10 Great Things That Happened in 2017

I decided to change things up this year from my usual Best Of lists. 2017 was a challenging year for almost everyone and won’t go down in the history books as anybody’s favorite. But some wonderful things happened to me this year, in the midst of all the tumultuous world events and existential despair. So along with my usual roundup of pop culture I loved, I’ve added in a few personal anecdotes and observations on the state of the world. So, in no particular order, here are my 10 Great Things That Happened in 2017.

I Found an Amazing Team of Collaborators

One of the things that kept me from self-publishing for so long was my desire to not be in it alone. My biggest takeaway from having my first novel published by an indie was the need for some talented collaborators as committed to making the book a success as I was. Also, as someone with a full-time job who doesn’t have a partner, I am the only admiral of my fleet. I was daunted by the thought of adding such a time-consuming side hustle to my already heavy workload. Which is why I am so grateful for Nancy-Anne Davies, Lady Tiferet, Rachel Maybury from Signal Boost Productions, Liv Rancourt, Karen Wellsbury, Francesca Borzi, Day’s Lee, and Judie Troyansky, and all the reviewers who helped me get the word out. Love you all!

I Read Some Exceptional Books… 

…but there wasn’t a ton of time for reading. See above for reasons why. I especially didn’t feel able to do a Best of Books list this year because my reading consumption was less than half of last year. I only had time for my faves and discovered very few new authors. This will hopefully change in 2018, #NewYearsResolution. But here are five faves my reading list.

Seven Summer Nights, Harper Fox

Spectred Isle, KJ Charles

Hexslayer, Jordan L. Hawk

Eagle’s Shadow, Aleks Voinov and Jordan Taylor

Ruin of a Rake, Cat Sebastian

Women Found Their Voices

Feminist rhetoric was everywhere this year, from the Women’s March back in January to the Silence Breakers this past fall. More people are speaking about women’s rights, and more men are aware of the incredible disparity between the genders than ever before. It’s been both emotionally crushing and exhilarating to live in such times. But this particular abscess needed to burst before it could be cleansed. There might be a lot more puss to come, but that’s the only way to heal.

I Finally Read Book 5 in the Adrien English Mystery Series

I figured since the apocalypse was nigh, it was about time to finish it before I no longer had the chance. Spoiler alert: it was amazing.

Those Committed to Change in the Romance Community

I love the romance community, especially my little niche of friends and followers. I don’t mean to go all Pollyanna on you, but the scandals always amaze me because 99% of the people I’ve met have been lovely. But those scandals can’t be ignored, and there is a huge need for change and inclusivity in terms of the acquisition and promotion of POC and LGBTQ+ authors. But there are so many authors, agents, readers, booksellers, and editors out there getting the word out and making the right choices when it comes to their own work. We absolutely need to do better. But I’m grateful for those giving it their all and for everything they’ve taught me. It’s rare you can say that something you participated in has improved you as a person.

I Watched Some Incredible Movies

Every year for the past few, I hear a lot of griping about how movies were “so bad this year”. All I can say to this is, you might want to do some research before going out to the movies because this year produced some gems I will treasure for the rest of my life. Here’s a list of my faves. And, seriously, hit me up on Twitter if you’re looking for something better to watch. Always happy to help. 😉

Get Out

Free Fire

Logan

Wonder Woman

The Beguiled

The Big Sick

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Atomic Blonde

Blade Runner 2049

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Thor: Ragnarok

Lady Bird

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The Shape of Water

The Last Jedi

(I haven’t seen Call Me By Your Name yet, but there’s no way it doesn’t go on this list.)

This Four-Legged Wonder Survived Another Year With Me

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People Stepped Up, Fought Back, Resisted

Allow me to annoy you with a glass-half-full description of the year. Because we can’t lose focus of the good in the world and in people. Then we would truly be lost. I write in a genre that’s about the underdog getting the win. One that teaches you can’t lose hope. And while it’s easy to feel that we are in the darkest timeline, at least people are awake to reality. Organizations have mobilized. The Resistance is in motion and people are fighting back. In prosperous times, it’s easy for some of us (i.e. the white and the privileged) to forget. To shrug off the ills of the world. If we do that now, if we ever let ourselves do it again, then we are truly the villains of this narrative. Don’t be a villain. Wake up. Educate yourself. Give back. Progress.

TV Was My Coping Mechanism

Part of the reason I couldn’t commit to an official Best Of is that when it comes to TV, there’s just so much good. No end of good. Netflix is a one-stop shop of amazingness and creativity, and it only produces maybe two of my favorite shows. I’m someone who watches everything, and even I couldn’t keep up. It’s an embarrassment of riches. It took me an hour to whittle this list down. But here are a few of my fave seasons of TV of the year.

Legion

Fargo

Big Little Lies

Game of Thrones

The Handmaid’s Tale

Alias Grace

Broadchurch

Master of None

Insecure

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel

Riverdale

Howard’s End

Glow

Mindhunter

Crisis on Earth X – CW superhero crossover special

You Might Have Noticed I Self-Published a Book

There’s been enough said on this blog and elsewhere about Stoker & Bash, but its reception was without a doubt the highlight of my year. And that wouldn’t have happened without all of you. So thank you from the bottom of my heart, for reading, for playing along, for making my dream come true. This little hobby of mine is an oasis from all the ills of the world. Thank you for welcoming me into this heartening community. It means everything to me.

Have a safe and fun New Year’s Eve no matter how you’re celebrating, and wishing you all the love, happiness, and success for 2018!

Selina

 

 

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Top 5 Most Cinematic M/M Romances

One of the great tragedies of the modern cinematic era, IMHO, is the fact that Brokeback Mountain was followed up by… absolutely nothing. There hasn’t been one mainstream film about a gay couple since, nor is there likely to be one in the near future. A few on the indie scene have managed to make something of a splash among critics and diehards—Love Is Strange, Mysterious Skin, and The Kids Are All Right come to mind—but nothing on par with the visibility and the success of Brokeback.

It’s not like Hollywood is lacking in source material, either. They could adapt Mary Renault, Christopher Isherwood, or Gore Vidal if they want some highbrow Oscar-bait. But wouldn’t it be more interesting if, hot on the heels of *that movie* and the supposed renaissance of sexy adult films (I’ll believe it when I see it), they looked to the M/M romance genre and the hundreds of authors whose works are both high-quality and highly filmable? Seriously, indie producers, what are you waiting for?

But, as a community, we don’t really have to wait for those producers anymore, do we? Surely there are enough M/M readers worldwide to fund a serious Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign. Enough readers with a background in film or television (like me) to shepherd the project to completion. Maybe one day my dream of having a production company that exclusively adapts M/M books will be a reality. In the meantime, a girl can dream… about which books she would tackle first, and who should star in those theoretical films.

Whether this is a pie-in-the-sky ambition, a dream that could be a reality with enough elbow grease, or a fun party game, I offer up for debate my (very subjective) list of the Five Most Cinematic M/M Books! After you’ve perused the list, hit up the comments with your suggestions, alternatives, or casting revisions!

Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon

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If that IndieKickGogoStarter campaign ever does see the light of day, one of the big issues is going to be which book to tackle first. Any producer worth their salt would do enough research to know that Josh Lanyon is probably the most read author in the genre, with an extensive backlist and several movie-ready series (because the name of the game is always sequels). The two obvious choices would be to start with the first Adrien English novel, Fatal Shadows, or, if they have more of a budget to work with, the Dangerous Ground series. Both would be excellent choices and would make great films.

But I would look to one of his more recent works, Stranger on the Shore. I mean, just look at what he did with the trailer! The book has everything great movies are made of: a compelling mystery, a Kennedy-esque family with dark secrets that suffered a major tragedy, a leading man with a personal connection to the family and the crime, a nosy reporter with secrets of his own, a gorgeous Hamptons backdrop. With its many allusions to The Great Gatsby, Stranger on the Shore positions itself as a modern-day twist on that classic: romantic, mysterious, luxurious, and entrancing. Throw in a picturesque moonlit lake view with a green light across the water, and I’m sold.

Casting: As Griff, the pesky reporter writing a book about the Arlington family tragedy, I can’t think of anyone more dogged yet charming than Grant Gustin. He also suffers quite prettily, too, and that baby face doesn’t hurt. As Pierce, the stone-cold lawyer and Arlington family bulldog, Alexander Skarsgaard’s Scandinavian chill and grace would seduce pretty much everyone watching. Still, even though the character in the book is Caucasian, I like to practice color-blind casting, and think Jesse Williams or Mike Coulter would also be great—and super hot!

The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles

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Victorian London. A cursed lord with a booby-trapped mansion and a merciless sorcerer out to exploit the very blood coursing through his veins. A secret organization of magic police who hunt down anyone who abuses their powers. A book crammed with more imagination, thrilling events, sexual smoulder, and cataclysmic climaxes than a reader deserves… Not to mention stripping. Both the kind you think and… not. The stuff of fantasies, both sexual and adventurous. The stuff of nightmares, but, you know, the fun kind that go bump in the night. This is the real Harry Potter for grownups.

Casting: The obvious choice for Lord Crane based on physical description alone is Lawrence Fox, but I find he has a sleepy quality that doesn’t suit Lucian. Someone who has the strength, the stillness, the wryness, and the imperiousness required is Richard Armitage. He doesn’t look exactly right, but that’s an easy fix. For Stephen Day, the tiny ginger with the adamantium sense of morality and the fearsome powers, I would look no further than the lovely Luke Treadaway. Although…. something about James McAvoy speaks to me as well. I think he would nail Stephen’s weariness and intractability.

Driftwood by Harper Fox

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When comes to the fantastic Ms. Fox, there isn’t a book in her cannon that isn’t outrageously cinematic. This author paints on a epic canvas, and her settings are often secondary characters in her books. Any one of them would make a riveting film, but Driftwood has touchstones and elements that I still remember vividly some three years after reading it. The statue shaped like a wave. The many rescues/dangerous encounters at sea. The protagonists’ military backgrounds and personal tragedies. Meet cutes at standing stones. And, of course, the decaying lighthouse where the MC lives, which at one point topples over the side of a cliff. The dangerous beauty of Cornwall, where it is set. There is so much meat here; it would be a cinematic feast.

Casting: Ever since I read the book, I have a theory that a crude version of its genesis went a little something like this: Benedict Cumberbatch shags Michael Fassbender. Now, this doesn’t do anything like justice to Ms. Fox’s subtle character shadings and riveting storyline, and it could be me imposing my own obsessions on the books, but, well. That’s the movie I see in my head. Cumby would be the doctor, Tom, of course, and Fassy the helicopter pilot, Flynn.

Captive Prince Volumes I and II by C.S. Pacat

 

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Two rival countries, both alike in… well, deceptions, double-crosses, overthrows, assassinations, warmongering, and manipulations. Romeo & Romeo, this ain’t. The captive prince of the title is forced into slavery after his father’s murder by his bastard brother. He’s sent to their most vicious enemy, a kingdom with a maniacal regent and a ruthless king-to-be, who is first in line for the throne because the slave-prince killed the older brother he worshipped in order to win a war. The political machinations alone make the Game of Thrones look like a round of Scrabble, and the enemies to lovers saga is one of the most gripping and infuriating I’ve ever read. Did I mention the kidnappings, wild hunts, sneaking into enemy territory at night, stormings of castles, and breath-stopping escape attempts? Possibly the best love scene I’ve ever read? One of the most complicated and inscrutable characters in all of creation? Forget a movie—this book needs its own 10-part HBO series.

Casting: Jason Momoa would be interesting for Damen. For Laurent, I can’t think of anyone better than Freddie Fox. If you’ve seen Cucumber, the Russell T. Davies series, you’ll understand.

Provoked by Joanna Chambers

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Righteous young lawyer David Lauriston is eager to make his mark on the legal profession in 1822 Scotland, but also to help people and serve the common good. He is tormented by his sexuality and longs for the one that got away, a boyhood love he was forced apart from years before. Enter Lord Murdo Balfour, tall, dark, and unapologetic about his need for other men. Of course, it helps to have the bank account and the social connections that can pay for discretion. Part legal thriller and part opposites-attract romance, all set against a rarely seen historical backdrop—not to mention an inordinate amount of men in kilts—this book is begging to be made into a film. Though book three, set at Murdo’s highland estate, would be the most picturesque.

Casting: As ambitious but morally conflicted David, the Australian actor Sam Reid, so good in a similar part in last year’s Belle. As Murdo… I’m conflicted. So many of the actors I think would be amazing in the role are too old now to play it—Matthew Macfadyen, Viggo Mortensen, Manu Bennett. But then I remembered that Henry Cavill—before he chose to go the leading man route—has the height, the range, the manliness, and the sense of mischievous superiority, as evidenced by his work on The Tudors. BBC Films, make this happen!

Over to you, gentle readers. What M/M romance would make your list must-see films? Who would you cast and why? Feel free to use and abuse the comments as your very own casting couch.

Toronto Trip: TIFF ’14

Late into my aestas horribilis, my lovely friend Mal Peters texted me to suggest I visit her in Toronto the week of the film festival, since she had inadvertently booked some time off. Being a diehard cinephile and in dire need of a holiday, my immediate answer was “Yes!” After creating an elaborate Venn diagram charting where the films I wanted to see and the dates I would be in town intersected, I decided on four films (I heart making schedules): That One With a Lot of Heat Out of Sundance; That One With the Danish Guy I Love; That One With the Other Danish Guy I Love; and That One With Sherlock as Alan Turing (AKA Maybe I’ll Get To See the Batch Kiss a Dude).

I am happy to report that there was not a stinker in the bunch. All of them are independent films with various levels of promotional support. Two of them are foreign-language films that will likely get a North American and European release, but still could benefit from a little extra push, so here are my capsule reviews.

WHIPLASH

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This is the film I was least excited to see. I had heard great things coming out of Sundance about it, but I really just picked it because it was the best-looking film that fit into an empty slot in our schedule.

It was the best film I saw. It. Is. Amazing. I am not overselling it. It’s about a jazz drummer (Miles Teller) at a music school who gets called up by the most renowned teacher at the school—perhaps in the world—to be a part of his class/ensemble (played by J.K. Simmons). The teacher is both inspiring and abusive. The driven student becomes more so under such a harrowing yet challenging influence. When these two forces collide, it is a clash of the titans. If you think you know where this story is headed, you are wrong.

All of the music was written for the film. The cinematography and the editing use it to punctuate the film language. The director (Damien Chazelle) used to be a jazz drummer himself, though he says it’s only inspired by his experiences and those of his fellow musicians, it’s not autobiographical. He imbues his film with the percussive rhythm of the music he loves; it pulses and pops and crashes like an extended drum solo.

It’s also a captivating meditation on what exactly it takes to make great art. If no one is there to push you, then how far can you really go? Is talent enough to make someone great? But if someone pushes you too far, doesn’t that risk not only your artistic spirit, but your life? Your ability to achieve greatness? These are the questions the film asks, brilliantly. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a mic drop. Go see it.

FAR FROM MEN (LOIN DES HOMMES)

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A morality play about the human cost of war paid by both sides, the first film from Viggo Mortensen’s Perceval Pictures stars the King of Men as a French school teacher living in the barren wilds of Algeria during its war with France. A former major in the Second World War who returned to the place of his birth in search of a more peaceful existence, he is forced by the French army to transport a dissident (Reda Kateb) to the nearest city for execution. Both men have a complicated history, with the country they call home and with the conflict its now enduring, and form a bond as they encounter various trials along their journey.

The stark Algerian landscape becomes a character itself, its rocky desert terrain almost impossible to cross. With nowhere to hide and even fewer options, the two men are forced to rely on each other. But even if they reach their destination, is there a way out for them? For Algeria? For France? When both sides have committed atrocities, when two divergent cultures clash, will there ever be a clear winner and a clear loser?

Far From Men is based on a short story by Franco-Algerian Albert Camus, and waves its philosophical colors with pride. I admired the way it allowed no easy answers, and never gave its characters an inch. It’s also liberally spiced with humor, a relief from the intensity of the life-or-death situations it depicts. It’s extremely well acted and made, but it was missing a little something for me. I should have been engrossed, transported, devastated. Instead, I was intrigued. It’s a beautiful intellectual exercise with a strong message, but I personally felt it lacked power. But worth seeing all the same.

A SECOND CHANCE

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Danish director Susanne Bier specializes in ethical dilemmas played out on the domestic front. Her latest film features a bravura performance by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (that’s Jaime Lannister to my fellow geeks) as a police detective who, in a moment of weakness, makes a questionable decision that quickly and vertiginously spirals out of control.

Warning: Personally, I think this magnificent movie is best enjoyed spoiler-free, so I would skip the next paragraphs if I were you, even though I won’t be getting into the film’s various twists and turns.

It could be the subject of a Lifetime movie: a couple suffers the loss of a child, so the cop father steals a baby from a junkie couple who neglect their own. But it is played so realistically, so emotionally, so compassionately that not a moment rings false. It is a shame that foreign-language performances don’t get nominated for Oscars, because NCW should be on the nominees list this year. His tender, devastating work here will cut you to the quick.

This is an adult movie of a kind that they don’t make anymore. Except, apparently, in Denmark.

THE IMITATION GAME

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As much as I enjoyed the heck out of this film—there’s something to be said for seeing a film with a festival audience in a theater as large as the Princess of Wales—I was surprised that it won the audience award. It was a lot of fun, a moving story told expertly, but I think the, er, Cumber Collective may have helped it along a smidge.

I am not damning with faint praise when I say it’s the kind of film I like to categorize as Elevated Masterpiece Theatre. To give context, I adore Masterpiece Theatre. That said, they’re not reinventing the wheel. It’s a compelling and relatively unknown story acted and directed by artists at the top of their game. Benedict Cumberbatch gives his all as Alan Turing, the genius who built the machine that cracked Enigma and helped win the war, also one of the grandfathers of modern computers.

I read one review that criticized his performance for not being far enough away from Sherlock, and while I don’t disagree, it is still a beautiful, affecting performance. My rule of thumb for judging performances is this: could another actor have done the part better? No, which excuses the typecasting. The same review goes on to praise Keira Knightly for yet another variation on the brainy, spunky chick she almost always plays. A similar charge could levelled at Charles Dance, who seems to have been cast as Tywin Lannister the WWII General. Just goes to show you how intimidating in his own right Cumberbatch is that his foil had to be one of the most skilled and ruthless players of the Game of Thrones.

The truth is, everyone in the ensemble is great. The film rises above its prestige Oscar-bait bio-pic status, but it doesn’t overleap it. Still, it’s a diverting night out at the cinema: a little drama, a little heartbreak, some witty banter, some scandalous cruelties. If I look a little too closely, I see a film trying much too hard to eek a traditional boy-meets-girl-under-harrowing-circumstances narrative out of a persecuted gay man’s story. What happened to Turing is horrifying. In remembering him, best not to forget that.

One of the fringe benefits of going to a popular festival like Toronto—along with having one of your dearest friends put you up for the week—is having the actors and directors do Q&As after the screenings. They smartly schedule the secondary screenings that the public can actually get tickets to the morning or day after the gala premieres, so that the stars are still in town and can attend. I was lucky enough that the filmmaking teams to three out of the four films I saw took time out of their busy promotional schedules to come and speak to the real fans—the paying audience. The only cast that didn’t? The Imitation Game. Bad form, chaps.

Coming later this week… a brief culinary tour of Toronto, with pics! Stay tuned!

-Selina