Monday, March 28, 2016

Book Release Day: The Golden Boy Returns (Book Five of The New Pioneers) (New Release, Giveaway)

Today is the day I finally bring to everyone The Golden Boy Returns, the book I hemmed and hawed about more than any other I've written. Silly, if you think about it: in addition to romance and The Journey all characters go through, I knew you guys could handle complex family relationships, long harbored secrets and, perhaps hardest of all, domestic violence. So of course you can handle some politics! And I promise that while I do reference some policies (briefly!), you will not need a degree in political science to follow along.

A few words about the cover: I loved the covers for my first five books; the illustrations and designs perfectly captured the balance of whimsy and drama I'm going for in all of my work. But when it came time to design a cover for my Korean American hero and my Indian American heroine, I could not for the life of me find any illustrations that came close to the others. I could have gone with something more abstract by the same artist, but David and Kasi deserve a visual as much as any of my other characters. A big thanksonce againto Erin Cawood for bringing these two alive.

To celebrate the release, I'm running a giveaway until March 31st. Join my newsletter list (only my publishing news, never spam) and you'll get a chance to win a $20 Amazon gift card and e-copies of The Smartest Girl in the Room and The Art of The Second Best.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Here's a little more about the newest edition to The New Pioneers. Hope you like it!

Friday, March 25, 2016

In praise of...The Blacklist

While a lot of the country, if not the world, sits back at 9 on Thursdays to watch Scandal, I get my fix of action, adventure and mystery with The Blacklist, possibly the best show on television right now.

Like many, I thought the premise of James Spader playing a super villain mastermind was kookythey're totally going for a Lex Luthor thing with that bald headbut he's actually brilliant as Raymond "Red" Reddington. Reddington, a former Naval Intelligence Officer, inexplicably betrayed his country in the early Nineties and has gone on to become one of the most wanted men in the world. Just as inexplicably, Reddington turned himself in with the offer to help an FBI task force catch other super criminals- the Blacklist- but only if he can operate as a free man and, most importantly, if he can work with newbie FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). But why?

Just one of the many messes Red's gotten Liz into
In between his eccentric, seemingly non sequitur tangents that make everyone who works with him feel like they're trapped with their crazy uncle, the outlines of what Red is trying to accomplish are starting to become clearer. While it first seemed that he was merely disrespecting the "honor among thieves" (is that a thing?), it became clear that 1) he was being hunted by some very powerful people and 2) he was trying to take them down before they got to him. Since those people included not only rival criminal bosses but also highly placed government officials, it was only a matter of time before everyone he and Liz worked with were going to be endangered as well.

But why does Red insist on working with Liz? From the outset, the best fan theory has been that Red is Liz's father, and every time he protests that he's not, it seems like the show is still leaving the door open for that possibility. Yes, the big reveal last seasonSPOILER ALERT (but so is this whole post)is that Red rescued Liz as a small child after she shot her father dead, but the scars we saw on Red's back at the end of that episode just might link him to the fire Liz remembers her father rescuing her from earlier. Regardless, we finally know that Liz's biological mother was a legendary Soviet spy and that she and Red were, at the very least, close. If he's not her father, then why is he going to such extraordinary lengths to protect her?

How extraordinary? Tom Keen, Liz's ex-husband, was posing as an elementary school teacher but was in fact hired by Red to watch over her. When he went off script and wanted to see her romantically, Red fired him, which necessitated Tom going over to rival super criminal, Berlin. Liz was happily oblivious to all of this until Tom had murdered at least three people. Needless to say, this caused a huge rift between Red and Liz, especially when Tom killed yet again while in Liz's captivity...but this time to protect her. (You had to see the whole thing.)

"Tom" really doesn't look like someone who could kill several people with his bare hands...
Make no mistake: this is a crazy, convoluted show and the twists are unbelievable. What makes it work (in addition to my confidence that the writers actually know where they're going) are the consistently amazing performances of Spader and Boone. At this point, we expect Spader to do a good job with a crazy role (and, honestly, this is probably among his most straight forward), but kudos to Boone for being able to match him in every scene. Spader may be the mystery at the core of the show, but Boone is the detective we're following as she sorts it out.

Those two are the stars, but the rest of the cast is just as good: Diego Klattenhoff is Keen's tightly wound partner Donald Ressler, Harry Lennix is her honest but compassionate boss Harold Cooper ; Mozhan Marno is Samar Navabi, a former Mossad agent whom Red recruited for Liz's task force; Amir Arison is Aram Mojtabai, the earnest technical expert; Hisham Tawfiq is Dembe Zuma, Red's right-hand man and foster son who is a survivor of human trafficking; and Ryan Eggold is Liz's true love ex-husband, con man Tom. (The list of villains and recurring allies is too long to go into, but they're almost all stellar.) Through the course of the show, we've gotten glimpses into almost everyone's complicated lives outside of their jobs; as surprising as some of the stories can be, know that every human connection you see is an opening for one of Red's enemies to exploit.

As if this group wouldn't have enough problems without Reddington...
The best perk Dembe enjoys working for Red? Actually getting Red to shut up on occasion.
I have no idea where this is going, but I'm enjoying the ride so much that I'm willing to be surprised. The last time this happened? Mad Men.

Almost every episode, I marvel that this show exists: a smart action series with a female lead and a diverse cast that doesn't play to stereotypes on a major American television network. If this is an alternate universe, just leave me here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

In praise of...Empire

Terrence Howard is one of those people that's inspired me to embrace the concept of holding multiple opinions about the same thing. He is undeniably a talented, charismatic actor, and when he's on screen you can't help but stare. He's also just as undeniably an abusive bastard, and some of the statements he's made not only about his own history of domestic violence but others are horrifying, full-stop.

With that in mind, I resolved not to watch Empire and successfully avoided it for about a month before I accidentally found myself watching it. Within ten minutes, I was hooked. Believe me, I spend every episode reminding myself that Howard is an awful person- but I still love the show.

The conceit of the first season was that Howard's Lucious Lyon was an updated King Lear who knew he was degrading and had to decide which of his sons- all of whom were somewhat unworthy in his eyes- would be his lucky heir. The added twist: this Lear has a queen (Cookie Lyon as played by the amazing Taraji P. Henson) who spent seventeen years in banishment, also known as a stint in federal prison for drugs. Now she's back, and she's as hungry for power as her ex-husband, with the added fury that Lucious did a less than perfect job raising their three sons: Andre aka Dre, Jamal and Hakeem.

Television's best dysfunctional couple
You've all heard by now about the larger-than-life personalities and plots, the hairpin turns and the talented supporting cast (I would watch Gabourey Sidibe's Becky and Ta'Rhonda Jones' Porsha on their own show), but every week this show brings me to tears. Strip away all of the corporate maneuvering, violence, money and music, and it's a story about how no one can hurt you more than the people you love. 

Lucious has manipulated and lied to everyone on the show, but the flashbacks we've started to see this season from his childhood with a mentally ill mother Leah (Kelly Rowland) are heartbreaking. It's hard not to root for that little boy to survive, but was it necessary to ruin so many other lives in the process?

Cookie's childhood seems to have been only a little more functional, as evidenced by her sister Carol and cousin Bunkie's involvement in the drug world. (That her sister Candace (Vivica A. Fox) is making such a show of respectability seems almost more disturbing.) Still, Cookie's a fighter, and anyone who could survive seventeen years in prison separated from her three young children and then come back ready to fight for her share of the company she founded is someone you want on your team. If I had to put my money on Lucious or Cookie in a fight, Cookie would get all of it. And Lucious and Cookie fight a lot...when they're not protecting each other from treacherous lovers and business partners or taking a trip down memory lane in the bedroom. 

Of everyone on the canvas, it's Dre (Trai Byers) that breaks my heart pretty much every episode. The oldest son, Dre was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder as a young adult, but he's been sketchy at best about treating it, in large part because his father is reluctant to acknowledge it. His wife Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) has done her turns as a manipulative Lady Macbeth, but she's proven that her marriage to Dre is more important than taking control of Empire. Dre, who's not musically talented like his younger brothers, burns that he's most likely to be passed over in spite of his MBA. He's also ingrained covering for his father into his DNA, not only for Bunkie's murder, but going as far back as hiding guns for his father in his toys as a little boy. Dre feels the sting of his father's capricious rejections more keenly than his brothers, but he has no idea that Lucious sees his mother when he sees his son. 

The new Macbeths?
Jamal (Jussie Smollett), the middle child, is easily the "Cordelia" of the children. In some ways he combines the best qualities of both of his parents and his musical talent is obvious. The only keeping him from getting his father's unqualified stamp of approval is that he's gay. Lucious went so far as to marry him off to a young singer (Raven-Symone), then slept with her himself when she was miserable in the marriage. By the time Jamal was older, Lucious demanded that Jamal keep his sexuality under wraps if he wanted to succeed him. Jamal refused and sought his mother's guidance, eventually winning his father's grudging respect.

Standing up to Lucious was one thing. Will Jamal be able to make sure he doesn't turn into him?
Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), the youngest son, understandably had the greatest "mommy issues" as Cookie was sent away when he was a toddler. If Jamal's style is smooth and soulful, Hakeem's is edgy and angry. In spite of his outbursts against his family, deep down he's tenderhearted, and genuinely in love with the older Camilla (Naomi Campbell). Lucious' efforts to separate the two have come back to bite him hard, as Camilla and her wife (!) Mimi (Marisa Tomei) engineered a hostile takeover of Empire- and then turned it over to Hakeem.

For Hakeem, the line between proving himself to his father and destroying him is surprisingly thin
So what makes me choke up most? When these three come together to support each other, no matter how much they've hurt each other.

All they've ever had
This is just scratching the surface; I don't have space to go into Lucious' vengeful ex-fiancee Anika (Grace Gealey), the murder of Lucious' long-time advisor Vernon by Rhonda, Lucious' stint in prison or Cookie's new venture, Dynasty. And how awesome is the exploration of Latina singers this season? I clapped my hands and squealed when Laura (Jamila Vasquez) debuted with Linda Ronstadt's "Lago Azul".

The real reason I started watching Empire? It felt like I was coming home as I watched a show in which the cast wasn't predominantly white. I'm not African American, and it's true that there haven't been a lot of Asian American characters on this show, but I'm not the only person I know who's hungry to see a show that reflects the reality many Americans live in. While I don't live in the world of music production and it's clear that these characters are bigger than life, there's something refreshing about seeing a big deal soap opera (and that's what it is) with a diverse cast. 

May the backstabbing and heartbreak continue.

Monday, March 21, 2016

In praise of...Zoo and television's strong female characters

I released my short story on the 17th, and I'm putting out my full-length on the 28th. These new releases are all about power; some of it's politics, some of it's wealth. Like everyone else in the country, I'm mentally exhausted by this election season, and I think fondly back to the 2008 election, when I didn't feel compelled to watch every debate. (But the town halls can still stuff themselves.)

So I come to you here, not to talk about politics, but to talk about television.

I feel vindicated by all of the articles over the last few months that finally recognize that if you're not a straight white male, Hollywood studio movies- the kind people spend money producing and promoting- are not speaking to you. For those of you sick of hearing about "strong female characters", please stay far away from your television and head to the nearest movie theater, where those are few and far between. 

A couple of months ago, I finally got the chance to watch Now You See Me. I love magic, I love capers, I love twisty plots and I love revenge. So on paper this movie hit all the right spots, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth. No, it's not because I couldn't see any possible way that Isla Fisher would be the one jilted by Jesse Eisenberg (but seriously, come on); it was that every time Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) came on screen, she was nothing but an angelic foil for Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), and primarily there to accept his abuse. Eww.

They don't get how they could be a couple either

Be assured, Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is snarking at Dray (Melanie Laurent) and she's not giving it back
While I was thinking, oh my god, why doesn't she put him in his place and maybe show the audience the kind of deadly force training French agents get, my husband insisted that she was the same blonde actress who played another French character on the summer series, Zoo. He was wrong; the actress on that series is Nora Arnezeder. But the physical similarities between the two actresses on highlighted the stark differences between the characters.

On Zoo, Arnezeder plays Chloe Tousignant, a French agent who's trying to track down a biological agent that's causing animals to hunt people. She and her thrown together team (a journalist, a burnt out scientist, the prodigal son of the mad scientist who created the problem and a child soldier turned safari guide) track down the cause pretty quickly, but taking the corporation that unleashed the agent into the wild and then implementing a cure are going to be much harder. All of the characters have necessary skills, but in many cases Chloe is clearly in charge of the overall strategy. She is, in many ways, the leader.

Why is Chloe Tousignant (Nora Arnezeder) the only one standing? Because she's in charge
She's a wounded character, to be sure (she meets with another member of the team after she's dumped her fiance at the altar for sleeping with her sister), but this doesn't make her any less able to do her job. And she is a good, principled leader who protects the members of her team even that means putting herself at risk. No one has benefited from Chloe's protection more than disgraced journalist Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly), who killed a corrupt FBI agent in self-defense. That means that not only does Zoo feature two "strong" female characters, it also passes the Bechdel Test: these two named characters talk about plenty of things that aren't men. Now You See Me? Not so much.

It's worth mentioning that this series is on CBS, a network that has been rightfully criticized for its lack of diversity and conservative orientation. That even this network produces something with more believable female characters says something about Hollywood movies.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Art of the Next Best: A New Pioneers Short Story

Sooo...I guess it's time to let everyone know my next book is coming out on March 17th?


The Art of the Next Best is a short storyvery shortbut it helps set the table for The Golden Boy Returns, which is available March 28th. I do hope you like them both.

Here's a little something to give you an idea of what it's all about...