Time for another post about news that broke after I posted this week’s Friday Five (or didn’t come to my attention until afterward). And as usual I have some opinions that I wish to expound upon.
First up, if ever a headline deserved the word finally: GOP Rep. Amash becomes first Republican to say Trump ‘engaged in impeachable conduct’. Representative Amash has always described himself as a Libertarian, so he’s never been lock-step with the more overtly evangelical or authoritarian wings of the Republican party. So it makes sense that he would be one of the people who would look past partisan loyalty and talk about defending liberty. The sad part is that so far none of the other self-described Libertarians have been willing to do the same thing.
If you’re wondering why so far no other single Republican has been willing to do their duty and uphold the Constitution in the face of the blatant unfitness and corruption of the Trump administration, this provides a nice explanation: Why Justin Amash stands alone. The short version: Congressional Republicans fall into roughly three camps: 1) they know he’s corrupt and unfit, but they’ll get the judges and tax laws they want until things come crashing down around him, at which point they’ll all say they were always secretly opposed to him, 2) those who recognize that they’re financial futures are tied to being about to stay in the Conservative Bubble Racket, so if they oppose Trump, they won’t get those lucrative Fox News or Think Tank jobs when they retire, 3) and then a lot of them are genuinely racist, homophobic, and otherwise hateful and actually believe in everything he’s doing.
I’m not ready to label Amash a hero, because Trump’s violation of the Emoluments Clause at the very beginning of his administration should have brought some protests from Congressional Republicans. And in various tweets and statements while trying to attack his perceived enemies, Trump admitted to the obstruction of justice about two years ago, long before the blatant refusal to respond to Congressional subpoenas now. Amash should have been making these kind of critical statements then. He was probably in Camp 1 above, though not very enthusiastically. I see Amash as more of a glimmer of hope that maybe his decision was driven by those polls showing a larger and larger number of Americans who believe Trump is guilty, and so we may be reaching the stage where the rest of Camp 1 will start peeling off.
I said was a glimmer, but a big one.
While we’re on the topic of why it matters that the Republicans in Camp 1 and Camp 2 have been derelict in their Constitutional duties for three years: Alabama’s Extremist Abortion Bill Ruins John Roberts’ Roe Plan — SCOTUS was all teed up to quietly gut America’s abortion rights. Then Alabama happened. The Alabama abortion bill is awful, and it isn’t just about abortion: it effectively outlaws a lot of medical treatments that people need. It makes the penalty for getting an abortion, even in the case of rape, more severe than the most severe penalty given to rapists! It’s just horrible. It’s also taking aim at the legal basis for the ruling that overturned sodomy laws, making it legal for gay people to have consentual sex in the privacy of their own homes.
And despite what the headline says, I don’t believe for a moment that the Supreme Court will go ahead and uphold it when it gets to them. Roberts may have hoped to destroy abortion rights in a continuing series of small steps where he could pretend that he was just allowing reasonable restrictions, but he was clearly on board with the goal. So I’m not holding out much hope.
And as I have tried to point out many times to some gay men I know who keep insisting that abortion has nothing to do with them: the exact same reasoning–a person has the right to decide what to do with their own body–that underlies the landmark abortion rights case, was also used by the justices who overturned sodomy laws, and it is part of the reasoning for the ruling the legalized marriage equality. This is just another domino in a long line of ways that some people want to take away rights from a whole lot of us.
And that’s depressing, so I’m going to switch gears and share this story about a situation that almost turned into yet another school shooting, but was stopped, not by a good man with a gun, but by an unarmed good man: Former Oregon Ducks wide receiver hailed as hero at Parkrose High School.
First, an ending doesn’t have to be a happy ending to be satisfying to the reader. Tragedies have been around for a long, long time. But most readers do want a character they can root for throughout the story, and if the character fails in the end, the reader still wants to feel that they were right to root for that character. Maybe the protagonist’s death allows others to escape a terrible fate. Maybe the cause was worth the sacrifice and the way the protagonist failed leaves the reader with a glimmer of hope that someone else will succeed where they failed. Maybe all the reader needs is to know that the protagonist believe their sacrifice was worth it—making an effort against the forces of darkness is better than not trying at all.
Even happy endings have to feel earned. The reader isn’t going to be satisfied if it doesn’t feel as if the struggle was real.
And surprise endings? Surprise endings can’t feel as if they came from nowhere. You can surprise the reader at the end, sure, but a second after the surprise is revealed, the reader should go, “Dang! I should have seen that coming!” The surprise has to make sense within the narrative frame and the character arc(s) you’ve already led the reader through.
I’ve written about that particular phenomenon once before, specifically in the context of murder mysteries and similar stories, so I’m just going to quote myself:
For me, part of the fun of a good mystery is finding the puzzle pieces in the storyline and admiring how well they are constructed, or how good a job the author does of putting them in plain sight while not making them obvious.
Sometimes I am completely blindsided, and if that happens without the author cheating, that is just as much fun as figuring it out before the reveal.
Bad mysteries aren’t bad simply because they are predictable. They’re bad when they are too predictable. When the author (or author and director, in the case of a movie or show) clumsily gives things away or relies on cliches, there is no delight in the reveal. If the author cheats by simply withholding information, or otherwise pulling something bizarre and shocking out of nowhere, that also spoils the fun.
And, as in all stories, if the author makes us care about the characters, even if the puzzle isn’t terribly difficult, we can still enjoy the battle of wits between the detective and the puzzle.
Getting the ending right isn’t easy. And if you get it wrong, the reader doesn’t just dislike the ending, they feel as if all the time they have spent on the story was a waste. And remember, it is a sin to waste the reader’s time. This doesn’t mean that you have to give the reader the ending they want—it means your ending has to make sense, it has to pay off any questions or themes you teased the reader with before, and it has to feel earned. It has to be the best ending you could deliver, not a prank you pulled on the reader to show how clever you are.
It isn’t easy, but nothing worthwile is.
1. The Night Was Sultry, part 1—adventures in opening lines, The Night Was Sultry, part 2 — more adventures in opening lines, The Night Was Sultry, part 3 — finding the emotional hook, The Night Was Sultry, part 4 — fitting the opening to the tale, The Night Was Sultry, part 5 — closing the circle, openings and endings, and Begin at the beginning, not before for instance.
2. Specifically Lucifer, Arrow, and The Flash. Which I feel I need to mention, because I know that one reason so many others are talking about this topic is because of the final season of Game of Thrones which is not a show I have ever watched—so none of this is intentionally about that topic.
It all started back in 2012: Jerry Falwell Jr & his wife met a young pool boy on vacation. Then they started ‘helping’ him.. The Falwells were staying at a ritzy hotel in Miami, where 21-year-old Giancarlo Granda was working as a pool attendant. The hunky young man started mysteriously spending a lot of time with the middle-aged couple during their stay. And later he started flying with them on their private jet to various places. He was seen hanging out with the couple on many occasions, without any explanation.
Pro-Trump Pastor Jerry Falwell Gave Hot Young Pool Boy $1.8 Million & Flew Him First Class on Personal Vacations While Promoting Anti-Gay “Christian Values” as Liberty University President. Shortly after befriending the pool boy, the Falwells asks some associates to help them find a business they could buy in order to give their new friend “a good income.” They eventually settled on purchasing a “youth hostel” in Miami, providing the $1 million down payment on the mortgage (the property was valued at more than $4 million at the time), plus $800,000 to renovate the place. After the renovations, promotional material for the hostel listed the former pool boy as the owner, though later court papers list the owner as a shell company that is owned by the Falwells, their son, and one other family member.
This youth hostel was actually the first part of this whole sordid affair that came to light in 2017 when a reporter for Politico wrote: My Weekend at the Falwells’ South Beach Flophouse and Falwell, Jr. Opened ‘Gay-Friendly’ Youth Hostel With 21-Year-Old Pool Boy . The hostel offers what is described as dorm-like accommodations for $20 a night. There is a bar on the premises, a liquor store next door, and a sign on the front door that lists things not allowed inside, including both politics and religion. It is also described as veery gay friendly, with posters for cabaret shows at local gay clubs on display in the aforementioned bar, for example. In other words, it is a business making money on things that Falwell, his ministry and his university all regularly and vitriolically condemn. But you’ll notice when you read that story that most of the reporter’s concern is about possible tax-evasion that this purchase of a youth hostel may represent.
The story finally started registering when this happened: Jerry Falwell Jr and pool boy sued over business venture. Two Miami businessmen, a father and son with the names Jesus Fernandez Sr, and Jesus Fernandez, Jr. had consulted back in 2012 or 2013 with the former pool boy about possible business ventures that he could enter into with the backing of the Falwells, and they had at least one meeting with both Jerry Falwell Jr. and Granda the pool boy. They allege that they were promised shares in the business and other payments, which have not been forthcoming. It was in depositions for this trail that the amount of money the Falwells had given to the pool boy (that $1.8 million above) was revealed. Falwell claims it was a loan, but has so far not produced any proof that there is a repayment plan or that any money has been coming back to them.
Still, at these point it is all a little odd, and several people were making guesses about the nature of the relationship between the Falwells and the pool boy (I mean, why did they suddenly take an interest in a much younger pool attendant to the point of flying him around in their private jet, putting him up at their home at least once, and handing him nearly two million dollars?). Those of us who were guessing various sexual shenanigans (are the Falwells into something like a hot-wife or cuckold kink? Do they just like threeways?) weren’t being taken seriously.
Until this bombshell: Exclusive: Trump fixer Cohen says he helped Falwell handle racy photos.
So Michael Cohen (currently serving a 3 year federal prison sentence for tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations over his hush payments made to a porn star Donald Trump had an affair with in order to keep the affair secret) was asked by Jerry Falwell Jr to recover some “racy photos, the kind that should remain private between a husband and wife” that someone was trying to blackmail him with. Cohen flew to Miami, and claims that he met with the person, made some kind of offer, and that the person destroyed all of the photos–except one that Cohen himself kept. This happened just a few months before the 2015 Iowa caucuses, and crucially, just before Jerry Falwell, Jr stunned a lot of people by endorsing Donald Trump. An endorsement which, by the way, has been widely reported to have been engineered by Cohen.
Some people will ask why this whole sordid affair is newsworthy. First of all, Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a public figure who regularly endorses political candidates and causes, encouraging his large following to vote and donate in these political issues. He does with the aid of several large tax-exempt organizations (some of which are legally forbidden from advocating specific political causes, by the way). There are legitimate questions about just how much of his supposedly private for profit business ventures have been financed with tax exempt donations to the non-profit entities. In which case, these businesses are being financed illegally with taxpayer money. Among the favorite targets of Falwell’s tax-payer subsidized condemnations are the civil rights of gay people, the health and reproductive rights of women, the civil rights of muslims, et cetera and ad nauseam.
On top of all of that, it appears that his endorsement of Trump, which came at a crucial moment just before the Iowa caususes, may have been a repayment to Cohen and Trump for helping to make the sex scandal of the “racy pictures” go away.
Falwell hasn’t just railed against what he calls sexual perversion, he has actively worked to roll back laws protecting everyone’s right to decide their own reproductive health, including trying to legally regulate what consenting adults (straight and queer alike) can do in the privacy of their own relationships. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to such issues for the last several decades that someone who publicly reviles other people for their personal sexual activity has some sexual skeletons in their closet, yet here, once again, that appears to be the case.
Now, we don’t know the exact contents of these racy pictures that Cohen paid someone to destroy. We don’t know for a fact whether the pool boy engaged in some kind of kinky sex with Mr & Mrs Falwell beginning in 2012 and continuing through early 2016 when they were still regularly seen in his company (remember, he was living, attending college, and running that business in Florida, which the Falwells live in Virginia, so all the times they were seen together weren’t merely a matter of happening to bump into a neighbor). We don’t know if that is what so endeared him to them that they shelled out $1.8 million to buy him a sketchy business in 2013. We don’t yet know how much money nor where said money came from that Cohen paid out to someone in Miami in 2015 to make the racy pictures go away. Likewise we don’t yet know who it was that was using those photos.
Now, since one of the times that the pool boy stayed at the Falwells’ mansion in Virginia was after Cohen made the racy photos go away, I think it is very clear that the pool boy wasn’t the person trying to blackmail them. It is very possible that the pool boy is in some of those photos—Cohen described the pictures as “very bad,” so they clearly can’t just be pictures of Falwell and his wife having sex all on their lonesome, as is implied by the phrase “of the sort that should remain private between a husband and wife.”
I have no beef with people living a monogamish relationship. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone the right to engage in kinky sex. One of the points I frequently make when talking about the injustice of sodomy laws, restrictions in reproductive rights, and civil rights for queer people is that as long as no one is getting hurt and everyone involved is a consenting adult—what people do to get their rocks off should be their own business, and outside the review of the law.
But I do have a beef with hypocrisy from people who are actively engaged in taking those kinds of rights away from other people. Particularly if they are either making their living from the tax payer (politicians, prosecutors, police, and so on) or making their living from tax exempt activities (which means indirectly funded by tax payers). If it turns out that Falwell’s decision to endorse self-described pussy-grabber Trump in the Republican primaries in part in gratitude for trying to make the scandal of the racy photos go away, well, we enter an entirely different level. Falwell more than meets the legal definition of a public figure, and this affair—whatever the salacious details—involves public money, the outcome of political campaigns, and the subsequent assault on the rights of LGBT people, women, immigrants, people who do not subscribe to Falwell’s brand of evangelical christianism, and others.
Giancarlo Granda, now in his late twenties and attending grad school in Georgetown, has issued a number of terse replies to various reporters over the series of events. When asked whether he knew anything about the photos, his reply was that he wasn’t the person who attempted to blackmail the Falwells. Which wasn’t exactly the question that was asked. He has a few other gripes with the way the story has been reported: Jerry Falwell’s Pool Boy: Stop Calling Me “Pool Boy”. Sorry, Giancarlo, that isn’t likely to happen. You were doing your job in a skimpy swimsuit as a pool attendant at a Miami hotel when the Falwell’s met you and pulled you into their life in whatever capacity. You went on those trips with them on their private, tax-exempt jet. And I don’t know anyone who believes it was because of your business acumen. So I’m not willing to think you’re a completely innocent victim in all of this.
It will be interesting to see what comes out of the Fernandez’s lawsuit. And if Cohen really did save one of the pictures, well, who knows what will happen, next?
Meanwhile, you might enjoy this video: Rachel Maddow: Michael Cohen Said He Fixed ‘Racy Photo’ Problem For Falwell Jr (Rachel also warns you may feel the need to take a shower after hearing some of the details):
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
There was a whole series of stories I intentionally kept out of this week’s Friday Five because it’s an involved tale that falls into a theme I’ve blogged about a lot, and I had more than a few thoughts on it. So I had planned to run it as a Weekend Update post. I also kept this week’s Friday Five a bit more succinct than has been typical, of late, in part because since I had Friday off, I had intended to spend Thursday evening binging Lucifer season 4 on Netflix. Which I did.
No spoilers: I laughed, I cried, I gasped, I cheered, and please oh please let there be a season 5!
Anyway, my extended weekend started off both relaxing and productive. I had some errands and chores I wanted to get done, and most of those have been attended to. I’ve also napped more than I meant to, I’ve gotten a lot of reading in, and so forth. By Saturday morning when I originally planned to finish the other blog post, I just didn’t want to. Because, often my weekend updates are about really sordid things, and that’s what this series of stories is. I just wasn’t in the mood, or rather, I didn’t want to put myself into the sort of mood I would likely be after I finished that post. And I thought, well, there is a certain resonance to posting it on Sunday, so maybe I’ll work on it then.
Instead, I got up, took my meds, did a little bit of tidying in the kitchen, then laid down and slept for something like five ours. And I still don’t want to go there. So you’re getting a brief, and late, Weekend Update that is about good or cool or rockin’ things, instead of the sordid stuff about a public figure.
First up, just a nice little feel good story: Mom Gets a Surprise When She Skips Her Own Graduation to Attend Her Son’s. Woman goes back to school later in life, and finds out that the day she is supposed to accept her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at one university, is the same day that her son is getting his Bachelor’s in Music at a different university. So she decides to skip her ceremony to attend her son’s. A classmate of the son happens to have a workstudy job in the office of the university president, and told the president the story. So the president calls the president of the other university and the cook up the scheme to surprise both mother and son, by presenting mom’s diploma at their ceremony.
Novelist and comic-book writer Chuck Wendig has been tweeting a lot about the family of foxes that have a den not far from his writing shed, and he’s posted an album of the adorable photos for all to see.
Finally, a couple of cool things:
Coeur d’Alene artist turns decaying tree into little library:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
GOOD OMENS in 35,000 dominoes:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
While everyone is entitled to their opinion, that doesn’t mean that the opinion is valid. I mean, technically, if one’s definition of substantive writing absolutely excludes the possibility that anyone would find said writing enjoyable, I guess it is a valid observation. But I don’t think that such a definition is a reasonable one.
One of the reasons I hate the term “fan service” is because the implication is that merely because a moment in a story (whether that story is a novel, short story, movie, or television episode) makes the audience cheer that means it is objectively a bad thing. Now the counter-argument is usually stated that they aren’t saying a story shouldn’t be enjoyable, but rather that the author shouldn’t put something in merely because the audience wants it.
To which I say, “Bold of you to insist you can always discern the writer’s motive.”
On one level, the fan service critique sounds like simply another way of stating an oft-repeated piece of writing advice: “Of course you have to write to an audience, but never forget you are writing for yourself.” That’s a good piece of advice so long as you understand what it means is that you shouldn’t compromise your story to appeal to an audience. And by compromise we mean, don’t make the story unsatisfying/unbelievable to you. Because then you aren’t writing your story.
Sometimes what people who use the term “fan service” really mean is that it is something they think the wrong sort of person would want. It’s a weird form of gatekeeping. “This plot development appeals to the sort of person I don’t want to consort with, and I don’t want to consort with them so much, that I don’t want to be perceived as liking the same sort of things as they do.”
While others who use the term seem to honestly believe that if something is enjoyable that it isn’t worthwhile. Because only difficult-to-understand art is substantive? Though there is a lot of snobbery in this attitude, so it may just be another form of gatekeeping.
Other times, the person using the term means the event was something they didn’t care for. And that is a valid reason to dislike a particular story, but that doesn’t mean the story is objectively bad. Whether you like the plot point or not is literally a subjective thing. And you know what else is subjective? The definition of “substantive” when applied to any work of art. Because substantive just means “important” or “meaningful” and what is important and meaningful is going to vary from person to person.
“A story has to be a good date, because the reader can stop at any time. Remember, readers are selfish and have no compulsion to be decent about anything.”
I like this Vonnegut quote because it embraces the idea of subjectivity. Readers are selfish, he observes, but he doesn’t say that is a bad thing—because in this context it isn’t. Just as a person who is on a date with someone that they find incompatible (whether they simply have no common interests, or are off-putting, or creepy, or acting like an asshole) has the right to walk away, so too the reader has the right to set the book aside and never finish it.
It’s simply the flip side of the principle that not every story is for everybody. While a particular person may be incompatible with you, they may be absolutely perfect for someone else. The same goes for stories. Something that I can’t stand might be one of your favorites, and vice versa.
Putting things in your story that makes some of the readers cheer ought to be one of your goals as a writer. You shouldn’t be afraid of it. The key is whether or not that same thing is something you think belongs in the story.
The ultimate goal is to write a tale that makes some readers keep turning the page, again and again, anxious to find out how it ends. That means at least occasionally including moments that cause that reader satisfaction.
That isn’t fan service.
That is simply good storytelling.
Because I follow some blogs that focus on surviving abusive parents, I happened to see the graphic I’ve included above the same day this conversation happened. One of those example insensitive comments made me laugh—perhaps more than a bit sardonically. Because as soon as I read “You’re going to regret this when they are gone,” my immediate thought was how many people I would enjoy saying, “Every time you said that you were wrong. I absolutely do not regret cutting him out of my life at all.”
Before I go on, I should make a content warning. I’m going to be talking a bit about my abusive father, and some things he did… Read More…
If you’re here following a publishing link, I apologize. I was trying to save a draft of the unfinished post and clicked the wrong button.
Confessions of a bad son, part 3: the myth of regret is now published and available.