My Medium-Sized Secret: The Monsters of Bear Mountain

I’ve been keeping a secret for about a month now. It’s not a universe-changing secret, like SURPRISE, I came home with a Great Dane puppy or SURPRISE, I ran off to Las Vegas last week and got married.

No, it’s a slightly smaller than that. Maybe more of a medium. That’s what it is: a medium-sized secret.

So what exactly is this medium-sized secret? I sold a short story.

“The Monsters of Bear Mountain” is being published in Franklin/Kerr Press’s post-apocalyptic horror anthology, Down with the Fallen. It’s going to be available as an eBook and as a paperback on November 7th. Pre-orders are now up on Amazon for the eBook, and it’ll eventually be available through Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million as well in eBook and paperback form.

I’m beyond excited. This is an awesome, creepy story that plays on some of my fears for life after the apocalypse.

Just a quick trigger warning: this story contains domestic abuse.

 

 

 

 

On “The Orville”

Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoilers for 
Episode 1 of The Orville.

Image result for the orville tv showThe Orville is billed as an ensemble comedy about the misfit crew of a star-ship. It’s too bad that the first episode was an homage to the “average white dude” trope with bonus (and completely expected) dick jokes.

Seth MacFarlane’s character–Captain Ed Mercer–is the star of the first episode, which is a shame since he’s not compelling or even interesting. He’s an average white guy that gets a job he’s barely qualified for. And the audience is supposed to be rooting for him because this is his last chance to prove himself after his wife cheated on him (which the audience knows happened because it’s literally the first scene in the episode.)

As boring of a character that Ed Mercer is, it could’ve been mitigated if the rest of the Orville’s crew had been allowed to show identities outside their relationship with the captain. The worst offense in the entire episode had to be Kelly Grayson, Ed’s ex-wife.

Kelly Grayson is shoehorned into the role of hated ex-wife that wants to make up to Ed for cheating on him. She’s referred to as a bitch and gossiped about before even meeting the crew; she takes the post of executive officer to better Ed’s standing in his superior’s eyes; she literally lobbied and called-in favors to get Ed command of the Orville.

Now, Kelly does come up with the solution to destroy the Krill ship, and that’s the silver lining to her character. It shows so much potential.

And she’s not the only one with potential. Isaac and Bortus and Alara Kitan and Dr. Claire Finn all showed that they can very well be compelling, engaging characters who may possibly be able to carry an episode on their own if given the chance. Even Ed, as blah as he was, shows at the end of the episode that he might have the potential to grow as a character.

It’s that potential which is going to make me tune-in tonight for the next episode. I might get burned by a show that’s allergic to creating an original story, or I might be pleasantly surprised. I hope Seth MacFarlane has it in him to surprise me.

Don’t Be A Good German

In 2017, the only debate Americans should be having about Nazis and white supremacists is how best to kick their asses. Not about whether or not their hatred is free speech. And we sure as hell shouldn’t have white supremacists in the White House.

But that’s the reality. Evil that’s been too afraid to step into the spotlight since the fall of Nazi Germany has now taken center stage. And it’s past time for those who’ve been on the sidelines to take a fucking stand.

Call out a Nazi. Shut down racist rants. Donate to Jewish and Muslim and women’s and mental health organizations. Demand your senators and representatives do their jobs.

Whatever you do, don’t be a bystander. Don’t be a good German.

Women & the A-team

Image result for The A-teamThe A-team will always hold a special place in my heart. But it was a problematic show, to say the least. The female characters were shoehorned into one of two roles: plot device or love interest. More than once, those two roles were combined. There examples in every other episode, however I have two episodes in mind: “Children of Jamestown” and “Black Day at Bad Rock”. The A-team movie released in 2010 updated a lot of the story but the sexism remained.

“Children of Jamestown”–Season 1, Episode 2
Amy Allen tags along with the A-team as they rescue a young woman from a religious cult. Her presence doesn’t move the plot of the episode along, and the A-team would been just as capable of rescuing the young woman and subsequently taking down the Jamestown cult.

Amy’s role in the plot is to act like a delicate flower and thus enhance the A-team’s masculinity. She twice plays the decoy, praises the A-team’s abilities when they’re building a weapon, and is the foil to the A-team’s strength after they’re sentenced to death.

While Amy might not be a hardened soldier like the A-team, she’s an investigative journalist. She’d have to be pretty brave and capable to be successful in that career. So, yes, it’s unlikely she’s been in life or death experiences, but she’s probably been in some sticky situations before. Yet she turns into a wilting flower the moment things get tough.

“Black Day at Bad Rock”–Season 1, Episode 5
Dr. Maggie Sullivan is a doctor in the small town of Bad Rock when the A-team comes into town. She does three things in the episode: treat BA’s gunshot wound, call the military police on the A-team, and act as Hannibal’s love interest. She’s probably one of the most dynamic female characters in the series.

Dr. Sullivan plays a vital role in the episode by saving BA’s life. She patches him up the best she can and conducts a blood transfusion when a suitable donor arrives. Then she calls the police–albeit, a realistic response to treating a man with a gunshot wound–which is construed as negative since she’s turning in the show’s heroes.

Her actions are reasonable throughout the episode. She’s a strong woman who isn’t intimidated by a trio of dangerous fugitives. So what happens towards the end of the episode? She falls for Hannibal. In the episode’s final scenes, she’s seen in a romantic embrace with Hannibal and even kisses him. It undercuts the strength and capability that she showed earlier in the episode by leaving the audience with an image of her swooning over one of the heroes.

The A-Team (2010)
Captain Charissa Sosa is tasked with capturing the A-team after they escape from prison. She leads a team of soldiers across the globe in pursuit of men that the Army considered so dangerous that they sent all four of them to separate prisons in different parts of the country.

As a captain in the Army’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service, it’s easy to infer that Captain Sosa not only smart but a capable investigator. While she  isn’t a colonel like Colonel Lynch or Colonel Decker or a general like General Fulbright in the original series, the Army obviously believed she had the skills to catch fugitives that were once special forces.

However, Sosa is Face’s ex-girlfriend. When she’s about to have her soldiers capture the A-team, he distracts her by pulling her into a room, kissing her, and handcuffing her to a railing. That would qualify as assault. Not something a soldier in the military police would be happy about, whether the guy was her ex-boyfriend or not. Yet she facilitates the A-team’s escape at the end of the movie by kissing Face and passing him a key to the handcuffs.

***

The A-team influenced my writing. It still does to a degree. How could it not with all the hours I spent with Hannibal and Face and BA and Murdock?

I write strong women. Badass women. But for the longest time, she was always a daughter. Or a wife. She rose into her position thanks to the men in her life, and I can’t help seeing a connection with the female characters on The A-team.

I still like the A-team. It’s comfort food, like a big bowl of ice cream or a plate of chocolate fudge. Fun and delicious. But it’s important to acknowledge that it’s got its problematic aspects. Like calories. Or sexism.

The One with the Red Fox

Grace does dumb things (like eating rocks), but she’s done pretty well landing on her own four paws (with lots of help from some amazing vets & vet techs). She also doesn’t think twice about going nose to nose with her 90lb brother. She’s a scrappy little mutt.

And it didn’t surprise me one bit when she charged to the end of the leash one day when I was back in Massachusetts. The fur on her back puffed up to the size of a softball, and she threw all 38lbs of herself against the leash.

My gaze traveled across the patchy green and brown expanse of the front lawn, expecting to land on a furry gray ball of rabbit. But it didn’t. Instead, I saw a fox. A beautiful fox with orange fur and dainty black legs.

My first thought was: Is that really a fox? It looks big enough to be a coyote. Then: Oh shit, is that thing going to come after Grace? Does it have rabies?

Grace didn’t share my momentary panic. She launched herself against the end of the leash again and barked her head off.

Grace: That’s my yard, you weird dog! Get out of my yard!

Fox: F#$% this!

The fox bolted around the side of the house and into the swamp beyond. Grace–naturally–tried to follow.

Grace: That’s it, you better run! Punk! And don’t you ever think about comin’ in my yard again!

It took a lot of encouragement and reminding Grace that she hadn’t had breakfast yet, to get her back inside. But even once we got into the kitchen, she still ran for the sliding doors and the porch beyond (with its view of the backyard). That was where I left her when I took Sampson outside for his morning walk.

I figured that was the end of it. The fox had disappeared into the woods, Grace was stationed in the kitchen, and Sampson was (thankfully) oblivious. I’d even gotten a pretty decent photo of the fox with my camera, which was a bonus.

Then came barking from the front window, and I damn near jumped out of my shoes. Grace had positioned herself in the bay window at the front of the house, barking up a storm.

Grace: Hey, you! I told you to get out of my yard!

Fox: F#$%!

For some reason that must’ve made sense in its brain, the fox had doubled back and stood in the side-yard. It froze when it heard Grace barking and then spotted Sampson with me in the driveway. The fox turned into an orange blur as it bolted back to the swamp behind the house.

Sampson: What was that?

Me: Nothing, dude. Let’s just get your walk done, so I can feed you and Grace.

Sampson: O-k. I wanna eat.

Grace was obviously very pleased with herself when we got back inside and tried to convince me that she deserved some of Sampson’s breakfast because she defended the house. I told her no.

I read the comments on the new Westworld trailer

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Westworld.

Related imageI know, I know: don’t read the comments. But I couldn’t help myself after watching the new Westworld trailer on YouTube and not being able to wrap my head around exactly what I’d just seen. I buzzed past most of the comments without a second glance or thought (though the one about Delores *sexily* riding a horse made me do a double-take.)

Then I saw a comment that actually made my jaw drop. It said: “I knew that Dolores was going to be the villain this season.”

For someone who hadn’t watched the first season and simply knew that this season of Westworld was about androids killing humans, it’d make sense that Dolores the android would be considered a villain. But she’s not.

Dolores exists in a world where androids–known as Hosts–occupy a theme park where guests can enjoy an adventure in the Old West. Hosts are subjected to the guests’s whims. They might be raped, tortured, or even killed, and then their memories of the experience are wiped clean so they’ll be ready for the next guest.

But one of the Hosts’ creators tweaked their programming to give Hosts the ability to develop consciousness. It took decades for Dolores to do it, but she becomes conscious of her situation and able to act against her programming by the end of season one. Who can honestly blame her for turning against the people who’ve treated her and her life like a game that they can play however they want?

The first season was about how we define agency and humanity. The second season looks like it’s going to be about what happens when we deny those things to people and they decide to rise up.

I cannot wait for the new season to drop in 2018, and I’m ready to cheer Dolores on as she finally sticks-it to the people who hurt her for so long.

A Month of Not Blogging

So.

It’s, uh, been a while. Lots of stuff’s been going on, between writing short stories and a new job and hopefully heading back to school this fall.

Life’s in motion. More so than I’m used to, but I like it. Well. Except for the part where I’m not blogging as much. It really hasn’t felt like almost a month since I posted anything in this space, but it has been.

There are a couple posts that I’ve got chilling in the green room, basically ready to step onstage. And I’ve got a handful of post ideas that I’m raring to get writing.

Since it’s about 9:30 on a Saturday night when I’m writing this and I’m already starting to fall asleep, I’m going to wrap this post up. It’s short. It’s sweet. It’s to the point. I will end by saying that another great place to keep up with me is Twitter where I’m @SEStone519. I livetweet the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and retweet pictures of cute puppies. And I’m always looking to chat with new people over there.

 

I Call My Senators and Ask Them Not to Kill People

In a perfect world, I would spend my evenings live-tweeting Ghost Adventures or down the rabbit hole of a book or cursing as I write. But America is far from perfect right now. The country is a raging dumpster fire.

So instead of devoting all my time to doing those fun things, I spend my time calling my senators and my representative with the goal of convincing them not to pour gasoline on the fire. And while there are multiple things on fire, the one burning brightest right now is the Senate Republicans’ healthcare bill, the BCRA.

The BCRA is the work of thirteen Senate Republicans who spent about a month writing the bill in secrecy after the House of Representatives passed the AHCA in May. Republicans finally released the text of the bill last week, and it’s absolutely not in the best interest of the American people.

You may think that I’m being dramatic or exaggerating. Or you may think that whatever this bill is, it must be better than Obamacare.

Here’s the thing: Obamacare isn’t perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction towards making healthcare accessible for all Americans.

I can hear the protests already: Maybe those Americans get insurance through Obamacare should go get a job. I’m going to let you in on a secret. Lots of people on Obamacare have jobs. They’re small business owners, freelancers, full time employees at companies that don’t offer health insurance, part-time employees who work multiple jobs. There’s also the fact that Obamacare includes a Medicare expansion that provides for people who are disabled and can’t work, for children, and for the elderly.

Well, the insurance plans offered through Obamacare are expensive.  

That is an excellent point. Health insurance through the Marketplace is expensive and the plans aren’t all that great. Part of that is due to Obamacare being imperfect and partly due to political maneuvering on the federal level. But things would get a whole lot worse under the BCRA.

The BCRA phases out subsidies that help those who’re insured through the marketplace with paying out-of-pocket costs. So by 2019, low-income individuals will face the challenge of covering the cost of high deductibles. It also changes the tax credits for premiums, allotting less funds for those in need of help paying their premium.

Should health insurance be so expensive that people can’t pay their monthly premiums or their deductible without help? Absolutely not. But does it make sense to go backwards, to a place where people can’t afford health insurance? Nope.

We should trust the Republicans in the Senate. They work for us, and they’ve got our best interest in mind. 

I disagree. The BCRA does a couple of things that have the potential to curtail coverage for a significant number of Americans.  Under Obamacare, insurance companies must provide essential health benefits like maternity care and mental health services. They also cannot put annual or lifetime caps on coverage.

While the BCRA technically keeps those restrictions in place, it allows states to waive those rules in their own insurance markets. So a state may decide to waive the rule requiring insurance companies to cover essential health benefits such as addiction treatment or prescription drugs or maternity care. Or they may decide to allow insurance companies to put an annual or lifetime cap on coverage.

Do you have an illness like diabetes? What about depression or anxiety? Do you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol? If your state issues a waiver to insurance companies, the cost of your treatment might run higher than the cap your insurance company has on said treatment. What happens then? You either cough up the cash to pay for it yourself or you go without.

But I have insurance through my/my spouse’s employer. Those things won’t affect me.

Here’s the thing. They could. The BCRA will also eliminate the requirement for large companies to offer affordable health insurance to their employees. So it’s entirely possible that your employer or your spouses’s employer might decide that it’s more cost-effective to offer employees another health plan that’s not as affordable.

There’s also the question of the unforeseeable. What if you lose your job? Then you’ll have to decide between signing up for insurance through the marketplace or go without until you get another job. Just be careful about how long that takes because the BCRA would institute a six month hold on being able to sign up for coverage for someone who has been without coverage for more than 63 days.


We all deserve affordable healthcare. We deserve to sleep at night instead of lying awake and trying to figure out how to pay the next medical bill. We deserve a world where we don’t have to make the choice between paying for prescriptions and paying rent. We deserve not to go bankrupt because shit happened.

Instead of commenting on this post, please do a bit of research into the BCRA. Check out the CBO’s analysis of the bill, and check out which organizations oppose the bill. Or check out this New York Times article on the differences on the BCRA and Obamacare.

(Want to call your senators and representatives but don’t know where to start? Check out 5Calls.org .)

My ConCarolinas Book Haul

I’ve added to my bookshelves so much in the past few months that I banned myself from buying any new books. The ban doesn’t work, of course. I’ll see a paperback on sale at Target, add it to my basket, and then remember after I’ve paid that I’m not supposed to be buying anymore books.

But I gave myself permission to consciously lift the ban when I headed to ConCarolinas. It wouldn’t have made any sense to go to a convention with dozens of authors and not buy their books. Though I will say that I surprised myself: I didn’t buy nearly as many books as I thought I would.

Here are the four books I picked up at ConCarolinas:

Creek Walking by Tally Johnson
Tally Johnson was promoting his book as Southern Gothic ghost stories during his panels on the paranormal. He was such a presence on the panels and a great storyteller that I picked up his book without even reading the blurb on the back.

Phoenix Rising: Naked by Alexandra Christian
I saw Alexandra Christian on a couple of panels, the first being “Romancing Your Readers”. I’m a sucker for romance novels, an Christian talking about how she made the heroine an active hero/participant in the novel sealed the deal.

Curious Incidents: More Improbably Adventures edited by A.C. Thompson
The second time I saw Alexandra Christian was on a panel about themed anthologies, and she’d brought Curious Incidents with her as an example of an anthology that she’d edit. It’s a Sherlock Holmes/paranormal anthology. Need I say more?

Perishables by Michael G. Williams
I walked past dozens of authors, and Michael G. Williams was the only one who pitched his book to me. I listened at first just to be polite. And then he said that Perishables was about a vampire at a neighborhood dinner when the zombie apocalypse begins. I bought the first book in the series right then and there.

Studying Stories: Characters of “The Mummy”

Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoiler for The Mummy (2017)

Image result for the mummy 2017 posterEvery story–whether it’s a movie or a book or a TV show or a graphic novel–offers the opportunity to learn. I’m terrible at taking the time to examine the stories I consume and seeing what works (or what falls flat). But it’s something I want to take the time to do more often. So what better time to start it than after seeing The Mummy in theaters?

The protagonist is Nick Morton, a soldier-slash-black-market-antiquities-dealer, is the stereotypical bad boy. He sleeps with archaeologist Jenny Halsey to steal a map, enters an insurgent-controlled town in hopes of finding treasure, and tries to lie his way out of trouble with his commanding officer when caught. He has some pretty good comedic moments, and I absolutely loved how he chooses to become the Egyptian god, Set, in order to save Jenny.

Nick isn’t a bad protagonist; he’s engaging enough. But he’s not memorable. There have been thousands–in not millions–of Nick Mortons in movies and books and TV shows.

So I’ve got to ask myself: how would I have made Nick memorable?

My Nick Morton would’ve been a woman, probably a woman of color. Then leave everything else the same: the soldier-slash-thief, the sleeping with Jenny to steal the map, and the running into an insurgent-controlled town. It’s a small change. But it’s a huge one.

The other character that stuck out was the antagonist, Ahmanet. She’s a Egyptian princess who made a deal with Set in order to become Pharaoh of Egypt. She kills her father, her stepmother, and her newborn stepbrother and nearly kills her lover (to make him a vessel for Set) before being stopped and sentenced to residing for eternity in a sarcophagus.

Now the problem that I had with Ahmanet’s backstory is that it’s cliche. She’s a power-hungry woman who’ll stop at nothing–like killing her family and summoning the god of death–to get what she wants. The viewer isn’t allowed to be sympathetic or to see the world through her eyes. And that’s a shame.

If I’d written Ahmanet, I’ve have given her a different reason for summoning Set. She’s first introduced in a flashback, and she’s sparring with a man under the watchful eye of her father, the Pharaoh. I’d have taken that warrior-princess vibe and run with it.

Ahmanet would’ve been a Princess in an Egypt full of corruption. A general looking to stage a coup killed the Pharaoh and her family, and then framed her for the murders. She summons Set in order to raise her own army of the dead and stop the coup, but the army prevents her from finishing the ritual. So when she awakens in the 21st century, her only desire is to give Set a human form before retaking Egypt.

Seeing The Mummy was fun. It was certainly well worth the price of the ticket, and I’ll definitely see the other “Dark Universe” movies when (if) they’re released. But it was also a fantastic opportunity to examine character and character motivations.

What movie have you seen recently? Are there any changes that you would’ve made to the characters?