Fiction Fragments: Michael Burke

Last week, I spoke with Gabriela Vargas about feminism, poetry, and why you should submit your work for publication. And this week, I am happy to welcome comic book aficionado and speculative fiction writer, Michael Burke.

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Michael Burke was born and raised in Massachusetts. His love of books was sparked by finding his father’s stash of pulp hero novels at a young age. The lurid, frenetic art of Frank Frazetta captivated his imagination and he needed to know what was happening to the characters behind those covers.

A Spider-Man comic book purchased for him by his father was his steady companion as he taught himself to read. This effort was not only rewarded by finally discovering what happened to those pulp heroes but also with a lifelong love of the comic book medium.

He co-founded the comic book store, Comicazi in 2000. It has won several Best Of Boston awards and in 2017, won the prestigious Eisner Spirit Of Retail award. Michael is also a licensed pharmacy technician. He has had all manner of jobs in his life ranging from painter to photographer to bouncer to roadie to office work to construction. He still does not know what he wants to be when he grows up but he’s enjoying the ride. Through it all, he has written and told stories. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, the best story he’s ever been a part of.

Three Questions

GMM: Welcome to Girl Meets Monster, Michael. Comic books have a reputation of being one of the first forms of fiction children become connected with as readers. Comics have obviously had a positive impact on your life, how have they influenced your writing? What titles would you recommend to kids who are reluctant to pick up a book?

MB: Hi Michelle. Thank you for having me. Comic books have definitely impacted my life in a positive way. My dad saw my interest at a very young age. I had found a shoebox full of his paperbacks. Conan, Tarzan, Executioner, Doc Savage. In the late 60s, lots of those pulp-era characters had been reprinted by publishers. The covers captivated me. He fostered that interest and got me a Spider-Man comic book. He and my mom helped teach me to read when they could but I was ravenous and forged ahead on my own.

That early exposure to comics helped my reading comprehension at an early age and propelled my interest in seeking out all manner of reading material. My formative years were spent with my head buried in books and comics. I’ve loved the comic medium my whole life. I started writing my own stories in third grade; they were very much influenced by the comic characters I was reading. When I was ten-years-old I even created my own superhero complete with origin and costume design and mailed it off to Marvel Comics. I never made a copy of that, darn it! On some level, I feel that I’ve always written with that certain measure of bombast inherent in comics. Well, super-hero comics. As I got older and my tastes expanded, I saw that comics could tell even more stories.

One of the reasons comics are great is that they’re unique in that they have always both influenced and reflected popular culture. I daresay that I would not have read half as many of the books that I have if it weren’t for comics. And, of course, my passion for comics lead me to co-founding a comic book store. We focus our efforts on building and maintaining community and welcoming all with open arms. Some of my favorite recollections of time in the shop are of speaking with new fans of the medium and of talking with kids.

There are scores of comic titles to recommend to kids today. Far more choices than there were for me as a kid. Our shop has a large all-ages section we keep well-stocked. Lots of families come in and kids from pre-school to teenage come in. I’d recommend the Amulet series by Kazu Kabuishi; any of the books by Raina Telgemeier (Guts; Smile; Sisters; Drama; Ghosts); Nimona by Noelle Stevenson; Bone by Jeff Smith. There are plenty of Star Wars Adventures digests for younger readers because, let’s face it, most kids like Star Wars at some point. There’s always an audience for the standby titles like Disney characters and Archie and Classics Illustrated. There’s really no shortage of comic titles that a kid can get started reading.

GMM: Tell me about your fragment. Who is Ahanu, and where will his journey lead him? Can you share a synopsis of the story without giving away too many spoilers? What inspired this story?

MB: My excerpt is from a novella that I’m writing. It’s called A Parliament of Owls. It’s a sword-and-sorcery tale with horror elements and influenced by Native American folklore. I struck upon the idea last year and wrote it as a short story for my writing group. I got tons of constructive feedback and with that, plus the notes I took, I realized that this was a longer story. I’ve been sitting on it for a bit, letting it simmer in the back of my head, as I worked on other things. But it’s ready to come out now.

The inspiration for the story is very much from my love of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. My dad’s old paperbacks were definitely the fuel for this. Sword-and-sorcery is a subset of fantasy; it has elements of the supernatural present and the tales are often fast-paced, placing the protagonist in a personal struggle. They’re often set in a semi-mythic realm, although there can sometimes be some historical aspects present. The stories do not deal with earth-shattering problems and epic dangers like Lord of the Rings and other high fantasy sagas.

Ahanu Foxcloud is a young man, barely twenty, and an orphan. His mother was a powerful witch with a mysterious past. This fact put her at odds with the elders of her tribe. Ahanu wants to know more about his mother but feels stymied by the village council. He also feels like an outcast among his own people. There may be a reason for that and some of that may be his own insecurities. There’s a young girl in the village, Halyn, that he sees as a sister. She keeps him on an even keel. Ahanu often butts heads with authority and is frustrated by the traditions his people follow when he imagines a larger world beyond his own.

The world makes itself known as even larger than he could have imagined when Halyn and other children go missing. Ahanu scoffs at the explanation given to him for this and sets out on his own to discover what happened. That confrontation will expand his horizons and teach him a thing or two about growing up.

I plan on writing several short stories about Ahanu and his adventures. I’m starting to flesh out the world I want to have him populate and having fun doing so. Looking into more Native American mythology to help influence further adventures has been very interesting and I look forward to adding more of these components. As I move forward with Ahanu, I plan on teasing out facts of his mother’s past and how that ties in with the character that I want him to become.

GMM: You write speculative fiction, but what genre is your favorite to read? Write? Why do you feel drawn to that genre? Is there a genre you enjoy reading but haven’t written in, and why?

MB: Oh gosh, that’s tough. I’ve followed a general pattern through my life. It started with my dad’s Conan and Tarzan books. Those lead me to other books by those authors, of course, but after that, I read other fantasy and adventure books. From there, I moved into science fiction, then horror. Back to fantasy in the nineties when there was no end to those multi-book high fantasy series. Then it was urban fantasy and science fiction. Then mystery and horror. Those were the big beats and I tried other things that struck my fancy at the time. I’d have to say science fiction is probably my favorite to read. It’s a sprawling genre that hits many of my buttons. What I like about science fiction is that element of social commentary. When I was younger and reading works by Ursula K. LeGuin and watching Star Trek reruns and didn’t know the term “social commentary”. I liked thinking about the lesson it put forth.

My favorite genre to write is the first one I was exposed to. I’m having fun with Ahanu’s sword-and-sorcery tale. It just came a lot easier to me than other pieces I’ve written. Maybe because it’s been with me for so long. I love horror and science fiction, too, but I think I struggle a bit more with those genres.

I’ve read a lot of detective/mystery stuff. Parker’s Spenser; the Burke series from Andrew Vacchs; the classic authors of the genre: Chandler, Hammett. Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Poirot. I’m really digging Walter Mosley’s Leonid McGill character right now. I like a lot of it but I’ve never attempted to write a mystery. As I travel along my writing path, I’m beginning to find the value in outlining my stories. Typically, I imagine a scene/idea and just write. A friend of mine calls it “discovery writing”. I know there are writers who do it that way and there are writers who outline and there’s probably a number who fall somewhere in between. There’s no right or wrong way to write your tale. But I don’t think I’ve tried my hand at a mystery because I feel that it would require more of an outline style than my discovery method. Perhaps as I settle into a writing method that works best for me, I’ll give a mystery tale a shot one day.

Excerpt from PARLIAMENT OF OWLS

A gibbous moon filled the sky, its eerie half-light falling between the canopy of branches above Ahanu’s campsite. The air had only cast off some of the day’s humidity; the night was close and thick. Low sounds echoed throughout the forest as nocturnal creatures stalked. The campfire sputtered low. Ahanu sat with his back to a big stump and gazed into the dying flames, worry gnawing at his gut. The past day filled his mind. Anger and fear continued their hold on him as images of Moki and the elders sneered at him. His mother had always been at odds with Moki and he knew, just knew, that they had it in for him.

Dim remembrances of his long-gone mother replaced the angry visages of the tribal leaders. Feelings, more truly. A sense of comfort. He was so young when she was taken, it was all he could do to keep her face in his memory.

That melancholy flowed into the reason he was out here in the woods. He had to find Halyn. She had been gone too long. And she was little older than he was when he lost his mother. She was as a sister.

Grim thoughts stayed with him as his head lolled. His eyes drifted shut and the fire sparked its last.

An indeterminate time passed. The moon kept its counsel. All was tranquil.

A feminine trill whispered through the darkness. The night fell quiet. Ahanu breathed deeper but did not stir.

Again, that soft sound. Kijiru awoke and snorted, head and tail high.

“Easy, girl,” Ahanu opened his eyes. “What is it?” he clambered to his feet, grabbing his axe from the ground as he rose. He walked to the mare, all the while his amber eyes darted. He whispered reassuringly to the horse but she was uneasy.

The fire had died but the high moon cast more than enough light, albeit the effect through the trees made it appear some manner of spectral plane. The heavy, humid night air leant a certain lethargy to Ahanu’s movements. His head was still fogged with sleep. He stood beside Kijiru, slowly brushing his hand through her brown mane.

A long, low rasp sounded. It sounded very much like a sharp blade being dragged across a stone. Ahanu started, tightening his grip on the axe handle. Kijiru shuffled her feet. He moved from the horse, looking about. That sound worried at the edges of his memory but he could not recall the context. He moved about the site in a slow circle, eyes trained into the dark.

A short, vibratory song called next, almost as if a caged bird were nearby. Ahanu saw nothing. The fine hairs on his arm stood straight and he felt a cold tickle at the base of his neck.

“I bid thee greetings, O man” a soft voice came from the dark. It seemed to come from all directions at once.

Ahanu whipped his head about left and right, trying to ascertain the voice’s origin. “Who goes there?”

“Just a wanderer of the wood. I saw your fire and thought to avail myself of a fellow wayfarer’s kindness,” the voice crooned. It seemed to come from his left.

Ahanu’s thoughts felt sluggish. He stood a moment, determining if this were a dream. He shook cobwebs from his mind and glanced at the ashes of the campfire. It was dead.

“My fire, eh? When was that?”

“Do you not offer hospitality to another traveler, then?” The voice was now behind him.

Ahanu whirled, his knuckles white on his axe handle. “Step forward, woman, if woman, you be, and not some damned forest spirit!”

A slight glimmer of motion rippled in the corner of his eye. He turned to his right and took a step in that direction. Kijiru whinnied nervously. Ahanu’s eyes widened as a face materialized from the dark. Ice-white tresses cascaded in a silvery frame about a beautiful face. Eyes darker than arboreal shadows regarded him coldly. Ahanu stopped, awestruck.

He stared, enrapt, following the bodiless face as it moved about the campsite. He dimly noted that it was odd how the face would sometimes change in height as it moved. Almost as if it were a bird alighting on branches.

“No forest spirit am I, but a woman.” A note of anger sounded deep in her voice. “And you would do well to accord me respect.”

Ahanu retreated a step, superstitious fear driving him back. He considered his next words but held his tongue. The face had not moved. It hovered, ghostly, in the moonlight.

“Well? Boy.” The word dripped from cruel lips.

The tableau held for several moments until Kijiru let loose with a loud snort. Ahanu blinked hard and in a fluid motion, hurled his near-forgotten axe at the apparition.

A horrible hiss sounded and the lovely visage winked out like a blown candle flame. Ahanu heard heavy wings and could swear he glimpsed a dark form take flight. He shook his head in an effort to clear his dazzled vision.

Do you have a fiction fragment? How about your friends? Would you like to recommend someone to me aside from yourself? Drop me a line at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Guidelines: Submit 500-1000 words of fiction, up to 5 poems, a short bio, and a recent author photo to the e-mail above.

Fiction Fragments: Errick Nunnally

Last week I chatted with EV Knight about cats and her debut novel, The Fourth Whore. This week, Girl Meets Monster welcomes Errick Nunnally. I met Errick in person at Necon 39, but was first introduced to him virtually as the cover artist for my debut novel, Invisible Chains. When I asked Errick to submit a fragment, he had this to say about his submission: “This is the second part in a series of stories I’ve been putting together about a Boston animal control officer, Nora Tuttle (mixed ethnicity), who has found herself dealing with animal…anomalies…each worse than the last. My hope is to collect them as a novella. Which is nigh impossible to sell, of course, but… I can’t overstate how much I love this character.”

ErrickNunnallyErrick Nunnally was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and served one tour in the Marine Corps before deciding art school was a safer pursuit. He enjoys art, comics, and genre novels. A designer by day, he earned a black belt in Krav Maga and Muay Thai kickboxing by night. His writing has appeared in several anthologies and is best described as “dark pulp.” His work can be found in Lamplight, Transcendent, Monarchies of Mau: Tales of Excellent Cats, The Final Summons, Protectors 2, Nightlight Podcast, and the novel, Lightning Wears a Red Cape. See more of his work online at erricknunnally.us

Three Questions

GMM: Welcome, Errick. I just finished reading Blood for the Sun, and I loved it. I love vampires and werewolves equally, but I always seem to root for the werewolves when they go to war. What made you decide to cast vampires as the villains in the novel? What was the inspiration for your wonderfully complex protagonist, Alexander Smith?

EN: Hello, and thank you for having me. I’m so glad you enjoyed the novel!

As for inspiration, I love monsters more than the other aspects of horror and I always rooted for the werewolves in movies–especially when they were subbed to vampires. Because they’re relegated to wild animal status, it wasn’t often, in popular movies and TV, that you got to see someone in control of themselves. The closest that I recall is the television series, Werewolf, where the main character had a modicum of control when transformed, but that control was eroding over time. I got a kick out of the Werewolf By Night comics and really liked the idea that Jack Russel finally makes peace with his beast, taking more control and revitalizing the series for a while. That is basically what drove my initial decision and fundamentally reimagining where these abilities come from–which is part of the trilogy’s overall arc. Smith himself was a long time in development, from that point. It all started in college, around ’95 or ’96. I painted a three-page comic of this loose idea that was jangling around in my head: a werewolf living on a frontier whose neighbors–Chinese immigrants–are murdered and their child stolen. He tears off after the culprit, recognizing that a wild vampire has taken the child. He saves the baby, but not before she’s bitten. He knows he should get rid of her, but he keeps her, instead, initially raising her out of guilt for crimes he’s already committed. And that’s basically the origin story of his adopted daughter, Ana. I loved the idea of Alexander growing up pre-industrial and Ana growing up post-industrial. It makes their personalities decidedly different. Over the years, I had other ideas for both his backstory and personality: he’s half-and-half African-American and First Nation. His dad escaped slavery in Louisiana, up the Mississippi River and married a Kainai woman, before settling in Saskatchewan and becoming a coal miner. Alexander is one of three kids, raised on a homestead. His sisters are married back into the tribe. His father dies of black lung, his mother dies of old age. The shapeshifter aspect is handed down bloodlines and Alexander is infected by a great-great grandfather. After a century or more the aspect starts eating memories, producing wild monsters that feed into myths. That memory stuff came from watching my grandmothers’ memories deteriorate and how disorienting and horrifying it was. Alexander’s skills were added with the idea that constant learning helps our brains stay sharp. The idea for sorting out missing children’s cases as a challenging puzzle as well as a parallel to his daughter’s existence. He fears the madness and roams from his homelands to avoid handing the lycanthropy down to someone else. I’ve always liked the irredeemable character, so I put things in Alexander’s past that he’ll never overcome. So much of his character stems from my counter-stance on pure heroism, popular vampires, and the unimaginable beauty associated with the supernatural in so many “urban fantasy” novels. On and on and on, over the years, until I got laid off around 2008. Being unemployed for a couple years put a lot of time in my lap and I came up with a bucket list. One of the items was to finally write that damn novel.

GMM: Judging by the fragment you submitted, Nora Tuttle is about to have her hands full. Nothing good comes out of mysterious egg sacs in my experience. You mentioned that you love this character, and that she is of mixed ethnicity. How important is it to you to write about characters who are people of color? Why are their stories important?

EN: That fragment is from a story I finished recently. It’s the second time I’ve used Tuttle. She debuted in a story about dog fighting and genetic tampering that I wrote shortly after Blood for the Sun was published. She is mixed and that experience comes with its unique problems here in America. I’m not the sort that writes about “race” in particular, but it factors in because that’s the lived experience I have among the people I grew up with. It’s important to me because as I grew up, I didn’t see much of myself, the people, or the world I knew reflected in fiction. And I love science fiction! Non-white adults of my vintage will recall the lack of reflection when it came to stories about the future, as if entire swaths of humanity wouldn’t make it, that “white” folks would live forever. It was frustrating. Even more, in hindsight, as I’ve gotten older and seen so much more successful representation in media. Nora Tuttle, in particular, came into existence because I didn’t want to write a male protagonist and I wanted someone who would have some relationship with law enforcement, but wasn’t a cop themselves. The better to entangle them in danger without the offensive capabilities or resources to deal with it. Enter an officer for Boston Animal Control! Add monstrous elements and I had someone in way over their head. I think it’s very, very important to write protagonists who are as fully-formed as possible. Because of my experiences and background, that’s always going to include various POC. Tuttle has all sorts of background that I mine in the second story, further complicating her life. Because I love her, she will be in a third and final story before I step away from, uh, complicating her life.

GMM: I haven’t had a chance to read your latest novel, Lightning Wears a Red Cape, but it is on my list of books to read in 2020. What are you working on right now? Do you have any projects coming out in the next year?

EN: Blood for the Sun is currently out-of-print, but a newer, re-edited version will be back in circulation this summer, from Haverhill House Publishing! Two sequels will follow shortly afterward. The second, All The Dead Men, is already written! I can’t wait to start reveals of the covers et al. I’m also working on a few short stories–one of which has a home if I can get it done right–and two novellas that I’d like to release into the wild. There are two novels in the pipe that I need to get crackin’ on. One is a thriller–no speculative elements–about an Afghani translator and the father of a fallen Marine that he has befriended. The translator has to go on the run with evidence of a conspiracy to escalate conflict in the region. Both he and the father are pursued by bad actors, of course. There’ll be international action, mercenaries, political intrigue, all the good/bad thriller stuff. Everyone I’ve explained the full premise and story to is intrigued by the idea and I think it’ll be a good challenge for me to write. The second novel’s content is TBD, but a couple of good friends are pushing for a slippery, magical idea that builds off of my life when I was much younger. We’ll just have to wait and see about that one, at this point!

The Keeper of Taswomet, by Errick A. Nunnally

The slow whine of a cicada cut through the warm air and mixed with the other chirps and clicks of insects. A light breeze came in from across the marsh, tickling the tall dry grass. The dense green could barely be seen through a narrow corridor in the trees surrounding the last home on the lane.

Joshua shot out of the back of his house, cutting across the lawn and into the trees before the screen door banged shut. He wore the summer-ready haircut of most twelve-year old boys: buzzed short on the sides, his brown hair lightened by the sun. The day was especially warm, so he wore his favorite, tank top: light blue with Mjölnir on the front. Partway down his skinny biceps, the skin went from its usual fish-belly pale to cinnamon-toasted, exposing what his mother referred to as a ‘farmer’s tan.’ The youngster was an anachronism, belonging instead to the days when scores of children roamed through nature, picking it apart, living in it and on it. These days, most of his friends were more interested in music or the latest dramas of the latest pop stars.

He rushed to check on the well-hidden, briny pool he’d found just before lunch, a gift born of the marsh that defined so much of his life. Joshua was fortunate, he enjoyed the area to a degree that other kids did not. Taswomet Marsh made summers the best time of year and it made school bearable. The natural wonder’s proximity bent the science program to its will. And Joshua loved it.

A trip to the hardware store and chores with his father had kept him from exploring the discovery further, earlier in the day, but the precious gift of extra daylight during the summer meant he had some time after dinner.

He wound through the oak and pine wood, rooted in a sandy surface, cutting through to the well-worn path that meandered along the greater portion of the marsh. Insect cries intensified in constant whirrs and clicks. He imagined the long shadows were the devastating ice clubs of frost giants and Joshua danced around them. He slowed when he reached the next path, exposed to the setting sun on.

Bright light and heat slammed his face and arms as he eased the pace, picking his way along the narrow path that cut through low brush too thick to pass otherwise. He’d promised to get back before sunset, so he didn’t dally when a plover snapped out of the tall grass, capturing his attention. It beat quickly into the sky, then broke into the tree line before he could determine whether it was a western or a white-rumped.

The backpack he wore added a layer of unneeded warmth to the small of his back. It contained his notebook, sample bags, a small shovel, and other knick-knacks for research and sample collection. He shrugged the bag off and carried it by the handle. Just ahead, there was a less worn path cutting towards the marsh proper. Softer soil gave beneath his feet as he wound his way through the flora to the pool, pushing tall grasses and thick underbrush aside. The stink of mosquito repellent stung his nose. It was necessary to wear in the marsh, but he always felt like his mom laid it on too thick. Still, he was fortunate to be part of a new generation allowed to roam, to drift away and explore only to return when hunger saw fit to remind him. As long as it happened before dark.

He crouched down at the edge of the hidden pool and peered into the dark water. Just below the surface, he could make out eight gelatinous sacks about the size of raviolis and trending in color from brown to translucent to gray. He couldn’t tell if there were more of them deeper in the water, but it didn’t matter. He only wanted one for his project. Being careful not to fall in, and using a heavy-duty zip-locking bag, he scooped up one of the sacs and as much of the brackish water as he could. He only wanted a sample, something to study. Of all the species he knew that reproduced in this manner—he presumed they were egg sacs—this one escaped him. It looked like the egg case of a catshark, but square and smaller. The marsh was a cornucopia of ecology accentuated by the sea.

Joshua held the bag up to the sunlight and peered through the odd mass. Inside the sac, a tiny creature lay curled into a tight ball. It twitched in the glare. Overhead, two Osprey observed the marsh in widening circles. Joshua was anxious to get his find settled into the glass habitat he’d constructed in his room. He’d dubbed the thing a “terraquarium” since it approximated, as best he could manage, the mixed environment of the marsh. He was going to have the best summer project on display when school started again.

Thoughts of the future danced in his mind as he hurried home, the kind of open-ended musings only a 12-year old could think of; a future of discovery and fortune.

Do you have a fragment that should probably see the light of day? Send it my way at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: Jessica Barlow

Last week, Sara Tantlinger stopped by to talk with Girl Meets Monster about H. H. Holmes, and this week Jessica Barlow is here to share her love of superheroes. Jessica is a member of my Tribe, the cohort I graduated with from Seton Hill University. We’re a tight group, but we might let you sit at our table if you have a dark sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Author Photo BarlowFreelance author and comic book enthusiast, Jessica Barlow graduated with a Masters in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and currently resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is currently writing about LGBT superheroes and magic.

Three Questions

Girl Meets Monster: Thanks to Marvel’s film franchises and maybe even DC’s Wonder Woman and Justice League, superheroes have become mainstream. Do you think mainstream audiences are ready for LGBT superheroes?

Jessica: Yes. I think mainstream audiences are open to superheroes that reflect different aspects of our society. There are already LGBT superheroes to be found in the pages of the comics, but with the success of Marvel’s Black Panther and DC’s Wonder Woman, mainstream audiences proved they are ready to see heroes that don’t fit into the stereotypical white, heterosexual, cis-gendered, male superhero mold. It helps that there have been public cries about representation on social media, for instance the “Give Cap a Boyfriend” campaign on Twitter in 2016.

Girl Meets Monster: Aside from Captain America, which superheroes do you think would fit easily into a story about LGBT characters, and why?

Jessica: There are plenty of cannon LGBT superheroes in the comics that I’m betting audiences would really take to, however, if you mean any superheroes made common by the movies, then I would say the Thor characters. Norse mythology is full of LGBT heroes and heroines and villains. Loki himself has given birth to several of his children in lore. Thor has worn women’s clothing and felt comfortable and the Valkyries are an all-female section of Norse society, much like the Amazons.

It would be easiest to start with characters who are already mired in such stories and are more advanced – in the movies and comics – than we are at the time this response is being written. It helps that Loki’s pansexuality and genderfluidity is coming to the forefront in comics recently. If anyone is interested, check out Loki: Agent of Asgard and Young Avengers vol. 2: Style Over Substance. If you want young LGBT characters, check out Young Avengers, or Runaways which just had a show premiere on HULU. If young heroes aren’t your thing, check out DC’s gay Superman and Batman: Midnighter and Apollo or Batwoman. There are so many characters to choose from and I sincerely hope we get to witness some of them on screen!

Girl Meets Monster: I enjoyed reading your fragment. What stopped you from finishing it, and do you have plans to continue writing it?

Jessica: I’m so glad you enjoyed reading it! I stopped writing it because I wasn’t confident in the idea yet. I don’t have all the characters or the society as fleshed out as I would like yet either. I’ve set it on the back burner for now. I will finish it one day. This story is in my bones and I’m certain I will be ready to tell it.

Super Hero Project, by Jessica Barlow

It was the costume that made it hit home.

He’d seen it on the news. He’d watched Spero dart across the screen and envelope the explosion in an orb of black energy. Watched the energy condense into a ball the size of a dime. Watched as the crowd’s cheers melted to screams as the swirling, black mass expanded outward to engulf the city. Spero shot skyward and the following explosion wrenched the camera from the news crew. His sister. His twin. Gone.

She’d saved a city. She was a hero.

Still gone.

The rain beat a heavy, staccato rhythm against the ruddy ground as they lowered Spero’s body into the dirt. The coffin was sedate, covered in black lacquer, only the large gold star in the middle differentiated it from thousands of others already filling the cemetery. No one had cried that morning.

Superheroes weren’t allowed to grieve. Not in public.

The black band around the arm added a somber note to the otherwise blinding collage of colorful costumes adorning the stage.

The press had been respectful and quiet, save for the flash and click of the occasional camera.

The government was still wary of superheroes, but city officials showed up anyway. Everyone loved Avainti. She knew how to work a camera and always stopped for interviews, even for the fashion bloggers and gossip mags.

Bentonville had shut down. Every inhabitant had come to honor their fallen champion. They’d buried Avainti in uniform; the way she wanted it. The magenta and gold straps of her costume weaved a dizzying pattern across her brown skin. Their parents would have had a conniption, if they’d been here to see it.

The United Legion of Heroes had been the perfect for Avainti. She kept them endeared to the public.

Emilio observed the wall of muscle and color for a few minutes and closed his eyes, suddenly glad Avainti wasn’t here. She’d have complained about all the black in the crowd. They’d both known it would happen someday. It was literally in the fine print. Fighting aliens and trans-dimensional parasites and whatever else the Legion fought, came with a disclaimer tag, but she’d gone into super-heroing like she’d gone into everything else in her life; head first and eager to help.

Stupid.

He stroked absently over the folded letter in his pocket and concentrated on the up and down inflection of the pontificating official. A highlight reel had been printed in the program. Since they couldn’t have the projector in the rain and the city had insisted they hold the public service outside. They hadn’t anticipated the downpour and he’d thought he would have a say in how and where his sister was buried-next to Mom and Dad-preferably, but no. There was no mention of him. The Legion paid for the funeral. Hadn’t reached out to him to ask what he wanted.

The only way the government would leave the vigilantes to fight the good fight was to register your powers, name and likeness, sign them over to the government. And so promotions and commercial endorsements covered with his sister’s likeness were scattered throughout the crowd on TVs and posters and cutouts. A few kids clutched dolls and action figures to their chests, some crying, others confused.

Emilio’s stomach rolled and clutched, hot and tense. He breathed deep. He had to do something to make a difference. Not squander his power. It was the last thing she’d asked for in her letter. The ring on his finger pulsed. He stroked his thumb across it, spinning the tiny piece of metal around.

One word and he could do it. One word and she’d sit up in her coffin and crack a joke.

Cancer. She’d said.

What the hell kind of superhero got cancer?

He could have healed her. He knew he could. His fire could be life as easily as it was death. He could do anything. She’d always told him that.

He slipped the ring into his pocket and cleared away the burning knot at the back of his throat. This was what she’d wanted. And if she could give her life, the least he could do was accept her sacrifice, but what was he supposed to do now? She was the smart one, the fun one. The college graduate. He’d never been as good at channeling the power as Avainti. He hadn’t done a damned bit of community service in his life.

The ULH members stood, stone-faced behind the speaker. The rain pelted Hyperion, turned his golden hair brown, but the halo of molten light intensified around him. It spread to encompass the rest of the heroes. A shiver worked its way over each member the light touched. Hyperion alone allowed his face to convey his sadness. What did it mean that the alien in their ranks was the only person expressing himself?

The official stepped from the podium and turned the microphone over to the Legion. Shriek stepped away from the wall of color. He cleared his throat and just that small sound resonated with the microphone. The feedback noise vibrated against Emilio’s teeth.

Shriek leaned away from the podium and tried again. The crowd stepped back a bit, ready to split if the supersonic waves of his voice carried through the microphone. Shriek winced and rubbed the back of his neck in a sheepish gesture that said he didn’t have much public speaking experience. “Sorry ’bout that, y’all,” he said.

Next week, J. L. Gribble will join me here at Girl Meets Monster. Would you like to share you fragments and thoughts about why writing projects get abandoned? Drop me a line in the comments below or send me a message at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Weirdos Need Love Too

If you’re following along, you know that I’m hoping to write a blog post each day during the month of February. The last time I attempted to do that, I managed to write 21 posts out of 29 days. In order to stick to the theme of fuckable fictional characters, I’ve asked my friends and readers to make suggestions, because while there are plenty of fictional characters out there to write about, I may run out of steam and/or ideas as the month progresses. A few days ago, my friend Brian suggested I write a post about Jughead Jones. Some of you might laugh about that suggestion, but only if you haven’t caught an episode or two of the CW’s teen drama inspired by the Archie comics, “Riverdale.” I binge-watched the first season on Netflix this past summer and came to the conclusion that I was indeed smitten with the young Truman Capote wannabe.

If you haven’t watched “Riverdale,” you should check it out. I like to think of it as the lovechild of “Twin Peaks” and Heathers, that is weirdly reminiscent of Dawson’s Creek, with maybe just a touch of West Side Story. Based on characters from the Archie comic books, “Riverdale” takes a darker look at life in small town America. In case you aren’t sure, the first season is a murder mystery that uncovers a lot of dark secrets among the seemingly perfect population. You’ll recognize all the characters from the comic books: Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, Veronica Lodge, Josie and the Pussycats, and of course, Jughead Jones. I never really got into the comic books, but I do remember reading some of them when I was a kid.

I don’t remember the comics being nearly as interesting as the TV show, but in hindsight, the comic was essentially about Archie two-timing Betty and Veronica, unless I’m missing some important plot point. What I do remember beyond that is that Jughead wasn’t very smart and he was primarily interested in eating. So, you can imagine my surprise when Jughead Jones turns out to not be one of the smartest characters, but weirdly attractive.

Weirdos Need Love Too: Jughead Jones

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Archie Andrews is the star of the show, so his story arcs are still pretty important, but this ensemble cast of young actors each has an interesting backstory and together they discover that life is much darker than most of them realized. The death of a popular rich kid turns the whole town upside down and the sins of the parents come to the surface and force their kids to grow up a little faster.

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Jughead has a rough home life. In fact, we quickly learn that he’s homeless. He works as the projectionist at the local drive-in and is also sleeping there, which is sad, but kind of cool given how much he loves classic movies. His parents have split up because his dad is underemployed and has a drinking problem. Plus, it turns out he’s a criminal. When the drive-in closes after being sold for a new development project, Jughead is truly homeless and ends up sleeping in a closet at the high school.

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Jughead’s relationship with his family can best be described as moments of irrational hopefulness that are inevitably ruined by the realities of disappointment. Jughead’s dad is a drunk, a thief, and apparently not a very good husband, because his mom took his younger sister, Jellybean, and left. Jughead and his father share the delusion that if JP Jones would just get his shit together, they called be one big happy family again. But, the truth is that Jughead’s mom and sister aren’t coming back anytime soon, and for some reason, Jughead isn’t welcome to join them in Ohio where they are living with his mom’s grandparents.

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When Archie finds out how bad things are for his friend, he invites him to live with him and Mr. Andrews. Jughead lives with the Andrews for a while and is able to worry less about where he’s going to sleep and find his next meal so he can focus on school, developing stronger friendships, and the book he’s writing about the town and the murder investigation.

Jughead is not only a writer and film buff, but he has a wickedly dark sense of humor and has no tolerance for people’s bullshit. He’s the weird kid, an introvert, sensitive, intelligent, inquisitive, and most people treat him like an outcast because he’s different.

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I’m almost ashamed to say that Jughead Jones brings out my inner cougar. Almost. If I had known Jughead in high school, I’m pretty sure I would have lusted after him. At some point, I would have invited him over to listen to records, watch a movie, possibly smoke a joint, and then make out with him by the light of the lava lamp in my dark bedroom with black shower curtains over the windows. Yeah, I totally would have tried to seduce Jughead if given the opportunity.

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Of course, I may not have had much luck in wooing him, because Jughead’s taste in women seems to be blonde, over-achieving, mentally imbalanced cheerleaders who are actually in love with his best friend. At one point he refers to her as a Hitchcock blonde, and I suddenly wanted to read his manuscript from cover to cover. Still, pretty blonde girls as such a fucking cliche. But hey, who am I to judge? I’ve got the hots for vampires, werewolves, serial killers, and Satan himself. I’m not casting any stones in my glass haunted house of monster fetishes.

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Jughead still seems like an unlikely sex symbol, right? And, I know how inappropriate it is for a woman my age…who is unfortunately single and apparently reaching her peak of sexuality…to be lusting after a character in high school. I get it. My libido doesn’t seem to care, however, and is going to keep on having sexual fantasies about any number of inappropriate  fictional characters. That’s what fantasy is all about, right? Imagining all the naughty things you’d like to do, but not actually going through with them. I’m not hanging out at high school football games ogling the players. I’m not seeking out partners who want to drink my blood. In fact, for the sake of my own peace of mind, I’m currently not seeking out ANY partners. But that’s a post for another day. I’m here to talk about this adorable and tragic character.

Even though the plot focuses on the murder and we spend a lot of time dealing with Archie’s romances, his parents’ impending divorce, and his struggle to define himself as a musician and songwriter, we also spend a lot of time learning about who Jughead is and the struggles he’s going through. He is struggling for acceptance much like Archie, but Jughead isn’t trying to be something he isn’t. He is true to himself even if that means ending up alone.

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His feelings for Betty run deep. When she opened up to him and showed him her own darkness, I don’t think he could help falling for her. But she still has trouble accepting him for who he truly is. He loves her, but also realizes that he can never really be who she thinks she wants. And still, he tells her his true feelings and bravely opens himself up to her.

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He risks a lot by opening himself up to Betty. He loves her and she cares for him too, but she doesn’t completely grasp how importantly loyalty is to him. They don’t come from the same kind of background. Jughead is a survivor. He understands what it means to be a true friend and ally. Because he has seen into the hearts of people and knows there is more darkness than light.

Betty wants to believe that people are good, but Jughead knows that no matter how good people appear on the surface, there are always secrets waiting to reveal themselves. Despite Betty’s own experiences with her friends, family, and neighbors, she still wants to see the best in everyone. But, for some reason, she still wants Jughead to be turn his back on his past. No matter how much she says she loves him, she still wishes he was Archie.

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I’m perfectly fine with Jughead being true to himself. Even if he becomes a member of the South Side Serpents, he’s still a better person than Betty, Veronica, and Archie. At least, he is in my opinion, because he is the only one willing to accept his friends at face value and encourage them to be their true selves. Even when they turn out to have much darker secrets than his own.

Love, Sex and Beautiful Death

I read a lot of Paranormal Romance…or Urban Fantasy…or Vampire Romance…or Vampire Erotica… or essentially, any fiction that features vampires and other supernatural creatures engaged in sexual relationships that are complicated by the threat of violence from external or internal forces. Conflict, sex, and the threat of death makes for interesting fiction. Well, as long as the characters aren’t too annoying. As is the case with a lot of contemporary popular fiction featuring vampires, werewolves, witches, and other dark characters, eventually someone is going to get laid. At least, if I’m reading the book they had better get laid or I’m going to quickly lose interest. The exception to this would be a series that features characters who are constantly building toward a promised release. They don’t have sex right away, but man when they do, and you know they will, it is going to be HOT.

Jean-Claude, Vampire Master of the City of St. Louis

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In the first few novels in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series, that is exactly what we get as readers. The tantalizing promise of sex, without release. Anita has taken a personal vow of celibacy and is waiting to meet Mr. Right before she has sex with anyone. She goes on dates, but never seems to like or trust anyone enough to make them a permanent fixture in her life. To be fair, her life is complicated. She raises zombies for a living and is also a licensed vampire hunter. She works with the police to solve paranormal crimes and she hunts monsters. Initially, even though she has the ability to raise the dead, she considers herself human and anyone with fangs or who occasionally turns furry, she considers a monster. Simple right?

Well, as is the case with most things in life, nothing is ever that cut and dry. In Hamilton’s first novel, Guilty Pleasures, we meet a vampire who could give Anne Rice’s vampires a run for their money. Jean-Claude is a master vampire, but he serves under a more powerful vampire who is the Master of the City of St. Louis. Jean-Claude was born in France, he is tall, slim, but muscular and has a feminine appearance due to his long black curls and angelic pale face. While he is a bit androgynous, Anita makes it clear that you would never mistake him for anything other than male. His preference for black and white clothing in fabrics like silk, velvet, lace and leather tend to the more dramatic and are reminiscent of 17th century fashions, including black leather boots that reach his thighs and shirts with frilly lace collars and cuffs. Jean-Claude’s most noticeable attributes are his beauty, his charm, his biting wit, his seductive voice that enables him to enthrall humans, a laugh that caresses your skin and puts naughty ideas into your head, and an uncanny knack for diplomacy and leadership. His maker, Belle Morte, that’s right, the beautiful death, is a very powerful vampire and has the power to control humans, lycanthropes, and vampires with her sexuality, and each vampire in her bloodline has some skill associated with love and sex. Her power is like a drug and many have become addicted to her power, which is called the ardeur.

Like Gallowglass de Clermont, there is no actor to reference, because there has been no TV or film adaptation of the novels at this point. But, there is a comic book series based on the books and lots of fan art floating around out there to give you a sense of Jean-Claude’s good looks. And, like me people have their own opinions about who should be cast as extremely sensual vampire.

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Anita’s skill set allows her to sense the relative age of most vampires, something she does through feeling the amount of power they have. She can usually guess the age of a vampire within a hundred years give or take. However, she underestimates Jean-Claude’s age by roughly 200 years when they first meet. Although she has made a career of hunting vampires, she has not been privy to their secrets because she does not have access to their world beyond hunting and killing them. Her knowledge is limited to literal textbooks and what she has been able to observe in the field.

As she gets to know Jean-Claude and the other vampires in the kiss (a group or clan of vampires) he belongs to, Anita starts to realize she knows a lot less about vampires than she thought. Jean-Claude seems to be hellbent on getting into Anita’s panties in the first novel and is puzzled, but excited by the challenge when he realizes that she isn’t driven by her libido. He claims that it has been centuries since anyone has turned down his offer for sex. Given that his super vamp powers stem from his ability to seduce people with his voice and touch, and he is apparently well-versed in the art of giving pleasure, he relies on his powers of persuasion from the neck up to convince Anita that she can trust him. She continually refuses his invitations to dinner even after he saves her life.

But…he saves her life by binding her to him through the use of vampire magic. So, he saves and enslaves her at the same time. And, in turn, because of their close connection she ends up saving him and kills the vampire who stands in the way of him obtaining more power. In fact, she keeps saving until she realizes she’s doing because she has feelings for him. They are friends and allies, and the more she gets to know him the more she realizes her feelings for him are of a sexual nature. Well, no shit, Sherlock. I mean aside from the fact that his accent alone is enough to peel panties, his vampire powers are based in seduction, he dresses like a model on the cover of a romance novel and has a body made for sin. He has a black belt in flirting and the ability to make Anita believe that it’s her idea to have sex the first time they finally do. He allows her to come to him and questions her decision even though it is the one thing he wants most from her. Well, that and genuine love and affection. He’s smart, funny, powerful, handsome, could write an encyclopedia on fucking from memory, and has sincere emotional attachment to the vampires and shapeshifters he rules.

Despite some of his manipulative habits and almost serial killer level need for keeping secrets, he’s still one of the best choices for boyfriends among the many lovers Anita acquires over the course of the novels. He does trick her into to becoming his human servant. And, he threatens to kill her boyfriend, a werewolf, Richard Zeeman, if she refuses to date both of them at the same time. Up until the point when she finally gives herself to Jean-Claude body and soul, she dates both of them, has sex with neither of them, and Jean-Claude’s angle is that he believes eventually she will choose one of them. One of them will appear to be too mostrous and in that moment she will choose the other. Richard wants to marry Anita and initially she wants the same happily ever after. But, as Richard gains power within his pack, she freaks out when she seems the darker side of his werewolf self. Her rejection of him only serves to make Richard hate himself even more.

At any rate, as readers, we wait a long time for Anita to drop her guard and her panties. There are a few scenes when you think she’s going to have sex with Richard, but they either get interrupted, don’t have time, or allow fear to talk them out of it. There is a lot of kissing and touching and elevated heart rates, but we barely even get foreplay until Anita sees Richard let his beast loose and runs into the arms of Jean-Claude. She literally feels safer in the arms of a vampire. So safe, that she fucks him in the bathtub and despite her moral high horse, she does it without any admission of love for Jean-Claude. Technically, she used him for sex. She was feeling so terrible about her feelings for Richard that she ran to Jean-Claude and used him for sex. And thereby punishing Richard for being too much of a monster.

Yes, Jean-Claude is a vampire. He feeds on blood and in his case, sexual pleasure. He feeds on the sexual release of his partners like an incubus, but he can also feed off people’s arousal at a distance. Since he owns and operates a strip club featuring male lycanthropes and vampires, there’s a lot of sexual energy to go around. In fact, as Anita’s powers and needs evolve, most of her additional lovers, with the exception of Richard, Micah and Asher, come from the line-up of strippers at Guilty Pleasures: Jason, Nathaniel, Requiem, Damian, London, and Byron. I’m probably forgetting someone, but it’s kind of hard to keep track of all that man candy.

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Jean-Claude is attracted to men and women, but Anita is his only lover throughout the first fourteen novels. Anita and Jean-Claude have sex with other people in their bed, including Asher, Richard, Micah and Nathaniel, and even Jason. However, everyone is having sex with Anita. There is blood-sharing that takes place between the vampires and the male lycanthropes, but there is only hetero sex happening between Anita and all of her lovers even if more than one of them is in the bed. However, Jean-Claude and Asher were lovers in the past and they are still in love. They avoid having sex together, because Jean-Claude is worried that if Anita is uncomfortable with him having sex with men she will no longer accept him into her bed. He doesn’t even feed off other women, so he has essentially made himself celibate except for Anita when he is in fact an incubus. His willingness to play by her rules based on a very limited scope of sexuality actually weakens his power as Master of the City. There are men willing to have sex with Jean-Claude and he continually refuses even though he may be attracted to them. Asher is the least happy about this situation and continually complains about it. Asher will definitely get his own blog post this month if not this week.

Meanwhile, because of the metaphysical fuckery associated with becoming Jean-Claude’s human servant and becoming part of a triumvirate with Richard as Jean-Claude’s animal to call, Anita develops the ardeur and must have multiple lovers to feed like a succubus and even has two live-in boyfriends. That doesn’t exactly seem fair does it? Especially since Richard is still counted among her harem and he goes on dates and has sex with lots of other women. What the fuck, you might ask. Everyone else who has sex with Anita, with the exception of Jason, Richard, and Asher, remain faithful to her. So, she has these really weird relationships with everyone where she continually questions her feelings, their feelings, and pretends to be clueless about alternative sexual needs.

For example, one of her boyfriends, a wereleopard and stripper, who was also a former child prostitute and porn star, has a taste for BDSM. He’s submissive and enjoys being dominated. In fact, he enjoys feeling pain. Anita claims to love him, but can’t seem to get her head around the fact that he’d like her to dominate him more sexually. He even tells her they can start out slow and simply try binding him while they have the regular sex they would normally have, which by the way isn’t always vanilla. She’s uncomfortable with the idea, so keeps avoiding his requests. Then he suggests going to someone else for domination without sexual intercourse. Again, she doesn’t know what to say, because she’s jealous and worried about sharing him with someone else. Again, what the fuck? I’m going to stop talking about Nathaniel right there, because I’m pretty sure he’s going to come up in another blog post. Because, I’ve thought about Nathaniel a lot, and I have several solutions to alleviate the problem of him not getting what he needs from his relationship with Anita.

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There are a total of 32 books in this series. Apparently, in book 23, Dead Ice, Anita and Jean-Claude plan their wedding. I can only assume that Richard is dead at this point, because I can’t imagine him standing by to allow that to happen. He’s tried killing Jean-Claude for less. I’m on book 15 right now, The Harlequin, and I had a moment of clarity while reading a scene in which Anita and Richard are bickering over some bullshit jealousy issue, as usual, and rather than sitting back and letting them fight with each other, Jean-Claude whips out his power and makes them both come to heel.

Jean-Claude called the fight. He called it with a push of power that staggered both of us. I nearly fell, and Richard looked ashen. We both turned and looked at the vampire. HIs eyes were glittering blue pools, like the night sky was on fire.

“Enough of this.” His voice whispered through the room like and echo of bats, bouncing off the curtains.

I knew he was our master, but I’d never felt him do anything like this to us. Never felt him simply throw his power into us and stop us in our tracks. I hadn’t known he had it in him.

We watched him come toward us like small birds that wanted to fly from the snake, but couldn’t make ourselves move. (205)

There’s nothing sexual happening in that scene. But I couldn’t remember ever being as turned on by Jean-Claude in that moment as I had been during all of his sex scenes. Jean-Claude has a lot of sex scenes. Some of which are super-fucking hot. Power is sexy. Vampire power, when used strategically by the right vampire, is heart-palpitating, knee-quivering, and panty-peeling sexy.

More often than not, Jean-Claude will defer to Anita. He allows her to be in control of situations, unless he knows better or is worried that emotions will cloud her judgement. His fear of upsetting her practically castrates him, and there are many instances when he has to lie or simply omit information so that he can effectively run his businesses and manage his territory.

The scene above was one of the first times he simply told both Anita and Richard to shut up and do what he said. He reminded them that he actually is more powerful than they give him credit for, and it freaked them both out. They shut the fuck up. For a little while anyway. As powerful as Anita and Richard are, Jean-Claude is still their master.

Several vampires who sought freedom from the ardeur and Belle Morte’s cruel and perverse behaviors, have chosen to live with Jean-Claude and accepted him as their master. Jean-Claude is no joke. With each newly acquired vampire and each new acquired metaphysical power he becomes more and more powerful. But, despite all that power he is still a formidable foe, a shrewd businessman, a clever diplomat, a reliable ally, a loyal friend, a kind master, and a generous lover. Without a doubt, Jean-Claude is one of my favorite vampires of all time and he is unquestionably fuckable.

10 Things That Made Me Happy While Taking the #100HappyDays Challenge

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Back on January 23 I started a #100HappyDays Challenge. The homepage of the site asks you, “Can you be happy for 100 days in a row?” I believe most rational people would probably say no. And, if like me, you suffer from chronic depression you’d be even more skeptical.

The second question the site asks you is, “You don’t have time for this, right?” Again, most of us would agree that we don’t have time to make an effort to be happy every single day for 100 days. But is that true? Why don’t we have time? Is it because we don’t believe we’re worth the effort? Or is it because we don’t believe that you can find happiness that easily? Or maybe, and I know this sounds a little crazy, we don’t really understand a) what makes us happy, b) what happiness really looks and feels like, or c) how to begin to find happiness in our everyday lives.

The challenge itself is simple. Each day, for 100 days, you simply take a picture of something or someone who made you happy and then follow the steps on the site.

So first you register in the challenge >here<, then choose your favorite platform for submitting pictures. Here you can decide yourself on the privacy of your participation & happy moments:

  • Share your picture via Facebook, twitter or Instagram with a public hashtag #100happydays;
  • Come up with your own hashtag to share your pictures with to limit publicity. (Don’t forget to tell us how to find your pictures though)
  • Simply send your pictures to myhappyday (at) 100happydays.com to avoid any publicity.

The 100happydays.com site claims that “71% of people tried to complete this challenge, but failed quoting lack of time as the main reason.” Studies have shown that most people are not just busy, but overwhelmed with responsibility – work, housework, school, family, and other social obligations – that keep them running nonstop and afford little time for anything else. People typically don’t make time to take care of themselves, or just check in to see how happy they are with the life they are living.

Believe me, I get it. I’m a divorced single parent who works full-time. I’m a part-time writer trying to become a full-time writer, which means I write fiction in the hopes of being published and farm myself out for freelance projects because my day job doesn’t pay enough. I’m not currently dating, but I have a fairly active social life. I rent, so I don’t have a lot of home repairs to tend to, but there’s still housework, errands, cooking, and child rearing. To be honest, housework doesn’t get done very often, but we always have clean laundry and dishes, and my son never misses a meal. My son is involved in activities outside the house, and he has behavioral/emotional issues that we manage through therapy and other strategies. I’m not going to win any awards for my parenting skills. However, I make a point of showing up and being present when my energy and own mental health issues are balanced. I’m actively seeking employment, because I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stay in my current job after June. So, yeah, I’m busy. Like mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly busy some days. Depression has been an ongoing issue for me since I was a kid. I was diagnosed in my teens and have sought the support of therapists and medication on and off throughout my adult life. I’m not just busy. Some days are harder than others. Some days I have #zerofuckstogive. Some days I consider it a win if I get out of bed, get dressed, and make it to work.

Despite all the challenges I face day-to-day, I managed to find something to be relatively happy about for almost every single day of the 100-day challenge. I chose to post my pictures, thoughts and reflections on social media – Facebook and Instagram. Each day, beginning on January 23 and ending on May 2, I posted a photo, a meme, or simply an observation about that day and what brought me joy.

100happydays.com also asks the question, “Why would I do that?” Good question. I’m sure lots of people would ask that question. Well, here are some answers.

People successfully completing the challenge claimed to:

  • Start noticing what makes them happy every day;
  • Be in a better mood every day;
  • Start receiving more compliments from other people;
  • Realize how lucky they are to have the life they have;
  • Become more optimistic;
  • Fall in love during the challenge.

Need help figuring out what makes you happy? Here are the top 10 things that brought me happiness during my #100happydays challenge (in no particular order). Perhaps, you’ll recognize some of the things that make you smile too.

  1. Booze. Let’s face it, adult beverages are delicious and when they are drunk responsibly, they can have amazingly curative properties. When I was younger, I was hell-bent on self-medicating. I drank too much and too often. I also was careless about mixing drugs with alcohol, and usually in questionable company. That’s a story for another day. At this point in my life, I don’t drink very often. I keep some booze at home, typically bourbon, which is my favorite liquor. Occasionally, I’ll drink rum. Booze appeared in my social media feeds on Day 1 of the challenge. It was a rough day. And, booze played a role in bringing me happiness 4 out the 100 days, 5 if you count the codeine cough syrup I drank when I was sick. Fun fact: Because of my love of bourbon and booze in general, I gained roughly 20 new followers on Instagram who are either bars with specialty cocktails, bourbon aficionados, and distillers of small-batch spirits. So, I guess you could say that booze has the ability to make me popular and interesting.
  1. Coffee & Tea. I don’t know about you, but caffeine is 90% responsible for keeping me conscious most days. It’s no secret how much I love coffee, but I also enjoy drinking tea. Coffee and tea have been staples in my life since childhood. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania in the 70s and 80s, and my grandmother didn’t see a problem with putting iced tea in my bottle when I was a baby. I drank my first cup of coffee when I was five. But don’t worry, she cut the bitterness by adding a tooth-decaying amount of sugar to it. Essentially, my grandmother was my first drug dealer. She hated alcohol. Most likely because her father and one of her brothers were alcoholics. People who drank alcohol pissed her off, but she was the poster child for coffee, sugar, and cigarettes. When I was a poor college student and couldn’t afford to maintain my cigarette habit (I smoked between the ages of 14 and 35), my grandmother would either give me money or buy my cigarettes for me. By the carton. In fact, when I was a junior, studying abroad in England for a year, her biggest concern, aside from my safety, was that cigarettes were so much more expensive there. She sent me care packages on a regular basis, and I could always count on finding at least one carton of Camel Lights in the box of goodies. In a related story, after my first week of living in England, I discovered that I was getting headaches almost every day and was feeling lethargic even though I was drinking between 6 – 10 cups of tea a day. Eventually, I realized that I was suffering from dehydration. Basically, I lived on tea, beer and cider, scones with clotted cream, packets of cheese and onion crisps, and Camel Lights. Once I figured out what was wrong with me, I kept a plastic cup near my sink and I would drink 2 – 3 cups of water before going to bed and upon waking. By the way, I had purchased the cup with Camel Cash, and the cup featured an image of Joe the Camel wearing a leather biker jacket, circa early 90s.
  1. Food. I love food. I love to cook it. I love to eat. I see food as something beyond a means of nourishing my body. Food conjures memories of childhood. Food comforts me. Sharing a meal with family and friends is one of my favorite ways to interact and be social. Learning a new recipe is akin to learning a new spell. Food is a perfect marriage between magic and science. Cooking allows me to express myself, get creative, and heal myself through healthy foods. During the #100happydays challenge, food appeared in my social media feeds 34 days out of 100. Foods that appeared the most were fruit salad and tacos. A lot of the foods were healthy and involved my crockpot and meal prep that allowed me to cook once and eat for several days in a row. Some of my most popular posts dealt with food and the recipes I featured, and these posts got some of the most comments, including requests for recipes. Food is the glue of cultural and social interaction. The healthier I eat, the happier I am.
  1. Friends & Family. I have a small family. For the most part it’s just my mom, my son and me. I also have aunts, uncles, and cousins. For the most part, I am close with my cousins. We’re all around the same age, grew up in the same generation with access to the same elements of popular culture. I saw my cousins during the summer at family picnics most of the time when I was a kid, and now I make time to see them when I can. I spend a lot of time with my cousin Tara. I think of her as a best friend and sister, not just a cousin. She’s 1 of 4 kids and I’m an only child. Her sister and I are the same age and get along well too, but we don’t hang out as often as I’d like. Tara and I have similar tastes in music, movies, television shows, art, food, and enjoy mean jokes at the expense of others. She’s a talented artist, a supportive and loving person, and she can always make me laugh or think more clearly about something happening in my life. I will happily tell you that I am blessed with an amazingly diverse and interesting collection of friends and acquaintances. One of my best friends, Pat, has been my friend since we were 14 or 15 years old. He has an uncanny ability to zero-in on what is at the source of the negative feelings I might be feeling about any given situation. Sometimes it’s spooky how well he knows me, but I don’t know what I would do without his friendship. His ability to make me laugh never ceases to amaze me and he is always brutally honest with me when I find myself in crappy situations. He’s usually the first to tell me that I can a) overcome the problem, and b) if I look at a situation a little differently and take full responsibility for my own actions, 9 times out of 10, things will be just fine. I have other amazing friends, like Sarah and Isabelle who have been in my life as long as Pat has, and I have newer friends, like Stephanie who I feel like I’ve known just as long. And, I can’t forget my friend Danielle. She always has a way of making sure I’m taken care of, even if it’s just getting together to talk over dinner. Friends and social occasions really make a difference in my life. Typically, I prefer one-on-one interactions or small gatherings, but every now and then I attend larger events. I have a touch of social anxiety, so that’s where my good friend Booze comes in to play again. Out of 100 days, 31 of my posts were about friends and family.
  1. Film & Television. I’m obsessed with popular culture and have long-loved the escapism of watching movies and TV shows. My preferences for genre tend to be Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction, Black Comedies, Historical Dramas, Mysteries, and Romance, but usually the Paranormal variety. I love vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, and other things that go bump in the night. And, I love superheroes. Marvel’s film franchise has provided me with hours and hours of happiness. And, I’ve been known to fall in love with fictional characters. Here’s a short list: Loki, Magneto, Wolverine, Captain America, John Constantine, Elijah Mikaelson, Hannibal Lecter, Francis Dolarhyde, Damon Salvatore, Simon Bellamy, Lucifer, Preacher, Lawrence Talbot, Rupert Giles, Spock, John Mitchell, Captain Ross Poldark, Spike, Doctor Who…well, you get the idea. In fact, if you’ve read my blog before, you’re familiar with my obsessions and may even share some of them. 12 of 100 posts referred to films or TV.
  1. Books. Reading is important to me. I don’t remember a time in my life when books were not available to me. Bookshelves filled with books, trips to the library and used books stores, talking about new books that a favorite writer had written – these were all common occurrences in my childhood. Before I could read, family members and teachers read to me. Once I could read on my own, I read as many books as I could get my hands on. Stories bring a certain richness to my life that I often can’t find anywhere else. My love of stories, books and words led me to become an English major in college. Why? Because I love to read and write (I’ll get to that shortly). I’ll read just about anything, but like my preferences in film and television, my taste in genre and to a certain extent literary fiction, are the speculative genres – Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction. I also enjoy nonfiction. Over the past few months, I have been consuming Roxane Gay’s books, An Untamed State, Difficult Women, and Bad Feminist. Her writing speaks to me in so many unexpected ways. Not only does she show me the different parts of myself that would normally seem disconnected, but she also shows me how they relate to each other to make me a whole and complicated person. And, more importantly, she makes me want to be a better writer. Books appeared in at least 12 of my posts.
  1. Writing. Writing has been a part of my life almost as long as reading. Narratives have always been an important part of my life. Whether I was watching a Hitchcock film or favorite Western with my grandfather, an epic Romance or Soap Opera with my grandmother, “Creature Double Feature” or “Dark Shadows” with my mother, “King Fu Theater” or “The Prisoner” with my father, or enjoying the ridiculous premises you’d find in 80s music videos, and later an obsession with foreign language films, I consumed a lot of narratives in and out of books growing up. Stephen King’s books lined the bookshelves in almost every house in my immediate family. A year or so ago, my aunt bequeathed her Stephen King collection to me. I hadn’t read a lot of his books, but I had seen film adaptations of them. In the last few years, I took the time to read Carrie, The Shining, The Gunslinger, Misery, Salem’s Lot, and I just finished listening to Doctor Sleep as an audio book in my car. I tried reading IT at one point, but I couldn’t get past the clown. It’s weird. I can watch the film starring Tim Curry and I can’t wait to see the remake with Bill Skarsgård, but the book scares the shit out of me. One day, I will read that book cover to cover. Today is not that day. As much as I love Stephen King’s fiction, my favorite Stephen King book is On Writing. It is the only craft book that ever brought me to tears. I have two copies. A copy I bought to read while earning my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, and the copy I found on my dad’s bookshelves after he died. My dad was a writer. He wrote a lot, but never finished writing his novel. I finished writing my first novel after his death in 2015. I’ve since started writing 2 more novels, and I’ve been writing poetry and short fiction since I was 12. I’ve only had one short story published, but I will have more of my work published, damn it. I owe that much to my dad. And, I can’t talk about writing without talking about Anne Rice. She is probably one of the biggest influences on my writing, and I must give her at least partial credit for why I write about vampires. Her novels gave vocabulary to some of the things I thought and felt as a teenager, and her vampires made me feel more alive than any characters I’d find in the fiction geared toward teenagers at the time. Thanks for all the good books, Anne. Your work gave me the courage to write about taboo subjects in a way that allowed me to talk about the beauty I found in them.
  1. Self-Care. Technically, participating in the #100happydays challenge is an act of self-care itself. Taking the time to pay attention and make note of the things that make you happy really is an enlightening exercise. In doing so, I found myself seeking out more ways to care for myself. I ate healthier foods. I spent more time in the company of people I love. I tried to develop better habits, like exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and scheduling downtime so that I could do the things that recharge me and fill my brain with creative ideas. Don’t want to take my word for it? Try the #100happydays challenge for yourself and see what I mean. Self-care and self-love are not selfish acts. Doing nice things for yourself, taking care of yourself, enables us to care for the other people in our lives without killing ourselves to do so.
  1. Art. I’ve talked about several art forms/crafts in this post, namely writing and visual media. I’d also include culinary arts in that list. However, I also like to go to museums and galleries to check out the work of mixed media artists – painters, sculptors, ceramicists, collage makers, and several other mediums. During my 100-day challenge, I visited two galleries, CALC in Carlisle, PA, where my son had a drawing in one of the local student art shows, and Metropolis Collective in Mechanicsburg, PA, as well as The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. In each art space, I got to see some wonderfully beautiful, disturbing, and thought-provoking art. I need to go to more museums, and I need to create more of my own art. Perhaps there are projects I can work on with my son this summer to get us both creating and spending more quality time together.
  1. Michael Fassbender. Laugh if you must, but Michael Fassbender’s work as an actor brings me happiness on a regular basis. I had enjoyed his work in films prior to last summer when I went to see X-men: Apocalypse, but for some reason, his portrayal of Magneto in that film struck a chord with me that caused me to not only revisit X-men: First Class and X-men: Days of Future Past, but I also rewatched Inglourious Bastards, and then began making my way through his entire body of work. I’m particularly fond of Shame, 12 Years a Slave, A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, Jonah Hex, Macbeth, Prometheus, Slow West, and I loved him in the TV show “Hex”. His characters make me laugh, cry, think, feel shame, and I’m not going to lie, ignite my desire. He is a beautiful and talented man. Eventually, I will see all his film and television performances. His Magneto breaks my heart, and makes me question right and wrong. After watching 12 Years a Slave, I went through a period of deep meditation and self-reflection based on my confused feelings of repulsion and attraction for his character, Edwin Epps. His Carl Jung left me feeling sexually frustrated, and his Rochester made me realize how many toxic relationships I have been in and examine why I keep returning to those doomed relationships. He is a master of his craft, not just a handsome face.

This was not my first #100happydays challenge rodeo, so I can attest to the fact that most of the claims made by the folks at 100happydays.com are true. Are they true every single day of the challenge? No. I don’t think anyone is happy every single day of their life. However, I will say that by taking the time to notice the things that do make me happy, I have a better understanding of my own happiness (or lack of happiness). I understand that happiness is a choice, and we are responsible for creating it for ourselves. And, like me, you might be surprised to find that happiness is all around us. All we need to do is take inventory and remind ourselves that happiness is not completely out of reach. In fact, it may be closer than you think.

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Fuckable Fictional Characters: Magneto

Over the weekend I went to see X-men: Apocalypse. I enjoyed the movie. In fact, as I usually do when watching Marvel movies, I experienced some catharsis. Marvel’s heroes and villains have always had a powerful effect on my psyche, and more often than not, when I see a movie featuring these amazing characters I cry. Laugh if you need to, but Marvel characters tend to experience some heavy-duty tragedy in their fictional lives, which makes them interesting, believable, and deserving of our empathy. Like regular old people such as you and me, they react to this tragedy in a multitude of ways. Some of them channel those negative feelings into helping others, while some take their pain and channel it into seeking revenge.

I don’t condone the choice to take revenge for the pain and suffering that people (fictitious or real) have experienced in their lives, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the desire to do so. Revenge always seems like it’s going to be satisfying and it tempts us into believing that making our enemies pay for the hurt they’ve caused will somehow heal us. Unfortunately, for most people, revenge only causes more pain and turns people into the villains they hate so much.

A Heartbreaking Villain: Magneto

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Erik Lehnsherr is a tragic character. His story line is riddled with black moments. Born Jewish in Germany, he survived the Holocaust, but his family didn’t. In the comics, we are told that he not only survived, but also was later made to work in the death camp at Auschwitz to remove the dead bodies of his fellow Jews who were murdered in the gas chambers. The Nazis persecuted him for being a Jew, and then because of his mutant ability, he was hunted and threatened by people who feared him, which put other people he loved in danger. His daughter Anya died at the hands of an angry mob after people witnessed his mutant power. His wife, pregnant with twins, left him because she was devastated by the loss of their daughter and frightened by his power. To say that Erik is emotionally damaged by the terrible things that happened to him and his loved ones would be an understatement.

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When I was first introduced to Magneto as a kid, I didn’t understand why he was viewed as a villain. In fact, Stan Lee has been quoted to say that he never intended for Magneto to be seen as a villain. Inspired by the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, he envisioned Magneto as the Malcolm X to Professor X’s Martin Luther King Jr. – two men fighting for the same cause, but with different ideologies. Each man wishes to protect mutants from persecution and violence, but Magneto prefers to be proactive and confront the enemies of mutantkind BEFORE they can hurt his brothers and sisters. Charles Xavier has chosen to walk a more peaceful path, and never gives up hope that mutants and humans can live peacefully together. However, he also understands that the path he’s chosen is dangerous and trains his students so that they are ready to fight when the war against mutants ends up on their doorstep. He’s hopeful, but not an idiot.

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Our tax dollars at work.

The common struggle that initially unites these two men is compromised by their opposing views on how to deal with the threat of humanity. Magneto has witnessed the evil of humankind time and time again. His trust for humans will only extend so far, because he is always waiting for them to disappoint him. If we were to diagnose Erik with a psychological disorder, I think it would be safe to say that he suffers from PTSD after the atrocities he witnessed in Nazi Germany, which has contributed to his trust issues and difficulty maintaining relationships, romantic or otherwise. Intimacy can be a real challenge when you ultimately trust no one.

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They need more on-screen smooch time.

Because, even the people Erik has loved and attempted to trust have either abandoned him, or given him a reason to turn on them. Or his paranoia leads him to betray them before they can betray him. His agenda, to punish those who threaten him and his mutant brethren, has destroyed more relationships than healed them. His pursuit of revenge alienates him from friends and family, potentially making him one of the loneliest villains in the Marvel universe.

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What? That there should be scenes of both of you naked? That’s totally what I was thinking.

There’s a lot of ground to cover with Magneto seeing as how he appeared in the first X-men comic in 1963. Since there’s so much material to pull from, I’m going to cheat a little and only focus on the films that he’s appeared in. Yes, I’m fully aware that these films deviate from the original storylines that appeared in the comics, but since amazing actors have portrayed him on screen, I’m going to focus on them for the purposes of this blog post. I’m sticking to the films mainly because while Magneto has always been an inspiring character in print, it’s Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of him that stirs my heart (and loins) the most.

Magneto, played by Ian McKellen, first appeared on film in X-men (2000). McKellen did an amazing job of conveying the complexity of the character, as well as his cleverness, his power, his skills at manipulation, and his single-minded determination to stop all threats to mutant life. No matter what. McKellen reprised the role several times, including his appearance in X-men: Days of Future Past in which he plays the older Magneto and Michael Fassbender the younger Magneto.

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The sassier side of Magneto.

When we were given an in-depth peek into Magneto’s origin story in X-men: First Class (2011), Michael Fassbender had the unique opportunity to convey the raw emotional turmoil and rage-inspired violence that labeled this misunderstood character a villain. Not to mention the fact that he also brought Magneto to a level of sexiness that pairs well with James McAvoy’s equally sexy Charles Xavier. Maybe it’s the costuming from the 1960’s that reminded me of some of my favorite spies played by gorgeous British actors, or maybe it’s just the fact that Michael Fassbender is simply one of the sexiest men alive. At any rate, I have no complaints about the casting.

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Speaking of fantastic casting choices, when I saw X-men: Days of Future Past, my head nearly exploded when Evan Peters took on the role of Quicksilver, Magneto’s son. He was amazing, and his scenes were by far some of my favorites in both Days of Future Past and Apocalypse. Evan Peters stole my heart in the American Horror Story series, and he’s definitely on that list of actors who portray monsters in such a way to make me lust after them. I’m not one of those women who considers marrying serial killers on death row, but I do fantasize about fictional characters who commit similar acts of horror.

I think anyone would find it difficult to argue against Magneto’s complexity, or the fact that he is a damaged soul. And, even though he makes a lot of terrible decisions, I often find myself cheering him on. Humans do terrible things to each other, but those horrific acts become even worse when targeted at people who don’t look like them or share their cultural beliefs. You’d have to be an idiot not to grasp that the battle between humans and mutants is an allegory for racism. The fact that Erik is a Jew who survived the Holocaust allows me to overlook some of his methods for dealing with his enemies.

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In fact, I applauded his mission to track down and kill former Nazis who associated with the man who exploited his power and turned him into a monster. However, his belief that mutants are superior to humans sounds an awful lot like the ideology of the Nazis. That’s not a coincidence. Ironic, yes. Coincidence, no. It’s one of the personality quirks that make him such an interesting character. His psyche was so damaged by his tormentors that he uses their ideas and methods to smite his enemies.

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A friend of mine who also saw X-men: Apocalypse over the weekend was unable to accept Magneto’s actions in the film as redeemable. He’s right. A lot of people died because of his choices and the actions of the people he teamed up with to essentially destroy the world. Again, we were reminded that his pain and rage are his two biggest motivators. Does that excuse his actions? No. Do I still feel a kinship with him because of his pain and because he’s one of my favorite fictional characters? Of course I do. Is it true that each time I see Michael Fassbender in that role I want to help Magneto heal his pain any way I possibly can? Absolutely.

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Seriously. Look at this guy. You know you want to hug him. Kiss him. Handcuff him to a bed frame. Whatever it takes to distract him from making any more mistakes.

I’m not going to lie. A character with a backstory like his in the hands of a gorgeous actor like Fassbender is going to win my heart every single time. He is powerful, emotionally damaged, fighting for a cause I can get behind, and smoking hot. And he fucks up constantly and continually drives a wedge between himself and the people who care about him the most. In his efforts to protect mutants, he ultimately destroys all hope of uniting them on a common front. He becomes worse than the enemy he’s fighting. And, my heart breaks for him. There isn’t enough love in this world to heal Magneto, because he refuses to be healed. He isn’t redeemable because he doesn’t wish to be redeemed.

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Let Magneto’s major flaw be a lesson for us all. You can’t heal your own pain by causing pain in others. But, that doesn’t make him any less deserving of our empathy and love. Magneto will always have a special place in my heart, in that dark corner I reserve for the justifiable villains, antiheroes and monsters. Always.

Fuckable Fictional Characters: John Constantine

Yesterday in my post about Mr. Darcy I talked a little bit about how he wrong actor can make an excellent fictional character a disappointment to fans on screen. I mentioned the poor casting choices of two of my favorite fictional characters, Lestat and Louis in Interview with the Vampire. Anne Rice’s vampires are some of the most interesting characters on the page and they deserved to be played by actors who could capture their essence on screen. I’m sure most of us can think of at least one example of how our favorite characters from books have been destroyed by the wrong actors.

One of my favorite comic book characters comes to us from the DC Universe. To be more specific, from their Vertigo imprint. Typically I fall for heroes and villains from the Marvel Universe, but sometimes DC does certain things a little better. And, when you’ve got Alan Moore involved it’s kind of hard to go wrong. My love of this character gives further credence to the fact that I am a hopeless anglophile. An anglophile who loves stories about magic, demons and Hell. If you haven’t checked out the Hellblazer comics you probably should. I need to thank my good friend David Magaro for turning me on to these comics. Don’t you love having friends who clue you in to things that make life a little bit more interesting?

February 20: John Constantine

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John Constantine is an antihero who battles demons and you know, tries to save the world from time to time. Sounds like a nice guy, right? Well nothing is every truly black and white, so don’t get your hopes up too high. Constantine’s heart is usually in the right place, but his decision making often has dire consequences and his methods for achieving his goals are a bit shady and usually dangerous. Like using black magic to combat darker magic and supernatural beings.

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Constantine is called Hellblazer because he’s been to Hell and back. More than once. I mean he doesn’t consider it a vacation spot, but his job sometimes requires him to visit. That alone gives him serious street credit when it comes to hunting and exorcising demons. But he’s got other mad magical skills. Aside from his grasp of magic, he can summons demons and angels. He wears a snazzy trench coat full of demonic power, and he’s an accomplished con artist and lock picker.

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Constantine’s an interesting guy. He’s been described as a “working class occult detective,” and while he comes from Liverpool, he’s usually stationed in London. Like an well-crafted character he’s got major backstory. His mother died giving birth to him, and while in utero he strangled his twin brother with his umbilical cord. His mother’s womb was weaken by a previous abortion his father forced her to have, which caused the birth complications. Rather than taking responsibility for his wife’s death, he blames John and they spend his childhood hating each other. His dad was an alcoholic, abusive, and arrested for stealing a neighbor’s underwear. So, you know, excellent role model.

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Constantine’s bloodline connects him to some very powerful magicians, and as he discovers his ancestry he develops a keen interest in magic, and he began practicing magic at a young age. Some pretty complicated and impressive spellwork for someone his age, like hiding his childhood vulnerability and innocence in a box so he no longer has to deal with it. Growing up in London in the 1960’s and ‘70’s he formed a punk band, Mucous Membrane, and later become a stage magician in the 1980’s where he earned a name for himself by predicting Reagan’s assassination. Seriously, how cool is this guy.

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One of his first attempts at becoming a hero in the occult realm went terrible wrong. In order to banish a demon that was conjured by an abused child to take revenge on the adults hurting her, Constantine and his friends summon their own demon. As you might imagine, it doesn’t go well. They didn’t have control of the demon, and when it destroys the child’s monster, it torments John’s friends and drags the child to Hell. Soon after, he commits himself to a mental hospital because he can’t deal with the guilt.

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Are you hooked? You should be. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for Constantine’s adventures. When I began this post I mentioned that problem of casting the wrong actor to play a great character. Well, the first attempt at putting Constantine on screen was the live-action 2005 film starring Keanu Reeves in an Americanized version of the story.

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Well, he is smoking. That’s a start.

The film itself isn’t terrible, but Reeves just isn’t believable as Constantine. The rest of the cast is impressive—Tilda Swinton as Gabriel, Peter Stormare as Lucifer, Djimon Hounsou as Papa Midnite, and Pruitt Taylor Vince as an alcoholic priest who communicates with the dead. Oh, and Gavin Rossdale plays a half-breed demon, Balthazar. Great cast, right? Sure, but the most important character missed the mark almost completely.

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Cats have something to do with magic, right?

In 2014 NBC brought Constantine to television with Welsh actor Matt Ryan. Finally, a believable Constantine. He looked like Constantine. Sounded like Constantine. Had his bad attitude and a big heart. And they did their best to stay within cannon.

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Yep. That’s John Constantine.

I was glued to the TV each week. But apparently I was one of the few people watching, because the show got canceled after one season. I was disappointed. It was off to a great start and I had so many high hopes for the show. In the short time it was on TV, I fell hard for Matt Ryan’s Constantine.

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Wow, it’s like someone bothered to read the comic book.

Matt Ryan has reprised Constantine in a 2015 episode of Arrow on the CW. I would hope that this might inspire another network to pick up the series or at the very least think about bringing a more believable film adaptation to the big screen. A fangirl can dream, right?

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Smoking is sexy. You should start tomorrow.

Am I the only one who enjoyed this show? I can’t possibly be the only one who sees how Matt Ryan is perfectly cast as this super fucking cool fictional character.

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John Constantine is hot. Seriously, he’s on fire.

I mean he’s even in the mental hospital in the first episode.

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Don’t people usually check themselves into a psychiatric facility to avoid crazy shit like this?

Seriously, give this show another chance.

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I need more magic in my life.

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Kilgrave

A few days ago I started writing a new post. That was Saturday. Saturday was a busy day. My son had a basketball tournament. Then my friends helped me celebrate my birthday with an 80’s Valentines dance party. Sunday was my actual birthday and I celebrated by having breakfast with an old friend and catching a few movies with my son. Monday I revised and cleaned up a manuscript and submitted it to an agent. So, you could say that the past three days were not only busy, but filled wit real life activities involving the real people in my life. I feel like that gives me a reasonable pass to take a break from writing about fictional characters I’d like to fuck.

Today the weather is bad enough that school was canceled, so I have a day at home to catch up on writing blog posts. I’m not sure if I’ll get three posts written to make up for the days I missed, but here’s my first offering.


A few months ago I got an early Christmas gift. I was watching Netflix one evening and caught a preview of a Netflix original show that’s part of the Marvel franchise. I didn’t know anything about the anti-hero Jessica Jones, but when I saw who was cast as the villain, my heart skipped a beat.

You see, David Tennant is my not so secret celebrity boyfriend. He stole my heart as the 10th Doctor, and he was up against some stiff competition. Until then, the only Time Lord I loved was the 4th Doctor. When I was a kid I loved Tom Baker so much that I would pretend to be sick so I would get sent home early to catch the afternoon showing of Doctor Who on PBS. That’s how committed I am to my geekdom.

Before this becomes a post about Doctor Who I better get back on track. Where was I? Oh, right. David Tennant. Despite his emotional range and commitment to his craft, it is often impossible to divorce the actor from the characters he plays. There are a few exceptions to this assertion. For instance, he had a much more somber role in Broadchurch as Detective Inspector Alec Hardy, but even his Hamlet is classic Tennant.

So, without further ado, and by request (this is for you Brian J. Parker), I give you the Purple Man, Kilgrave.

February 16: Kilgrave

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Kilgrave is a scary villain. That’s saying a lot for the Marvel Universe. He’s scary not only because he has the ability to control people’s minds and essentially turn them into puppets, but also because he’s a sociopath and enjoys doing evil shit to his victims.

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That’ll teach him to keep Handsome Sociopathic Stalker Weekly in stock.

A master of manipulation, he zeroes in on the people who can serve him best and then takes over their lives by making them his slaves. If he sees something or someone he likes, he simply takes them. A beautiful home, expensive clothes, free meals in swanky restaurants, jewelry and gifts for his lady friends (all of which are held against their will), and anything else he desires. Well, anything but love. For love to be real, it has to be given freely and willingly. Kilgrave is a control freak to the Nth degree, so it is impossible for him to allow people to act of their own free will and simply hope for the best outcome. He may be evil, but he certainly isn’t an idiot. He knows people can’t be trusted to do what you want them to do. In fact, he doesn’t trust people in general.

Hank

He didn’t say “Simon says”.

Kilgrave’s trust issues developed from a childhood spent in a lab where his parents conducted scientific experiments on him in the hopes of curing a neurodegenerative disease that threatened his life. They managed to stop the disease’s progress, but in doing so tortured their son with a series of painful treatments that caused a mutation in his brain. The unexpected side effect allowed their son to control people’s minds. Unable to trust his own parents, Kilgrave decided to take his frustrations out on the rest of the world.

Parents

Have you considered therapy instead of manipulating people to kill themselves and others?

One night while out on the town with two women under his control, he witnesses a woman, Jessica Jones, fight off two muggers and save Malcolm Ducasse. Malcolm was badly beaten and needed medical attention, but before Jessica can help him further, Kilgrave dismisses his lady friends and takes control of Jessica. He’s fascinated by her and decides to keep her. You know, like a pet. The king of backhanded compliments, he tells her, “Here I am, just debating where to eat and then BAM, there you are, performing feats of heroism. Come here, let me look at you, come on. Jesus you’re a vision, hair and the skin, appalling sense of fashion but that can be remedied.”

Bored

Quickest way to end a date.

For several months Kilgrave holds Jessica prisoner and has sex with her while she is under his mind control. Last I checked, having sex with someone without his or her consent is called rape. It doesn’t matter how many gifts you buy someone or fancy meals you feed them. If you’re using mind control or any other form of manipulation to fuck them on a regular basis, you aren’t a partner you’re a rapist.

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Assholes brag about being assholes.

Kilgrave falls in love with Jessica (obsession can look a lot like love in the eyes of a crazy person) and believes they are actually in a relationship. But how can you be in a relationship with someone when you control every aspect of your interaction with that person? If you always choose where to eat, what the person wears, and how they behave is that really love? Sounds more like a textbook abusive relationship with a narcissistic asshole, right? Except in this case, he can literally control your mind, not just use emotional manipulation to keep you trapped in a toxic relationship.

Ears

Punching him in the face and screaming “Shut the fuck up,” doesn’t even begin to cover what her reaction should be.

Deluded by his belief that he loves Jessica, he stops controlling her mind for 12 hours. It takes that much time for his influence to wear off. He takes off her mental leash to prove that she has the same feelings for him. In those 12 hours Jessica remembers all of the terrible things he has done to her, but instead of running right away, she allows him to believe that he is right. She pretends to be in love with him. And continues to take orders from him.

Kiss

Kissing a sociopath will not turn him into a prince.

Kilgrave discovers that Reva Connors has a thumb drive containing footage of the experiments he underwent as a child. He wants this information to remain a secret. He controls Reva to show him where she’s hidden it, and after Jessica uses her own super powers to punch through concrete to retrieve it, Kilgrave tells Jessica to kill Reva. Which she does by punching her so hard that she is thrown into the path of an oncoming bus. With her task complete, Jessica walks away. Kilgrave is freaked out by the fact that she won’t respond to him. He shouts after her, but she is no longer under his control. In an attempt to avoid hitting Reva, the bus driver swerves and ends up flipping the bus on its side. In the chaos, Kilgrave is distracted by Jessica’s disobedience and is hit and almost killed by the bus. Jessica is free.

Won't

Not a giver.

Her freedom is an illusion. She is still a prisoner of her own fear. Kilgrave not only raped her body, he raped her mind. To deal with the memories and nightmares, she drinks. A lot. And even though everyone else believes Kilgrave is dead, she knows better. She expects him to show up at any minute and begin torturing her again. So she tries to remain under the radar, but always keeps an eye out for signs of his return.

Purple-Smoke

I’m pretty sure the devil wears nice suits, too.

She’s smart to do that, because he isn’t dead. Just badly injured. While he recovers he obsesses about Jessica even more. He decides that he’s going to convince her to come back to him and prove that he loves her. And if she refuses to return his affection, he’ll kill her. But not before threatening to kill and killing a bunch of other people. Seems legit. Well, it seems legit if you’re a mentally ill control freak hellbent on forcing someone to love you. But here’s the rub. He knows that his ability to control her isn’t working like it did before. So instead of controlling her, he comes up with an elaborate plan to control everyone else around her.

Jessica-Kilgrave

Disapproving Sociopath disapproves of your lifestyle.

This is where things get interesting. Since he can control anyone in range of his voice, it is impossible to guess who is under his control. Jessica knows this too, which is why she’s a paranoid mess with trust issues to rival even Kilgrave’s. Some days it pays to be paranoid. Especially if you have a sociopathic stalker who thinks he’s you’re ex-boyfriend and continues to believe you loved it when he raped you.

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If you haven’t questioned why I chose to add Kilgrave to this list of fuckable fictional characters by now, then maybe you need a check up from the neck up. I mean, seriously, this guy is a monster. He uses mind control for his entertainment. Aside from Jessica, and a few of his other victims we meet, how many women has he raped or forced to commit unspeakable acts to stroke his enormous ego? And, he isn’t above killing people. Of course, he controls others to do his killing for him, but that just makes him more evil in my opinion.

Sweet-Sweet-Love

So, again, why is he on this list? Because he’s not only a scary villain with a fascinating backstory, but he really believes he’s in love with Jessica. And a sociopathic stalker with David Tennant’s face and personality is pretty sexy. The lengths he goes to to convince Jessica that his love for her is real and that she has real feelings for him beyond fear and hatred are mind-blowing. Creepy as Hell given the circumstances, but no less impressive.

Inevitable

Denial is a river full of crazy motherfuckers.

He purchases her childhood home and completely reconstructs it to look like it did when she still lived there – furniture, wallpaper, knick-knacks, and even her personal items. A grand gesture to be sure, but nightmarish in its execution. He invites her to come live there with him. She agrees to stay and allows him to do nice things for her. Even though she doesn’t behave exactly the way he wants her to, he still doesn’t try to control her. He wants her affection to be genuine. So, while she plots how to kill him, they play house for a few days and antagonize each other with threats and criticisms delivered as playful banter.

If he weren’t such a dangerous sociopath, he would be quite a catch. He’s handsome. He has great taste in food, wine, clothing, and the finer things in life. He’s highly intelligent and creative when it comes to thinking up new ways to torment and manipulate people. He has a very dark sense of humor. He’s well organized and can multitask like a criminal mastermind. He likes to give expensive gifts to his lady friends. He’s a snappy dresser. And he has a British accent. Oh, and he’s a tortured soul who deals with his pain by lashing out at others.

Maybe real love would quiet his impulse to control people. Perhaps Jessica could be a positive influence on Kilgrave.

Feel

And maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt.

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Many of the characters I’ve chosen for this series of blog posts, but especially this one, make me stop and think about whether it’s the character or the actor I like more. I mean I’m not completely clueless about this concept. Really horrible characters portrayed by sexy as fuck actors can create some conflicts of conscience. And when a sociopathic stalker has a lot of the same personality quirks as one of your favorite heroes, it is difficult to not see the good in that character.

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He even dresses like a Time Lord.

Love makes everyone crazy at times. A man in love is beautiful, and even if that love isn’t directed at you, you want him to be rewarded with the same affection he’s giving. But Kilgrave is complicated. He is in love. Whether that love is real or the product of his psychosis, he believes himself to be in love. And all of his efforts to prove his love are thwarted time and time again. Intellectually, I know he should be imprisoned with a bunch of horny rapists to experience what he’s done to Jessica and his other victims. If he were a real person I would have no trouble finding him guilty if I sat in the jury box. But because he is a well written fictional character with the benefit of a terrible and interesting backstory, I feel sympathy for him on some levels.

Television-Crop

Go ahead. Judge me. Like I’ve said before, I don’t have to justify why I feel this way or that about a fictional character. Do I want to meet and fall in love with a real sociopath who gets his kicks from raping women and torturing people? Of course not. Are there women out there who seek the affection of rapists and murderers who are serving life sentences in prison? Yes. I’m not one of them. But throw a complicated fictional villain with serious character flaws my way, and 9 out of 10 times, I’m attracted to them. Especially if they are emotionally damaged.

Sad-Kilgrave

Admit it. This scene gave you the feels.

But in all fairness, this particular villain looks and acts a lot like Doctor Who.

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And, his dark humor is an endless source of amusement.

Tomato

Seriously, listening to David Tennant curse is a real treat.

Cursing

I’ll say it again. Creepy is the new sexy.

Lick

How the hell is she not waking up to make out with him?

And, his jealousy makes him a little vulnerable.

Bugger

You probably shouldn’t have chosen a giant, handsome fuck machine to do your bidding.

It also doesn’t hurt that he’s fucking adorable even when he’s planning to run away with your best friend and make her his sex slave.

Dock

I love you, you fucking psycho!

If Marvel doesn’t want me to fall in love with their villains, they should probably stop casting them with super sexy, funny actors with British accents.

And apparently, I’m not the only crazy person who loves this maniac.

Bet you wish your name was Jessica right about now.

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Captain America

As I mentioned in a previous post about Loki, the Marvel Universe has a lot of delicious eye candy on offer, a buffet of fuckable characters if you will. I know I spend a lot of time lusting after villains and monsters, but every now and then a hero catches my eye and I have to stop, stare, and possibly drool. And, oddly enough, it’s usually the clean-cut guys that turn my head. Not always, but good guys have been known to make my heart beat faster. Marvel superheroes typically have a lot of tragedy in their backstories, and have a tendency to lose people they love. If I lived in the Marvel Universe, I would provide support and comfort to those superheroes in need of a hug, or a kiss, rough sex, or whatever. What can I say? I’m a giver.

Today I will be discussing the cleanest-cut guy of them all. The superhero who set the gold standard. A man whose uniform makes me want to salute the Red, White and Blue.

February 12: Captain America

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Steve Rogers is an all-American boy from Brooklyn, NY. Before he became the first Avenger, he was a scrawny little guy with a big heart who believed in fighting for freedom. More than anything, he wanted to join the armed forces and get shipped to Europe so he could start kicking Nazi ass. But, he failed the physical. After several more attempts, a scientist, Abraham Erskine, takes an interest in Steve and signs him up for “Project: Rebirth”. This secret government project was developed to create super soldiers in the hopes of defeating a rogue branch of the Nazi’s, HYDRA. Say that out loud. Rogue branch of Nazi’s. Good luck sleeping tonight. With the help of other scientists and inventors like Howard Stark, Erskine creates the Super Soldier Serum.

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This is what determination looks like.

Steve completes a series of psychological and physical tests designed to gauge strength, intelligence and merit with a group of other potential test subjects. His poor health keeps him from performing the physical challenges as well as everyone else. To be fair, Steve was a pretty sickly kid.

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Are you sure this isn’t a death certificate?

Despite his terrifying laundry list of ailments, Steve is chosen for “Project: Rebirth” because of his determination and commitment to being the best soldier he can be. Soon after meeting Steve, Erskine tells him, “Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” Although Steve is worried about what might happen to him, after Erskine explains that the procedure will be very painful, he still agrees to become the first test subject.

The experiment is clearly a success. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch this scene, I am always overwhelmed by just how fucking amazing this man looks without a shirt on. Jesus wept. Steve feels physically different. Stronger. Taller. A keen sense of his increased vitality. But, he doesn’t fully appreciate his instant sex appeal.

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That is one lucky T-shirt.

But one smart lady has recognized his appeal from the moment she met him. Peggy Carter was impressed by Steve’s problem-solving skills and the fact that he really is a good person. She can’t help falling in love. And neither can he.

Before Steve can fulfill his dream of killing Nazis, the government uses his good looks to fuel the war propaganda machine. It is during his time with the USO that he earns the name Captain America.

But he finally has a chance to show what he’s really made of when goes behind enemy lines to rescue his old friend, Bucky Barnes. Bucky’s unit was captured during a raid on a HYDRA facility. While there, Rogers encounters HYDRA’s leader, Johann Schmidt (Red Skull). Schmidt stole the Tesseract and has been using it to combine science and magic to create weapons of mass destruction in hopes of world domination.

Hugo

I couldn’t resist slipping in a shot of Hugo in his HYDRA uniform.

The Tesseract is a cube-shaped container for one of six infinity stones which has an unlimited power source. The Asgardians hid it on Earth. But because several evildoers have attempted to use the Tesseract, including Red Skull of HYDRA, to destroy the Earth, it is eventually returned to Asgard for safe keeping. Schmidt escapes after Steve confronts him, then Steve returns the freed soldiers back to base. Of this group of soldiers, he handpicks the best of the bunch and assembles a team called the Howling Commandos.

Howling-Commandos

Captain America is an equal opportunity employer.

This bunch of hard ass fighting machines shows up to chew bubble gum and kick Nazi ass. Guess what? They’re all out of bubble gum.

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The Howling Commandos take down the HYDRA facility, but once again Schmidt escapes. Steve climbs aboard Schmidt’s aircraft to stop him. During their fight, the Tesseract is damaged and Schmidt comes in direct contact with the power source and it turns him into vapor. The aircraft crashes into the ocean and Steve and the Tesseract are lost. Howard Stark tracks down the Tesseract and retrieves it, but is still unable to locate Steve. Nearly 70 years later, a scientific exploration team discovers Steve frozen in a block of ice. He  awakens in a hospital room that attempts to recreate the 1940s, but he realizes something is wrong when the radio announcer makes a mistake about a date.

After Nick Fury recruits Steve for a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission, he tries to fit in and pick up where he left off. Working with the other Avengers can be challenging at times, but it keeps him busy. He has a somewhat antagonistic, yet friendly relationship with Tony Stark.

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In all fairness, Steve had a better relationship with Howard Stark than his son did, so Tony’s a bit jealous. For more than one reason.

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I think Tony has a crush.

Steven even makes Thor a little nervous.

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And he really gets along with Black Widow.

Despite the fact that he was frozen for nearly 70 years, he manages to jump right back into the hero gig. And he looks super fine doing it.

Seriously, that man’s body should have it’s own religion.

Fun-Fact

I’m only concerned about how fast he can get those pants off.