In this week’s Jealous Haters Book Club, there is no news about Handbook For Mortals.
Because it’s fading away. But don’t worry. You can still find a copy of Handbook For Mortals at your nearest, cursed bookstore.
Y’all. Guess who the fuck put her books in my store on consignment…..
L*ni fucking S*rem.
— shauna (they/them) (@theb00kwitch) August 1, 2018
In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept of consignment, what happens is that a bookstore and a self-published author or a small press representative make a deal in which the store will carry a title, which the author or small press provide, and if the book sells, the bookstore takes a cut. This is different to how a book that sells enough to legitimately make #1 on the New York Times list would be sold in a store. A book that is actually popular and in demand would be sold to the bookstore at a lower-than-retail price, which they would then sell at retail price. I’m not knocking consignment; I’ve done it myself because what else do self-published people do? But in one scenario, the business is investing in your product. In the other, the business is willing to let you rent shelf space. Twilight wasn’t hitting Waldenbooks on consignment.
In other news, a friend who lives in Las Vegas excitedly texted me, “You’ll never believe who’s on my flight!”
I was super disappointed to learn that it was not Carrot Top.
Linguini is still dying and Mac is still sleeping when we pick things back up. Sandwich is monitoring Zooboomafoo’s vitals and keeping calm:
If she showed a great deal of emotion, it would cause everyone else around her to get worked up––and what good would that do?
Yeah, what good would it do to have an emotional reaction to your daughter being nearly dead?
Since there was a table in front of her, and she decided to lay down some cards.
…did you wanna make that a complete sentence or…?
Chuckie Spellmanfield watches her.
She didn’t even seem to be really looking at them once she laid them down. She seemed to glance at them and then a frustrated expression would spread across her face briefly before she reshuffled the cards and threw them down again almost haphazardly, which was very different from the slower, more precise way he was used to see her read. Then again, he couldn’t remember when the last time was that he had even seen her read cards.
She hasn’t done any readings since they arrived? Sandwich and Zye Lelicia are the type who consult the cards for every god damn thing. I find it absolutely impossible that she hasn’t done ninety-six readings about all of this. Plus, I don’t get why she didn’t do a reading to see how the ritual would go or how it turned out. Many witches consult an oracle, from cards to seven-day candles, to see if the spell took.
David Copperman asks Deli what she’s reading about:
“Nothing, really. I think I am laying down cards out of habit. I can’t pick up anything anyway. They won’t cooperate and read on the situation at all.”
This is super realistic, with regards to just mindlessly laying down and shuffling tarot cards. I know a lot of people who read cards and who fiddle with them like some kind of metaphysical fidget toy. Sometimes, it’s just nice to be around your cards. So, this is, without sarcasm, dead fucking on.
On the other hand, the whole “the cards aren’t cooperating” thing rolls my eyes for me. The cards are a tool, Sandwich. If anything isn’t cooperating, it’s your intuition.
It was a difficult situation for her to be in. She was so used to being able to help everyone. She was used to having power and yet she was suddenly unable to help the one person in the world she loved more than anything––the one person she had been trusted to save, the one she would give her own life for.
The one she would separate from the father who loved her through magical trickery and manipulation.
“This must be what it’s like to be a mortal,” she joked.
Authors really need to stop using “mortal” as shorthand for “non-magical” if their “non-mortal” characters are…you know. Able to age and die. This isn’t a sin Sarem commits all alone. A lot of people use that sloppy world-building shortcut and it makes me bonkers no matter who does it.
Slowly she looked up at Charles, who was studying her carefully. She could see care and love in his eyes and she could feel her own barriers breaking down. She knew he still had the power to make her swoon even after all this time.
Does she know he’s in a committed romantic relationship? I mean, the author kind of forgets as we go along.
“Remind me that I don’t ever want to do this again, will you?” Dela was trying to lighten the mood, as she knew it wasn’t helping either of them to feel so deeply depressed.
Things It Is Okay To Be Upset About:
- Fights with your mom
- Fights with boys
- Boys not liking tarot
- Girls being jealous of you
- Boys being jealous over you
- Not being able to choose between two boys
Things It Is Not Okay To Be Upset About:
- Your child possibly dying.
Chuck tells Bologna to take a break from sitting and worrying and tells her to get something to eat. She says she’ll make tea for them and something for Mac to eat when he wakes up. Lucretia explains that it’s okay for Chuck and Sandwich to have the following conversation right next to Mac because he’s really deeply asleep:
“What do you think about him?” Charles asked, drifting to a subject other than whether or not I would ever actually wake up.
“He seems like a wonderful guy. We certainly have put him through quite the test––and he seems to be dealing with it far better than most men would. I’ll give him that,” Dela said, looking thoughtfully at Mac’s face.
“You see this being something that becomes serious?” Charles asked, pointing to Zade and Mac in one swift finger swoop.
Behold, Laudnum referring to herself in the third person for no reason whatsoever.
“I mean…her future is unclear. I see a path that could lead to them being together, but over the past few days so many other paths have popped up. This incident has set into motion something bigger than I know…bigger than I have ever seen. And, based on my readings, I also think she has been hanging out with another guy, who has potential. At this point, though, I’d root for Sleeping Beauty.”
At this point, I’d say you’re correct, given the fact that Inaction Jackson has had approximately one twenty-sixth of the page time Mac has gotten. Can we talk about the fact that it’s gross to spy on your kid’s love life via oracles of any kind? It’s none of your business, Pimento Loaf. Let your daughter just live. Especially since she ran across the country to escape you. If she wanted you to know any of this, she would tell you.
After Deli leaves the room, Chavid Copperman picks up the tarot cards and starts laying them out.
During his years with Dela he had learned what most of their general meanings were and even understood how some of them related to the other ones. He also had learned that it was much more complex than what showed on face value, and that, regardless of the amount of information he had, he still probably wouldn’t know what they could be saying.
Reading tarot isn’t at all “much more complex than what showed on face value.” Literally, the pictures on the cards tell the story of what you’re looking at. It’s how intuitive readings work. Don’t doubt yourself, Chuckles.
Hey, remember how Sandwich is just the conscious avatar for Lugubrious while she’s knocked out? Here’s further proof of that:
He couldn’t help but feel that almost everything that was wrong was his fault––from the failure of his relationship with Dela to their daughter being in this life-and-death situation, both were completely his fault.
Excuse me, but how? His relationship with Deli ended after he cheated on her, sure, but he also cheated on her after finding out she’d been lying about using magic on him for years and her gaslighting fucked his head up. And Zark almost died because she chose to involve someone else in her magic without telling them or asking their permission. There are two reasons for Chuck E. Copperfield to blame himself and both of those reasons can’t exist at the same time.
Reason #1: Sarem can’t bear for either character she’s using as her avatar to be blamed for anything they’ve done.
Reason #2: David Charlesman is so egotistical and selfish that everything, including extremely negative things, has to be all about him.
He also felt he should have tried harder to be a part of my life even though he knew Dela had cast a spell to keep him away. He decided that he should have found some way to fight her on that––he didn’t really blame Dela for why she’d done it, though.
Imagine thinking that your writing is so masterful and your skill so great that you could convince a reader to accept being ensorcelled and permanently separated from your own child as a fitting punishment for cheating on one’s partner.
As I riffled through his memories, I realized that while Charles was sitting next to me as I fought my way back to life, he just felt like he had made all the wrong things priorities in life, and that his life had been mostly wasted.
Either Charles was kept away by a spell or he was kept away by his shitty choices. It can’t be both or else the impact of both is greatly diminished. A reader is going to either think, “Well, the spell doesn’t really matter because he was making shitty choices,” or “The shitty choices don’t matter because the spell would have kept him away, anyway.” The problem here is that Sarem can’t decide if she wants her protagonist to have a fairytale monster of a mother or a neglectful father and she’s trying to have them both while insisting neither of them are bad people because they are totally unresponsible for their own choices. The contradiction in characterization is boggling.
“Oh, Zade, I am so incredibly sorry, will you ever forgive me?” he said as he buried his face in his hands and collapsed on the table. Tears streamed down his cheeks and his emotions started to bubble up as he felt the weight of everything that was happening crashing down upon him. His overpowering amount of guilt washed over him and it caused every part of him to ache inside. Out of all of his accomplishments he still believed I was by far the greatest and most wonderful thing he had done, despite his failures surrounding being a dad.
Man, I really hope that when I take my daddy issues out on my readers, I do it in a way that it isn’t such transparent wish fulfillment. This is some “one day, my dad will be sorry!” shit I could have written in overwrought Labyrinth fanfiction when I was fourteen. And of course, all this regret is loud enough to wake Lolita from her magical slumber.
A cracking soft voice startled him right out of his chair. “Forgive you for what?”
Charles raised his head and his eyes met my weary eyes as they struggled to adjust to the dimly lit room and the dizziness that had hit me almost immediately. This was the first thing I remembered on my own since I had collapsed in the theater. Everything that had happened between then and waking up in my old room I wouldn’t know until later. For the moment, I didn’t know where I was and I was unaware of everything the three of them had been through.
So, we’re back in Zucchini’s first person POV, then, right?
Charles leaned in and caressed my cheek as a huge burst of happiness spread across his face, he responded to me very softly, “Hey, you. You’re awake.” The relief flooded his body so quickly that he practically felt like he was floating and his eyes welled up this time with happy tears.
Is…is that a “no” on the first person then or…
Honestly, my expectations were so low for this inevitable transition that I’m not surprised Sarem can’t keep her own narrative parameters straight for more than a paragraph. I’m just going to go limp and hope the prose thinks I’m dead long enough that it lets its guard down and trundles off into the woods, thus allowing me to make my escape. The idea of telling part of the story through the memories of other characters isn’t a bad one. With better execution, this could have been a unique and interesting storytelling device. The problem Handbook For Mortals has is that its author can’t stay in one POV consistently, let alone juggle several POVs through an omniscient central character. Obviously, a lot of this could have been fixed by avoiding numerous, nonsensical POV and tense shifts, but here are some other ways the “through everyone else’s eyes” part of this story could have been told more effectively:
- If Lasagna had been privy to the actions of others through their memories, but not their internal thoughts; the storytelling falls flat when the narrator has to tell the reader explicitly what the characters are feeling.
- If it had been formatted as its own section apart from the beginning and end of the story; this would have created an easier transition back into Lumpy’s waking thoughts as first person POV.
- If the entire book had been written in the third person; this would remove the need to have Zason and the Largonauts tell a portion of the story she’s not a part of.
And here are the correlating reasons Lani Sarem could not have done these things:
- She’s incapable of showing instead of telling.
- It would have interfered with her tarot-card-of-the-day chapter format
- Twilight was told in first person POV.
- It would have required the author to move her avatar slightly out of the spotlight.
The fact that Sarem was willing to relinquish Lubnub’s stranglehold on the narrative any time the reader needed to see how men were reacting to the sight of her nearly nude or dripping wet body only makes this more infuriating. She was fine with having sections where she wasn’t narrating all the action, just so long as she could sexually objectify herself in those sections.
Anyway, the If I Stay section of the book is now over and we’re moving on to more beautiful suffering:
My head was pounding and I kept blinking my eyes trying to get them to focus enough so that I could see where I was. I felt like I had been asleep for years and that I had awoken from a terrible dream. My entire body ached everywhere. My joints felt swollen and painful. My chest felt as if I had been stabbed. My head felt like someone had ripped all my hair out by the roots. My veins felt as if ice and needles were coursing through them and my stomach felt like someone had punched me as hard as they could. I was pretty sure I couldn’t have felt worse.
Okay, but how do you feel? I mean, I can’t get a feel for how you feel at the moment. If only you’d used the exact same word in like seven consecutive sentences so that I would have some idea how this all felt to you.
I couldn’t help but lock one of my legs and grit my teeth in hopes of powering through as a wave of pain crashed over me.
Charles seemed sad, though I wasn’t sure why. “Are you in pain, my dear?”
I bit my lip and shook my head. “Yeah, it’s pretty bad. What happened though?”
She visibly reacts to pain. Her father, watching her, looks sad but she can’t tell why. He asks if she’s in pain. She shakes her head and answers yes. How does someone pack this much failure into such a small amount of text? Lozenge, your dad is watching his kid writhe in pain. That is why he’s sad. And when you answer someone in the affirmative, you don’t do it by shaking your head. You nod your head. This is a concept that admittedly baffled me for a long time…when I was a toddler. The inability to grasp that other humans react to emotional stimuli just like you also react to emotional stimuli (i.e., looking sad when someone is in pain) is also something I struggled with…as a child. I’ve been saying Handbook For Mortals isn’t a YA because its main character doesn’t fit the demographic. What I didn’t realize until now is that it should have been written as a picture book, since the protagonist needs to learn important lessons about how people respond to and deal with emotions.
The last thing I remembered was finishing our new illusion in the theater. And…something had gone wrong. Maybe having him tell me the story would help take my mind off the incredible amount of agony ripping through my body.
Trust me, having someone tell you that story will only increase the amount of agony you’re experiencing. It’ll even heap on some fresh agony as garnish.
Charles begins to tell her the “short version” of the story and I swear to God, if we have to read a retelling of the entire section we just read so that Lutefisk can get up-to-date on shit she’s just going to learn from the memories she pulls anyway I’m going to cancel the Jealous Haters Book Club entirely and turn this into a food blog where I blather on about why fall is my favorite season and how much I love farmer’s markets before giving you an overcomplicated and unappetizing recipe for butternut squash and kale risotto with very, very little seasoning.
Anyway, Charles tells her that “we” had to bring her to her mother’s house.
The moment he said the words “we,” the thought of who that could be flashed into my head. No one else at the show knew anything about who I was. Maybe he meant my mom when he said “we,” but that would be an odd way to word it if my mother was also part of the “we.” I decided to stop the story for a moment to clarify whom he meant.
“We? Who is ‘we’?” I asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
See that tiny little one line of dialogue there? It could have stood on its own and easily replaced that entire paragraph above it.
Charles tells her that the “we” is him and Mac.
The last thing I remembered about Mac was that he had been furious with me and had stormed off in a fit of rage.
And therefore you probably shouldn’t have gone on with your Khaos Mahjik bullshit? Because you knew that the person you were depending on to make it work was furious with you at best, not even in the building at worst?
Just like with the “surprise” of Zucchini’s parentage, Sarem tried to hide crucial, plot-relevant information from readers despite the fact that the story is being told almost exclusively through that protagonist’s first person POV. Lumber knew that her magic depended on her connection with Mac. When that connection was broken through their violent argument she should have at least had the thought that the spell might not work because of that. Instead. there was the weak excuse that she was distracted by the argument and had to try to make the spell work despite her own lack of focus. But she would have known that wasn’t the issue, and as such, the reader should have been shown that knowledge.
Writing Tip For God’s Fucking Sakes: You cannot let a POV character withhold crucial plot information they possess only to spring it on the reader after the fact.
As I was lying there, I hadn’t yet pulled their memories to understand what had happened; so how he, of all people, ended up at my mother’s didn’t make much sense.
Stephen Moffat has written less confusing timelines than the one in that sentence.
Another wave of pain rippled through my body and I gritted my teeth again and arched my back as I gripped the sheets waiting for it to pass.
You know how on South Park they always make fun of Mel Gibson for his lengthy scenes of being tortured or in pain in his movies?
Writing Tip: Words have different flavors. To say she’s in this horrible pain that’s making her grit her teeth and arch her back, “rippled” is a pretty calm word. If it’s going to be a wave, I would say “crashed over” or “dragged me under,” something to evoke the violence of water. Rippling waves don’t inspire the panic of horrendous pain. My one exception to this would be descriptions of a non-harrowing labor and birth, in which pain is generally described more positively.
Charles tells Lumberzack that the whole story can wait––thank you Jesus––but Mac knows everything about her being…I don’t know. Not a mortal? Have they put a name on what the fuck these people are? We’re 92% into this book. Now might be the time to say “witches” or “immortals” or whatever she’s going to call it. Like, push that button anytime, okay?
Zagamander asks how fast Mac ran away, and then there’s more description of her acting out how miserable she feels so that there’s plenty to put on the For Your Consideration reels. Charles points out that Mac is right there in the room with them.
I could mainly just make out a body kind of piled in the corner. It took his word it was actually Mac.
What a weird thing to lie about. Why would he? “Yeah, that guy over in the corner there is Mac. Ha ha, she’ll never realize it’s not Mac when Doug the next door neighbor stands up and Mac is nowhere to be found.” This book has some of the fucking weirdest responses to situations that I’ve ever seen in my life. Why would you even begin to assume that your dad would lie to you about whether or not that was your love interest sitting a few feet away from you? What could his plan possibly be? Why must you extend the courtesy of belief in this situation? What even is happening?
I forced myself to consider that Mac being there because I was on the brink of death and him being there because he wanted us to work on our relationship were two very different things. I figured that I would find out what his thoughts were soon enough, probably about the same time I found out what he actually knew.
First of all, he knows everything. Chaz told her that. Why is she so quick to doubt Wish Fulfillment Dad?
Now here’s an amazing part of this story:
“Um…I’m pretty parched and could use something for all the pain. Got any morphine lying around?” I asked, trying to be lighthearted, but realizing that if I waited much longer I wasn’t going to be able to swallow at all.
“Oh yes, of course. I should’ve thought of that. I’ll go right now. […]”
Does…does Charles just have morphine? “Oh yes, of course.” Oh yes, of course, I have this controlled narcotic out in the car. Let me just grab it. Or does he mean, Oh yes, of course. I’ll go to the drug store and get some? This is amazing. I cannot wait for the follow-up comment from Real Vegas Pharmacist in which they insist that all the Olympic athletes in Cirque Du Soliel go to Tennessee to get over-the-counter morphine.
Chandler Spellsfield decides to wake up Mac to tell him that Zelda is awake. Like, you know. Don’t yell to Sandwiches to let her know that her daughter isn’t dead. The boyfriend is priority.
He patted my arm briefly before turning around and walking over to Mac to shake him. “Son?
Don’t call me son.
CALL ME SON ONE MORE TIME.
My dad’s voice, which had just been a whisper as we talked, boomed into the corner of the room, as he shook Mac.
Damn, Dave. Bring it down. Find some middle volume, for fuck’s sake.
Mac awoke, completely startled.
No shit. I don’t blame him. He’s out cold and his boss starts shouting at him.
Anyway, he jumps up all panicked, thinking something has gone wrong. This is probably the part where he’s like, “I just had the most horrible dream! I was in a terrible book where I exist only to reflect how awesome the protagonist is!”
Charles tells Mac everything is fine and he leaves to get The Lorax some water and to tell Sandwich like, hey, by the way, our kid isn’t dead. Mac rushes to Lart’s side and gives her kisses on her forehead and says:
“You awake is a sight for sore eyes.”
There had to be. I mean had to be. No way there wasn’t. A better way to word that sentence or leave the cliche out completely. There had to be.
Now, remember: Mac was used as a conduit for chaos magic without his knowledge or consent. But our beautiful, magjikkal princess of goodness and light is never responsible for anything she does. See, if she ever did accept responsibility for anything, that would create a plot. A plot would get in the way of pages upon pages of Zob Lombie being not like other girls and being fawned over by every man in the universe. So, what do we do to avoid conflict that would require introspection on character growth?
“I am so sorry,” he said with regret and guilt riddled all through his face. The look he gave me was that of a begging dog when you walk into the room and they’ve knocked over something priceless and important.
That’s right! It’s all Mac’s fault! He’s just going to apologize for his actions having an outcome he couldn’t have possibly foreseen because he didn’t have any idea he was being magically violated by Lazarus. And of course, she has no fucking clue why anyone would be apologizing, because oh, golly gee, she hasn’t pulled anyone’s memories. I’m calling such a monumental pile of bullshit on this. She knew the “illusion” was going wrong. She knew it was going wrong because of Mac. She should have, at that time, in that scene, been like, “oh, this is because I broke my connection with him” or some such other bullshit, because she knew she had to use him to ground or whatever. SHE WOULD NOT HAVE TAKEN THE TIME TO USE HIM IN HER MAGIC IF SHE DID NOT NEED HIM AND THEREFORE NONE OF THIS CAN COME AS A SURPRISE TO HER.
But still, when she asks why everyone is apologizing, Mac says:
“‘Cause, your dad and I screwed up––and you were the one that paid the price.”
OH MY GOD NOBODY SCREWED UP EXCEPT ZADE! NOBODY! NOT A GOD DAMN MOTHERFUCKING PERSON IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT HAPPENED TO ZADE BUT ZADE! ZADE DID IT! ZADE DID THIS!
God I hate this book so much. I just…
Even if Lani Sarem and Thomas Michael Chad William or who the fuck ever hadn’t scammed the bestseller list, I would still hate this book. Like, the lying, the sneakiness, the generally just being horrible people who think way, way too highly of themselves? That’s just FROSTING on my fucking hatred for this book. They could have been the nicest, most playfair, humble people in the universe and I would still want them jailed for the crime against humanity that is this horrible book. And the thing is, if they were the nicest, most playfair, humble people in the world THEY WOULD HAVE NEVER COMMITTED THIS HATE AGAINST THEIR FELLOW MAN IN THE FIRST PLACE!
So, some other shit happens and Zade says something stupid about how she guesses her inability to open her eyes is what blind people must feel like (I’m not kidding) and lectures the reader on the fact that pain makes people sleepy BUT WE ALREADY KNOW ABOUT THE HUMAN BODY’S RESPONSE TO EXCRUCIATING PAIN BECAUSE WE’RE READING THIS BOOK.
But whatever. I’m done with this chapter. DONE.