The Taylor Jackson series by JT Ellison

The Taylor Jackson series (books 1-7) by JT Ellison

Oh Taylor Jackson. How I loathe you. And yet, I’ve read all SEVEN of the appallingly cliche novels penned by JT Ellison, and starring your implausible ass.

Why on earth did I read all seven? Pace-wise the novels move along well. Just like I can chug a 6-er of Mountain Dew in a few hours, I can down one of these Taylor Jackson novels, in kind (equal amounts of post-imbibement vomit attributable to both). There was also a bit of the can’t-peel-your-eyes-away-from-a-train-wreck element. I read on just to see if the writing could possibly get worse. I mean, these are novels published by a real, big-time publishing firm, and somehow Ellison gets away with page after page of lazy, uninspired prose:

“They were like vinegar and baking soda, a child’s science project. Mix the ingredients, put them together and boom, a volcano”–p 85, Where All the Dead Lie by JT Ellison

First of all, I don’t want any sort of sex scene to be prefaced by comparisons to “a child’s science project”. This is wrong on so many pedobear levels. Second of all, this sentence from *A PUBLISHED, BEST-SELLING NOVEL* could have featured prominently in this list of 25 Funniest English Essay Analogies.

I mean, doesn’t it almost seem as if Ms Ellison was running up against a deadline and needed a quick ‘place-holder’ metaphor so she could power on through to whatever number page count quota she needed to meet that day, only to forget to replace it with an actual grown-up metaphor in final edits? Or maybe I’m being generous in thinking the book was edited at all. My other favorite example of Ellison’s illustrious use of Amurican:

“People flowed in and out of the building, officers in uniform and plainclothes detectives, random strangers looking for the courts, black and white and yellow and brown, all mingling together into one stew of justice. The diversity of Nashville was never better represented than in this one spot…”–p 139, The Immortals by JT Ellison

WHO WRITES LIKE THIS??? If you didn’t lose your shit at ‘stew of justice’, you should have at least been a little alarmed when you realized via context (namely “The diversity of Nashville…”) that the “black and white and yellow and brown” did not refer to suit color, but rather skin color. I thought we stopped the whole yellow Orientals, black Negros, and brown Injuns thing back in the fifties. I mean, I *get* what Ellison was trying to do but she can take her weird, racially-charged Justice Stew elsewhere.

There are hundreds of these. So many, that I wish I had compiled a list as I read so I could make fun of each individually. And on top of the horrendous writing, the entire premise is SO TIRED. [[[[Warning: SPOILERS]]]]

I don’t even know where to begin. How about Taylor herself? Cuz she makes me gag. Taylor is six foot tall, perfectly toned, perfectly blonde, with a voice that is perfectly husky, and lips that are perfectly plump. She turns heads and she doesn’t know it (INSERT EYE ROLL). She is so effortless and feminine, her ponytail is always perfectly messy and casually pulled back, and you can just picture how perfect her perfectly perky tits must look in the black cashmere sweater she is always wearing (which is so often, I’m thinking it has some major pit sweat stank going on). Her only physical imperfection is that her eyes are…well they are a perfectly gorgeous grey, but one eye is slightly darker and greyer than the other. Are you barfing yet?

Cuz if you aren’t, I will go on. She’s tough, she’s young, she’s bright. She’s the youngest lieutenant on the force and the only female lieutenant in the field (all others are stereotypical, power-driven, bitchy administrators). She leads a Homicide Department with an 83% clearance rate. CUZ THAT’S REALISTIC! Her detectives are a hand-selected group of all male detectives, called the murder squad, who not only respect and value Taylor (she’s just one of the guys, after all), but don’t hold her quick promotions (sometimes she was promoted over them) against her. Oh, and she’s edgy! Leave a memo on her desk telling her she isn’t allowed to wear jeans, oh ho ho, she’ll just crumpled that note up and throw it away! How naughty! Plus, she’s the black sheep of her family. She gave up her debutante lifestyle as one of the richest families in Nashville to be a cop! Against the wishes of her parents! And to the surprise of her hoity-toity private high school/college! Oh, and her best friend is the Medical Examiner (yawn).

And her choices as a detective!! She’s had her throat slit, been shot in the temple, dated someone who turned out to be some sort of deranged dirty cop, who she had to shoot and kill. She’s been kidnapped, has had something like 6-7 on the job shootings, been stalked by a serial killer, and caught 5 or 6 others (internationally even). Oh my god. After a point it’s not even believable.

Oh, and she likes Fox News. Deplorable.

Then there is the usual detective novel cliche where she’s dating an FBI profiler, Baldwin, who is also an obnoxiously perfect physical specimen (and speaks 13 languages fluently and never knew true love until he met Taylor and who also always turns heads but never notices). Anyways, what annoys me most about this profiler…well, it’s almost as if all of Ellison’s “research” on profilers came from the show Criminal Minds. From the ‘triggering event’ to the ‘rapid escalation’ to frequently catching the killer while he/she is in possession of the latest missing person, her novels follow the same pattern and structure of the show. Plus John Baldwin is almost a tit-for-tat rip off of Criminal Minds head honcho, SSA Hotchner, in physicality, personality, and mannerisms (and if Baldwin runs his hands through his hair one more time, I will scream).

So just imagine my surprise when I discovered one of Ellison’s favorite shows is, omg, Criminal Minds. I’m shocked. Really. Look at my face:

Anyways. Between these two ridiculous characters and the weird out-of-left-field plot points that we the readers are supposed to swallow as fact (ie Baldwin’s secret CIA team that harnesses the psycosis of serial killers to hunt down and kill national and global security threats [srsly, what???], or the fact that Taylor’s family is richrichrich but that her dad is also some sort of connected criminal, or that Baldwin went from being fluent in Italian to fluent in 13 languages in the span of two novels, I could go on), I’m shocked that I finished all seven novels of this idiotic series. Clearly there was something about these books I enjoyed…but I’m hard pressed as to what that might actually be.

Warning: Potentially Offensive

I have really struggled the past few weeks over where to post this entry. Do I post to Livejournal where, if I’m lucky, a total of three people might read the entry, or do I pick WordPress which gets significantly higher traffic, but therefore, has a significantly higher capacity for offending or causing some sort of war of words, which, frankly, I am not up for.

In the end I decided that this is my blog and I can choose to whom I respond or don’t respond. And so, be forwarned: This has the capacity to offend. And it’s long, because if there is one thing I am, it is wordy.

Over the past few years, my family has become increasingly religious. Now, before I go any further, I think part of the reason I struggle with writing this entry is that I believe in being respectful, above all else. If I go to a friend’s house for dinner and their custom is to hold hands and pray before a meal begins, I will hold their hands and lower my eyes and be a part of their moment, regardless of my discomfort or how weird it makes me feel, because I think a guest should be mindful of the culture surrounding them. I may not actually pray, but I will not be disdainful of their beliefs by ‘opting out’ and I will not try bulldozing over their moment with my own personal thoughts. I am a guest in their house, and will not blatantly disregard their family traditions. But when it comes to my actual faith, I don’t believe in God.

I don’t really know how I grew to be the person I am. I mean, does the black sheep of the family have to be naughty? Because I am the weird Black Sheep of my family. I remember watching various local political campaigns in 6th or 7th grade and telling my mom not to vote for a certain candidate because he was against abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. I didn’t even know what abortion meant at the time; I looked it in up in the dictionary and decided I was pro-choice. But when I brought my concerns to my mother, she looked at my sideways and told me she didn’t believe abortion was right. Talk about confusion and incomprehension, how could my mother believe that a person who WILL BE counts for more than a person who IS (obviously, it took several years to put into words the exact reasoning behind my pro-choice beliefs, but there they are). Plus we were never overtly religious, so I could

The ideological conflict between me and my family didn’t rear it’s ugly head again until California first voted on gay marriage, around 1999 or so. A mere 6 months away from 18, I couldn’t vote but damned if I wasn’t going to try to convincing the only voting age adult I knew to throw a bean in the pot for me. And I made her cry. Apparently my “if church and state are supposed to be separate, why make a law based on religious values” argument did not sit well with her “I can’t knowingly give tax breaks to a lifestyle I don’t believe in” argument. My brother happened to be coming down the stairs at that moment and she turned to him with a croak as said “You are my good Christian child, what do you think”. And my brother agreed with me.

Now, I’m not so sure what he would say. After I went away to college, I came back a few years later and suddenly my family was going to church (my brother almost every Sunday, and my mother at least on holidays). Then he received a teaching Bible for Christmas, and at subsequent Christmases, books on God and family, or marriage, or about being Christian in a hostile, anti-Christian world. He teaches Sunday school, spends his spare time at church, is chaste at 25 and wants to remain so until marriage. I do not understand him anymore and I don’t understand where he is coming from, but I also will not try to change his beliefs. They are his.

But now suddenly it is not okay for me to not be Christian, not to believe the same way. Suddenly he will turn to me in car rides and ask me why I don’t believe, what are my arguments against God. Why am I not a Christian. And my mother has started to become more religious because of him. I wouldn’t mind, except regardless of the number of times I say I am uncomfortable at Church, I’m still strongly urged to attend. Told that this is so important to them, they couldn’t stand it if I wasn’t in Heaven with them because I don’t believe. If I am upset because I haven’t been on a date in a while, maybe I should join a church to meet people. As if Church is THE hotbed for singles. Then on my birthday, my brother sent me a book meant to disprove all my arguments for not believing in God. (Incidentally, I *did* open The Reason for God by Timothy Keller and it is geared towards those who are uncomfortable or insecure in their faith and belief in God. It is not for someone who actually does not believe in God. For such a person the argument becomes that the Bible proves Christianity is more valid than other religions because God says so, and just because there is no evidence of God’s existence, that doesn’t prove he doesn’t exist at all. I’m sorry but your thesis cannot be that something definitely exists because there is no evidence that it doesn’t)

And I ask you, why can’t my non-beliefs be as valid as their belief-beliefs? Why do they feel it’s okay to continuously question me or categorize me or think I am in the wrong (or at least incorrect)?

The worst part for me is that I am struggling right now with my life. I hate my job. I don’t have any friends in Minnesota. I don’t know what I want to do with myself. I travel all the time for work which is seriously affecting my mental and physical health. But suddenly half our conversations are along the lines of: “God works in mysterious ways” or “I know you don’t believe in God, but God loves you and wants what’s best for you” or “You never know what God has in store for you”.

How does this help me? Of course I don’t know what God has in store for me. I also don’t know what Biggles McFlutterbottom or Kimzeehizzlewump have in store for me. And how to say this to my family without flying off the handle or be completely insulting towards what they believe because a firm No Thanks doesn’t seem to do the trick. But why is it okay for them to constantly affront my beliefs but not for me to question theirs. I find it restricting and imprisoning, and every time the G word is mentioned I fight the urge completely tune out or get very angry and upset.

**********
“I know you will come to God in your own way in your own time”
Okay then stop trying to “save” me.
“I want you to find God because God is important in my life and I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t at least try to help you believe”
ARGH, that’s fine, but when will you respect this particular someone you love enough to just stop. I don’t implore you to abandon your chastity to your girlfriends despite my fears you will become a 40-year-old virgin and thereby abhorrent to the potential wife you seem to want.
**********

Once after a big snowstorm, my first grade class was turned out for recess to the special hilly yard so we could go sledding. I was taunting a classmate, Karthik Naga, for not believing in the correct God. Apparently Little Me was rather forceful in her remarks because Karthik grabbed his sled and yelled Then let’s have your God race my God down the hill and we will see whose God wins. I said no. I didn’t actually think He would win. I was pretty sure He wasn’t real. Funny how much like Me this Little Me was.

Off Ramp

She knew it had been awhile when the homeless man came up to her car window, and she felt the blood flush her face. God, he was attractive. She lowered her eyes, looked back up through her lashes, and shook her head no. No money.

His eyes met hers, a smile nipped at one corner of his mouth, and she tried not to smile back, but oh god she was blushing. Her lips pressed together tightly, don’t smile, don’t blush, don’t giggle. Oh my god, she was acting ridiculously. No, she shook her head again, grabbed at her phone, her hair tie, her necklace, anything to not meet his eyes again.

At last, when he turned from her window, she was able to breath. She glanced in her rear view, watched him make his way further up the exit ramp. Just in time. One more minute and she might have made a really bad decision. It had been too long.

As he walked away, she shifted her eyes to the side mirror. Tall, lanky, and for all his begging, well-enough fed. She pictured his body under his clothes, imagined them hard and lean. His arms at least looked tan and strong; they would hold her in place should she try to back away. And his jeans were dusty, not grimy or caked with years of sweat and piss. He probably didn’t even smell bad. At least nothing a good shower wouldn’t change. She wondered what he would look like stepping out of her shower, skin warm from the water, a towel tussling his hair.

Oh my god. Jesus, just stop. Stop. She shook her hands, hoping to dislodge the thoughts that were making her palms sweat. She squirmed in her seat. The light was taking forever.

He was heading back down the ramp, nearing her car, he’d have to jog to get the money she’d hold out. Fingering a 5 dollar bill, she wondered what their conversation would be like. What his voice would sound like. How she would even ask…oh god, she shouldn’t do this.

At that moment the light turned. Yes. Oh yes. She was saved. She giggled, almost maniacally, her faced flushed again, this time with embarrassment.

In front of the store she found a parking spot. She browsed the tables and counter tops, walked around, half to calm herself from the encounter on the off ramp, half to find something for her office. Something charming for her desk. Something her patients could admire. Something pretty.

Her eyes settled on a rounded, polished stone, about the size of her fist. It was gorgeous, amber and marbled pink, streaked with lines of red and sharp orange. Picking it up she took it to the man behind the register.

“A gorgeous piece,” he muttered, all jowls and chins.
“Yes, what kind of stone is it?”
“Coprolite.”
“Oh, is that some sort of ocean coral or something?”
“No.” He said, very matter-of-fact. “It’s fossilized dinosaur shit.”

I Don’t Pray, I Move My Feet

I wrote this entry for…not this journal…but I liked it so much, I’m cross-posting it here. I think it explains me. Why I start things, then abandon them (like this journal), or why I am how I am and who I am.

*** *** ***

I wish I could relax. I wish I knew how. People who have known me for years would call me laid back, cool-headed, accepting…but my mom is not wrong when she calls me tightly wound and high strung. I’m always going. Always looking for what is next, never satisfied with what I have now. I have a need, and emptiness that needs to be filled. A longing for something. But for what, I don’t know. I don’t know.

So I search and search. I try on different metaphoric hats–different places, different jobs, new people, no people, experiments in adulthood, things I can easily back down from, back out of if it becomes too frightening, or too restricting. I have claustrophobia of the spirit. I’m terrified of things that could trap me, stick me to one place or one person, make it impossible to run away or escape if need be.

I always wonder what my life would have been like had my family not moved around so much. Had we stayed in Ann Arbor. Had we stayed in Libertyville. Had I not moved after 5th grade, had I not moved after my sophomore year in high school. If I kept the same friends, or had at least known the same people in elementary school, and junior high, and high school, and maybe had some friends, or known some of the same people going into college. Would I know where I belong? Would I have a place I could call my home? Would I know how to keep the friends I make, instead of running away for no reason if they get too close, if they know me too well, if I’m too vulnerable around them? If I show them that tender spot I hid behind my ribs?

I have lived in 20 different houses or apartments, in 11 different cities over the past 29 years. I can renew drivers licenses in 4 states. Even my job is in constant motion. On Friday, I was in 5 different states. I wish I knew what it felt like to be somewhere. To stay somewhere. To know that elusive place called home.

But whenever something doesn’t feel right, whenever I question what I’m doing, or who I am, or what my purpose might be, my first thought is where do I move next? Where on my list of places I might want to be will finally feel like where I’m supposed to be? How will I even know when I find it?

Maybe I’ve already been there, but haven’t recognized it. Seattle. Or maybe it’s the place whose memories I hold the closest to my heart. Ann Arbor. Or maybe it’s the place I wish I was now. Helsinki. Or maybe it’s somewhere I’ve never been. Maine. Or somewhere I go for work. Conneticut. Or the place I was the happiest. Santa Cruz. Or someplace I’ve always wanted to move. Boston.

I don’t know. But the only way I can think to find whatever it is I seek to find, is to keep moving my feet.

Three Great Literary Magazines

During my blogging hiatus, I took a writing class through The Loft in Minneapolis, MN. It was a really great experience, one I highly recommend to anyone living in and around the Twin Cities. During one class my teacher mentioned how non-fiction and short fiction were starting to gain momentum, and expanding their formats to include some literary freedoms previously reserved for poetry. As an example, she mentioned the short non-fiction journal called Brevity. Intrigued, I did some googling and spent a good deal of my off-blogging-time reading and/or subscribing to literary journals. This entry is dedicated to three of my favorites.

BREVITY
Brevity describes itself as “a journal of concise literary nonfiction”, publishing works of 750 words or fewer. The best parts about Brevity? First and foremost, you can read current and past issues online for free! Secondly, Brevity focuses on publishing new writers; I love that! And last but not least, the short format is awesome in and of itself; the narratives are boiled down to their essentials and each sentence has power and meaning. It’s a terrific format. In fact, the magazine has become so popular that they are suspending submissions between May 2011 and September 2011 to give their poor staff a break. My favorite essay so far, White Guy by Steven Barthelme, is a mere three sentences long, but I laugh every time I read it.

GLIMMER TRAIN
Glimmer Train was founded by two sisters, who read and hand select each piece for their magazine. Many of their short stories come from sponsored monthly competitions. And like Brevity, Glimmer Train also focuses on publishing works from emerging and new authors. I subscribed to this magazine ($36 for 4 issues) after seeing an issue in my library, and I have not been disappointed. In fact, my renewal is coming up in a few months and I may re-subscribe for the next two or three years. Not only are there eight to twelve short stories per issue (enough stories to skip around based on your mood, or breeze over any that don’t suit your tastes), but each edition is gorgeous! Beautiful cover art, matching bookmarks with quotes from the featured works and author signatures, and childhood photographs of the authors. It’s a very homey publication. And just look at how lovely the editions are:

I am very proud to support this publication and encourage you to check it out. You can buy single issues online (though they sell out quickly), or subscribe for one to three years. Glimmer Train also has a related newsletter called Writer’s Ask where accomplished writers or teachers talk about writing techniques and offer advice to other writers.

ONE STORY
One Story is a literary magazine featuring just that, one story. It’s really quite a clever format, as it allows the reader to really focus on the short story. Each edition has three parts: the short story, the author’s biography, and a Q&A with the author interview that focuses on the writing process for the published work. I absolutely love it! And I would imagine that it is perfect for commuters. Perhaps my favorite thing about One Story is that they never publish the same author twice–each edition introduces you to a new author. One Story is published every three weeks, and at $21 for 18 issues, it is a bargain! Not only that but for $1.49 a month, Kindle users can have it delivered wirelessly to their device; this is how I receive my subscription. And let me tell you, I am always so excited to see a new edition pop up in my Kindle, that I (usually) read it immediately upon delivery. After all, as the website says “there is always time to read one story”.

* * * * *

So often we only focus on novels or published anthologies centered on one theme or year. In fact, I’m sure there are many readers out there who aren’t even aware that literary magazines exist, aside from The New Yorker. Having only recently discovered these magazines myself, I feel proud to support these smaller publishing efforts. I highly recommend checking out these or other literary magazines, especially for voracious readers. There is enough material to keep you entertained until the arrival of the subsequent editions. Plus these literary magazines are like tiny little treasure boxes and an absolute joy to read.

Travel Tip for the Week: Rental Cars

Have you ever pulled your rental car up to a gas pump, only to realize the tank is on the other side of the car? It’s a pain in the ass, right? Cuz then you either have to get back in your car and drive in figure 8s to align the gas tank and pump, or you have to wrestle the gas hose around and up and over your car, hoping the tube is long enough to reach your tank.

I have seen many a person struggle with the ‘which side is my gas tank on’ dilemma, when really there is an easy solution. If you look at the gas gauge on your car, there is a little triangle. The tip of the triangle points to the side of the car that the gas tank is on (see below).

The gas tank in this car is on the left-hand side

The other frustrating part about putting gas in rental cars is How in the world do you open the cover flap? These are the common areas to check:

INSIDE THE CAR
1) To the left or right of the steering column, sometimes near audio controls
2) Down by your left knee, but still in the console — Toyota hybrids especially, some Chevys
3) On the floor of the car next to the seat adjustment apparatus
4) In the arm of the door on the driver’s side — Chevys trick you with this one frequently

OUTSIDE THE CAR
1) Open the gas flap directly
2) Spring loaded gas flap opened by quickly pushing and releasing the latch point (right side of cover flap)
3) Opens like a trap door by pressing OPPOSITE to the usual latch point (left side of cover flap) — I think it was a Lexus that effed me up completely here

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now a plug for a gem amongst rental car companies: National.

They are great because you are allowed to pick your car, even if you aren’t a rewards member. Once you check in with the desk they direct you to a specific lot (compact, intermediate, full sized) based on your reservation. You see a car you like, you take it! You are able to pick a model you are familiar with or have driven previously. Takes away a lot of guess work.

It’s even better if you are an Emerald Club member. Seriously, just sign up before you rent, the rewards are instantaneous. As an Emerald Club member you skip the desk and the lines, walk straight to the Emerald Aisle, and choose any car in your status whether you are Emerald Aisle or Executive Elite (at small airports you may still have to visit the desk). Plus the Emerald Club usually means a free upgrade for you, in addition to skipping all the time-consuming BS in the beginning.

Absentee-ism

Yes. I have been gone for quite a long time now. Almost 6 months.

My absence started with wanting to rethink my blog and my book reviews. But during that time I read too much and became overwhelmed with the number of pending reviews I wanted to write. December = 10 books in 5 weeks, now my total is over 24 for the year. Much higher than my usual. I also wanted to branch out and post some stuff beyond books, but I was writer’s blocked on those, too.

Then I got a new job (huzzah!), and now it’s half a year later and I have pent up guilt guilt guilt for neglecting my poor blog.

I should probably follow the writing advice given by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird (one of the many books I blazed through during my off-time), and overcome my writers block by simply writing.

Small goals. Shitty first drafts. Overcome writer’s block by writing. Picture frame focus. Write something every day. Breath in, breath out. Practice kitty zen.