Riverdale – A Review in Retrospect


Of late, I’ve been very into murder mystery TV series.  I just finished binge watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries  and Murdoch Mysteries on Netflix, so I didn’t imagine that I had room for another anachronistic mystery series in my life.  Growing up, I had a passing knowledge of Archie comics, but they weren’t really my thing.  I hadn’t felt an overwhelming need to check it out until I saw the early positive reviews for the show and I decided to give it a shot.  These are my thoughts after seeing Riverdale:

If TV Tropes was a show, this would be it.

From the start, the show makes tongue-in-cheek references to TV teen drama tropes as characters make jokes about how everyone had magically transformed into hot teenagers over the summer, unrequited teenage love is explored via spin the bottle, and that girls kissing was last controversial in 1994.   Riverdale clearly knows it’s in charted territory and is willing to embrace it, which is kind of refreshing.

The first scenes are a throwback to that of Twin Peaks, opening with the mysterious death of a prominent citizen’s teenage son in a small town full of dark secrets.  The mystery is reminiscent of Lois Duncan novels, where the teenagers know more than they’re willing to let the adults know, and the shenanigans are about to commence.

The major players are laid out plainly from the start – Archie is the tortured jock/musician, Betty is the classic girl next door and her gay best friend is Kevin, with Veronica as the new girl in town causing a stir.  While none were close to the deceased, his death is a stand in for the end of their lives as they were.  Betty takes a risk to tell Archie that she’s in love with him, but he’s too caught up on the arrival of Veronica and trying to figure out his life choices to return the sentiment, splitting the lifelong friends apart.  At the end of the episode, it’s revealed that the lurking background character Jughead was once Archie’s best friend as well, but for some reason they’re no longer close.  Usually, it takes at least a dozen episodes for a teen drama to play out to this point of big reveals.  The pilot manages to have the whole tangled mess unfold in less than 45 minutes.  This sort of plot pacing works for a feature film, but the show will likely spend its entire first season trying to overcompensate for it.

Overall, the series is off to a fairly strong start.  The actors have good chemistry and there’s enough room to build in plot twists that could undermine the seemingly straightforward whodunit aspect of the murder.  It’s enough to make me tune in for next week’s edition anyway.

Photo credit: IMDb

A Double Shot of Nostalgia

I never thought I’d be one of those people crying for the days of the old, real New York City.  But this year, besides realizing I am now officially an old person, I found out that not one, but FOUR of my fave NYC spots were not going to be in 2013 with me.

The Barnes & Noble on 6th Avenue and 8th Street closed down, meaning the last B&N left in the area is at Union Square.  When I started NYU, there was one on Astor as well as the other two locations.  The Astor Place location became a David Barton gym (bleh!).  There was also a second Strand book depot in the Lower East Side by my high school.  That’s become one of those discount stores.

Partners & Crime, one of the coolest mystery book shops also closed its doors in the summer of 2012.  I didn’t find out until I stumbled across a blogger’s entry on its closing.

Soho Billiards, one of the last dive downtown pool halls was shut down back in October 2012, when it was evicted by the landlord.  There were so many nights I spent playing pool with friends down there.  I hadn’t been in some time, but I’m sorry to see it go (shady as it was, it was like the 1990s never ended down there).

The Village Chess Shop, adjacent to several NYU locations was also evicted from its home since 1972.  This happened back in November 2012, with announcements in December that the shop was going to reinvent itself at a nearby location.  What’s not the same is that the store might not be it’s old kitsch self with the new description.  Ever since the park renovations, there aren’t the chess boards outdoors and crazy homeless people playing outside anymore.  I will make an effort to check out the Chess Shop’s new location.

I’m bored of all the condos and overpriced, comically commercial bullshit that comes out of the ashes of these stores.  Where’s the spot for the average middle class broke New Yorkers and students?  Unfortunately, my home region of Brooklyn is also becoming this way as well.

I know New York is always changing.  I know everyone says New York is over, but really a new chapter is beginning.  I lived through CBGB’s leaving NYC right before I could even visit.  Gentrification is a growing problem, it has been for some time now.  But I miss when NYC was about everyone having their own spots in the same space.  So, this year I got hit with a ton of nostalgia for what seems to be the end of an era in my life.  I’ll miss the mainstays of a bygone era, probably sneer at the hipster boutiques or trendy restaurants that take their places when I walk by, but the ticking hands of time continue with their same song.

Classic Movie Catch-Up Weekend

I know I should be re-watching Firefly in preparation for it’s 10th Anniversary Special Event at NY Comic Con, but I’ve already got each episode practically memorized, so I’m catching up on film classics I didn’t get the chance to see (and watching some that I would like to see again).

Yesterday, I watched Dead Poets Society and Saturday Night Fever for the first time.  They were two movies that have been on my radar to watch for years, but for some reason or another I didn’t.  How I received an English degree without seeing Dead Poets Society is currently boggling my mind.  I’d say it’s one of those movies you have to see as a teen to really feel the impact.  In my twenties, I look at their mentality with nostalgia.  Ironically, I was supposed to watch Saturday Night Fever for one of my lit courses, but I was too lazy to take the train to watch it with my professors and classmates the night they were watching it in the dorms.  There was a lot of hype it didn’t live up to (the movie’s soundtrack is my dad’s holy grail of soundtracks), while I can see how a movie like this would make waves in its era – sex, abortions, the car culture, feminist changes due to birth control, ethnic foibles.  It’s funny how much NYC has and hasn’t changed over the years.

While watching both I couldn’t help wondering: What they would be like if they were made today? I think that Dead Poets Society would have East Asians and South Asians in their group, whose high maintenance parents would be perfect examples of conformity (for sake of maintaining sanity, I’m going to point out that I’m South Asian and most of my friends are East Asian, we’re all Type A-minuses/B-pluses).  Saturday Night Fever would probably be closer to the Step Up movies in terms of dance style, because that’s what’s in right now.  Even though the films are both dated at this point, their stories are just as strong as they ever were.

The New York Comic Con Survival Guide 2012 Edition

The first time I went to New York Comic Con was in 2008.  My friends in college had gone to one or two of the first NYCCs before that, and so I came back from all three days with a few interesting stories and free swag.   I remember getting in earlier than my friends on Saturday that first time, back in the day when it wasn’t anywhere near as crowded as it is now and had more free giveaways from the publishers, that someone handed me a poster going, “Would you like Jim Lee’s autograph?” I had no idea who he was and there wasn’t much of a line (there were like five of us total when it was my turn), so I just got two posters signed (one for me and one for my bro) and thanked him.  When I found my friends, they were shocked that I got Jim Lee’s autograph but missed the signing cut-off.  I tell that story now and people are still shocked because he’s such a bigger deal now. I have a signed card from Brandon Sanderson too, before he started writing for Wheel of Time under the same circumstances, stashed somewhere in my desk drawer.  And now this is my fourth year going, and due to life changes the group I normally went with wasn’t the group I’m spending most of the time with this year.  Instead, I have not one, but four NYCC virgins.  The first two were with me today, and there are a fresh two for tomorrow, and it made me realize that I didn’t quite realize how much they didn’t know.

After three consecutive NYCCs, I went this year saying that I wasn’t looking for freebies.  Last year, I managed to snag a TON because I wasn’t into any of the panels and killed time seeing how many books and freebies I could get.  Somehow, today I came home with 4 novels, 8 pins, 2 postcard things, a cute bag, 3 posters, a free shirt and an entire deck of Twilight playing cards.  My friends weren’t sure how the whole thing worked (it’s a long story, but we got separated early on) and when we circled back, there wasn’t much left.  There’s more free stuff for girls than there is for guys these last few years, so a girl will almost assuredly come away with more stuff.  Also, you’re not going to find stuff if you don’t know where to look.
So here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years:

1) Buy your admission ticket in time to be mailed to you (disregard if you physically get your ticket at time of purchase).  You don’t want to waste time in line to pick up your ticket.  Previous years, there was more of an advantage to buying early, but picking up your ticket at the con is a hassle.

2) Get your NYCC program guide.  It’s the best way to know what’s going on, where it’s going on (the map of the floor is in it!) and maybe let you see some other events you might have missed when you checked the site.  One year we didn’t get one and regretted it.   Remember to check the panels and listings online too.  There is really poor cell phone reception at the Javits Center, so it’s not worth it to use the app.

3) Know which booths give stuff away and when.  There’s a lot of things to be scored, so definitely keep your eyes open.  There were more gift bags from the comic publishers in previous years, but due to the economy there’s not as much.

4) Don’t get caught up with how much you’re unfamiliar with.  For a lot of folks, the con is overwhelming.  It’s supposed to be the geek holy land, but so much of it is very niche.  Keep a strong focus on what you want to see and do there, and it’s likely you’ll accomplish your goals.

5) Account for how extremely crowded the place will be.  I would describe it as being like Grand Central Terminal during rush hour with multiple train delays.  Sometimes the poor cell reception (due to how many people are there with phones and the basement not having reception at all) can delay calls and texts.  If going with friends, pre-plan certain meeting points if you split up.

6) Have fun.  Embrace the chaos.  My bro went one year with my pass and he absolutely hated it.

The Artemis Complex

I finally got to reading Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (which is totally awesome and I’ll post more on that later) and I couldn’t help noticing the cover – another girl with a crossbow (Ismae actually has a larger arsenal than that).  This year with the release of The Hunger Games and Brave, girls with bows and arrows have become the new chic for YA heroines.  In my story, Aerie, my main character is a good archer to fit with the wind theme.  So what’s the deal with this set up?  Well, I think that as we move away from the virgin/whoring bitch dichotomy, we’ve set ourselves a new archetype – Artemis.

Even among writers, there’s a writing subtext and subconscious that we all play into – and the new ideal is the dark Greco-Roman goddess of the moon and the hunt.  Greek mythology was one of my favorite topics in school, and my favorite goddess was Artemis.  Of all the goddesses on Olympus, she was untouchable but unafraid of getting her hands dirty.  I think that’s why so many types are modeled after her now.  Artemis was the virgin goddess of taking names and kicking ass.  While being a virgin isn’t a bad thing, it’s still overused as a hallmark of female noble character.  We still end up with a new rendition of the virgin/whore song we’re trying to stop dancing to.  Most of the girls who sleep around in romance novels are either raped, crazy/evil or turned into props.  If a heroine has sex, then all of a sudden we’re in erotica.  I find this particularly grating when I see it in sci-fi and epic fantasy.  Can’t we have female main characters that aren’t oversexed or overly celibate?  Why are we unable to walk lines in fiction that we seem to live along in modern Western culture?

While I love reading and playing with the Artemis archetype, I hope that it doesn’t become the next version of Mary Sue.  There’s so much more that can be done with girls other than switching one type of bow for another.  I think this is part of the reason why there are so many YA novels aimed at girls – there’s still a lot of coping being done in feminism.  There’s so much conflict in the formation of identity – how much do we go by old rules and how much do we make up on our way?  I adore Margaret Atwood’s books on how to these ideas conflict and that we find ourselves at this turmoil of what we see ourselves as and how much of the past we allow to guide our identity.  Historical novels will always pose an issue because there is a precedent that can’t be ignored easily.  My family came from a fairly conservative culture, and it was obvious to see first hand the amount of hypocrisy and self-flagellation over women’s roles of those espousing those views.  I’m willing to bet  it exists everywhere.

Admittedly, Artemis is a better turn than Hera, and I think we’re moving forward there’s still a long road ahead of us.  Virgins aren’t bad people, nor does being a virgin make someone good.  The same goes for women who have sex.  There just needs to be a greater push away from the fear of female sexuality, especially among female writers.  I say this as I look at “creative choices” that make me not want to let any of my family know about my writing.  Recently, I was at a crossroads when deciding what direction to take the leading lady of Unhexed.  I was basing my character off Rogue from The X-Men, and the idea of Magdalene asylums came up, which was a setting I wanted to explore for some time.  I wanted her to experience living in one, but it was a place for whores — my character wasn’t a whore.  And then this  stupid voice in the back of my head asked, ‘Why not? She’s cursed and her life’s damn horrible and she’s a great character in spite of that.’  The more I thought about it, the more it gave so many different dimensions to her interactions with the other characters.  Also, I remembered so many “other women” that have gotten bad treatment to be the foil for the heroines in romance novel and thought – this was my chance to look at how women who aren’t virgins or wives don’t get taken seriously, how easy it is to write someone off as a “whore.”  It’s still an issue faced by most of the world today.

So girls with crossbows, take aim, you’ve still got a long fight ahead of you.

Welcome back to the Dark Side, YA Genre

In the last few years, I turned away from the YA genre.  I attributed this to two things – 1) I’m now an adult and 2) the YA genre lost quite a bit of its darkness.  When I was younger, the books for YA were much darker in themes and characterizations.  I recall reading R. L. Stine’s Fear Street Sagas and seeing the villains win the day and the gory plot twists penned by Christopher Pike.  Blood, guts, and devilish deals were par for the course.  While fluffier fare has always been dominant in the YA section, the darker stories have been fewer and far between in recent times.  The Hunger Games felt like a throwback to those times.  But recently I decided to pick up the YA fantasy Finnikin of the Rock and its sequel Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta, and I was blown away by the amazing world building and use of language she employs.  She was able to deftly convey through euphemisms and minor specific instances the darkest and most brutal parts of human nature – rape, slavery, subversion, mass murder, and the near destruction of a civilization.  It was nothing short of brilliant.  Unfortunately, the third and final book, Quintana of Charyn, comes out in Australia next month but the American release won’t be until 2013.  Oh well, I should be done working on my novel and doing my homework for three courses until then.

Now on shelves are at least two books featuring teen girl assassins, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas and Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers.  The former is YA fantasy and the latter is historical paranormal fiction.  Also coming soon is the sequel to Cornelia Funke’s novel Reckless (which I think doesn’t belong in YA because everyone in that story is well over 18 years old, and falls into the same nebulous YA/adult borderline fantasy category that Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett often find themselves in), currently listed as Fearless on GoodReads.  Reckless is Supernatural (Seasons 1 & 2) and the Brothers Grimm meets Through the Looking Glass.  I haven’t had the chance to check out Cassandra Clare yet and my reading list is still a mile high.  In general, I’ve noticed a greater shift toward adventurous, epic YA fantasy novels this past year.  I hope this keeps up, because I’m enjoying every minute of it.

Setting Your Sites

One of the most difficult things I’ve found when starting to create my web-self is choosing which website I want to use for my main profile.  I have a Twitter and Facebook page, but those are social media sites, not the actual home base.

Let’s start off with some basics – I don’t know anything about designing my own site.  But I need to know where I plan to host my blog and other writings, and as much as LJ is cool, it can’t do all those things the right way.  There are dozens of little things you need to pick up along the way before you can even think about taking on an endeavor like this (you’ll need lots of stock images and an idea how you want your site to look among other things).  After beta-testing a large number of sites, I’ve narrowed it down to Weebly and WordPress.  I really liked Webs.com but they don’t have a module for CSS and you can only use some of a limited number of templates.  Though I liked this site design the best, the maintenance would be hardest of the three.  Don’t discount how long this process can actually take, I’ve got some down time for the summer and it’s almost like a full time job trying to do this.  Also, I’ve blogged using different sites before and I’ve started to know what do and don’t like.

Right now, I’m split between WordPress (which I’ve used in the past) and Weebly.  There are some serious pros and cons that I still can’t decide on.  Overall, I would say I find that Weebly is pretty amazing for my purposes.  Its free offerings make it easier to decide whether or not I want them.  With WordPress, CSS is a paid feature and the the site builder tools are not on par with Weebly’s which also happen to be free.  Well, I have a few more test runs before I make my final choice.  At this point, it’s doubtful there will be any other ride in candidates because testing too many sites on this level will end up wasting my time.

The Big 1,000

Whoa, it’s been a year since I wrote on WordPress. Well, it’s because I was busy with grad school and work stuff. But let’s kick this return off!

I never really kept track of how many books I’ve read over the last quarter of a century I’ve been around. Reading has always been a regular habit with me, like breathing, so I never thought to actually count how many books I’d read over my lifetime. While I suspected it was a large number, it wasn’t until I finally started a GoodReads account this year that I realized just how many. My current GoodReads number is in the 800 ballpark, but the thing is, I’m not done backlogging the books I’ve read and I know there are a large number of books I’m not remembering off the top of my head (I’m kind of caught between if I want to root through physical/online/GR collections for missing books I didn’t tag or just letting it go at the current stat). Plus, books I’ve read that aren’t “officially published” but posted online is somewhere in the range of ~200 if my collection of links and tags is up to scratch. So, all things considered, I might have hit the 1,000 mark somewhere late last year or early this year.

The craziest thing is trying to wrap my head around it… 1,000 books?! ONE THOUSAND BOOKS. WTF?

My friends and family rolled eyes at my announcement, to them that was hardly a surprising turn of events. They asked if I was out of stuff to read and were offering suggestions, but the truth is that I don’t feel like I’ve read all the books I’ve set out to read. There are tons of books still on my to-read list (i.e. A Song of Fire and Ice, Mistborn, Wheel of Time, etc.). But now every book read will feel anti-climatic.

At the end of the day what does this number mean to me? I never cared before about how much I read and thought about my reading in terms of numbers. Maybe I’ll just work to 5,000 from here? I doubt I’ll be reading as much as I do now when other life factors come into play. But I did manage to read 1,000 books in about a quarter of a century, and considering I couldn’t read for the first three years, I’d say that’s not too shabby.

Every Journey Begins with a Single Step… And a Stumble or Two…

Most great stories begin with an event that shakes the hero (or heroine!) out of the usual grind and into an unforeseen adventure.  I would say my moment occurred when I was twelve years old when I decided to start writing fiction.  I had been obsessed with books from the very beginning, I always had one nearby even when I wasn't old enough to read.  As I grew up, I used to act out stories with my toys or I'd have some tall tale to tell until someone would frustratingly say I ought to take all my ideas and write them down.  One day, I had an idea and decided to give it a try.  My first story was a young adult space opera story that I wrote by hand and finished in junior high school, which fell short of my goal of writing a whole novel but I did finish the whole story.  Since that moment, I've had assassins playing with politics in ancient Greece, rogue government agents trying to choose sides in a cyberpunk setting, a steampunk Cinderella and much more…

During high school, I wrote day and night filling page after page of words and comments of how crazy I might just be.  It became a way of experiencing life – if I could write about it, I could make sense of it.  I looked at every incident and instance that occurred around me as a story in the making.  Then, another important twist happened when I started college.  I stopped writing as much.  Considering that writing was such a huge part of my life, it was also a point when I had to choose between writing and experiencing new things.  I went with the latter because I knew that in the end, seeing more of the world would make me a better writer.  During that time, I worked on a young adult coming of age trilogy called The Destroyers, which followed a girl through three major points in her life – senior year of high school, the summer before her last year in college when her sister gets married, and ending with her best friend's wedding the summer after she graduates from law school.  The manuscript was long and scattered all over the place.

By the time I graduated from college, I had problems writing again more steadily.  A friend of mine suggested using fan fiction as training wheels to get back on track, so I spent some time dabbling in it until I felt ready to get back on the horse to the road to becoming an author.  Earlier this year, I felt the urge to take the leap once again and stick with it.  I have all these amazing stories I want to share, I just have to make the effort. 

And with these words I make not my first step, but a return to the road I wish to travel.

There are sometimes not enough words

Having gotten it in my head that I’d like romances from the 1980s, I came across The Copeland Bride by Justine Cole.  It seemed like the right amount of gut-twisting, darkly tragic stuff I’m back into these days.  Talk of Moliere, a Dickensian back drop, and two people damaged by it all.  There were even a few wittier moments in the beginning.  It could have been great.  And it wasn’t.  If only the writer actually wrote the parts that matter though.

This story was a prime example of why “telling” is not better than “showing.”  I felt like my enjoyment of the story was thwarted at the door of what could have been an exciting exchange ten times too many.  She showed the boring parts and told the interesting parts.  When a character pours their heart out to another, the reader needs to hear the character’s exact words, not the author’s Reader’s Digest version of it.

Entire swaths of what should have been the most poignant parts of the novel were boiled down to a few narrative paragraphs that offered little emotion or sincerity.  It reads more like a historical encounter than a literary one because the characters don’t have strong voices.  They don’t tell their story, the narrator has high-jacked the story and told it for them.  There’s a certain distance that needs to be maintained, and if not it can ruin the story.  A good third person narrator is like a good scientist in the field, observing astutely but not interfering.

I disliked Quinn’s treatment of Noelle a lot the more I kept reading.  In the first half, he was just angry.  In the second half, masochistically cruel would be the appropriate term.  There isn’t a redeeming feature other than his face, which considering that this is romanceland, he’s a dime a dozen.  Noelle isn’t a strong heroine, in spite of the insipid narrative that she’s street smart and carries a knife.  A heroine carrying a weapon doesn’t magically make her self-reliant and able to take care of herself.  The word “rape” gets tossed around too easily.

It just goes to show that the devil is in the details. It also reflects the need for good editors who should be able to spot and correct these kinds of things. But alas, there’s more antagonism toward proper editing and revision these days, so I can hardly be hopeful about future pulp writers.