Origins of an Agent: Devil’s Advocate by Jonathan Maberry

I started watching The X-Files in middle school, toward the end of the series. At the time, I was in love with everything on the Sci Fi channel (now Syfy). TV was doing an excellent job of fueling my obsession with the paranormal and unexplained, so when I saw reruns of The X-Files showing, I gave them a shot. I was hooked. It became one of the shows I would choose any time I saw it on the TV guide listing, even if an episode had already started, even if I was watching them out of order–which I was.

Fifteen years later, and it’s still one of my favorite TV series, so when I stumbled upon The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate by Jonathan Maberry in the teen section of our local library, I snatched it right up. I didn’t even read the synopsis until I got home; I couldn’t resist the bold, glaring X on the cover.

Devil’s Advocate is a story about fifteen-year-old Dana Scully and her life as she’s thrust into a murder mystery involving schoolmates, angels, and mysterious men in black. The story finds Dana beginning to question her own sanity as she searches for help and answers before anyone else can get hurt. With the guidance of the local new age shop owner and employees, along with her own sister, Dana faces the dangers that will only continue to follow her as she grows up: murder, mayhem, and that which she cannot explain.

What I loved about this book was the way it made reference to characters The X-Files fans already know, and it afforded us another opportunity to interact with them via young Dana Scully. The two most prominent relationships are those between Dana and her sister, Melissa, and Dana and her father. They’re portrayed in ways that we already know as fans of the series–Dana’s skepticism making an appearance opposite Melissa’s unwavering belief; her already strained relationship with her military father–but they do so without alienating newcomers at the same time. Particularly of note was the way the story showed the lead up to Dana and Melissa’s divergence of beliefs, giving that backstory to fans both old and new.

Maberry also manages to do a skillful job of keeping readers on their toes, trying to figure out who the killer of the story is. A mystery/thriller can be disappointing if readers figure out the answers too early on, but Maberry makes it possible for a number of people to be suspects, or at the very least untrustworthy in some way that readers suspect but can’t put a finger on. I found myself jumping around with suspicions as I read, even at times when I knew Dana might be wrong, or at the very least reacting quicker than she should in a situation (even if her instincts were right). I couldn’t help growing just as emotional as she was, even if I knew better. Maberry has an excellent way of making readers feel for Dana and feel with her as she seems to struggle against everyone around her.

Some of the novel’s opening came off rather clunky, most noticeably when Maberry is describing Dana and Melissa’s ages in relation to one another, but overall, Devil’s Advocate is a fun read that gives a new depth to a story that some already know and others haven’t had the pleasure of diving into yet. If you like fan fiction but are looking for something more believably linked to the source material, as we all know fan fiction can take some serious liberties at times, I would highly recommend giving this book a shot. I know I’ll be searching my library for Mulder’s story, by Kami Garcia, on my next trip.

February 17, 2017
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Project 365: Days 39-45

Overall, I’m ecstatic about what I captured this week! I think being home during the day, and therefore being able to capture the best lighting through the house, has already really helped me out with this project. There’s no rush to chase the light as soon as I get home, and I get a little more time to consider the subjects as well. And then sometimes there are those lucky accidents, like funny animal faces, to really remind me why this is so satisfying.

39/365: Perfect timing. I still die laughing at this photo. I swear, he was just yawning! Since my lenses are all manual focus only, I don’t get photos this fun as often as I’d like, but I think that makes them even more satisfying when I do.

40/365: Recent horror acquisitions. It’s no surprise anymore that I love horror, and I was so excited to get the most recent issue of Rue Morgue and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina last week, especially with my newly-discovered love for alt-Archie stories.

41/365: The collage poster for my Brittany S. Pierce fanzine. I’ve never made a single-page zine before this one, but I’m already working on my next one (an ASMR 101/fanzine). They’re a nice little way to put out work in between bigger zines.

42/365: A library haul. I went to the library for the first time in months on Saturday and grabbed these all within about five minutes. Plus, I couldn’t skip our weekly Dunkin’ Donuts stop (fudge brownie macchiato + brownie batter doughnut).

43/365: DIY cleaning books. I spent Sunday cleaning the house a bit and making note of what supplies I’d need to make my own home cleansers. And then I cried when I tallied up the cost.

44/365: The first quarter or so of my novel. It actually goes through about three quarters of the outline, but it needs a lot of love and revision, so the length should balance out with the storyline soon enough.

45/365: Current favorite office corner. The skeletons hang just beneath the new shelves that Dan built me, and then there’s this little table (acquired at Goodwill several years ago) to hold some of my plants and my record player.

February 15, 2017
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#RiverdaleStrong

Posted in Pop Culture by

I’ve never been much into Archie comics. Aside from a few thick grocery store volumes acquired in the checkout lane when I was still single digits, my attention skimmed right past Archie and his pals to the Ducktales comics and, later, to some scarier, stranger volumes. (Hello, Locke & Key.)

Several months ago, articles came out across the web to announce the news: An Archie television series was coming to The CW, and to my surprise, my curiosity was piqued. I was already open to giving an Archie series a try, but the fact that it would be on The CW was what caught my interest. The CW is known to me for two things: Its long-running, over-the-top dramas and its collection of surprisingly successful DC comics series. And as expected, this wasn’t to be your typical Archie, the half-hour, antics-filled sitcom I would have guessed we’d get from any other channel. Despite the visual callbacks in the forms of Jughead’s hat and Archie’s garish orange hair (more on that later), this was going to be a gritty, dramatic look at Archie and the rest of the Riverdale community, so I was skeptical, because I couldn’t understand how or why you’d make this adaptation into something dark. It could be such a let down.

I am so glad to have been wrong.

My truest loves come in the forms of Our Lady of Personal Reformation, Veronica Lodge; Our Lady of Pining and Perfection, Betty Cooper; the cool-as-hell, suffer-no-fools Josie and the Pussycats; and the tortured, emo Jughead Jones, also our narrator to this beautiful bastardization of classic entertainment. These are whom I tune in for every week. Betty and Veronica (Lili Reinhart and Camila Mendes) had me shouting my love for their friendship to my empty house in the middle of the afternoon as I watched the first episode, and I can’t help but cheer every time Ashleigh Murray as bandleader Josie comes on screen. She exudes a fierceness and dedication to her music that I can’t help but admire. Cole Sprouse’s narrative role as Jughead is the perfect level of broody to guide us through the drama and moral debasement of this little town.

The show isn’t perfect in the way you’d expect any show on The CW to just fall short. The first episode relied on the old trope of attention-grabbing girl-on-girl action without a real romantic relationship (while simultaneously calling it out through the vessel of Cheryl Blossom, so brownie points for that nonetheless). Additionally, our main protagonist is the least interesting to me so far–although even he has his moments that leave me shouting at the TV–and his albeit appropriately cartoonish red hair can be a bit of an eyesore. I’m not even sure if they match his eyebrows, honestly. But at only the third episode, I’m not going to hold that against everything else this show has going for it.

Riverdale is everything I was anticipating but in the best ways. Is it over the top? Absolutely. With murder, sex, and revenge all twisted together, how could it not be? But it never quite reaches the level of too much. The show knows when to reel it in and bring us back to something we can’t look away from (and often I don’t want to). One of the best parts of my week right now is live-tweeting the new episodes on Thursday nights, screaming into the internet void with other fans and talking through our feelings. If I believed in “guilty pleasures,” this might be one, but I feel no guilt for enjoying the lurid escapades of Riverdale and its inhabitants.

Have you watched the show yet? What are your thoughts? Who’s your favorite? Let’s talk!

February 13, 2017
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Timeline of an American Tragedy: Columbine by Dave Cullen

Posted in Book Reviews, Bookish by

I had just turned eight only a month before. On April 20, 1999, I came home from school, like so many of us would, to see endless news coverage of the breaking story.  I didn’t understand quite what was going on, but the incident, the image of terror out on the lawn of a high school, is not something I’ve forgotten over the years, especially with the way history keeps repeating.

At its occurrence, Columbine was the worst school shooting in history and remained so for years. While it’s been surpassed in the time since, its shadow lingers. People are still fascinated and confused by what happened. Dave Cullen’s Columbine sheds a light on the story that I, and I’m sure plenty of others, can use to navigate just what happened that morning.

Cullen’s work is written in a way that keeps readers’ attention, taking us through the timeline in a well-crafted, non-linear way. Between chapters on the shooting and its years of aftermath, we’re shown the events leading up to the disaster and the factors in Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s lives that contributed. It’s an excellent back and forth, keeping the story from becoming weighed down by traditional narrative structure.

Maybe it’s a result of my age at the time, but there were so many details that I’d never known before, from the bombs the two boys attempted to use to the truth that they were not, as the media would repeat, bullied loners exacting revenge on their (jock) tormentors. Their attack was indiscriminate. It was fueled by Eric’s unrepentant hatred for humanity and Dylan’s devastating struggle with depression. It’s a story we think we know from the echoes of nearly two decades, and these flawed beliefs are still prevalent. Columbine teaches readers a necessary lesson otherwise.

This book is so thorough and immersive, without being an overwhelming dump of facts, that unless you were there, I’m willing to be it’ll teach you something new. I’d also wager that these revelations will leave you even more upset over the ordeal than anticipated. Cullen covers the lives of victims, the police response, and the affected families, including those of Dylan and Eric. Each story is enraging and heartbreaking, but also riveting and necessary.

In the revised/expanded edition of 2016, Cullen added “more scans of the killers’ writing and sample pages from the Columbine Teachers’ Guide [he] created.” The book does not include graphic photos; the descriptions of the horror are likely enough for the average reader. (Nonetheless, I will admit to looking up news footage online while reading one night; I ended up with nightmares.) These added materials, however, add another layer to what Cullen has to tell about Dylan and Eric. To read excerpts in the clean text of a professionally bound book is good. To read their hatred and frustrations in their own hand is a whole other experience that can send chills just as easily as a photo might.

You don’t need to be a true crime addict to experience this book, though it won’t hurt. Rather than being dry and laden with facts, this book is crafted to be accessible, educational, and illuminating. Dave Cullen paints such a picture of the entire tragedy that is clearer than anything I’ve experienced on the topic before (including high school assemblies and the Bowling for Columbine documentary), and if you have any desire to learn about the event, let this be your first resource.

 

February 10, 2017
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Project 365: Days 32-38

A good photo week overall, I think. It helps that we had a couple of sunny days and I cleaned my office to give myself a little photography area to work in. Plus, now that I’m working from home, I have more hours in the day to use to get photos done. I’m not sure if I’m seeing improvement, exactly, but I’m still having fun, so it’s worth it for that if nothing else.

Sometimes I worry that not only will I not be able to finish the year, but also that I might not even want to. It’d be a bit disappointing, but I want to give myself permission to quit if I decide to later on without being too hard on myself. (I have a tendency to be my own worst critic, as I’m sure most of us are.) For now, though, I have no intention of stopping, so no worries there!

32/365: Amanda Palmer’s retweet of my Rad Gal post hanging above my desk.

33/365: A favorite shelf of mine in the living room, housing a photo of my parents and a photo of Dan and me.

34/365: Treat yo’ self.

35/365: New plants for my home office.

36/365: My ever-growing Harry Potter collection.

37/365: Brain games.

38/365: New plant on a new shelf.

February 8, 2017
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Dear Stephen: A Love Letter to a Horror Master

Dear Stephen,

Carrie White was my first. I met her midway through high school, when I was also an awkward, angry teenager. She intrigued me with her pitiful self, her inability to stick up for herself against the mean girls and mean boys and abusive mother—but I also felt a deep sympathy and anger at the way those around her let her down. My tolerance for bullying is nonexistent, and every time I reread, I have to talk myself down from a rage cliff. There may be an element of the supernatural within the novel, but of all the books of yours I’ve read thus far, Carrie feels the most real.

I’ve been an avid fan ever since—though not quite to the Annie Wilkes level, thank goodness—even if I’m not the fastest. Sure, they’re not perfect novels (is there even such a thing?), but they’re damn fine entertainment.

Pennywise is my most recent.

I was, for the first time in these past nine years, driven to actual fear by one of your books: It. I spent a portion of the summer alone in my house, and in my own infinite wisdom I read the book most nights before bed, with only my fat oaf of a dog as protection, so as I’d shut the lights off and snuggle into the blankets, it was easy for my imagination to run wild. I couldn’t count the number of nights I would get up to double and triple check the locks on the doors.

It appeals to my coming-of-age cravings, the constant need I have to dive into the lives of adolescents, which I can only assume is a result of my total anxiety over my own adulthood. It takes me deep into that summer of 1958 when the Losers Club lived to tell their tell—but never did, and rightly so; who would believe this rag-tag group of pals? “They’re only telling tales and having fun,” the adults would say. And I would fear for every one of them as they drew closer to the answers and to It.

It’s masterful, that crafting of a character most commonly known only as It throughout the book. Most people, fan or not, would recognize Pennywise, but few—including myself—realize that he’s only one face of the fearsome creation lurking throughout the novel. It’s clever and even somewhat amusing to give something as grand and terrifying a name so simple. It’s exactly what you could expect from a group of eleven year olds.

My Stephen King collection is small in relation to your lengthy resume, but I can only hope it will keep growing with each year. Maybe someday I’ll even catch up.

Your Constant Reader,
Sonya

February 6, 2017
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eulogy.: A Poem

Posted in Writer Life, Writing by

I see stars
and lightning bugs flying higher
until I can’t tell
which is which
in the humid dark of a July sky.
It’s true; there is beauty
still, but
I am not ready for it
tonight.

February 3, 2017
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Project 365: Days 25-31

This week I tried to work a little more with angles and Photoshop actions–the former for practice and the latter for fun. Plus, I was starting to worry I was getting stuck in one style of photos and editing, so I thought trying some new actions might help me mix things up a bit. I’ve been thinking, though, and if I end up spending any of my tax return on anything “for fun,” it’ll  likely be a new lens. I’d like one a little shorter than my usual (50mm), so I’ve been browsing some old 28mm lenses on eBay. We’ll see, though.

25/365: Revision

26/365: February TBR.

27/365: Maple-bacon cake.

28/365: Blog post writing.

29/365: The back of my postcards on Etsy.

30/365: A cat in my personal space, spending the afternoon in bed.

31/365: Lexi keeping an eye on Charlie skulking through the living room.

February 1, 2017
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Rad Gal Inspiration: Amanda Palmer

Posted in Rad Gals by

When I was fifteen, I got tickets to see a fresh-faced band named Panic! at the Disco out by the seacoast with my then-best friend. To prepare, I looked into the opening acts: The Hush Sound and this weird as hell band The Dresden Dolls. It was a time before anything and everything you could ever want to investigate was on YouTube, so my Google searches had to be a little more thought out, taking time and clicking just the right links. Most likely, I found them both on MySpace with their songs available for streaming, though I can’t be sure after all these years. I investigated, and The Hush Sound were great–a little funky, ethereal at times, yet sweet in their sound of pianos, guitars, and vocals far beyond my range. They were catchy.

But the Dresden Dolls would not leave my brain. Their toy sounds and intoxicating, rough vocals kept repeating in my head and, after buying their first album, my Discman. There was a discordance to their sound that I could connect with, as if something inside of their music was, to my surprise, inside of me too.

These days I don’t listen quite as much as I did then, even though I’m often telling myself I should, but Amanda Palmer’s strength both as a performer and as a person strikes me as inspirational. She’s often on my mind, especially with my recent dive into Patreon.

As with probably every woman I end up writing about as an inspiration, Amanda has not been exempt from controversy, from claims that she wasn’t paying her band to the suggestion that her Patreon funds shouldn’t go towards her child. She is bold and outspoken, an ardent feminist who is open to criticism and acknowledges it. Just a few weeks ago she shared on Facebook a post from her Patreon group page that raised the idea that her fan space is predominately white, and instead of an argument, cordial (for the most part) discussion arose.

She also doesn’t shy away from her emotions, and she especially doesn’t take any shit from anyone. So often women are told to be quiet, not to talk about what upsets them or how they’re feeling, or else they’re “crazy feminsts” or “overemotional” or whatever other ridiculousness people want to use to shut us up. Amanda, however, is a force to reckoned with–and respected if not admired. She doesn’t let fear and judgement stop her from putting herself out there for her art and her passions, even if she still grapples with those things like the rest of us mortals.

If you’ve read her book or watched her TED Talk, you’ll have heard of The Bride, Amanda’s eight-foot-tall street performer persona in which she covered herself in white stage makeup, donned a long, vintage white bridal gown, and stood on a crate on the sidewalk. Through jeers of “Get a job!” and objects thrown at her–mixed among the quiet observers and people stopping to drop money into her can–she literally put herself on display, making herself vulnerable but pushing through because it was her job.

It’s also no wonder why she has a loyal, supportive following. She keeps engaged with them and lets them know how much she appreciates their love. She’s been a huge advocate of Twitter for years, using it as one of her main ways to connect with her fans. That kind of commitment to the people who support her is something not often seen among famous people, but she makes it a part of her day to let us know what she’s thinking, to respond to our comments, and to share bits from around the internet that she thinks we would enjoy or should know. Recently, I’ve tried to make this a part of my own routine, and while I don’t always have the same amount of time to allot to this, I have felt a marked improvement in my internet use by engaging rather than only observing.

Whereas other women role models make me feel amused or happy by their inspiring actions, Amanda Palmer makes me feel strong, capable. She makes me feel like maybe I can do anything, too, or at least that it’s worth trying.

January 30, 2017
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It’s Friday; I’m in Love #84

I did a not-so-great job of staying on top of things this week (in fact, it’s 8:17pm as I type this, rather than my usual before 5pm preference), and I’ve struggled to get through the same book for almost two weeks now. The funny thing is that it doesn’t feel like I’ve been watching a ton of TV or anything; I simply don’t know where my time has gone.

I did bake a cake this week, though, for the first time in a long time, and it came out very well considering I was kind of just winging it, so I don’t think anyone would call this week a total loss.

Also, I’ve decided that this feature is going to become a monthly one. I still plan to do weekly gratitude posts on a more personal level (in my journal or just lists on random scraps), but I’d like to open up the month to a wider variety of posts. From now on, I’ll be listing and loving on the last Friday of each month as a little recap of great things from previous weeks, rather than every Friday to avoid burnout on the feature.

designing postcards to add to my Etsy shop ♥ to do lists ♥ outlining my novel project for February with the She’s Novel Epic Novel Plan workbook ♥ catching up on zines ♥ melatonin ♥ revision ♥ post office trips ♥ Skinnytaste ♥ baking cakes ♥ putting together my TBR for next month ♥ remembering how much I love library e-books ♥ Kat von D Everlasting Liquid Lipstick (I really want the new Plath shade) ♥ revising two zines and getting ready to print one ♥ cleanliness ♥ supporting friends

Three ways to make next month great:

  • Read a book by an unknown author. / Unknown to you or the general populous–just expose your mind to something new and different.
  • Take some naps. / Naps make just about everything better, but be sure not to make them too long or you’ll feel miserable when you wake up (I know I d0).
  • Get a houseplant. / I’ve been wanting a new plant for our house for a while now, something to bring a little more life to the indoor space these winter months.

“It’s Friday; I’m in Love” is a monthly gratitude post. It aims to remind myself and others of the good things from the past month, big and small; to share ways to make the next month a positive one; and to serve as a record to look back on for the not-so-great days to come. The title comes from the song by The Cure.

January 27, 2017
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