Friday, February 15, 2019

An Interview with Lisette Brodey, Author of Hotel Obscure

One of the best parts of my job is meeting other indie authors who write stories I "believe in". And when they are professional and kind to boot, I feel like I've hit the jackpot. Lisette Brodey is one such author, and I thought her most recent book, Hotel Obscure, was one of the best collections of short stories I've ever read. I'm so grateful that she was able to take some time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about her book and her writing.

Why did you need to tell these stories?

I wrote the first story (not the first story in the book) because I was working on a YA paranormal series and I was tired of having to adhere to some of the restrictions (especially language) for a YA audience. So, while I was waiting for edits on the first book, I felt the need to write something very different.

Now that you’re asking, the first story I wrote, “To Be Perfectly Frank,” was from a decades-old idea that I had never developed. And it took place in a run-down urban hotel. I can’t even tell you if that’s why I decided to set the entire book there, but it’s very likely. (See the things you learn about your own work when doing an interview?)

Also, because I think that most of us have misconceptions/stereotypes about groups of people, no matter what the common denominator, I wanted to focus on this small population of people, bring them out of obscurity, and let their individuality shine. Too many people are hidden away in real life and categorized as someone or something very different from who they genuinely are.

You have very colorful characters in Hotel Obscure. Who, if anyone, were they inspired by?

The stories were inspired by people I know, people I see, and those voices in my head that screamed, “Write about me! Write about me!”

Sometimes, when I’m out and about, I see interesting people and I sneak photos of them. Two such photos turned into supporting characters, right down to their clothing and hair.

Some of the stories and situations are based on homeless people who I know. But in most of my work, characters, if based on anyone in particular, are always hybrids.

Many of Hotel Obscure's residents lived in bleak circumstances, but there was a tinge of humor in many of the stories. Was that a conscious choice?

Absolutely. I can’t write without humor. If I wrote the darkest, bleakest story in the world, humor would probably find a way in there at some point. But I never force it. Just last night, I was watching a trailer for a film (I see a lot of movies), and I saw the character crack a joke that seemed contrived and forced. I’m noticing this more and more in films. I don’t ever want to force humor. Yes, it helps to balance out the darkness, but I’d rather stay in the dark than try to be funny for the sake of it.

On a different note, because this is a collection of seventeen themed short stories taking place in and around a run-down hotel, I purposely wanted some stories to be more lighthearted than others. I wanted to mirror real life as I see it.

I really thought you nailed the noirish underside of urban life, the one that’s the twilight zone of sparkly dreams that not only don’t come true, but sometimes even turn on the dreamer. To what extent was that mood inspired by things you might have seen working in the urban underbelly?

As I said earlier, I have seen a lot, been told a lot, and imagined a lot from what I’ve seen.

Having spent many years of my life in both New York City and Los Angeles, there’s a lot that has seeped into my brain. Before I go any further, I should say that while I am from the Philadelphia area, I never lived in the city.

In Queens, New York, I worked as a bartender at several places, so I believe that my experiences doing that brought me in contact with many kinds of people. But that’s a very tiny piece of the pie. I cannot isolate the experiences that found their way into my stories. I can only say that most everything I’ve seen has had some impact on me, whether consciously or subconsciously. I know that my years of being a people watcher (both in cities where I have lived and traveled to) has had a profound impact. I would imagine this is true for most people, whether writers or not.

Which characters stayed with you the longest?

That’s such a tough question because every single character in the book had to impact me in order to even hang around. One of my favorite characters is the one in the first-person story called “Via Dolorosa.” She (who has no name) came from a life of privilege and unapologetically tells the story of her sad journey. She’s strong and she’s content, though not necessarily happy. She’s a survivor.

The star of the last story in the book, “Ellmore J. Badget’s Most Unusual Day” is maybe my favorite character. Ellmore is a man who has survived by routine, living every day as a near carbon copy of the one before it. I loved getting to know him and seeing where his story went.

I just loved some of the names you used in HO. Are you pulling from any other works when you come up with them?

I pulled one character name from my novel Crooked Moon. It is the name of a jazz pianist who has no dialogue and is only background. In my story “First Date,” Marv Jackson is a bartender, and I make reference to the fact that he is a jazz pianist and I mention the location that was a big part of Crooked Moon.

Short stories are deceptively difficult, both to write and read, and even harder when they intertwine. What made you want to take this challenge on?

“Deceptively difficult” nails it.

While this is the first book I’ve written that is not a novel, I think the novelist in me wanted to give it the feel of a novel. I wanted to tell individual stories, but as the characters are all in the same setting, it makes sense that some of their lives would intertwine. Sometimes, I knew that a character’s story would unexpectedly (for the reader) continue, but other times, I didn’t. In fact, I’d say that some of the biggest surprises in the book were surprises to me. And those are always my favorite kind.

So, while this is not a novel, I do let readers know that the stories should be read in the order that they appear, just as chapters in a novel are. That said, I didn’t write them all this way, which meant I had to go back with a careful eye and make sure that information given in one story didn’t contradict another. That definitely added a degree of difficulty, but not a major one. And for the record, unlike some authors, I always write novels in a linear fashion.

Another reason I wanted to take on this challenge was that doing a book of short stories allowed me to work with characters and situations that piqued my interest without building an entire novel around them. But writing short stories also means that you have far less time to present your story and your character … and to get things right. Maybe it’s a slight rewiring of the writer’s brain.

Can we expect to see more short stories from you and/or more of the HO universe?

Well, my brother was a big fan of the last story, “Ellmore P. Badget’s Most Unusual Day,” and told me that the story would make a great prequel to a novel. Taking a closer look, I realized that he is right. (There’s a first time for everything.) As of right now, I have no plans to write that novel, but I can never say never.

I would, however, love to write another collection of themed short stories set in a different location. That’s in my head all the time, but I haven’t found my starting point yet. But yes, that’s something I’d very much like to do.

Lisette was born and raised in the Philadelphia area. She spent ten years in New York City, and now resides in Los Angeles.
She’s a multi-genre author of seven novels and one short story collection: Crooked Moon (General/Literary Fiction); Squalor, New Mexico (Coming-of-Age/Literary Fiction); Molly Hacker Is Too Picky! (Women's Fiction/Chick-lit), The Desert Series: Mystical High; Desert Star; and Drawn Apart (YA paranormal), Barrie Hill Reunion (Literary Fiction); and Hotel Obscure (short stories, Literary Fiction.)

In addition to her seven novels and one short story collection, two more of Lisette’s short stories are published in an anthology: Triptychs (Book 3, The Mind’s Eye Series.)

In January 2013, Lisette edited and published a book of her mother's poetry (written 50 years earlier): My Way To Anywhere by Jean Lisette Brodey.

She is currently working on a new romantic comedy. 

You can connect with Lisette on her website, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, and Instagram.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

When you don't want trouble but it finds you anyway

In 2015 and 2016 I felt stuck. This is not a unique thing; I was at an age and a period in my life that would do that to most people. Reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo was one of the things that helped unstick me, and one of the things it helped me do was walk away from social media. As I wrote in that post, I did feel the lack of stimulation, and one of the things I used to fill it were Google Alerts about subjects I was interested in, including Kondo.

I've groaned in the last month and a half as the world has discovered Kondo through her Netflix show. There were the publicity pieces from the middle of December to early January, but then the think pieces arrived. I rolled my eyes at a lot of it, as I'd already been through the "no, she doesn't want you to throw away everything" dance a few years before, albeit on a much smaller scale. But what happened on Monday made me gasp.

Journalist and author Barbara Ehrenreich, who has written on such topics as poverty, healthcare, feminism, and a bunch of other things I heartily approve of, decided on Monday to take a shot at Marie Kondo, not for getting rid of books or telling you to become a minimalist (things Kondo hasn't done but is frequently accused of), but for not speaking English. You can read the story here at USA Today.

The original tweet was deleted, of course, but then followed up by what should have been an apology but instead...

Everyone can look up Ehrenreich, Pollitt, and Showalter, but let's say this isn't what you expect from people with their resumes. And after just finishing Stamped From The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X Kendi, I'm even less inclined to excuse this. This is racism, and a bunch of these writers' fans proclaiming that this is a "joke" that many of us aren't getting because we're not tuned into irony or culturally literate enough just isn't doing it for me. Also, as the daughter of someone who speaks two languages fluently, I'm going to say what I always say in these situations: Her English is better than Ehrenreich's Japanese. We can discuss later if this is one of the reasons empires fall.

Guys, be better.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

December is the sneakiest month of all

(With apologies to TS Eliot...nah, that's okay. He was a jerk.)

I meant to put up a post earlier, but December got off to a rough start. Still, I managed to get in a lot of reading, including:

  • Warrior and King by Ellen Oh. Really liked Warrior, but I chafed a little at the romantic emphasis in King. But this is how it goes, even for modern YA, I suppose.
  • The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin. I wasn't sure I would read the rest of this series after The Fifth Season. Jemisin deserves every accolade she's received, but the first book was so dark. I know, she's keeping it real, but I can take only so much murder (of children) and cannibalism before I've got to walk away. But I'm glad I gave it another shot. While still plenty dark, The Obelisk Gate provided a ray of hope and, perhaps more importantly, an explanation. Looking forward to The Stone Sky, which I should have in my hands any day now.
  • The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu. If my list doesn't look impressively long, please know that the heft and complexity of The Grace of Kings made me feel like I was reading at least three books I was done. It felt like Game of Thrones in Southeast Asia, but in the good way. Liu was the translator behind Cixin Liu's The Three Body Problem, and he's just as brilliant in his own work. The sequel The Wall of Storms is currently looking at me on my reading table, but I need a break before I go back in.
  • Speaking of Cixin Liu, I've started reading The Dark Forest, the sequel to Three Body, and Ball Lightning, a standalone that exists in the same universe. Really digging Ball Lightning--spooky, but in the good way.
  • Finally, also started reading Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. It's a recommendation from my library, and this might be the first time they've steered me wrong (actually, wait: they also thought I'd like Magonia). I'll post about it if I actually finish it.

As for writing, I met my modest goal of ten thousand words in November, but I don't want to do it again. I love the people I know through NaNoWriMo, but the contest aspect of it turned writing into drudgery for me. I needed to step away for a few days, and then I found the words pouring out of me. I'm finally over the sophomoric admonishment that you have to write every day if you want to consider yourself a writer. You have to write on more days than you don't, but never go to the notebook or keyboard just to put random words down.

Randomly, I finally deleted my accounts on Instagram, Twitter (I only rejoined to find information on one of my local races, but that was silly because no one had anything), and Tumblr. I left Twitter because they're a cesspool, Tumblr because the people complaining about losing the porn made me roll my eyes (but, pro tip to Tumblr and all of these other sites: try hiring actual human beings to look through sensitive material if you want to make sure you avoid serious things like child porn), and Instagram because Facebook, their corporate overlord, is just disgusting.

I'm on the hunt again for good if not great blogs, so in addition to book recs, please hit me up with your favorite blogs if you've got any.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Post Day of Plenty Reading

My week blew up because one of my kids wasn't feeling well and we ended up in the ER. We're all okay--very, very okay--but the lack of sleep on Tuesday night meant Wednesday's productive activities were canceled. But that's okay, because I got a lot done on Tuesday.

The one upside of so much time in the hospital was that I got a lot of reading in. I finished The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, and oh my, it is one of the best things I have ever read. Right after that I tucked into Prophecy by Ellen Oh and finished that in two days (sorry, but Thanksgiving festivities got in the way). I now need to read everything Liu and Oh have written. Serpentine by Cindy Pon was pretty good, too, but I'm not jonesing to read the sequel like I am the other two. Also need to read The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu (who just happens to be the translator of the Three Body Problem).

A young woman scarred by the Cultural Revolution is assigned to work on a project to make contact with intelligent extraterrestrials. What could possibly go wrong?
Semi-legendary version of medieval Korea with a female warrior heroine who has mystical powers. Where have you been all my life?

Weirdly, I struggled mightily and then finally gave up on Dragon of the Lost Sea by Laurence Yep. I think most would agree it's not as difficult as the other three, and probably falls into Middle Grade...but when one considers how much Middle Grade books grated on my nerves at that age, it suddenly starts to make sense.

I also might just be burnt out from all of the reading over the last two days, along with the writing I've been dragging out of myself for NaNoWriMo. A walk would make me feel better, but the universe's punishment for ordering a bed frame from Amazon is that their delivery is late and I can't leave the house until it arrives. If only I'd gone to Ikea, where I could have gotten in a good walk while looking for something that would break in a year. In fairness, Amazon did apologize for FedEx's mistake, but if I don't get this thing by tomorrow there are more than a few thrift shops in Boston I'll be happy to spend my money in.

What did you read this week?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Don't be an Intellectual Snob: Artistic Lineages, 80s Fashion Magazines, Information Entropy

I'm taken with Austin Kleon's idea of tracing our influences and the people who influenced them as a way of deepening, I think, our understanding of our own artistic impulses. I encourage people, even those who don't think of themselves as creators, to explore what it is that moves you.

Not feeling too well in the latter part of the week (it take about two weeks of non-stop activity and socializing for me to me remember why I've sworn off such things), I decided to start tracing my creative ancestry in order to keep myself in the game. What I have so far is woefully incomplete, but I'm pleased to see it still reflects my eclectic tastes. And while Google has done much to ruin the internet, there is something kind of neat about being able to see the influences of Tolstoy on a pre-delivered page.

Words, of course, are my thing, but it would be a sorry world if we all stayed in our lane (that applies to people in general as much as artists). I get a thrill from finding musical artists to fall in love with, and while I'm much more discriminating about the visual art I enjoy (I think I'm not unique in that; most of us have a "tighter" band of what we consider attractive visually than in the other arts), when I find a piece that speaks to me, I could stare at it for hours. So it's worth coming up with a list of composers and painters and tracing their pedigree.

The artist that first came to mind was Marc Chagall. For me, his art is perfect: whimsical, magical, visual fairy tales, and like the best of all fairy tales, profound in both its simplicity and surrealism (see Thought below). I remember the feeling I first had when I saw his art, as if the world was opening up to me beyond the clean, perfectly geometric lines I'd been told I needed to live in. This, of course, prompted me to place the memory in a specific time (aren't we all such linear creatures?), and where I saw him for the first time.

Antonio rocchi su dis. di marc chagall, le coq bleu, 1958-59
Le Coq Bleu, Marc Chagall

The answer was that the first time I saw his work was when I was twelve in 1985, shortly after his death, and the place I saw him was in Harper's Bazaar (and I'm pretty sure it was the May issue). Could it have been Vogue? Maybe, but it was one of the two, and I remember staring at those pages, completely entranced. It was definitely in a Harper's Bazaar that year that I read about the passing of Tennessee Williams, and with such lyrical quotes that I decided I had to read him, and soon.

As I thought about this, I remembered that this was just the first contribution, and I use that word without irony, that I got from the glossies. Trust me, I learned more about makeup application than was useful, but I also learned about literature and art; that's got to be part of the reason that I was enthusiastic about reading and watching things my classmates turned their noses up at, including Oscar Wilde. (That was definitely a Vogue contribution; the editors there were constantly mimicking his arch affect.) Just as importantly, I learned a lot about personal finance from Glamour, whether it was getting a binding estimate on moving cost's, or the merits of using the stock market index to find the best place to apply for a job (FYI, it worked). Finally, let's give it up to American Elle, who in its first year included a profile of Mies van der Rohe, making him sound like kind of curmudgeonly badass. Less is more, suckers.

Is saying I read the articles in women's fashion magazines the equivalent of saying you read the articles in Playboy? Probably. Is someone going to remark that I'm making women's magazines sound like the picture book equivalent of what one might get in a more "serious" magazine? Almost definitely--smart people can be pretty snotty.

A quote:
I don't want to be interesting. I want to be good.
--Mies van der Rohe

A thought:
He remembered taking a class in information theory as a third-year student in college. The professor had put up two pictures: One was the famous Song Dynasty painting Along the River During the Qingming Festival, full of fine, rich details; the other was a photograph of the sky on a sunny day, the deep blue expanse broken only by a wisp of cloud that one couldn't even be sure was there. The professor asked the class which picture contained more information. The answer was that the photograph's information content--its entropy--exceeded the painting's by one or two orders of magnitude.
--The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu

Monday, November 5, 2018

Exploring Asian and American writing, and NaNo thus far

A couple of weeks ago I decided that I was going to read more Asian and Asian American writers--but that's not going to stop me from opening this post with my thoughts on a Korean movie.

I was so excited that Netflix got a new Korean movie that I ignored the reviews that said it was "off", but I should have listened. Illang: Wolf Brigade made almost no sense to me. The backstory is admittedly compelling: China rattled its saber one too many times, which forced Japan to re-arm. In response, the two Koreas agreed to reunify in order to put up a strong defense. But a group called The Sect is against reunification, and they use terrorist tactics to prevent it. In response, the South Korean government forms an elite security force known as the Wolf Brigade. After a security operation goes sideways and numerous unarmed school girls are killed, the Wolf Brigade begins to hide their faces behind masks.

Interesting, but while what I just described could have taken easily half an hour to cover on film, that was glossed over in under five minutes. When the story picks up five years after the incident with the school girls, another young girl with the Sect (Shin Eun-soo), who just happens to be wearing a red sweater, leads the soldiers through an underground system of tunnels after most of her cell has been killed. Cornered, she blows herself up, devastating the unit. One soldier (Gang Don-Won) takes it particularly hard. When he's asked by an old colleague now working for the security department (Kim My-Yeol) to visit the older sister (Han Hyo-Joo) of the dead girl, the story really begins. I'm not giving anything away when I say that nothing is as it seems.

Little Red Riding Hood

By the end, I had no idea what the movie was about. It had slick visuals, the kind I haven't seen in Korean cinema before. Think Blade Runner but without mechanized human beings. Seoul looks cold and hopeless, and whatever high ideals people think they're fighting for is overshadowed by the daily grind to survive. My issue was that there wasn't enough of Gang's inner life to explain why he had enlisted to serve in the first place. And while I understood Han's conflict, I needed to know more of her backstory to understand how she found herself in her situation. It's ironic that a film that really mastered visuals indulged in so much telling and not showing.

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh also explores what a post-unified Korea would look like and, perhaps not surprisingly, does a better job of it (books > movies, who knew?). Here again the Koreas have unified in reaction to forces in Northeast Asia, but this time the rebels want Korea to be an independent country, not part of a greater council of nation. Seoul, known now for being one of the most technologically advanced cities on the planet, is so advanced in the year 2199 that it has its own Dome which protects it from outsiders--including the have nots in Old Seoul. Do I need to say that this was a dystopian YA, the genre I swore I had no interest in several years ago? Okay, fine, you caught me, I'm a fan, and I can't wait for the sequel to come out.

I'm dying to get my hands on The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, the first book in an internationally acclaimed Chinese sci fi series. I can't remember, but I think this was recommended to me after I ready City of Brass by S.A. Chakroborty, but it's only now that I feel brave enough to tackile it. While I wait in the library queue, I've gotten my hands on some works by Asian-American authors, including Serpentine by Cindy Pon, Prophecy by Ellen Oh, The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, Dragon of the Lost Sea by Laurence Yep, and Half World by Hiromi Goto. Serpentine reminds of the real reason that I avoided YA: some of the themes make me squirm. I'm not uncomfortable with exploring a same-sex orientation awakening, but I found a parent's violent reaction to it very hard to read. The more things change, the more they don't.

Even if you can't write 50K words this month, why not write anyway?

We're five days into NaNoWriMo right now and I've technically signed up, but there's no way I'm writing 50,000 words this month. I did it last year and I was grateful for the kick-start to my project, but it took a lot of out of me, to the point where I don't think I wanted to write for a month after that. On top of that, my sons are now high school-aged and we've cranked up the intensity of instruction. If I write 10,000 words this month, I'm going to be very pleased with myself. I'm sure some purists are going to wonder why I'm bothering at all, but it's nice to be able to have an excuse to hang out with other writers for a month.

What are you working on (or watching or reading) this month?

Friday, October 26, 2018

Worth the Binge! Blog Hop - the Marvel edition

I wrote on Monday about my love for K-dramas. That, of course, wasn’t what got me started on Netflix binging. That honor goes to House of Cards, but I’ve already talked about how over that series I am (the Kevin Spacey douchiness makes me feel better about that decision). What kept me paying the ever-increasing subscription charge after that were the Marvel shows. So let’s talk about the good, the bad, and the What The Hell is Going On.

My husband and children watched Daredevil before I did, but I could hear it in the background and thought it was taking itself wayyy too seriously, and that’s taking into account the tragic backstory of being blinded as a child and then orphaned. I think, overall, that’s still a good way to describe both Matt Murdoch aka Daredevil (Charlie Cox), but that overlooks the charms of Matt’s BFF and law partner Foggy Nelson (Eldon Henson) and secretary turned journalist Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). Honestly, Karen’s frequent outbursts and teariness irritated me at first (women don’t cry enough on television, right?), but by the sixth episode I found myself grudgingly admiring her determination, fortitude, and courage. She was well paired with journalist Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall) and later editor Mitchell Ellison (Geoffrey Cantor), who helped her (and of course Daredevil) expose the corruption of Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio). 

Well, what do you expect when you're a vigilante?

You’d think D’Onofrio would have been enough reason for me to watch this in the first place (did anyone else watch Law and Order: Criminal Intent just for him, or was that just me?), but the ridiculous graveliness he injected into Fisk’s voice made me cringe. Again, something I grew to ignore as the episodes marched on and we got a glimpse into the horrific childhood that shaped him into a crime boss with delusions of sainthood. Humanizing him even more was his love affair with Vanessa Marianna (Ayelet Zurer), a gallery owner shrewd enough to know what he really was but brave enough to stay with him after he bared his soul. Those touches of humanity were almost enough to get me through the absolutely savage treatment he inflicted on both friends and foes.

That was Season One, and it was definitely interesting enough to make me tune in for Season Two, but that was a disappointment. I can’t even describe it, other than to say that the presence of both Frank Castle aka The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and Matt’s old flame Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) was supposed to serve some ridiculous plot that would explain why Matt would be so isolated by the end. Whatever. All I remember is by the end I was screaming at both Foggy and Karen that they needed to get as far away from him as they could.

If Daredevil in total earns a B (because I’m generous), Iron Fist is lucky to get a C. You’ve heard all of the complaints before, so I’ll just recap: Marvel was cowardly in the Seventies for wanting a martial arts hero but being unwilling to make the character, you know, actually Asian (I mean, it worked for Kung Fu and David Carradine, so why not?) and today’s Marvel and Netflix were extra special douchey for hiding behind said forty-year old decision; even given that, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) and Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup) positively reeked white privilege, and not even in the fun way a la Dynasty or Gossip Girl; the plot was ridiculous; Jones couldn’t act; and the actors had no chemistry. Some of that is all true to varying degrees, but it’s overlooking the most important problem: in the words of the legendary Michael Logan when describing the downfall of daytime soaps in the late 1990s, the writing sucked. It wasn’t fair to ask any of the actors to be more given the truly cringe worthy dialogue they were given and the stupid plot they were asked to support. Kudos to David Wenham as Harold Meachum and Pelphrey for being able to rise above the script (most of the time), but since in essence they were telling the story of a parent-child relationship gone to Hell (and then resurrected), their job was arguably less difficult. 

Let's agree that maybe this isn't the strongest premise.

It baffles me that most people felt Season Two was better, because if anything, I found the dialogue even harder to listen to, especially what they had Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) say. The bright spot was the introduction of Alice Eve as Typhoid Mary, but the less said about the stupid plot that brought her on, the better.

Those are the heroes that could use some work, so let’s talk about the ones who got it right.

Luke Cage is one of the coolest shows on television at any time. Best music, hands down; best group of female characters on any show (while I love Jessica Jones, she’s the only one on her show with her act together, and not always at that); incredible supporting cast (Alfre Woodard, Simone Missick, Karen Pittman, Rosario Dawson, Mahershala Ali, Sonja Sohn, and Ron Cephas Jones are only the most memorable); and, dare I say it, coolest villains (I shouldn’t have been sympathizing with Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir) by the end, but I couldn’t help it). And Mike Colter as the titular Luke Cage played a reluctant superhero, well, as realistically as one can. 

In fairness, something like this could give anyone an inflated ego.

If Season One was all about Luke’s origins as a hero, then Season Two was about how close the line between savior and sinner can be. Honestly, by the second episode I wanted to slap Luke. No, dude, don’t get in your long-suffering girlfriend’s face (Dawson as Claire Temple) when she tells you to chill out and then don’t prove her point by punching your fist through a wall. The defining character trait of any villain is that they see themself as a victim who doesn’t have a choice, and Season Two made you squirm through every episode as Luke used that excuse again and again. When Season Two ended a la The Godfather, it made perfect sense even if you hated it.

But that’s not to say that there wasn’t A LOT to love in Season Two. Misty Knight (Missick) is a smart cop back from a maiming who’s aware enough to see when she’s in danger of falling over herself, but the real standout, in my opinion, was Priscilla Ridley (Pittman), the cool as ice police captain who forced Misty to be a better cop. Woodard was amazing as Mariah Dillard, the councilwoman who just couldn’t run far enough away from her own demons, and Theo Rossi was sometimes hypnotic as the amoral Shades Alvarez who finally remembered that he had a conscience. All of them were enough to make you want to watch Season Three, even if Luke had sold his soul to the devil.

(And then there’s the continuing bit about “getting coffee”. The look on Luke’s face when crime boss Rosalie Carbone (Annabella Sciorra) advised Luke that he didn’t like espresso because he’d never had it made right is reason enough to watch the show.)

But if I give Luke Cage an A, Hugo- and Peabody award winning Jessica Jones gets an A+.

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a hero, period. She’s snarky, alcoholic, bitter, and self-loathing, but at the end she’s too intrinsically good not to help when someone genuinely needs her. In Season One, she knew that Kilgrave (David Tennant), the creepy supervillain who kept her in a psychic prison months before, was toying with her when he dangled his latest victim in front of her, but her instincts to help the otherwise helpless drowned out those of self-preservation. Similarly, when Oscar (J. R. Ramirez), her building’s super tried to kick her out of her apartment in Season Two for, basically, having superpowers, that didn’t stop her from saving his son when he was about to fall out of a window. She is, underneath the tough skin she assumed as a result of her psychic torture and rape, extremely sympathetic, no matter how imperfect someone may be. Lawyer-shark Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) set Kilgrave loose on Jessica in Season One, but when she realized that Jeri was being set up by con artists pretending to have healing powers, Jessica stepped in to warn her; even if Jeri didn’t deserve to be trusted, she also didn’t deserve to be screwed.

Wary, just out of a fight, and ready for some more: classic Jessica Jones.

Unlike Luke Cage, Jessica doesn’t need or particularly want accolades for being helpful. In fact, she’s more likely to be alone and persecuted for just that. Still, when she’s at her lowest (and usually stinking drunk), her impulse is to help. After being thrown out of a bar for being too rowdy and then being told by a homeless man that she smelled, said man asked if she had any money. Instead of being insulted, she gave him the only thing she had: a coupon to a sandwich shop. That, right there, is the real Jessica Jones.

Season Two ended with Jessica both more alone and more hopeful than she’d been before. The fate of her family finally revealed, she had a chance to say goodbye to her mother and ended the codependent and increasingly toxic relationships she’d fallen into with both her foster sister Trish (Rachael Taylor) and former employee Malcolm (Eka Darville). But concluding those relationships left her space to begin a healthy romance with Oscar and have a chance at a normal life. Of course, we know that’s not going to last, as the final shot of Trish shows her with the superpowers she’s been so desperate for since she met Jessica. We know that’s not going to go well, and we know Jessica is bound to be sucked in.

Having said all of that, I have no idea what’s going on with this franchise.

I was not surprised that Iron Fist was canceled until I read that the second season was better received by critics and audiences alike. Initial buzz was that it might be a candidate for the new Disney streaming service (oh good, ANOTHER one). But then came the news last weekend that Luke Cage had been canceled. Um, what?! Much as I sneered at the character on screen for Season Two, the story made sense—and it was good. And, I hear, it was so popular on its first weekend that it crashed Netflix’s servers. Theories abound as to what happened, but it seems that “creative differences” plus increasingly unrealistic financial expectations exploded last week, and Netflix has judged that they don’t need Marvel anymore. Probably they don’t.

There’s the interesting possibility that Iron Fist and Luke Cage are going to be paired, just as they were in the comics...but, yeah, I don’t know. As good as Luke Cage was on screen, in my opinion, they messed with some of the DNA that makes their comics so interesting. While on television Danny and Colleen are an item and Luke was briefly paired with Misty, in the comics MISTY is Danny’s very serious girlfriend and Luke ends up married to Jessica Jones and raising a daughter with her. (The characters had an ill-father fling in Season One of Jessica Jones, but that was complicated by the fact that Jessica had killed his wife while under Kilgrave’s thrall.) Oh yeah, in the comics Misty and Colleen are also a crime fighting duo of their own who call themselves Daughters of the Dragon.

Do we want to guess why Netflix/Disney/Marvel decided to shift those pairings? (Let me know if you need me to spell it out.) And if they decided to do a course correction, while Misty had great (albeit weird) chemistry with Ward, there is absolutely none with Danny. And while I thought Colleen and Misty had some potential in Season Two of Luke Cage, by the time I was done with Season Two of Iron Fist I was hoping that they’d minimize the amount of time Misty was on so they wouldn’t ruin her character any further. It’s the writing, people, it is always the writing.

Having said that, when Danny made a cameo appearance in Season Two of Luke Cage, I, along with many other viewers, felt like finally the character had some potential. He and Luke have solid chemistry, and when the writing is there, Jones does a good job. So, with some reservations, this might be able to work, but they’re going to have to do a good deal of futzing first. 

Whew! Thanks so much to Kerrie, Morgan, and Caroline for a fun week of options to fill your non-existent free time with. Thanks to everyone who read, and please let us know what you think we should be binging on.