(Light spoilers for Yampellec’s Idol with this one–y’all know how I feel about spoilers, so I promise they don’t reveal details and I will not approve any comments that spoil the books further. But skip if you’re not up to date on the series.)
Y’all know how much I love the show Psych–I named my kittens Shawn and Gus after all. I think I’ve seen it all the way through five or six times–all eight seasons*.
There are certainly things that didn’t land well the first time, let alone age well–mainly the transphobia, which always bothered me, but at least was relegated to maybe three or four instances so can be skipped/ignored. Usually, the show stuck the landing.
Except in one rather significant area: how it handled Juliet and the aftermath of Shawn’s betrayal, when she learned he had lied to her for years about being a psychic.
At first, things seemed to be progressing well. There was the episode where Shawn considered two paths–the real one, with the truth known, and another, where he continued to lie to Juliet. And at the very end, when she confronts him, and he says “If I’d just done this differently, you wouldn’t know and we’d still be happy” she is furious. And I thought, Oh, the writers know what they’re doing–he can’t be that oblivious. He’ll apologize. He’ll right a wrong. Juliet has been betrayed, she deserves better.
There were a handful of episodes of tension when she moved out and they struggled to get along. And then along came an episode where Shawn is woken by Gus in the middle of the night and Juliet is just…right there, asleep next to him.
Shawn never properly apologized.
Shawn never worked to regain her trust.
Shawn never actively made amends or showed he’d grown to realize lying to the woman you love is fucking wrong.
And Juliet…just went along with it.
Reader, that has never not pissed me off.
It made me think less of Shawn as a character, of Juliet as a character, and, quite frankly, of the writers themselves for making these choices.
Juliet deserved better.
All of our heroines deserve better.
I have read book after book, seen show after show (looking at you, my beloved trash PLL), watched movie after movie, in which men betray women and irreparably cause them harm and…there are no consequences. The heroine, after her initial anger, forgives him. Maybe after a big gesture. Maybe not.
What the ever-loving fuck.
It’s honestly at the point where sometimes I wonder if I am completely fucking crazy here, though a friend reminded me that the reason Mr. Darcy has endured as a hero for two hundred years is that he takes the deserved dressing-down from the heroine and fixes his shit. He doesn’t even intend for her to know what he does for her family–he does it because it’s the right thing to do, because he realized he was guilty of the things she accused him of. He wants to do better.
Lizzie Bennett knew her worth.
What about the rest of us?
I am not my characters, but I like to see them as my friends.
I root for them. I hurt for them. I get angry for them. I wish I could fix their flaws for them. I want them to be happy.
And like any good friend, I don’t want to see my heroines compromise themselves for men who are acting shitty.
I admit I am…genuinely baffled by the people–women!–who have said to me directly that they don’t understand why Livi would not forgive West at the end of Yampellec’s Idol. To the point where I’m wondering if I’m just a really shitty writer for it being unclear?
This is a man who did not do the bare fucking minimum of even apologizing to her.**
Why would I have her forgive that? How could I write a multi-book journey with this woman and see all she’s been through, all her insecurities, all she’s endured (she is a fucking rape victim!), and have her to accept back a man betrayed her to the degree he did?
And I say this as someone who loves West! He’s my favourite character. But boy done fucked up and, as a writer, I do not reward that kind of behaviour. It doesn’t matter that he self-sabotages–and knows it. It doesn’t matter how he feels. It matters what he’s done.
Livi deserves better.
Women deserve better.
This is not unique to Livi!
Zara Lain, both in Oblivion and the post-Oblivion stories (Dial V, Counterpoint) makes it abundantly clear that she still loves Nate more than anything, but both of them need to work their individual shit out AND that they deserve better than one another the way things are currently. This is not me being obtuse as a writer–this is knowing how deeply damaged these people are, and that they (at least, at the time thought) have centuries to figure it out and do it right.
The more issues you give your characters, the heavier their baggage, the more work you have to put in as a writer to show them doing the work of sorting their shit out.
I, for one, liked to see glimmers of happiness for Livi in the most recent book. I liked that, for a little while, she got to be with a man who made her feel safe. Who initiated conversations with her about consent and boundaries, who wanted to ensure he didn’t hurt her. When she was going through hell, that’s what she needed, and while I think I ultimately deleted the conversation in edits, there was a point where Pru said that to her too. It doesn’t need to be the love the century for it to still be good for her.
Someone said to me on Twitter a little while ago that why she absolutely trusts me with this series is because Richard was as much of a toxic asshole as she called from the moment she saw him. Because so often heroines in books go all heart-eyes over those types of men and they end up being viable love interests.
I planted those red flags intentionally with that character, because I too have read those sorts of books and it drives me nuts when these obvious douchebags are glossed over.
And although they’re different, there are also BRIGHT RED FLAGS with West as well. Glaring crimson, the size of billboards. He has repeatedly waved them in front of Livi’s face.
So when the truth of it is before her…Livi chooses herself.
She puts herself first. She will not compromise herself. And if she had, at this point in the series, attempted for forgive that betrayal, that would’ve ended spectacularly badly because I know West and he is going to fuck up again and again and again. He hasn’t learned a fucking thing.
Of course that choice hurts. I’d love for it to be easy, but we all know it isn’t. It sucks and it hurts and I wish circumstances were different.
It’s still the right choice.
My heroines will choose to be alone before they accept less than they deserve–I’ve seen enough compromising in real life, thank you.
This is, after all, The Livi Talbot Series. It’s right there in the name–this is about her journey and always will be.
I am an urban fantasy and thriller writer. This means, among other things, I am very unlikely to ever guarantee a romantic HEA in anything I write***–that doesn’t mean some books won’t have it but, I mean, have you met me? (There is a reason I don’t write erotic romance anymore!)
But what I can guarantee, 100% every time, are two things:
- I won’t kill pets, even via old age or off page.
- I am aware of red flags among shitty men and they never get off consequence-free with my heroines. ****
That is the kind of writer I aspire to be: the kind you can trust not to idealize toxic relationships or abusive behaviour. That when you read something of mine and you start thinking 🚩🚩🚩…at least you know I’m aware of it too and I’m going to do something about it (probably involving murder). My stories will hurt, and they will be dark, but I will never betray you in that regard.
Love does not heal men who betray. No one has a magic vagina that zaps the lying sack of shit out of them.
People get better by doing the work. Until such a time? My heroines come first.
Because they deserve better.
If you, too, like heroines who come into their own and decide take the step to put themselves first, let me introduce you to my girl Lizzie Grace.
* Although I haven’t seen it since Gus died.
** TBH I don’t remember–I don’t think he did, but after knowing people are currently reading that book having stolen from me, given how much that book means to me, I am literally queasy at the thought of looking up those final scenes to refresh my memory.
*** Particularly not when I can’t complete a series as intended.
***** There is, in fact, an excellent chance of them being murdered!