Book Review #3: Uncrowned by Will Wight

Uncrowned is the 7th book in the Cradle series. I read the first few for free, paid for the next couple, and then eagerly awaited this one but had quit my job and was broke by the time this came out. So, once I finished Lindsay Ellis’ new book, I knew exactly what I wanted to read with my Kindle Unlimited free trial.

SPOILERS!!!

The Cradle series follows Lindon, who is born without a magical talent, but who is interfered with by a — sci-fi goddess? — after which, he is able to rank up magically far beyond anything his village could even imagine. It’s an interesting mix of fantasy, sci-fi, and like, manga, except there are no pictures. It’s very martial art-ish and reads like what I assume Pokemon is like (never seen it). Or Magic the Gathering, if it was a book not based on a card game?

What I mean is, it’s pretty formulaic. Lindon levels up, while defying death at pretty much every turn. Most of him avoiding death is done through one-on-one combat wherein he is outmatched, by a lot. Uncrowned, in particular is based around a tournament that he and his friends fight in.

Having read the previous books in the series, but having finished with the 6th book, like, a year ago, it was nice to see Lindon’s pet turtle pay a visit to Lindon’s sister in the Prologue, but since we don’t see them for the rest of the book, I wondered why that scene was in there at all. It would have been nice to break up some of the monotony of the tournament, after a while.

The strength of these books comes from the characters. Every character, even ones we don’t know for very long, are multi-dimensional — often, it’s only two dimensions but that’s enough to create conflict and tension within themselves as well as within their worlds. Also, the dynamics between certain characters are fun to watch. I like to watch Eithan interact with pretty much anyone, and Yerin is such a badass. I also like that the romance between Lindon and Yerin is subtle, with Lindon respecting that Yerin’s ambition is, at the very least, equal to his own.

In this book, we finally get to see Lindon and Yerin fight each other, outside of sparring. In the tournament, anyone who dies is immediately resurrected by the judge, so neither has to hold back. I really love the moment when Dross convinces Lindon to really fight.

“She wants you to see her full power, and she wants you to trust her to handle yours.”

Uncrowned by Will Wight

That’s deep.

The series is framed by a larger, universal battle between chaos and order. Essentially, what Linden, and Yerin, and Eithan are training for is a sci-fi-ish type of godhood. Up until now, only Linden is really aware of this. But at the end of Uncrowned, the happenings on the planet Cradle catch up with the universal battle, and everyone left in the tournament is invited to become a god(ish).

Another strength of the series is the author’s way of sketching interesting, colorful, and diverse settings. We never get to stay in any particular location for longer than a portion of the book, and we don’t really go back to former settings, aside from Linden’s home town, but each setting is given its own sense of dimension and local culture. We get to meet a lot of characters in these settings who travel with us a ways, even as antagonists. The background settings add dimension to these characters that they bring with them. Generally speaking, because I have issues with visualization, I prefer stories that stick to one main character and few settings but Wight has a way of personalizing even characters whose heads we don’t spend much time with that I never feel lost or frustrated.

That said, the frame from the sci-fi god(ish) perspectives are a bit difficult to engage with because they’re told so clinically. The style effectively separates the warmer, flesh-and-blood adventures on Cradle from the cold, mental and technological battles in space but the characters are harder to like and I think I’d appreciate those parts better upon rereading them. Also, now that Linden is being invited into the universal battle, along with his friends, I think the space battles will become more engaging.

In this particular book, although the tournament started out interesting with more psychological challenges (my favorite, too brief, scene in this book is Eithan giving one of the test AIs a hard time), the battles started to get tedious after a while. Just when they did, the author changed things up, so that’s a minor irritation. Also, again, I loved the fight between Linden and Yerin.

I would say, though, that a lot of the tedium would have been broken up if we could have gone back to Linden’s village and his sister, as the Prologue seemed to imply would happen. I will also put it out there the hope that his sister gets to join him, at some point. I think she was the highest rank in Linden’s village in the first book, and she is a root-for-able character. I’m hoping that the fact that she was mentioned in this book means that she’ll be in the later ones more.

Book Review #2: The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith

I did First 500 blog posts for both Axiom’s End and The Vine Witch, so I won’t repeat too much of what I said about how The Vine Witch starts.

SPOILERS!!!

The Vine Witch is about a witch whose specialty in magic is wine. Before she was cursed and transformed into a toad, she helped her mentor run a vineyard. After she breaks the curse, she finds that the vineyard hasn’t made good wine since she’s been gone, and that it has been sold off to the MC’s new love interest. The mentor has been allowed to stay on as the cook. The MC believes that her ex-fiance is behind her curse and is determined to kill him. She also recognizes that the vineyard has been cursed (like, a LOT) and sets about fixing the vineyard.

As mentioned in my First 500, I genuinely enjoyed the way that The Vine Witch started. And I was well into the second chapter, before I started to get romance-novel vibes. Even though we meet the love-interest earlier in the story, we don’t really notice him (which I like) but here, he’s described thusly:

He snuck a glance at her while he polished the lenses, and she couldn’t help but notice the fine features of his face — the proud brow that tightened in thought, the geometric planes of the cheeks, and jawline taut from firm self-confidence.Excerpt of “The Vine Witch” by Luanne G. Smith

As John Mulaney would say, “Hmmm…gross!” And, sure enough, these two magically end up together without any romantic rivals, aside from the ex-fiance that the MC wants to murder. Now, just to clarify, there’s nothing wrong with romance novels, but I didn’t think that that was what I was downloading. Romance novels are great wish-fulfillment vehicles, and some are written better than others, but generally, the characters tend to be one-dimensional, the attraction is generally superficially-based, and the plot is predictable.

Somewhere in Chapter 3, I could predict the rest of the novel: the MC would work with the love interest to bring life back to the vineyard and fall in love. Love would heal the MC’s heart so that she would decide against murder. I will admit that aside from the dynamic between the prospective lovers, the overall book does not follow the predictable plot devices of a paranormal romance novel.

To be honest, I think it would have been more satisfying for focus to be on unravelling the malignant spells set on the vineyard, rather than the direction the rest of the book went in, but I will say that the plot was more interesting than what I imagined — in some good ways, in some that I didn’t like as much. Okay, where to start. First, the MC does get started on unravelling the malignant spells put on the vineyard, and she has to work around the love-interest because he’s too practical to believe in magic.

Before we can get to far with that, though, the MC’s ex-fiance shows up for a visit and offers to buy the vineyard. The MC hides upstairs so that she can avoid him, but runs into him later, in town. She is overheard threatening to ruin him for cursing her, and then he turns up dead, like, the next day. In the meantime, small animals have been found dead and drained of blood ever since the MC has been gone, so she’s arrested for her ex-fiance’s murder and accused of killing the small animals, which is a part of blood-magic and illegal.

The MC is arrested and put into witch-prison with two interesting cellmates. The love-interest used to be a laywer, so he’s determined to defend her even though he’s a) never been a part of a murder trial and b) didn’t believe in magic until, like, five minutes ago. The MC inadvertently helps one of her cellmates escape, who then helps the MC escape with her other cellmate. The cellmate and the MC go hide at the circus, where the cellmate knows some people.

We run into a psychic and are pretty sure that he put the curse on the MC but don’t know why. The MC doesn’t figure this out, but she steals a crystal from him so that she can place protection on the love-interest. For some reason, nobody has figured out that that ex-fiance’s wife is the one who killed him and is responsible for the dead animals, so the love-interest goes to visit her, and she ties him up and tries to feed him to a demon.

The MC shows up, just in time, and she and the cellmate save the love-interest and kill the demon. The love-interest and the cellmate go out to greet the police while the MC gets the bad witch to confess. The police magically overhear this (literally) and arrest the bad witch. She dies because the magical handcuffs cut off her magic and she’s centuries old. And everyone who is alive is probably going to live happily ever after. Oh, except that the MC’s mentor is (accidentally) responsible for the MC being turned into a toad and the mentor, angry at the carnival psychic poisons him and then, I think, herself. She dies, anyway, maybe from guilt. But not before telling the MC that her parents were snake oil salespeople, except that the snake oil was, like, poison and charms.

Okay, so, what I liked. I LOVE the cellmates, although I think that everyone escaped from prison too easily. I also really dug the circus setting and getting to know one of the cellmates better. I imagine that there either are or will be more books set in this world and can see each of the cellmates getting her own story, and possibly the barkeeper and the bakery owner (who is also a witch). I think the world-building overall was fantastic. I wanted to spend more time there and get to know the people better, and that’s all because of how specific everything in the world was. The circus is a run-away destination for people with magic but few options. The bar is also for magical people, and is on the rough side of town. The baker creates pastries that identify with the people buying them, particularly in regard to their romantic destinies.

I also loved that the MC had her own specific skills that are demonstrated to the reader. I really liked the idea of unravelling the spells put on the vineyards, and I also liked the idea of vine witches being a real thing. And beer witches, too. Hilarious. I half-suspect that this is based on a real thing, and I don’t care either way because I don’t believe in witches, but I’d keep reading about these ones.

What I didn’t like. I didn’t like the mentor and the psychic both dying rather than dealing with the consequences of their actions. Also, I would have wanted the mentor around for another book, even though her dying coincidentally meant that the vineyard was free and clear for the lovebirds. I didn’t mind the surprise of the ex-fiance dying, but I didn’t like that the murderer was SO obvious but the MC never picked up on it, even though she was, generally, pretty smart.

Overall, I liked the aspects of the book that had been focused on more because we’ll probably see them in future books, like some of the characters and settings. I don’t like that the characters we’ll never see again were one-dimensional, and I don’t like all the twists that didn’t need to be there. Similarly to Axiom’s End, it felt like the time period was a convenient excuse to allow the MC a certain level of naivety that the reader doesn’t share, which allowed the author to heavily rely on an overused trope. I also found it really frustrating that the vine witch was really knowledgeable about magic but didn’t know that a jinnie could be set free by giving her fire. I would have liked it better if she’d intentionally helped the jinnie escape.

The witch who kills small animals and people in order to stay young forever is not new, and every one of the scenes where the love-interest is being tortured and then rescued could have been deleted, and the word count put to use in other, more interesting areas. For instance, since we end up at the circus with the man who cursed the MC, why not make him fully responsible for her curse, as revenge for some nasty thing the MC’s parents did to him? Then, he’d have his own motivation to curse her rather than sheer laziness and greed, which made him as one-dimensional as the actual villain.

I will say that the villain’s back story was pretty interesting, but it was all exposition, and therefore, rendered boring. I would much rather have seen that character in her own novel in the same world. Maybe she would have had to fight her own demons as well as the one that she made a deal with. That would have been cool.

Something I’m not sure how I feel about is the involvement of the Catholic church in the story. On the one hand, Christianity in general is responsible for a lot of atrocities and has a historically negative view of witchcraft. It also served as a device that separated the MC into the “good” side of witchcraft with the villain as firmly “bad”, which just takes away dimensionality. On the other hand, I did like the priest and I know that a lot of converts were lured away from paganism with the promise that Christianity was basically paganism + Jesus, so maybe that’s the direction the author intends to go in.

Overall, the characters were interesting, but superficially so. I would love to spend more time in this world and see how it develops. I would like to see the author be less clever, plot-wise, because, honestly, every story has been told. You can only surprise us so far with what happens, but the how and the who are unlimited, so I’d like to see more focus on those aspects of storytelling.

Knowing that this was the author’s first novel and seeing how much creativity and detail she displayed in her world-building, I would definitely read another book from her. In fact, as soon as I’m done with this/these review(s), I’ll probably go look her up.

Book Review #1: Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis

I rarely review things because I have a tendency to change my mind over time, and I hate disagreeing with myself. But I’ve read three books this week, and they’re still floating around in my head, so I thought I’d give brief thoughts on each book. (This was going to be short reviews of each book, but they all ended up too long, so I’m splitting them up.)

SPOILERS!!!

First, yes, I do have copious amounts of free time, but no, I did not spend them reading. I actually listened to Axiom’s End on Audible and then used the text-to-speech function on my Kindle app to listen to the other two. To be honest, I prefer reading text-to-eyeballs, but I won’t refer to that as “real” reading because even though I personally prefer the tactile function of reading, the journey is comparatively the same whether the book is read or listened to. I won’t devalue the experience of people who can’t read for whatever reason due to a sensory snobbery that is based on the fact that my ability to process spoken words isn’t as good as my ability to process written words. Also, if you’re going to judge me by anything in this paragraph, how about the fact that I supported the same corporation that treats its employees unethically and whose standard of quality has declined with its popularity, like most monopolies do — twice?

Second, I’ve always had a thing about listening to books but I was working on a crafting project with a strict deadline, so I signed up for free trials of Audible and Kindle Unlimited so that I could listen while my hands were busy. (I actually purchased Axiom’s End, but couldn’t stop to read it, so I signed up for Audible so that I could listen to it.) Anyway, due to the fact that I don’t like listening to books, I won’t be reviewing the voice actors in Axiom’s End. I preferred the text-to-speech function in the Kindle app because it allowed me to choose my own emphasis. There’s a lot of internal arguing when I don’t like how a voice actor chose to interpret a section of writing, and the text-to-speech function works really well, as long as the book is edited properly with lots of good punctuation. Although, that said, I will say that Ollie of Philosophy Tube did a great job and that he has a remarkably soothing American accent, even when he’s playing a character who is kind of a turd of a human being.

Anyway, disclaimers out of the way, I’ll start with the first book I read this week, which was Lindsay Ellis’ Axiom’s End. I have been waiting for this book to come out ever since I found out that Lindsay had a book coming out, which was about 9 months ago, when I watched her X0X0 speech. I’ve been watching her video essays for a couple of years and I always find her videos to be entertaining, insightful, and the most important thing in a good author — empathetic.

My first impression of Axiom’s End wasn’t good. I was genuinely disappointed, which was — disappointing. It occurred to me that even though I’ve been training myself to like audio books more by listening to Terry Pratchett and Georgette Heyer books that I’ve already bought/read multiple times, that maybe I was missing something due the sensory experience of listening.

So, I cracked open my Kindle version one night — okay, who are we kidding, one morning, before bed. I started from the first chapter and found that, yep, the visual process of reading allowed for a depth and comprehension that listening to the book wasn’t giving me. I was still on a crafting deadline so I went back to listening to the book with more trust in the author, and found myself becoming more engaged. I’ll probably read this book again in a few months and like it a lot better than I remembered.

But, that said, here is a short synopsis: The book follows Cora, whose father is a famous conspiracy theorist. Their relationship is estranged because Cora thinks her dad is crazy, and because he basically abandoned her family when she was younger. Cora lives with her mother, brother and sister (both younger) and their two dogs. Cora dropped out of college about six months before the story starts, doesn’t believe in aliens, and doesn’t particularly like her job as a temp.

In the first chapter, we find that Cora and her family are being followed (probably by the CIA), a meteor flies past the building Cora works in and shatters the windows, and Cora is fired for leaving work without checking out with anyone. Later that night, Cora sees an alien. So, action-wise, we get into it pretty quickly. I will say that, from Lindsay Ellis, I was expecting more of a wise-cracking, uber-jaded main character, but Cora was earnestly confused, scared, and tongue-tied throughout the book.

I liked the choice, as sincerity seems to be making a comeback and it also made Cora’s journey feel more authentic, as opposed to wish-fulfillment. Also, Ellis mentioned that Ender’s Game was a huge influence on this book, and Ender was a very earnest character (even though, as Ellis acknowledges, Orson Scott Card’s politics are toxic and BAD). I could see the influence in the way that Cora was either emotionally or physically isolated from the secondary characters in the book. This means that the reader was as forced to emotionally connect to the robotic alien, Ampersand, as much as the main character was (Almost, haha).

I would say that the secondary characters were pretty cardboard. I think that the best way to handle secondary and tertiary characters that the reader only gets glimpses of is the Georgette Heyer method. Instead of trying to make each character fully dimensional, she gives the character a very strong opinion on a specific thing or a very specific characteristic. This might sound like the recipe for a one-dimensional caricature, which is would be, if the story was based around this character. A main character should have strengths and flaws, and moments of humor mixed with moments of pathos. A tertiary character only needs to be interesting for a moment, so why not catch them in a moment in which they are interesting?

Also, specificity doesn’t need to be silly. Some of my favorite moments in Georgette Heyer novels is when the omniscient narrator jumps into the head of a servant observing his employer’s guests at dinner, or reacting to the first appearance of the heroine in their employer’s house. The fact that Georgette Heyer specializes in Regency romance novels means that pretty much any Regency convention allows the reader a glimpse into an entire world, so what’s conventional to the servant is automatically alien and therefore interesting to the modern reader.

This is not to say that Ellis would have done better with an omniscient POV, just that you can make a character endearing, ridiculous, or detestable with just a few words. One of my favorite interactions in a Georgette Heyer novel is in Sylvester, between the hero of the story and his widowed sister-in-law’s new fiance. The fiance is a vain idiot, but Sylvester is not, and we find him amusing himself during a conversation he’d rather not be having with a person he has no respect for, and he does it without being noticeably rude. So, just a short excerpt, and honestly, this is probably my favorite scene in one of my favorite Georgette Heyer novels, so if you don’t like it, you probably wouldn’t like her books.

In the scene, Sylvester is referred to as “Duke”, and the sister-in-laws’s new fiance is “Sir Nugent”.

“She did,” asseverated Sir Nugent gravely. “`My sweet life,’ I said – you’ve no objection to that, Duke?”

“Not the least in the world.”

“You haven’t?” exclaimed Sir Nugent, slewing his body round to stare at Sylvester, an exertion which the stiff points of his collar and the height of that Oriental Tie made necessary.

“Why should I?”

“You’ve put your finger on the nub, Duke!” said Sir Nugent. “Why should you? I can’t tell, and I believe I’ve cut my wisdoms. `My love,’ I said (if you’ve no objection) `you’ve got a maggot in your Idea-pot.'”

“And what had she to say to that?” enquired Sylvester, conscious of a wish that Phoebe had not cantered ahead.

“She denied it,” said Sir Nugent. “Said you were bent on throwing a rub in our way.”

“Oh?”

“Just what I said myself! `Oh!’ I said.”

“Not `my love’?”

“Not then. Because I was surprised. You might say I was betwattled.”

“Like a duck in a thunderstorm.”

“No,” said Sir Nugent, giving this his consideration. “I fancy, Duke, that if you were to ask all round the ton if Nugent Fotherby had ever looked like any species of fowl in such a situation the answer would be, in a word, No!”

Excerpt from “Sylvester”, by Georgette Heyer

So, if you’re not familiar with Regency-ese, Sir Nugent is someone who likes to think of himself as very fashionable and he wears his shirt collar so high that he can’t turn his neck. He has to turn at the waist in order to look over at Sylvester. The modern-day equivalent might be Lady Gaga choosing to make full shoulder spikes a daily choice rather than saved for special occasions. In the scene, Sir Nugent is surprised to find that Sylvester has no interest in breaking up his engagement to Sylvester’s sister-in-law. Also, Phoebe is the heroine of the story, and Sylvester is starting to like her and is sad that she has ridden on ahead (they’re on horses).

So, in this small portion of this scene, we get a sketch of Sir Nugent’s character, Sylvester’s character, and his vague admission that he’s interested in Phoebe — which, if you read the first chapter, is VERY interesting. Also, similarly to Darcy and Wickham in Pride & Prejudice, both Sylvester and Sir Nugent are presented as arrogant, but one is more forgivable. On a side note, I would say that between Sir Nugent and Wickham, Sir Nugent is more likable, but that’s only because he’s amusing. Wickham tries to rape an underage girl and Sir Nugent succeeds in kidnapping a five-year-old, so neither is a great guy.

Anyway, to apply this to Axiom’s End, my emotional investment in Cora’s family is really low because Cora’s mom is a workaholic who thinks about work a lot, her brother is a teenage know-it-all who sneaks into the computer room to download porn in the middle of the night, and Cora’s sister is a sweet six-year-old. Her temper tantrum when she finds out that aliens are real strikes me as one-note and contrived. However, Cora’s sister worships Avril Lavigne and thinks that Ani DiFranco is boring. This was Ellis introducing a secondary character without a lot of screen time in a memorable way. I even remember that her family had to talk her out of wearing ties to school (like Avril) because that is the one unique detail we’re given about her. We assume the ordinary stuff about her but this simple detail hints at depth.

I will say, too, that Cora’s brother is introduced as kind of an ass but as soon as there’s an alien in the house, he acts more his actual age than the full adult every thirteen-year-old thinks they are. He’s happy enough to let his older sister take charge, but is a willing second-in-command. He’s also protective of his younger sister.

Unfortunately, the mother is the most one-dimensional, shrill, selfish, and useless person to have around, particularly in a crisis. This makes me sad because even though my mom was a drunk mess, she was amazing in a crisis and would have killed to protect her children. If Cora’s mother had taken control in that scene, I would have liked her better and she would have come off as more dimensional.

The scene could still have ended with Cora running out to try to find the dog because it wouldn’t have made sense for the mother to do that. So, Cora still would have found the alien and our adventure still would have started here. Overall, I think that the word count spent with Cora’s family should have been utilized more effectively or just cut entirely. If the book started at the beginning of Chapter 9, I would have had a similar level of emotional investment in rescuing her family from the CIA.

Throughout the book, I wished that Luciana was around to answer some questions, but any time she’s in a scene, she’s so tight-lipped and defensive that she might as well not be there. Again, not handled in an unrealistic way, but not particularly engaging either. Also, Cora and Luciana get into a verbal fight near the end of the book and then for a while we’re not sure if Luciana is dead or alive and Cora feels really bad about the fight but, I, as a reader, was not particularly invested. To clarify, I’m never happy to hear that someone died, but I wasn’t sad that Luciana’s essence was no longer a part of our world, because I never really got a sense of her essence. Also, I never believe a character is dead until I see the body, and even then, I’m only 20% sure they won’t come back. I’ve watched too many soap operas and sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, and wrestling shows.

I also feel like the scene where Cora visits Luciana and her crew — all of whom know about the aliens — is wasted. Cora initially describes her close encounter to Luciana in the woods with no one else around. Luciana doesn’t believe her, but she introduces Cora to the group. Then she takes Cora up to find a new outfit and lets her shower. Then she’s taken down to tell the group what happened. This is the direct passage of Cora’s interaction with the group.

Now having had the time to calm down and run through it in her mind, she was better able to explain what happened.

Did the entity make eye contact? She couldn’t be sure; she’d run away. Did it actually touch her? She couldn’t be sure; it felt more like a magnetic force than being touched. Did it show interest in the computer? Yes, it had dismantled the computer. She saw it hiding in the neighbor’s yard when she was at the mailbox? She couldn’t be sure — at the time, she thought she’d imagined it. Did it make any noise? She didn’t think so, but she couldn’t be sure. Did it make any bid to communicate? She didn’t think so, but she couldn’t be sure.

With all this ambiguity, she was started to see why Bard and Luciana were skeptical.

She didn’t get a sense of antipathy from the group. It seemed as though what she was saying just didn’t compute. Like they had been expecting an invading Hun army but she was describing a horde of invading spiders. But what was more noteworthy wasn’t the way they treated her but the way they treated Luciana — the way they interrupted her or stepped over her questions and comments made it seem like Luciana was on thin ice.

Luciana sent Cora back outside onto the porch while the grown-ups talks over what she’d just told them.

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis

Bad, but not un-fixable. The first thing I’d do is cut the finding a new outfit scene, a lot. Here’s how I’d handle that. “Cora arrived at the safe house. Her aunt escorted her up to shower and gave her a change of clothes. Then Cora went downstairs and met the group.” Boom! The least interesting part of the chapter whittled down to three sentences. Also, I’d probably go back further than that. The scene between Bard and Cora effectively makes me dislike him the same way that Cora does, but then very similarly dialogue is immediately repeated between Cora and her aunt, so by the time we get to tell the story to the group, we’re all exhausted of this story. Not only did we live it, but we’ve had a phone conversation with Luciana, an in-person conversation with Bard, and in-person conversation with Luciana rehashing it.

If Cora had waited to tell the full story to the group, that scene would have been better and the scenes with Bard and Luciana could have been cut down without any loss at all to the story. I would transport the actual dialogue Cora had with her aunt to the scene with the group. This way, Ellis could show, instead of tell us what the interaction was. The group could interrogate her with dialogue tags and everything.

For me, there are two wasted opportunities with the way the scene is written. First, Ellis named the characters in the group after her friends, a lot of them her fellow YouTubers. So, if Ellis had fleshed out this scene, we would have gotten actual cameos of these people, which would have a) been a great fan moment for me, but also b) would have demonstrated not only Cora’s burgeoning dynamic with the group but her aunt’s “thin ice” dynamic. We would have seen, rather been told, that Luciana was constantly being interrupted and would have been able to infer and internalize that dynamic.

The way it happened, Cora could have been abducted in the park near her house, and we would have gotten to the Google campus several chapters earlier, and not missed anything. The Google campus is Chapter 9, and this is when the story gets interesting. Cora is confronted by the alien in the woods, and then wakes up at Google headquarters. The alien psychically tells her to try to get into the server room, and Cora is apprehended by security. The power in the building goes out, and Cora escapes. She finds Bard’s van magically in the parking lot with the alien inside, and Cora escapes with the alien.

From here (once the alien wakes up) Cora and the alien, nicknamed Ampersand, are able to communicate. Cora needs to rescue her family from the CIA who may or may not be brainwashing them to make them forget about the alien in the living room, and Ampersand needs to rescue his friends. They agree to work together. I can’t critique much about Cora’s and Ampersand’s relationship because it’s layered and confusing to both of them and builds up believably over the rest of the book.

I say “believably”, but again, not in a wish-fulfillment way. In a wish-fulfillment way, we’d find Ampersand to be extremely sweet and super relatable and we would start to root for him. Instead, his voice is mechanical due to the device he uses in order to communicate with Cora, and there’s a lot about himself that he can’t explain because his culture is so different from hers, and he’s been pretty brutal to humans in the past (including Cora). Similarly, there is a lot that he doesn’t understand about Cora. Also, as an interesting point, he has physical vulnerabilities that, despite his size and strength, makes him afraid of her.

I think that my only dispute with the way that their relationship progresses is that she is later shocked by certain revelations about Ampersand’s choices both before and after she met him — like killing humans. Also, that Ampersand was the one brainwashing people who knew about aliens, not the CIA. These revelations, to me, seemed obvious and shouldn’t have been confusing to Cora at all.

I think, in these areas, the device of setting the story in 2007 was supposed to camouflage some of these “surprises”. Because Roswell wasn’t yet a TV show (twice), Cora could be naive about certain things. But the reader is still in 2020, and is very familiar with aliens. Hell, I’ve never watched a single episode of X-Files, but I still know who Mulder and Scully are, which of them is the skeptic and the believer, and whether or not Mulder was ever vindicated (no, but Scully got to meet lots of aliens and she still didn’t believe in them). I also know that there’s a dude with a cigarette in a lot of the episodes, for some reason.

So, the rift between Cora and Ampersand when she finds this out feels poorly contrived and just sad. It’s interesting that Ellis, who is a brilliant video essayist, could have pointed this out as a reader, but missed it as a writer. Also, having gone the traditional, rather than self-published route, I have to wonder where the hell her editor was for this part of the book. It’s also frustrating to know that she had bestselling authors who were direct mentors and who wrote blurbs for the book, who didn’t point any of this stuff out to her. It seems cruel, knowing what a large platform Ellis has and the amount of backlash she’ll get from non-fans, for these bestselling authors not have nudged her in more dimensional directions with her book.

Also, speaking of editors, Ellis uses two to three words where one will do. Okay, here’s another un-requested confession: I still don’t understand the technical difference between an adverb and an adjective. I do know that they both describe stuff, I can use them correctly, and I know that using two or three where one will do is frustrating to my critique partners, so I’ve tried to cure myself of that. This is not something that Ellis’ editor seems to ever have pointed out, so there are a lot of unnecessary adjectives or adverbs, or both. I do understand that too many can undermine urgency, authority, and conciseness but other than that bad habit, I found the writing to be clear, organized, and enjoyable.

Overall, I liked the progression of the book, and I will definitely read Ellis’ next book. This is partially, but not entirely, due to being a fan of her video essays. I think that she has a lot of interesting things to say and this book barely skated across the tip of the iceberg. I think that a lot of the disconnect I felt toward the story and the characters had to do with a combination of my audio comprehension issues and her determination to make her first book “perfect”. This a) isn’t possible, and b) is an attitude that snuffs out creativity at the spark. One of my favorite things about reading Inkitt or Wattpad stories is that the stories are un-apologetically over-the-top, ridiculous, and — fun.

I used to look back at my earlier writing and cringe at some of the more unfeasible aspects of the plot, but I looked at my first real attempt at a fantasy novel a couple of years ago, and actually found it charming. Directionless and silly, but surprising in ways that I hadn’t allowed my writing to be in a long time. I think that this fear of seeming silly while writing a love story between a human and an alien is probably the biggest flaw in Axiom’s Edge. I hope that as Ellis continues to grow as a writer that she’ll feel freer to embrace the absurdity inherent in creating any kind of story.

Blog #10: Whoops!

*ahem* So, my last few blog posts have been a bit bleak. I have thought about taking them down, several times, but they are real, even if they don’t paint me in the most mentally stable light. And the truth is, I’m not mentally stable. I’m genuinely struggling right now. I am worried about money and I am struggling with suicidal ideology pretty much daily.

However, I feel okay today. Also, I recognize that people love me and want me to be alive. That voice in my head that tells me that I’m worthless and that nobody will ever really love me — I don’t think it’s trying to be a liar. I just think it’s desperate. It’s really hard to walk around in this world and keep having to realize that no matter how old or wise you get, no matter how financially stable you are, no matter how many people love you or how many people you love, none of the good stuff is promised or permanent.

We can lose everything in one fell swoop or we could lose it piecemeal over years, or it can be just one hit after another until your face goes numb and your inner narrator is just wailing incoherently. Existence is scary and painful and multidimensional.

I think about it like people who pin butterflies to a board. Yes, the the colors are pretty and the delicate detail of the wings are impressive, but the most beautiful thing about a butterfly is that it’s alive. You can’t pin that down without killing it. And that’s life — this butterfly that we’re always trying to get to stay still long enough to figure it out, but if we try too hard, we end up snuffing out it’s true beauty.

Unclench. It’ll be fine. And it won’t. And people will get fed up with you, and you with them, and then you’ll remember why you like each other and focus on that, and life is off and fluttering again.

I don’t regret the past several blog posts I’ve made, even if thinking about them makes me wince. I really have this terror of letting people get to know me, and I I’ve shared WAY too much about the worst parts of me on here, but only showing the best parts of myself is like pinning myself to a board.

However, I think I can probably provide a more balanced blogmosphere if I also pop in when I’m feeling great and life is going good. If that happens, I’ll let you know — haha! Right now, I’m okay. I don’t feel like a mistake. I don’t know how long that’ll last, but even a few minutes is a relief.

Blog #9: For Posterity

Trigger Warning: Everything

I’m pretty sure I’m going to kill myself. Definitely not today and probably not tomorrow. But at the end of the day, no matter how much self-soothing, self-healing, self-whatever I do, I always come back to the same thought: Everyone hates me and if they don’t they will.

I can’t even really express how painfully real that thought is. I want to just dismiss it as paranoid, but as I’m in the midst of that particular mental tornado right now, I can’t. And when I say that, I don’t really mean “everyone”. I am mature enough to no longer care what strangers think, and I’m actively glad if someone I don’t like doesn’t like me.

It’s the people I love, the ones that I thought loved me. When they change their minds, it hurts. And, it doesn’t seem to matter how much I try to avoid letting that happen, it always, always does. The mindfuck seems to be that I am instantly likable but fundamentally unlovable. How do you fix that? I used to think I just had to find the right people, people that I had a genuine connection with. But that doesn’t work either.

My mental illness is like a narcissistic boyfriend, constantly whispering in my ear that the people who I think love me are just being nice or that they secretly want something from me. Or worse — that they only like me because they don’t really know me. Or, and this is even worser — that they only like me because of the person they project onto me; who they think I am. So, I have to figure out who that is, and be it, and never ever share a thought or an opinion that I don’t already know they would approve of.

That’s fun, right? There’s no way to win that argument, either. It’s an un-provable statement. It really comes down to what I want to or can believe. I have a hard time believing a nice lie about myself if I can believe a nasty one.

I saw a homeless man today, and I could smell him from five feet away. As someone who has lived with suicidal ideology for approximately thirty-four years, I can say that it takes a brave person to live at the mercy of humanity. I would literally rather die than need help and risk a “no”. But there are people out there with hope and faith enough to believe that a) humans are basically good and will help if they can and b) vulnerable people have innate value regardless of their circumstances. I am not those people, but goddamn do I respect them.

Blog #8: Goodbye Kind World?

Trigger Warning: suicidal ideology.

This is going to sound arrogant as hell, but I’m going to say it anyway. There is something special about me. I’m not sure what it is, some sort of charisma or likability. Maybe it’s because I look like the human equivalent of a Care Bear — whatever it is. I am the kind of person that people want to believe in. People want to think that I’m a good person, they want to credit me with a higher level of decency than most people.

It took me a long time to figure this out, I think partly because I was raised by a mentally ill mother with addiction issues, partly because of the horrors that I experienced in foster care, and partly due to other unpleasant experiences I had as a child.

You know how, like, you’re in the middle of a nightmare and you realize that you’re dreaming? And you stop, and think, okay, if I’m dreaming, I can figure out a way to make this less scary? That’s what a lot of my childhood felt like. Like, strangers trying to molest me, my little brother being kidnapped and then dying, going into foster care and enduring not only shock and grief and loss but horrific abuse — and me, in the middle of that, figuring out how to steal a measure of control over my own life.

I wish that, once my life leveled out a bit, that I’d been able to relax. My life would have been so much better if I could have enjoyed any of it. I wish that I could have learned to trust people sooner and trained myself to know that love is scary but worth it. I wish that I could brush off intentional cruelty and forgive myself for unintentional cruelty. I wish that I hadn’t wasted so much time with my mom resenting or fearing her. I wish that I could have understood her when she was alive the way that I do now that she’s dead.

I quit my job in September, and damned if I can force myself to get another one. I finally signed up with a temp agency but I’ve only been sent out on one job in the past month-and-a-half. I should be upset about that, but instead, I’m stressed over what’ll happen when I get another gig.

I am not who I used to be. I’m not angry anymore. I think that my major motivation throughout most of my life was defiance, a determination to prove that the few people who treated me like shit were wrong. That I have value, that they didn’t break me. I’ve squandered so much of my life focusing on those shitheads instead of the people who genuinely liked me.

Until I got to Flappers, and then there were so many people who had so many nice things to say about me that they drowned out all of the cruel phantoms floating around in my head. I think that if the business of comedy was as pure as the art form, I might have been cured. Instead, I was promoted. And I became the thing that was wrong with the world.

That’s why I left, or so I told myself. The truth is that I confused virtue with naivety. Also, it had taken me almost forty years to find a community of people who liked me, and I was afraid that if I couldn’t be the cheerleader who gained their affection in the first place — if I had to be the hard-assed disciplinarian, the one who said no — that they would change their minds. I couldn’t risk that, so I walked away with the illusion of my integrity intact.

I was so proud of myself. So arrogant and judgmental and so much better than the person They had asked me to become. What an asshole. This is what I do — poke my head out of my shell, find out life is complicated, and then pull my head back in and congratulate myself for refusing to be corrupted. But my soul isn’t pure; it’s atrophied due to lack of use.

So, what now? I have about three months of rent left on one of my credit cards, and if I haven’t figured out how to support myself by then, I’m out. I’ve done a good job of distancing myself from the people who would care the most. I’m sure they’ll blame themselves; it’s what I would do. But, honestly, unless something changes within the next three months, I can’t see a future for myself.

That sounds grim, but I’m not actually unhappy. I have been writing a lot, and the writing is going well. I’m the closest to creating a readable draft of a novel that I ever have been. If I live long enough, I think I’ll actually finish it and maybe even figure out a way to get it published.

I’m also trying to figure out how to do craft fairs and farmers’ markets or how to sell the stuff that I make online. I haven’t given up, I’m not just waiting for the sand to drain from the hourglass. I’m in a race against time, like all good protagonists. I just don’t know what the end of my story is going to be, or when.

Three months goes by quickly but a lot can happen in that amount of time. I have hope that I can turn things around, and I have hope that I can start being the best version of myself again without feeling like a fraud. Or maybe, accepting that I can still be loved even if I’m just an okay version of myself…maybe?

If worse comes to worst, I’ll leave. It’s not anyone’s fault, except mine, really. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to thrive in this world. And I’m so tired of merely surviving. I guess we’ll see in three months, which of us is stronger, me or the world. Stay tuned, gentle reader. And stay strong.

Blog #7

Spoiler/Trigger Warning: Suicidal Ideology and other dark stuff.

I did a thing. I am almost maxed out on my credit card and I don’t currently have a job, and my bank pre-approved me for a new credit card because I used to have a job, so I applied for the new credit card. Then, I was feeling really depressed yesterday, like, you know, suicidal and stuff, and I decided to take a cruise. So, I bought a ticket for a 4-day cruise and I lied to my brother and told him I won the trip.

He believed me because I don’t usually lie. I kind of don’t even know who I am right now. All I know is that I’ve spent my whole life trying to figure out how to be a person who was good enough to deserve to feel happy and safe. But I was wrong. This world doesn’t reward virtue.

So, I haven’t decided to be a bad person, but I’ve decided to do some bad things. I took out a credit card I have no way of paying back on top of already having a credit card I can’t pay back, and I lied to my closest living family member.

I’m not even sure if I feel bad or if I know that I’m supposed to. I think, at this point, I’m just so desperate to feel like I have any control over my own life and choices, and this was the only thing I could think of.

I know that I need therapy. Bad. I think that when I get back, I’m going to try to find a good therapist. My last experience with therapy was about six months ago and it wasn’t great, so I was a bit gun-shy about trying again, but I know that I can’t figure out how to be okay on my own. I’ve tried.

Plus, I need some sort of diagnosis and medication. The Paxil is helping with the suicidal ideation but it hasn’t cured it, and it may not even be the right medication for me. It was just the only thing my GP was willing to give me upon meeting me for the first time so that I could request drugs.

I’ve been working on my stories, and that feels really good. I feel like I’m making breakthroughs every time I actively sit down to work on them. But sometimes it feels like a race to the finish line. Am I going to kill myself before I get a chance to finish one of my projects?

And if I finish a project to my own satisfaction, will that cure the overwhelming urge to take myself out of existence? I somehow I know it won’t but the lie that there is a thing, a relationship, or a goal that I can achieve is sometimes the only belief that I can hold onto to get me through this bout of depression, just so that I can fight another one. I’m borrowing against future happiness — like a Ponzi scheme based on hope instead of money.

This morning, I found out that a comedian that I used to know died. He was someone that I wouldn’t book because he was someone who never really seemed to get it. He thought that comedy was about getting up on stage and getting people to laugh. He never understood that laughter is sometimes a reaction to discomfort, and didn’t have any other tricks in his bag.

The way that he died isn’t public but he was fairly young and he was a comedian, plus there was always an edge of desperation and fury about him, so I am assuming that he killed himself. Of course, it was my fault. I didn’t do enough to try to get to know him. I let myself be influenced by people around me who liked to laugh at him instead of with him. I never saw through his bluster to his true potential and that is why he is dead now.

It would by hypocritical and dishonest to say that I’ll miss him. In fact, I recently thought about him and was relieved that leaving comedy meant I’d probably never see him again. But there’s still a cigarette butt the size of a fist burning a hole in my solar plexus when I think he might have felt so alone and hopeless that suicide was his only viable choice.

And he left behind a widow and a couple of kids, and I understand the perpetual razor-blades-under-your-skin of loss. “They” say that suicide is selfish, and I don’t believe that. I think that the kind of people who say that are people who have never felt suicidal. I also believe that it’s selfish to ask someone in that much anguish to stick around.

I mean, I’ll ask anyway, because if I have to be here, I need you here, too. I think that it’s a certain type of idealism that leads to a depth of disillusionment with the world, which then makes the world feel like such an unfriendly place to live. I wonder if all of the idealists who are offing themselves right now stuck around, if we could band together and make this a better world. Because, right now, the cynics are outnumbering us, and they are winning.

And I’ll admit that it’s selfish to ask you to stay. I’ll also admit that I hope that this comedian died of an aneurysm so that I can absolve myself of the guilt of his death. I understand that I am not responsible for everyone’s pain. But I also know how simple conversations with people have either nudged me forward on the tight rope of hope or almost knocked me off completely.

We affect each other. We are responsible to do the best we can for each other. I didn’t do my best for this guy. I know that. That was part of the relief at the idea of never seeing him again. I hate thinking that I might be one of the people who helped knock him off of his tight rope. Even if I only made a feather’s breath of difference in his life, my regret is that it wasn’t to nudge him forward.

I’m trying to figure out how to end this on an uplifting note, but all I can really say is, be kind. Be kind to other people, be kind to yourself. I’m going to wander off and try to forgive myself for being human. Do the same.

Blog #6: Support and Vulnerability

I had forgotten, maybe deliberately, how supportive the comedy community can be. I shared my first post about comedy on Facebook some time after midnight on Sunday and after receiving my first like and comment a few minutes later, I was blasted with immediate self-doubt — who did I think I was, what did I think I had to say that Alex Hooper (seriously, check out his writing about comedy — it’s beautiful) or someone else couldn’t say better, who even wanted to hear from me over a year after I abandoned them?

And then there was the guilt. The very club that I’m criticizing took a tattered soul and filled it up with hope and love and words. It reminds me of a scene in the original Roseanne in which Roseanne laments to Dan that they were so excited when Darlene learned to speak. It feels like a betrayal to criticize the people without whom I might not even be alive.

And, yes, a lot of that had to do with introducing me to the comedy community, but the owners themselves invested a lot in me. Neither of them is perfect human beings, but I love them and I know that the debt I owe them can’t ever be repaid. Which means that, of course, I am a monster.

I immediately hid the post from my timeline, thinking that would prevent people from seeing it and then I went back to trying to sleep. I didn’t delete it, because I didn’t want to thank my one commentor by deleting him entirely.

I woke up the next morning to a couple of comments and a bunch of likes. Apparently, even if you hide something from your Timeline, people can still see it in their feeds. Over the past few days, I’ve gotten over 70 likes and a dozen comments. And even though I can’t figure out how to restore the original post to my Timeline, three people have shared it, so now it shows on my Timeline three times in a row.

I even got comments directly posted to the blog, which marks this as the first time I’ve ever received a non-spam comment on any blog I’ve ever started since my LiveJournal days.

A lot of people said that they found my post helpful, and I guess I thought I was just validating things that they already knew, but then I got a direct message from one of my comedy friends and she thanked me for explaining the reason why she was stuck in limbo. She’d wondered why she hadn’t been able to feature or otherwise move up, and my blog post explained that to her. It encouraged her to know that she wasn’t inherently lacking in talent. So, if for no other reason, I’m glad I shared the post.

My post isn’t intended to hurt owners or bookers. I was a booker. I, more than anyone, understand that they’re just people, and with some notable exceptions, they’re mostly decent people. At least, at the club I was working at, the owners worked at minimum as hard as any of their employees, and they were barely breaking even. It never seemed to me that owners and bookers are purposely choosing the most exploitative way to run a business. It’s a desperate way to keep the lights on, and that means that all the talk about comedians “not caring” about getting paid is an attempt at justifying choices that made while backed into a corner.

It’s easy to judge, without the weight of a mountain of debt on my shoulders, how other people should run their businesses. I even, when I first found out that comedians didn’t get paid, wondered why anyone would decide to open a comedy club if they couldn’t pay their performers. And I still think that if I were ever to open a club, I wouldn’t do it unless I was sure I could pay the comedians. That said, if the owners of the club hadn’t opened exactly the club that they did, exactly the way they did, I might not be here.

When I found the club, I was three years into mourning my dead mother, and I was strangling the last shred of my will to live. I’d made a deal with God that I would stay alive as long as my older brother was alive (younger brother was already dead). I wasn’t a person; I was a sister to a dead brother, a daughter to a dead mother. I had no identity outside of that.

When I walked into the club, it was the first time in three years that I did something because I was actively interested in what I might find. Every choice I had made from the moment my mom died until that moment, had been out of obligation or defiance. I didn’t stay long, that first day. My soul was like a foot that had fallen asleep; it tingled with the pain of waking up. But the next morning, for the first time, maybe in my life, I actively wanted to be somewhere. I didn’t know why exactly, I just knew that I did.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the club and all of the people in it. I think that people think of me as a naturally nice, supportive person, but any good aspect of my personality was nurtured and fostered by the environment I was in and the people I was around.

The club I worked at isn’t perfect. It’s not run by perfect people who make perfect decisions all of the time. The business of comedy is also plagued by a relatively low percentage of shady opportunists and predators who sometimes seem like a very large percentage. By the time I left, I was so overwhelmed by all of the yucky aspects of the business that I’d stopped seeing and feeling the good. I had to step away in order to gain some perspective.

Now, I can be grossed out by the bad but inspired by the good. I’m still nervous about dipping my toe back in, but the warmth of the welcome I’ve received helps a lot. I hope that I can maintain a level of perspective and help people maintain theirs. It’s a tough business, but most of us didn’t get into comedy for the business. We got into it for the art and we endure the business aspects. I think that the worst aspect of the business have traditionally been ignored, as a sacrifice to continue pursuing the art. But I also have hope that it’s within the realm of possibility to change those aspects so that they become a reward of pursuing comedy, rather than a punishment.

The Business of Comedy in LA

I went to an open mic tonight with a couple of friends. I went to the same mic last week, but was too scared to get up. This week, one of my friends got there early and signed me and my other friend up. It seemed rude to decline.

I hadn’t done stand-up in over two years, and it went as well as could be expected. I used the same jokes I prepared for last week, more or less. I was super rusty but it was nice to get laughs when I expected them, and people didn’t hold their own conversations during my set. It went poorly enough that I definitely want to try to do better next time but not so well that nobody who saw me tonight would expect me to be great next time, which takes the pressure off.

After I calmed down, the mic was fun. I’m glad that my friends like to stay the whole time because I always felt bad leaving mics early back in the day just so that I wouldn’t have to worry about a ride home. Plus, I like comedy.

After the mic, one of my friends let the host know that I used to be a Booker. I don’t like being introduced that way but I’m not sure if it bothers me enough to bring it up. I’d rather just be a person, or, at a mic, a comedian, not a former Booker at a comedy club a lot of comedians have had bad experiences at.

I always feel like I need to explain that even if 80% of comedians have a good experience and 20% of comedians have a bad experience, if you’re talking to one of the 20% and none of the 80%, your perception is going to be skewed. And, although I believe that comedy as a business is exploitative, I don’t know that I would say that my club is more exploitative than any other club.

In fact, they go out of their way to book newer comedians — not for altruistic reasons, sure, but is that better than a club that uses a strong gatekeeper who operates on a system of favorites and favors, or clubs that don’t book bringer shows but will allow “independent producers” to book bringer shows? Oh, yeah, Big Boy, your hands are soooooo clean!

To be clear, I think those are both terrible options, but, maybe due to being part of the 80%, I appreciate a club that goes out of its way to make room for less experienced comedians. I also had a lot of amazing experiences there, despite my reservations regarding the business itself.

Still, I end up getting defensive about the club, and angry at the exploitative nature of the business, and those are two reasons I hadn’t touched a mic in two years. I have more reasons, but those are two of the biggest.

I think I might start blogging about comedy — not just my experiences, but also tips and tricks for newer comedians. I think if I could only say one thing about the business of comedy, it would be that it’s easy to take things personally, but it rarely is. Sometimes it is, but speaking from experience, there are about a million comedians to one Booker*.

All comedians want to be booked. All comedians want to be remembered, all comedians want to be special. And I’ll say this, not as a Booker, but as a Human — everyone IS special. One of my favorite things was watching an unwatchable baby comedian get funny. Every single person has a spark, an essence; something that they bring to the world that no one else does. Watching a comedian tap into that essence is one of the most joyful experiences ever, and not just as a Booker — otherwise comedy wouldn’t be a thing that regular people pay to see.

The sad thing is that people want to believe that comedy is a meritocracy. That those comedians who tap into that essence the best, connect to their audiences the best, will be the most successful. This is not necessarily true. If thousands of comedians are able to tap into their essences and connect to their local audiences, but the world only has room for, say, a hundred legends or superstars, what happens to the other thousands of comedians?

Generally, they tour or do corporate gigs or have side jobs. Not everyone is “destined” to be rich and famous. The reason that baby comedians are so desperate for money and fame is because when they’re starting out, they can’t even get by, no matter how hard they work at it. I’ve known comedians who lived in their cars or other peoples’ couches or floors, for years.

I’ve met comedians who have been doing stand-up for twenty-plus years and are still grateful for a 5-minute spot on any show, whether it be in a club, in a bar, or on a street corner. I’ll be going to a comedy show in someone’s backyard next week. For a couple of months, I hosted an open mic in my carport.

Comedians love doing comedy. They’ll do it for free — hell, they’ll pay to do comedy and subsidize that decision with a job that actually pays. This love of comedy is what is exploited. The fact that comedians will work for free translates into comedy club owners deciding that “comedians don’t care about getting paid”. This is inaccurate. Not caring about getting paid is not the same thing as accepting that your particular skill holds little to no monetary value.

And we can blame the comedians all we want to, for choosing to work for free, as though if they all went on strike, the business of comedy would change. That’s not true. First of all, the overwhelming number of hopefuls desperate for any kind of stage time will always undermine any attempt at a strike. Second, as headliners rarely get paid a living wage to perform, they wouldn’t lose any income from going on strike. All they’d do is lose the stage time they need to be polished enough to go on the road so that they can afford to pay for their time in LA.

We already know that a strike won’t work. We have an alternative comedy scene that was built up by comedians fed up with being censored, under-booked, and underpaid by clubs. They created shows in bars and backyards and in tents. Here, they still weren’t being paid, but at least they could perform, and their type of comedy wasn’t dictated to them by club bookers and owners. But that didn’t fix the system. As stated, there are too many aspiring comedians who are desperate for stage time, particularly in a club, that a club is never at a loss for comedians to book.

Clubs don’t lack their pick of super-talented comedians. Clubs need audiences. In this city in particular, there are a lot of options for entertainment. Headliners who can sell out clubs all over the country, unless they’re Jerry Seinfeld or Kevin Hart or Iliza Schlesinger, can’t pull in crowds in LA.

For me, the solution is obvious: build up a reputation, as a club, for nurturing and showcasing the next superstars. Have every show’s line-up stacked with people who are funny enough to be famous, but aren’t. Hire promoters to make sure that there are at least a few butts in seats so that word-of-mouth has a chance to grow.

Or, you could do what LA has chosen to do. Put on bringer shows. A budding comedian doesn’t have fans yet, but do you know what they do have? Friends and family. So, you can pack a lineup full of inexperienced comedians and they will help sell out your rooms. And the shows are terrible and nobody in the audience wants to go back. The comedians who purchased the tickets for their friends and family, and possibly their two-drink minimum, try to focus on the fact that they got to perform at a Real Life Club instead of on the fact that they were not only not paid, but they (in a lot of cases) lost money on the gig.

These comedians realize that they can’t afford to be amateurs for much longer, and feel urgency to move up to paid gigs. Unfortunately, paid gigs in LA are few, far between, are granted mostly to touring headliners, and don’t pay as much as you would think.

So, what happens? Budding comedians become more experienced and less bookable. Their friends and family lose interest in watching terrible shows, but these comedians aren’t skilled enough to be booked on better gigs. A kind Booker will try to find room for them, but there’s a prolonged period of limbo between bringing and featuring, unless you get very, very lucky.

This business model leaves clubs desperately clinging to whatever audience they can manage to trick into a show, and comedians being bitter about particular clubs or producers. Comedians who once found comedy freeing become disillusioned and doubt their self-worth.

The art of comedy edifies; the business of comedy exploits. If you want to maintain your sanity, surround yourself with decent human beings. Anyone can get funnier. Decency is a skill that takes a lot more time and dedication to develop. Be careful about the environments you let yourself become involved in. If you find yourself defensive, angry, or increasingly cynical, take a step back. Pinpoint the source of this poison and cut yourself off from it, whether it’s a person/people or location(s).

I promise, there are enough decent people to be around and enough decent places to be that you don’t need to subject yourself to any environment that brings out the worst in you. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that purposely dosing yourself with iocane powder will make you immune to it. That has only ever worked for the Dread Pirate Roberts.

*This might be slight hyperbole.

Blog #5

A few minutes ago, I considered going off of my medication again — more responsibly this time — because I’ve been home for almost a week and haven’t written anything. I haven’t felt creative, I’ve been sleeping a lot, and I haven’t cleaned my house. I’ve tried to organize something every day since I got home, but I just don’t have the energy for it that I anticipated. I’m avoiding calls and texts from friends.

And I know I’m going to have to get a job soon, so I’m mad at myself for not making the most of this opportunity to get my shit together.

I wanted to go off the meds because even though I was pretty sure I was going to die, I felt alive. But the, I remembered that there are times I feel really alive even on the medication but the average number of suicidal thoughts have gone down a significant amount, even when I’m crawling through a dark hole.

So I’m going to choose to believe that I have value as a human being regardless of my productivity level and I’m going to choose to believe that the depression will lift and I’ll get my creativity and will to live back.