Friday, December 3, 2021

This isn't Goodbye it's Simply See You Later... Or is it?

Here we are on the brink of a new year. I'm not sure how 2021 went by so fast (seriously, I still haven't processed that 2020 is actually over) but I do have some goals in mind for 2022. 

My son enjoying the ocean on Jekyll Island in June during
a brief drop in Covid-19 numbers

First on the list? Start querying again.

It sounds easy enough. I'm no stranger to the process, I know the drill. I know rejection is part of that process.

And therein lies the problem.

In August of 2019 I wrote this post about why I was walking away from writing for a while. To make a long story short, it had a lot to do with dishonesty/disinterest from my publishers, parting ways with my agent, and getting ghosted by more than half the agents who requested my manuscript SHADOW PARK during my last attempt at querying. 

Since writing that post, I did a *major* rewrite to SHADOW PARK. And you know that feeling you get when you revise a manuscript, and it becomes clear that you gave the plot what it needed, and the story on the page is now exactly the story you set out to tell? 

That's how I felt when I finished this revision. 

With that much confidence in the rewrite, I should be positively vibrating with excitement to get out there and throw my hat back in the ring, right?


Sure, there's a tiny part of my brain that's spewing all the right adages: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take!" "You'll never know unless you try!" "The only way to fail is to stop trying!"

But then there's the logical voice in my head, piping up loud and clear to remind me, "You've been down this road, and publishing was the truck that ran you over and kept driving."


I just don't know if I can do it. 

On Wednesday I was feeling nostalgic about my book BUSTED, as I usually do around this time of year, since it's set in November-December and takes place on a Christmas tree farm.

I decided, for the first time in a very long time, to try and give it a boost via a giveaway on Tik Tok. Yes, I have barely any followers there, but their algorithm has been kind to some of my other #booktok posts, so I gave it a whirl. And of course, shared it to my other social media accounts. Here's the video:


The winter book of my ❤ ##booktok ##yabooktok ##booktokchallenge ##giveaway ##authorsoftiktok ##AmazonMusicJingleBellTok

♬ Christmas Tree Farm - Taylor Swift

I've learned not to expect much from any effort at book promo, but I'm always hopeful that my expectations will be exceeded. They weren't. Instead, my tip-toe back into author territory got a whopping two entries, and brought to the surface all the reasons I walked away in the first place: those ever-present feelings of not being enough. The constant wondering why no one cares. The beating myself up because it must be me, must be my fault if I can't make them care. Questioning my ability to write at all, because if no one else cares, then how can I claim that this is the thing I'm good at? 

This is why every time I even think about sending a query, I freeze. It's still so fresh in my mind: the waiting and waiting and waiting, the stopping of my heart when the reply finally pops up in my inbox. The dejection of rejection. The hopefulness of getting a request. The disappointment when it leads nowhere.

I honestly don't know if my self-esteem can take those hits again. It's one thing to love writing, but writers need their words to touch others. We need validation, we need an audience. We need people to care about our stories. We need ACCEPTANCE in an industry where the rejection is endless.

I put writing on the back burner because it was what my mental health needed at the time. But I don't feel "done." I still very much want to share my books with others. Especially SHADOW PARK, because I love it so much. I just don't know how to steel myself to inevitably having my words pushed back at me like an unwanted dinner plate, accompanied by a kind but insincere "No, thank you." I already know that feeling, and it nearly broke me once.

So how do I do this? How do I get the courage to start? How do I remind myself that rejection isn't personal, that it only takes one "Yes?" And then how do I keep pushing for that "yes" in a sea of "no?" How do I convince myself that I did this before and I can do it again? 

Because I already know all of those things, and I'm still paralyzed.

In the post I linked to from August, I mentioned that the aggravation and disappointment I'd been through didn't feel worth it without a bright side to balance the scales. And maybe that's why I can't bring myself to take the first step.

Because when I ask, Will it be worth it this time? I have no way of knowing. And the answer to that question is the "Yes" I need the most.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

I Have a Question for Trump Supporters

...Several questions, actually.

As we all know, President Trump and First Lady Melania tested positive for Covid-19 late last week. "Out of an abundance of caution," he was taken to Walter Reed Military Hospital for treatment of his "mild symptoms."

Let's back up to March, when news of a virus that originated in China and was rapidly spreading around the world was all over main stream media. Americans were urged by the CDC and by NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci to exercise "an abundance of caution" to protect themselves, i.e. frequent handwashing, keeping a distance of 6 feet from others, and avoiding public places as much as possible.

 But what was the Republican/conservative attitude back then?  Here it is, summed up in one video: 

For those who don't have time to watch the whole clip, let me provide a brief breakdown:

Rush Limbaugh, February 28: (0:18) "Corona virus is the common cold, folks."

Jeannine Pirro, March 7: (0:52) "All the talk about corona virus being so much more deadly {than the flu} doesn't reflect reality."

Matt Schlapp, March 11: (1:33) "It is very, very difficult to contract this virus."

KellyAnne Conway, March 6th: (2:30) "It is being contained. Do you not think it's being contained?"

Donald Trump, February 26th: (2:40) "This is a flu. This is like the flu. It's going to disappear one day, it's like a miracle." 

Note the dates on those quotes. Yes, the case numbers were still small at that point, and yes, Trump had already placed restrictions on traveling from China to the US, a decision I do commend him for (did you read that? I will give credit where credit is due). 

Trump had no problem commending *himself* for this decision, either. On January 22nd, he said, "We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China, it's going to be just fine." 

On February 2nd, he reiterated, "We pretty much shut it down coming in from China."

So positive was Trump in the success of his efforts that on February 24th, he tweeted this:

February 26th, the same day the first known community-spread case was identified in California, Trump told the media, "When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is gonna be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done."

And yet. And yet.

This was said AFTER the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran this article on February 12th headlined "200 Georgia Residents Are Being Monitored for Corona Virus."

For the record, I live in Georgia. The state which, on August 19th, 2020 was reported as "lead{ing} the nation in the rate of new virus cases with 216 cases per 100,000 people." 

More on that later. Back to the first article, which states, "Nearly 200 Georgia residents are quarantined in their homes after returning from recent trips to China, where a deadly new coronavirus has sickened more than 40,000 people."

Notice it does NOT read, "200 people are being detained in China for a mandatory 2-week quarantine." 

Nope. It says, "Georgia authorities were avoiding using the word quarantine, saying instead that people are being isolated in their homes for 14 days, the illness’ incubation period." And further on: "Georgia health officials have been calling each traveler to discuss the required, 14-day period of staying home and stressed the importance of notifying authorities of any potential symptoms of the virus."

Where was Trump when it was decided that TWO HUNDRED potentially exposed people should be allowed to repatriate in the same state, with nothing but a warning to complete an unenforced self-quarantine? How could he brag that cases would soon be down to zero with a) no proof whatsoever and b) no imposition of stricter quarantine on potentially exposed travelers? 

How is that "shut down," Mr. President? How is that "contained," Kellyanne Conway, who is also now infected

Less than 3 weeks after the AJC article ran, the first two cases of corona virus were confirmed in Georgia on March 2nd. In the county where I live. 

On March 5th, Trump tweeted this:

By this time, we were starting to learn more about the havoc the virus was wreaking in other countries. Horror stories were circulating on social media, like this piece titled "A Cry From Italy" that detailed the nightmarish scenario of overwhelmed ICUs and doctors having to choose who lived and who died.

"There are 2 reasons why Coronavirus has brought Italy to it’s knees. First it is a flu is devastating when people get really sick they need weeks of ICU – and, second, because of how fast and effectively it spreads. There is 2 week incubation period and many who have it never show symptoms."

This post circulated on March 11th the very same day that conservative activist Matt Schlapp claimed the virus was "very, very difficult to contract." It was also the same day that Dr. Anthony Fauci stated the virus was "ten times more lethal than the seasonal flu."

Stories were also emerging of how difficult it was to get tested for corona virus in the US. Only those meeting certain criteria (recent travel, high-risk health conditions, severe symptoms) were being tested, and many times, not even then.  

But here's what our president had to say about testing on March 6th:

I could continue with a detailed timeline, but that information can be found here and here. I think we all remember what happened at this point, even if not everyone remembers it the same way: local governments made decisions in regards to closing schools, many corporate men and women were sent home to work. Non-essential businesses closed, and several states issued shelter-in-place orders to limit people from traveling outside their communities.

photo credit:

And still, by April, New York had become an epicenter of the pandemic, with more than 15,000 people testing positive. 

Author and former literary agent Nathan Bransford recounted his experience as a New York resident and Covid patient here, stating, "My building overlooks Brooklyn Hospital Center, and every afternoon I'd see them rolling body bags into the mobile refrigerated morgues outside. One day I just stopped counting after seeing 11..." 

Read that again. Body counts were so high they were being stored in MOBILE REFRIGERATED MORGUES. 

photo credit:

On May 8th, David Muir from Nightline News asked Trump about the lack of supplies.

Trump's response? "The last administration left us nothing." (This is a lie. Obama left behind an entire pandemic playbook.) Trump claims, "We didn't have ventilators, we didn't have medical equipment, we didn't have testing." (How WOULD you have testing for a virus that didn't exist yet?)

When Muir pointed out that we were now 3 years into Trump's presidency and asked what he'd done to restock the cupboards, Trump fumbled through a list of excuses, including having "a lot of things going on," and "a lot of people who refused to let the country be successful" because they were too busy distracting him with "hoaxes" like Russia and Ukraine and impeachment.

As Trever Noah perfectly summed it up: "Trump spent 3 years not preparing for a pandemic because he was distracted by all the scandals he created."

At this point, unsurprisingly, Americans were asked to take greater precautions than ever, including the CDC recommending wearing masks in public. 

By now Trump had at least acknowledged that the virus was more serious than originally thought, but here's what he had to say about wearing masks (click the quote for video footage):

Once again leaving it up to local governments and businesses to be the bad guy, many of Trump's supporters were none too happy when certain places began requiring masks. I'm sure you remember how that went:

(I am not the photographer of these pictures)

Trump may have had a distaste for masks, but one thing he spoke very highly of is the drug hydroxychloroquine. He's seen in this video saying that the drug was given to people in "extraordinarily bad condition, people who were dying," and out of 300 patients, not one was lost. Trump goes on to say that he is preventatively taking the drug himself, and in July he retweeted a much-shared-among-conservatives video of  Dr. Stella Immanuel, in which she claims that hydroxychloroquine is Covid's "cure."

Click here for video footage of Immanuel saying, "This virus has a cure. It's called hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and Zithromax." She goes on to say, "Hello, you don't need masks. There is prevention, and there is a cure."

The video was later taken down, citing dangerous misinformation, but not before it was shared by both Trump and Trump Jr. to their collective millions of Twitter followers, an incredibly irresponsible move. 

There is a big difference between touting HCQ as an "effective treatment," and calling it a cure. In the same way that chemotherapy is oftentimes an "effective treatment" for cancer, it is in no way a cure. Semantics matter when lives are at stake. But conservatives claimed that removing the video was censorship, and further proof that Covid wasn't nearly as dangerous as others believed.  

In fact, raise your hand if you're Trump supporter who shared that video with a caption along the lines of, "Wake up, people!" Actually, you don't have to. I already know who many of you are. 

Let's imagine that you or someone close to you lost a loved one to cancer, the same way Amanda Kloots lost her husband Nick Cordero to Covid-related complications. Then you go online and see some quack doctor standing on the steps of the Capitol, pontificating about how no one needs to be scared of cancer, because it has prevention and a cure, and that cure is called radiation and chemotherapy. NOW do you see how dangerous and grossly negligent it was for a) Immanuel to make these claims and b) Trump to call attention to them and thereby imply his support of them?

Fast forward to today. Trump has the virus. And suddenly the same people in my social media feeds who were demanding that others "FOCUS ON THE SURVIVORS!" or "WAKE UP!" are suddenly calling for kindness and compassion.

To Trump's supporters, here is my question: How have you not realized that YOU are the ones who need to wake up?

In September it came to light that Trump knowingly downplayed the virus, as was revealed by his FEBRUARY 7th (remember he said, "This is like the flu" on February 26th??) interview with Bob Woodward: 

Yes, Bob Woodward should be considered a criminal for sitting on this information and waiting until 200,000 people had died from Covid to bring it to light. But you know what? SO. SHOULD. TRUMP. 

He willfully put lives in danger by downplaying the seriousness of this virus. 
He LIED about how contagious it is. 
He praised himself for "shutting it down" at the source even as potentially exposed and infected people poured back into the country.
He stood by instead of overriding poor decisions by local governments when they reopened too soon -- in some cases, like Georgia, before their shelter-in-place order had even finished, or when they sued the covid-positive mayor for trying to mandate masks
He refused to lead by example when it came to wearing masks.
He retweeted a call to fire Dr. Fauci after Fauci criticized the US response to the pandemic and no longer wanted Fauci's briefings when the doctor would not back Trump's claims on the benefits of hydroxychloroquine.
He circumvented the CDC and demanded hospitals send their Covid data directly to the Whitehouse. 

Now America has surpassed 200,000 deaths, a disproportionate amount of them black and brown people

For those who will undoubtedly say But the CDC admitted only 6% were Covid deaths: No, they didn't. If you don't want to read why that's false, here is a succinct explanation you can watch (click the link, the image is just a screen shot): 

So, like I was saying. 200,000 deaths, and 7.3 MILLION confirmed cases in the United States alone.

Trump is now one of those cases, despite taking the drug he never debunked as the "cure." And yet, he still got to the point of a positive test even while ingesting HCQ during the 2-week incubation period. Could that be because it's NOT. A FREAKING. CURE? And maybe he should have said as much, instead of tweeting a misleading video to all his followers, who then felt qualified to tell anyone who follows them on the internet to "wake up?"

Regardless, Trump has Covid. After thousands of Americans were turned away from hospitals or denied tests for not being sick enough, he -- a 74-year-old, overweight man who never would have been a priority in an overwhelmed hospital were he a civilian-- is getting the best care from the best doctors, in a 6-room hospital suite, paid for with tax dollars that he contributed nothing to, as a PRECAUTION for MILD symptoms.

Meanwhile, in the same week, here's what's still happening to another elderly, average American who also exhibited Covid symptoms (shared with permission from the person who posted it):

If you're reading this and you're not angered by any of it, or if you already knew all these things and you just don't care, my question for you is - WHY? 
Why are you not angry that you were misled and lied to? 
Why do you so willingly accept that rich elites should have immediate and free access to luxurious health care while others die on the floors of crowded ERs?
Why does it not bother you that these people died from the same virus that those rich elites agreed was contained, harmless, and about to disappear? 
Why do you not care that those words were said with FULL KNOWLEDGE that they were false?
Why doesn't it bother you that he threatened schools and teachers, knowing that this virus is most transmittable indoors, which meant the endangerment of children, too?
Why haven't I seen ANY of you apologize for the false information that you yourselves spread?
Why doesn't this make you wonder what else this man has lied about?

And my final question - Why would you possibly want another four years of this?
(Note: NONE of these questions were Why do you hate Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, or Hillary Clinton? So if that's what you choose to answer, you've already missed the point.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

BUSTED is $2.99 Across All E-Book Platforms!

If you're looking for a fun, suspenseful teen spy romance, BUSTED is on sale for $2.99 across all e-book platforms until September 3, 2019!

Go forth and get your $2.99 copy (that is SO CHEAP!) at any of the following:


Barnes and Noble

Google Play Books


Catching cheaters and liars is a lucrative hobby—until you fall for one of the suspects. Perfect for fans of Veronica Mars, this new novel from the author of Last Year's Mistake will steal your heart!
Marisa never planned to be a snoop for hire. It wasn't like she wanted to catch her best friend's boyfriend making out with another girl. But as her reputation for sniffing out cheaters spreads all over school, Marisa finds herself the reluctant queen of busting two-timing boys.
And her next case? It's for ex-frenemy Kendall. She's convinced her boyfriend, TJ, has feelings for someone else and persuades Marissa to start spying on him. But the more Marisa gets to know sincere and artistic TJ, the more she starts to fall for him. Worse yet, the feelings seem to be mutual. Marisa knows she needs to give up her investigation—and the spoken-for guy who may just be the love of her life. Then she uncovers new secrets about Kendall and TJ, secrets that take "cheater" to a whole new level...

Thursday, August 22, 2019

On Walking Away (For Now)

I wasn't going to write this post. It didn't feel necessary. After all, it's pretty easy to slip away from a party when hardly anyone noticed you were there. But then I wondered if maybe someone else out there is quietly reevaluating a lifelong dream (for the time being, anyway), and maybe they'd want to hear this.

So, here it goes:

I am not writing anymore.

This is not a permanent thing, and I say that with a decent degree of confidence. Writing is something I've always done, since the moment I knew how to scrawl words in a notebook. But lately the joy that writing used to bring me has gone missing.

It's not something that happened all at once. I didn't wake up one day and say, "Screw it, I don't want to do this." It's been a slow unraveling, with quite a few contributing factors.

Last year I had two books release from two different publishers. To say it was a frustrating experience is an understatement. Nothing felt the way it did when LAST YEAR'S MISTAKE came out in 2015. The excitement others showed for my debut was nowhere to be found, including from my publishers. I know this is normal - and I use that word very loosely, because debut culture is nonsense - but normal should be the last word to describe what I went through. Communication from my publishers was poor, honesty was not a priority. Or even an afterthought. There is so much more I could say here, but I'll leave it at this: I was devastated and disgusted by the time my books released, and unsurprisingly, both dropped off the radar immediately.

It didn't help that I had two launch parties, one in Georgia, and one in my home state of Connecticut, and the number of people who bailed on me was almost comical. Almost, if it hadn't been so hurtful. It was becoming a theme that people who used to care, people who were supposed to care, didn't. And as hard as I tried to shake it off, it still got to me.

In the midst of all this, I'd been revising a shelved manuscript that I truly loved. I'd shown it to my agent five years earlier, but this story was much darker than my debut, and not a book that fit neatly into a particular genre. He hadn't shared my enthusiasm for it the first time he read, so I'd put it away and forged ahead on other projects.

I couldn't forget about that manuscript, though. And so, years later, knowing I had an option book with one of my publishers, I threw myself into revising SHADOW PARK. I added some ten-thousand words and rearranged the majority of what I'd already written.

This time when I showed it to my agent, he was very complimentary. Far more so than he'd been after the first read, and I thought, I got it right this time. But then he made it pretty clear that he still wasn't confident about how it would hold up in the market, and thought my best bet for getting it published was as my option book.

Well. Turns out it wasn't.

My editor loved SHADOW PARK, but felt that with it's paranormal and psychological thriller aspects, it was too different from my three published contemporary romances. I, on the other hand, didn't see why that mattered. My published novels hadn't exactly set the world on fire. BUSTED had under 200 reviews on Goodreads at the time. Why was I only allowed to write novels in the same vein as the ones so few people had read? It made me want to pull my hair out. And so, after a 45-minute phone conversation with my editor, 15 minutes of which was spent curled up in a corner of my office trying to hear over my then-4-year-old yelling at the bottom of the stairs, I agreed to come up with a list of revisions that we could use as a springboard to make SP a book that worked for both of us.

Less than 2 weeks after that, my editor announced she was leaving the company. 

In August of 2018, SHADOW PARK was given to someone else in-house to review. But when the weeks turned into months with no one getting back to my agent or me, we decided to withdraw the manuscript and move forward.

Unfortunately, my agent and I very different definitions of "move forward." I was adamant that I wanted to go on sub with SHADOW PARK. He felt that it was a job best left to another agent.

And so, after seven years and three published books, I began 2019 unagented and down, but definitely not out. Not yet, anyway.

After I'd finished revising SHADOW PARK, I started working on a new contemporary romance. I was really enjoying it, too. But then I got stuck.

Every time I'd try to get the words flowing, a voice in the back of my mind would say, If SHADOW PARK gets me an agent, no one is going to want this. They're going to want a manuscript more like the one they're signing me for. I'm wasting my time writing this.   

I couldn't shut the voice up, because I had already lived the experience. When I wrote and published a contemporary romance as my debut, that became all anyone wanted from me. "Wanted," and yet those books got almost no marketing and no publicity, even when I begged for boosts of my own blind efforts at both. 

What was the point? So, 20K words in, I stopped writing the contemporary romance. Instead I jotted down preliminary ideas for another book, one that made more sense as a follow-up to SP. Despite being pretty excited about it, looking back, I realize I was trying to stay one step ahead of everything that anyone else might want from me. And that is simply not possible. 

I also began querying SHADOW PARK, determined to prove that this book deserved a place on shelves. Between February 11th and March 31st, I queried 12 agents. And when 6 of the 12 requested the manuscript fairly quickly, I was confident that I was on the right track.

This is where things get sticky. Stickier, I guess.

It's always been my preference to query in small batches, gauge the results, and revise either the query or the manuscript accordingly. With 6 requests from 12 queries, I knew the query letter was in good shape. But I also knew that if my requests turned into rejections, I'd want to revise the manuscript before sending more queries.

And so I waited.

Everyone knows that publishing moves at a snail's pace. Everyone also knows that it's useless to compare experiences, because no two are the same. But when I queried LAST YEAR'S MISTAKE, I had two offers of rep within 3 weeks of submitting the manuscript to the requesting agents. I thought there was a good chance that my track record would be at least *somewhat* similar.

Not this time. 10 weeks later, I had only heard back from one agent: a very kind rejection.

Now you'd think that in these 10 weeks, I would have been busying myself with SPs follow-up, the project I'd started outlining when I stopped writing my contemporary. You would be wrong.

Not only did I now have my 5-year-old home for the summer, no family nearby to help out, and my husband spending inordinate hours at the office, I was also still stuck. I couldn't get a solid hold on my newest idea, could not work out the details to fill in the skeleton. I was stressing myself out, and beating myself up. Not only over the book, but over everything. I felt like I was doing a million things half-assed, both professionally and personally, because there was SO MUCH that needed my attention all the time. Spending hours trying to untangle the words knotted in my brain meant there was never enough time for bills and cooking and dishes and laundry and errands and parenting, and when I'd let those things go in order to concentrate on my writing, I only ended up with nothing to show for it.

I found that I honestly didn't want to write. And so, as the silence in Queryland stretched on and my hope waned, I did everything but write. I even sat down and watched more than 20 minutes of TV for the first time in 6 years, which led to falling in love with Stranger Things. I hadn't realized how badly I needed to just do nothing, and doing it felt great.

What didn't feel so great?

Being 16 weeks out with querying, and still only having one response.

I couldn't believe that in four months, only *one* of six agents had gotten around to reading my manuscript. So, on June 10, I sent nudge emails to the two agents who'd had SHADOW PARK the longest.

One sent a form rejection ten days later. The other ignored my email completely.

And so, as of August 22nd, nearly TWENTY-EIGHT WEEKS after sending my first query, I am still waiting on answers from 3 of those 6 agents, two of whom have had the manuscript since February.

By now, I'm assuming they're all passes. I'm assuming the manuscript needs more work, work that I haven't done yet in case I got feedback I could use as guidance. But here's the thing: I shouldn't have to assume. In almost any other industry, 28 weeks to give someone a yes or a no would be unacceptable. I, or anyone else, also shouldn't have to accept that sub-par treatment of smaller authors and their books is a publishing norm. Why is so much emphasis placed on a book's marketability when so few published books actually get sufficient marketing? None of it makes sense. And neither does stretching myself paper-thin knowing it will never be enough.

And so, for now, I'm walking away from writing. I need to get back to a place where I can sit down and write simply because I want to. I enjoyed it once, and I want to enjoy it again. But in order to do that, I need to distance myself from everything that's ruined it for me. I have so much disgust and resentment weighing me down, and without a bright side to balance the scale, it just doesn't feel worth it to keep going.

I won't feel this way forever. Creating stories is a part of who I am, and it's a part that I need to make whole and healthy again. I'm not there yet. But when I am, I hope that some changes have been made in the publishing world. I hope the list of things that authors just aren't supposed to talk about it isn't quite as long. And I hope to see you all on the other side.

- Gina   

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Review: What I Loved About Stranger Things 3 (And What I Didn't)

Hi there! It's been a while since I've blogged about books. It's been a while since I blogged, period.

I wasn't going to write a review of a TV show, but then I realized this is my blog, and I can post about whatever I want. If I'm going to take the time to sit down and write about something, it might as well be something that makes me happy. Lately that's a fairly short list, with the show Stranger Things very close to the top.


My sister has been telling me to watch this show for ages. But alas, I was one of the last people on the planet to get Netflix, and I didn't actually heed her advice until May of this year, two months before season 3 was set to drop.

And let me tell you, I fell SO HARD in love with everything about Stranger Things.

Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers, the warrior mom who refuses to be dismissed or mocked when her missing son starts speaking to her through lights? Give that woman every award on the planet for her performance.

The pure, sweet relationship between Mike and Eleven? MY FREAKING HEART.

The unexpected father/daughter dynamic between El and Hopper? You bet your ass I burst into tears when I saw Jane Hopper written on that birth certificate.

I could go on, but I'll just say that after six years of watching almost no TV at all, I spent my son's last week of school glued to the couch, binge-watching two seasons of Stranger Things, feeling things I hadn't felt about a TV show since Smallville. I never wanted it to end. But, of course, it had to.

Luckily the wait for more wouldn't be *too* long, since I'd been so late to the party to begin with. But when the season 3 teaser clips started to trickle in, I admit... I got nervous.

I mean, Mrs. Wheeler lounging poolside, making eyes at Billy?

I'm sorry, but that's a big bucket of NOPE. Dacre Montgomery may be 24 (and smokin' hot), but his character is supposed to be a recent high school graduate. It might have been funny and understandable when Mrs. Wheeler, fresh from reading a romance novel in the tub, got flustered by Billy's unexpected presence at her door, but hinting that something might actually happen between the two of them?


And then I kept seeing/hearing the word "bigger" being used to describe the new season. Bigger budget, bigger monsters, bigger romances, bigger bromances. That word "bigger" worried me, too. Here's why:

We've all seen shows that start off solid and well-written suddenly lose sight of what made them special when their popularity explodes. I didn't care about "bigger," and I didn't want that to be what the Duffer brothers cared about either. I started to fear that the things I loved about the show, the heart-melting relationships and the stories that had formed so organically in seasons one and two, would be played up to the point of being silly and played out.

The anticipation was terrible. It was like having a huge crush on someone, being in that stage when they're so perfect, and just knowing that it can't be long until the flaws rear their ugly heads.

So did they? Well.

Yes and no.

Let me say this first about Season 3: On the whole, I loved it. I laughed, I cried, I swooned, I gasped. I binged the whole damn thing in a day, even though I had a massive headache by episode five.

Here's what I loved: 

- Mike and Eleven
These two. They have owned my heart since the moment El asked Mike if he'd be like her brother and Mike said hell to the no and kissed her. That's paraphrasing, obviously, but I drove an hour in  traffic with a full bladder and a hungry five-year old just to get a glimpse of the room where that moment happened, so that should tell you how hard I ship them.

*More pics from my stalking of Stranger Things sites at the end of this post*

Finally getting to watch these two together and happy, even if it was only briefly, was everything. And wow, did they step up their kissing game.

- Lucas
Lucas has to be the most underrated member of the party. He consistently cracked me up in seasons 1 and 2, and season 3 was no different. Watching him bumble his way through his relationship with Max was gold, even if Max herself is not on my list of favorites. More on that later.

 - Hopper putting Mike in his place
I know a lot of people had a problem with Hopper's rage this season, and I'm one of them. I'll talk more about that in a minute, but how anyone doesn't think Mike wasn't a disrespectful little shit to Hopper in the opening episodes is beyond me. Teenage me would've been scared shitless of a big, loud, gun-carrying cop like Chief Hopper, but Mike flat-out mocks him when he's making a legit effort to speak calmly. And whispering in El's ear and laughing while Hopper is talking? Oh man did the parent in me want to smack him. So I admit, I very much enjoyed watching Hop explode once he lured Mike away from El. And the fact that he also referred to her as his daughter for the first time? Yes, I burst into tears.

 -Mrs. Wheeler backing out on Billy
For obvious reasons that I've already covered. Thank God they let this one die.

- Mr. Clarke
I freaking love Randy Havens as Mr. Clark. I hope they find a reason for him to open a curiosity door in every season, no matter how ridiculous it may be.

- Will's Heartbreak
It's not that I loved poor Will being tortured by the emotional abandonment from his friends, but I absolutely loved the believability of it. Noah Schnapp is so talented, and his portrayal of Will feeling lost and not being ready to grow up really struck a chord in me. I remember the pain of growing apart from friends, watching them become something I didn't recognize, and I thought this aspect of the story was done so well. If you're not crying when he's hugging Lucas in the finale, then congratulations, you have a heart of stone.

- The Scoops Troop
Maya Hawke is an A+ addition to the cast. Funny, witty, smart, taking none of Steve's shit. And Erica as a closet brainiac and queen of fearless sass is pure joy to watch, minus the ridiculous political  speech. The Steve/Robin truth serum scenes were hilarious, and the fact that Steve responded to Robin confessing her crush on a girl by telling her said girl wasn't nearly good enough for her just made me love Steve even more. The four of them together were so much fun, even if their storyline was completely unbelievable I had a very had time believing that any of them would've actually escaped this season alive, for reasons I'll get to shortly.

Dacre Montgomery performing his ass off as flayed Billy
Seriously, this man was a master class in acting this season. Watching Billy get taken over by the mind flayer was chilling, and unexpectedly heartbreaking.

I *hated* Billy in season 2, and I didn't think I'd care if such an inherent dickface got fed to a demogorgon. But then Eleven reminds him of who he was BEFORE the dickface, and years of anger melt off him right before our eyes. We see a tiny glimpse of the Billy underneath it all, and then he stands up and sacrifices himself to the mind flayer in Eleven's place. It was the redemption we all deserved, and yes, I cried. The impact was made even more powerful by some of Dacre's recent posts on Instagram, about his struggles as an actor. I respect and admire him all the more for it. Rest in peace, Billy.

- Mike accidentally admitting he's in love with Eleven
I'm sorry, I have to come back to Mike here. He is just so good to El, always looking out for her, defending her, protecting her. I fully agreed with what he said about the others treating her like a machine, because it's always been a personal theory of mine that because she bleeds and sometimes collapses when she uses her powers, maybe they're somehow damaging her. It seems so odd to me that he's the only one fearful of how situations affect her, or at least the only one who vocalizes it. And when he says "I love her" in the middle of one of those vocalizations and his expression immediately turns to "Oh shit," it's just the most adorable, priceless, classically Mike moment, and I could watch it on repeat.

- The Neverending Story Interlude
I know a lot of people had a problem with this sequence, but oh my God, I am so not one of them. I LOVED it. Erica's face when Dustin started singing was the best thing ever, and it was the perfect reprieve from the nail-biting intensity of episode 8. It reminded me of a song and a movie I'd almost forgotten, but never will again. And yes, things might've turned out very differently if this moment hadn't happened, but nevertheless, I am so glad it did.

And now for the things I was not so excited about....

Here's what I didn't love:

- Eleven getting a whole new wardrobe with no mention of how she paid for it
Yes, the mall sequence with Max and Eleven was cute. But how does a girl who's been squirreled away in a cabin for two years and never had a job buy herself a whole new wardrobe, PLUS get glamour shots done? And if Max paid, where did *she* get the money? None of them work. It's a small detail, but there are SO many inconsistencies like this in season 3, and viewers are just expected to forgive them. But here's the thing: we're already willingly suspending our disbelief for the big stuff. When the little details don't add up, it's irritating. And even kind of insulting. If I've already agreed to believe that a bunch of rats can explode and meld together to form a giant monster, please don't also ask me to believe that clothes were free in 1985.

And yet, your girlfriend just got a whole new wardrobe

-Mike's and Will's Hair
The 80's may be famous for bad hair, but how does anyone look at Finn Wolfhard's beautiful curls and think, "Eh, let's turn it into a toadstool?" And I'm sorry but Noah's wig was just cruel and unusual punishment.

- Max
Before anyone throws rocks at me, I didn't hate *everything* about the El/Max friendship. I liked that Max gave El a boost in confidence and the all-important speech about there being more to life than boys. But speaking of boys.... does she even like Lucas anymore? Because it was kind of hard to tell. She spends most of her time annoyed with him and we learn that she's dumped him FIVE times since they got together at the end of season 2. I'm pretty sure if I was being serial-dumped by someone, I'd tell them to take a hike, especially if I knew they were calling me stupid behind my back every five minutes. But even that didn't bother me as much as when she accused Mike of being possessive and controlling for worrying that El might get brain damage by overusing her powers. Max said brain damage wasn't a real thing, that Mike was making it up, which, what? Brain damage had definitely been identified as a real thing in the 80's, so she was either being very ignorant or very mean, or maybe a little of both. I know she was trying to be a champion for El's independence, but a lot of the time she came across as a know-it-all, and it really bugged me.

- Ragey Hopper
Part of the appeal of Hopper's character is his flaws. His life fell apart with the death of his daughter and he struggled with addiction and anger. He gets scared, he blows up, he realizes he's gone too far, and then the tough guy facade crumbles and he comes through with a heartfelt apology. At least that's been the pattern before now. In season three, the anger never quite seemed to ebb, and he spent so much of the season yelling at Joyce that I kind of wanted to slap him on her behalf.

JOYCE! He's firing a machine gun at us! But
don't worry, not one bullet will hit us!
I was really hoping to see more of the father/daughter relationship with Hopper and Eleven in season 3, but he wastes all their time together hating on Mike. Yes, he more than redeems himself in the end with that devastating final look at Joyce and the letter to El that ripped my heart to shreds, but if Perpetually Angry Hopper was supposed to be funny, I wasn't laughing.

- Joyce going slapstick
To be clear, I am team Joyce 4eva. But season 3 Joyce was a shadow of the fierce, take-no-shit Joyce from seasons one and two. I fully understand that her obsession with her magnets losing their magnetism stemmed from a fear that Hawkins lab was once again up to no good. I get it. But having her pore over library books and then show up unannounced at Mr. Clarke's house for a tutorial was silly at best, even if I screamed with glee at Randy Havens' cameo.

My magnets are falling off my fridge, but my lipstick stays
in place the entire season!
I admit, it was nice to see her slightly less frazzled, and there were definitely moments when she had me laughing, but something was missing this season. Winona Ryder shines as mama bear, a role she didn't really get to play when the adults were separated from their kids for most of the episodes. Which leads me to my next point...

Why does no one except Joyce know/care where their kids are?
Erica in the Russian bunker was hilarious, yes. Supposedly her parents thought she was sleeping at her friend Tina's house, and she mentioned the ass-whooping that awaited her and the others if she wasn't back in time for Uncle Jack's party... which she wasn't.

So why was no one looking for her? Or Lucas, for that matter? Even when Joyce found Mrs. Wheeler at the carnival and asked where the kids were, Karen didn't have a clue. Hopper was more fired up about Mike being attached to El's face than the fact that another gate existed. And I know that parenting was far less helicopter-ish in the 80's, but these people live in a town where a child went missing and had his death faked by the same government lab that raided their middle school. You'd think the 'rents would keep closer tabs, but apparently it's all water under the bridge? Come on now.

- Speaking of Russian bunkers... HOW WERE THERE NO SECURITY CAMERAS?
Let me get this straight. The Russians built their lair beneath the Starcourt mall. They access it via a loading dock that doubles as a secret elevator, and is guarded by hulking men with automatic weapons. Said lair is outfitted with top-of-the-line technology in order to open a portal to another dimension, but the one expense the Russians spared was... security cameras? Because how else does the Scoops Troop wander the halls for - as Erica says - THREE HOURS without being spotted? They should've been captured and killed in minutes, but I guess we were supposed to be so wowed by the bunker itself as to not care about this detail? Well, I cared.

Some Russian bunker sub-points that also annoyed me:
 - Robin taught herself Russian in a day using nothing but a paperback dictionary and Dustin's Cerebro recording. She then cracked their top-secret code in a matter of minutes. I don't care if she claims her ears are geniuses, I don't buy this for a second. 

Plus I can spend the night in a Russian
bunker, puke my guts up, and, like Joyce,
never have my lipstick come off
- Steve figured out that the Russian communication... which originated in the bunker BELOW ground... came from inside the Starcourt mall when he recognized the music from the Indiana Flyer horse.... which was inside the mall, above ground. Anyone else confused as to how the music traveled all that way?

- Hopper mowed down three Russian guards with a machine gun - A MACHINE GUN. And not only did no one hear/see it, but he, Joyce, and Murray then took the dead guys' uniforms and WORE THEM, even though they should've been soaked with blood and guts. But somehow weren't?

- Erica got involved because she was the only one small enough to fit in the vents. So how did Murray manage to maneuver through them so easily? Different points of entry, yes, but weren't they still the same vents?

Last but not least....
- Eleven losing everything
Not cool, Duffer brothers. You did my girl so, so dirty this season. You took away her powers, her dad, and the only home she's ever known.

Is that really the mind flayer flashing across her forehead??

If season 4 doesn't give this sweet child back everything she lost, and I do mean EVERYTHING (Hopper is not dead, DO NOT TELL ME OTHERWISE), I will boycott everything you ever do. Pettiness is my superpower and there is no compromise.

In conclusion, I really did enjoy season 3. Everything I loved about seasons 1 and 2 was still there, even if a little muddled by attempts at "bigger" that didn't always hit the mark. I just hope that the Duffer brothers realize that bigger isn't always better, and worry more about consistency than flash in season 4. The incredible cast and the relationships between the characters are truly what make this show shine, and I will tune in forever as long as that light exists.

Meanwhile, here are the pics from my and my son's summer outings to a few ST filming sites:

Starcourt Mall
This is in Duluth, GA about 30 minutes from my house. We visited twice, once in June and once in August, both times spur-of-the-moment. The first time we walked in as another production was being filmed for Netflix, a movie called Holidate that stars Emma Roberts. The whole mall was decorated for Christmas, and there were extras in winter clothes, despite it being 90 degrees outside and at least 500 degrees inside the mall.

Unfortunately, the Starcourt set was behind partitions and had guards stationed at each end who wouldn't let us stop and stare, let alone take photos. So even though I had a great view of the mall through the gaps in the barriers, these were the best pictures I could get of the interior:
(Damn right, we brought our Eleven doll)

That first picture of my son was taken inside the Beauty Master Store, which can be seen here (top pic is mine, bottom pic courtesy of Finn Wolfhard's Instagram:

The second time we visited, accordion doors still separated the Starcourt set from the Beauty Master store. But the view was no longer obstructed, and we could see they'd removed all the 80's storefronts and the collapsed pillars that had been there the first time:

Pics on the right are mine, pics on the left are screen shots from You Tube
The Wheeler/Sinclair Houses
The next site we crossed off our list was the neighborhood where Mike and Lucas live. These are real homes, occupied by real families, so even though it was a quiet neighborhood that would've been perfect for a walk with my son, I didn't want to linger. I did get these pics of the Wheeler house and the Sinclair house, though:

Hawkins Middle School
Our last visit was to Hawkins Middle School, and despite hitting the worst traffic I've ever encountered and thereby having to make an unplanned pit stop, I think this one was my favorite. We were able to walk the grounds and see the spot where the boys spied on Max, the gym where the Snow Ball was held, and the room where Mike and El kissed for the first time (from the outside).

(Top pic is a screen shot from ST, bottom pic is mine)