Archive for September, 2015



What Stace had to say on Monday, September 21st, 2015
Feeling Lucky

When I was in eighth grade, I went on a class trip to Washington, D.C. (which was amazing, btw; I love D.C.). We did all the things people do there: we hung around outside the White House (we didn’t go in, I don’t remember why), we saw the U.S. Mint, we visited the FBI building and saw the 10 Most Wanted list, we wandered around the Smithsonian and saw the Hope diamond, and we went to see the giant pandas at the National Zoo–that was Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, not the current pair. (Also, click here if you want to see something adorable and wonderful and amazing. It will open in a new tab, which you can then keep open all day to check on periodically and feel whatever stress you’re dealing with evaporate. You’re welcome.)

Anyway. When we made our National Zoo visit, the panda exhibit/habitat was being renovated or something–my memory is fuzzy as to what actually was going on, maybe they’d just had a baby?–so the pandas were in a big glass box. And they weren’t doing much. I got bored fairly quickly, and decided to go back to the bus (we were all in a big tour bus) and hang out in there.

Sitting across from me was a girl from my school I didn’t know very well, named Vanessa. She was reading, with the sort of intense focus one only sees when someone is reading a book that has utterly captivated them, a thick paperback. Its cover was black, and across it stretched an image of a gold necklace with a ruby heart in the center. Above and below the necklace were the author and title:

This is the cover I saw.

This is the cover I saw.


Jackie Collins, and LUCKY.

I’d heard of Jackie Collins before, but had never really seen one of her books. I’d never read one; in fact, I’d never heard of anyone my age reading one. At that time, although I was (of course) an avid and voracious reader who read YA and adult fiction, I’d never ventured into the world of adult potboiler/bestsellers. So I asked Vanessa about it, and she told me how good it was and even let me borrow it while she went to look at the pandas herself.

I started reading. And I couldn’t–didn’t want to–stop.

For the rest of the trip, Vanessa and I would race to see who could get back to the bus first to read LUCKY, and the first thing I did when we got home was insist my mom take me to the bookstore so I could buy my own copy. I’d never read anything like it in my life: beautiful rich people having copious sex, saying “fuck” every other word, being criminals, killing people, using sex as currency or as a weapon, flying in private jets, cheating on each other, betraying each other, backstabbing each other, spending millions of dollars on jewelry and cocaine, taking cruises on private yachts with their husband’s mistress and then fucking some guy who turned out to be the husband of their stepdaughter and former teenage best friend while at port. Teenage girls ran away to the South of France, where they got drunk and gave blow jobs to sleazy wannabe film directors. Other teenage girls got scammed by bad actors and kidnapped by sleazy mobsters. Actual gay and lesbian sex was described. Everybody murdered everybody else while building hotels and there was family drama and daddy issues and gay porn and strippers and dead lovers and riots and crime everywhere. I was thirteen, you guys. This was the most incredible book I had ever read in my life.

Vanessa and I became friends, and she told me all about the first Santangelo book, CHANCES, which I of course immediately grabbed a copy of. I remember my mom taking me to the library to check out more Jackie Collins novels, and her having to give her permission to the librarian so I could do so (would that still happen today?). HOLLYWOOD WIVES, HOLLYWOOD HUSBANDS, THE STUD, THE BITCH, THE WORLD IS FULL OF MARRIED MEN, LOVERS AND GAMBLERS…whatever I could get my hands on, I read, though none of them captured me the way the Santangelo books did.

Now, I fully understand the…shall we say, limitations…of Jackie Collins’s books, literary-speaking (I know that’s wrong, but it sounds funny). I just don’t give a damn, because my goodness, they’re fun as hell, aren’t they? Ridiculous and silly and over-the-top, crazy, dirty, trashy fun. I still love them. I will always love them (and I’m still planning a project that will hopefully have all of the same trashy, over-the-top fun). The novels of Jackie Collins helped show me what was possible in a book, just as much as the novels of Stephen King or Richard Matheson or Edgar Allan Poe, or Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters (whose books I devoured at age twelve and still adore), or Herman Wouk, or Nathaniel Hawthorne, or Charles Dickens, or Orwell or Tolkein or Harper Lee or any number of other writers with incredible stories did. I never realized you could write books like Jackie Collins wrote; I’d never been exposed to anything like them before. I’d certainly never realized that they were something girls my age could read–while I’d read plenty of books written for adults, her books seemed like books for ADULTS, if you know what I mean, far beyond the comprehension or enjoyment of someone my age. (A few years before that, I’d found a book in one of the cabinets in our basement called THE CHOIRBOYS, by Joseph Wambaugh [some of you are probably chuckling right about now]. The cover copy described it as “shocking,” so I thought I’d give it a read. I think I gave up after three or four pages, having become simultaneously bored, confused, and terrified–I vividly remember something about a dead person with dog poo in his or her mouth, and deciding that was not the kind of “shocking” or “adult” I’d been looking for and furthermore who would want to read that?) (Apparently it is a very good book; I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it or reading it, of course, just that at twelve or thirteen it seemed horrifying.)

I’m starting to ramble and digress, so I’ll get to the point of all this.

Jackie Collins died on Saturday. I’m sad about it, although I admit I haven’t read one of her books in some time–actually, the last one I read was LADY BOSS, when it came out in paperback, so yeah, it’s been a while. That doesn’t change the fact that they were a huge influence on me, and that I will be forever grateful that I met Vanessa on that long-ago trip and she introduced the barely-a-teenager me to this incredible, sparkling adult world, where sex and wealth dripped off the pages to infect me with possibilities. Her books were about giants; larger-than-life, slightly insane, sometimes unlikable, oversexed, wealthy giants who made up for what they lacked in gravity and humanity by being flashy and tough. I remember trying a few other potboiler-y books, looking for something that would give me that “Jackie” rush, and being sadly unable to find any. (I think my favorite out of those others was Sidney Sheldon’s MASTER OF THE GAME, although there wasn’t enough crazy sex in it for me. Harold Robbins left me cold, though I imagine I might enjoy his books more now. Danielle Steele was too tragic and sentimental for me, though she enjoyed quite a period of vogue among the girls at my school during our freshman and sophomore years. I never could get into Judith Krantz or Rosamunde Pilcher.) No one could compare to Lucky Santangelo and the collection of mobsters, prostitutes, models, politicians, businessmen, actors, and idiots who peopled her world.

So thank you, Jackie Collins. Thank you for blowing my thirteen-year-old mind, and thank you for showing me that you could do anything, go anywhere, in a book. That there were no limits. You will be missed.

What Stace had to say on Friday, September 4th, 2015
On Happy Endings

A while ago I was wandering around the IMDb page for “The Departed.” I imagine it won’t be much of a surprise to many of you for me to say that I fucking love The Departed, but just in case: I fucking love The Departed.

Anyway. As is my wont, I had a look through the discussion threads for the movie; there is often fun to be had there, even if it’s of the “Really?” sort. (Example of fun: A thread on the Unforgiven page suggests that maybe William Munney moved to San Francisco, where, in order to put his criminal past behind him forever, he changed his name to Callahan. Seventy-some years later, his great-great-grandson Harry becomes a cop. Silly, maybe, but I thought it was fun.) The discussion I saw is either no longer there–since IMCb has started ruthlessly deleting discussions after a short period of time, which is very annoying–but it was basically somebody sniffing snootily (say that three times fast) about how The Departed sucks, because they had to add some dumb happy ending to it and Americans always have to ruin movies with their stupid endings that imply the world isn’t a miserable shithole. Dumbasses!

(I note that in the current discussions there’s a discussion which will be the subject of another post in future.)

Many of us are probably familiar with these wet-blanket sneerers at happy endings, since anyone who’s spent any time in the “book world” has seen them. I bet you have. You know, the ones who insult women’s fiction as a category and the genres within it as “stupid trash” because the endings are usually happy and that’s just dumb because what idiot wants to read a book where the characters are happy in the end? Really, what sort of moron enjoys it when things work out for other people? Don’t the readers of those genres, or of any books where the ending is anything less than an apocalypse of misery and death, know that in the real world things don’t always end happily? How stupid do you have to be, to enjoy reading something uplifting when you could be spending a nice afternoon being reminded of the world’s inhumanity and that that no matter what you do, you’re likely to end up screwed (in a bad way)? Dumbasses. People who like books with happy endings or movies with happy endings are clearly barely above a dog in terms of intellectual capacity, and also are cowards who bury their heads in the sand.

Can you tell from the above just how much these misery-gut thought police annoy me?

I don’t think there’s much purpose behind pointing out that, as bad as things might be, in the real world things often do work out for people. If in the real world people never got married and spent their lives together, then maybe we could agree that books in which the protagonists do exactly that are “unrealistic.” But they do. It happens every day. I’ve been married for over fifteen years, and while we’ve had a few less-then-perfect periods–as most couples do–we are still quite happy together. I’m aware of more than a few others, who’ve been married far longer, and are still pretty happy to spend time together.

But it’s not just romances/stories with strong romantic elements, I hasten to point out. Again, this all started (partly) with a discussion of The Departed, where the term “happy ending” fits loosely at best. The complaint there seems to be that revenge was gotten, or at least vengeance was served. Thinking people know that just because vengeance was served doesn’t mean anyone is happy; the dead certainly do not come back to life. To say that’s a “happy” ending makes me wonder just how much you hate people, and if you will ever consider your personal revenge on humanity complete.

But honestly, the point is not how mean people who sneer about happy endings are and how they probably kick puppies in their off hours. (No, really, it’s not.) And–honestly, again–I don’t insist on them in everything myself, and have been known to enjoy plenty of books and/or movies where the ending is ambiguous or downright unhappy. I’ve even hated a few happy endings which I felt were tacked on or unearned or just plain shitty–I’m looking at you, Natural Born Killers.

But in general. I don’t think turning up your nose at a story with a happy ending (and anyone who enjoys it) while drawling about how much better it is when stories are realistic, like real life, man, not inane and sappy (as if real life is not inane and sappy sometimes), and how stupid it is for people to like happy endings and how American movies should be more like European movies because they’re real and nobody is ever happy in them and nothing ever works out in the end. Which, wow, sounds fun, but also, can we please get over the idea that it is somehow intellectually superior to wish ill on others, and that it is some kind of virtue to expect everything to be shitty and horrible and that doing so makes you a person of fine and elevated tastes far beyond the average in some fashion?

It’s not. I promise. And you’re not either, Joe Misery. There’s nothing virtuous or clever or special about thinking it sucks when other people find happiness, and that’s what you’re doing when you get all grumpyass about happy endings: You’re saying that it’s wrong–it’s dumb or it’s naive–to take pleasure in the joy of others (because in its essence, taking pleasure in a the happy ending of a story is really taking pleasure in the joy of others, isn’t it? Being glad that things worked out for them, that they overcame their obstacles and found happiness at the end? We don’t smile and sigh because the protagonists ended up miserable and alone and it’s made us feel better about our own shitty lives of existential horror–at least, we don’t if we’re decent people and the characters are, too [I make no apologies for being glad when hideous evil characters get what’s coming to them]. It’s nice to be pleased when other people are happy. It’s virtuous and good. It’s kind. It indicates that you have positive human emotions instead of being riddled with envy and hate and rage.

And I have to admit, it’s that last part that always crosses my mind when I come across some “Why do you people want a happy ending, you simps,” person. Why don’t you want one, man? What is it about things working out okay for other people that you find so offensive? Why do you want people to be unhappy? Is schadenfreude so noble that you want to pat yourself on the back for it, really? Do you think you’re actually imparting some earth-shaking wisdom by reminding people that things aren’t always great for everyone all the time? Or are you really just stomping on the only joy someone might have, in the middle of a shitty patch–the only joy to be had by someone whose life could very well be a hell of a lot worse than yours, by the way, Mr. or Ms. Emotional Bully?

Of course the world can be a cold and miserable place. We all know that already, and don’t need you to tell us. That’s why we need happy endings. And happy endings aren’t just about fooling us into thinking things could work out for us, too, or whatever. They’re about reminding us that they sometimes do, and that even when things look awful and we’re at our lowest, there could still be something good around the corner. It’s like playing the lottery, but everybody wins. That’s a good thing. And it doesn’t deserve anyone’s contempt.

(Note: Yes, my tongue is slightly in my cheek as I write this, and I’m not referring to people who disagree with a particular ending to a particular story or even people who simply prefer ambiguous endings. I’m talking specifically about people who feel the need to insult others who do like happy endings, and who act as though there’s something especially clever or cool about not liking them; that’s what I take issue with. Also, about halfway through this post I began feeling like I was writing some sort of obscure porn about massage parlors; the double entendres are just everywhere, aren’t they? But it couldn’t be helped.)