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Strong Women on Television

I love The Good Wife’s Alicia Florrick. At the start of the series, Alicia is a woman scorned. Her husband has cheated on her with colleagues and prostitutes, taking advantage of his position as DA, landing him in jail. Her relationship with her husband has changed over the years, from outright hate, to tolerance to friendship, but she remains strong. A strong female character makes sacrifices, and Alicia has sacrificed a sexy-hot relationship with Will Gardner for a sexy-hot no-ties sexual relationship with her husband, Peter, but she does so on her own terms. On her own, with neither Peter nor Will’s influence, she successfully wrangles a position as partner in her law firm after only 5 years’ employment. Alicia proves that being strong does not preclude being vulnerable. She proves a woman can be middle-aged and sexy, a care-giver, bread-winner, and mistress of her own sexual domain.

The kernel idea for this blog came while watching last week’s episode of Smash, which purports to weave together the lives of five strong woman, but falls short. Karen Cartwright begins the series as a mousy singer who is nearly willing to sacrifice her career for her fiancee’s, until he cheats on her with a Ivy. She follows director Derek around like a puppy on a leash (no offense, Katharine McPhee—you remain my favourite actor on the show in spite of this) and she is contemplating yet another relationship with her song-writer protoge, Jeremy, a drug user bent on self-destruction. Ivy Lynn nearly commits suicide over her affair with her director, Derek Wills. Julia Houston, the writer of Marilyn, loses her husband because she has an affair with a man she can’t resist and winds up losing them both. She will almost certainly fall for the “dramaturge” with whom she has been working the past few weeks. Veronica Moore is a teen Broadway sweetheart wanting to shed her little girl image and have the world recognize her as the woman she’s become, but is afraid to talk back to her mother who clings to Veronica’s little girl persona. Eileen Rand is the producer of Marilyn who battles with her ex-husband, Jerry, falls in love with a mobster who appears to have been hired by her ex to sleep with her and fund her project with illegal gains so she will have no choice but to hand the project over to Jerry (which happened last week). I’ll admit, I’m no Anjelica Houston fan, but she played what was perhaps the strongest female character on the Smash block up until last week which saw her plead to her boyfriend not to turn himself in to save her, a scene that was uncomfortable to watch as it came off as behaviour unbecoming to someone in Houston’s stage of life, bordering on simpering, which destroyed the remaining strong female character on the show.

Oddly enough, aside from Juliana Margulies’ Alica, the best examples of strong women on the tube these days are the “princesses” on ABC’s Once Upon a Time. Readers of my blog will know I am a diehard fan, but hear me out before you snort in derision at my claim. Cora, the miller’s daughter from the original Rumplestiltskin tale and Regina’s mother, tore out her own heart so she could follow through with her plan to rule the kingdom without being side-tracked by her love for the golden imp. Though Henry was born in prison because Emma fell prey to a man, she has grown into an independent woman that barely flinches when she learns Neal, Henry’s father, is engaged to another woman. She is too busy trying to cast spells to protect her family which, at this point in time, includes the dying Rumplestiltskin. Even Snow White steps up. Determined to protect her family at all costs, she curses Cora’s heart and manipulates Regina into placing it back into Cora’s body, thus killing her. Though many tweeted about how they hate Snow, I admire her for having the courage to sacrifice something of herself to protect those around her. Previously, Snow relied on Charming or Emma to protect her. Her sacrifice to meet Charming in the burning room was less altruistic than it seemed. Sure, she got him an important message that ultimately saved she and Emma, but the real reason she did it was to feed her lovesick heart and to see Charming again. Don’t get me wrong; I think casting Ginny Goodwin in the part of Snow White was a stroke of brilliance, but last night’s episode, which saw Snow make a decision that changed her innocent, child-like princess status to that of full-grown woman, finally rendered her character much more interesting than probably ever. Regina, the only other “strong” woman portrayed last night missed the mark this time, as strength does not equate with hatred, which has been the character’s drive for most of this season. Instead, her willingness to seek revenge has consumed her humanity, rendering her character much flatter than an actor the calibre of Lana Parilla should be tasked to portray. I hope the coming weeks see Regina gain more of the self-sacrifice of Alicia, the compassion of the old Snow, while echoing the pre-Rumple Cora, the woman with drive who fights against her vulnerability. If she is up to the task, Regina has the power to become one of the (if not THE) strongest female characters on television today.  

About the Author

Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Graphic taken from http://www.empowernetwork.com

A Tale of Two Villains


The Once Upon a Time showdown we’ve all been waiting for unfolded last night, and it did not disappoint.

Last night’s episode, “The Outsider”, might have been subtitled “A Tale of Two Villains”, as it pitted Hook against Rumple in a battle, both of wit and strength. Hook, who puts Belle in danger to get Gold out of his shop so he can steal a shawl, Rumple’s prized possession, thinks with his head. Ordinarily, I would argue Hook is no match for The Dark One who pens iron-clad contracts, tricking those with which he bargains into thinking wish fulfillment is within their grasps. But this is not the old, lonely, bitter Rumple. Forging a relationship with Belle whilst believing a reunion with his son is within reach, Rumple is vulnerable. When he saves Belle on The Jolly Roger, he turns his anger on Hook, playing into his trap. The beating he inflicts on the pirate is both disturbing and comic; Belle’s reaction both touching and foolish.

Colin O’Donoghue plays Hook with slimy, sexy, smarminess. His proximity to Belle while threatening her on The Jolly Roger is both scary and (for lack of a better term) hot. But the real showstopper is Robert Carlyle in the role of Rumple/Gold. I melted when, after Belle is trapped in the elevator by Hook, the doors open to reveal Rumple and he and Belle hug. I cringed throughout Hook’s beating, reminiscent of a similar assault perpetrated by Gold on Moe French in season one. I grew excited at the prospect of Rumple in the real world after he crosses the town line and my brain began forming scenarios as to how the search for his son, Baelfire, might play out.

The last minutes of the episode are demonstrative of how a true cliff-hanger should play out. Belle shot. Rumple’s hand covered in her blood. A speeding car. Rumple dropping and rolling he and Belle from harm’s way. Hook hit. Brilliant. The one thing with the ability to top this: next week’s trailer. In the clips, an unconscious Belle lies in her hospital bed. Thinking, no doubt, she will awaken after sharing true love’s kiss, Rumple kisses her. Belle opens her eyes, sees Rumple, and screams, recoiling as she does. The implications are gut-wrenching and exhilarating at once. Oh, and let’s not forget the backstory clip that shows Rumple kissing Cora, which raises the obvious question: could Rumplestiltskin be Regina’s birth father? Is that why he took her under his magical wing?

On the deck of The Jolly Roger, Hook sums it up best when he tells Gold he looks more like the coward he remembers. Rumple, the man, is at his most vulnerable when he has something to lose. Branding him as The Village Coward was unfair. He ran from battle during The Ogre Wars because he had something to live for (his wife and child) and didn’t want to die. He gave fealty to the soldier in front of his son because he wanted to escape and get Bae to safety. He didn’t fight Hook in Storybrooke because he knew they were no match, so he appealed to his sense of decency (which, unfortunately, Hook failed to cultivate) instead. As The Dark One, he had nothing to fear. Finally, he had the means to protect his son. When Bae was lost, he was free to pedal his deals, searching for a way to be reunited with his son all the while.

Belle represents Rumple’s vulnerability personified. When he thought she was dead, he was strong. Since she’s returned, it’s been amusing to watch Rumple embrace his reluctant weakness, sparring with his inner-coward as it threatens to bleed through his hardened exterior. With Belle removed from the equation, will Rumple lose himself in The Dark One once more? Will Rumple be cashing in Emma’s favour IOU? Was Neal the driver of the car? Was it Bae? Are the two one and the same?

Next week’s episode is entitled “In the Name of the Brother”. Speculation has been this episode will focus largely on Dr. Whale/Frankenstein and his family. While I think this is an interesting tangent, much like last night’s Yaoguai tale, I hope they don’t lose sight of the Hook/Belle/Rumple triangle, which in my humble opinion, is much more interesting than the Snow/Charming saga.  

I wait with you and bated breath ‘til next Sunday.   

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Graphic from http://www.wetpaint.com/once-upon-a-time/gallery/once-upon-a-time-behind-the-scenes-pics-season-2-episode-11-the-outsider-photos#5

A Dialogue-based Tribute to Once Upon A Time’s Mr. Gold in his pawn shop.

I noticed the shop whilst passing through the quaint Maine town. Ancient antiques, enough heirlooms to embody a sizeable king’s ransom, adorned the storefront windows. Being a fan of trinkets from days-gone-by, I couldn’t help myself. I had to go inside.


“Can I help you, Dearie?” the proprietor asked.


“You have a beautiful shop.”


“That it is. The victors and the spoils of many a Storybrooke local.”


I continued to look around.


“They can’t help themselves, you see? Everyone wants something. Their deepest, darkest desires fulfilled. Something they’re sure’ll bring about their happy endings. Promise them that, and they’ll make a deal. Promise them their happy ending and they’ll bargain away their right arm if you let ‘em.”


I chanced a glance at him.


“Of course, I wouldn’t let ‘em.”


I looked away.


“What need have I for someone else’s right arm?” he muttered.


I cast a sideways glance his way.


“It was a quip,” he said.


I looked away.


“This is an interesting piece.” I touched the base of the statue.


“The three wise monkeys. Yes, it is. Very interesting.


“They’re Japanese in origin, did you know that? It is said that if we hear, speak and see no evil then we, ourselves, shall be spared from evil.


“Did you know there was originally a fourth monkey? Do no evil.” He sighed.


“Damned creature got away before he could be turned to gold alongside his brothers. Pity, really. There are some in this town that could use a reminder of that.” He winked and smiled a lecherous smile.


“This mobile is stunning, the way the unicorns catch the light. Are they glass?”


“Crystal. “


“And this, the wooden windmill.”


“Fine craftsmanship. It’s a lawn ornament, actually, fit to adorn the yard of royalty.” He laughed. “Funny. The man that traded me it was no prince. His wife’s gone missing, hIs mistress accused of foul play, you know.”


“How terrible.”


“Yes, well, it would be.” He spun the spokes of the miniature mill. “If I weren’t representing her as legal council.”


I looked at him questioningly.


“Oh, come now. You didn’t think my little shop was enough to keep my finances in order? It’s not like I can sit in my back room all day spinning straw to gold, now, can I?


“But I do have my eye on everything that happens in this town. Have to stay on top of things. If I’m going to survive. The mayor—she’s a worthy adversary. Everyone in the town’s afraid of her, you know. But they’re more afraid of me.” He winked again and nodded a single nod.


“Another quip?”


“Now you’re catching on.”    


I wandered to the rear of the shop, drawn by the paintings hung on the back wall. I stood, speechless, admiring their beauty.


“I knew it when you walked in. You have a keen eye for aesthetics, a real nose for beauty.”


“Where is this? It looks familiar. Something from my childhood, maybe?”


“It’s of a place long ago and far away. A place where magic is real and sorrow and heartbreak can be wished away for the price of something dear.”


He mused silently for a moment, then snapped, “They’re not for sale.”


“So.” He clapped, then rubbed his hands together. “Let’s put that aesthetic eye and nose of yours to work, shall we? Let’s see if we can’t find you your happy ending, eh?”

This dialogue was written as an exemplar for my Writers Craft students for an upcoming dialogue assignment. The goal is to depict a famous person or character using as few dialogue tags and narrative as possible. Naturally, I chose to portray Mr. Gold. I hoped to pick up the subtleties of his character using dialogue only, the droll sense of humour, always champing at the bit to make the next deal, his thinly veiled contempt for the residents of Storybrooke, and the tragic sense of loss that propels his character forward.

Thanks to http://ouatv1.blogspot.com/2011/11/rumpelstiltskin-mr-gold.html for the graphic and some of the Mr. Gold quotes.

Character Sketch of Once Upon A Time’s Mr. Gold

The old house was dark and drafty, but he didn’t mind. He kind of liked it that way. It hearkened back to another time in his life, another place, a buried memory. He ran a comb through his long, greying locks, trusting they looked okay. Selecting a light lilac dress shirt, a striped tie in complimentary, variegated purple, and the dark grey suit, he dressed. He tied his shoes and looked down at himself. It would suffice. It had to. Ever since…well, ever since the curse had been enacted, he never took much stock in mirrors and only seldom chanced a glance at his reflection in a window or any other reflective surface. He wouldn’t give her the satisfaction. He looked presentable, he decided, but for the cane. That damned cane and the limp he’d affected in this lifetime. It was meant for others to underestimate him, to perceive him as weaker than he was. Instead, it christened him with an air of the unknown. People feared him, deferred to him, showed him respect. Good.

He opened the lock to his pawn shop with the skeleton key then placed it in the inside pocket of his suit jacket for safe keeping. He felt safest in the old shop, equally as dark and drafty as his house, if not a little dustier. He nodded at the husband and wife marionettes (just because they were wooden didn’t mean they couldn’t still perceive the world around them), blew on the golden oil lamp on the counter then buffed it with the sleeve of his jacket, and drew the feather duster over the ship’s bell near the far curio. Belle. The thought tickled his mind fondly at first, but then the memory of love found and love lost grew dark, as dark as the depths of his soul. They would pay for his loss. All of them. Happy endings, indeed, he thought. He swallowed a chortle deep in his throat, but the smirk that grew on his thin lips would not be stifled.

The front door rang. Someone was there.  A customer! His heart beat with excitement. A deal. No one came to see him without a deal in mind. He choked back a snicker and resisted the urge to drum his fingers together.

“Mr. Gold?” the sheriff called.

“Miss Swan. So nice to see you,” he said, poking his head from the threshold of the back room.

The sheriff frowned. She didn’t trust him. Also good.

“What can I do for you today, my dear?” he said with a leer. Emma Swan owed him for a deal they’d recently struck, and he intended to collect. Mr. Gold’s agreements were always honoured. And no one had ever broken a deal with him. Ever.

This passage was written to demonstrate to my Writers Craft students how to write a character sketch. Too often, students tend to write a paragraph that reads more like a laundry list of character traits than a character description. Characters are motivated by their wants and desires. Their story is about their reaching or failing to reach achieve those desires. In this passage, I wanted to provide motivation behind Mr. Gold’s character, but I couldn’t resist toying with the fact that he remembers Fairytaleland and knows who he was. In my mind, the reality of Rumplestiltskin is bubbling behind the thin facade of the stoic Mr. Gold.

Thanks to http://ouatv1.blogspot.com/2012/02/once-upon-time-mr-golds-house.html for the graphic and the Rumplestiltskin quotes.