Friday, February 28, 2014


Sunday night all of us with a love for the big screen—film buffs, movie fans, fangirls- and-boys—will be somewhere in front of a smaller screen to watch the 86th Annual Academy Awards presentation from Hollywood.  Some of us will be in our jammies, with bowls of popcorn in our laps.  Some of us will be among friends dressed in our best at theme parties thrown for the occasion.  Some of us will have bets riding on the outcome of the Best Actor or Best Picture contests.  Some of us will be watching just to hear Ellen DeGeneres dog the celebrities or to see what Jennifer Lawrence is wearing.

I love the Oscars—the excitement, the glamour, the unexpected moments (Best Foreign Language Picture winner Roberto Benigni climbing on the seats!). And I make a point of seeing a lot of the movies that are nominated.  I’ll be rooting for Alphonso Cuaron, Sandra Bullock and GRAVITY to each take home the little gold fella, but a slew of other directors, actors and films will make it hard for them, and that will make it fun.

But you know me.  I’m an Equal Opportunity movie fan.  And you can bet your last bucket of popcorn that the most recent movie I saw in a theater will NEVER be nominated for an Oscar.  Nevertheless, POMPEII was a lot of guilty fun, and well worth the extra coin I had to pay for the full 3D experience.

Now I admit POMPEII is not a science fiction film.  Sorry.  I’m going to review it anyway, for two reasons.  One, I LUURRVVE me some disaster films.  The more complete the destruction (2012, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW), the better.  (Of course those films also had some element of scientific theory or futuristic speculation, feeble as it was—in the case of 2012, especially).  But I’ll settle for a good, ole local disaster, too (VOLCANO, EARTHQUAKE!).  And, in some respects, nothing beats an historical disaster (TITANIC).  We know how it’s going to end, but we just can’t help getting caught up in all that human drama.

Pompeii today, with Vesuvius in the background.
Secondly, I have a personal connection to Pompeii.  In 2000, I visited the ruins of the tragic city destroyed by the volcano Mount Vesuvius.  The streets and many of the buildings have been painstakingly unearthed, and it is remarkable how much of the layout of the town can still be discerned.  In the ruins of the villas, archaeologists have restored the original wall paint and murals.  Then, of course, there are the heartbreaking figures of the people caught in the very last seconds of life by the speed of the pyroclastic flow from the volcano and covered in ash, frozen forever in time to be discovered centuries later.

The second best part of POMPEII is the recreation of the city as it existed before Vesuvius destroyed it.  My imagination had already rebuilt this thriving city with a teeming market and streets lined with houses, according to the plan that was still clear from the ruins.  But director Paul W.S. Anderson (RESIDENT EVIL, ALIEN VS. PREDATOR) and his CGI crew present a fully recreated Pompeii of A.D. 79, right down to the gladiatorial stadium, which was, we’re told, the second largest in the Empire after Rome’s.  Over all of the city looms the mountain, steaming and smoking from the first frame, a presence all feel, but largely ignore as a fact of life in that region, something like California’s earthquakes or Florida’s hurricanes.

Vesuvius, by the way, is still an active volcano, one of the most dangerous in that hemisphere, according to the experts, because of its proximity to heavily populated Naples and the Capri coast.  But its size is much reduced, at least from the one in Anderson’s vision.  In the film, the mountain dominates each frame, and those of us who know the outcome can’t help but shudder.

That’s the key to a “good” disaster picture, of course.  Those of us safe in our seats in the audience know something horrible is going to happen.  The filmmaker gives us the hints—why-oh-why don’t the characters see that the boiling lake and collapsing earth and earthquakes and sinister sifting sand in the roof of the arena are telling them to GET THE HELL OUT?  (You have to give one villainous character credit in POMPEII for being the first to catch on.  He sees the signs and calls for his litter and slaves to carry him to the dock to catch a ship to safety, well before anything has really started.  But by the time he gets there and gets on board, time has run out.  Vesuvius catches him far out into the harbor.  Just deserts.)

Anderson does a bang-up job of giving us what we came for in the final third of the film, as the mountain erupts and buildings collapse or explode when hit by flaming boulders thrown from the caldera.  People panic and run screaming in all directions.  The requisite child is almost trampled, but saved by one of the heroes.  Heroes and villains fight to the death in the middle of spectacular destruction.  Ash flies into our faces (this is 3D, remember!).  Flaming rocks fly into our faces (3D!).  The water in the harbor eerily retreats, then roars back in a tsunami that consumes hundreds seeking salvation at the docks.  An entire villa slides into the ocean.  It is an orgy of destruction.

Don’t look for acting of any great caliber in the midst of all this CGI glory.  Keifer Sutherland, as a Roman senator with designs on the heroine, has fun with his role as Snidely Whiplash in a tunic and breastplate.  Carrie-Anne Moss and Jared Harris, as the heroine’s parents, do their best with what they’re given, lending some dignity to the proceedings. Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje does what he always does, which is to play the ferocious, great-hearted fighter.  But Kit Harrington and Emily Browning as the hero and heroine generate about as much interest and heat as a day-old pizza.  I was more concerned about the horse carrying them in their desperate escape attempt than with the two of them.

Still, POMPEII is a wonderful guilty pleasure.  Too bad there isn’t a separate awards ceremony just for movies we know are bad, but love anyway.


Thanks to everyone who commented on last week’s post (When I Stop Reading—And Why).  Seems I’m not the only one who gives up in the middle of a book these days.  Most of us just don’t have the time to waste on something that’s not up to standard.
And, Laurie, I agree with you 100 percent on all your reasons for picking up and sticking with a book (Why I Start Reading—and Why I Stick With It). I depend on the blurb and the cover to sell me almost all the time. (The rest of the time, I depend on word of mouth.)  Pippa says she likes writing blurbs—she’s probably the only writer I know who says that!   Most of us hate it, but it’s important to get it right, for all the reasons Laurie mentions.
Cheers, Donna

Monday, February 24, 2014

Why I Start Reading--And Why I Stick With It

I'd like to compliment Donna on her excellent article from Friday, WHEN I STOP READING--AND WHY and thank her for the inspiration for my blog today. Donna presented a detailed summary of why a reader might toss a book into the DNF pile. I can relate. My DNF pile is growing too. Someday it might even rival my infamous Leaning Tower of TBR(R). Though, "Tower" is a figurative word when one loves to feed her Kindle with more books than she'll ever read in a lifetime.

And there lies my point. Too many books, too little time. If I can't buy into it, I can't finish it. There are too many other stories out there calling my name. There are key elements I need in a book to avoid having it fall into that category--Books Not Read in a Lifetime.

Donna's list of reasons why she stopped reading covered most of my bases, so now I'd like to offer my take of why I start reading a book...and why I keep reading. What hooks me? What intrigues me? And more than that, what keeps me enthusiastically driving on to those very last words...The End.

But most of all, what will make me say "Wow! What a ride!" when I'm done? (And go on to pound out a glowing review.)

1) The blurb has to grab me and drag me in.

The blurb is a first glimpse of the story, so it has to be concise, clear, and with the central conflict/dilemma revealed in words with "color and vibe"--the author's own voice shining through. The blurb has to convince me beyond a shadow of a doubt that this book is different, better, more amazing than a million other books I'm being offered. It has to connect with me at a deep emotional level. In just a few cleverly-crafted words, it has to reveal its heart and soul and give me a glimpse of the universe it will unfold before me. The blurb must be breathtaking, compelling and brilliant. In a vast sea of books, that's what it takes to get noticed. No hook, no fishy.

2) The first three chapters can't be a yawn fest.

Okay, I'm on the hook. I don't want to be left dangling. The story has to cut to the chase very soon. I need to be transported into the heat of the action and conflict. It has to get my adrenaline pumping and/or my mind asking questions, right from the start. I have to be involved. Immersed! Oh, and info dump? Never a good thing. I want a story that weaves and braids the history into the plot. That reveals bits of the backstory and how and why it relates to the present conflict as the story unfolds. I don't want a backstory dump truck at the beginning of the tale that buries me under a mountain of information. I don't want to slog through the mire, I want to be shot out of a cannon. I want to discover the past like an archaeologist feverishly sweeping away grains of sand until I have enough fossil bits to reveal the entire beast. Discovery is exciting!

3) It has to stay real.

In order to continue to buy into a story, I have to believe everything I'm reading is really happening. This is sometimes called "suspension of disbelief" but it's really more than that. It's delivering plausibility. This goes double for SF/R. Spacecraft don't bank in a vacuum, planets don't explode because of increased volcanic activity and a galaxy is not a solar system. Law enforcement or military characters should never point their weapons in the air while peeking around a corner looking for the bad guy. That's called a Sabrina (think Charlie's Angels). A real officer would carry their weapon at low ready. Basic errors can lose me in a heartbeat. Movies and televisions do not make good research material, because directors and producers are more worried about shot angles and creating drama on the screen than realism. Books can do it much better. This also goes for characters who do things that brand them TSTL (Too Stupid To Live). Their choices and decisions must be believable and reasonable, not just convenient for the plot.

4) Cliffhangers, baby! 

So I've been hooked and reeled in, but now the story needs to completely capture me. I want the stakes to keep getting upped. I want to see the characters do things they swore they'd never do, and I want to understand the reasons they must do these things. I want the situation to go from terrible to catastrophic, and I want to see the characters use smarts, know-how, sheer tenacity and trust to survive--physically or emotionally--only to face something even worse. I want reasons--lots of them--to keep turning the pages. I want to feel the characters' strengths, weakness and fears. I want into their souls to sense their heartbreak and understand their actions completely. I need high motivation to keep turning those pages.

5) Take those characters right off the ledge

I'm getting near the end of the book and I've been on the edge of my seat the entire journey. Now, I need a big finish. A grand finale with fireworks and pounding drums. Story, please don't fizzle out on me now! The characters need to charge right off that cliff they've been tap-dancing around for the entire journey...and then find a way to bring themselves back from the brink. They've been growing and learning and taking risks the whole way, now I need their world to come apart at the seams, and I need them to put all that experience to good use and find a way to not only survive but claw their way into their HEA. They deserve it. And I've been right there with them, sharing these trials and tribulations the whole way. I deserve it too!

What are your thoughts? Do you have certain expectations that every book you read--no matter the genre, setting, or tone--must fulfill to keep your attention? What are your "A Great Book Must Haves?"


Friday, February 21, 2014


*sigh* Another 5-page info dump!

I used to be a dream reader for all you authors out there.  When I plunked down $5.99 (or more) for a book I could hold in my hands at a brick-and-mortar bookstore, I considered that a contract with the person who wrote that book.  I made a commitment to give the book a chance.  And, unless the thing was truly dreadful, I read it through to the end.

In this brave new world of e-readers and digital publishing, of self-pubs and small presses and the decline of the bookstore and the book-in-your-hand, I’m not nearly so accommodating.  I may pay $5.99 or $2.99 or $0.99 or nothing for the books I read on Kindle; price is no longer any indication of anything.  But when I set out to read a book now, it had better be good.  I no longer have any tolerance for poorly-written stories.

There used to be gatekeepers in the publishing world.  The gates have been crashed and we readers are being overwhelmed.  By choices, yes.  But in some cases, by not-so-good stuff.  Reviewers do their best to sort it out and identify the good stuff, but we all know there are also trolls out there who like to spread the hate.  Tags help, but they are limited in scope, particularly when it comes to SFR.  Book clubs, websites, word-of-mouth?  Yes.  More, please.

So in an effort to stem the flood, let me just put up a few of my own levees.  I’m not an agent or an editor; I’m a reader who has been forced to act like one.  But for any of you newbie writers who might be wondering, there are reasons why readers stop reading in the middle of a book and hit Delete.  Here are a few of mine:

--I’ve been reading a fair amount of SFR lately, and the Number One killer of SFR stories, like their SF counterparts, is backstory, oodles of it, in info dumps of epic proportions in the beginning of the book.  This passes for “worldbuilding”.  Stop.  Let me discover the world your characters inhabit, little by little, not all at once.  Show me, don’t tell me.  And, by the way, the omniscient third POV was last used to good effect by Charles Dickens.  Or maybe Somerset Maugham.  You can’t talk about this character and that character on board a ship as if you are God introducing them to the reader.  Do it for yourself and keep it in your Notes file.  Leave it there.

--Whose story is it?  Pick a point of view and stay with it, at least for a scene at a time.  No shifting from the hero’s POV to the heroine’s in the same scene!  This is called “head-hopping”, and it drives me crazy.  If you shift POV, mark it with an ellipsis or an extra space between lines.

--And speaking of the hero and heroine, make them lively and likeable.  If they are flat, unbelievable, irredeemable or unmotivated by anything I can discern, then I won’t care what happens to them.  Then, make sure they meet within a reasonable length of time.   If this is a romance, your hero and heroine can’t spend half the book wandering around looking for each other.

--Pick up the pace.  Now, there are novels where a languid pace and dense prose are appropriate.  But unless you are Tolstoy or Proust, you probably want your readers turning pages a little quicker.  I recently gave up on a planet-based SFR adventure that bogged down hopelessly in the middle chapters.  Not only was the external plot going nowhere, the romantic arc was lost in a vague triangle with not much sizzle.  This book was part of a series.  I suspect the author plans to resolve all these issues in future books.  I’ll never know.

--A good story takes time (length) to develop.  Few of us are good enough at what we do to develop character, plot, setting, a believable SF world and a satisfying romance within the scope of 25,000-40,000 words.  Short stories and novellas take a special kind of writing; they are not just sketches of a longer novel with key pieces missing.  This is one of the most frustrating developments of the digital age.  You would think that with minimal production costs, length would be no object.  Instead, e-books are often much shorter than hard copies, and too many of them short-change the reader on depth.

--Spellcheck does not an editor make.  Your computer’s grammarian may suggest changes that are inappropriate for your style.  Equip yourself with a good set of dictionaries and grammar references and use them.  Then latch onto a good editor as if your life depended on it.  This may be one of your beta readers with professional experience, a pro that you pay for (if you are self-pubbed), or, if you are extraordinarily lucky, your editor at the publishing house that buys your manuscript who just happens to have time to edit your work.  In this day and age editors rarely have time to really edit manuscripts in detail.  Much of that is up to the author.  I still see way too many published novels with grammatical mistakes and diction errors that Spellcheck will not catch (“rein” in a horse; “reign” of a king, for example).

Some readers (and writers!) will argue that some of these things don’t matter, that it’s the story that counts.  I would counter that all of these things combine to make the story.  Without character, POV, pace, proper use of backstory and good use of language, there is no story, there is only an idea.  Lots of us have ideas—wonderful, creative ideas.  Very few of us are writers.  Readers can recognize the difference.

Laurie, you found some great things on the News Feed!  I particularly loved the “Five Things That Cost More than Space Exploration”.  We seem to have such skewed priorities in this world!  I missed ABOUT TIME.  Guess I’ll have to catch it on Netflix.  STARCROSSED has already been panned by reviewers as being dull as deck plating, but I’ll watch Colin Farrell in anything, even if it’s called THE LOBSTER. :-)

Pippa, this business has more ups and downs than the Dow Jones, and takes as much resilience, I think, as acting.  So, Keep Calm and Carry On, as the saying goes on your side of the pond.

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Highs And Lows

Darn, but my week has been a mixed bag! And I can see from my fellow crewmates in the Lounge that the winter blues are taking their toll. I'm going to shovel my bad news out the way first so I can finish on a glimmer of hope much like the first sniff of spring, lol.

So I start with rejections. Four in fact. Well, three and a bit. My decopunk Darkfall got a rejection from Carina Press, the very same day my sfr novella Tethered got a request as part of their Twitter pitch event...and which then got rejected yesterday. The benefit of the event was not only a speedy assessment but some feedback too, so at least I got a quick response and a reason why I didn't make the standard. My VA series sfr novella got mixed comments from my editor, so not a rejection per se, but not a hit either. I'd felt something was off with it, which was why I asked her to read it, and although I'm not currently sure one of the two main issues is fixable, at least it wasn't a total thumbs down. Then my short story to Women Destroy SF got rejected (BTW that arrived within half an hour of another rejection, which was a bit sucky. But I can handle it. *sniffle*).

So on the whole, the having five submissions out thing hasn't done my moral a whole lot of good. :P

On the plus side, I happened to spot an editor on the look out for particular genres for her publisher on Twitter, and made a submission to her (this is why it's so important to stalk...I mean follow such professionals on social media. You get to spot special requests and events). So I have something with her, plus my supernatural story still out. My paranormal short story got the thumbs up from my editor, and will shortly be going into edits. I'm debating self publishing the cyberpunk short rejected by WDSF. And having taken part in the Tender Love critique event last week, I got two requests on those manuscripts. See? It's not all doom and gloom!

Plus I'm in the midst of an exciting week on my own blog. I had SF author SA Check visiting me Monday with his SF mystery adventure Welcome to GreenGrass. On Tuesday, the awesome Dan Wells stopped by to talk about the weather. Honestly, that's not because I'm a Brit - there's an interesting reason behind the discussion that authors might find worth reading. Today I have a cover reveal for YA supernatural romance Fatal by TA Brock, and Friday is Shona Husk with her tentacular SciFi romance Lunar Reunion. Pop over and say hi HERE!

Ping Pong
Laurie and Donna - I hope the outlook is brighter for you both very soon. Spring is coming!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

February Doldrums

My blog this week is collection of random thoughts and images. Much like Donna's visual commentary on February, yeah, I'm so there.

But, there are always interesting things to share, even if my muse is on hiatus.

Like this: The 2104 Winter Olympics...FROM SPAAAAAACE! Photo releases courtesy of NASA in the International Business Times.

Or this review on "About Time," touted as a Sci-Fi (Time Travel) Romance, now available on Blu-ray. Hey! Did we miss this one? From the writer-director of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Notting Hill," this one looks promising, although the technology aspects look suspiciously absent in the trailer.

And then there's this: An interview about a "Science Fiction-Romance mashup" called "Star-Crossed" (explained as if SFR is a totally new concept, you understand).

And yet another article about a coming SFR, "The Lobster" starring Colin Farrel and Rachel Weisz.

Do you get the feeling it's going to be a very good year for SFR on the big screen?

Want to read something truly eye-opening? Check out this article on Five Things that Cost More than Space Exploration." They DO make some very pointed points! Think about it.

Set to debut on February 26th is this Full-Size Space Shuttle Exhibit at the Ohio Air Force Museum built around NASA's first Crew Compartment Training. I may need to make a trip up to Dayton to check this out.

Did you know there's a huge asteroid set to fly by Earth today...and you can watch it live? No foolin'!

Is truth stranger than Science Fiction? Yes, says Lawrence Krauss, a professor at the Arizona State University on

So are you wondering how that whole "Women Destroy Sci-Fi" Kickstarter thing work out for Lightspeed Magazine? Would "beyond their wildest dreams" be an apt description? Read the follow-up courtesy of io9.

Want to meet the Largest Known Galaxy in the Universe? Say hello to IC 1101.

This YouTube video also gives great insight into the physics of the universe.

And here's a YouTube video put together to honor the 45th Anniversary of Earth Rise (the iconic photo taken from the Moon) and how it all came about.

All of these articles and videos were gleaned from spending a few minutes on the Spacefreighters Lounge NEWS SCAN and THE LATEST FEED news bars near the bottom of the blog. Did you find anything that inspired you?

Have a great week!


Friday, February 14, 2014






Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Breaking the Habit

Last year I achieved a total of 100K words. I would have loved that to have been one novel. It wasn't. I had a batch of novellas and shorts stories, written from scratch or finished off from the previous year. That's okay. Right now, I want to have several things out to increase my visibility. I plan to go back to writing novels next year.

But one of the longest projects from last year is also the freakiest. Freaky because it's a genre I'd never written and rarely read, with a paranormal creature I said I'd never write, and written in first person POV which in general I dislike reading. (The moral of this story is never say never, BTW). As if that wasn't enough reason for a meltdown, it also has a request on it from a publisher.

But aside from all that, the thing that bothers me most is the time scale. Now, I would love to write and publish more than I currently do. I try. But it never works out. Generally it takes me a year to eighteen months from the moment I put down the first words until I consider the work ready for submission (short stories being the exception - that's usually three months tops). The recent freaky WIP was written as part of NaNoWriMo, though that finished with the story at around 36K. As of last Friday, it's 46K. But because it had a request on it, rather than setting it aside once the original draft was complete and coming back to it, I've pushed ahead nonstop. Apart from working on a couple of short stories and finishing off an older project, I've been revising, editing, researching and rewriting this since November. That isn't how I normally work. And once I got close to submission, I freaked out. Because even though I've probably put as much, if not more effort and hours into this, it still feels I haven't spent enough time and love on it compared to all the others. Submitting a novella after just three months?! Inconceivable! Lol.

I *could* have spent another month on it. I'm not convinced that it would have been any more ready. On Friday I hit send, just three and a bit months after starting the story in November. The problem is I feel like I've now set myself a precedent. If I can produce one 46K novella in three months, then I should be able to do four a year. Or two 90K novels. I'd love to do that. However, with other things that are currently going on behind the scenes, I can't commit to that. Not this year. And it feels like I've done NaNoWriMo all over again by working solidly and intensely on the same piece all this time. I'm exhausted! Hence the lack of blogging (sorry!)
So now the freaky story has gone, I feel relieved instead of the usual anxiety over submissions. It's been such an obsession over the past few weeks to hone this story and have it right and out that now it's like I've been released, lol.

Have you ever had a project that was totally out of your comfort zone? One that made you question your sanity?

Pippa's Journal

Gethyon was accorded Most Awesome Psychic Talent in the recent SFR Galaxy Awards! Woot! With Keir winning Best May to September Romance last year, I'm proud to call myself a double SFR Galaxy Award winner. :) To check out the other awesome winners, please visit the awards site HERE.

 Also this month I have set a new record for myself. I currently have four different pieces out on submission. FOUR! I've had the same piece subbed out to two or three different places before, but never different works. Admittedly one is a novella to my editor for her professional opinion on whether it's worthy to self publish, but still. That's just as nerve-wracking. I also have two shorts scheduled for self publishing in October and November. The PNR is with my editor, while the SFR is due for completion this month alongside another I plan to release next year. Potentially I could have six pieces out over the next year. That's pretty mind-blowing. Of course, most of those I have no control over. Watch this space! (Update - actually, I got a rejection yesterday. But within a few hours I'd had a request on something else, so I am STILL on four submissions. Publishing is just crazy!).

Keir is still currently unavailable as I wait for the new contract from Kensington, but you still have until the 14th February to enter the giveaways for either a now rare print edition or my one remaining digital version HERE. There's also an ultra-rare print edition of Tales from the SFR Brigade to be won. In fact, right now you could win my entire backlist in one format or another. My YA SciFi Gethyon is part of a huge giveaway sponsored by Champagne Books HERE, and it comes as one of forty titles with a Kindle paperwhite. Plus you have one more day to enter a SciFi romance giveaway run by Lyn Brittan which includes my short story Terms & Conditions Apply HERE.

Breathless Press are running a critique session from the 14th-16th February. Feedback is always helpful, and the freaky story I submitted got a full request as part of a similar event they ran for NaNoWriMo.

The SFR Galaxy Award winners were announced at the end of January, and you can check them all out HERE.

You still have until the 14th February to submit to the special Women Destroy SF edition of Lightspeed Magazine. Go HERE for details. C'mon girls, let's blow them away!

Ping Pong
Bad Boys and Redeemable Heroes. Laurie and Donna, I'm with you. Even the most evil of villains has to have a shot of redemption, even if they prove their villainy by refusing to take it. A non-redeemable hero? No. To me, that's a contradiction. And it does entirely depend on the story and circumstances as to whether I forgive infidelity. I can't explain that without giving away one of my own upcoming plots. I'm anxious to see how people take it because I struggled with it myself. How much are people willing to forgive in a certain situation?

Watching Star Wars Revenge of the Sith made me change my feelings over Darth Vader as a redeemed character. When we only had the original trilogy we knew he was evil, and although I always felt he was a bit slow in leaping to Luke's defence at the end of ROTJ, I felt he'd earned his salvation. However, after knowing he killed younglings in the Jedi temple through the prequels, I now can't forgive him. That was one step too far for me (I still don't buy his reason for turning to the Dark Side anyhow, but that's another discussion).

Friday, February 7, 2014


Redeemable?  Or not.

Enough, already, with the moral ambiguity.  I love a good antihero as much as the next gal, but storytelling, particularly on television, has carried this trope much too far.

Laurie asked in her last post whether we can accept infidelity in our heroes and heroines once they meet in our romances.  Is it still a romance when one or the other of the pair we’re writing to a happy-ever-after ending is unable to avoid the temptation of sex with another?  (I’d answer no, but I’m old school.)

A broader question arises when the lead character in a drama engages not only in extra-relational sex that may be hurtful to his regular partner, but also murder, mayhem, theft, extortion, lying, cheating, torture, kidnapping, drug-running, gun-running, prostitution, black magic, soul-selling, espionage for a foreign power or ripping the throats out of people to get at their blood.  Granted, all this bad behavior can be fascinating, but are we supposed to like these people?

Lest you think I’m basing my argument on one or two shows, here is a short list of the shows I watch that lead me to comment this week:  DRACULA, THE VIKINGS, THE AMERICANS, THE BLACKLIST, AMERICAN HORROR STORY (third season), SONS OF ANARCHY, BATES MOTEL, HELL ON WHEELS (though it remains to be seen which way  its hero might ultimately go).  Even HAWAII FIVE-O, whose Steve McGarrett is generally brave and true, has its moments.  Steve is the worst partner ever, never letting Danny drive his own car or offer a real opinion. And don’t get me started about his relationship with his girlfriend. 

It’s tempting to blame all this moral shift on cable television and the wild success of shows like HBO’s THE SOPRANOS and AMC’s BREAKING BAD.  Watching those episodes every week was like watching a train wreck—horrible, terrifying, and strangely addictive.  You couldn’t look away, even though you knew it was going to be bad, very bad.  Tony Soprano was not a nice guy.  He was not a good man, underneath it all.  And in the end, there was no redemption for him.

Therein lies the real problem.  You could say I am the one to blame since I choose to watch these shows, and, clearly, the “hero” of DRACULA or BATES MOTEL is not going to be a good guy.  But I might be forgiven for thinking the premise of the vampire show—the original blood fiend is in London to wreak revenge on an ancient vamp-hunting cult for the death of his beloved wife and his own creation—and its cool, steampunk vibe might offer a different take on Vlad the Impaler.  Not so.  He started out complex, but he’s devolved into a raving bloodsucker with few redeeming qualities. And, of course, we all know how Norman Bates turned out.

What has happened to the concept of redemption?  It seems the writers and creators of television drama have forgotten that we watch people struggle with decisions of good and evil hoping they’ll choose the right path.  We watch the main characters of series like SONS OF ANARCHY not just because Charlie Hunnam is hot, but because we hope he’ll find a way to steer his family and his motorcycle gang out of its violent past into a more sustainable future.  Instead, we see him slip ever deeper into despair and moral indefensibility.  Whatever we liked about him becomes less and less apparent as redemption slips from his grasp.  It’s as if series creator Kurt Sutter doesn’t believe in redemption.  Or he doesn’t care about it.

The same is true of the gruesome AMERICAN HORROR STORY.  In the first two seasons, series creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Fulchuk provided some kind of path to redemption for characters played by the great Jessica Lange.  In the third season, AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN, Lange’s character, the “Supreme” witch of a New Orleans school for young witches, dies and goes to a custom-made Hell without any hope of redeeming a lifetime of evil.

I suppose we should take heart that some of these characters get what they deserve.  But I have only so much interest in a series built around a complete villain.  If a character is truly irredeemable, she loses much of her complexity and fascination.  That villain may be useful as a foil for a hero, but as an antihero, he leaves much to be desired.  Even worse, if we continue to choose these purely evil characters as the focal points of our storytelling, what does that say about our values?  If we do not care to redeem them, what does that say about our society?

Cheers, Donna