Fiction Fragments: Steven Van Patten

Last week on Girl Meets Monster, I chatted with Jessica Guess about her horror novella, Cirque Berserk (2020) and how she created a space for herself in a genre where she felt absent.

This week, I welcome award-winning horror writer, publisher, screenwriter, and TV stage manager Steven Van Patten.

Brooklyn native Steven Van Patten is the author of the critically acclaimed Brookwater’s Curse trilogy, about an 1860s Georgia plantation slave who becomes law enforcement within the vampire community. In contrast, the titular character in his Killer Genius series is a modern day hyper-intelligent black woman who uses high-end technology as a socially conscious serial killer.

SVP’s short fiction includes contributions to nearly a dozen horror anthologies, including the Stoker Award nominated New York State of Fright. A collection of short horror and dark fiction stories entitled Hell At The Way Station, published by his company Laughing Black Vampire Productions and co-authored by acclaimed storyteller, Marc Abbott hit shelves in 2018.

Along with a plethora of other honors and accolades, SVP won three African-African-American Literary Awards in 2019, two for Hell At The Way Station (Best Anthology and Best In Science Fiction) and one for Best Independent Publisher. He’s written about everything from sleep demons to the Harlem Hellfighters of WWI for episodes of the YouTube series’ Extra Credit and Extra Mythology. He’s also a contributor for Viral Vignettes, a charity-driven YouTube comedy series benefitting The Actor’s Fund. He uses his full name on Facebook but goes by @svpthinks on Twitter and Instagram. When he’s not creating macabre literature, he can be found stage managing television shows primarily in New York City and occasionally on the West Coast. Along with being a member of the New York Chapter of The Horror Writer’s Association, he’s also a member of The Director’s Guild of America and professional arts fraternity Gamma Xi Phi. His website is www.laughingblackvampire.com.

Three Questions

GMM: Welcome to Girl Meets Monster, Steven. I am almost ashamed to say that I haven’t read the Brookwater’s Curse trilogy, but it is on my TBR list. I’m interested in reading the trilogy because I love vampires, and I wrote a slave narrative featuring a vampire. Your story is about a male slave who becomes an important part of vampire society, and my story is about a young woman who escapes slavery but still has a lot of obstacles to maneauver while gaining a better understanding of her identity in the context of the antebellum South while traveling with a vampire. My first question is why vampires? And my second question is why slavery? What about these two subjects/characters called to you to tell a story? How does being part of vampire society help or hinder your protagonist? What inspired this trilogy?

SVP: Well, first of all, thank you for having me. I’m thrilled to be talking to a mavin such as yourself. I think I was drawn to vampires because as a kid, I didn’t always see them all as monsters. I mean, I saw Christopher Lee’s Dracula as a monster, but William Marshall’s Blacula was a different case. There were some shades of grey. He tried to end the slave-trade. He was in love. He was misunderstood and in many ways his own worst enemy. And it’s that line from Scream, Blacula, Scream that stuck with me forever. It’s from the scene where he is cornered by two rather stereotypical 1970s pimps after disregarding their hooker. After listening to their nonsense, Blacula said, “You’ve made a slave of your sister and you’re still slaves imitating your slave masters!” Then he proceeds to kill them. But for me, a few things happen there. First, as a kid, I get to see this super dignified brother handle some street mess, but I also get a glimpse of how social ills can get addressed within the horror genre. So the only thing left in my head was, since Blacula, aka Prince Mamuwalde was of direct African descent, I began to wonder what an African-American would experience, feel and say if put in that situation. By the way, in Brookwater’s Curse, I don’t spend a great deal of time on the plantation. In fact, I let him get taken by the supernatural and get himself isolated very quickly. And I let him struggle with a sort of survivor’s guilt, while never losing his soul as a black man. This gets him in trouble more than once, because anytime he develops a relationship with black and brown humans, he ends up going against his marching orders, which are to hunt werewolves and protect the secret society of monsters in general.

GMM: I am intrigued by the concept of a “socially conscious serial killer”. I immediately thought of Dexter Morgan who channeled his drive to murder into a public service by eliminating threats to his community. How is your character different from Dexter?

SVP: Dexter comes up every once in awhile, but the truth is, my Killer Genius series was inspired by Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lector more than anything else. It occurred to me that if someone were to write a story about a black woman killing a bunch of people, it’s usually over some man being an asshole. Like an elongated episode of ‘Snapped’. I never saw a socially conscious black woman, so I invented Kendra, a black woman who is able to keep ahead of law enforcement by being super smart like a Dexter Morgan or a Hannibal Lector. One of the biggest differences between her and Dexter is that she’s actually more versatile. She can kill up close in a disguise, or she can hack into a military satellite and blast you from space. I’m particularly proud of how I came up with her kill for this one misogynist rapper while he’s performing on a 106 & Park derivative. The other big difference is of course, her agenda. Dexter was like a king snake of serial killers and he in a way, was feeding this horrible disfunction born from childhood trauma. While my Kendra certainly has her own childhood and adolescent demons, she’s more focused. I want to say she has a clearer vision and is more of a zealot, or a crusader literally attacking ignorant white and black people as a way of motivating change in society over all.

GMM: I’ve always written about dark subjects and over the years people, especially people with a strong religious background, have asked me “why horror?” As I’m sure you’re aware, there is often a misconception about horror writers being maladjusted people. Have you encountered similar questions about your writing? Have you been accused of being a “bad” person because of what you write? Has your connection to a larger community of horror writers helped you feel more confident about being a horror writer, or have you always felt at ease writing about monsters?

SVP: Here is where I may piss some people off, but since I get pissed off when confronted by the kinds of statements you mentioned, I’m going to just say it. Truth is, I have studied just enough history to see most organized religion as a construct meant to hold certain people in place. I’m not knocking the fellowship, being grateful to the universe, Kirk Franklin, Mahalia Jackson, none of that. But, when our black ancestors were brought here, I can’t say for certain what they all were worshipping, but I’m pretty sure it was not a blonde, blue-eyed Jesus. Unfortunately, a lot of folks can’t get past that, because whatever we had was beaten out of us while something else was beaten into us. Follow that up with Hollywood bastardizing and misrepresenting hoodoo, voodoo, Santeria and Yoruba cultures for white folks to kick up their heels and scream ‘eek’ and now they have us rejecting something we might actually need if we bothered to understand it. At least, those are my thoughts on the subject.

No one has ever come out and called me a bad person, but it’s been insinuated that something is wrong with me. And yes, I have been confronted by the naysayers and I’ve received the shade, particularly if I picked the wrong event to be a part of. But the people looking down their nose at me are often the same people wouldn’t know a decent horror movie if it bit them in the ass AND won’t tell Jermaine that no one cares about his mixed-tape. Because of that, I don’t exactly lose a lot of sleep over those people or their opinions. 

Being a part of the larger community, finding people like yourself is a morale boost. It lets me know I’m not alone in my horror nerdom or my pursuit to write about things that go bump in the night. And it’s funny you should bring it up because growing up around certain kinds of dudes, I only let a handful of friends know I was into this sort of thing. But I’m older now, and not as worried about rejection as I used to be. And yes, I will be comfortable with monsters until the day I die.

Excerpt from “The Patron Saint”

“You’re my motherfucking lawyer! You’re supposed to make this kind of shit go away! As much money as I made the label last year! Y’all got me hiding in this hotel room like some kind of fugitive! This is some bullshit!”

Sitting at the edge of the super king-sized hotel room bed wearing only a bathing suit, Kimberly stared absently at the TV on the wall in front of her. This bore a stark contrast to fully clothed Manuel’s animated pacing back and forth across the room as he screamed into his cellphone. She thought about turning the TV on so she wouldn’t have to listen, but figured in his agitated state that she would only get yelled at or worse.

“Seriously! What the fuck am I paying you for?”

She couldn’t hear the lawyer’s side of the conversation, but could tell that the lawyer was asking uncomfortable questions.

“What? No, she’s fine! She loves me and she loves Vegas. You sound like that punk ass cop that left a message a few minutes ago.”

Another pause.

“What? Her father? I don’t care about him. Fuck him! If he was a real nigga, he’d call me himself. Going to the damn cops like a little bitch!”

No matter what you hear or see, do not turn around. Do not face me, child!

Kimberly’s breath stopped as her mind struggled to process where a disembodied voice could possibly be coming from.

“Sam? Sam! I know this motherfucker didn’t just hang up on me…”

If he hadn’t been in such an angry state, Manuel might have noticed the growing shadow moving behind him as the form of a curvaceous, statuesque woman with undulating hair drifted off the wall and into the room.

Manuel threw the cellphone on the bed, just behind Kimberly. “I’m so fucking mad right now. I need to fuck you again just to calm my ass down. Take them damn clothes off, girl!”

He began to unbuckle his pants.

Kimberly neither moved or gave any indication that she heard him.

“Bitch, perhaps you didn’t hear Daddy! I said…”

Then he heard the hissing. He turned around.

“What the fu—”

The entity grabbed Manuel by the shoulders, accosting him as if he were a small child, with a strength that dwarfed his. The ten snakes in the apparition’s hair lunged forward, each of the mouths burying fangs into his flesh. His chocolate brown skin turned a marble-like grey as the poisons filled his body. He screamed for only a few seconds as the toxins quickly petrified his vocal chords.

Kimberly peripherally caught a split second of Manuel’s agonized last moments before she closed her eyes. The monster must have sensed that Kimberly had peeked because she heard the voice again.

DO NOT LOOK AT ME!

A moment later, Manuel’s lifeless body crashed down to the floor with a ‘thud’ in front of Kimberly. Her eyes drifted down. Whatever had been injected into him was toxic enough to literally melt him. Flesh and muscles bubbled into a jelly. Bones disintegrated to ash trapped inside the jelly. Hours from now, a large black stain on the carpet would be all that remained. She closed her eyes but couldn’t escape the image of the mess on the floor.

Go to your grandmother, that she might teach you the ways of your ancestors and not the way of the idolaters that brought your people here in bondage.

“My grandmother? Who are you?”

I am the one who was defiled by one of my gods, made an abomination by another, and rejected and vilified by my own kind. It was only in the underworld that I found the orishas and loa and ascended ones of Africa. Like me, they want actual justice meted out in this world and the next. I am Medusa, The Accursed One! Evil men feared me hundreds of years ago and they shall fear me again!

The shadow drifted back towards the wall from where it had entered and disappeared. Sensing that the gorgon had left, Kimberly opened her eyes and looked again at what was left of Manuel. Recoiled on the bed, she suppressed a scream and cried quietly for a few minutes.

It would take her some time, but she eventually found the strength to get dressed, grab her things, and leave the hotel.

~*~

“This bastard is gonna act all indignant, like he was parent of the decade! Fucking dream-slaying, hating-ass Negro!”

Cathy drove her white BMW M4 Coupé as fast as New York City’s FDR Drive would allow, which during rush hour on a Wednesday wasn’t nearly as fast as she preferred. Before her girlfriend Nicole called, Cathy had been cursing up a storm as she cut off more cautious drivers with signal-free lane changes and flipped them her middle finger whenever they dared honked their horns in protest.

“So he’s blaming you?” Nicole’s voice blared over the car’s speakers. Nicole, like Cathy, was a dedicated party girl, enabler, and equal opportunity narcissist. She was the shoulder to cry on, the friend who took Cathy’s side no matter how horrible she’d acted or how ridiculous her course of action. “Him and his damn cupcakes! Fuck him! Y’all are doing the right thing! Manuel is going to make your baby a star. He told me so!”

“That’s right. And so what if she lost her virginity to him? Shit, that’s Manuel Hightower! The motherfuckers we lost our virginity to wasn’t even close to that stature!”

“Child! I know that’s right!”

Betrayer of women! Betrayer of your own child! You gave your child’s innocence and honor away for nothing!

“Bitch! What you said?”

“I said, ‘child, I know that’s right’. What you thought I said?”

Cathy’s eyes caught a flash of the gorgon’s red gaze in her rearview mirror. The hair snakes’ fangs found Cathy’s ears, neck, and skull. The last thing Cathy saw was her milk chocolate complexion turning green-ish grey as the car swerved out of control, bounced off an Acura RDX, then slammed straight into a guardrail. Despite the damage to the car, Nicole’s voice could still be heard asking if her friend was okay.

Until the gas tank exploded.

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: Ronald J. Murray

Last week, Girl Meets Monster had a delightful conversation about how music inspires the writing process with J. Edwin Buja. This week, I welcome fellow horror writer, Ronald J. Murray.

IMG_20190909_184650Ronald J. Murray lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His fiction has appeared in The Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror 2017 charity anthology, Bon Appetit: Stories and Recipes for Human Consumption cannibal-themed anthology and recipe book, and the forthcoming Lustcraftian Horrors: Erotic Stories Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft from Infernal Ink Books. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association. You can find him enjoying his umpteenth cup of coffee at some ungodly hour while a film he’s seen a million times before plays in the background.

Three Questions

GMM: Tell me a little bit about your fragment. You gave me just enough to be hooked. Is this a traditional ghost story, or can I expect to see something different than the expected horror tropes?

RJM: Without giving anything major away, I can tell you that this story contains a lot of psychological elements, as in psychological manifestations of memories, feelings, and the consequences of actions taken in the past by two protagonists. These characters will be put through a gauntlet of horrors specially designed for them as individuals with some elements that are objectively observable and experienced by both.

In short, yes, there will be ghosts, literally and figuratively. But would I feel comfortable calling this a traditional ghost story? Definitely not.

What I hope to accomplish with this first novel, From Out of the Black Fog, is an anthology series of novels with new characters experiencing something different in an alternate version of Monongahela, Pennsylvania.

GMM: Speaking of tropes, I see that you have a short story in a collection called Lustcraftian Horrors: Erotic Stories Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. What is the title of your story in this collection? Lovecraftian Horror is familiar to most people who read horror fiction, but the concept of Lovecraft meets erotica is intriguing. Have you written other horror erotica? What challenges did you face working within that subgenre?

RJM: The title of this short story is In the Labyrinth, about a sex-addict seeking extra-marital thrills that ends up wrapped up with a cult that worships the perverse fertility goddess Shub-Niggurath. I imagine that Lovecraft is rolling over in his grave at the creation of this anthology, considering his suspected aversion to sex and women.

I have had other horror erotica published, one of which was Cornelia in Bon Appetit. The biggest challenge I’ve faced working within the subgenre is weaving a sex plot in with a horror plot. I’ve reconciled the issue with the perspective that sex is one of the most intimate and vulnerable places a person can put themselves in. If something horrifying happens as a result, that subverts something that’s safe and pleasurable under normal circumstances. It’s a real Junji Ito solution!

GMM: Cannibalism is a taboo subject that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, which is probably why it is a recurring theme in horror fiction. One of my favorite fictional cannibals is Hannibal Lecter, because he is a complex character that blurs the line between the horror of murder and our fascination with the macabre. Which cannibals, real or fictional, inspired your short story in Bon Appetit: Stories and Recipes for Human Consumption?

RJM: I can’t say that I was inspired by a real or fictional cannibal to write this story. My inspiration for the cannibalistic antagonist in this story stemmed from the horrors of war. Doyle was a Vietnam War veteran who’d been separated from his unit during battle. He developed the taste for human flesh while surviving in the dense jungles of Vietnam until he was eventually rescued.

From Out of the Black Fog, A Novel by Ronald J. Murray

Lorne kept his eyes forward and high enough that he wouldn’t walk face-first into anything. He watched the glow and fade of streetlights illuminate the sidewalk, and he listened to the occasional whish of cars that rolled along Main Street beside him. He didn’t want to shift his vision elsewhere. He didn’t want to look up again and into any window that he’d passed. He just wanted to keep going forward, keep walking to his car, which he’d parked at the lot at the Aquatorium.

He looked up. His skin crawled. It’s like when your head knows there’s something you shouldn’t look at for too long or it’ll really screw you up, you just keep staring. You can’t help it.

He shut his eyes and turned his head. The snap motion was almost dizzying. He didn’t care. Then, he looked again. He swallowed hard. His eyes locked to it this time. He’d heard of people seeing their dead loved ones in their peripheral vision or in the faces of others while they grieved. It started like that, earlier in the day, but it devolved to this disturbing level.

In every window that he passed, he saw Amber’s face. Drained of color and cold, expressionless. Her empty eyes looked at him, unblinkingly. She followed him, seemingly crossed the alleyways he’d passed unseen, and appeared again in the dark windows of the next building. Over and over. When the window was large enough, he saw more than her face. He saw her hunched walk that kept pace with him. He saw her head kept turned nearly ninety-degrees to watch him.

No. He shut his eyes tight. He shook his head. No. He was cracking. That was it. That had to be it. He was having a psychotic break or something. You don’t see shit like this if you’re a normal person with a quiet normal life who loses a loved one just like everyone else in the world.

He turned his head. He opened his eyes. He began walking again. Someone passed him from behind, and he shoved his hands deeper into his jacket pockets. He drew his arms tighter against his body. The person went into Jim’s Bar just ahead. The scent of fried food and cigarette smoke poured onto the street for a second.

Something thudded loudly beside him. Lorne jumped. A hand smacked glass beside him. Amber’s face stared through the square window of a thick wooden door that led to the apartments above a shop. Her hand was still pressed against the pane. The doorknob began to rattle.

Adrenaline found his limbs. He jogged away. People, he thought. I need to get around other people. He tore the door to Jim’s Bar open. A few patrons glared at him through a cloud of smoke illuminated by television screens. He took a few steps further inside and shot his eyes back and forth. He sucked a breath deep into his chest, and he hoped he wouldn’t encounter anything to extraordinary here.

Next week, I’ll be talking to EV Knight, so get excited. Do you have a fiction fragment to share? Send it my way at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

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: Will Graham

I’ve mentioned several times before in this series that I have a special place in my heart for the insane – or, at least, the people society deems insane. Some people I have cared deeply about throughout my life suffered or continue to suffer with mental illness and the stigma that comes along with these often-misunderstood medical conditions.

My father made a living as a mental health professional. He cared a lot about his clients, and sometimes developed strong attachments to them. I’m aware that there are ethical issues associated with client/therapist relationships that cross the boundaries established by the profession. Despite his role as therapist and healer, he was only human and felt deep sorrow when one of his clients relapsed and hurt themselves or someone else. More than once, my dad received phone calls about the death of a client at his/her own hands. I remember one client’s suicide very well, because my dad cried when he hung up the phone and slipped into a deep depression that lasted months. He felt responsible for that man’s death. He believed that he had somehow failed. My dad was really good at what he did, but he felt too much to be able to distance himself from the very real struggles his clients faced. He cared too much.

Caring too much sounds absurd to people who don’t understand what that can be like. When you feel things so strongly that you can’t seem to separate yourself from the grief experienced by others around you, people you’ve never met, people who died long before you were born, any form of suffering that you can empathize with creates a sense of the suffering inside you. When therapists who have a strong sense of empathy cross boundaries with their clients, sometimes inappropriate or even dangerous things happen, placing both client and therapist in jeopardy.

An excellent fictional example of this kind of situation is the relationship between Will Graham and Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Bryan Fuller’s television adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel, Red Dragon, “Hannibal”. Dr. Lecter is a psychiatrist and Will is a profiler for the FBI. Both work under Jack Crawford, the director of the BAU, who investigates serial murders. Will has a unique set of mental quirks (illness) that gives him a nearly supernatural level of empathy, which enables him to place himself in the minds of serial killers and recreate their actions and thoughts while examining grisly crime scenes. Will solves serial murders and puts serial killers behind bars…unless they end up dead. Which happens quite a bit on “Hannibal”. If Will doesn’t kill them, Dr. Lecter will, or they end up killing themselves. Although Jack has asked Dr. Lecter to observe Will to keep track of his fragile mental state as he investigates one horrific murder after another, he never officially becomes Will’s psychiatrist. In fact, they become friends. Well, they become connected by a series of unfortunate events that blur the boundaries and behaviors between them, and a bond of sorts is formed. Friends? Colleagues? Murder husbands? You decide.

Crazy Is As Crazy Does: Will Graham

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However you choose to define the relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, it is a cluster fuck of lies, deceit, manipulation, murder-spree fantasies, and some occasional inappropriate touching. From where I’m sitting, I see a lot of sexual tension between two men who are intellectually turned on by each other in a submissive/dominant dance of morally questionable professional encounters that ultimately lead to serious injury – mentally and physically.

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I think I made it abundantly clear how I feel about Dr. Lecter in an earlier post, but now it’s Will’s turn. Thomas Harris wrote him as an exceptionally strong character that rivals the serial-killing monsters in Red Dragon, and Hugh Dancy has taken this character to whole new level of psychosis.

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There is beauty and pain in his gift of empathy, he is gloriously crazy, and his insight and intellect, as well as his extreme awkwardness make him very appealing to this long-time nerd fetishist.

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I often make passes at men who wear glasses.

I don’t know about you, but the smarter a man is, the hotter he becomes in my opinion. Will is a successful criminal profiler, but due to his delicate psychological make-up, it is safer for him to share his wisdom and experience in a classroom rather than in the field.

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Intellectual hotness.

But, Jack Crawford convinces him (against Will’s better judgement and Alana Bloom’s recommendations) to leave the safety of the classroom and return to the field where his expertise can have a positive outcome in solving crimes and catching serial murderers.

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I have a collection of bloody antlers just like this at home.

Will Graham is an incredibly fuckable fictional character, despite the fact that his friend and colleague, Alana Bloom, thinks a relationship with him is too risky. Initially, when Will shows an interest in becoming more than friends with Alana and she turns him down, I was angry. I mean, if I worked with someone as intellectually creepy and hot as Will Graham, I’d probably be making not-so-subtle hints about my interest in him.

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Seriously. What the hell is she waiting for?

But, in retrospect, I realize that I have more in common with Alana than I’d readily like to admit. Alana spends a lot of time inside her own head. I do too. She tends to overthink things. Ditto. In fact, she thinks herself right out of potentially pleasurable and possibly ideal situations, like entering a romantic relationship with Will Graham. Sure, he’s cute and sweet, but he’s also kind of unstable and may require a lot of care giving in the long run. So, she rejects him. He doesn’t take it well, but respects her decision and doesn’t continue to push the issue. He occasionally makes snide comments, but then acts like an adult and treats their relationship as strictly professional.

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We’ve all made the mistake of choosing the wrong guy before.

Seeking refuge from the pain of unrequited love, Will dives back into his work. Because Will enters the minds of the killers he profiles, the field work begins to take its toll. With each episode, Will gets a little stranger, his bond with Dr. Lecter grows tighter, and heads in a weird direction.

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In Thomas Harris’ novel, Red Dragon, Lecter is behind bars and the relationship between him and Will is mostly speculative. We know that Will worked with Lecter to solve a crime, and later discovered that Lecter himself was a serial killer. Will nearly loses his life at the hands of Lecter, but ultimately is the one who puts him behind bars. In “Hannibal,” we see Bryan Fuller’s vision of their relationship prior to Lecter getting caught. Fuller’s artistic vision creates not only some of the most beautiful murder tableau, food porn, and uncomfortable interpersonal interactions, but also adds a level of competition between Will and Hannibal that slowly becomes a homoerotic murder fantasy man crush. (It’s totally a thing.)

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Before.

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After.

And don’t get me started about the visual references to David Lynch’s body of work (that’s a different conversation for another day).

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Yep. That’s a human ear alright.

While watching the first season, I questioned not only my theories about Fuller’s references to David Lynch’s work, but also the homoerotic nature of Will and Hannibal’s relationship.

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Yeah, I’m just imaging…wait.

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I soon discovered I wasn’t the only one in the Hannibal fandom (Fannibals) who saw what I was seeing. The sexual nature of their relationship became clearer with each episode. Social media (Tumblr, Deviant Art, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook) provided an outlet for fans who wanted to explore the possibilities of that relationship even further, and coined the term Hannigram. “Hannibal” has some of the most creative, twisted and hilarious fans. If you ever find yourself bored and want to entertain yourself, just Google Hannigram and let the good times roll.

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I know, right?

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Disturbing, yet somehow hilarious.

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This is the humorous side, but there is a darker and more sexually-charged side of the fandom as well.

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As far as fan art goes, the Hannigram inspired work found on social media may cause you to blush or shift in your seat a bit. Given the nature of the fiction it is drawing its inspiration from, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Neither should it surprise you just how closely violence, eating, and sex are related. But, what might disturb you about that connection is how titillating it can be when presented to us in a gloriously perverse artistic expression through such mediums as film or literature.

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But it is. And so is this.

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And, especially this.

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I mean, that’s like a total effing Romeo & Juliet ending! I know I’m not imaging that. But ironically, it takes Will the longest to catch on to that aspect of his relationship with Hannibal.

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I mean, even the tabloids alluded to the weird and kinky nature of their relationship.

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Any way you look at it, Will Graham is clearly Hannibal’s object of desire. The lines between his murder fantasies and his contracted work with the FBI to observe Will’s behavior blur while the empathetic profiler spirals deeper into mental illness. And while we feel sympathy for Will, the bizarre elements of the fiction lend themselves to even more disturbing humor. Let’s face it, Fannibals are sick, twisted, clever perverts. And I love them dearly.

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Fuckable Fictional Characters: Francis Dolarhyde

Last weekend I had an interesting conversation with one of my really good friends (don’t worry, Stephanie, those posts we talked about are coming, so stay tuned). We talked about a personality quirk (disorder?) that we share in common. The desire and attraction we feel toward all things that dwell in darkness. No one should have to make apologies for what they find attractive or erotic. We all fall somewhere on the spectrum of sexuality and desire, Honey. I’ll try not to judge you if you don’t judge me, unless you’re hurting people (physically, mentally, or emotionally) without their consent.

Darkness promises mystery, adventure, and fear, an unburdening of the perception that we must always remain on the straight and narrow, and yes, even pain. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, some folks just aren’t happy unless they’re unhappy. I know I’m not alone in this troubling and confusing state of being. I don’t like the fact that I continually seek out inappropriate relationships. At least I don’t climb into cars with strangers anymore. I’m trying to break myself of these self-defeating and potentially life-threatening habits. It’s a work in progress.

I like monsters. A lot. But I don’t want to date them in real life. That still won’t stop me from getting all hot and bothered for them. Vampires? Love ‘em. Werewolves? I’d hit that. Fallen angels? Do you have a few hours to talk over coffee or Bourbon? I’ll admit that my taste in fictional characters might be a little unsettling to some people, but once again, I’m not going to apologize for what turns me on.

February 25: Francis Dolarhyde

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Francis Dolarhyde is a glorious monster. When you talk about Thomas Harris’s work—his novels, the films and TV show they have spawned—most people automatically think of Hannibal Lecter. Actually, most days I find it hard NOT to think about Hannibal Lecter. In the novel Red Dragon, Harris masterfully created a character who, in my opinion, is just as scary as Dr. Lecter. Without a doubt, the monster at the end of this book is the Red Dragon, Francis’ alter ego and the driving force behind his well planned, cleverly executed serial murders.

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At first glance, I didn’t like him very much. Every slight, every dirty look, every unkind word gets tallied up by Francis, as if he’s some maladjusted, compulsive, vengeful bean counter and the rest of humanity are the beans. I hated when he spit on the woman in the convertible simply because his gaze made her uncomfortable, self-conscious. I hoped he wouldn’t end up being just another emotionally crippled misogynistic jerk.

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Do you want WWIII? Because this is how we get WWIII.

Thankfully, as the story unfolded and I learned about Dolarhyde’s unbelievably traumatic childhood I became more interested. And, with every new horrible discovery about his past, I grew to love him more and more. I mean, come on, this serial killer has it all. He is physically deformed at birth, abused and abandoned by his mother and grandmother, sexually repressed, and a voice inside his head tells him to kill families that remind him of the family his mother formed without him. The family he was allowed to visit, but never welcomed to join. He is an outsider that many readers can relate to, and if not empathize with, at least feel some sympathy toward.

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He seemed like such a nice, quiet man.

Dolarhyde’s childhood was wonderfully atrocious, and Harris’s descriptions of his life in Grandma’s house reminded me of several dark Victorian classics. Dolarhyde’s two personalities made me think of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, especially toward the end of the novel when Francis tries to stop the Dragon and form a relationship with his love interest, Reba. His two sides struggle for dominance as Francis tries to protect the woman he believes he loves. At other times I thought of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, with his physical deformities and inability to join “polite” society. Francis is filled with rage and envious of the “normal” people around him. He kills them to ease his pain and take revenge on the people who abused him. The Dragon is essentially the end result of Grandma’s psychological experiments on Francis that further transformed his already damaged psyche.

And then, we have Grandma’s dentures. Quite possibly one of the most disturbing images I have encountered in a novel, the dentures almost have a life of their own, which ramps up the body horror aspects of this tale. Grandma’s choppers allow us to venture down several literary paths. We could go Big Bad Wolf here, “oh Grandma, what big teeth you have.” Or we could take the Gothic Horror path since Dolarhyde makes a pretty convincing Dracula with false teeth filed into sharp points. He literally bites his female victims to death.

As I said, Francis Dolarhyde has a lot going for him as a character designed to make us check under the seats before turning the key in the ignition and double deadbolt the doors at night. Thomas Harris created an amazing killing machine that commits unspeakable acts and yet somehow convinced me to cheer for him when he fights against his murderous urges. I hoped he would escape capture at the hands of the FBI and Will Graham.

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This is my design.

There are elements of romance in the novel. Apparently Thomas Harris believes that even serial killers deserve love. Or maybe he’s suggesting that if they received love in the first place they may not have chosen to murder people. Harris elicits even more sympathy for Francis when he meets a woman who is attracted to him. He reciprocates and they begin dating.

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Lucifer offering Eve an apple.

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This is how a grown man reacts to being shown love for the first time.

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He’s never seen anything more beautiful.

They are the perfect fairy tale couple, a blind princess (literally, not just too dumb or unwilling to see the truth) and her prince who is magically transformed into a dragon by an evil wicked witch. Bryan Fuller made all of my dreams come true with the intense  emotional and physical connection between Francis and Reba in season 3 of Hannibal. Their sex scenes were gloriously erotic. I must have rewatched the sex scene at least six times after I watched episode 10. So effing hot. Seriously, when he grabs her, picks her up, and carries her to his bedroom, I was like SPLOOSH!

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I hoped Reba’s affection would be strong enough to rescue and redeem him in the end. His own delusions and lack of impulse control ultimately lead to his demise. Rather than trusting that Reba cares for him, he listens to the Dragon. His immaturity, lack of experience with live women, and delusions prevent him from achieving a normal and healthy life with Reba. Like most of us, our faults and bad habits tend to undo our efforts to improve ourselves no matter how hard we try to overcome them.

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You should probably let someone get to know you a little better before you show them your dark side.

I don’t just like this monster. I am sexually attracted to him and find him totally fuckable. He’s fuckable in the novel and as portrayed by Ralph Finnes (Red Dragon, 2002) and Richard Armitage (Hannibal, 2015) (especially Richard Armitage), but the thoughts I have about him make me a bit uneasy. Why? As I said, I love monsters. I have no problem with the idea of liking Dracula or the Big Bad Wolf. Maybe my feelings of unease come from the fact that I know those monsters are fictional, make-believe, fairy tales, but serial killers are very real. While I’m fascinated by their crimes and their motivations to commit them, I do not idolize real serial killers. I want the police to catch them and punish them to the full extent of the law. Serial killers cause me to waffle about my stance on the death penalty.

Francis Dolarhyde is a fictional character, but Harris breathed so much life into him that he seemed disturbingly real. Serial killers are real. Dracula is not. Monsters that are created to represent the darker aspects of the human psyche or to examine and comment upon questionable societal norms are safe. The aging Goth teen queen inside me craves stories about monsters who prevail despite their physical deformities and emotional immaturity. Weird and horrifying is acceptable as long as it has a message or a purpose. But here is the Red Dragon standing before me, engrossed in his own gloriously terrifying acts of violence against women and their families, and somehow I find beauty there. My adoration of this character gives me pause.

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Even his death is beautiful.

Typically, I would use the excuse of Hollywood’s knack for putting attractive actors in horrifying roles. The Devil is tempting not only because he encourages you to do the sinful things you crave, but also because he shows up as the thing you want most, and probably wearing a nice suit. Even before Bryan Fuller provided us with a visual buffet of horrific beauty on Hannibal, I desired Francis Dolarhyde.

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Sometimes you can’t ignore the voices.

But Bryan Fuller cranked up the voyeurism, spectacle, and the eroticism of evil by making Francis exceptionally desirable and giving him an object of desire that I could relate to. I could imagine myself in her place. Eroticism is subjective, but when erotic images and art mirror your own fantasies, that’s not only psychologically satisfying, it’s magical.

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They make a beautiful couple.