic, Disney-fied version of the story. Which is perfectly fine with me, I am always up for a fractured fairy tale. I love the author’s creativity, the world she created is nuanced and feels closer to our world than the traditional world these narratives take place in.
The problem is initial chapter and the concluding chapters feel rushed. Instead of dropping the big reveal on the reader and letting it soak in, she pushes through it as if it were a minor plot point. Which, to be honest, was a little bit of a letdown because I wanted to feel the climax. But I didn’t.
If there is one thing that Americans have lost over the last four years, it is that we have lost a sense of decency.
On Thursday, in lieu of the cancelled Presidential debate, each candidate held a televised town Hall. You know who’s town hall aired on NBC with Savannah Guthrie as moderator. Vice President Joe Biden’s town hall aired on ABC with George Stephanopoulos moderating.
I didn’t watch you know who’s town hall. But I watched enough clips to know that it was not worth watching. Instead of talking about what he would do for the American people if he is re-elected, he once again claimed the spotlight and whined.
One of the questions that was asked of the Vice President, was his stance on the rights of the LGBTQ community. His response is as follows:
This is the type of person I want to be President. Is he perfect? No. But at the very least, he understands that the role of a public servant is to serve the community. It is not intended to be used for personal gain or to fill an emotional hole created by difficult parent.
If I were to list the reasons to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the number one reason is a vote for decency. If we are to move forward as a nation, we need a President and an administration that represents that sense of decency. That administration will be led by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
In our world, when we think of princesses, we think of a certain type of character. She is a dainty, angelic young woman, usually a damsel in distress who is waiting for her beloved to rescue her. She has no agency, does not have much of a character arc, and walks off into the sunset in some version of happily ever after.
In 1995,Xena: Warrior Princess premiered and destroyed the stereotypes. An off-shoot of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena (Lucy Lawless) is a warrior princess with a less than clean past. Seeing the need to redeem herself, she fights against evil with the help of Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor).
Back then, this show was revolutionary. As a female character, Xena (and Gabrielle by extension), broke the mold. She was everything the classic princesses were not. There was also an element of romance between the main characters, opening the door for LGBTQ characters and viewers.
The myth of the werewolf has existed for centuries. Half human and half wolf, this creature has struck fear in the in the heart of humanity since the Middle Ages. In our modern world, the werewolf has become one of the key creatures within the horror genre. Which, from a writing perspective, lends itself to a variety of narratives.
In 2016, Erin Kelly released her first book, Tainted Moonlight. The first in a series, the book follows the experience of Korban Diego. Korban is a werewolf who was bitten five years before the story starts. Living in a world in which he faces boundaries due to his identity, he comes to question his place in the world when someone whom he cares of is bitten by another werewolf.
I had the pleasure of reading Tainted Moonlight and I am thrilled that Erin has agreed to answer a few questions.
AB: Where did the idea from Tainted Moonlight come from?
EK: Back in 2002, while on a break from college, I got into Harry Potter after watching the first movie. Like a lot of people at the time, the story connected with me and I began to devour the books in the series. My favorite was Prisoner of Azkaban, but after reading it, I was left with this feeling of complete betrayal. The idea that a werewolf couldn’t teach, even though he was their best teacher that we’d been shown so far, purely because of who he was really resonated with me. The whole metaphor of werewolves being akin to how people are treated with various prejudices really resonated with me. I wanted justice for Remus Lupin. Around the same time, one of my best friends wrote a one shot story that was Remus/Sirius and she had a knack for mean, cliff-hanger endings. It was the perfect storm of “what if” in my mind. I asked her if she would like to continue the story together, and she responded with something along the lines of “it was supposed to be a one shot, but sure” and so we began to write our first fanfiction series together. This was when Lobo, who would become Korban, was born (Alex’s nickname is indeed an inside joke and call back to his first incarnation). He was this American werewolf in London (ha!), who showed up to help Lupin, and the idea took off from there. Lobo became this werewolf rights activist in the story.
We had a really good response to our story, and it grew. There were even spin offs that we wrote. People really seemed to enjoy our story, and they complimented our original characters, which was a rare thing back then. Unfortunately, Fanfiction.net took it down when they changed their policy on adult content, and we refused to be censored or change the adult situations. On top of that life and college soon overtook our schedule, and we sadly never finished that series, but the idea and original characters continued to resonate with me. The concept of “monsters helping monsters”, because the rest of the world saw them as other, really stuck with me. So around 2006-ish, I asked for her permission to continue the story, in a much more original way, and my friend gave me her blessing to continue. I am forever grateful that we were able to write the fanfic we did together, because it led me to writing Korban’s story as it is today. There were at least ten different rewrites after that fanfiction before I got it to where I was ready to publish it, which is why I did not publish it until 2016.
AB: What sparked your interest in werewolves?
EK: I have always been drawn to wolves, and the moon, since I was really young. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with me being born on a full moon night or not, but these two things have always remained a constant interest in my life. I still have this beautiful wolf box that I got during one of my summer trips to my Dad’s. Growing up I also had a love for horror, and would read everything and anything with the supernatural in it. The Last Vampire series by Christopher Pike comes to mind, but I really loved R.L. Stine’s Fear Street Saga as well. One of the first anime movies that I got into wasVampire Hunter D which also featured a lot of supernatural creatures. When the series Supernatural debuted on TV, I was instantly a fan. After we started our fanfic together, I began to research werewolves and that’s when my true obsession started. I collect books, movies, video games, and all things werewolf. I find it fascinating that every culture across the world, regardless of their geographic location, has some version of a werewolf. There’s so much folklore out there, and it varies by location, but every culture has their variation of a story where a man or woman turn into an animal. There are even some places that to this day believe that werewolves exist. It’s one of the few supernatural tales that even has a scientific condition related to it. The more I researched, the more I learned, and the more I fell in love with the furry by moonlight. I’m still learning more about different stories from various cultures every day, and I hope to bring that knowledge into my series at some point.
AB: Your hometown of Syracuse is another character in the series. Was that a deliberate choice or was that decision just a natural part of the writing process?
EK: It’s actually kind of funny, but Syracuse was not my original choice for the setting. I went through different ideas for where this story would take place. Originally I was thinking New York City, but then when I thought about it, as much as I love visiting there, I don’t think I could give my readers an authentic feel to the Big Apple, since I’ve only visited there a few times in my life. I wanted to be able to make the setting feel real, with the sights, sounds, and smells. The more I thought about it, too, so many stories take place in New York City, which is fine, but it didn’t seem to fit. I even thought about having it take place down in Florida, where I was living at the time, but that didn’t seem right either. Too much sunshine for the vampire folk.
So then I thought, why not Syracuse? We have long winters and a lot of cloudy days for vampires, and we have an urban area but also plenty of forest not too far away for the werewolves. Plus, since I grew up here, I could really bring the story to life in a familiar setting. As I did more research it really connected as well, since Syracuse is near a lot of historic landmarks for human rights (we aren’t too far away from Seneca Falls which was important to Women’s Suffrage, and even today we are a sanctuary city for refugees) and it was like the final piece came together. Syracuse became the perfect place for Korban and the gang to call home.
AB: One of the topics that is often discussed among writers these days is representation. Your main character is Latinx and his love interest is not the typical female character for the genre. Was this another deliberate choice or did it feel right for the characters?
EK: Representation matters more than ever these days, but as an author it’s my main objective to tell a story with a variety of characters who are authentic and not stereotypes. When I first created Lobo, it just felt right to me. I pictured him with tanned skin, dark hair, and with wolf-like, yellow eyes. He came to me as Latinx and also as biromantic, demisexual, which means that he is attracted to men and women, but requires a strong emotional connection in order to have a sexual attraction to them. This element to his character really comes into play more in the third book, but there are some references to it along the way. At the time I created him I didn’t know the terms for his sexuality. To be fair, I didn’t understand demisexuality myself until I also realized it applied to me (I am panromantic demisexual which simply means I just want cuddles from everyone regardless of gender identity), and that wasn’t until early 2018. I’ve learned a lot more about the human sexuality spectrum since that time, and how that is one layer of representation in characters.
I think stories that include variety in representation are beautiful. There are so many layers to characters and I feel like it limits the possibilities if your characters are all the same. Part of the time I took to rewrite my story was adding to my characters to give them more dimension. As the story continues, one of the nice things about writing a series is that we get to see more from these characters as time goes on, and get to watch them grow on their personal journeys in a more organic way.
RJ is black, and Alex is Latinx too because they also came to me that way. They also came to me as gay, though in my first publication I didn’t make that obvious because I didn’t want to rely on stereotypes. Alex loves cars and is playful, and RJ is more reserved but caring. I wanted them to be like a lot of the gay couples I know in real life who have been together for a long time. Only instead of having the adorable dog or cat like most of my friends, they get to have a werewolf roommate (to which Alex is infinitely amused). In the first book, they have their hands full with the main plot of the story and it doesn’t blatantly come up because for one thing, Korban already knows and it wouldn’t be a big deal to him by this point in his friendship with them. Sophie has her own conflict within herself, and it’s not that big a deal to her that they are a couple, which is why it isn’t addressed by the characters within the story. Representation doesn’t have to be about the characters “coming out” to anyone, unless it’s a plot point in your story. As the series goes on, we spend more time with RJ and Alex, and the reader can see more of the romantic gestures between the two of them, and it’s sweet and treated just like any relationship should be in my opinion.
As for Sophie, she is the first female werewolf that is introduced to the series. She comes in the story as a guide for the reader, because she’s bitten early on and we get to experience the struggle of a newly infected werewolf through her point of view. She isn’t some untouched, naïve, blank slate but a wife and a mother who is trying to keep her family together, and that’s just her surface layer. Inside she not only struggles with her werewolf, but also her own identity. She is seen by the world as this billionaire’s trophy wife, but as the story progresses she really comes into her own. She gets her chance to shine a lot more in the sequels as she grows and becomes more comfortable with not only dealing with her lycanthropy but also accepting herself.
As the series continues on, I plan on adding more thoughtful representation as well. In the fourth book, which I am writing now, there is a character introduced who is a person with disabilities, and I have plans for even more inclusion as the series goes on. Representation is important to me because the key message in my series is despite our differences, we can come together as human beings, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and in the case of my story, supernatural factors.
AB: Can you describe the research you did to prepare? Was this done before you started writing or during?
EK: Another reason why it took me over 14 years to publish was the extent of research that I did. I started with every book, movie, TV show that I could get my hands on to watch on werewolves. I watched and read a ton of good, bad, and truly awful werewolf stories. I wanted to see what was out there so I could put my own spin on the werewolf lore. I have a notebook somewhere that I hope to find, where I wrote critiques on every werewolf movie and book that I had read during that time so I could keep track of it all. When I started to put how my werewolves functioned together, I stopped taking notes and focused more on writing the story. It led me to some of my favorite werewolf movies and books- Ginger Snaps is my favorite movie, and the Kitty Norville Series by Carrie Vaughn are my favorite books about werewolves, which both feature female werewolves which I love.
AB: Most writers don’t have the luxury of being able to write full time and still earn a reasonable living. What advice to you have for writers who are juggling outside professional and/or familial responsibilities in addition to their writing?
EK: My advice is to make time to write, or create in some way. We often get caught up in so much that we forget to take the time to do something for ourselves. Writing and drawing are outlets for me and help me unwind after a day of work. It’s easy to fall into the pattern of watching someone else’s creation, but try to set some time to make your own art. Sometimes that is the only way to get your creativity out, and you’ll feel better. Even if you make a tiny amount of progress a day, it’s still progress. Also it is equally important not to be hard on yourself for not creating or taking the time, because we end up in a vicious cycle of self-deprecation that only compounds and makes things worse. Forgive yourself, and try to make little goals, and soon you’ll reach the bigger goals.
Another thing you can do is to include family members in your creativity time. Encourage your kids to write or draw their own stories while you work on yours. A lot of people believe that writing is a solitary thing, and that’s fine if that is how you write best, but I find that when I’m with a group of writers I tend to get a lot more done. Writing groups are wonderful, you can even find some online in your area so that you can help one another out, especially right now. Having a critique group with writers also helps bounce ideas off other people and can help improve your writing. I meet with my writing group online about once a month and it’s really helped me stay on track and be accountable for my writing goals.
AB: Do you have any recommendations for those who are writing a multi-book series? What tips do you have for keeping the readers hooked from the first page of the first book to the last page of the last book?
EK: When writing a series you want to make sure that you have plans for your characters’ growth. If a character doesn’t change over the course of the series, then what was the point of telling their story? I plan out my story arcs based on my characters’ wants and the actions they take in every book. Every action leads to consequences, even if I don’t reveal the effect right away. Things that are set up in the first book may not pay off until the third or fourth book, and so on. It’s up to you to bridge those events in order to make a cohesive story that guides your reader through to those major plot points.
If your story has compelling characters that your reader can connect with, then they will be invested in your character’s journey. It helps when they see in every book that there’s some change and growth in your characters, whether it’s positive or negative. Change shouldn’t be immediate. Even in a fantasy story you need to have believable elements, and small changes over time are more realistic.
I plan my series out by story arcs, so for me every three books there is a completed character arc that leads into the next. I outline a lot of the important events and plot twists before I start making my outline and really fleshing those out with details. Even if you are a pantser, keep track of all your major plot points in your story, or you will end up constantly going back to your manuscript for information. I keep track of mine in a series bible, along with all the details of my series. I track things like the moon cycle (even if I rarely mention exact dates), character descriptions, and event timelines. This way I don’t have a full moon happening every other chapter, and there’s key events that happen during various parts of the lunar cycle that I need to make sure I am aware of. This also adds an element of reality into a fictional world and helps make the fantastic events more believable.
EK: Confession time: I was once a pantser, but I am now more of a hybrid plotter. Especially when writing a series, it’s important to know your goals for each book. So I always write out what I refer to as my “plot skeleton” so that I know what key points to hit, but the “meat” of the story is often fleshed out as I go. Sometimes I alter my “skeleton” as I go as well, adjusting it as information comes to me from the characters and the way I have them respond to certain events. When Sophie kisses Korban the first time, as an example, I had planned that for the end of the book, but due to the way events played out, it felt right for them to do it a bit sooner in the story.
AB: Do you see yourself staying in this genre or branching out?
EK: Right now I have plans for the next six books in the series, and I don’t have a plan for an ending as of this moment. I think this series will have about fifteen books in it, but I won’t know until it feels right to wrap it up so that may change. I even have some spin off ideas in the works. I really enjoy writing urban fantasy, however I do plan on writing some horror short stories, and I have a fantasy series that is kicking around in my brain, but it’s not ready yet. My plan over the next year is to get comfortable writing two books at a time, so I can keep the Tainted Moonlight series going and maybe branch out into these other ideas. I love my characters and this world that I built so much that I don’t think I’ll be saying good bye to them any time soon.
AB: What advice would you give to other writers?
EK: Write when you can, and when you can’t write read. I’m fortunate that when I hit the dreaded writer’s block that I usually can get into a drawing mode, so that I’m always creating something, but even when that fails, reading has never let me down. It tends to refresh my creativity to just enjoy other stories. I have recently gotten into audio book production as well, and so I have been listening to books and it really opens up a whole other world when you can multitask and read at the same time. I also enjoy stories in other formats, such as video games and Netflix, but it’s so important that when you are writing you take the time to read other works too.
My other bit of advice is if you want to be a successful author, you need to make sure you treat it with professional care. There are so many options for publication now, and I chose the route that works for me by independently publishing. However, if you go that route expect to put the work in so that you are selling the best version of your story. That means investing in a professional editor, and a book cover. You want to put your best foot out there, and you want to make sure that your readers have an enjoyable experience reading your story in its best form. I learned this the hard way, unfortunately, with the very first edition of Tainted Moonlight, where I had taken some bad writing advice when it comes to switching tenses, and the number one complaint I got from my first batch of readers was they had trouble with the different tenses. So I hired my editor, and she helped me improve my story, and ever since then I have had much better reviews coming in. I now make sure a professional editor goes over my manuscript prior to release, but please if you take nothing else away, learn from my mistake.
Ultimately, remember this- only you can write your story. Don’t be discouraged if your story gets compared to things that exist. When I started out and pitched my story to people as a story about werewolves and vampires, they immediately compared it to Twilight, because that’s what they know about. There are so many stories about the supernatural out there, but there’s only one series that belongs to me.
I have a section on my website that has more resources for authors, which includes a lot of links to information and videos, and I’m going to start a monthly vlog for advice based on my experiences in the publishing world. I hope to pay it forward to other new authors. I had great mentors who have helped me along my publication journey but not everyone has that, so I want to make sure to help any way I can. I also welcome any specific questions, I have contact information on my site as well, so please feel free to reach out to me anytime and I will get back to you.
Make sure no matter what you do, write your story. You can do it!
Tainted Moonlight is available wherever books are sold.
Even in the darkest of times, there will always be that small light in the distance. As difficult it reach it as it may seem, we must always be fighting to get to that light.
It is no secret that our nation has been in turmoil for the past few months due to the one two punch of Covid-19 and the murder of George Floyd. But even with all that, there is still something to smile about.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld one of our nation’s highest ideals by making discrimination against the LGBTQ community in the workplace illegal. In a move that surprised many, two of more conservative judges (one of whom was appointed by you know who) stood with their liberal colleagues in favor of the ruling.
This gives me hope. We can live up to the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We can ensure equal rights for all. We can end the discriminatory practices that have been the unfortunate backbone of our nation for far too long.
It just takes time, work, and putting one’s fears aside to fight for a greater cause.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Pride month.
I think it is pretty safe to say that in the nearly three weeks since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, the world has changed. Across the globe, millions are making their voices heard. George Floyd was one man, but he has come to stand for those who have been killed by hate.
Yesterday would have been Anne Frank‘s 91st birthday. Her diary has been ready by millions of readers over the last 70ish years. Like George Floyd, she has become a symbol of a life cute short by hate.
I keep thinking that if the world had collectively protested in the 1930’s as they do now, would the Holocaust have happened? How many might have survived? Unfortunately, this question can never be answered.
I wish that we lived in a world in which our rights were immediately given to us at birth. I wish that we were not categorized and then based on that category, denied or approved for where we may end up in life. But that is the world we live in. But until that day in which that happens, we must continue to stand up and fight for those rights.