Get Ready for the Wild Rumpus!

We’re getting close to the release of Mr. Wicker!

Hardcover copies of Mr. WickerThe Wild Rumpus starts September 16, 2014. You can still preorder your copy at a discount on Amazon. If you have Amazon Prime, you get free shipping!

Guest Blog Post at Save the Cat! on 9/19

Look for a guest blog post by me on the Save the Cat!® website next Friday, September 19th. I’ll be talking about how to approach common POV writing problems that screenwriters have when they try to adapt one of their scripts to novel. Since Mr. Wicker began as a script, I’ll be speaking from personal experience and sharing my expertise as both a produced screenwriter and published fiction writer.

Shades and Shadows Reading on 9/20

As a pre-celebration, I’ll be reading from the novel at the Shades and Shadows Reading Series. Here are the details:

September 20, 2014
8:00 pm
California Institute of Abnormal Arts
11334 Burbank Blvd
North Hollywood, CA 91601
$10 admission fee

Official Book Launch at Dark Delicacies on 9/21

The official celebration will be a signing at my favorite bookstore, Dark Delicacies!

September 21, 2014
2:00 pm
Dark Delicacies
3512 W. Magnolia
Burbank, CA 91505

See my Appearances page for more information about upcoming events in San Francisco, Orange County and San Diego.

Stay Tuned for More Sword Controversy

I’m currently writing a guest blog post for SF Signal about swords in film and fiction that might heat up the interwebs, as well as completing interviews for The Qwillery, The Big Thrill, and many more.

Catch you all on the flip side of the rumpus.

Publishers Weekly Praise for MR. WICKER

The first time anything of mine has been reviewed in Publishers Weekly, and it’s a good one. Thanks so much to the reviewer for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 12.03.57 PM

 

Mr. Wicker
Maria Alexander. Raw Dog Screaming, $14.95
trade paper (236p) ISBN 978-1-935738-66-4

Convincing in its haunting whimsy,
Alexander’s emotionally complex faerie
tale comments on grim reality with chilling
metaphors. A suicide attempt leads
failed horror novelist Alicia Baum to the
Library of Lost Childhood Memories and
Mr. Wicker, a sinister man who arouses
both her passion and her disgust, before
she returns to life. She ends up in the care
of Dr. Farron, a gentle psychologist researching
the concept of bogeymen. Alicia
strives to recover missing childhood
memories as increasingly violent accidents
befall her friends and family, and
she grows more and more convinced that
Mr. Wicker is not only real but intimately
connected to her past. Alexander (By
the Pricking) makes the impossible feel
probable, anchoring fantasy in everyday
struggles. Alicia’s spitfire defiance and
charming vulnerability, and the eventual
romance between her and Dr. Farron, inject
warmth into chilling encounters between
a world that shouldn’t exist and
undependable reality. Illness, loss, and
heartache color this splendid, bittersweet
ode to the ghosts of childhood.

Blog Hop: Meet My Character, Alicia Baum

For this “Meet My Character” blog hop, I was kindly tagged by the delightful Connie Archer, national bestselling author of the soup lover’s mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime.  A Spoonful of Murder, A Broth of Betrayal and A Roux of Revenge are set in the imaginary village of Snowflake, Vermont.  The fourth book in the series, Ladle to the Grave, will be released in April 2015.  Visit her website and blog and Facebook page. You can find her on Twitter as @snowflakeVT.

Alicia Baum

He sunk his quill in the well. “The once-beloved horror writer, no less. At last you’ve come to see…Mr. Wicker.”

Intelligent. Independent. Passionate. Depressed. Angry.

Suicidal.

Authors rarely kill off the main character in the first paragraph, but that’s exactly what I’ve done in Mr. Wicker, which comes out from Raw Dog Screaming Press on September 16.  A Caucasian from Los Angeles in her mid-30s, Alicia Baum lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was once a “wunderkind” writer (or was she just lucky?) whose works peaked in popularity when she was quite young. But now she’s lost everything: relationships, family, career, health.

Not to mention her mind.

Alicia’s career lay in pieces, shredded by the fits of fortune. As her wrists bled, the books she’d written, old and new, burned in the fireplace. Her husband had run off some time ago, leaving her the house with a double mortgage. Relationships, family—they, too, had run out, some sooner than later. She’d waited for the good things to come, nature abhorring a vacuum, but things continued to leave…and after the doctor’s call that morning, that’s when she’d decided she would take the last thing that could be taken. She’d prove God was an asshole for expecting her to hope while He took everything else.

But there’s a reason for her losses; she just doesn’t know it. They were set in motion by a childhood event so terrible that, when she was still a little girl, she brought the memory of it to the Library of Lost Childhood Memories in her dreams. The Librarian, Mr. Wicker, recorded it in a book that she would retrieve upon death. When she woke up, she could not remember the event at all. It wouldn’t be until after death that she would have to collect the book so that she could move on — to other realms, to the next life, to whatever comes next.

Brave, Salty, Badass

When she returns to the Library after the suicide, her experience there is brief. Even then, we see she’s strong-willed and skeptical. She doesn’t believe Mr. Wicker is real and refuses to take her book when it’s time to enter the light. Incidentally, leaving the Library after death without one’s book is A Very Bad Thing. So, without her knowing it was him, Mr. Wicker has her rescued by an emergency crew. She isn’t exactly grateful to her attending physician when she wakes up in ER:

“So, if we let you go, will you try to kill yourself again?”
More tears. She rubbed her cheek on the pillow to dry them.
“Do you plan to do this again?” Dr. Farron asked.
Her eyes drove a look deep into his that revealed not just keen intelligence but bottomless heartache. “You think I’d tell a fuckwit like you? Fuck—OFF!”

Her impulsiveness and anxiety catapult the reader on more than one roller coaster ride; but her openness to mystery, big heart and tremendous courage ultimately help her face horrors that would drive you and I to madness.

Pre-Order Mr. Wicker Now and Save $2.00

Don’t delay! Choose from trade paperback, hard cover or e-book before September 16 from Raw Dog Screaming Press to receive the discount. You can also pre-order the Kindle copy on Amazon. After September 16, prices return to normal but the book will be available at your favorite online store and many traditional bookstores.

Authors I’ve Tagged

Look for entries from these writers around September 4, 2014!

Susan Peterson Wisnewski is the author of Secrets in San Remo and Chasing the Rainbow, both romantic suspense novels. She will be releasing a new series of paranormal thrillers this fall, tentatively titled Adams Thriller I, II, & III.

Sèphera Girón‘s recent Samhain Horror novella, Flesh Failure, was released in July 2014, hot on the heels of Captured Souls (March 2014). Sèphera’s work has also been published by Leisure Books, Neon books, Orion, Raincoast, Conari, Necon ebooks and others. Sèphera is also a professional tarot reader and paranormal investigator.

Jay Faulkner is a writer, martial artist, sketcher, and dreamer but mostly just a husband and father. His work has been published widely, both online and in print anthologies, and was short-listed in the Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition. He’s currently working on his debut novel, Djinn, book one of the Blood Ties trilogy.

 

 

 

Mourning Jewelry: Poems Every Dark Heart Will Treasure

 

Not long ago, Stephanie Wytovich gave me a review copy of her new poetry collection, Mourning Jewelry. My dear friend Jill Tracy had written a blurb for it, so I knew it must be special. I was first struck by Steven Archer’s cover, which sets the tone perfectly for this excursion into the depths of our heart’s horrors.

Wytovich’s style is free form. While that’s not everyone’s cuppa when it comes to poetry, I’m partial to it, as it’s my preferred style, as well, although I can see why some people find it to be lazy writing. Wytovich’s is anything but. Startling imagery and disturbing desires burrow into the flesh of her verse to lovely effect. Whether it’s a woman who pins a patch of her dead lover’s skin to the inside of her bra or another who “sweetens” her morning coffee with the dust of her dead husbands’ gravestones, each poem lifts the coffin lid on a delightfully grim tale of Tiffany-twisted love. I especially enjoyed the clever turn at the end of each piece, a coda that delivers a surprising, even darker revelation about the narrator.

While some might be tempted to liken Wytovich’s tainted romances to Baudelaire, her work reminds me far more of Les Chants de Maldoror by the Comte de Lautréamont, aka Isidore Ducasse. In Les Chants, the narrator, Maldoror, uses generous doses of black humor in his “poison-filled pages” to explore and even glorify the nature of evil. Mourning Jewelry is similarly rife with black humor, such as in the poem “They Keep Dying” about a woman whose husbands die as soon as they say “I do.” Or in “Urns Make Me Drunk,” where a woman uses her dead husband’s urn and ashes to make a martini.

I keep picking examples about dead spouses, but many of the poems are simply about the deranged relationships. “Xerox His Death Certificate” is probably one of my favorites, where a girl photocopies the man’s death certificate and uses it to wallpaper her place. “It would feel good to stab him again,” she says in the last line, lacing murder with sexual innuendo. Death and sex are the meat of many poems, but Wytovich manages to avoid invoking that cliché of the “little death.” Actually, orgasm in this collection is more like a big, fucking nasty death, thank you very much.

And yet there’s a wrenching vulnerability in these poems. The ache of barrenness, the grief and rage of heartbreak, bitterness that shoots first and hopes later — if ever. Horror is the only genre that can give full expression to this kind of emotional pain. And, man, I’ve been there.

Here’s hoping Stephanie gets the recognition she deserves for this collection of poems. Gruesome yet alluring like the title suggests, these poetic gems are cut with coffin nails and polished to a gleam with a fatalism every dark heart will treasure.

Book Trailer for Mr. Wicker

Lots of talent went into this video. John Palisano directed the trailer and created the special FX, with backup from major Hollywood effects pro and author, Mike McCarty. The gorgeous and creepy interstitial cards were created by the very talented designer, Neil A. Williams II. I wrote the Mr. Wicker theme ages ago, but Jill Tracy‘s amazing adaptation and performance of it just floors me. Her magic makes this video complete.

And, yes, there’s something special at the end. Ahem.

Is this “triggery”? Yup. So is the whole damn book. Consider this a warning. Or a big red, shiny bow. Whichever you prefer.

Thanks for watching! Don’t forget: save money when you pre-order your copy of Mr. Wicker directly from Raw Dog Screaming Press.

Farewell, BBC World Have Your Say

It’s the end of an era.

I got word on July 17 that the BBC chiefs are cancelling the 9-year show, World Have Your Say (WHYS). To say that I’m disappointed doesn’t begin to convey the sadness of this news, as it played an important part in my life.

How I Started on the Show

Back in 2006, I was living in France and currently visiting Paris when I stumbled across the show on the BBC website. I was reading an article about the phenomenon of Japanese visitors having to be expatriated because they were having nervous breakdowns in Paris. Apparently, their experience of Paris was profoundly different from what they’d expected before they arrived. They were told they’d be waited on hand and foot by Parisian shopkeepers, that France was welcoming and warm. When a Japanese tourist discovered this was not remotely the case, he or she sometimes had a nervous breakdown and had to be put on a plane back home. The WHYS wanted foreigners in France to be on the radio show and answer this question:

Are Parisians Really that Rude?

Well, no. No more than residents of any other big city. I wrote to the producers about a great experience I’d had on the metro the other day that showed how kind Parisians could be to people who were clearly not French. They responded immediately, and I wound up speaking for the first time on international radio. I didn’t really get to talk about that wonderful metro experience, but I loved getting to participate and hear other people’s ideas on the subject.

More topics arose as I continued to follow the program. I signed up for the daily emails that I read religiously. I would promise myself I wouldn’t respond before my morning coffee, as my reactions to the questions posed were sometimes fairly strong. Their philosophy was to gather people from all over the world to get their viewpoints on current events. It was brilliant. I was at times uncomfortable reading and hearing people from parts of the world that were far more conservative than the U.S., with no concept of reproductive rights or even that women had rights at all. But over time, I learned to listen and appreciate how singular my culture was and what life was like for other people.

Me and Blasphemy on the BBC

A gift from Brian Flemming, The God Who Wasn't There DVD

A gift from Brian Flemming

Soon, I got to bring my own program to WHYS that surely made almost everyone squirm: a discussion of The Blasphemy Challenge. The filmmaker Brian Flemming was offering everyone who uploaded a video of themselves blaspheming the Holy Spirit a free DVD of his brilliant documentary, The God Who Wasn’t There. I got to open the program and close it, and had the time of my life. The show was followed another day by a debate between the Rational Response Squad and people like the former assistant to the Archbishop of Canterbury. On that show, I got to get rational with people across the globe.

Ros the Boss

I really enjoyed getting to know Ros Atkins, who was the head producer of WHYS. He has since gone on to head other radio shows on the Beeb. He was polished and professional, yet kind and thoughtful. He always had a moment to answer one of my emails. He had a potentially incendiary show on his hands as cultures and personalities clashed on the airwaves, yet he handled it with grace and humor. In early 2007, as I sat in a 17th-century French kitchen, he and I recorded a commercial for WHYS using Skype to explain how easy it was to use the technology to call into the show. Truly, every producer I worked with was fantastic, but Ros was my favorite.

Lubna’s Crisis

When I returned to the States in the summer of 2007, a crisis happened. One of the show regulars, a young woman named Lubna Naji from Iraq, was dangerously depressed because it was her birthday and three of her friends had been killed in the last few weeks. Ros coordinated a group of callers that included myself, a gentleman in the UK and others from various continents to talk to Lubna on the air. We assured her that life was worth living and that we very much wanted her to carry on. It seemed to work. Lubna remained a contributor at least until 2012.

Lubna Naji

Lubna Naji

I have a special place in my heart for her, as she kept WHYS informed about life in Baghdad. Was the U.S. invasion good or bad? She gave us no easy answers. In the midst of ongoing chaos, she went on to graduate from medical school in 2010. It was a honor to speak with her and I’m especially glad that I got the opportunity to tell her how divided U.S. citizens were over President Bush’s invasion of Iraq. I hope I helped her and other Iraqis understand that not all Americans supported that effort.

My Favorite Show: Live on Venice Beach

My favorite event by far was when WHYS came to Los Angeles. Style, Spin and American Politics: Live from Venice Beach took place on September 10, 2008. I sat at a table on the beach with Ros; Mark Sawyer, political science professor at UCLA; editor Ted Johnson from Variety (who had been arrested during the protests outside the Republican National Convention); and a reporter named Maria Joyouspirit who has a show on KPFK. We spoke with an array of fascinating people from all over the world — like Lance Price, who’d been Tony Blair’s spin doctor. We had a fascinating hour of political talk with people from all over the globe.

BBCbusThe best part? Ros took me on board the BBC bus.

More pictures can be seen of the big debate that happened at the Skirball the evening before on my Flickr account.

My Personal Boston Mini-Bomb

Over the years, I would regularly announce on social media when I was going to be on a WHYS show. Bosses all excused me for the 30 to 45 minutes that I needed to engage in the day’s topic. One day in April 2013 when I announced on Facebook I’d be speaking on the BBC about the Boston bombings, it came to my attention that people had no idea why I was talking on the BBC. Why me? What did I know? How was I connected to these events? (It turns out that it wasn’t just one friend questioning. It came up at a later event from someone less polite than my friend David.)

Crap! Had I seriously been doing this for so long that I hadn’t explained what WHYS was to my rapidly expanding audience and network of friends? Each time I’d announced a show appearance, were they all wondering if I’d illegitimately passed myself off as an expert on yet another topic?

I tried to course correct there on Facebook that day. I told them about WHYS, how that morning I’d had a very strong reaction to someone’s quote in the daily email that suggested we label certain forms of religious feeling as mental illness. I’d shot off an email to the WHYS producers that to do this would violate the very foundation of the United States and what it means to be an American. I explained how the producers had wanted me to repeat that on the show.

And I did.

My Favorite (and Last) WHYS Appearance

As some of you know, my father passed away in August 2013.

When I received an email from the WHYS in early October 2013 that they were doing a show about fathers and how they had affected us, I emailed them a link to my blog post about my father’s recent death (“The King of Shadows is Dead”), as well as a link to my published short story, “The King of Shadows.” Two different producers responded in separate emails. Very soon, I found myself on air with Mandy Stadtmiller (the editor of xoJane) and a handful of others talking about our dads.

Mandy Stadtmiller, Editor of xoJane

Mandy Stadtmiller, Editor of xoJane

Although Mandy’s dad seemed the most complex and colorful, my dad was clearly the anti-father of the group. Our definitions of morality and personal responsibility had clashed my whole life. I explained how I’d often gone against his example to maintain my integrity. Do the opposite of dad, and you’ll be okay.

For that hour, I let my feelings roam the international stage. If I hadn’t spoken up, I would have betrayed my memories and lifelong struggles.

I discovered that day that it’s one thing to express publicly your opinion on a controversial topic. It’s quite another to lay out the bones of your life before millions. It was a powerful experience I will never forget.

The Guillotine Drops

I knew something was up with the show when I stopped getting the daily email. I asked the WHYS team why we weren’t getting emails anymore. A producer responded that their analytics indicated people weren’t reading them. I could understand why. Everyone was getting information these days via Facebook and Twitter. Email was often reserved for the most personal communications. And even then.

Then I got the news on Twitter a few days ago that the BBC Chiefs were shutting down the show. I hadn’t realized that it had been going on for a whole year before I’d discovered it that day in Paris. For nine years, the BBC gave the world a voice about the day’s headlines. And now that’s ending.

Farewell, WHYS

As WHYS leaves the BBC airwaves, my first book is being released from Raw Dog Screaming Press. I’ll soon have a whole new platform for my thoughts and opinions through my creative work. But I’ll hugely miss the excitement of seeing that foreign phone number appear on my cell and hearing friendly British voices as they prep me for the show. I’ll miss the pounding of my heart as I respond to opinions from far-flung folk whose voices fill my ear. And I’ll miss making amazing connections with people like Mandy and Lubna.

An important chapter of my life has closed, but I can say this: I listened. I spoke. And I’m proud that I did.

Thanks kindly to Ros and everyone at BBC World Service. During those shows, you made me feel like an important part of the team. Here’s hoping our pathways cross again on the airways soon.

Jill Tracy and the Mr. Wicker Book Trailer

I’m super excited to announce that the award-winning musician Jill Tracy will be orchestrating and performing music I wrote back in 1997 for the book trailer promoting my debut novel, Mr. Wicker. As a longtime fan of her music, I am thrilled and deeply honored that she’s agreed to be part of this project.

For the uninitiated, here’s a bit about Jill:

JILL TRACY is a San Francisco-based singer/pianist/storyteller and “musical evocateur” who has garnered multiple awards and a passionate following for her eerie and beautiful cinematic music, sophisticated lyrics, old-world glamour, and curious passion for strange tales. She has been hailed by the LA Weekly as the “cult darling of the Underworld,” and San Francisco Chronicle has named her the “femme fatale for the thinking man.” With six albums to her credit, her dark seductive music has appeared on CBS, NBC, PBS, and numerous independent and feature films. Showtime Networks chose Jill Tracy’s “Evil Night Together” as the “Final Requiem” song to promote the wildly anticipated last season of DEXTER.

Learn more about Jill Tracy and her music at her official website.

It All Started Back in 1997

Just before writing the original novelette, I composed the music and lyrics to the “Mr. Wicker Theme” under some pretty unusual circumstances (which could be the subject of a separate blog post). It was just a four-line lullaby that, in my head, fanned into a full-blown piano instrumental a la a very dark Liz Story. However, I didn’t own a piano then and my hands were too injured to play one. The basic tune has haunted me all these years and has never been realized — until now!

My Own Musical Background

Music has always been an important part of my life. I was raised a classical musician, played in numerous honor bands and orchestras, and studied jazz and musical theory/composition — all while I was still in high school. In college, I studied singing and, in particular, operatic technique. From 2000 to 2002, I wrote and sang my own music — Dark Folk for Dark Folk — as Lady Euthanasia at venues around Los Angeles and even in Dublin, Ireland.

But Now It’s 2014…

And I look forward to the Jill Tracy’s orchestration of this theme that’s so close to my heart and history. Viva the Dark Diva!

Mr. Wicker Cover Revealed! (Plus Giveaway)

Cover created by artist Ryan Rice

Debuting 9/16 • PRE-ORDER for $2 off

Mr. Wicker Cover

Share this Facebook post from RDSP for a chance to win a pre-release copy!

“Elegant chills, genuine awe, and true tragedy are all ingredients in the spell cast by Maria Alexander’s Mr. Wicker. Anyone who has encountered Maria’s short stories surely expects her first novel to be extraordinary, and she doesn’t disappoint. Mr. Wicker is rich, lovely, and deeply unnerving.” —Lisa Morton, author of Malediction and Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween

Maleficent: A Spoilerific Movie Rant Full of Swears

Since I was little, Maleficent has always been my favorite Disney character. When I went to work for Disney, the hiring manager asked me who my favorite character was and why. I had lots to say about my favorite fire breathing villain. She was powerful, cunning, and a snazzy dresser with Diablo, the Best Pet Ever. She was also great with rope and candles.  Ahem. (No, I didn’t say anything about loving the scene where she ties up Philip and appears to threaten him with dripping candle wax, but oooooh! I wanted to!) Sigh.

Maleficent was an unapologetic evil doer. A woman who, if she had any reasons for being sore, they were probably because she just liked being bad. Later, as I worked at Disney for several years, I noticed that I wasn’t alone. She consistently won our online polls for “Favorite Disney Villain.” People loved her just as she was. But Disney culture is not allowed to promote villains. I was told we just weren’t allowed to focus on the villains except at Halloween.

One would have thought I’d be very excited about a movie starring the bestest baddie. When the first trailer was vague and dull, I worried that Disney had abandoned its role as stewards of good storytelling in favor of creating Big Dumb Fun for the Whole Family.

I was right.

It Was Shite

Fridge logic.

A friend used this term when describing the many problems with Disney’s new movie, Maleficent. For me, some of these problems I noticed right away, while others occurred to me later. Most of them stem from the very premise, which is that Maleficent was never actually a bad fairy, but rather a good fairy who did bad things because some big fat jerk betrayed her. In trying to preserve any semblance of the original film, Disney instead has created a broken world with an even more broken plot line.

This is NOT a critique of the actors (who were largely fun) or the special effects (which were gobsmacking). Angelina Jolie did a tremendous job with what she was given. (I will, however, bitch about the bizarre, wandering accents that were starting to drive me crazy by the movie’s end.) And Rick Baker killed with those makeup effects. Damn, that man is amazing! While I might be prejudiced because I love ravens, I confess that I loved Sam Riley as Diaval. I ate up almost every scene he was in.

Why did so many people enjoy the film, then? I think people walked out liking this movie because it had some funny lines, dazzling visuals, and the adorable Aurora cherub glowing at them for two hours.

It’s interesting that many of the people I talk to and reviews I’ve read incorrectly state that Maleficent cursed Aurora to death (she curses her to “eternal sleep” only to be awakened by “true love’s kiss”). They also incorrectly state that Stefan was the king’s son, when he early on says that his parents are dead and the only way he can get ahead is by pleasing the king somehow.

I don’t think this is an accident. People are subconsciously pasting their old memories of the animated film onto this one to make the story work because it doesn’t.

So, let’s get on with it. And if you disagree? Don’t care. This is my rant and not the place for you to defend this wretched film. Do feel free to add additional logic problems I might have missed, however.

ma·lef·i·cent

[muh-lef-uh-suhnt] Show IPA
adjective
doing evil or harm; harmfully malicious: maleficent destroyers of reputations.
Origin:
1670–80; back formation from Latin maleficentia maleficence; see -ent

That’s the definition of “maleficent” on Dictionary.com.

Her name fucking means something. On Thesaurus.com, there are

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 9.46.27 AM

This is a fucking problem. You need to address why someone in fairy land named an innocent child Maleficent if she really was, in fact, Beneficent. It makes no sense otherwise.

So, once we get past the fact that Disney has decided none of us speak English, use the dictionary or give a shit about names, we can proceed to the other 99 major flaws in this film. Such as…

WHAT MEDIEVAL ARMY DOESN’T HAVE ARCHERS?!?

What a bullshit battle. An army without archers is a plot cheat.

The film doesn’t follow the logical conclusions of its own fairy lore regarding the effects of iron. As we learn in the beginning of the film, iron hurts fairies. Arrowheads of iron or steel could have seriously hurt “the forces of nature” in two New York seconds. Bury an arrowhead in one of those trees? It’s going to be in agony. Also, STEEL IS AN ALLOY OF IRON AND CARBON. Any of the blades used in that initial battle would have also hurt the fairy things if they had landed a blow.

We see Maleficent get burned by Stefan’s ring when they’re kids. Sure, it does no lasting damage. It just kinda goes stingy-stingy, and then gets better when he takes it away. I didn’t mind that except we don’t see Stefan use even that morsel of knowledge until the very end of the movie. He could have won favor with the king much earlier had he revealed that fact. They might not have had a total victory after that initial battle, but it would have been enough that the king would have listened to Stefan going forward.

And just imagine if they’d used fucking archers. GEE.

Deadly Daycare

You don’t want your precious baby girl to fall into an “eternal sleep” when she turns 16? Well, then you sure as fuck don’t send her to live with incompetent fairies who don’t even know how to feed her BECAUSE SHE’LL DIE OF STARVATION INSTEAD. In the original Disney movie, the competent, motherly fairies take Aurora away to hide her from Maleficent. By making Maleficent Aurora’s BFF, we’ve now not only lost the logic in sending her away, but now we don’t even have the suspense of the original film, trading a sense of real danger for a Maleficent that’s been bitten by The Mommy Zombie. I mean, I get it. She put a shitty curse on an innocent baby. She feels guilty. (Gag.) Yet somehow she knows more about taking care of children than pixies? Really? STFU.

The baby stalking still doesn’t make any sense. Why isn’t Maleficent plotting the death of Stefan or the ruin of his kingdom? Doesn’t she have better shit to do than sit around watching Aurora, the kid she’s cursed? Despite the story synopsis being touted by the studio, Maleficent NEVER has the epiphany that Aurora is the key to peace between the kingdoms. NEVER EVER. It’s a lie to hide the shite story they actually developed.

And how did the pixies not notice that Aurora was gone most of the time? Why didn’t one of them follow her, you know, ALL THESE YEARS to find out who the hell she’s spending her time with? Yeah, I get they’re ditzy and always fighting. But seriously? For 16 years they’re just totally fucking incompetent and don’t notice that she’s missing AND consorting with the enemy?

Let’s Talk About That Snarky, Half-Assed Curse

Before I dive into what a failure this movie is as a feminist story despite its warmed-over Frozen moment, I feel compelled to point out that her curse sucks. The original curse works storywise because of its gravitas. This newer, watered-down, snarky curse doesn’t have the impact of the original because we never feel like Aurora is really in danger. Death? Yeah, that’s scary! “Eternal sleep” with a possible cure? No. In the fairytale, it’s the third good fairy who gives us hope, NOT THE SO-CALLED VILLAIN.

Certainly, the fairytale was creepy and awful, with Lancelot even raping Sleeping Beauty in the French version. Fairytales are sexist and bloody. But fairytales also have some great psychological teaching moments. The best sort of moment like that is in Sleeping Beauty. When the king and queen fail to invite Maleficent, it’s a psychological play starring the superego and id. It’s a warning that, if you don’t invite the “negative” aspects of your psyche into your life, bad things will happen. Your development will be arrested. You will “fall asleep” to your life. It’s not until you fall in love with yourself (true love’s kiss) that you can wake up again to resume living and growing.

The great teaching moments that Walt Disney captured and preserved so beautifully in the animated film have now been destroyed with nothing to replace them. Nobody gives a shit about real storytelling. All they care about is what looks good in 3D and what justifies marketing plushies.

Feminist Fail

Please stop saying this is a “feminist” movie because of that stupid Frozen moment. STOP already. You sound dumb.

Maleficent was a FAR STRONGER character before this film version. Turning her into an estrogen-poisoned, guilt-ridden baby sitter did not in any way strengthen her, nor did taking away her ability to turn into a dragon, and especially not by putting her at the emotional and physical mercy of some jerk-dude. Every change made her weaker, not stronger. (P.S. Having a conscience doesn’t make you “stronger.” It makes you normal.)

What’s worse is that Maleficent is naively susceptible rather than rightly suspicious of Stefan’s motives when he comes back to the Moors so many years later. Why is Maleficent so amazingly stupid? Don’t say “love,” because that love story was shite. Stefan has the personality of a wooden plank. Surely there are dude fairies who are more interesting, more handsome and more dedicated to Maleficent. Instead of being wary like any other grown woman would be, she totally lets him drug her and cut off her wings.

?!!!!?!#!**!!!!??

(How does he even know that human drugs will work on her? She doesn’t need to eat. We never even see her drink. So, WTF?)

Further, replacing fairytale romance with bad romance isn’t “feminist.” It’s just lame. Arguably, romance is highly feminist. Romance is vilified in literature and movies because it gives women what they want. (But that’s another blog post entirely.)

Making Maleficent bad only because some man was mean to her takes away her agency. She’s now a crippled victim seeking vengeance rather than the awesome fairy with “all the forces of Hell” at her command who had been slighted by a monarchy. A woman scorned is weaker than a woman with an ego because she’s given away her power to a dude. Sure, she’s a protector of the Moors and apparently she’s strong enough to make everyone there cower when she’s angry. But she isn’t a tenth as powerful in the new film as any of her previous incarnations.

Spinning Wheel Corpses

If you are really, really paranoid about spinning wheels, YOU BURN THEM TO THE GROUND AND BURY THE ASHES. You don’t lock up the half-burned wheely corpses somewhere in your castle. That’s just fucking stupid. They should at least have been able to think of a logical reason that there would still be a spinning wheel around. This is just appalling writing. I mean, grind up the fucking things. What are they made of? Metal? Then melt them down for chrissake. Jesus. This was incredibly annoying — more annoying even than the quasi-equipped medieval army. Could this movie make even less sense? (Yes. Yes, it could. And did.)

The Very Bad Room We Just Happen to Stumble Into

As Maleficent and Aurora are running around in the castle, they just happen to stumble into the One Very Bad Room that can hurt Maleficent with its big iron net. It’s not a necessary room to enter. It’s not where the wings are even stored. They just happen to stumble into this Room. What would Stefan have done if she’d never entered that room? Clearly, he’d put all of his tactics there, both troops and tricks.

This lazy plotting bothered me, especially when it was Diaval who was turned into the dragon rather than Maleficent. And it wasn’t that great of a dragon, either: It’s wasn’t the magnificent black and purple dragon that breathes green fire and stands taller than the castle. He becomes a dragon just big enough to fit in the Very Bad Room and breathe fire. Fire that doesn’t heat up the iron net and hurt Maleficent even more.

Yeah.

Frozen Do-Over

The Frozen redo moment is simply lame. We JUST saw this, like, a movie ago. And it worked far better in Frozen because it’s foreshadowed by the relationship Elsa and Anna shared as children, as well as the wise counsel that Elsa gives Anna when Anna announces she wants to marry a dude she just met. Here, it’s a gimmick. I don’t care if this was supposed to be the idea all along. It plays like a shell game because of Maleficent’s unconvincing Mommy act. (But, oh, they buttered up our ovaries with that toddler knee-hugging scene, didn’t they?) I had to wonder: Did Maleficent fall victim to the second fairy’s blessing? If so, how was she even able to produce the curse to begin with? Does anyone really love Aurora? Or are they all enchanted? It’s effectiveness relies far more on our sensibility than sense: we just want Aurora to be okay because Aurora has been pumping up our sentimentality with the rouge of her apple cheeks the whole damned movie.

Okay, I’m Done Bitching Now

I could go on, but I’m tired. God, this was a mismanaged, broken story. Most of the critics over at Rotten Tomatoes agree. But hey — now Disney has the green light to market Maleficent in ways they couldn’t before. She’s a heroine now, not a villain. She’ll get a plushie and everyone at Disneyland will be wearing horns.

Barf.

Sister, Interrupted: A True Story

10/23/1989

You’re 17 years old. You wake up Monday morning at a friend’s house. She lives on a winding mountain road somewhere in Shingle Springs, California. It’s one of those teacher meeting days. No school today. A senior in high school, a member of student council, a cheerleader, a model, a beauty pageant winner – you’re on top of the world in and out of the classroom. Your grades are not great but you have big ambitions. You want to study business and make a million. You should be thinking about which college will get you there. Instead, you’re preparing for a nationwide beauty pageant. Between parties, that is.

The relentless rain doesn’t dampen your enthusiasm for the day off. Your boyfriend arrives sometime after breakfast in his late model Porsche. He’s handsome, confident, strong. The envy of every guy at school because he’s picking you up for a day of fun.

You wave goodbye to your friend and her mom.

You do not put on your seat belt. Later, the firemen will say that it wouldn’t have mattered.

Your boyfriend is no better or worse a driver than any other teenage boy. He swerves around bends in the road on the slick surface as you chatter about music, checking your make up and hair in the visor mirror. Your boyfriend decides the music has to change. Maybe you don’t like it. Or maybe he doesn’t like it. He fiddles with the tape player. Something is wrong with the tape. He needs to look at it. He takes his eyes off the slippery road for just a moment.

One fateful moment.

He loses control of the car. Your stomach is in your throat as the car fishtails. Spins. Instinctively, your right foot braces against the floor as if pressing the brakes. Your whole body tenses. The wild screech of tires. A sickening crash against a tree. You don’t see it coming. You’re in the “murder seat.” The car collides with the tree trunk on your side. Against your window. Your skull takes the brunt of the monstrous blow.

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My sister, Danielle, is on the left. She was crowned Miss Teen El Dorado in 1987.

A nurse is driving to work. She comes across the disaster. She stops and talks to your boyfriend, who is still strapped into the car. He is disoriented, dazed. Unhurt. She sees the blood covering you, spattering your side of the Porsche. She throws a tarp over the car. She then runs to the nearest house and calls 911.

Life Flight can’t get to you because of the trees.

You arrive at the local hospital in an ambulance, but they soon discover that you’re too far gone for their expertise. Emergency vehicles carry you to another hospital. In Sacramento. The clock is ticking. They are almost certain you will die.

But you are unaware of this. You are in a coma. The devastating injury to your brain has ripped you from consciousness. From your friends. Your family. Football games and parties. Pageants and graduation.

Your life has ended. But your body carries on.

For eight months you are in a coma. It’s not like in the movies. You awaken very slowly. At first, you open your eyes but you are not awake. The nurses put drops in your unseeing eyes to keep them wet because you don’t know to blink. Your family members hold your hand and you grasp back – not out of love but because it’s a reflex, the doctor says. A simple physical reflex. Nothing more.

Day by day, you emerge from the deep, deep sleep.

You are moved to a long-term facility in Pacifica, California. The Greenery. Although you can breathe on your own, you’re fed through a stomach tube and your mouth is thick with thrush from the constant antibiotics. Your eyes are open and wide with terrors that only you can see. They place you in a room with another teenage girl who is in a vegetative state after a similar injury. She has been there quite a while. She will be there the rest of her life.

When the doctors aren’t looking, your desperate mother puts drops of Bach Flower Remedies in your mouth.

After several weeks, you still cannot walk or talk. You cannot swallow. The first words you communicate are written with a felt pen on a portable whiteboard with the help of a nurse who holds the tablet for you. You do not write in English, your native language. For mysterious reasons, your tortured neurons reach for a language you had started learning in high school. Spanish.

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Danielle as a toddler wearing a colander on her head.

“Te amo,” you write to your sister. I love you.

You do not remember the accident. You do not remember what happened two minutes ago. Or an hour ago. Or a week ago.

Your friends disappear. They are only 17 years old themselves and they cannot drive to Pacifica. But you don’t know they are gone. You barely recognize your family. Your parents take an early retirement and devote the rest of their years to your care, even though they aren’t capable. Born before The Depression, they don’t trust the government. They lie on legal documents so that you fall through the cracks.

You cannot take normal showers, as a piece of your brain remains in your ear canal. If it gets wet, you could die from an infection. Surgery is too risky. You go to the hairdresser once per week for a hair wash in the bowl. Ears well protected. Hygiene is always challenging, but your mother sticks with it.

Over the years, your vocabulary improves, as does your sense of humor, but you will never hold a job. For years you are wheelchair-bound. Your parents build a ramp to the front door. When you eventually regain use of your legs, you wear braces. But at least you’re walking. And communicating. Even if you don’t know where you are.

Your IQ has been torn in half. You are an 8-year-old trapped in an aging body. You have no concept of yesterday. Or tomorrow.

You tell people that Jesus did this to you. Jesus did this because you were headed down the wrong path. You were running with the Devil. Getting drunk at those parties. Jesus saved you by putting you in a coma.

There’s a lawsuit. Your family wins, but they can’t collect the $1.4 million that the court has awarded you because your boyfriend’s family immediately declares bankruptcy. The auto insurance company pays his policy limit of $100K. Every penny goes to the health insurance company under subrogation.

It angers you that people are always helping you. You are not allowed to do anything you want to do. You cannot drive. You cannot even go for a walk. People call you “disabled.” You hate that word. You are not “disabled.” You are fine. Nothing is wrong, you say. A problem with your balance is all, and your ear. You are often overwhelmed with rage. Your neuropsychologist helps you come to terms with your injury somewhat. He teaches you to use a calendar journal to keep track of what you eat and where you go. Otherwise, you would have no idea where the minutes went. Whom you have seen.

What day it is.

 

4/26/14

It’s your birthday. You are 42 years old. And 8 years old. Your parents have died. You did not mourn either of them. The part of your brain that emotionally connects you with other people was damaged that day so many years ago. When the car hit the tree. You have trouble connecting with people. You say “I love you” because it is something you say back. A verbal reflex. Nothing more.

You still have feelings.

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Danielle learning to cook chicken enchiladas.

Your parents isolated you for 25 years, so you have no friends. No peers. Just a few family members who live far away, visiting when they can. Trying to have the relationship with you they could never have when your parents lived. They call to wish you a happy birthday. An old friend of the family checks on you. She lives across the street. Your full-time caregivers and the Public Guardian work steadily to reconnect you to the world. To keep you from harm. To teach you living skills you never learned. Like cooking.

You sing in your parent’s church choir despite your hearing loss. The church ladies pick you up from home to go to practice and take you back.

Thanks to the government, a little church assistance, and a special needs trust, you are well cared for. You are unaware of the political battles snipping away at your safety net.

You watch the TV with the volume low. Sometimes you lean forward and talk to the people on the TV screen in quiet, rambling sentences. Caregivers come and go. The TV people are always there.

Reading is difficult. You use a bookmark but you don’t remember what you just read. Your caregivers take you out to eat. To the movies. To the grocery store. And to shop. You’ve always loved shopping for clothes. Your taste in colors is impressive. You email your sister every day. Sometimes in the middle of the night. Every hour is the same. And she replies.

Beauty pageant trophies gather dust on the cluttered piano top. Newspaper clippings about high school triumphs turn yellow in gummy photo albums.

You insist nothing is wrong with you. You’re not an “invalid.”

What is the name of your caregiver again?

You are happier than ever.

The doctor asks you how you hurt your leg yesterday, but your brain can’t remember. Instead, it creates a new “memory” that little resembles what actually happened. To fill the memory void, your brain spins stories about your life. You do not realize that these are fantasies. Confabulations. To you, the stories you tell about your life are reality. Stories about your two sons. Your stint in the Marine Corps. Your marriage to your high school sweetheart who works in construction. Your successful career as a federal judge in Sacramento.

None of these things ever happened.

None of them ever will.

 

 

This is my sister’s story. This blog post only touches the devastating effects of this injury and the dangers of distracted driving, especially for teens. John Hopkins University says that someone with an undergraduate degree is seven times more likely to completely recover from a traumatic brain injury than someone who hasn’t completed high school. For more information, please check out the website for the Brain Injury Association of America.