The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan (Wedgeford Trials #1)

I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Overall Impressions

It’s been a while since Courtney Milan’s last full-length historical novel (After the Wedding, 2018) and as a devoted follower on Twitter, I know that the last few years have been difficult for her because people are terrible and stupid. You might expect her first book to be a fluffy, delightful farce that distracts us all from the dumpster fire of 2020.

You’d be right.

You’d also be terribly wrong.

Somehow, this book manages to walk a very fine balance between being brilliantly charming, fluffy, delightful, and funny while making the reality of characters so heartbreakingly real and devastating that I found myself tearing up at several parts of this book. I don’t understand how some authors do this — how I can go from laughing like a maniac to reminding myself that the characters aren’t real and everything is okay.

That is the Milan brand, and it’s something I’ve been familiar with since I picked up Proof of Seduction on a whim in 2010. That book is good — startlingly good — but it was the second book, Trial by Desire, with her depiction of a hero struggling to overcome depression that put her at the top of all my lists and she’s never faltered.

The Duke Who Didn’t is the story of Miss Chloe Fong who loves to make lists and Jeremy, the Duke of Lansing who owns the entire village where Chloe lives — a fact he has never told Chloe or anyone else in Wedgeford. He tried to kiss her one day, and she told him that he needed to be serious. He left, and it’s been three years since she’s seen him. He’s back — and wants her help to make a list of her qualities so he can get married.

Chloe is Chinese, living in a village filled with people who might not be stereotypically British (read: white) and Jeremy is the half-Chinese, half-British duke who has struggled to fit into British society. Asking Chloe to marry him means asking her to live in his world — a world he’s not even sure he belongs in.

Chloe had me the minute she started talking about making her lists in Chapter 1. The concept of making a list of what could be done if life went absolutely perfectly, then judging herself as a failure because perfection was impossible — if that’s not my life, I don’t know what it is. I make lists for everything. I love to check things off. I also know the pain of making a list that never gets finished and an inability to set realistic goals because people are depending on me and I need to finish things when they need to be done — not when it’s convenient for my sanity.

I love Chloe Fong.

The first time we meet Jeremy, we see his charm from Chloe’s POV, and then we switch to his thoughts.  That is the smartest thing Courtney Milan could have done. If we had listened to that first conversation entirely from Chloe’s POV, Jeremy might seem too charming. Too irreverent. But reading his dialogue along with his inner thoughts — you know that there’s more. There’s real substance and as his story unfolds throughout the novel, I really started to wonder if he had a point — could he and Chloe be happy? In Britain? To make me wonder, even for a minute, how the ending could be a HEA is a feat that most authors can’t manage. Courtney Milan always does.

This is a deceptively charming book that will make you smile, laugh, think, cry, and then when you’re done—you’ll want to read it again because there’s a twist at the end of the book that will make you wonder — does it actually work? Does the author play fair with us?

And yes. It completely works, and it makes that second read-through all the more better because now you’re all in on the secret — except for one of the characters. And it’s fricking delightful.

This is a great book with a gorgeous romance, three-dimensional characters, and a world that feels so real that I’m legit mad that I can’t go to Wedgeford, taste the Wedgeford Brown sauce, and play in the Trials. I can’t wait to see where Courtney Milan takes this series next.

Spoilers Beware!

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Darius: Lord of Pleasures (Lonely Lords, #1)

Overall Thoughts

I took a long break between this book my last review, The Virtuoso. I wrote in that review that I was not looking forward to rereading Darius because it depends on the use of my absolute least favorite trope in romance. I stopped reading in July 2019. We’re now in the waning days of December 2019, nearly six months later. That’s how much I did not want to read this book.

Having read it again for only the second time, my feelings aren’t entirely improved. Darius is the story of Darius Lindsey and Vivian Longstreet. Darius is a younger son who seems to have a notorious reputation and a need for money. He’s contracted by Vivian’s much older husband to have an affair with her so Vivian can conceive a child to carry on William Longstreet’s barony and ensure Vivian’s welfare after his death.

I hate this trope. I hate it. I know all the reasons it’s around, and I think Grace Burrowes handles it better than most, but I hate it more when it’s the husband that contracts the affair on behalf of the wife. Sure, Vivian had a list and picked Darius, but there’s still a sense of agency that is lacking. I just….ugh. I hate it.

That being said, the trope is not why this is not a good book. I remarked in The Virtuoso that I had forgotten how much of Darius takes place during the span of other books — the entirety of Virtuoso takes place within the second chunk of this story. Nicholas also takes place during Darius. This book takes place during a year, and, wow, does Burrowes make it hard to get to the end of this.

We meet Darius’s other married ladies who pay him so they can spank and whip him. We meet his sister, Leah. There’s a minor subplot with Leah and Nicholas, but it’s so vague and hazy as to keep the best scenes for their book that it’s mostly distracting here.

There’s several villains set up, but all of them fizzle by the end. The romance and friendship itself is sweet, but I think it collapses under the muddiness of the narrative. It’s strange to say that it’s not the trope that bothers me, it’s everything else. We’ll get into it in the weeds, but this book is kneecapped by its place in the universe and the fact that meatiest part of this story is completely missing.

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Writing

NaNoWriMo Day 8: Spinning the Wheels

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Writing 2019

Nothing like being a week into NaNoWriMo and feeling mostly like a failure. It’s not really productive to feel that way but I do. I’ve never been great at November NaNoWriMo — I think the last year I actually won it with a brand new project was five years ago. The only other time I managed it was working on Bittersweet, and even then I didn’t finish it.

For some reason, I’ve been better at writing in the summer. But that’s not a productive attitude either. This was a rough week personally. It was a short week at school which meant the students were particularly annoying. I learned I was being moved out of the long-term job a week early to move to a new long-term job — which is great news. Except now I’m stressing out about learning a new curriculum and meeting another 70-80 new students in the middle of a crazy month.

Add to all of that Broken Girl doesn’t seem to want to be written — or that I’m just not feeling up to it. And I don’t know why. I think it’s similar to the problems I had writing Mad World last year — I had a huge barrier getting past the chapters where Brooke was raped and then committed suicide. Book 2 was such a dark, twisty book for me to write that it took some time for me to get through it.

Fool Me Twice was supposed to be my break from that. A complicated book that didn’t delve into dark things like that. It’s a soap opera plot with memory mapping and identical twins. It was supposed to give me a break. But it wasn’t working. And I wanted to do a fresh project for November. Maybe I should have stuck with FMT.

But that’s also not a productive thought. I didn’t stick with it and I’ve switched Broken Girl in the schedule. And I need to write this story. I’ve had it in my head for five years. It needs to be written. Maybe I just don’t feel confident in my ability to write a story about domestic abuse. Maybe I don’t feel ready.

This is the story of Elizabeth’s deteriorating marriage — but it’s falling apart because of Lucky’s growing dependence on drugs and his anger towards her, his lack of love towards Cameron. He’s an emotional abuser that’s going to tip over into physical abuse. And I need to write scenes where Elizabeth takes the abuse and believes, in some ways, she deserves it. This is the story they flirted with in 2006, but they never pushed Lucky as far as I think he could have gone. He did become physically abusive and he stayed emotionally abusive for pretty much the rest of the time Lucky and Liz were a couple. It’s hard for me to write this version of Lucky sometimes because I used to love this character. Lucky and Liz were my first OTP and it took a long time to let go of them.

But I think I just need to acknowledge my issues and then work on getting over them. I put a lot of pressure of myself to make the first version of the scene the best version — it’s a hard habit to break that goes back to the days when I posted every chapter as I wrote it. I know I can go back and rewrite. I’ve done that for Mad World and Bittersweet. I know it works. I know I’m happier with this process. I just haven’t really learned to forgive myself and be kind to myself as I write the first draft.

But as my favorite author, Nora Roberts, always says: You can’t fix a blank page. She also talks about not getting writer’s block. Writing is her job, and plumbers don’t get plumber’s block right? I can’t quite match that attitude, but it’s a healthy one. It’s easy to say writer’s block is the problem. It makes it sound like an exterior problem. Not an interior one. But I’m not blocked. I know what I want to write. I’m just worried that I write will be crap. Nothing new there.

Time to stop whining and get back on track.

Writing

NaNoWriMo Day 5: The Reset

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series NaNoWriMo 2019

I didn’t do a lot of writing yesterday, but that’s okay. I did some important thinking about the story and how I want it to unfold. I don’t want the Sonny/Emily story to take over, to take focus away from Elizabeth. It needs to happen because it motivates things later on in her story, but it’s not important. It doesn’t have to happen on screen, so to speak. It has to happen in the background.

So I rewrote my outline for the first chapters, tweaking them so that Elizabeth is the central focus. I changed her inciting incident which means I have to readjust the rest of my Central Narrative Conflict’s anchor scenes.

So basically, here is how the way I understand the anchor scenes and how I put them into action into soap opera fanfiction (info is taken as notes from How Story Works and Lani Diane Rich’s podcasts).

Act One is your set up. You introduce the world. In soap opera fanfiction, this is also important because you need to situate the viewer in the time you’ve chosen to rewrite. I’ve picked March 2006 as my beginning point, thirteen years ago. I have to refresh the viewer on what was happening back then, but I also have some freedom to set my own universe. I can change the chronology — for example, Manny Ruiz was hired before the quarantine but I’ve moved that to post-quarantine. I compressed the amount of time they spent on Sam finding out Alexis is her mother because the search for that answer isn’t important. It’s how Sam deals with that information and how it ripples into her universe.

So in my Act 1, I have to create the universe of my particular story and introduce the characters that are going to be important — particularly my protagonist and my antagonist. Act 1 has two anchor scenes. The inciting incident and the first turning point (also called the acceptance of trouble). 

The inciting incident is the protagonist being confronted with the conflict and acknowledging that it exists. Broken Girl is the story of Elizabeth’s marriage — the deterioration not only of the relationship in the present, but also breaking down Elizabeth’s lies to herself about it. So the inciting incident has to have acknowledging that something is wrong. That it’s not about Lucky still recovering from the back injury during the train accident or the virus. She could wait those out, but she needs to see there’s something rotting at the core.

In the second anchor scene of Act 1, the protagonist needs to engage in the conflict. I don’t think it has to be a positive way — but that she acknowledges it and then decides to do something about it. And that’s another pacing problem — I had my original turning point as something else — something related to the Manny subplot and that’s not the right place for it. Elizabeth has to decide something about her marriage — whether it’s to stick it out, try to change what’s broken, or even just to ignore it. But she has to make an active choice.

After that, we go into Act 2 which is usually the longest. There’s a mid point (the view of the conflict has to completely change), then the no way but through (she has to make another active choice to do something about the conflict) which is the turn to Act 3 where we have the final 3 anchor scenes: the dark moment (she keeps going though all is lost), the climax (who is going to win the Central Narrative Conflict?), and then the resolution: how has the world changed?

These seven scenes have to completely revolve Elizabeth and her conflict. Otherwise the story doesn’t resonate as well and the pacing doesn’t work. There are subplots — the carnival shooting, Manny Ruiz, Sam’s surgery — all things that happened in 2006 but with a twist. These plots all influence her story, but they can’t be the things driving her story. She has to be at the wheel.

So I’ve rewritten the outline for the first few chapters and I’ll be digging into them today. I feel really good about this shift and I’m excited to get into it.

Writing

NaNoWriMo Day 4: Beginnings are Annoying

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series NaNoWriMo 2019

I am terrible at starting a story. I always have to rewrite the first few scenes, no matter what I do. I think Bittersweet had like eight different opening scenes before I finally settled on one I liked. Mad World had four different drafts. The Best Thing had a different opening scene — I am terrible at starting a story. It usually takes me a few chapters to get going, but every once in a while — I just…I have to stop.

I’ve written a little over 8k so far, 2000 more than I need for Day 4 and I mostly like it. But I feel like I’m missing something. Things are going the way I planned it, but I feel like it’s empty so far if that makes sense. Like I haven’t dug deep enough. I want Sonny/Emily to be a catalyst, a jumping off point, but to be honest — I think I’m wrong for that. Because it’s not the inciting incident for my story.

One of my favorite podcasts is How Story Works from Chipperish Media and Lani Diane Rich, and one of the most useful pieces of story advice I’ve ever come across is the seven anchor scenes. When I’m struggling with pacing and the movement of a story, I always stop and reassess — what are my anchor scenes? What is my central narrative conflict? That was the problem with Fool Me Twice. Despite having about 50k written for that, I hadn’t really sorted out what I was doing.

I know the Central Narrative Conflict for Broken Girl. But maybe my inciting incident isn’t the right one. I have to stop and think — what is my CNC and what really kicks it off? How can I get to that scene quick enough?

And the problem is that Sonny/Emily motivates Jason, it motivates the Liason connection, but it doesn’t do a lot to motivate Elizabeth. And this is her story. She is my protagonist, and Jason is a minor sub-protagonist/supporting character. Sonny/Emily is Jason’s inciting incident for the Manny Ruiz and Sam subplots. It has very little to do with Elizabeth.

My entire first chapter is about Sonny/Emily. It’s everything finding out the news, the blow-up it causes. It centers Sonny/Emily and Jason as the story, not Elizabeth.  And that’s not going to work.

It’s not a big deal — I can still use a lot of it, and it’s all staying in as part of the NaNo draft because all the words count. But I need to think about how to make Elizabeth the center of the story since she’s the protagonist.

Writing

NaNoWriMo 2019: Day 2: Tracing Broken Girl’s Origins

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series NaNoWriMo 2019

Thinking About the Writing

A bit late on getting my writing blog part of NaNo kicked off, but I feel really good about this project so I’m not too mad at myself. Yesterday was a crazy day. Capital One, my bank, had a system wide outage that meant I couldn’t access my checking accounts or paycheck for nearly six hours yesterday, so that was crazy. And it was a Friday, so as a teacher, that meant my nerves were frayed to begin with.

But I wrote a scene before the homeroom bell and then another one before I went out with my nieces for the night. They’re at great ages — 9 and 7 and still think I walk on water. We went to my school’s high school drama performance of Edgar Allan Poe short stories, and they had a great time. But I had to pick them up and drive back to my town so I spent about two hours on the road altogether. A bit tired today, but looking forward to digging into more of this year’s project.

Where Broken Girl Came From and Why It Took So Long

I’m really excited to be starting For the Broken Girl. It’s one of the projects I’ve had on the back burner almost since I started writing again. One of my favorite things to do is to peruse the Category Archive of my Story Status post over at Crimson Glass. It’s interesting to see what projects have actually come to fruition since I started writing again and redesigned CG. It looks like the first time I posted about it was July 2014. That’s five years!

At that point, I had a lot of on my plate. I had written Shadows and A Few Words Too Many, and had just started The Best Thing. That’s a lot for six months but I was really prolific during my second six months in London. I didn’t want to start a lot of stories at once — that’s something I did a lot in my early fanfiction career. I think I had anywhere from 6-9 stories in progress at all points and I would go weeks without updating.

I was in my early twenties — actually, even younger. Deserving, my first Liason fanfic, was published in July 2002. I had just turned eighteen, and within a year, I had written maybe a hundred stories. A ton of short ficlets, a lot of which was lost in a computer crash during the summer of 2003. I wrote a lot between 2002-03, then a lot from 2006-08, but then I went back to college and left a few stories in the lurch. You can trace my kind of haphazard writing career through the Fiction Graveyard which represents nearly every story I abandoned or rewrote.

What I like to do now is plan my stories and write them all before I post them. When I first started writing, I definitely still believed in the “buffer zone” of maybe five chapters. I managed to get through A Few Words that way because that story, for whatever reason, just poured out of me and I could stop writing. But The Best Thing took two years to write. I started posting it in May 2014 and didn’t finish until February 2016. I also posted in progress for All We Are and Bittersweet. It was Bittersweet that convinced me that waiting until a story was done was better. I made a huge revision in the last twelve chapters — and had I not waited until I finished writing it, that revision wouldn’t have worked nearly as well.

So Mad World, Books 1 and 2, were entirely written before I ever posted them and I hope my readers think that was worth it. I was able to add entire chapters, and in Book 2’s case, I added the Lucky and Kelsey relationship as well. I was able to tweak stories and scenes. I think both of those books are tighter and better for it.

All of that is to say that Broken Girl has mostly been in my head since 2014, but I wasn’t ready to write it. I had a series of scenes in my head, but I couldn’t really visualize the ending or the beginning. I’ve written thousands of words about this story, a lot of different plot sketches. It kept changing in my head, and I never felt quite ready to push it from development into active writing.

That’s changed now. I think I needed to write Mad World and finish The Best Thing first. Both of those stories pushed my writing into deeper, and unfortunately, darker places. And Broken Girl needs that.  Looking back at the various times I wrote about Broken Girl in my status posts, I kept talking about how the darker material just needed more time.

This Year’s Project

So now I’ve decided that time has come. What is For the Broken Girl exactly?

It’s of rewrite of the drug addiction storyline with more of a focus on Elizabeth, and less of a sympathetic view towards Lucky. I mostly like how 2006 unfolded — it’s one of my favorite years of GH writing with Scrubs, CarJax, Dillon & Lulu, etc. There’s a lot of good here and I love the buildup of the Liason friendship. I also really liked Sonny/Emily. Not the couple, but the story. What that story did for Jason, what it did for Sonny, and the catalyst it served for Jason and Elizabeth to reconnect. You don’t get the August 2006 blackout without the Sonny/Emily story.

I think Sonny/Emily/Jason story is what the network and writers wanted Jason/Courtney/Sonny to be, but that was always going to be a mistake. Jason/Courtney had their fans, but by and large, most fans have forgotten that story and that couple. Sonny and Courtney weren’t close, and Jason/Courtney’s relationship came from nowhere. Instead of writing the more believable rebound relationship turning into love, they made Jason/Courtney star-crossed lovers within two months, and for those us watching who had loved Courtney/AJ and Jason/Elizabeth, it felt like whiplash.

But Sonny and Emily? Jason’s reaction? That made sense to me. Jason adores Emily. She is absolutely the one person I believe Jason would go crazy to protect. He loved his sister. And he’s watched Sonny destroy woman after woman, driving them madness and breakdowns. You can love a person as a friend and still believe they are damaging to others. I adored the Sonny/Emily/Jason story. Plus — it gave us an in to rebuild that magical Liason connection that had gone dormant during 2005. We had only seen flashes of it in 2003 and 2004, but in 2006 it came back and a lot of us fell in love all over again.

But Broken Girl isn’t really super concerned with Sonny and the breakdown. That’s going to happen in the background. I’ve written the Sonny mental illness story in The Best Thing, and I can’t write anything better. I’ve said what I needed to say, particularly during this 2003-06 timeline.  I don’t want Sonny and the mob to be the focus in Broken Girl. I want it to be Elizabeth’s story.

I don’t have a lot of concerns with writing the story, but maybe there’s a few with the reception of the story. I hated the Jason/Sam break up in 2006 because the writers never give Jason believable outs with his romances. His final breakup with Courtney? Ultimately, she couldn’t handle his life. He walked away from Sam and Liz over the danger. The last time Jason broke up with a woman and it made sense was Robin. That’s twenty years ago now.

I think if you want to break up Jason and Sam and have it come from character, that’s a better way to go. People in love don’t fall out of love, but they stop being able to be together. I think you can write Jason and Sam as being in love in 2006 but not being good for each other anymore. They were lonely people in 2004 when they started dating, but I think you can use the quarantine as a reset. Sam lost her brother and her entire identity. The show didn’t go far enough in showing how this could have her questioning herself and really forcing her to do more.

2006-08 Sam is my favorite. She reminded me of early Carly — she’s so vulnerable, so damaged that she plasters over the fragile spots in her psyche by going on the offensive. By destroying others before they can destroy hers. Taking power so they don’t feel powerless. Sam did that with sleeping with Ric as revenge, going after Lucky, etc. They wimped out, but Sam was really interesting then.

But this isn’t Sam’s story either. I don’t want it to be Jason and Sam’s story — I want their relationship to be a subplot that influences Jason and pushes Elizabeth’s story. Liason reconnects as his relationship with Sam begins to fall apart — that’s what happened on the show but I want it to be less about Manny Ruiz and the mob and more about the people.

All of that means I have to write a Jason/Sam relationship in Book 1 that falls apart. I have to write a Lucky/Elizabeth relationship that falls apart. And I’m not always sure my audience is interested in reading about Jason and Elizabeth with other people while just being friends. That’s always a concern. But I really want to stretch myself with Broken Girl, so I’m shelving those concerns and moving forward.

So Far

Day 1 went well, despite the outside crap in my life. I wrote two scenes and hit 1,923 words. That’s a decent first day. I’m hoping to double that today and give myself a buffer against bad days and the wisdom teeth I’m having out this coming Thursday. I’ll be back tomorrow with an update.

Life Updates

Patriarchy in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire

Written for my 2019 Spring Class, Modern Drama.

Patriarchy in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire

Modern pop culture has largely turned Tennessee Williams’ most significant play into a punchline. Today’s generation is more familiar with a drugged-up Elaine on Seinfeld screaming the name “Stella” or the Simpsons’ musical parody episode in the early 1990s. The play, written in 1947 and memorialized in film in 1951, is not a comedy, and Marlon Brando’s star-turn as the violent Stanley Kowalski is more than a handsome man in a white shirt screaming his wife’s name outside the window. The play illuminates the role that patriarchy has played not only in our own lives but in the culture that we consume and continues to do so today. Blanche DuBois, a faded Southern belle arrives on her sister’s doorstep, and clashes with her brother-in-law, the aforementioned Stanley, in a vicious battle of the sexes that culminates in Stanley raping Blanche and the latter being sent away to an asylum, her fragile nerves entirely shattered. Williams’ play ends on this note—Blanche leaving, her sister Stella remaining with Stanley, and Stanley going on to live his life with his wife and child. In the film, Stella was depicted as leaving her husband, but it is difficult to imagine that lasting any longer than it did in Scene 3.

How useful is it to examine decades old literature and entertainment through the more modern lens of feminism? Is it fair to apply new sensibilities to culture our grandparents consumed? Is it right to call Stanley Kowalski a misogynist or characterize his relationship with Stella as an abusive one, with Stella showing the signs of being a battered wife? What is the value in approaching a play written before the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and the 1970s using this view?

Pamela Anne Hanks argued that this is really the only way to look at older literature, referring to the contemporary response theory. She writes that “it is because the beliefs, values, and attitudes, the prevailing thought of the day, are themselves composed of competing elements that literature presents—not a copy of those thought systems but a reaction to them.” (Hanks) In other words, every generation sees something different in the entertainment they watch, and it is natural to look critically at these influential works that are often remade decades later and analyze what they tell us about our society today. Hanks was writing from the perspective of a more recent production of Streetcar, a television movie that depicted the ending rape scene in more graphic detail than either Williams’ screenplay or Elia Kazan’s Academy Award winning film. Williams himself clearly agonized over this rape scene; Brenda Murphy referred to several versions of it that would have offered very different ideas to the audience. In one, “Blanche and Stanley seemed to have made love with mutual attraction” and in another version, cut just before the play premiered, Stella had a line to Eunice in which the word rape was used explicitly while she “held up Stanley’s pajama a top, which had been ripped to shreds, and said that his shoulders and back were covered with scratches.” Williams sent a letter to Kazan before the latter signed onto the production, suggesting that Stanley was not a cut and dried villainous type. (Murphy) He wanted to maintain a moral ambiguity—by the standards of the late 1940s and 1950s—and for him, a scene in which Stanley “springs toward her, overturning the table…she cries out and strikes him with the bottle top but he catches her wrist” created that ambiguity because directly after this stage direction, Blank “sinks to her knees” and Stanley carries her to the bedroom. For an audience in this time period, this can be construed as Blanche giving in and submitting. (Williams) No such ambiguity existed in the 1984 version according to Hanks—in the 1980s, Blanche struggles against her attacker who ultimately overpowers her.

How we envision consent and sexual assault between men and women has changed in the last seventy years to be sure. At the time Williams wrote his play, marital rape did not exist as a concept (and in some states, remains legal even today), and rape itself was a taboo subject. If a woman acted a certain way, she was clearly asking for it. The careful building up Blanche’s character throughout the play as a woman who has stepped outside the moral confines of decent society and engaged in premarital sex prepared the audience to believe Blanche was complicit in her own rape. When she is sent away to the asylum in Scene Eleven, the audience might actually be relieved to see the poor woman finally getting help while being assured that Stella and Stanley are free of her, able to go back to the happy life they lived prior to Blanche’s arrival. Anca Vlasopolos argued that in order to dominate and ultimately vanquish Blanche, Stanley had to “tap into the dominant discourse of patriarchy” and that ultimately, in many ways, Blanche could be seen as being punished for her nonconformity and promiscuous nature by being sent to an asylum. After all, what proof is offered for her committal? Williams does not offer any lines that suggest she has been diagnosed. Blanche is a woman alone in the world; Vlasapolos wrote that this ending suggests what women have always known: “we are not safe so long as the measure of insanity depends on the powerlessness of the individual.” (Vlasopolos)

We might argue that the way in which Williams constructed this narrative and Blanche’s story was part of another time, and that the character of Stanley could never be written today but unfortunately, that is not true. The patriarchal construction of our society has always lifted the man above the woman—we revere shows written about the anti-hero: Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos. One of television’s most popular couples on daytime soap operas was Luke and Laura on General Hospital, and their relationship began with a rape in 1979. Two years later, twenty million people watched them get married and Princess Diana herself sent the performers a bottle of champagne. When the show revisited that storyline in 1999, after their teenaged son learned the history, Laura brushed aside her own trauma in order to make Luke feel better about what he’d done and convince him to return to their marriage. One of the most important romance novels began with a rape scene: The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodwiss, published in 1973. The hero rapes the heroine because he thinks she is a prostitute. They go on to marry and live happily ever after. The rape trope in romance continued throughout the 1970s into the 1980s because women were not supposed to enjoy sex—they had to be talked into it, they had to be overpowered. One can even find this trope in the 1990s as Days of Our Lives depicted a marital rapist, Jack, who was redeemed by the love of a good woman, Jennifer. The couple of Jack and Jennifer came to be known as a so-called super couple, despite Jack’s past.  The society that thought the way Williams wrote Blanche’s rape offered even the slightest bit of ambiguity raised young women who read these novels and watched these soap operas in which women were sacrificed in favor of damaged men.

Another aspect of Stanley’s character that does not hold up to Williams’ claim of ambiguity is his violence and brutish nature. In several areas, Blanche is shown to have a poor attitude of her brother-in-law. She shows him derision by calling him a Polack and complaining about their small apartment in their run-down neighborhood. No one would blame Stanley for being angry that his wife’s sister, whom he is entirely supporting, shows no gratitude for having a place to rest her head after losing her family home. But Stanley takes his anger out on his wife, destroying Stella’s radio and then hitting her when Stella protests. He attacks his pregnant wife, and even his own friends step in. Williams’ stage direction reads that “Stanley is forced, pinioned by the two men, into the bedroom. He nearly throws them off.” One might think that this indicates that they do not approve of his rough treatment. But then they make excuses for him. “They speak quietly and lovingly to him and he leans his face on one of their shoulders.” Mitch, who later becomes Blanche’s beau, suggests that somehow the women are to blame because “poker shouldn’t be played in a house with women.” He says to Stanley “you blew your top” – they spend more time caring for Stanley and then only Blanche seems worried about the pregnant woman who was just struck by her own husband. Their upstairs neighbor, Eunice, to whom Blanche and Stella turn for the night, suggests that “you can’t beat on a woman an’ then call ‘er back”. (Williams) Eunice appears to be on Stella’s side, criticizing Stanley but at the end of the play, it is Eunice whom Stella tells that she could not live with Stanley if she believed Blanche, and Eunice is in sympathy with her. Both of them are women in a cold, cruel world that has just made it clear what happens to women who step outside of the traditional homemaker molds. When Stella ends up with Stanley at the end of the play, this fits in with the 1950s understanding of a woman’s role.  Vlasapolos writes that Eunice’s final assessment is “pragmatic” something even viewers who have sided with Blanche can understand. Eunice tells Stella about Blanche’s story “Don’t ever believe it. Life has to go on. No matter what happens, you’ve got to keep going.” (Williams)

Williams wrote his play intending for his figures to remain morally ambiguous. In that letter to Kazan, he wrote that “the only point the play makes, he insisted, is ‘the point or theme of human understanding…in the end you should feel—‘if only they all had known about each other.’” (Murphy) It is difficult, more seventy years later, to really accept this as the true point of the play. Would Stanley and Blanche have had different endings if they had understood one another better? It seems to me as a reader that they understood each other quite well. Stanley knew Blanche had lost everything, and that she had suffered a tragic loss of her husband at a young age. He knew that she felt as though she was superior to him (though no, he did not understand that Blanche’s superiority was little more than armor over an incredible fragile mind), and he knew that she had nowhere to go. He knew that his wife loved his sister for all her faults and depended on her. Stanley, even by Williams’ own standards, knew who his sister-in-law was, and that did not stop him from destroying her dignity, her hope for a future, and ultimately, even her own mind as it is clearly his sexual assault and her sister’s lack of belief in her that destroys Blanche’s fragile grasp on reality. Blanche also saw her brother-in-law as a brute who likely beats her sister. What more understanding was Williams looking for?

This play is a product of its time and a product of the way men thought about themselves and the world around them. Stanley, according to Williams’ is not the villain. No one is. Generations of women who have read this play, seen it performed or watched the adaptations, find that difficult to believe. Stanley Kowalski represents a piece of popular culture we are still struggling to excise: the brooding anti-hero that needs the love of a good woman to be better. Williams’ ending suggests that Stella and Stanley will probably be all right now that Blanche is out of the picture; that Stella and their child will soften his rough edges. This is why it is essential that society turns a critical eye to older pieces of entertainment to understand why women think it is their responsibility to fix a man. Why did Laura have to make Luke feel better about raping her? Why was Jennifer responsible for Jack’s redemption? Why did Stella have to stay with Stanley and sacrifice her sister? Popular women’s culture loves to write that women can save a man, that he can be redeemed through her morality and strength. One can cite numerous examples from soap operas and prime time television, from romance novels and even mainstream fiction. This is the trope that Williams’ Streetcar depends on:  men like Stanley can be fixed while women like Blanche are irretrievably broken. It was true in 1947, and in many respects, it remains true in 2019.

 

Works Cited

Hanks, Pamela Anne. “Must We Acknowledge What We Mean? The Viewer’s Role in Filmed Versions of “A Streetcar Named Desire”.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 14 (1986): 114-122.

Murphy, Brenda. “On A Streetcar Named Desire.” The Play and Author. n.d. (I have to track this source down, it was a pdf given to us in class)

Vlasopolos, Anca. “Authorizing History: Victimization in “A Streetcar Named Desire”.” Theatre Journal 38 (1986): 322-338.

Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: New Directions Books, 2004.

 

 

Writing

The Writing Process

The more time I spend writing, the more I learn about myself as a writer and what works for me. I’ve been working on the first draft of Fool Me Twice since August 18, a little under a month. In that time, I’ve written about 25,000 words. I had around 5k when I started based on the sample first chapter I wrote for the poll. That’s actually pretty good considering I started a new full-time job and I’ve been sick a bit.

But for this story, the linear way I usually approach my drafts hasn’t worked as well. I haven’t really gotten into the groove, turning out 4k without blinking (that’s how both books of Mad World were mostly completed in July Camp NaNoWriMo projects). But I sit down every day, pick at least once scene to write no matter where it is in the story and get a first draft done. My progress is maybe slower than I like, but every scene brings me closer to a finished draft.

I’m not really sure why that works for me right now. Typically, I prefer to straight forward because writing my scenes in chronological order allows me to build tension and explore characters and subplots. If something comes up in a scene that I need to add scenes for or change another one, I can make a quick synopsis note in Scrivener and keep it in mind when I get to the next one.

When I first started seriously trying to write in high school, one of the books I found in the library was The Weekened Novelist by Robert J. Ray, first published in 1993. I would have checked it out in 1996 or 1997. That method asked you to spend a weekend working on your key scenes — like inciting incident, turning point, climax, etc. That method has literally never really worked for me, but I’ve always found it interesting.

A lot of writing advice suggests you at least identify these scenes, whether you do it in discovery, drafting, or revision. I generally write extensive plot sketches and then create blank Scriv documents for every scene I think I’ll need. I always make a list of my seven anchor scenes (vocabulary learned from the incredible Lani Diane Rich and her How Story Works podcast) to at least make sure my pacing is structured well.

But that’s a hard approach to bring to soap opera fanfiction which, at least the way I write it, is hard to write beginning, middle, and ends for. Soap operas are designed to continue. Even a story that has a climax is supposed to do double duty and launch the next storyline for that character. I also almost always write more ensemble-based stories. Yes, Jason and Elizabeth tend to lead the stories but that’s because, A, that’s the fanbase where I found my audience so I’m kind of constrained by that, and B, I think these are characters and a couple that would do very well leading stories on GH.

So Fool Me Twice is a bit of a departure from my work up to date. It’s similar to Damaged, in that I’m really trying to write several leads and weave together complex storylines. Even in Mad World which has characters we’re following like Ned, Lucky, Taggert, Sonny, Carly, and the teens, it’s still very much Jason and Elizabeth’s story. And probably–it’s more Elizabeth’s story.

But FMT is supposed to be Jason, Drew, Sam, and Elizabeth’s story. The reaction of this group of four people to Jason’s return, and the fallout of their complicated relationships. I’m weaving together strands of relationships where all of these people have been in each other’s lives, loved one another, hurt one another–and doing all the couple options justice. Even as a Liason fan who is intending for this to be endgame Liason, I want to do the Jason and Sam relationship more justice. I want to write a more realistic Drew and Sam. And I even want to have a more nuanced Drew and Elizabeth, post-reveal.

I’m also juggling those relationships with everything else that SHOULD have come with the reveal. I still have Kim and Oscar, but I’ve changed the nature of their relationship to Drew. Kim and Drew were married in 2012 when he went missing–Drew raised Oscar from birth. That makes, IMO, a more fraught story for Kim to walk into. I also want to write a better version of what happens when Franco lies to Elizabeth over and over again and is emotionally abusive (which he is, but the show decides to ignore). I want to have an Elizabeth who is actually the heart and soul of General, and not saying the same lines over and over again.

It’s three main storylines and seven subplots. And I’m almost sure I’ve bitten off too much. I may not meet my October 31 finish drafting date. But every day, I write another scene. And hope I can get closer to finding the right approach to really start banking word.s

Hunting for a Highlander (Lynsay Sands)

Note: I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review from the publisher. This book is scheduled for release by Avon on January 28, 2020.

Overall

I’ve read every historical romance Lynsay Sands has released, including all seven previous entries of the Highland Brides series. She’s an author who plays into specific tropes with an incredibly melodramatic style of writing. That’s not a criticism — as a soap opera lover, I love melodrama and there’s honestly not a lot of authors who can do it well. She’s one of them.

When I first started reviewing the Highland Brides series, I hadn’t yet identified why exactly I go back to Lynsay Sands over and over again because I don’t read a lot of authors who write in this style. And it’s because her melodramas are incredibly entertaining, almost always satisfying, and comforting. She writes lusty heroes and heroines who have a lot of sexual chemistry are always in the middle of murder mysteries, and I always know exactly what I’m getting when I pick up a Lynsay Sands novel.

The Buchanan brothers were introduced to us in The Highlander Takes a Bride when the sole sister of the rambunctious group, Saidh, gets married. There are seven brothers, and Hunting the Highlander is the fifth of their stories. Geordie is one of three unmarried Buchanan brothers who returns to the keep to find it filled with unmarried women looking for husbands to inherit their father’s land because they have no brother. This is a good opportunity for the Buchanans who have a lot of brothers but not a lot of titles.

Geordie seeks solace and silence by sleeping in a tree in the orchard only to be woken up one of the potential brides fleeing tormenters. We meet Dwynn Innes, heiress to a holding by the sea in the Lowlands.  Dwynn is not a typical beauty, but she and Geordie hit it off immediately and there’s not a lot of conflict as to whether they’re going to end up together. They’re immediately attracted to one another, but someone seems to want to cause Dwynn harm.

I really liked this book. I think that Geordie and Dwynn are probably my third favorite couple in the series (Ross and Annabel are always going to be number one). The attacks and attempted murder stuff is all fine and predictable. The most I can say in relation to that stuff is that it doesn’t drag the book down and it’s nicely paced. As always, both our leads get injured a lot which lets the other person confront their feelings. That’s a Sands trope I’m ready for.

I think my only critique of this book is the focus on Dwynn’s breasts. Her sisters lower all of her necklines to an excruciating degree (there are lots of times when we’re told her nipples are basically showing) and I feel like that doesn’t match the fashions of the time period. It’s a weird central theme that repeats until literally the end of the book. Early on, Geordie even sees Dwynn and only recognizes her because he’s looked at her breasts more than her face. It’s a discordant note in an otherwise delightful book.

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The Wallflower Wager (Tessa Dare)

I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Overall

This is the third book in the Girl Meets Duke series, and one that I was particularly looking forward to having met Lady Penelope Campion in early installments. She was the delightfully sweet animal lover who made sham sandwiches that Emma and Alexandra made their beaus pretend to like. I’m a sucker for any book with a lot of animals, and this definitely did not disappoint.

She lives alone with a chaperone who should probably retire, surrounded by her animals, but her aunt makes it clear that Penelope can only remain in London if she makes an attempt to marry and rejoin society. Otherwise, she will be forced to return to her brother’s estate, a fate she can’t face. Her next door neighbor is ruthless business man Gabriel Duke who bought and restored the town home next door. He knows social climbers will jump at the chance to live next to a member of the ton like Lady Penelope. He agrees to help Penelope re-home her beloved animals and keep her in London.

Their meet cute is probably one of the most adorable you’ll ever read — Penny has adopted a parrot that flies away and ends up in the house next door in the middle night. Dressed in her night clothes, she goes to retrieve the parrot, thinking the house is empty, only to find her new neighbor in little more than towel, fresh from the tub.

I like this book. It’s cute, there are a lot of animals, and we get to see the returning supporting cast. I like Penny and Gabriel and their various adventures in re-homing many of Penny’s animals. Their romance is lovely, and Penny’s backstory is suitably tragic. It’s as well written as you’d expect a Tessa Dare book to be, and I promise you, if you love her writing, you will like this book.

I think the problem I have with this book is not the fault of Tessa Dare, but something a bit more subjective for me. Everything about this book is good — all of the dots line up, things connect, and it’s good. But I will probably never be able to re-read it.

I’ve always read my ARC books a few times to get the best review possible, but for content reasons, I won’t be able to read this one again. I’ll get into that in the spoilers.

Let me repeat that this book is good. I think that I’m just not able to be more objective than that, and I feel really bad. This is probably the reason books should have content warnings, to be honest. I wouldn’t have asked for this book as an ARC if I’d known the content. I still would have read it once because I adore Tessa Dare, but this is a topic I don’t ever read about more than I have to.

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