Anime and Me: Part 2

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Remember how I’ve said I don’t like anime?

Well.

So much for that blanket statement. Like so many sweeping claims of its kind, it has proven completely false. It has taken ten years and a lot (a LOT!) of trial and error, but my husband has finally helped me find some anime I seriously enjoy, and I’ve even branched out into manga. (Me! The girl who used to get confused by comics!)

Note: If you’ve read my post on Spellbound Scribes, you can scroll down through this bit and check out my recommendations at the bottom of this post.

There are a few things I’ve learned along the way to finding anime I love. The first is that saying, “I don’t like anime” is a little akin to saying, “I don’t like animated feature films or television, regardless of content.”

Okay, that’s exactly what it’s saying.

My first exposure to anime was when I was probably twelve years old, and a friend of mine fell in love with Sailor Moon. She watched it, she carried the lunch box, she wrote fan fiction, she tried to turn me on to it. She failed. Again, in high school, a friend loved The Power Puff Girls. I tried it, I scoffed, I moved on. By the time I got to college and landed a roommate who loved anime, my experience was enough to give me a sinking feeling when we met in person. “Oh. She likes anime. Nope.” She tried it on me (I have no idea what we watched), I didn’t like it, she moved out.

Ha. No, she didn’t move out over anime. But it felt that way at times, like my dislike of anime was a dogmatic schism between me and people who could otherwise have been my friends. After that experience, I settled happily into a cozy, sheltered world of disliking anime, with friends who never even gave it a moment’s thought.

Cue meeting my husband. He likes anime, and cartoons of all colors, genres, and levels of satire. While he pretty quickly realized that I’ll never like anything in the Family GuyFuturamaArcher, and, yes, The Simpsons oeuvre (it’s to do with the colors, animation style, and voices), he insisted that there did exist anime I would like. He just needed to find it. It became his quest, and I continued stubbornly stumping along, dismissing most of his suggestions.

Eventually, guilted by his continual efforts, I set three guidelines for finding Kristin-Approved anime:

1. The artwork needs to be pretty.

2. The cast needs to include strong female characters OR, at the least, the male characters can’t all be sexist a-holes.

3. A fantasy or fairy tale element is preferable, but not strictly necessary.

I asked that his suggestions meet two of those three criteria. We’ve crossed the eight-month mark on those guidelines, and we’ve found a handful of anime that I really like (see below).

But I’ve also discovered that anime is not always super heroes, creepy monsters, or giant machines, though I’ve enjoyed series that fall into all of those categories! And watching shojo anime does not in fact make one a connoisseur of creepy schoolgirl things, though there are also anime and manga targeted at older women. In fact, not only are there romance stories, “slice of life” stories, and some pretty serious erotica stories, there are historical stories, folkloric stories, hard-sci fi stories, and mythical stories.

Bottom line: anime cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand and a vague assumption about girls with pink hair. I hereby humbly eat my words. Again.

So if you’re interested in following me down the anime (and even manga) path, here are some of those Kristin-Approved series* I mentioned. Mild spoilers follow.

1. Princess Jellyfish: This is hands-down my favorite anime so far. It spoke to my heart, and I binge-watched it in mere days. It tells the story of a group of otaku women who live in the lone holdout building in a neighborhood targeted for gentrification. The story actually manages to parallel the women’s feelings of awkwardness and isolation with their love for the “retro,” eccentric old building they inhabit, and their push-pull relationship with the outside world is crystallized in their reluctant friendship with a “Stylish” who has acceptance problems (and secrets) of his—I mean, “her”—own.

2. xxxHolic: This one meets the pretty artwork and fantasy criteria, though the relative strength of the female characters is debatable. The show follows the story of Watanuki, a teenager who can see spirits, who agrees to work for a wish-granting witch in exchange for having his powers dampened. I’m not gonna lie, this one and the creatures in it have been an influence on my own fiction.

3. Mushishi: Gorgeously animated (seriously, incomparable artwork), this series is about Ginko, a man who protects people, usually rural villagers, from supernatural creatures/spirits called Mushi.

4. Noragami: Teenage girl Hiyori Iki is transformed into a half-phantom after a near lethal accident, and she works with struggling god Yato to, well, have adventures, fight spirits, stay grounded in the physical realm, and redeem Yato himself. That’s not a great description, but I’ve just started watching/reading this one and it’s fantastic so far.

5. My Little Monster: Scholarly loner “dry ice” girl Shizuku Mizutani becomes involved with “monster” boy Haru Yoshida, and together the two learn how to socialize and even love in a world that seems to neither want nor respect them. Meant for a younger audience, this one I could have loved when I was a shy and awkward pre-teen.

6. Neon Genesis Evangelion: Need I describe this one? Yes, it’s old. Yes, it’s incredibly successful and popular. Yes, I’m a late-bloomer. No, I haven’t watched it all the way through yet. Mecha, teens fighting the apocalypse, kids thrust into grown-up responsibility in a really adult story. I’ll pre-approve this one.

7. Howl’s Moving Castle: Yes, this one is also old(er) and well-known. No, I don’t know if a Japanese adaptation of an English book counts as anime: that’s way beyond the scope of this post. But I freaking LOVED this movie, and I want everyone I know to watch it. A witch’s curse turns a young girl into an old woman, and ends up seeking help from Howl and his cursed-demon friend Calcifer. That description does not do it justice. Go watch it now.

8. A Bride’s Story: Psych! This one’s not an anime. It is, however, my very first manga, and I love it. Set in central Asia in the late 1800s, this historical romance tells the story of an arranged marriage between a 20-year-old woman and a 12-year-old boy. Yes it does. And it’s not even a little creepy. Instead, it’s a nuanced exploration of cultural norms in an often unrepresented time and place, and it follows lovable, thoughtful characters in their personal journeys. The books focus as much on the side characters as they do the bride and her young husband, and every volume is worth a read. Check it out if you’re at all into historical fiction. (P.S. This one is also N. K. Jemisin-approved!)

So there you have it. Consider these series Kristin-stamped, and I highly recommend you try them out. Have you seen any of these? Based on this list, do you have any more recommendations for me?

*Most of these are manga as well as anime, but, except where mentioned, in this list I’m really referring to the anime. I plan to read Princess Jellyfish and NoragamiHowl’s Moving Castle is a different beast altogether.

The Semi-Annual NaNo Post

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Greetings, friends! It’s that time again… You know the one. The glorious highs and soul-sucking despair, the crushing doubt, the caffeine, the neglect of your family, the manic laughter, the joy of squeezing out JUST ONE MORE WORD.

Oh. I’m talking about National Novel Writing Month. Obviously.

I’ll be participating in NaNo this year. I can’t remember if I tried last year. I’m guessing yes… probably? And the year before I started with one book and ended up with another. But the year before… ah, glorious 2011… I used November to wrap up the book that later landed me an agent.

I’m not a NaNo purist: I don’t write an entire book in 30 days. I’m also not convinced that anyone can pump out 50,000 words with a beginning, middle, and end, and call that a NOVEL, but that’s probably a different issue.

What I love about NaNoWriMo is the the spirit of the thing: professional and hobby writers all over the country coming together to write all the words. I love the NaNo survival kits, I love the late-night Twitter sprints, I love the mania of writing words while preparing for Thanksgiving. I love all of it.

So this year, I’ll be joining NaNo in the grand tradition of my 2011 success, and I’ll use the month to finish my current book. It’s a short book, and well-outlined, so I think I can do it. I’ll also be outlining my next book, which is not short and is currently little more than a concept and some scribblings in the tiny notebook I carry in my purse. With any luck, and a lot of dedication, I’ll enter December with 90% of one novel and a stable jumping-off point for my new work.

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*takes deep breath*

Whew. Lofty goals. If I finish NaNo, I’ll be sitting pretty at about 200,000 words (of fiction only!) written this year. Not too shabby.

In the next week, I’ll put up a few posts containing my meager NaNoWriMo tips. I’m no expert, but I have a few recommended strategies that may help you reach your goals. Hell, they may even help me reach my goals! Let’s see what happens.

This brings us to the really big question: Are YOU NaNo-ing this year? If yes, what’s your goal? If no, why not?!

If you are joining the crowd of maniacs, feel free to look me up and buddy me. My username is Kristin Lynn, and I’m always looking for new friends.

You Can Take the Girl Out of Texas…

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You know the old adage. “You can take the X out of Y, but you can’t take the Y out of the X.”

Well, this little X left Texas in the dust almost a decade ago (and to go to Rome, no less!), and I like to think there’s little of the Lone Star State left in me. Sure, if you cut me, I’ll probably bleed Dr Pepper. And more than one of the anecdotes in my mental file of “Funny Stories to Tell at Parties” involves an armadillo. (C’mon, you know you want to hear my armadillo stories.) And fine, yes, I spent a large portion of my high school career at football games, but I was there for the marching band, and I haven’t been to a sporting event since.

Bottom line: I’m totally not a Texan. I lived there, grand total, about eight years. My southern accent is 95% gone, I haven’t worn spurs since I was knee high to a—well, to many people, since I’m the same height I was at 12. With the exception of two of my best friends, I don’t miss anything about Texas.

Except, curse you, the food. THE FOOD.

I’m obsessed with Tex-Mex, Mexican, New Mexican, Southwestern food of all types, colors, and degrees of spiciness. My stomach still growls when I think about certain breakfast burritos of my past. I drool at the scent of roasting Anaheim peppers, and I even know how to make green and red chili sauce. I own and regularly use a tortilla press. I gained ten pounds I still haven’t lost the year my husband and I lived in northern New Mexico, and I have no regrets. I would choose a pillowy, hot sopapilla dripping with honey over a donut any day of the week.

You get the idea. My attachment to Mexican food is almost unhealthy. I reject any and all Midwestern Mexican restaurants, almost out of hand. It’s tragic. They just don’t meet my standards.

So when I first moved out on my own and started venturing into cooking, one of the first cooking blogs I got addicted to was The Homesick Texan. I don’t remember how exactly I started craving soft, squishy flour tortillas—it probably had something to do with nostalgia for my midnight runs with my roommates to Taco Cabana, where we’d get tortillas and queso and eat them on the floor of our dorm room. We don’t have Taco C in the Midwest.

Excuse me while I wipe a solitary, queso-less tear from my transplanted southern cheek. *sniffle*

So when I found Lisa Fain’s recipe for flour tortillas all those years ago, it felt like a warm, delicious homecoming, and I didn’t even have to face the unbearable heat and questionable fashion choices of life in Texas. I bought her first cookbook as soon as it came out, and it’s one of the most stained, battered books in my collection—and I’m a vegetarian, mind you, so I can’t eat half the recipes in it.

Last weekend, feeling nostalgic again, I made kolaches. If you’re not from Texas or, oddly, central Europe, you may not yet know and love these delightful pastries. In a word, they’re rather like Danishes. In a sentence, they’re soft, buttery cakes with either a sweet or savory filling. But I could write more than a sentence: I could write a poem, a novel, an EPIC about kolaches and my love for them.

In a strange twist, the kolaches I ate so many early mornings in central Texas were actually made by a Korean family who had somehow landed in my small town. (Yep, Korean immigrants making the food of Czech immigrants for a Midwestern transplant. WTF?) I probably ate hundreds of their small, delicious sausage and cheese rolls, like pigs-in-blankets but infinitely more delicious. But being vegetarian now, I was more keen to try making a sweet kolache rather than one filled with greasy pork sausage.

I chose Lisa Fain’s Strawberry Cream Cheese Kolaches, a recipe you can find both online and in her first cookbook. And my goodness, was I rewarded. It’s a multi-step process: you have to make the filling beforehand and refrigerate it, mix up and knead the dough and let it rise multiple times, and you have to keep your out of control saliva glands dry long enough to keep yourself from drooling all over the individual components.

But when they baked, they filled my apartment with an amazing sweet, rich smell, and the first bite was so nostalgic (and delicious!), I could have closed my eyes and drifted away on a sea of buttery bliss. With one taste, I was fifteen, it was dark outside, and I was riding in the back of my parents’ car on the way to visit my brother in Waco.

Food more than anything can tie our senses to experiences: a whiff of scent, a nibble of food, and suddenly we’re in another place and time. I may have left Texas and my Texan life behind me, but my love for the food of the Southwest will be with me till I die. And it’s so delicious… I’m perfectly okay with that.

What food makes you nostalgic? Are there any regional cuisines that make you drool over mere photos of an entree? 

Why I No Longer Write Book Reviews

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I’ve had some folks asking me lately why I don’t write book reviews anymore. The short answer is, “I’m lazy.” The long answer has to do with sensitive authors, Goodreads bullies, and my own strange mental categorization of the books I read.

You can read elsewhere about fake reviews, Goodreads bullies who gang up on authors just for fun, and petty author reactions to reviews, so I won’t talk much about that. The truth is, I’ve had little but positive experience writing reviews here on my blog. When I included David Anthony Durham’s Acacia on my list of fantasy novels I should read, he sent me a very nice note encouraging me to finish his book. (BTW, Mr. Durham, I finished it and it was fantastic!) My readers here are awesome, and you all generally engage in polite, thoughtful discussion of what I have to say. Go us.

So the truth is, my stubborn refusal to write book reviews, even on Goodreads, is due more to my own inability to distinguish between a good book and a great book, and my reluctance to publicly say, where the author can read it, “YOUR BOOK SUCKS OMG YOU SHOULD DIE IN A FIRE.” (Not that I would say it like that.)

Really, I just love books and authors. I rarely read a book I would rate below two stars, and I’m a voracious enough reader that I’ll plow through just about anything in a few days. (And then, once I’m done, I want to READ MOAR, not spend time navel-gazing about what I just read. I’m all about the instant gratification. So sue me.) Because of my attitude toward reading and writing (YES, MORE PLEASE!), I end up wondering how to distinguish between the books I adore and the books I just really loved.

How do you compare Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, which I read this summer and completely adored, with Tiffany Reisz’s The Mistress, which I just finished and could hardly stand to put down? One is a five-star book because the writing was flawless and the content practically life-changing, and one is a five-star book because I love the characters and the plot held me in its slobbery teeth for 400 pages. But even though I loved The Mistress, I just wouldn’t put it on the same shelf as The Dispossessed or Tigana or Possession or even Words of Radiance, all books whose honor I would protect with fisticuffs. And where the hell on the spectrum do Jane Austen’s books fall? How do I compare the books that are practically my Bible with anything else I’ve ever read?

I think I need a sixth star just for books that are so good, I hug them tenderly when I finish them.

 

 

Maybe I’m over-thinking it, but I really just can’t do it. I can’t distinguish between the love and REALLY SUPER LOVE.

Do you write book reviews? Do you use Goodreads? How do you rate books?

A Bosom Release and Giveaway

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It’s here! IT’S HERE! IT’S HEEEEEERE!

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What, you ask? Why, only the release day of my bosom friend Emmie Mears’s debut novel, THE MASKED SONGBIRD!

Pretty exciting, right? My little bosom writer friend has grown up into a superhero, book-releasing author friend, and I couldn’t be more proud. For those of you who don’t know, Emmie and I “met” through our blogs almost three (or was it four?!) years ago. We quickly bonded over shared love of awesomeness like Buffy and gaming, and, you know, that crazy thing we do called writing. Before we knew it, we were talking almost every single day via G-chat or text and “introducing” each other to our families (read: felines) on Skype.

Since then, I had the great pleasure of flying out to stay with her for Capclave, where we met George R. R. Martin and got to have in-person shenanigans for the first (but definitely not the last) time. Our friendship has blossomed, and Emmie is one of the more important people in my life these days. (That title comes with a special t-shirt, you know…. okay, I lie. It doesn’t. But it should!)

To celebrate her release day, I thought we could have a little digital release party right here on my blog, where the adventure began. I’ll be giving away THREE copies of the book, and, believe it or not, it gets even cooler than that.

You see, Emmie’s book is part of an urban fantasy box set from Harlequin, and if you win the giveaway, you’ll receive THREE OTHER BOOKS as part of the deal. Pretty awesome, right? Check it out:

Reap & Redeem by Lisa Medley: A reaper who has given up on salvation, Kylen lives for nothing more than destroying demons. But when he accidently saves a dying woman, he rediscovers his mission—and his heart. Now all he has to do is fight off an invasion from Hell….

The Masked Songbird by Emmie Mears: As a mild-mannered accountant, Gwen Maule’s biggest worries were her crap job and her loser boyfriend. After sipping a fizzy drink that gives her superpowers, though, she has to figure out if she has what it takes to save Scotland’s capital from a crazed villain.

Protective Ink by Misty Simon: Lissa MacLaughlin’s inking skills go beyond beautiful drawing. Her tattoos give the wearer the ability to tap into their own special powers. But when a mysterious enemy appears, Lissa’s longtime friend and one-time crush Jackson Freeling will need some protective ink of his own.

Mine Tomorrow by Jackie Braun: Devin Abernathy has turned her love of the past into a thriving business. Of course she never imagined that one of her vintage finds could actually transport her back to 1945—and into the arms of the man of her dreams. Is the past where she’s meant to be?

Are you excited yet?! You totally should be! So what do you need to do to win?

1. Comment on this post, and tell me which book you’re excited to read and why! Or what superpower you’d like to have. Or what INK you’d like to get! Or where you’d go back in time. Or how you’d last in a demonic invasion! Really, tell me anything about your interest in one of these four books.

2. Make sure you post before midnight EST, when I’ll close commenting, do the drawing, and update this post with the winners.

3. There is no step 3! Just do step 1 in accordance with step 2, and if you win one of the three copies, I’ll contact you for your email address so I can have Amazon send you the books.

Finally, let’s all join in and congratulate Emmie, Lisa, Misty, and Jackie on the release of a fantastic collection. I know I can’t wait to dig in! Congrats, all!

The Power of Partnership: Guest Post by Emmie Mears

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Greetings, dear readers! Today we have a guest post from the awesome Emmie Mears, whose debut novel, The Masked Songbird, will be released from Harlequin on July 1. Check out what she has to say, and then be sure to run on over to Amazon and pre-order your digital copy today! 

The Masked Songbird_FC (2)The Power of Partnership

Many parts of life require partnership. We all know the saying about how no one’s an island, yadda yadda, but when you’re in a creative profession, you can often feel like one. In my early days of writing, I wrote like an island. I didn’t seek out critique. I didn’t read craft books. I worked in an extreme version of “write what you know.”

It wasn’t until I started really reaching out to other writers that I was able to kick my writing into the next gear. My lovely host and bosom friend, Kristin, was one of those writers.

When I started querying my first novel, I had high hopes. I thought it was ready. I’d written two and a half books and had been over my first one about fifteen times in four years. I loved my characters and my story, and I was sure I was going to get an agent.

“If you’d brought this to me four years ago, I could have sold it in a hot second.”

Those were the words I heard from a powerhouse agent at my first writing conference in New York. I was shocked, but not crushed. I got a few requests from other agents that day, all of which petered into rejections. A couple months later, a bestselling author contacted me and said she liked my blog so much that she wanted to read my fiction. I sent her the first couple chapters of this book, and crossed my fingers. When she called me to talk about it, I heard the best words I think I’d heard to that point in my career:

“I don’t think this is submission ready.”

Deep down, I’d known that I hadn’t really been editing it; I’d been tinkering. I’d been on my writing island for so long that I’d been writing around in circles without realizing it.

I put that book aside to think. Two months later, I started another book. I finished it six weeks later. That was two years ago. By then, I had a team of fantastic betas and Kristin for a critique partner. In two months, I had it polished up and ready to query.

Kristin graciously agreed to host me today. I couldn’t think of a better place to start this blog tour, because that little book I scribbled out in six weeks was THE MASKED SONGBIRD, which is coming out two weeks from today from Harlequin.

Without partners, I don’t think I would be here right now. Without the feedback of people (some of it hard to hear), my debut wouldn’t yet be happening.

We really aren’t islands; even in creative professions, we need the community of peers who can offer insight and encouragement. While people can go it alone sometimes, having partners who are with you on the same path can help you get to your destination faster.

You can preorder THE MASKED SONGBIRD here (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JD7TWZK)! Released in a box set, you get four great paranormal and urban fantasy books for less than $4!

Follow Emmie on Twitter @EmmieMears or come join her on Facebook!

IMG_7239Emmie Mears was born in Austin, Texas, where the Lone Star state promptly spat her out at the tender age of three months. After a childhood spent mostly in Alaska, Oregon, and Montana, she became a proper vagabond and spent most of her time at university devising ways to leave the country.

Except for an ill-fated space opera she attempted at age nine, most of Emmie’s childhood was spent reading books instead of writing them. Growing up she yearned to see girls in books doing awesome things, and struggled to find stories in her beloved fantasy genre that showed female heroes saving people and hunting things. Mid-way through high school, she decided the best way to see those stories was to write them herself. She now scribbles her way through the fantasy genre, most loving to pen stories about flawed characters and gritty situations lightened with the occasional quirky humor.

Emmie now lives in her eighth US state, still yearning for a return to Scotland. She inhabits a cozy domicile outside DC with two felines who think they’re lions and tigers.

 

How Far Does Author Loyalty Carry Us?

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Warning: this post will contain spoilers for no fewer than two book series and three TV series, and will make reference to sexual violence in fiction.

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Last week, George R. R. Martin released a new excerpt from The Winds of Winter, simultaneously breaking the internet and all of our minds. The excerpt called, simply, “Mercy,” contains sentences like: “Mercy, I’m Mercy, and tonight I’ll be raped and murdered,” and “It would be just like Mercy to sleep through her own rape.”

The language of rape continues through the chapter: Mercy, the main character, has to hurry or she’ll miss her own rape, and there are repeated allusions to sexual acts with the character who seems to be her boss.

There are two twists. One (and this may be the biggest) is that Mercy is in fact Arya, our child-heroine. An intrepid (okay, frustrated) reader  who is upset by the first paragraphs will scan to the end and see this fact, compounding the upset: not only is this character an unwilling prostitute, but she’s also one of the few non-sexualized female characters in the series. When I saw this, I was devastated, and almost didn’t read the whole chapter.

Of course, you could argue that the other twist is more important: Mercy is an actress, and the rape she’s referring to is on-stage.

When I realized this, and realized that Martin knew that he was deliberately using inflammatory language, teasing us with a fictional act he’s constantly criticized for, I felt hurt. Relieved, but hurt.

He was trolling us, you see. Upsetting us deliberately, and then he took it away. He’s aware of the criticisms about his books, the accusations of constant rape and sexual violence, and he used our sensitivity against us to achieve a shocking reveal.

WTF?

I was almost more upset by that use of a real problem with his work than I was by the apparent sexualization of Arya. I’ve been reading Martin’s books since I was 14, since before I even really fully understood just how violent against women the books are and just how twisted this world’s view of sex is. I’ve struggled with my love for the books, feeling like I shouldn’t be able to read them, like I shouldn’t love them, because I now recognize just how troubling Martin’s treatment of women (and sex generally — this isn’t just about women) is.

The same thing happened in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, when main character Claire is raped (in a fair amount of realistic detail). I’d come to terms with the rape of Brianna, Claire’s daughter, but when it happened to Claire I was stunned. And hurt. And I felt almost as brutalized as our protagonist.

Why did this have to happen? In what way did Claire’s rape further her character development? We’ve been in Claire’s head for something like 20 years. I read Outlander when I was in SIXTH GRADE. What if I had read these later books then, and seen the two female main characters dealing with this problem? Would it have normalized sexual violence for me?

I realize that neither of these series are really intended for 12- and 14-year-olds, but adults become immune to the things they see in fiction as well. And it’s worse in some ways, because we have the capability of drawing our own lines and seeing where society has failed to draw lines for us. When we continue to read these books, to purchase them and enjoy them in spite of the sexual violence, are we becoming part of the problem?

When I watch a TV show, I will turn it off if there is any sort of sexual violence in the first few episodes. The new season of American Horror Story? Gone. Never finished. The Americans? Dead to me. But Buffy? Or Battlestar Galactica? I kept watching, because the sexual violence didn’t happen until I was already in love with the characters and invested in their stories, which in some ways makes it so much worse.

So how far does our loyalty take us? Should I give up on books I’ve been reading for most of my life? Should I wave away fictional characters I love, because their creators crossed a line? I really don’t know.

I do know that someday, when I’m published, I don’t want to put my readers in this position. I don’t want to create a dilemma for a woman who grew up on my books or normalize rape for a preteen girl. I may have undeserved loyalty for certain authors and series, but I also have loyalty to myself, my someday-readers, my characters, and, above all, my principles.

So I ask you: How far is too far? How do you react when sexual violence bubbles up in your favorite series? What’s the right answer here?