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 ...but I don't see it? What am I missing?

Article after article start off with "there's so many gay people on TV!" "there's so many LGBT characters on TV!" "ZOMG SO MANY CHARACTERS!" but usually very light on specifics.

And I'm not seeing them - not only am I not seeing them but I'm reviewing a vast amount of media for 
Fangs for the Fantasy and still not seeing them. We're reviewing 14 shows at the moment: Walking Dead, Z Nation, Resurrection, Once Upon a Time, Forever, Originals, Supernatural, Sleepy Hollow, American Horror Story, The 100, Vampire Diaries, Grimm, Haven and Constantine and only 4 of them have LGBT characters: Walking Dead has a background, near-silent lesbian who makes T-Dog look positively involved in the group. Vampire Diaries and Originals have GBFs who do nothing but support the straight characters and disappear for several episodes at a time and American Horror Story has a sexualised intersex woman who tried to "convert" gay men and 2 gay male villains (and several murdered gay men).

4 of 14 and none of them a major character. Most of them really really tiny tokens.

And this isn't just a bad season. Summer had precious little extra - in fact all year the only notably LGBT characters we've had were on In The Flesh (a mini-series) and Orphan Black (which came with the bitter taste of a grossly stereotyped and walking joke, Felix).

In fact, in
 2012 we looked at the LGBT characters on all the shows we'd covered at the time - when we'd watched 39 TV series and it was pretty dismal. Well, it's 2014 and we have now covered or looked at 81 different TV series - and of those 81, a full 41 have not one single LGBT character. A further 9 have a tiny LGBT character for 1 single episode and 11 have an LGBT character as someone minor lurking in the background (like Tara on The Walking Dead or Carolyn on Under the Dome).

That's 61. 61 out of 81 have no LGBT characters or teeny tiny walk on roles. Of the remaining 20 with meaningful LGBT presence, 11 (maybe 12) of those shows have been cancelled and 1 is on its last season. 3 of them had a bisexual female characters briefly mention their bisexuality before the whole show focused ferociously on opposite-sex relationships and lots of we-shall-never-speak-of-this-again so while they had a major LGBT character (which was great) if you missed one episode you'd probably not know it. There's also a lot of dubious tropes in the remainder

So, I'm not getting the hype. Is it the genre? Are there lots of LGBT characters out there but if you're a fan of speculative fiction then tough? LGBT characters have always been more common in soaps (large cast, no focused protagonist - lets you "dilute" the inclusion) and sitcoms 
(LGBT people in general and gay men especially are a common and cringe-worthy thread of dubious comedy). Which always leaves me having to choose between shows that annoy me (because a lot of these shows rely on offensive tropes - like the sexually predatory lawyer apparently solving every case with his cock) or shows that completely erase me - and if I want a show that's actually in a genre I enjoy AND acknowledges I exist? Well... they're rare. If I want that AND without homophobic tropes as well? Yeah, it's slim pickings

But even considering the possibility I just enjoy a very heterosexist genre, I look at 
GLAAD's extremely generous report and I see Under the Dome, Vampire Diaries, The Originals and Dracula noted as highlights... and... damn. It would almost be funny to have these teeny, tiny and often insulting tokens be considered "highlights". So is it even a genre problem so much as even a minority of shows including near non-existent tokens considered something to jump up and down about?

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 There appears to have been a misconception about why I blog about what I blog about and why I co-run Fangs for the Fantasy. I suppose I can see why, I mean, I can’t even tell you ALL the reasons why I do both because there’s a lot there.

 There’s some venting. There’s the need to expose tropes and problematic representations and erasure in the hope that awareness will bring change. There’s an equal need to expose these simply because we consume them without questioning all the time and unless we do start questioning they will shape us. There’s the need to demand representation and inclusion everywhere – not decide that certain genres don’t matter or we can be confined to a niche. Oh there’s a bazillion reasons, I’ve written whole posts on the reasons.

 But I do NOT do this to “find allies.” Never have. Finding allies is not on my to-do list. I don’t even particularly like the word “ally” because it’s so loaded with so many unpleasant connotations and experiences that I avoid it – the actions of too many self-appointed “allies” have rendered the word fairly irredeemably negative.

 When it comes to people’s position in reference to a battle for equality I see two broad categories:

1)      Arseholes
2)      People Who Are Not Arseholes

An Arsehole is one who doesn’t believe a marginalised group deserves the same level of respect/rights/whatever as non-marginalised people. There are obviously different degrees of Arseholes. Some like to go out killing marginalised people, some want to campaign against our rights, some just think there’s far too many of Those People on TV and wish we’d keep it indoors. Some Arseholes will tell you how much they absolutely love us – until we don’t follow their own internal script on who/how we should be.

Regardless of the varying degrees of stink clinging to them – they’re all Arseholes.

People who are not Arseholes are just that – they think LGBT people (and all marginalised people) are people worthy of as much respect as privileged people. Despite them being relatively rare people, this is not an achievement worthy of much praise. This is the bare minimum standard for decent humanity – and should be your default setting. If it isn’t, you’re an Arsehole and should be treated as such

Is it possible that, with much work and explanation, I could convince an Arshole to not be an Arsehole? Yes – but not only is that work and painful and difficult, it’s also deeply dehumanising. I find it soul-deep offensive to have to convince someone I am an actual person worthy of respect. Having to defend, explain or justify my humanity is demeaning, it’s belittling and I loathe doing it. Almost as much I hate people telling me how much they’re struggling not to be an Arsehole.

So no, I’m not trying to “find allies.” And even if I were, it’d be impossible to do so by being nice. Someone who respects my rights and humanity and my personhood only so long as I play nicely is not my ally. LGBT people (and all marginalised people) should not have to buy respect and equality by jumping through your hoops and fawning at your feet. I am a person, no matter what – whether I’m mean, cruel, surly, caffeine deprived, sarcastic, plain nasty or whether I’m nice, patient, kind, gentle and saintly. My personhood is not dependent on my conduct – and all marginalised people do not need to show impeccable behaviour to be found worthy of equality

So don’t ever tell me that I’m failing to find allies or I’m driving allies away. The first is not actually something I’m trying to do or want to do. The second is impossible with a genuine ally – because a genuine ally would support our rights as a full human being no matter how much of an ornery, surly git I am.


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 About every fortnight or so we get an email to our Fangs account which follows a very predictable pattern:

 It begins with gushing praise for our social justice perspective for Urban Fantasy and our analysis of tropes and marginalised issues.

 This then segues into a request. They need help. They’re writing a book and they want advice with THIS character or THAT one. They want to include a minority but they don’t know how. Is this a trope? Is that? Is this ok? This totally offensive portrayal is ok because I’m a special snowflake… right? Or maybe we could beta for them? Or how about “review” their unpublished book? Just so they know they’ve got it right! Can’t we just help them?

 This usually follows, after a refusal, with a “I thought you cared?!”

 We do care. And we have helped. We created Fangs for the Fantasy. We have written nearly 100 posts on marginalised issues in the media. We have poked tropes and stereotypes, erasure and insults, slurs and depictions and themes and gods know what else.

 We have helped. We have created a resource and put a lot of work on it. And not just us – far from just us – there are many resources out there created by marginalised people dedicated to addressing every marginalised issue – including the media.

See this is what bothers me about the whole “duty to teach” thing. Not just that privileged people feel entitled to get spoon fed information – but that in doing so they are stepping over the vast resources we have ALREADY provided.

Look at the internet! Marginalised people have spent untold hours – years even – producing blogs, sites, forums, guides and who knows what else on every last marginalised issue under the sun. We have already poured out incredible effort here – and that effort can also come with considerable emotional pain since it involves poking at our sore spots AND it means exposing ourselves to an often very hostile backlash from privileged folks

 And this is why we often get short, bad tempered, snappy or flaming enraged when asked questions we consider inane. Because we have answered these questions. Not only have we answered them but we have handed these resources to you, resources that cost us to make, but then you’re not using them.

 Personally, I don’t mind answering questions – I have been professionally trained to endure the most annoying of questions. If I don’t feel like answering I will ignore you until I have the Dice to handle them. Or I may just post links to where I have already answered the questions rather than repeat myself. But when people ask me to work through their books after getting my contact details from a site where I have put in untold hours giving them just the information they ask for… yeah, even my temper frays a little there.

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Supernatural is one of the longest running shows we follow; the Winchester brothers have been fighting against demons, vampires, werewolves, angry spirits, angels and anything else you can imagine for an incredible 9 years, 8 seasons (and a 9th season has already been planned) and a massive 168 episodes and counting.

That’s a long time and in that time we’ve had an amazing number of people hang around with the Winchesters. We’ve had monsters galore, victims in spades, people to protect and shelter, the occasional love interest, allies occasionally and, pretty rarely, the odd friend who has joined them in their struggle.

But such a lengthy presence on our screens makes it easy to see patterns of representation - and erasure. Any show that lasts this long and, because of that, has a great many characters is going to be more heavily criticised for it’s erasure than a shorter lived on. After all, a single season show with a small cast of 3 characters and less than a dozen extras is going to have less scope for inclusion or developing numerous minority characters - not that it makes the erasure tolerable by any stretch - but when you have 168 episodes and a gazillion people with which to present some decent diversity and you still fail? That’s almost willful.

Supernatural is not diverse on any real front - throughout its run the majority of the regularly recurring characters have, by far, been cis, straight, white men: Sam, Dean, Bobby, Castiel, Crowley - even Garth. We have a few women, but most of them are dead. Kevin has tried to shift some POC into the line-up by reading feverishly in a boat and Bobby was, briefly, disabled before he was magically cured when it became too awkward, but you can hardly say the show has made more than a token attempt at inclusion.

When it comes to GBLT characters, the pickings have been slim; we have a very very few gay characters and no trans characters. The very first was a lesbian who appeared in Season 2, Episode 21
All Hell Breaks Loose, she was one of the demon children, along with Sam and she accidentally used her power to kill her girlfriend (behold, the dangers of gay sexuality!) After that, she is brutally murdered; the first to die to get her out of the way (no, that doesn’t count as a spoiler. It’s Supernatural and, frankly, a gay person dying is hardly a spoiler in fiction anyway). 
 
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I was extremely wary about picking up this book. I have yet to read a discrimiflip novel that worked and didn’t end up being really appropriative and offensive. I find it doubtful they can work due to the inherent nature of making minorities the evil perpetrators of the very crimes committed against them. Still, I’m told it is possible, people assured me it was possible, so I picked up this book when it was released to see if it actually managed it.
 
So we have the story of Chris. A straight boy living in a world where, it seems, just about everyone is gay. Being straight is considered sick and wrong, condemned by both the church and the state (which are closely entwined). He tries to navigate this discrimination, as the son of a minister, and try to find freedom with the woman he loves.
 
And no, this discrimiflip did not manage it. Not even close. In fact, I’m sorely tempted to put a trigger warning for homophobia simply for having to discuss the contents of this book.
 
The author has appropriated every aspect of homophobic oppression imaginable. We have child bullying, we have demeaning dehumanisation from the pulpit, we have a horrific description of conversion therapy, we have chemical castration; we even have concentration camps, actual concentration camps.
 
All of these are extreme examples of oppression that have constantly been used to persecute and destroy gay people and they’re all used in this book – often graphically – but flipped. The victims of this torture and even this genocide are now made the villains. Those who inflicted them are now the victims. It is unbelievably offensive and enraging to see these despicable crimes that were – and continue to be – inflicted on gay people depicted with gay people as the perpetrators and straight people as the innocent victims. Even some of the basic language of anti-gay oppression have been callously appropriated by this straight author: we even have straight people being called “queer”. The book's even called "Out"! There really is no limits to the appropriation in this book and the extent to which gay people are presented as inflicting exactly the same cruel persecutions that, in reality, gay people have endured and died from.
 
To take the history of gay persecution, to take all of these horrendous things that have been used to victimise gay people and then mangle them to make gay people the villains makes me choke with rage. I have no words to describe how offensive this is. I had to stop reading several times because the book was so painfully offensive to read I couldn't keep going
 
The actual depiction of someone living with a closeted sexuality is also ridiculously shallow, especially for a young person. Chris finds out he likes a girl (note: A girl. Not girls. Just the one twu luv that follows the endlessly dull love at first sight meme that I’d complain more about if it weren’t such a tiny problem compared to the gross offensiveness of this book), it’s a shocking discovery. Within the hour he seeks out his friend to tell her. No, really.
 
In this society where being straight is illegal and demonised universally from birth, he couldn’t even keep it a secret for an hour. In fact, he goes home and his sister – in this ultra gay-normative society – already knows he’s straight! She even has some subversive literature for him! Yes, within a day of realising he’s straight, he already has a support net in this overwhelmingly gay world where heterosexuality is constantly demonised from the highest echelons of government. As an extra bonus, he meets Carmen, his love interest and she tells him she is straight in their first ever conversation, in a public café no less. They’re complete strangers, straight people are tortured and killed with the full blessing of the theocratic government but she’s going to spill her secret. I boggle how it can even be called a secret if 5 minutes acquaintance are sufficient for the big reveal.
 

To go with all these suddenly revealed straight people (including his sister, his sister’s boyfriend, his sister’s friends – seriously there seems to be more named straight people than gay people in this gay majority world!) Chris deals very quickly with any elements of self-loathing, low self-esteem etc he has from spending his entire life being told he’s diseased, wrong, mentally ill, a plague on society, bringing about the end of civilisation, hated by god and going to hell. Within the first three days we seem to be totally past such questioning and the focus quickly changes to the terrible forces that are keeping him and his beloved apart and the utter cruelty of living without her. There is a brief attempt to have him doubt himself in the very beginning but it takes less than a week for it to fade as a distant memory and him to be sure that the persecution of straight people is wrong. He's actually openly challenging and arguing against persecution of straight people on his first day realising he's straight- and it's used as an excuse to clumsily shoe-horn in many of the arguments the gay rights movement uses in the real world (and I have to say how unpleasant it is to see straight people taking our words and arguments for our survival and putting them in the mouth of a straight boy being attack by the evil evil gay folk).
 
In fact, it seems far more like a star-crossed lover’s story with extra offensive appropriation than an attempt to build any understanding of what it’s like to be gay in a straight society. If Carmen and Chris had been from foreign countries that were at war, or if she were a princess and he were a peasant, the story wouldn’t be vastly different – only the attacks and dehumanisation they faced would be a lot less offensive.
 
I find it unbelievable that this was even remotely supposed to try and convey any idea of what the closet is like. And it goes with the general sloppy and shallow way this book has built its "heterophobic" society. (The book's also sloppy in its convoluted info-dumps, but it pales next to the appropriation)
 
For a start, even in the pulpit the evil gay persecutors call themselves Parallels. Why? If you look at the homophobes in our world they don’t need to refer to themselves as heterosexual – in a world and a belief system where the minority sexuality is overwhelming defined as wrong, sick and deviant, you don’t use a word for “normal” people. They’re “normal.” Or there’s the fact that they refer to Romeo and Juliette. In a world of gay normality and straight suppression, why would this play even have been written, let alone be permitted reading in such a repressive anti-gay society? Especially for 17 year olds? In our world getting "Heather has Two Mommies" on the shelves requires actually going to war - let alone actual school-taught classics! In a world were gay marriage and relationships are the only ones allowed, why would “Mrs.” exist as a reference for married women?
 
But what about the gay people in the book which is supposed to be empowering? Well, firstly, there’s not actually that many for a society that’s supposed to be overwhelmingly gay, there seem to be a lot more straight characters unless you count faceless antagonists. And they’re unpleasant – whether it’s cowardly and weak like Warren and Andi, or outright evil like David and, well, just about everyone else. Gay people in this book are evil or pathetic, pretty much universally except for faceless and nameless possible supporters (who may or may not be more hidden straight folk).

And not just evil in the persecution of the poor straight folks suffering under the oppressive might of the terrible gay government – but to each other and especially their children as well: this gay society itself seems to be toxic
 
 
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One of the thorniest issues when it comes to analysing media from a social justice perspective is the concept of portraying prejudice and bigotry. After all, bigotry exists, bigoted people exist, at some point we’ll expect some bigoted characters showing up.

And that’s not a bad thing - in fact, erasing prejudice and pretending it doesn’t exist is far from ideal. To not show prejudice in times and places where prejudiced would be common or rife can be a denial that that prejudice exists, especially if you are showing everyone in that area and era as gloriously accepting of all minorities. In many ways it’s a form of erasure to do this or a rewriting of the world - both present historic. The problem is portraying prejudice in a way that doesn’t perpetuate it - and too often writers use this argument of “realistic portrayal” as an excuse to produce some severely bigoted work.

So how to portray bigotry without producing a book or show that should come with its own
trigger warning or will make the minority in question want to eat your liver?

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is that prejudiced portrayal really necessary? Sometimes the presence of bigotry is not only unnecessary, but it’s down right confusing, especially in speculative fiction. In an alternate world with an entirely different religion, culture even different species, is there a reason why women are dealing with misogyny? So much else had changed, why not this? Or, in the distant future, between the stars with more curiously-humanoid-aliens than you could shake a phaser at, do we still need racism? This can reach the point of almost parody - I’ve seen avatars of Greek gods - ancient Greek gods - losing their shit over men kissing. The Greeks!

It’s bemusing that, in these worlds where everything can be so different from our own, prejudice is considered inviolate. When all else in history can be changed, when the truly fantastic can be introduced, when we have magic, vampires, aliens and plot holes you can drive a bus through, it seems ridiculous to decide that bigotry is just something that must remain. And I think every social justice media critic in the world is tired of someone explaining the absolute necessity of “historical accuracy” in a series that has freaking dragons.


But even aside from fantasy worlds where you’ve decided to, bewilderingly, include real world bigotry; there is plenty of bigotry shown in works that are closer to our world and we have to ask “why is this necessary?” Does this prejudice actually add anything to the story or development or anything at all? One of the things that annoyed us so much about season 1 of American Horror Story is the amount of bigotry that was presented was completely gratuitous - it did nothing for the story to have the realtor use gay slurs to describe the previous occupants of the house, or even half of the many other problematic incidents on the show. Throwing in bigotry for the sheer hell of it, to an extent where it seems almost out of place sometimes, doesn’t help anyone.

Ok, you’ve looked at the bigotry and it is an absolute essential part of setting the world, the characters and the story. It would be wrong to exclude it - so how to include it without supporting it? Simple - by making it unsupportable

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One of the saddest things we can come across with any media is something we love - but has a massive problematic issue in the middle of it that slowly poisons it for us. The Parasol Protectorate is a series of books we love and adore for so many reasons. We love Lady Alexia Macon, she’s funny and powerful, we love her relationship, the setting and the plot. Who wouldn't want to read more about Ivy's antics? This could be one of those series that racks up nothing but 5 fang reviews all through - but there was a problem that started in the first book and just grew with each extra novel to intolerable degrees.

Lord Akeldama. And, from that, all of the gay characters in this series.

From the onset of this story, Madame Lefoux wears masculine clothing. She is strong, and highly intelligent.  In and of itself, this character isn’t problematic, until one realises that she is juxtaposed to Lord Akeldama.  The fact that she is so masculine, underscores Akeldama’s femininity and that makes them both read as highly stereotypical.  Again, there are certainly lesbians who are exactly like Madame Lefoux but this is predominantly the image of lesbians in media, unless they are being used as sexual eye candy.

In the first book,
Soulless,  Lord Akeldama starts off as very stereotypical gay male. He is extremely effeminate and while there are gay men who are like this, the problem with this type of representation, is that it has come to define gay male sexuality in the media.  To make matters worse, though he is resourceful, he functions as nothing more than the typical gay best friend to Alexia.  Akeldama put the dandies to work for Alexia as well and though we are told they are capable and devious, they, like their leader, are also effeminate.  Biffy for instance, is more than familiar with women’s toilette and is up to date on the latest hairstyles and fashions. All of this is bad enough, but the fact that Carriger then had the dandies working as wedding planners moves their representation from stereotypical, to downright mockery

  

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What is wonderful about Dystopian and Paranormal Steampunk is that the author has the opportunity to either create a brave new world, or an alternate past. Obviously in all fiction this opportunity exists but dystopian and paranoramal steampunk lend themselves remarkably well to this idea. Unfortunately instead of taking the opportunity to do something different, the majority of the authors that we have read have simply recreated the world as we know it today with the addition of fantastic steam run objects, or a sparse earth with no difference to the power structures currently in effect.

In the case of Dystopian worlds, this erasure has a particularly unpleasant implication. After all, we know marginalsied people exist - we know there are people of colour and GBLT etc people out there - so where are they? Or, rather, what happened to them?

In a Dystopian world something has happened. Be it major societal collapse, nuclear, alien/vampire/monster invasion, environmental disaster, mandated playing of country and western music - some dark and terrible thing has afflicted the world and, usually, decimated the human population. And when we take the idea of a decimated human population and then show no marginalised survivors the natural assumption is that the marginalised people are dead.

This turns the dystopian world into a post-eradication world. And, in the case where it has been an active attack or invasion, it turns it into a post (or pending) targeted genocidal world. The implication is that whatever disaster happened - or whatever force attacked - it wiped out marginalised people first. Your zombie apocalypse apparently had a horde of zombies that just looooved the taste of GBLT brains. Your marauding monstrous horde really hated people of colour. That supernatural plague for some reason picked off the minorities first.

And this is rarely touched in the series either. We have the implied eradication, but it’s never addressed or explained or referred to. We have implied targeted eradication and this not considered relevant by any of the cast of survivors.

I know we’re going to get people answering this with “you’re reading too much into this” “the author didn’t intend this” and even the dreaded “it’s only fiction.” But the author carelessly erasing us rather than intentionally portraying us as eradicated doesn’t remove the implication of targeted destruction. If a minority is absent where we would expect them, and if there has been a great loss of life, isn’t it reasonable to assume they died?

 And is it that odd an assumption? It’s not like there aren’t real world examples of people of colour, GBLT people, the disabled and minority religion adherents all facing actual genocide. We have many powerful real world examples of societies actively attempting to eradicate these marginalised groups. Is it that ridiculous to look at a post-decimation world, see our absence and assume that there has been a targeted eradication? I would say to consider it ridiculous is to live in inexcusable ignorance of the genocides - both past and present - of our real world.

 

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One of the things we’ve found in our many reviews of the genre from a social justice perspective is how many times people will make up various excuses for the problems we talk about. There is no limit to the different excuses people raise, but often it can feel like we’re responding to the same script since we see the same points raised again and again. Since, we assume, they are widely believed we’re going to poke a few of these:


The Protagonist doesn’t hate them because they’re a minority - it’s because they’re horrible people.

This normally becomes an issue when we point out, for example, that a character has no female friends and strikes sparks with every woman around them. Or the protagonist hates every single POC in the book/TV series. Or that the only GBLT characters in a book have been the protagonist’s enemies.

Now these protagonists rarely turn round and say “I hate women!” or “she’s my enemy because she’s a lesbian, evil lesbian!” because most authors aren’t that ridiculous. Usually, the protagonist does have a very legitimate reason to hate these people. Yes, every woman they met was mean to them. Yes, all the POC around them were cruel and rude. Yes, that evil GBLT villain is indeed evil. There were big story reasons for the character to hate all of these people. This is true.

But this a work of fiction, not a report of real people. The writer is an author, not a journalist. The cruel POC, the evil GBLT villain, the mean women - they don’t exist. They’re all creations of the author. And if the author has created a book where all the women/POC/GBLT/etc are set up to be awful and hateable then it is because the author chose them to be so.

If the marginalised people in a series are all hateful people that the protagonist loathes - for good in story reasons - then the author has created that scenario. And, yes, that’s problematic.


It’s just who they are! I see them as people not POC/GBLT/etc

So you’ve written your story and it turns out you have a sexually predatory GBLT person, or a loud, angry, sassy black woman side-kick (bonus points if she has magic to help the protagonist) or some equally tired, stereotyped trope. Naturally we’re not impressed but the protest is “they’re not a sassy, magical side-kick because they’re black, it’s just who they are!” In other words, you assert that their adherence to an extremely tired trope is just coincidence.

Now it’s vaguely possible, I guess, that you are somehow packed into the Mars Rover and are actually beaming you books or scripts from there and your intended audience is actually aliens from the planet Zog. In which case I applaud you for being able to write under such difficult conditions and being our ambassador for the Zoggi with books about vampires.


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We’ve spoken before about reviewers charging for book reviews - as well as guaranteeing positive reviews - and the many reasons why we consider this to be both unacceptable and damaging to online reviewing.

And I don’t think we can discount just how very important reviewing has become, especially as ebooks become more and more dominant in the market. Increasingly, we’re no longer going into a book shop and buying books, speaking to book clerks about what would be the best choice (assuming we ever did) or being able to physically pick up the book and skim through it to see if it suits us.

There are many things that have tried to replace this - but a synopsis, blurb and even an excerpt are often carefully chosen to show the book in the best possible light - quite possibly a rather inflated light. With the huge and wonderful proliferation of authors out there - with mainstream presses, indie presses, small presses and self-pubs, I don’t think we’ve ever seen this many choices when picking a book to read. So how do we make that choice?

Well, other than the word of mouth of people we trust, a lot of that choice is based on reviewers (which is, in effect, more of the word of mouth from people we trust). I cannot count how many books I’ve started reading now - especially new authors or ebooks - based on an online review from a person I trust. But trust is the key here - and reviewers selling positive reviews undermine that trust not just for themselves, but for all reviewers.

From our point of view, being a Social Justice blog as much as a review blogs, we also believe it is vital to review the genre we love to ensure the problematic portrayals and erasures are called out - and the gems we see where they author gets it right are duly praised. Again, we feel this requires trust and it requires honesty - we already have a culture that habitually excuses even the most extreme forms of prejudice and the most awful portrayals - to be dishonest about the problematic or prejudiced portrayals in a book is to contribute to that dismissal.

So when we read in the New York Times of a reviewer who was selling reviews and making a considerably amount of money doing so, we were less than pleased and condemn him unreservedly. Reviewers will be tainted by his deception and both readers and reviewers are harmed by it

 

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So, because a bad idea just doesn't die like it should, Victoria Foyt's racist Save the Pearls now has homophobic versions: for books: and television. I hate linking to them but they need to be seen. One is a book and the other movie with the same premise: an all gay world that persecutes the straight minority

 So that’s more appropriating the issues we live with, our history, our suffering and then shitting on it all by making us the perpetrators of the violations committed against us. How can they not see how offensive this is? How can they not see how offensive taking the severe bigotry thrown at us every day and throughout history, bigotry that has cost us so much and then making our oppressors the victims and us the attackers, is? This is appropriative, this is offensive, it’s disrespectful and it’s outright bigoted.

 Y’know, if you actually want to talk about prejudice and persecution and how they can affect people’s lives, why not use actual marginalised people? You want to show how a person navigates a society that has extreme prejudice against their skin colour? Why not make your protagonist a POC? You want to show a society that persecutes people based on who they’re attracted to and who they love? Why not make your protagonist gay?

 Oh, but then that becomes a specialist subject, right? A “niche”, dealing with marginalised issues. A POC book. A Gay/Lesbian book. Totally inappropriate for mainstream audience – when we can take the same story and flip it to bizarre bigot world and make the poor straight, white person the persecuted victim and we’re back in mainstream land. Funny, that.

Is that what this is? This whole offensive, bullshit trend (I mean, apart from prejudiced arsehattery, which kind of goes without saying)? A desire to use prejudice as a plot point but not sully your main character by making them an actual minority?

 

And don’t tell me it will help straight/white people understand oppression. Because if a privileged person will only hear about prejudiced issues when it comes from a privileged mouth then what is the point? I’ve said this before when we’ve had similar bullshit, how are you going to encourage people to address prejudice and marginalisation while at the same time training them that it’s only worth listening to privileged people?

 Because that’s what I hear when this excuse is trawled out. Straight, white people can’t possibly empathise with a POC or GBLT protagonist so we have to present these prejudiced issues through a privileged lens, from a privileged mouth. Or even from an elf or vampire – because that’s easier to swallow than actually facing real life prejudice that hits real prejudiced people.

 And don’t tell me it’s for marginalised people. Would I like to read a book where marginalised people are the majority and in charge? Sure – but not through the eyes of a poor, oppressed straight/white person who is suffering so awfully at the hands of the big, mean, prejudiced gay/black people. Because maginalised people being cast as evil villains? Been done and it’s not fun.

 Just stop. You want to include marginalised people, then do it. But don’t make free with the severe issues that have shaped and attacked us for generations and appropriate them for your own ends. And certainly don’t do it while making our oppressor’s the victims and the persecuted the attackers in these lazy, shallow, ridiculous worlds.

 

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There is an ongoing conversation in various venues about the identity of writers - specifically, marginalised writers and whether or not it truly matters whether a writer is a POC, GBLT, disabled or holds another marginalisation. We know a whole lot of people are quick to ask who cares whether an author is POC, GBLT et al? Why is this relevant?

Well, we do, and it is relevant. It’s usually one of the first things we try to find out when coming across a new author.

We’ve spoken before about the gatekeepers that marginalised authors face. We’ve seen the drama in YA trying to exclude gay characters, we’ve seen the white washing that covers face if they presume to show a POC. This is one of the reasons we’re supportive of webisodes and self-publishing, because there are a lot of gatekeepers out there that make it hard for maginalised people to be traditionally published. With these gatekeepers, it is reasonable for marginalised people and their allies to try and turn the tide by deliberately going out of their way to support marginalised authors.

Even when marginalised authors do write about their own marginalisation and are published, it greatly increases the chance the book will be shelved as niche and considered undesirable for mainstream consumption. It becomes all the more important to buy the book, support the author and to say this book belongs on the shelves.

There’s also a matter of authenticity. And this doesn’t mean that privileged people can’t write marginalised characters. In fact, we don’t even think it’s hard for privileged people to write marginalised characters - but it’s a very common excuse not to do so. Which is a reason why we seek marginalised authors because so many privileged authors keep writing trope laden stereotypes that it has frequently reached a point where we wish these authors would erase us; erasure would be preferably to the offensive portrayals they create.


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It seems a new site has been started called Stop the GR Bullies, aimed at book reviewers at Goodreads. It seems to be author driven in response to the many many trainwrecks we have see all too often; you know the kind, an author sees a less-than-shining review and unwisely decides to responds - frequently leading to cringeworthy temper tantrums and shocking behaviour.

There is a lesson these authors seem to be sorely missing. They are producing a product and they are producing a work of art. The first means that people will review and critique the product they bought (as is their right), the second means that, given the subjective nature of artwork, some people will not like it - in fact some will loathe it and they will say so. They will never please everyone all of the time and it is no-one’s duty to lavish praise when it is not deserves. The book is not their baby, it is not something precious and special that needs to be treated gently - it is a product that is being sold and, like any other product we buy, if it’s awful - be that new furniture or a takeaway pizza - then we will say so, quite possibly in intemperate and scathing terms. Books are not a special category that makes them somehow untouchable.

That is not bullying. This is critiquing. This is reviewing. This has been going on not just with artwork, but with every and all products since the beginning of time. It is actually insulting and offensive to call this bullying, especially at a time when we are seeing so much more attention to the growing bullying rates among schools and the horrendous rate of teen suicide it causes. To try and invoke this imagery because people are criticising your book? No, really, that’s not on.


On to the drama reports - which is one of the things they’ve accused Cuddlebuggery of. Now, I actually read Cuddlebuggery, partly because it’s amusing, partly to keep my eye out for decent books and, yes, partly because I want to have a heads up if an author is going to explode into chunks of messy outrage should I review one of their books and find it less than utterly perfect. And, yes, I will be avoiding that author, why would I seek them out? And I will say that, yes, they’re snarky, yes they can be (justly) harsh but they are never anything but honest - and every single one of those drama posts they’ve written have been a direct, honest report of actual poor author behaviour (which is considerably more honest than the highly skewed and dubious accounts Stop the GR Bullies has written, to be honest) and they include links back for you to see the authors in all their failing glory.

You are not being bullied if someone honestly reports your actions. If you show your arse to the world and people point out that your butt cheeks are on display, it’s not their fault that everyone is commenting on it, criticising it and disapprove of your arse bare to the winds. You are facing the consequences of your actions and your utter lack of professionalism; not being bullied.

Also, let us add that you’re not being “driven off goodreads” by these mean critics. If someone criticises your book, even harshly, that is not driving you off. If you respond to a negative review (which is already foolish) and people continue to criticise and, yes, even mock, that is not driving you off. If your dubious, unprofessional and unacceptable behaviour is reported and people mock you for it, that is not driving you off. If you leave in these conditions you are not being driven off - you are flouncing.

But, you know what? Even if these reviewers were tearing up your precious, even if they said some truly hurtful, mean and even personal things. Even then this site would still be beyond the pale. At Stop the Goodread Bulllies, they go to extreme lengths to attack their critics. I actually would run out of space trying to list their terrible behaviour - and I am in two minds of linking to their site because of what they’ve written there:

They post the real name (and if they don’t have it, they keep looking), home city and, if they can find one, photograph (again, if they can’t find one, they keep looking) of the people they’re attacking. This is already frightening and, frankly, dangerous; but they then compound that by listing their place of work, they even go so far as to list the bars and cafes they visit, the walks they take - and their schedule.

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Often in the writing blogosphere we see various forms of Blog Hops and blog tours and similar promotions to draw attention to authors, their books and let readers connect with authors who may interest them.

One upcoming blog hop is Hop against Homophobia

This is a blog hop of authors of the M/M genre. It allows writers in the m/m genre to gain attention to their M/M books and offer M/M prizes. The site itself explains its purpose:

the purpose is to get readers to a) see your name b) see your books and c) have the option to follow your blog to get to know you as an author and to be kept up to date about your future work.

And to start it off they’re going to set things rolling on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

So, what is The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia? Well, it’s pretty much exactly what it says. It is a day where we fight against the damage these bigotries do. It is a day when we look at the damage these bigotries do.

And let us never underestimate the power of this bigotry. There are still a horrendous number of countries out there where being GBLT is a crime. In some of them you will be tortured or executed. Others will imprison you for years and, of course, should you serve your sentence you face being returned to prison since, of course, people don’t stop being GBLT.

People are killed for being GBLT. People lose their jobs for being GBLT (often without any recourse in law). People lose their homes for being GBLT. People are denied any legal partnership rights for being GBLT, people are denied medical care for being GBLT, people are vilified and attacked and destroyed for being GBLT. People turn to drugs and alcohol because of anti-GBLT bigotry and countless GBLT people are driven to suicide every year by anti-GBLT bigotry.

In short, homophobia and transphobia are devastating forces out there and any campaign to battle them (Including this day) is vital and precious and very very important (though we can have debates about the effectiveness of individual days, that is a different discussion).

And these authors have decided to use this day to shill their books. They’re using this day about bigotry against GBLT people for marketing. Worse, not only are they appropriating this day for marketing, the actual purpose of the day they are using does not even remotely have to be involved

From the site itself:
- Talk about the International Day Against Homophobia in your May 17th blog entry (as little as just a mention – your choice).
--- Add the colorful Hop Against Homophobia image to your blog/website with a link to the official hop site:

There, you don’t have to actually do anything about homophobia or transphobia or talk about the day or what it actually aims for – don’t let silly things like that put you off. Don’t let the actual purpose of the day get in the way of your marketing. No, so long as you mention the name (all the better to appropriate it properly) and then you’ll get a giant anti-homophobia rainbow banner as well! Sure you don’t actually have to do anything about homophobia or transphobia, but you get the banner. I wonder if it comes with cookies?

Let me repeat this so we can be abundantly clear – no part of this blog hop requires acting or speaking against homophobia or transphobia, nor does it require being a GBLT member or ally (and no, being part of the M/M genre is not synonymous with allydom. Using us does not make you an ally, writing these books does not grant automatic status as a supporter - far from it). It is not about GBLT rights –it is about advertising, marketing and giving away free M/M stuff to attract more readers and followers

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Some catch up of the stuff we've been doing over at Fangs

As every our archives are here: Book Reviews, TV/Film Reviews, Discussions Archive and Podcast Archive.

Our Friday Discussions and Other Genre Musings

Existence is not Entitlement, Erasure is not Acceptable
Hollow Characters of Colour on Lost Girl
The Friday Discussion: The Mary Sue
Self-Publishing: Sometimes the only Gate that's Open
Spunky Agency: Fake Empowerment and not-so-strong Female Protagonists


Books

Dayhunter by Jocelynn Drake Book 2 of The Dark Days Series
Unholy Embrace by Neil Benson
An Artifical Night by Seanan Mcguire, Book 3 of the October Daye Series
A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuirew, Book 2 of the October Daye series
Autumn by David Moody: Book 1 of the Autumn Series
Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland, Book 1 of the Kara Gillian Series
Watcher by Roh Morgon Book 1 of The Chosen
Dark Side of the Moon by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Book 7 of the Dark Hunter Series
Sins of the Night by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Book 6 of the Dark Hunter Series
Unleash the Night by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Book 2 of the Were-Hunter Series
Seize the Night by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Book 5 of the Dark Hunters Series
Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler: Book 1 of the Jane True Series
One Grave at a Time by Jeaniene Frost, Book 6 of the Night Huntress Series
Skinwalker by Faith Hunter, Book 1 of the Jane Yellowrock series
Betrayed by Morgan Rice, Book 3 of the Vampire Journals series
Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand, by Carrie Vaughn, Book 5 of the Kitty Norville Series
Kitty and the Silver Bullet by Carrie Vaughn. Book 4 of the Kitty Norville Series
Double Cross by Carolyn Crane, Book 2 of the Disillusionist Triology
Cold Fire by Kate Elliot Book Two of the Spiritwalker Trilogy
Vicious Grace by M.L.N. Hanover
Monster Hunter Alpha by Larry Correia, Book 3 of the Monster Hunter Nation series

TV

Grimm, Season 1, Episode 10: Organ Grinder
Eternal Law, Season 1, Episode 5
Lost Girl Season 2, Episode 15: Table for Fae
The Secret Circle, Season 1, Episode 13: Medallion
Once Upon a Time, Season 1, Episode 11: Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
The Vampire Diaries Season 3: Episode 13: Bringing Out the Dead
 Being Human, Season Two, Episode Three: All Out of Blood

Vampires Suck
Blood and Chocolate
Underworld Rise of the Lycans
Underworld Awakening
Underworld Evolution
 
 

Interviews

SYFY LOST GIRL Q&A with Anna Silk & Ksenia Solo
Syfy Lost Girl Q&A With Anna Silk, Zoie Palmer and Kris Holden-Ried
Q&A with Anna Fricke and Jeremy Carver, Executive Producers/Writers of Being Human (US)
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Our Giveaway for The Walking Dead, Rise of the Governor ends tomorrow. Enter before it’s too late. Keep an eye out for a new giveaway this Friday.

Our weekly podcast: Fangs for the Fantasy podcast, episode 45 As ever you can find our other podcasts in our Podcast Archive. Speaking of archives – all reviews can be found in our: Book Archive and Film/TV archive


Our Friday Discussions and Other Genre Musings
The Difference between a Negative and a Bad Review.
The Black Dagger Brotherhood: Treatment of Women
Paranormal Steampunk and Dystopian Erasure - the Unpleasant Implications
Urban Fantasy's Guide to an Authentic British Vampire
"American Horror Story" fails at abortion story line
Cover Snark: That's not in the Book!
Cover Snark: The Sideways View: T&A for Everyone!


Books
A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore (3 Fangs)
 Blood Rights by Kristen Painter Book 1 of the House of Comarré (3.5 Fangs)
Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire, Book 1 of the October Daye series (3 Fangs)
My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland (4 Fangs)
Blameless by Gail Carriger, Book 3 of the Parasol Protectorate (5 Fangs)
Changeless by Gail Carriger, Book 2 of the Parasol Protectorate Series (5 Fangs)
Symphony of Blood, A Hank Mondale Supernatural Case by Adam Pepper (1 Fang)
Mind Games by Carolyn Crane, Book 1 of the Disillusionist Trilogy (4 Fangs)
Unclean Spirits by M.L.N. Hanover: Book 1 of The Black Sun's Daughter (1.5 Fangs)
Dances with the Devil, by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Book 3 of the Dark Hunter Series. (3 Fangs)
Rajmund by D.B Reynolds Book 3 of Vampires in America Series (2.5 Fangs)
Cold Magic by Kate Elliot Book 1 of the Spiritwalker Trilogy (2.5 Fangs)
Lover Mine by J.R. Ward, Book 7 of the Black Dagger Brotherhood (0.5 Fangs)
Embrace the Night by Karen Chance Book 3 of the Cassandra Palmer Series (4.5 Fangs)
Waking the Witch by Kelley Armstrong, Book 11 of the Otherworld Series (4 Fangs)
Kitty Takes a Holiday by Carrie Vaughn. Book 3 of the Kitty Norville Series (3.5 Fangs)

TV
Lost Girl: Season 2, Episode 12: Masks (3 Fangs)
Lost Girl: Season 2, Episode 11: If a Fae Falls in the Forest (2.5 Fangs)
Lost Girl, Season 2, Episode 10: Raging Fae (3 Fangs)
Lost Girl, Season 2, Episode 9: Original Skin (3.5 Fangs)
Once Upon a Time, Season 1, Episode 6: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (4 Fangs)
Once Upon a Time, Season 1, Episode 6: The Shepherd  (3 Fangs)
Once Upon a Time, Season 1, Episode 5: That Still Small Voice (3.5 Fangs)
Grimm, Season 1, Episode 6: The Three Bad Wolves (3.5 Fangs)
Grimm, season 1, Episode 5: Danse Macabre (3.5 Fangs)
American Horror Story, Season 1, Episode 10: Smoldering Children (2 Fangs)
American Horror Story Season 1, Episode 9: Spooky Little Girl (2.5 Fangs)
American Horror Story, Season 1, Episode 8: Rubber Man (3.5 Fangs)
The Walking Dead Season 2, Episode 7: Pretty Much Dead (4 Fangs)
Being Human U.K. Season 1, Episode 4 (4 Fangs)
Being Human U.K. Season 1, Episode 3 (3.5 Fangs)
Being Human U.K Season 1, Episode 2 (3.5 Fangs)
Being Human U.K. Season 1, Episode 1 (5 Fangs)
Being Human UK Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot (4 Fangs)
The Fades, Season 1, Episode 6: Season Finale (5 Fangs)
The Fades, Season 1, Episode 5 (3.5 Fangs)
The Fades, Season 1, Episode 4 (4 Fangs)

Blade
Van Helsing (3.5 Fangs)
Twilight Breaking Dawn, Part 1 (1 Fang)
The Craft (2.5 Fangs)
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It’s vaguely possibly you’ve noticed I’m involved in the running of Fangs for the Fantasy by my oh-so-subtle plugging. But yes I’m one of the ones behind it and I likes it I does. But there’s always the question of why, especially given how little time I have and how much time it takes.

Well, let me count the ways. I like Fangs, I like the reviews, I like an opportunity to snark, I like the new series its exposed me to and because it’s fun, lots of fun.

But also because I think it’s important. Especially analysing books from a social justice perspective. Yes, analysing fluffy, trashy, frequently silly Urban fantasy is important. Especially since it’s popular and, if anything, becoming more so and establishing itself very firmly as its own genre.

Our society is shaped by the media. In fact I think the media is one of the grand pillars of our culture. The media we consume reflects the stereotypes and tropes of society, reinforces them, encourages them and spreads them. We as a society, as a culture, as people are shaped by the books we read, the television we watch, the films we see and the games we play.

When we see the same type of people showcased front and centre, the same stereotypes paraded, the same groups erased, the same insults given, the same bad behaviour showcased, excused or justified and generally the same prejudiced, and –ism scented problems repeated again and again then yes it shapes us.

And I know there are people out there saying “but why urban fantasy? Who cares about sexist werewolves or homophobic vampires or racist witches?” there are many reasons – I can talk about how we tend NOT to analyse these types of books so the genre is even more unchallenged and just accepted. I can tell you it’s because I love the genre – I really do – and as such I want to be able to consume it without sporks and with more joy; as something I love, I want it to do better. But most of all, it’s because if we’re going to challenge any media, it has to be popular fiction that is consumed broadly for entertainment.

What do you think shapes culture more? A verbose, dense literary fiction artistic epic read by English literature professors in a university congratulating each other on how wonderfully dense and nigh incomprehensible it is, so full of metaphor and depth? Or Twilight? Or True Blood? A series that is read by thousands if not millions, turned into a TV series or a film and watched by yet more? Personally, I think it’s the latter that will have the greatest effect on our culture.

I also don’t think that you can truly change culture without addressing the media. Ultimately, no matter how many laws we pass saying that misogyny, homophobia, racism, transphobia, ableism et al are Not OK, no matter how much we fight, no matter how many bigots we vanquish, if everyone goes back home to books and TV full of hate speech and stereotypes and tropes and marginalised servants and villains or – and most commonly – to fictional worlds where we don’t even exist – then how much can you change? “Hearts and Minds” are the key here – and it’s in the pages of books and the light of the TV screen where we will reach them.

Yet if you turn round and say you’re going to analyse the dusty book of pretention everyone will nod and smile. Say you’re going to analyse True Blood and we get “it’s only fantasy! Don’t take it so seriously!” It’s a genre that seems to actively resist and deny analysis even more than most.

Do I claim I’m doing some massive cultural changing thing? Gods no. I snark too much for that :P. But it matters, it does matter.

Also, of course, I need to say the inevitable – we have yet to read/watch a perfect book/TV programme. We have always found something to criticise. That’s not because we’re joyless curmudgeons who hate everything – it’s because our society is so well and truly messed up that it’s nearly impossible to produce something lacking in problematic issues in a society that has saturated us with them. I say again, criticism does not mean “I loathe this book and all it stands for!” it means there are problematic elements that could be – need to be – better. For our opinion on the book, check the fang rating (and if it’s 0.5 fangs? Yes, I did loathe that book and all it stands for!). I will say that we’ll never just say “I hate it.” There’ll always be a why – so even on a negative review you can be a recommend – since you can see “oh Sparky hated this book because he loathes X, Y and Z. I actually quite like them so this book is worth reading”.

So, yes, Fangs. I like it.
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We have a new giveaway! Come, click, follow, find the details and get the shinies

And our weekly podcast is now up. As ever all of our podcasts are in our archives for much browsing.
Speaking of archives – all reviews can be found in our: Book Archive and Film/TV archive

Our Friday Discussions
Ableism in American Horror Story
Paranormal Romance: Engorged, throbbing and fainting. Oh my!
Cover Snark: Who needs clothes to be Badass?

Books
Black Magic Woman by Justin Gustianis, Book 1 of the Quincey Morris series4 Fangs
Lord of Misrule by Rachel Caine book 5 of the Morganville Vampire Series 2.5 Fangs
Blood Bound by Rachel Vincent, Book 1 of the Unbound Series 2.5 Fangs
Drink Deep by Chloe Neill, Book 5 of the Chicagoland Vampires Series 3.5 Fangs
Night Embrace by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Book 2 of the Dark Hunter Series 1.5 fangs
At Grave’s End by Jeaniene Frost, Book 3 in the Night Huntress Series 4 Fangs
Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn, Book 2 of the Kitty Norville Series 3.5 Fangs
Shadow Chase by Seressia Glass, Book 2 of the Shadow Chaser series 4 Fangs

TV
The Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 5: Chupacabra
The Secret Circle: Season 1, Episode9: Balcoin 2.5 Fangs
Vampire Diaries, Season 3, Episode 9: Homecoming 4 Fangs
Grim: Season 1, Episode 4: Lonelyhearts
American Horror story : Season 1, Episode 7: Open House
Once Upon a Time: Season 1, Episode 4: The Price of Gold 4 Fangs
Lost Girl: Season 2, Episode 8: Death Didn’t Become Him 3 Fangs
The Fades: Season 1, Episode 3 4 Fangs
The Fades: Season 1, Episode 2 3.5 Fangs
The Fades: Season 1, Episode 1 4 Fangs
Twilight: Eclipse 2 Fangs
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It's time for another giveaway on Fangs for the Fantasy where we continue to examine all things Urban fantasy in lots of detail, with occasional snark

No doubt you're aware that the new Twilight movie is quickly hoving into view. It being such a major part of urabn Fantasy, we could no more avoid it than the Titanic could avoid the iceberg. To this end we have posted reviews of the previous Twilight films - 1, 2 and 3 and this weekend we will have a revierw of the latest instalment.

And further our new giveaway is Twilight themed - a nice collection of shinies to commemorate the release. please click on the linky and follow the instructions carefully!

(No really, I know they're simple but you'd be absolutely AMAZED at the people who get it wrong every time)

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