Black Forest: Magicks Rise Release & Riley LaShea is On Sale

Before I tell you about my super exciting, ultra-awesome, one-day blowout sale situation, I must let you know that Black Forest: Magicks Rise is going to be delayed by a day. That’s right. One day. It will be up and available for purchase at Amazon and Smashwords on Wednesday, July 23rd.

The good news is, unless you are on absolute tenterhooks regarding the goings on in the Black Forest, I suspect you would choose to hold off on your purchase until a few days after the release anyway. Here’s why -

This Saturday, I turn 35. I once read 35 is the birthday when you officially become old. So, in honor of becoming old, I am holding a one-day sale of all things Riley LaShea. All my books (including Magicks Rise) will be $3.50 all day on July 26th. (I know it’s cheesy, just go with it.) At least, it will work out that way in Europe and the U.S. I will start the sale price the night before and return to normal pricing on Sunday, July 27th. I’m not sure how that works out for you other time zones, but trust there will be sale pricing some time around Saturday.

So, yeah, a small delay, but also a sale. So, if you have any of my books on your “To Read” list, Saturday is a good day to make that purchase.

Black Forest: Magicks Rise – Excerpt

Black Forest: Magicks Rise comes out on July 22nd. It begins like this.

Be warned, if you have not read Black Forest: Kingdoms Fall, much will be spoiled by this excerpt.

Chapter One
The World Left Behind

Once upon a time, a brother and sister were rushing through the forest. Thoroughly engaged in the children’s trade of play, they had lost track of the sun’s path over the treetops. It was only as the brother fell in surrender to his sister’s imitation bow and arrow that he noticed the bright blues of day fading to the purple hues of evening, and realized they must make haste for home.

Desperate to flee the night forest, and the dangers that live within, their anxious feet slapped the earth, and, joined at their fearfully perspiring hands, the brother and sister darted straight into the web of a hunter. Like the petals of a pimpernel, the net closed up around them, leaving them dangling two times their height from the forest floor. Though the children tried with all their might to break free, the netting, meant for much larger beasts than them, held fast.

Sun abandoning the sky, night fell fully upon them. Huddling close, the brother and sister listened to the cries of what they imagined to be very large and carnivorous beasts echo through the trees. When a thump came very nearby, they gave a synchronized jolt of panic, and, at the sound of soft footfalls just beneath them, the boy whirled his head, keen to protect his sister whatever he had to face. On her side of the net, the sister did the same, for she was secretly the braver of the two.

What both children discovered was no more than a raccoon, sat back on its haunches, looking up at them with mild dark eyes. In the time it took for the brother and sister to let out a joint breath of relief, the raccoon recognized the children’s need, for it had been trapped in the nets of hunters before. Clambering swiftly up the nearest tree, the raccoon leapt to the netting above their heads, digging determined teeth into the sturdy material. In no time at all, the net fell free, crashing to the forest floor, releasing the brother and sister from their captivity.

Standing on their own feet a moment later, dazed, but liberated, the brother and sister looked to the raccoon and saw the most beautiful creature they had ever laid eyes on. His soft fur shining like silk in the moonlight, his black eyes put on a clever masquerade as they regarded the children with utmost kindness. All their lives, the brother and sister had longed and begged for a pet, but their mother and father were unwaveringly against another mouth to feed on their already meager means. The children were certain, though, when their parents learned of the raccoon’s heroic feat, they would care for and love him as much as the brother and sister already did.

The raccoon’s night-eyes leading the way, the journey homeward was not nearly as treacherous, and the brother and sister followed behind, far less afraid of the howls and shadows that lived in the night.

They had not been going on long when the brother noticed the raccoon’s unusual walk. The raccoon would take two steps and limp, take two steps and limp. Pulling the creature to a stop, the brother dropped down to inspect him, finding one of the raccoon’s legs terribly mangled from a run-in with some forest foe. With a small frown toward his sister, he put the raccoon back on the ground, and again they walked behind.

It was a ways on in the wood, for the brother and sister had truly wandered far, that the raccoon led the children to a stream to drink away their thirst. Each time the raccoon put his lips to the water, to take in even the smallest of sips, he would choke and sputter, and the sister looked to her brother, certain a parasite must live in the raccoon’s throat or belly to make him drink so poorly.

Thirst satisfied, they started for home once more, and the children looked on the raccoon with more honest eyes. Each time moonlight would cut through thin branches, they would see something new. A balding patch. A missing chunk of paw. A mite carving a path through the raccoon’s fur, as it feasted upon the animal’s unclean flesh.

Sharing their findings in secretive whispers, by the time their cottage came into view, with its light and warmth glowing from the windows and their parents worrying inside, the brother and sister did not see the raccoon as beautiful. His fur did not appear at all soft or shiny in true moonlight, and he did not seem the least bit strong when he was not freeing them of their binds.

In fact, the creature had a distinct air of contamination about him, and was downright unlovable, so the brother and sister bid their rescuer goodbye at the forest’s edge, rushing across the yard to the cottage and its protection, leaving the raccoon out in the cold.

*****

At the moment, Cinderella was feeling an incredible kinship with the raccoon protagonist.

The moral of the story, the only one of her mother’s she could fully remember, was No one is perfect, and expecting perfection will leave you isolated and without aid when you need it. For, at story’s end, when the brother and sister find themselves caught in the same net again, the raccoon, weakened with illness and infestation, can offer no assistance, and the children end up being served to the hunter’s family as any other captured game.

Had she grown up under her mother’s tender influence, perhaps Cinderella would have been able to embrace the story’s true moral. Growing up as she had, with her stepmother’s and stepsisters’ hatred and her father’s utter indifference, she had developed a far different take on the narrative. She now saw it as a cautionary tale, the moral being If you let anyone see who you truly are, with all your flaws and weaknesses, it will be impossible for them to love you.

Ten cycles of the moon had passed since last she slept on the fractured bricks by the hearth in her father’s home, and she left her life in Troyale as sparkling as a princess. When too many eyes were upon her, though, Cinderella could still feel the soot and grime like a fine sheen upon her skin. The more attention given her, the less worthy she felt to receive it, and the more everyone looked at her, she knew, the sooner they would discover all her imperfections and determine her unlovable.

“Will they have to call you Sir?” The amused and muffled question drew Cinderella’s attention from the new knots in the wood ceiling, put there by the harsh winter the forest had just endured. Weather, it seemed, was its own event, requiring no man with a quill to inflict.

Glancing down at Rapunzel’s piercing blue eyes radiating amusement, the hair that hung low on her back once more shimmering gold in the light of the moon that came through the window to contrast against midnight blue sheets, Cinderella realized her gloomy thoughts had no place in the current moment.

“Sir Cinderella,” Rapunzel announced mock earnestly, before laughter poured across Cinderella’s bare chest.

Cocking her head to the side, Cinderella wondered if Rapunzel would continue to grow more beautiful each time she looked at her, or if there was a limit as to how much of her breath Rapunzel could steal. For at times, when she gazed at Rapunzel in such state of undress, Cinderella did worry about the lack of air she could take in.

“What would you propose they call me?” Her hand slid through silken hair to Rapunzel’s shoulder. She had given as little thought as possible to the coming ceremony, and none at all to the title.

A kiss dropped to her wrist where it hovered next to Rapunzel’s chin, waves of new longing rushed through Cinderella as Rapunzel considered the question, before at last Rapunzel lifted her head with a look of purest mischief.

“Redeemer… Savior… Goddess.” The term purred from full, bruised lips, Rapunzel’s long eyelashes cloaked eyes that darkened from sky to near navy, and Cinderella considered the title may be of little consequence, because she may never make it to the honor.

“Just what kind of remarkable being do you take me for?” she tried to find her breath.

“The most.” The response instantaneous and sincere, Cinderella tried not to blanch beneath Rapunzel’s unflinching gaze. If the raccoon had possessed a voice to pose such a question, she wondered if the brother and sister would have answered the same way once. It was easy to be impressed by a feat, much harder to stay amazed with its doer.

Though, for her part, Cinderella still did not know what they all thought she had done.

*****

When the courier arrived some weeks before, it had been an event in its own right.

Lounging in utter idleness before the fire with Rapunzel when Caratasa led him in, Cinderella glanced up as the courier fell instantly to one knee, head bowed, his hand steady as he held the letter out before him. Fearing a lingering proposal from somewhere in Grimm’s grand design, Cinderella looked to the courier and letter with trepidation, refusing to accept it.

“For the one who led us,” the courier stated, pausing just long enough that Cinderella thought to tell him he had come to the wrong place, before his next words quashed the hopeful notion. “Cinderella of Troyale.”

Standing with a soft smile at the courier’s back, Caratasa appeared frustratingly serene about the entire event as Cinderella and Rapunzel rose to meet the boy. For he could not have been more than twelve years.

Not knowing the customary response to being called upon by a royal courier, Cinderella thanked him as she slid the letter from his hand, and, had she started her life an arrogant individual, the look of gratitude in the boy’s eyes as he looked up would have humbled Cinderella for the years that remained in it.

“It is my honor, My Lady,” he declared, and Cinderella’s hands trembled on the scroll as they broke the wax seal.

It was one she had seen many times before when King Kardon sent news of Snow White, but never in circumstances so formal. The letter inside brief and to the point, it informed her of the joint decision of three kings – Snow White’s father King Kardon, Ruth’s husband King Balten and King Drest of Ceres, husband of Rhian, brother-in-law of Sawyer – to bestow upon Cinderella the honor of a knighthood, and requested a date of preference for the ceremony, as if she was so important she should not be expected to work around the schedules of three kings.

Even with Rapunzel quietly reciting the contents of the letter over her shoulder, knowing how she would struggle with many of the words, Cinderella was certain she misunderstood its message. She stared at the scroll in her hands for uncounted minutes until the courier hesitantly broke the silence to ask for a date he could take back with him. The simple question unleashing a torrent of words from her, they commenced with an appeal for the courier to get up off his knee and ended with Cinderella suggesting, in vain, that her contribution, and the fact that all turned out well, was reward in itself.

The courier had smiled then, even as he rose to his feet as requested. “That is one decision that is not yours to make, My Lady,” he declared. “Courageous actions, such as yours, they are not commonplace. They will not let it go without a fete.”

Staring into the boy’s pleased expression, Cinderella wished she could share in the sentiment. “Well, I suppose, should a fete be at hand,” her words weighted with worry instead, “I will be in attendance. I do not desire to disappoint them.” Nor did she desire to offend them. For, though she had built something of a relationship with all three, as a tributary of her relationships with those close to them, they were still kings, and, as she was reminded each time Rapunzel looked at her or she laid her head down in their soft bed in Caratasa’s home at night, she was nothing but an extraordinarily blessed peasant.

“If you were to decline the honor, they would not be the only ones disappointed, My Lady,” the courier said with a gentle smile. “What date can I tell them?”

Trying to think of a date somewhere between getting it over with as quickly as possible and putting it off indefinitely, Cinderella sent the boy back with her answer. At the time, it seemed distant enough. Two full turns of the moon later, that date was imminent.

Soon the eyes of every kingdom would be upon on her. Someone was bound to find a flaw.

*****

Tracing the line of freckles down Rapunzel’s right shoulder, Cinderella marveled at how things could change. In the confines of her tower, Rapunzel never saw sun enough to develop marks on her skin, and, as they came in greater and greater supply, each individual spot was of more infinite interest to Cinderella.

“I do not know the title for a female knight,” Cinderella responded to Rapunzel’s question thoughtfully. “You did not find such a word in those many stories you have read?” When Rapunzel shook her head, Cinderella wondered if there had ever been need for such a title. “Lady, perhaps?” She considered the most natural equivalent to the male title of ‘Sir.’ “Madam?”

“Madam?” The way Rapunzel’s nose turned in response, Cinderella wondered if her words had an actual odor to them. “Certainly not! It sounds so old, like a mother or a midwife or a queen.”

Smile faltering before she made it through the word, Rapunzel swallowed an audible obstruction in her throat and looked to the window, her gaze locking on the ghastly darkness beyond. For, though Grimm had gone, his world remained, with all its ghouls and demons.

Watching worry shadow Rapunzel’s features, Cinderella pushed to her elbows, the simple proximity to the softest of skin and cascade of blonde tresses offering a measure of comfort to her own anxieties. “Are you all right?” she questioned softly.

“I am not the one you need worry about,” Rapunzel responded, melancholy strangling each word. “Do you think Snow White is truly ready for this?”

“I do not know,” Cinderella answered honestly.

Snow White’s stepmother, Queen Ino, former queen of Aulis, would not only be overlooked at the coming ceremony, she was not even to be mentioned. If honors for the overthrow of Grimm were to be properly bestowed, no one was more deserving. After learning of the queen’s part in Snow White’s disappearance, though, of how she had ordered Snow White slain, even with the knowledge it was part of a grander plan not of the queen’s own making, King Kardon could find no love left for his former wife.

As understandable as his anger was, the king neglected to see how his own feelings negated those of his daughter. For the king thought there was no cause to mourn someone who had proven herself so vile and cruel, but Snow White, like all those who had witnessed the change in Queen Ino firsthand, did mourn.

“She would want to see you knighted,” Rapunzel declared, and, with an uneasy nod, Cinderella accepted the truth in the statement.

“But there is still a question as to if it is too soon,” she returned. “Snow White’s emotional state is… precarious, at best.” With good reason, she thought to herself. The sorceress’ spell that Snow White alone saw strike the queen, the agonized howl of the queen’s death, the feel of the woman dying in her arms, those were things not easily gotten over.

Hand rising to her chest, it gave Cinderella a gentle push that returned her to the pillow, and she watched a feather float into the air as Rapunzel settled her head against one shoulder.
With no answers to any of the questions between them, silence settled over the room as Rapunzel’s breath blew its hypnotic rhythm against Cinderella’s throat and Rapunzel’s body pressed warm against her, a marked contrast to the agitation Cinderella felt within. This instant – the tranquil, genuine moment – was everything for which they had fought. It was why Grimm had to be met head on, why he could not be allowed to go on dictating their futures, using them at his will.

Like the moment the uprising began, when Cinderella threw her shoe at Prince Friedrich, the seemingly innocuous moment carried awesome significance. True happiness – pure, unpolluted truth – did not exist under Grimm’s dominion. It would be a long time before anyone would take such a moment for granted.

“How are you feeling?” Rapunzel’s question was scarcely more than a breath against Cinderella’s skin.

“Do you prefer the innocent or the lascivious answer?” Cinderella returned, a small smile tugging her lips as Rapunzel shifted against her.

“I mean about the ceremony,” Rapunzel specified, lifting her head, and, realizing Rapunzel knew her fears beyond her sharing of them, Cinderella tried not to hide from the knowing gaze that looked down upon her as she opened her eyes. “And I prefer the truth.”

“It is not a comfortable sensation,” Cinderella admitted, and Rapunzel’s eyes locking intently upon hers, they seemed to search for Cinderella’s very soul inside and locate it with ease.

“You are courageous, clever, and exceedingly beautiful,” Rapunzel quietly stated. “I will never understand why drawing attention to all of that makes you so uncomfortable.”

Laughing helplessly at the assessment, Cinderella glanced to the night, wishing the moon would dim and provide her more cover. “Character flaw,” she uttered, and could feel Rapunzel’s heavy sigh upon her cheek.

“You do not have all the flaws you see,” Rapunzel whispered, seeking Cinderella’s gaze once more. “They love you,” she uttered. “As you love them. No one is going to abandon you, Cin.”

She never should have told Rapunzel that story, Cinderella realized. Rapunzel needed no help seeing beyond her moods and fears and defenses.

It was not that she did not want to believe what Rapunzel was saying, or that, when surrounded by her friends, Cinderella did not feel it. All the years spent in the company of people who hated her, though, it was difficult, at times, to accept that she could have a family free of enemies.

“And I love you,” Rapunzel’s eyes softened upon her, and thoughts of all other allies dissipated from Cinderella’s mind.

“I love you too,” Cinderella felt the words through her entire being, before Rapunzel’s lips covered her own with gentle insistence, chasing the last plaguing worry to another day.

Writing Outside the Comfort Zone

We humans are a fickle sort, aren’t we? I, for instance, am a creature of utmost spontaneity, and also one of routine.

Tell me I’m going on a trip tomorrow, and I’ll pack a bag. Move me in the middle of a writing project, and I will stare hopelessly at the computer screen for hours at a time, wondering if I accidentally boxed up my muse and left it behind in a closet in Tennessee.

Upon our arrival in Spain, we found our 2 1/2-month accommodation less than stellar. To some extent, it was our fault, because when we planned this experience, we hoped to save money, so we opted for a basic, functional rental. A no-frills place where we could simply be immersed in the reality of Spanish living.

As it turned out, such functionality was a bit too suburban for our purposes, and the no-frills place was actually a place of other people’s smells getting in through the cracks in the doors, the worst mattress ever dropped onto a bed frame, a terrible Internet connection, and non-stop noise, where we were woken repeatedly the first few nights, then wore earplugs for two and still woke several times.

Don’t get me wrong, we have endured worse conditions. Having disrupted sleep and consistent noise while trying to finish a book, though, is a mentally disastrous combination. So, that first week in Seville was rough.

Solution? Book a luxury rental in a resort area for a week, away from the noise, but near enough to the amenities to be able to walk to them. And, voila, presto, goooooaaaaaallllll!, I discover I am not so much a creature of habit as one of comfort, and I just need reasonably decent space in which to work.

So, at week’s end we will be making a more permanent move out of Seville and into better accommodations. We have also already secured a rental just outside Edinburgh for August so we can ease the process of getting to Bergen to see the fjords and of soaking up Fringe and the book festival.

In my experience, I have found successful travel is highly dependent upon one’s ability to adapt to their environment, but, as soon as you realize you cannot adapt, that you are simply not happy in your surroundings, it is always worth the expense to keep moving.

For a second there, as I sat exhausted in Seville, I wasn’t sure if I would have a book coming out next month after all. After three days of good Internet, good soundproofing and some seriously soft bedding, though, things are looking considerably more promising.

A Week in Oslo and Paris

The first vacationey leg of our extended time overseas came to a close a little less than a week ago. Now, we’re a few days deep in the domestic, everyday, ‘Holy Fuckfire, you have a book coming out in five weeks!’ portion of our adventure. Just a few things to share before going on with the reality of life for a while, though it is the reality of life in Spain, so it’s kind of a surreal reality at the moment.

Oslo in a Whirlwind

Jet lag is a bitch of a bitch, isn’t it? And overnight flights are simply cruel with their abbreviated sleeps. Our seven-and-a-half-hour flight on Norwegian Air, for some unbeknownst reason, allowed us only three uninterrupted hours of sleep between the serving of dinner and the serving of breakfast. Not that I don’t appreciate their effort at keeping me hydrated and well-fed and all, but three hours from lights-on to lights-on? Come on.

When jet lag gets me, I don’t fight it. I give in like a well-rocked baby. So, there was a nap had first thing when we arrived in Oslo, and another the following afternoon.

Our first full day of meals featured Indian and then pizza, and the second started with Asian food, indicating just how much I appreciated the local delicacies of reindeer and whale meat as dining options. Oslo does, however, have a regional coffee shop/juice shop called Joe and the Juice that I want badly to squish real small and carry everywhere with me in my pocket.

Overall, Oslo was a rather lovely place just to be in. Great architecture, a stunning waterfront, good historical feels, and some of the most fantastic parks and plazas I’ve ever seen. Plus, the sun went on and on forever, but at night, it was so chilly, we still needed our coats.

That’s a win.

The Fortress

The Fortress

Eidsvolls plass

Eidsvolls plass

Rowr

Rowr

Vigeland Park

Vigeland Park

 

 

 

 

 

Palace

Palace

National Theate

National Theater

Pirates

Pirates

 

 

 

 

 

Inside Cathedral

Inside Cathedral

My favorite building

My favorite building

 

 

 

 

 

Three Days in Paris

After Oslo, we stayed four nights in Paris, but our flight between the two was in the evening, so we did nothing but walk down the street of the largely suburban, residential neighborhood of our hotel for bottles of water the first night, getting in just before the lightning began to flash in earnest and the rain started to fall.

Day two in Paris was a great washout through most of the morning and afternoon, so, though we rose late, we still got plenty soaked. When the sun finally decided to come out, though, it stayed for the rest of our time there. Before the rain let up, we had the most wonderful lunch away from the touristy area, and collected our first crepe somewhere between the park that touches the Louvre and the Champs Elysees.

Then, there were more treats and hot tea and miles and miles of walking.

Day two, we started touristy, going into Notre Dame, because we didn’t on our first visit. Then, we abandoned the more known areas and rode the metro into the northeast of the city to Parc des Buttes Chaumont, so I could see for myself that there is a waterfall in Paris. A delicious, pizza-ey pastry and more treats later, and it was back to the hotel.

Apparently, having not done enough walking that day, we tacked on a couple of miles in search of a reasonably-sized coffee, and cried when the local McDonald’s could still only produce a European-large.

Day three was devoted to Monet, with a slight smattering of other artists. Taking the train from St. Lazare to Vernon, we hoofed it the more than three miles to Giverny to make sure we saw all there was to see. It was a hot walk, for sure, but didn’t seem all that deadly. Then, in Giverny, we strolled through Monet’s gardens, alongside his lily pond, and made a beeline through his very hot and crowded house, before popping into the Impressionist Museum there, which boasts exactly one good painting. When we returned to Paris, there was enough time to pulverize some strawberries and cream and caramel custard on the steps before going in for the late-night extension at Musee d’Orsay.

It was one hell of a taxing and long day, for sure, but it was the last, so we had to make the most of it, regardless of our early flight the next morning that would have us getting only four hours of sleep.

Hindsight, seriously, 20/20.

But, first, some pictures.

The opening rain.

The opening rain.

Paris' coolest busker.

Paris’ coolest busker.

Notre-Dame

Notre-Dame

Inside Notre-Dame

Inside Notre-Dame

 

 

 

 

 

Sunset

Sunset

Monet

Monet

From Inside d'Orsay

From Inside d’Orsay

 

 

 

 

 

Parting Image

Parting Shot

 

 

 

 

 

Riley Gets Sun Poisoning

I am terribly sensitive to the effects of heat and sun. When I was a kid, this cost me many a summer day. So many, in fact, they should have revoked my pool rights and banned me from  waterparks and fairs.

So, apparently, those hours in the sun and heat, along with that early-morning flight, were a deadly combination. Amazingly, though I also don’t typically endure flight all that swimmingly either, I made it from takeoff to landing with only slight stomach upset. Then, we had to walk our carry-ons miles through the Madrid airport to retrieve our checked bag and things started to get bleak. It was through sheer force of will, and kind of out of necessity, that I made it to the public transit that got me to the Madrid train station and onto the train bound for Seville.

Hit with icky sickness, I slept the majority of the journey to keep from puking, negating the entire point of taking the train, which is also to see what wonder the way beholds. And by the time the people we’re renting from showed us into the apartment, I was in some serious shape, just waiting for them to leave, so I could fall back on the couch and try not to die.

Since we had no food, a store run was an utter necessity, so, some hours later, I dragged myself into the 104-degree-heat that was our opening temperature here in Seville to help do the shopping. On our walk back, the pukes pressed heavier and heavier upon me, until my mantra became, ‘I just need to make it back to the apartment. Then, I can puke in private.’

Good news! We did make it back, where I walked in, promptly went into the bathroom and christened our two-and-a-half-month Seville rental in vomit. For which I was glad, because, after that, I could finally eat and put coffee in my face.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, “Flock to the shade and stay hydrated, Kids!”

Next Stop Oslo

Just before going to sleep last night, at about one a.m. Central Time, it occurred to me it was my last full day in the U.S. for at least seven and a half months. That means no Whole Foods with seed bread, or car that waits in the driveway for whenever I decide to use it, or relying on the only language I had the luxury of learning before I was old enough to realize that learning to talk can be intimidating.

It seemed so long ago that we booked the tickets to Oslo – pretty much on a whim – declaring we could decide later whether it would be a short vacation or long-term undertaking. Now, here it is, just an evening away. Our stuff stored away, bags tightly packed, tomorrow night we get on the plane and embark on an entirely different way of life, a way of tapas and romance languages and continent-jumping and public transportation systems that work.

I am not unafraid, but I am undeterred. I’m not without concerns, but I am filled with curiosity. Not just about the places we haven’t yet seen, but about how I will be someplace else, who I will be someplace else.

I find one never truly knows until she gets where she is going.

So, for those who are curious, or might be in any of the following places, here is the current itinerary of what a friend has dubbed SAREA (Shawna and Riley’s Excellent Adventure) with approximate landing times:

Oslo
Paris
Seville (landing June 13th & leaving at the end of August)
Bodrum, Turkey (landing early September, leaving late October)
Cappadocia
Istanbul
Madaba, Jordan (near Amman)(November)
Petra
Aqaba
Bucharest, Romania
Sofia, Bulgaria
Belfast (Early December)
London
Paris
Prague
Vienna
Rome
Madrid
La Manga Strip (landing late-December)

The crazy December is to see as many cities at Christmas/Christmas markets as possible, and currently we are planned/booked through January 22, 2015.

Last night in the U.S. for more than seven months is also the last night in New York for more than seven months. Guess I’ll have to drown that thought in Cava.

And away we go.

The Guy Who Intentionally Had a Period

I read this story sitting in a New York hotel room back in March, and meant to share it then, but I kept putting it off until it finally got lost in browser Neverland. The other day, I remembered it and found it again, and, finally, I get to share it.

There is something exceptionally brave in doing an ordinary thing that is taboo in one’s culture.

There is something extraordinarily compassionate about putting a world of effort into solving a problem that doesn’t, and can never possibly, have a direct impact on one’s self.

There is something deeply romantic about a gift that doesn’t say, “I spent a fortune so you could wear this and the world can see how much I spoil you,” but says instead, “Let’s do whatever it takes to find a way to make sure you are healthy. It doesn’t matter what the world thinks.”

There is something inspiring about anyone who keeps going, even when everyone turns against him, and betters people’s lives for it.

That’s this story -

The Indian Sanitary Pad Revolutionary

 

Club Storyville, The Playlist

I realized I forgot to post my playlist for Club Storyville, and such an enjoyable playlist it is, ‘twould be a shame not to share it.

Lots of blending of new and old.

1 – Stormy Weather, Lena Horne
2 – You, Jennifer Love Hewitt
3 – Fever – Peggy Lee
4 – Someone Like You, Linda Eder
5 – Blues in the Night, Woody Herman
6 – Today I Sing the Blues, Aretha Franklin
7 – Body and Soul, Billie Holiday
8 – Insensitive, Jann Arden
9 – Crazy for You, Madonna
10 – You Always Hurt the One You Love, Connie Francis
11 – The Glory of Love, Bette Midler
12 – Say Something, A Great Big World w/ Christina Aguilera
13 – Thinking Over, Dana Glover
14 – Come Down to Me, Saving Jane
15 – La Vie En Rose, Cyndi Lauper
16 – You Are Not Alone, Mavis Staples
17 – Lullaby, Dixie Chicks

Frozen is Coming to Once Upon a Time! And it’s totally not okay.

Last week, after the airing of Once Upon a Time’s “Kansas,” I started my usual drill – put on the ole subtext goggles, re-watch, dissect, sigh at such wasted potential. As I started noting my thoughts – like how ridiculous it was that Regina was being tossed around again, or how Emma lost her magic because she was forced to put her lips to Hook’s when, if she had just used her magic on Zelena right then and there, it would have stopped Hook from drowning, Rumpel would have been freed, and everyone would have been spared Zelena’s uncontested walk-through of the hospital, or how Regina required a pep talk to face her sister again, though she was the only hope, and actually uttered the words “I don’t think I can survive round three with my sister,” when she knew the price was Henry – it occurred to me, as it has many times throughout this season, that watching this show has become a chore, and writing about it has become something I dread.

How sad.

The Writing Was on the Wall

To be fair, I cannot say I was snookered by the early premise, or promise, of this show. In fact, I spent the first few episodes wondering why I was watching it at all, because it was just jumping along, introducing secondary characters who were uninteresting, and, as it has turned out, completely pointless.

Then, the subtext commenced, not just with a Still Small Voice, but with an echoing shout, and, though off and on, it only grew from there, showing the story of two women growing closer together, and I was caught in the web of that hatred-turns-to-love potential, that rare female-female interaction of any variety, and, yes, although I knew from the get-go it would never happen, of that ridiculous, childlike hope of a happy ending that looked like my own experience.

The reality is that Once is, and has always been, a weak show with occasional bright moments and one consistent bright spot. So, I continued to consume.

It was like eating the entire sloppy enchilada just for a taste of the barely-detectable onions.

The Gay Slight

For those who have spent their entire lives with stories that reflected their own, or that they could dream of as their own, being told again and again for mass-consumption, it is difficult to grasp the longing for characters with whom one can truly identify. So, I cannot blame those young ‘shippers when they repeatedly ask the same question about a beautiful relationship between two women that appears in fiction –

Will this ever happen?

99.9% of the time, the answer is no, but still we cling to that 0.1% with all the enjoyment of popular culture we can maintain in a mainstream world that so often fails to recognize us. Even in their own characters.

There is hope, though, and there is delusion. For those who watch Once and enjoy SwanQueen for what it is, more power to your popcorn. For those who watch believing there is a real chance you are going to see what you want in the end, I strongly believe you’re only prolonging your disappointment. As much as I am on your side, as much as I would love to see an intricately told story of a love that grows between two women, as much as I too have seen it in the writing and wonder what in the hell Regina and Emma are supposed to be to each other if they are not everything to each other, I also feel it is not our decision to make. Creators hold the rights to the endings of their stories, and it is wrong to think otherwise.

And, though I find the love that is supposed to be between some of these other pairings weak and forced, I know many viewers do not. They have goggles of their own, and those goggles see Regina and Robin Hood as having formed a bond so romantic and intense over the course of a few interactions that they believe Regina truly wronged by the loss of her new love.

Those goggles are in far more ample supply than our collective subtext goggles, I’m afraid, so, when it comes to throwing a man and woman together for the sake of a storyline, well-developed or not, the majority of the viewership is always going to be behind it.

My problem, as a gay viewer, is not with SwanQueen and all that wasted potential. It is not with what the Once creative team will never do, but with what they chose to do.

In response to the press from some vocal SwanQueen fans, they responded that they wanted to be inclusive, but wanted it to be organic, to fit the story.

It, quite honestly, could have been.

By the time this was said, Once had already introduced Mulan and Aurora, and, while, as I have already stated, Mulan was my last choice for a gay character, the relationship that had been built between Mulan and Aurora at least had substance. It had the potential to be worthwhile.

Apparently, inclusiveness by Once standards, however, meant sending the gay girl to tell the woman she loved that she loved her, only to be told by the woman she loved that she was expecting a child with the man she loved, and then to have said gay girl walk off never to be seen again.

After this, four distinct groups of viewers emerged:

1 – The ones who were absolutely convinced what they saw wasn’t what they saw, and that Mulan was going to tell Aurora that she too was in love with Phillip, thereby confirming the love triangle for Phillip’s affections they believed had happened once before.

2 – The ones who praised Once for including a gay character. For approximately 15 seconds.

3 – The tiny one, of which, at times, it felt I was the sole member, who would have preferred not to be included at all, if inclusion meant being the sad girl in love with the straight princess and then sent to the sidelines to suffer.

4 – The ones who thought Mulan’s affections for Aurora were entirely out of the blue, and that it only happened because those awful gays had demanded to be included in a family show and the creators did it to shut the loud ones up.

While Mulan’s love for Aurora wasn’t at all out of the blue, as for the intention of the creators, I hate to say it, but I think I have to agree with the bigots.

A Story Without an Ending

A lot can be forgiven of an epic story with a slow build to a well-executed climax.

Little can be forgiven of a story that meanders, that hasn’t a clue where it intends to go, and that lies to itself about how it is getting there.

Because, while I agree wholeheartedly with people who say to stop arguing with creators on social networks, when they say that a TV show, or a book series, should be crafted as the story demands and in accordance with the creators’ intentions, not the viewers’ or readers’, I am starting to feel that Once Upon a Time is crafted by exactly what the viewers want to see.

Or what Disney does.

Two scenes into the two-hour finale, there were two references to Disney properties. And those were only the first two. Then, they dropped all pretense and went straight for Disney’s hottest current property. Which means, in the middle of the season, the creators and writers of Once still had no idea where the story was going to go.

That, and lifting from a hot property in the hopes of bringing up paltry ratings for such an expensive show, is simply inexcusable from a creative standpoint.

So, for those going forward into season four, I wish you the most pleasant ride it can possibly be. As for me, I declare three seasons enough time to devote to a show that has finally stopped pretending it isn’t the world’s longest infomercial.

Subtext Recap: Once Upon a Time 3.19 – A Curious Thing

Call me an unabashed lesbian, but does anyone else notice how, when there are multiple people filling a scene, Emma, Regina, Henry and even the Charmings look like a straight-up family, while everyone else kind of just look like bystanders?

So, realizing how much Emma, Regina and Henry are going to, once again, look like an adorable little family unit by episode’s end, A Curious Thing commenced with completely non-sexual-utterly-innocent-and-beautiful-loving-nurturing-good-by-nature heterosexual affection so they could show just how happy it makes Regina.

Just to be clear, again, this is in no way a complaint about hetero love. I like Rumpel and Belle. Hell, sometimes I even like Snow and Charming. I do not, however, hold with totally forced, weakly-written, uncharacteristic relationships for the sole purpose of having “romantic” relationships on the show. I put romantic in quotes, because, while there have been some truly nice moments between Snow and Charming and Rumpel and Belle, Emma and Regina have been done no favors with any of their love interests.

Let’s see, Neal left Emma to prison because it was the right thing to do. Fair enough.

Upon finding out about the curse being broken, he still stayed away, stayed with his fiancee, and, once she was outed as a psycho, pretty much just decided Emma and Henry was his family and he would have them back. And while Emma was resistant, Mama Snow decided Emma had to give Neal a chance.

Then, there was Hook, who double-crossed Emma, expected payment for his “heroism,” came through the door of Emma’s apartment and kissed her with full knowledge she didn’t know who he was, started hitting on her again the second Neal’s body was in the ground, and watched her from across the street. I know I already mentioned this, but it was f’in’ creepy, so bears repeating.

How about when the Mad Hatter held Emma hostage, and a whole fan group arose for their pairing, thinking Emma and her captor would make a great couple just because the dude was hot?

I swear, this show often feels like there should be a PSA at the end of each episode for impressionable young women. ‘This is not the kind of relationship you should have. If this is the kind of relationship you have, get away if you are not tied up and call for help.’

I mean, by all standards, Robin Hood is actually a nice change of pace as a love interest, because he hasn’t done anything overtly creepy, possessive, or otherwise disturbing.

However, other than dropping the phrase “soul mates” into the mix, and the painfully forced scenario of Robin Hood keeping Regina’s heart, there has really been nothing resembling romance in the Regina-Robin Hood dynamic either.

Oh yes, and this is a great place to drop in the reminder that this entire Regina-Robin relationship has taken place while Regina’s heart is outside of her body, in the clutches of her evil sister.

NOT romantic.

Also, this episode was pivotal in reminding us all of the fact that the Once team sometimes just stops trying.

The book? Really? And not just the book itself, because, drawn out over a couple of episodes, I could have almost bought that. But the book just appears when needed? That is so lazy.

They had so many options here:

Henry could have stumbled upon the book on his own and started thinking the fairy tales were real again before he knew for sure, and thought he was going crazy until the curse broke.

They could have rebuilt his old castle, or a makeshift copy of it, and someone could have gotten him to play and start pretending and believing in the make-believe and he could have started to remember.

So many unique things that could have been done, and again with the repetition. That is what I have a hard time forgiving with this show. They so often take the easy path when it has such potential.

Now that I’m done complaining, but, honestly, this episode warranted complaint, I did appreciate how Emma and Regina looked like a bickering married couple during this exchange.

Emma: That’s not necessarily a gift. He’s been through some tough stuff.

Regina: And some good stuff.

I appreciated less that murder only counts sometimes, and that Snow White’s blackened heart has clearly healed, since Snow White is pure enough to walk through a door that keeps Regina out.

Also, since Zelena is turning people into flying monkeys, and we are reminded of this with Phillip and Aurora in this very episode, how many Storybrooke residents did our band of heroes just off?

Anyway, Henry remembers, Emma looks to Regina, Regina encourages Emma to break the curse, and Emma leans in to kiss Henry on the forehead with Regina right behind him. Now, see the missed opportunity here? This could have been everything. I mean, given the feel of the scene, Emma falling onto Regina’s lips would have been slightly uncomfortable. But as much as this crew likes to keep the fans of all potential ‘ships hanging on, would it have killed them to have Emma stumble into Regina and them turn toward Zelena holding onto each other? It would even have made sense. Physics, momentum.

It’s not like they would have had to follow through with it. Just ask Warehouse 13.

Also, could they please stop sidelining Regina with simple moves? She’s the evil fucking queen. She rips people’s hearts out, she crushes them, she killed her own father. So, could we please stop flinging her aside with the wave of someone’s hand?

So, Emma instinctively magics Zelena away from Henry, and, when the witch is gone, Henry gets Regina to wake up, and she breaks the curse by kissing him on the forehead exactly the same way Emma did at the end of season one. Which isn’t at all surprising, though a new idea injected somewhere in here would have certainly come as surprise.

Zelena’s weakness is light magic, that’s the take away. Which is why Emma is the only one who can defeat her. Though, I suspect Regina will find her light side.

Now, the moment of truth.

I was actually benefit-of-the-doubting Once on this whole Robin Hood thing. Since Regina has been so ridiculously out of character with him, to the point of trusting him with her heart, I thought there MUST be a reason. What we were going to discover, I was certain, in those missing-year flashbacks, was that Regina fell in love with Robin Hood, and, though she couldn’t remember that, it was why she felt such an undeniable pull toward him once back in Storybrooke.

Once answered my belief with a resounding, “Wow, we hated each other back in the Enchanted Forest, no?”

“You’re just so much more likable here.”

Hey, the book can just appear!

Hey, we’re just soul mates!

Hey, soul mates do not spend a year together doing nothing but disliking each other! If they do, they’re not soul mates.

Subtext Recap: Once Upon a Time 3.18 – Bleeding Through

Wow, what an interesting title for something fairy tale-themed. Why does it sound so familiar?

Well, since that’s a mystery I shall never solve, I guess on with it.

So, as always, I Hulu-ed this episode to go back through scene by scene, so I could analyze for hidden subtext and watch Lana Parrilla’s hair sway. As I was doing thus, I realized I only had a few important takeaways.

One, if giving someone one’s heart to keep safe is a metaphor, so is someone giving up one’s heart when threatened, no matter what that threat may be.

Two, now that Regina is apologizing to people other than Emma, accepting that there is some justice in Snow killing her mother, and protecting Snow with a vengeance (and a totes soccer-mom belly-protection move), there is simply no reasonable way for Regina to go bad again. Since they have passed the syndication line, and should now make more money by moving forward with the show, regardless of budget or ratings, for another two seasons, I do hope the creators are aware of this.

Three, THIS IS NOT A DRILL. I repeat, THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

Emma and Regina are holding hands.

Emma and Regina are holding hands.

And Regina gets so worked up by that tiny touch, she has to go work off her romantic frustrations elsewhere. It’s all right. It’s good she get in a little practice before the real thing.