Fiction Fragments: B. Sharise Moore

I know I said I was taking a short hiatus in my last post featuring Eva Roslin, but I wanted to feature one more writer before I take a longer break from Fiction Fragments.

This week, Girl Meets Monster welcomes speculative fiction writer B. Sharise Moore. Her soon to be released novel, Dr. Marvellus Djinn’s Odd Scholars, is now available for pre-order.

B. Sharise Moore is a New Jersey native and graduate of Rutgers University. Moore’s poems and short stories have appeared in several anthologies and journals such as Chosen Realities: Summer 2020, These Bewitching Bonds, and Fantasy Magazine.

At present, she is a writer/educator, curriculum designer, the host of Moore Books with B. Sharise on YouTube, and the Poetry Editor for Fiyah Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction. She lives in Baltimore, MD with her husband and precocious young son.

Three Questions

GMM: Welcome to Girl Meets Monster, B Sharise. So glad I finally have a chance to chat with you. Let’s just dive right in. Tell me about your new book, Dr. Marvellus Djinn’s Odd Scholars. First, I’m excited about the time period you’ve chosen. The 1920s was an exciting decade here in the United States with lots of historical context to draw from. Since this is speculative fiction, specifically Steampunk (Steamfunk?), how much world building did you do for the book? Did you keep settings, events, and people closely tied to actual history, or is your book alternate history? What kind of research did you do for characters, settings, cultural objects, etc.?

BSM: Thank you so much for having me! I did quite a bit of world building for this novel and I’d say it’s both alternate history and closely tied to actual history. As a child, I was totally enamored with Michael Jackson. In the early 80s, he recorded a song with Paul McCartney entitled, “Say, Say, Say.” The song’s video features a medicine show and a vaudeville act. This video was my introduction to the early 20th century and it stayed with me.

When I began writing the book, I researched early Black magicians. I was amazed with all the rich history I uncovered. It blew my mind that I’d never heard of any of it before. Black Herman was the first magician I found. His story is so intriguing. In fact, Black Herman was not only a magician, but a staunch follower of Marcus Garvey. He incorporated Black Nationalism into his magic act. Ellen Armstrong was the very first Black woman magician in the United States. She and her father traveled the country together in their joint magic show. These two figures were direct inspirations for Dr. Marvellus Djinn.

I am also a huge fan of amusement parks. I’ve loved them since I was a child. While researching Ellen Armstrong and Black Herman, I stumbled upon Suburban Gardens. Suburban Gardens was a Black owned and operated “Colored Amusement Park” in Washington, DC. When I began writing the novel, I was working in Washington, DC. I was stunned to find that I drove past the park’s original location each day for work. It was mind-boggling. There were several Colored Amusement Parks scattered throughout the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. For more information, pick up Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America by Victoria W. Wolcott. My husband gifted me the book for my birthday a few years ago. It is the cornerstone of my world building.

In addition to settings/places, I’ve included several historical figures in the novel, some well-known and others more obscure. Brenda Banneker, one of the four odd scholars, is the great-great niece of Benjamin Banneker. She’s also inherited his engineering and science acumen. Elliot Just is a budding chemist. He is the son of Ernest E. Just, a founder of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Inc., and an accomplished biologist.

Essentially, Dr. Djinn’s Motherland Amusement Park of Magic and Mythological Creatures was inspired by Suburban Gardens. In the book, Dr. Djinn’s park has been funded by Marcus Garvey and designed by H.D. Woodson, the Black architect responsible for Suburban Gardens and parts of Union Station. The Motherland has a “Grand Menagerie” of African mythological creatures on its premises. I studied lots of folklore to gather the information I needed to include these obscure creatures in the story. JStor and Google Scholar were my primary sources for that information.

GMM: Where did the idea for the book come from? Are you writing about new characters, or have you written about these characters before? Is this book part of a series?

BSM: The idea sprung from my love of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. This is the book that made me love reading. I read the book several times and longed to find a golden ticket (lol). I was always disappointed that not a single non-White person won a golden ticket and I vowed to write a book where the Black kids could visit the mysterious factory. In my case, the chocolate factory is Dr. Djinn’s Amusement Park.

I love this world I’ve created. It’s fun. It’s magical. And it’s full of possibilities. I’ve written a one act Dr. Djinn play that I hope to direct as a dinner theater here in Baltimore some time in the future and I’ve written a YA novel in verse that focuses on Lotus Wise, Dr. Djinn’s granddaughter who is coming to grips with her abilities as a conjure poet in present-day Baltimore. I’ve also written three short stories featuring characters from the Dr. Djinn world. My short story, The Lover, the Brother, the Jeweler, and the Ring was published in Chosen Realities: DWASF Journal No. 1, last summer. I am currently brainstorming Dr. Marvellus Djinn’s Odd Scholars, Book Two. I’ve also written a compendium of African mythological creatures based on my research. That book is called, Fangs, Feathers, and Folklore: Africa’s Amazing Beasts. It is currently being acquired by a traditional publisher.

GMM: How do you view your writing? Where does it fit in terms of genre? Who is your imagined audience while you’re writing? As an educator who teaches writing, how does your own process differ from what you teach your students? What is your number one writing tip for students, either novices or experienced writers? Are you able to talk a little bit about your latest teaching opportunity with New York City schools?

“Writing across genres is valuable. It’s like making sure you’re working out all your muscles at the gym. There’s leg machines and elliptical machines and free weights. Writing across genres tightens up the writing.”

BSM: Writing is my freedom. I have never seen writing creatively as a burden. It makes me happy. I write across genres because Ntozake Shange, one of my biggest inspirations, wrote choreopoems, plays, poetry, and novels. She was incredible. Because of her, I write poetry, short fiction, novels, essays, and plays. I am also starting to dabble in a little screenwriting. Writing across genres is valuable. It’s like making sure you’re working out all your muscles at the gym. There’s leg machines and elliptical machines and free weights. Writing across genres tightens up the writing.

When teaching writing, I expose my students to several different processes. My job is to guide them, not shape them into me. I am fine with my students being either plotters or pantsers. I am okay with them brainstorming their characters before taking a deep dive into the worlds they’re creating. I just want them to write. Years ago, I took a fantastic class with Tananarive Due, another one of my favorite writers. She recommends a sentence a day because it always spirals into more. That is my writing tip to students. You can’t edit a blank page. Right now, I am a writer/educator with Uptown Stories. Uptown Stories specifically seeks out writers to guide young people on their writing journey. I am free to design my own curriculum and student work is published in an amazing anthology at the close of each semester. I taught a class on Dragons from around the world this past winter and I am currently teaching a class on World building now. Tomorrow, I will be teaching the Dragons course to a group of middle school students in New York City. It’s an opportunity I didn’t see coming. As a public school teacher for twelve years, I never witnessed outside instructors being hired to teach anything. However, hybrid learning has changed the landscape of education. And though I believe in-person learning is important, I am ecstatic with the opportunities it provides for expanding our reach as educators.

From the forthcoming novel, Dr. Marvellus Djinn’s Odd Scholars by B. Sharise Moore

The Kleptomaniac Inventor

Charleston, SC 1920

After three grueling hours of demonstrations, the contestants finally reached the end of Charleston’s Juvenile Ingenuity Competition. A cluster of wooden tables covered with cogs, gears, and other mechanical instruments formed a circle under a pavilion in the middle of the marketplace. Brenda watched in silence as Dr. Djinn inspected her latest invention in the palm of her hand. No more than two inches in length, the contraption had a steel outer shell with a slender glass barrel inside. Minuscule wires looped around the bottom and an inch-long syringe poked from its end. Tiny copper buttons covered the barrel’s side. Brenda cracked her knuckles behind her back.

“Never seen anything like it,” Dr. Djinn said under her breath. “What’s it made of?”

“Ninety-two percent inox. Copper, wire, and glass make up the remaining eight percent.” Brenda cleared her throat. “Inox is steel. It’s lightweight and resistant to staining.”

Dr. Djinn looked in the direction of a tall man at her side with ink-black skin. He responded with a stiff nod. She turned back to Brenda. “Demonstrate.”

Brenda took the contraption out of the magician’s palm. “It’s a siphoning mechanism.” Her eyes settled on a jar dangling from the man’s belt. Now and again, its contents would bubble and flash as if possessed by some unseen force. She motioned toward it. “May I use the jar?”

Gasps and chatter tore through the gathering. The man’s eyes grew wide. “Only a Taint—someone with magic blood, can properly handle the contents of a Soul Jar—”

“This is an ingenuity competition, Professor Blue.” Dr. Djinn rubbed her palms together. “If anything goes wrong, we can deal with it. Let’s see what she can do.” 

The Professor stared at Dr. Djinn through narrowed eyes. “Very well.” He threw her a side-long glance. “But we must protect our potential Scholars at all costs. We both know what’s inside that Jar.” His West Indian lilt floated through the heavy Charleston air as he lifted the clasp on his belt. 

Brenda watched as he sat it on the table in front of her. The audience crept forward, tightening around them. 

With the utmost care, she balanced her invention between her thumb and index finger and pressed one of the buttons on its side. A tiny blue flame emanated from the syringe, gradually penetrating the glass. The Jar rattled and screeched. Out of the corner of her eye, Brenda could see Professor Blue reaching for it as Dr. Djinn blocked his efforts. 

After the syringe cleanly broke through the glass, Brenda pushed another button. Instantly, the mucous like substance from the Soul Jar filled the glass barrel. With a subtle click, the syringe retracted and the tiny opening in the Jar closed like a healed wound. Brenda reached for the glass barrel, now filled with demonic fluid.  

“The barrel is heat and cold resistant. You can use it to inject or draw out poison or any substance you’d like.” She held the barrel up high. “I call it a Fire Needle.” 

Dr. Djinn tipped her top hat, bright green like her tuxedo. “Well done, young lady.” 

Resounding applause and whistles rippled through the crowd as Brenda replaced the barrel inside the Fire Needle with a click, injected the goo back into the Soul Jar, and pushed it toward the Professor.

Blue reattached it to his belt loop and gave her a small smile. “Impressive.”

Dr. Djinn raised an arm up high, silencing the chatter. 

“Thank you all for your inventions. Each of you has mesmerized, inspired, and surprised me this afternoon. After a one-hour intermission, I will announce the winner of the Juvenile Ingenuity Competition and our second Odd Scholarship.”

Back at her station, Brenda glanced at her stopwatch, reached for her briefcase, and dismantled her invention, piece by piece. A tiny woman squeezed through the crowd and hurried toward her. 

“A whole hour, Aunt Squeak!” Brenda huffed as the woman reached her side.

“Patience Beebee, patience.” Squeak rubbed her shoulder. 

Brenda frowned at the invention, now a pile of tiny cogs and screws. “It shouldn’t take an hour to make a decision.”

“They want to make sure they choose well,” Squeak said. “The competition is top notch.”

Brenda turned back to her briefcase and pushed a button on its side. The case popped open to reveal a slew of flaps, snaps, buttons, and drawers. Tiny lights blinked on and off in a strange rhythm. After she unzipped a felt-lined pocket, she scraped the parts of the Fire Needle inside. 

“Your uncle loved that briefcase.” Aunt Squeak stared at the contraption with a longing in her eyes.

Brenda nodded; her eyes fastened to the pile of mechanical parts. She opened another drawer soaked in ultra-violet rays.

“Seeing you here and doing such a fantastic job—” Squeak dabbed at her eyes with a lacy kerchief.

“I know. I know. Uncle Rufus would be proud,” Brenda sighed. Squeak stuffed the kerchief in her purse. “Sure would,” she sniffled.

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. Fiction Fragments will be on a short hiatus (I mean it this time). Stay tuned, and see you soon!

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

Women in Horror Month Fiction Fragments: Tonia Ransom

Wednesday, I talked with the multifaceted Sumiko Saulson about writing and how identity shapes her life as a writer of speculative fiction.

Today, Girl Meets Monster welcomes writer and podcast creator, Tonia Ransom.

Tonia Ransom is the creator and executive producer of NIGHTLIGHT, a horror podcast featuring creepy tales written by Black writers. Tonia has been scaring people since the second grade, when she wrote her first story based on Michael Myers. She’s pretty sure her teacher was concerned, but she thinks she turned out fine(ish). Tonia tells horror stories regularly on Twitter @missdefying, and her debut novella Risen was released early December 2020. She lives in Austin, Texas.

Ten Questions

GMM: Welcome to Girl Meets Monster and thank you for being part of my first Women in Horror Month series, Tonia.  What projects are you currently working on? Is horror your primary genre, or do you write in other genres? If you write in other genres, which do you feel most comfortable writing, and why?

TR: Thanks for having me! Right now, I’m working mostly on my podcast, NIGHTLIGHT. We just began Season 4, and I’m excited about the stories we have in the queue for listeners. I’m also working on an audio drama that is a cross between Lovecraft Country and True Blood. It’s got hoodoo, monsters, and unnatural disasters and I’m anxious to see it out in the world. On top of that, I’m working on my second book, 13 Kills, about a vampire girl who must kill 13 times to grow up, and a feature film about the conflict between people who live above ground and those underground called The Dark People.

Horror is absolutely my primary genre, though I have written one piece of literary work based on the death of Tamir Rice. It felt wrong to write horror about that, but I needed to process my feelings about it as the mother of a Black son, so literary it was. But at the end of the day, I feel most comfortable writing horror.

GMM: When did you first know that you were a horror writer? How did you develop an interest in the genre? What initially attracted you to horror stories? Which writers influenced you then? Which writers influence you now?

TR: I wrote my first horror story in the second grade for a school assignment. It was Michael Myers fan fiction! My teacher called my mom, but I was always a good student whose teachers called my parents to praise me, so I thought she just loved the story. I’d scared her and I was hooked on the feeling and have never looked back, though I have doubted myself many, many times. I think my interest in the genre came from having a dad who enjoyed horror, and older brothers who also loved horror movies. I looked up to my brothers, of course, and didn’t want to seem scared when I watched movies with them, so I looked at all the cool things about them. So, my love of horror definitely came from film. It wasn’t until much later that I developed a love for horror writing, mostly because I grew up in an extremely conservative community and my library did not have many horror books at all. I did, however, enjoy The Twilight Zone very much as a child and came to love Richard Matheson’s episodes in particular. He’s still a huge influence on me, as are Shirley Jackson, Octavia Butler, and Tananarive Due.

GMM: The documentary, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019), explores Black horror and the portrayal (and absence) of Black people in horror movies. As a definition of what Black horror means begins to take shape, Tananarive Due says “Black history is Black horror.” What do you think she meant by that? Can you give an example of how this idea shows up in your own work?

TR: I think the fact that so much of Black history in America (and honestly, worldwide, but particularly America) has been so horrific that Black history and Black horror are intrinsically linked. Black writers, like all writers, are shaped by their experiences, and unfortunately, African American writers have had to deal with a lot of racial horror in their lives. You cannot have Black horror without Black history because all stories are made from the seeds of history, whether personal or national. As for me, I tend not to write directly about the horrific history of what it’s meant to be Black in America. Writing more indirectly is more my style, and I often don’t know what it is that I’m really writing about until I reflect on the story after I’m done. But I am my experiences and growing up as a biracial girl in the South shaped me. I don’t know my white mother’s family because they do not believe in “racial mixing”. Being isolated from one side of my family definitely comes out in my work in the forms of abandonment and being alone, rejected, and forgotten, which all are hallmarks of horror stories.

GMM: As a WOC writing horror/dark speculative fiction, do you feel obligated to have a deeper message in your stories? Can writers of color write stories without broader messages about identity, class, and racism? Is it possible to divorce yourself from that ongoing narrative within our culture when you set out to write a story?

TR: I don’t feel obligated to have a deeper message in my stories, though there usually is one because writing is my way to process the more hidden emotions I have. Unfortunately, I think a lot of editors expect Black and other marginalized writers to have a deeper message in their work, and I think that’s unfortunate, particularly because they expect that deeper message to be a bit more overt. Editors seem to prefer stories about the struggle and pain of being part of a marginalized identity, and we are so much more than those struggles. For me, stories are first about entertainment. That’s why I read stories and watch movies—to be entertained, to escape. If there’s a deeper message, great. If that message is there, but you have to work to see it, that’s okay too. As long as I was entertained, I consider it successful. There is certainly a place for work with deeper meanings, but I do think that the entertainment of the story shouldn’t be sacrificed for that meaning; rather they should work together to create a cohesive whole. I certainly think it’s possible to divorce the two superficially, but again, we are our experiences, and there is always a deeper meaning, though it may be quite obscure, and that’s okay.

GMM: What are your top five favorite horror movies, and why? Top five horror novels? Which book or movie scared you the most?

TR: Movies: 12 Hour Shift (directed and written by Brea Grant) is a wild ride. It’s funny, gory, and one of my favorite movies of last year. I also love Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and The Girl With All the Gifts, primarily because of how race changes those stories to have a completely different meaning than what might have originally been intended. Les Diaboliques is also a favorite of mine—I love a good twist! And finally, I love Hush. I was so tense the entire time I was watching the movie and it’s very difficult to get under my skin. Mike Flanagan did an amazing job with that movie.

Books: The Family Plot by Cherie Priest. Haunted house stories are so hard to pull off, but Cherie did it beautifully. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll is such a macabre graphic novel. Between the stories and the creepy illustrations, it’s a delight to read again and again. Tananarive Due’s The Good House is another amazing haunted house novel. And Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle exceeds The Haunting of Hill House in my opinion. Finally, I loved Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith, it is an excellent middle grade horror.

As for which book/movie scared me the most, I’d have to say Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House. Nothing so far has really scared me, but that show definitely creeped me out a few times.

GMM: How do you feel about white-identifying writers who write stories about non-white characters? What problems have you encountered? What potential issues do you see with white-identifying writers telling BIPOC stories? What advice would you give those writers?

TR: Whew, what a question. I’m actually going to be moderating a panel about Lovecraft Country at Boskone on February 12, and I have thoughts about a white writer taking on a story about the Black experience. To me, it feels like a colonization, particularly because Black writers writing about that very thing have been shut out for so long. I think if a book/story is almost entirely based on the Black experience, a non-Black writer should have a Black co-writer. For me, Lovecraft Country the novel just felt off. You could tell Matt Ruff definitely did his research and wanted to be respectful, but it still felt hollow because the deeper parts of the Black experience during that era just weren’t there. I couldn’t finish the novel because it just felt wrong to me in ways I couldn’t quite describe, even before I knew the author was white. There’s something intangible about marginalized experiences that you can’t get from research or interviewing someone from that background. It’s the type of stuff that comes out as you’re writing it. Marginalized folks sometimes don’t consciously realize precisely how they’re marginalized or how they feel about it until they’re writing that experience.

GMM: All writers have experienced some form of impostor syndrome. What has your experience with impostor syndrome been like? Did you ever have a particularly bad case of it? If so, what caused it and how did you manage it?

TR: OMG, impostor syndrome is a constant battle for me. I constantly feel as though I’m not a good enough writer, or producer, or editor, despite some very prominent people publicly saying they enjoy my work. I think a big part of that comes from my own ideas of what I want to be, and falling short of that ideal. We often have a vision in our head for something and the execution just doesn’t match that, and for me, that leads to imposter syndrome. I work very hard to let go of perfectionism and the resulting imposter syndrome by reading positive comments about my work when I feel as though I’m falling short of my own ideals.

GMM: Tell me about NIGHTLIGHT. How did the podcast get started? Who have you featured on the podcast? What were some obstacles you may have encountered when getting the podcast off the ground? Where can people find the podcast? How can writers submit their work?

TR: I started NIGHTLIGHT back in 2018 after a Fireside Fiction report came out detailing the demographics of published writers. Approximately 2.5% of published stories were by Black writers, and we discussed the report in my all-Black writers’ group. I learned that Black writers’ stories were being rejected for being “too Black” and “not Black enough” by non-Black editors. I’d wanted to start a podcast for years, even before podcasts were a thing. I loved old time radio and wanted to revive the medium, and when podcasts were created, I knew that dream was within my reach. I put it off for years, making excuses about lack of time and money, but once that report came out, I knew what kind of podcast I wanted to create. I wanted to uplift Black writers and give them a space to tell whatever story they wanted, rather than being tied to writing about the Black experience. I’ve had writers such as Linda Addison, Tananarive Due, Lamar Giles, Justina Ireland, Zin E Rocklyn, and Sumiko Saulson on the podcast, and can’t wait to see what the coming years bring.

Justina Ireland graciously donated a story based in the Dread Nation universe for our inaugural episode, and I raised almost $2000 for my first season with no platform whatsoever, so my path has been easier than most. It’s *a lot* of work, much more than I expected, which has been compounded by the fact that I have an old injury that limits my time at a keyboard and mouse, but I feel very certain this is my path because every time I’ve encountered an obstacle, something has happened to remove it. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to produce NIGHTLIGHT. We’re found on just about every podcast platform out there, but you can visit our website at nightlightpod.com. We’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @nightlightpod, and our Patreon is at patreon.com/nightlightpod. We’re open for submissions February, April, June, August, and October every year, and instructions can be found on our website at nightlightpod.com/submissions.

GMM: Without giving away too many spoilers, what is your novella, Risen, about? And, where did the idea for the story come from?

TR: The idea from Risen actually came from a nightmare that I had shortly after my dad’s death about a woman being trapped in her body. My father’s death was long and painful, and he was trapped in his body due to seizures wreaking havoc on his brain, so I think the nightmare was my way of processing that. In short, Risen is about a staunch atheist who’s murdered only to learn that not only is there an afterlife, but magic exists too and now she’s trapped in her body by the conjure man who raised her from the dead. It’s about her struggle for freedom, and her reconciliation of her familial magic with her scientific mind. Not only must she escape the zombi magic that traps her, but she must fight Baron Samedi, a prominent figure in voodoo, for her soul. You can buy Risen on Amazon. The paperback will be out in a few weeks!

GMM: Do you prefer writing your own fiction, or featuring the work of other writers on your podcast? What other creative projects would you like to try in the future?

TR: This is a tough one! I love them both equally. I do wish I had more time for my own writing, though. Writing keeps me sane, featuring the work of other writers gives me purpose. Both are necessary and finding the balance has been difficult, but I’ll arrive there at some point! In the future, I’d love to have NIGHTLIGHT or the audio drama I mentioned earlier adapted into a TV series. I’d love to be able to uplift more Black-centered stories for TV/film because I truly believe showing those perspectives to a wider audience is our best way of combating bigotry and racism. Stories may be primarily for entertainment, but people learn from them too—both the good and the bad. I want to put more good out there in the world to foster more compassion amongst each other.

Fragment by Tonia Ransom

The bullet severed my spinal cord, so I can’t tell you if it hurts to die. What I can tell you is that being raised from the dead feels like being burned at the stake with no promise of death to bring you peace.

I haven’t been dead very long, if you can call me dead. I’m still not quite sure what I am. Two weeks ago I was standing at my stove, waiting for my watched pot to boil and reading the latest research on emerging infection diseases.

The house was silent, almost eerily so. Only the sound of me clicking around on the computer accompanied the sound of my breathing.

The door usually squeaked, but he managed to come in without it making a peep. Closed it behind him without the latch calling attention to his presence.

All I knew was something whacked me from behind, hard enough to knock me off the barstool and smack my chin on the edge of the counter on the way to the floor. A white flash of light behind my eyes receded and I tried to focus, but everything was blurry and doubled. I lay there, ears ringing and vision dimmed, my favorite scrub-blue shirt blooming into a deep red. I didn’t recognize it as blood at first and thought about how beautiful it was, how purple embraced the blue and gave way to red, like a drop of dye in water.

It took me even longer to figure out why I was bleeding. The only part of me that hurt was my chin, but when I reached up to inspect it, there was only tenderness. I lifted my shirt, where the red had first overtaken the blue, and found the hole, small, but defined. He didn’t use a hollow point.

I assumed that I’d been lucky, that the bullet caused some damage, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

I was wrong.

I willed my legs to move, to stand me up, but they refused to comply.

The bullet had pierced my spinal cord. Exited via my abdomen. I was losing a lot of blood, quickly––so quickly, I knew my abdominal aorta was severed.

I never knew when to give up, still don’t, so I didn’t stop trying to live, despite the fact that I knew more movement would cause me to lose blood faster. The alternative––lying there and waiting for death to take me––was something I couldn’t do.

I took a few breaths, steeling myself for the next push, watching the blood that was inside me moments ago form a crimson-colored reflection next to me, worming its way into the grout that separated my newly installed travertine tiles. In that macabre mirror, I saw him, gun in hand, wearing a maniacal smile.
Watching me smear my blood all over my floor. Blood that he had drawn, without a hint of sadness or remorse in his eyes.

With renewed strength tempered by anger, I inched toward him, but when I looked up again, he was gone. Deflated and weak, I rested on the cold floor. I told myself I had to formulate a new plan, but the floor felt so good, my eyes so heavy. The pool of blood crept forward and warmed my face, but the rest of me grew cold. Even so, I broke out into a sweat.

I was going into shock.

I knew the process of bleeding to death on a physiological level, and now I would know it intimately. There was nothing I could do nothing to stop it. Copper and iron, that familiar smell of the mortally wounded, was the last thing I smelled before I drifted into unconsciousness, oddly comforted by the odor I had become so accustomed to in my work as an emergency room doctor.

I don’t know how much time passed before I stood next to my dining table, looking at the body that was once mine. My skin had changed from a beautiful chestnut to a sickly gray, the dark jelly around my body making my skin look even more devoid of color than it was. My eyes were closed, but I didn’t look like I’d just fallen asleep. No freshly dead body ever does. The dead always look dead until a funeral home gets ahold of them.

I didn’t hear him close the door as he left. I just suddenly felt alone and turned around to see the blinds swish back and forth on the upper half of my back door. I never even considered following him. I was still processing what happened in what couldn’t have been more than five minutes.

He had gotten so lucky. His shot tore my abdominal aorta, basically the interstate highway of blood. An inevitable death.

I’d still be alive if I’d leaned my weight onto the other foot.

It all seemed horribly unfair, as if the whole world had conspired to murder me.

But this, this, was all wrong. Death meant lights out. No part of me should have been there. My body, dead and motionless, but my consciousness left to contemplate what had happened. I had never really believed there was a God, at least not one that paid any attention to us foolish little people on our tiny little rock around our run-of-the-mill sun. I’d never said there wasn’t a God really, I just didn’t believe his existence mattered one way or another. And I’d certainly never believed in Heaven or Hell, Nirvana or the Great Beyond.

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: Todd Sullivan

Last week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Jessica McHugh about YA fiction and how horror and humor come together in her stories. This week, Girl Meets Monster welcomes Todd Sullivan.

image0 (2)Todd Sullivan teaches English as a Second Language, and English Literature & Writing in Asia. He has had numerous short stories, novelettes, and novellas published across several countries, including Thailand, the U.K., Australia, the U.S., and Canada. He is a practitioner of the sword-fighting martial arts, kumdo/kendo, and has trained in fencing (foil), Muay Thai, Capoeira, Wing Chun, and JKD. He graduated from Queens College with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Georgia State University. He attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the National Book Foundation Summer Writing Camps. He currently lives in Taipei, Taiwan, and looks forward to studying Mandarin.

Three Questions

GMM: Hi Todd, welcome to Girl Meets Monster. After reading your fragment, I wondered what inspired the story, as well as what specific genre it fits into. There are young characters, so I thought YA and since there’s magic, I placed it in fantasy. Do you normally write YA fantasy, or do you write within other genres and subgenres?

TS: I wrote this story while teaching at a Language School in Seoul. One of the students was fond of drawing, and he was also a poor student academically. He was under a lot of pressure to do better in his classes, and soon he was going to take entrance exams for a boarding school in China.

This real-life scenario became the genesis of Test Amongst the Shadows, wherein a teenager, who happens to be a mage in the world of humans, has to pass an exam that is important to him. The narrative follows the different methods he employs to cheat since he knows he cannot pass the test on his own.

Test Amongst the Shadows is YA urban fantasy fiction, and eventually I’ll develop the idea into a novella series.

I also write across genres, including horror and light science fiction.

GMM: The interaction between your characters also reminded me of Japanese manga and anime stories. Do you enjoy anime? How has it influenced your writing? What are some of your favorite anime series or characters?

TS: I love anime, and it has had a significant influence on my writing. I remember the first time I saw Akira, which is the first major Japanese anime film many people around my age saw. This was in the 90s before the popularity of the internet when it was hard to find anime on American television.

One of the big differences between anime narratives and western narratives is that there are usually no purely evil characters. Westerners base a lot of their worldview on scripture: Heaven and Hell, good and evil. There is God, and there is Satan. There is a hero, and there is a villain.

Anime characters tend to be more flux in their alignment. Usually, the characters simply have objectives. Sometimes this objective brings great harm to one, or many, and that person will be the bad guy. The character with an objective that happens to include stopping the great harm to the one, or many, will be the good guy.

In Akira, there is no villain. There is a teen boy full of angst who accidentally achieves great power he cannot control. And there is his friend who must stop him, in a way out of friendship, out of knowing that the boy is in torment even as his power wrecks havoc upon the city.

In Dragon Ball Z, one of my favorite animes, Vegeta starts off as a central villain to Earth. He does so because he wants to escape the tyranny of one of DBZs purely evil characters, Frieza, and on Earth he thinks the means to do exists. Vegeta changes throughout the series, going from villain to anti-hero to hero.

Then there is Goku, a character whose goal of protecting the Earth conflicts with his overwhelming desire to improve his fighting abilities. This obsession Goku has indirectly causes great harm and misery to others.

The characters I write are similar to these Japanese figures. With few exceptions, my characters are not purely good, and they are not purely evil. Sometimes one of them will have a goal that brings suffering to others; and sometimes, another of them will have a goal that brings them into direct conflict with the first, and thus the suffering of others can be alleviated.

GMM: How long have you lived in Asia, and what aside from teaching English and Writing made you decide to move there? What cultural barriers have you experienced as a person of color living abroad? How have these experiences shaped your writing?

TS: I’ve lived in Asia ten years. After a three-week winter semester class where I studied Japanese authors in Tokyo during my MFA at Queens College, I knew that I wanted to come back to this part of the world and learn more about the people and the cultures.

Many Asian societies are homogeneous, so the presence of foreigners acts as a bit of a shock to their system. I think that being a foreigner in a homogeneous society is a good case study of how humans might react to the presence of aliens from outer space. There is simply a difficulty in processing the reality of that which is standing in front of you.

Writing-wise, I think this difficulty is best expressed in my fantasy novella series, The Windshine Chronicles. This series centers around a dark-skinned foreigner living in a fantasy version of Korea called South Hanguk. The series’ narrative is multilayered, but one of the themes is how the people of the country interact with foreigners, and how the foreigners struggle to exist in a country that isn’t their native home.

In The Windshine Chornicles, the idea that the human race is “one whole” is constantly put to the test.

From Test Amongst the Shadows, by Todd Sullivan

The hardest working mage who ever lived glanced at the clock on the wall. Twenty minutes. Jin gazed down at his English exam. Only twenty minutes left to pass or fail the biggest test of his life. His scantron sheet was half empty. The clock’s ticking seconds in the silent classroom echoed in his mind, and made focusing on English vocabulary and grammar impossible. He had to do something if he intended to get in the top of his class.

Jin looked around at the other students, their heads low, their shoulders hunched as they picked off ovals in the long marching columns. Adjusting his glasses, he opened his senses in search for the right spell amidst the thin cracks that splinter reality. He released control of his hand and let it draw six stick-figure bandits on horses at the edges of the exam. Leaning close to the page, he whispered, “Thieving shadows, take shape and learn the secrets of my woes.”

The drawings shivered, and the bandits shook themselves awake. They clawed out of the exam, erupting off the page into the third dimension. The cloaked leader saluted, his face hidden in shades of gray. Jin pointed to the answer key tucked under a notebook on the teacher’s desk. The leader nodded, and motioned to the silent troupe behind him. The bandits yanked on their horses’ reins and leapt off the side of the table. Racing across the tiled floor, the horses skirted around chair legs and hopped over sneakers. Jin glanced at the exam answer key again. The sides of his mouth spread in a triumphant smile, but a purple boot suddenly crushed the horsemen right before they cleared the classroom’s tables. Jin inhaled in surprised. He followed the boot up to the leg, the skirt, the shirt, to finally meet the steady gaze of Sori, the top student in the school.

And his ex-girlfriend.

The two maintained eye contact for several moments, a silent challenge passing between them. Sori had broken up with him right before exams, informing him that she wasted too much time with him and wasn’t focusing enough on the upcoming finals. And now, here she sat, the only other mage in this room of humans, stopping him from reaching his goal.

So that’s how it was going to be.

Jin slowly took off his glasses in preparation for his next spell. Sori had managed to see his bandits. He didn’t know how, but he would need to take care of her sight before he tried for the test answers again.

Jin narrowed his eyes at the light reflected in the lenses of his glasses. He smiled. He held the glasses to his lips and misted the lenses by blowing on one, then the other. While he did this, he focused on the magic vibrating between the fissures of reality until he heard the words to the next spell.

“Site sighted, two to see, sea bog fog billowing…”

“John?”

Jin snapped his mouth shut at the teacher speaking his English name. He tried to still his heart now thumping fast in his chest, and met the teacher’s puzzled blue eyes.

“Are you speaking to someone?”

Now the other students’ heads lifted, and before he knew it, dozens of humans were all staring in his direction. With their attention focused on him, he couldn’t produce magic. No mage could. Human disbelief in magic narrowed the fissures running throughout reality, making the words necessary to bring spells to life impossible to hear. Jin had been told that no mage had been able to perform magic in front of a human in hundreds of years.

He glanced at Sori, who was smiling at him as he sweated under the spotlight of mankind. With a weak shrug, Jin said, “I was just,” and he paused as he scrambled for a good excuse, “reading a problem out loud to myself.” He tapped the exam. “Sometimes that helps.”

The English teacher nodded. “Everyone must remain silent so that the other students can concentrate. Sorry, John.”

“Won’t happen again,” Jin assured him. He caught Sori’s smug wink, and tore his eyes away from his ex-girlfriend’s pretty face.

These exams determined who would be allowed to apply for the International School in Hong Kong. Only the top two students would be recommended. Jin felt confident about math and science, but he worried over his English scores. One of his classmates had lived in San Francisco for years. Jin only managed to edge him out sometimes, while Sori beat them both in every subject every, single, time.

She was a studying machine.

Jin looked at the clock again. Ten minutes to finish the exam. He had to cast another spell, but when he raised his eyes, he noticed the teacher looking around the room. Whereas before he hadn’t been paying much attention, now the teacher was watching them closely, all because of Sori. Jin really wished he had been able to cast his spell and blind her. Not only because he would have been able to get the answers without her trying to counter him, but because it would have stopped her from taking the test, maybe even causing her to fail.

That would have been sweet.

Jin’s eyes narrowed as a new idea struck him. He looked at the dusty blackboard behind the teacher and slowly raised his hand.

“Yes, John?” The teacher said. “Is something wrong?”

“Can I ask you a question?” Jin assumed his most perplexed look, and mixed in a little pained exasperation to make himself seem even more pathetic.

The teacher sighed and waved him forward. Jin stood. Only briefly, a couple of students glanced up at the newest disturbance, but their focus quickly returned to their exams. All, that is, except Sori, who watched Jin with a penetrating gaze. He wanted to give her the finger, but since the teacher was staring at him, he refrained as he passed her…

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.

Why I’m Not Making New Year’s Resolutions for 2020

jamie-street--d6kTMGXV6E-unsplashEach year as the holidays get into full swing, I begin thinking about what happened during the year — the good stuff, the bad stuff, the stuff I wished I had done differently. And usually, I begin to feel a bit melancholy about all the things I didn’t accomplish. I had a lot of ups and downs in 2019. But lots of good things happened, like having two short stories published in anthologies with Scary Dairy Press, and my debut novel, Invisible Chains, was released at Necon 39 by Haverhill House Publishing. People I admire and respect had some very nice things to say about my book and I couldn’t be happier. In my own heart and mind, I am now a real horror writer. I became a guest blogger for Speculative Chic where I get to write about one of my favorite subjects: vampires. I dipped my toes into unknown waters by writing a few articles for Medium. And, because of those tangible successes, I’m beginning to take myself more seriously as I embrace the idea of becoming a professional writer (even if I still can’t quit my day job).

I reconnected with old friends, made new friends, and deepened some of my relationships with my close female friends and family who continued to join me on this journey around the sun another year. And in the process of spending time with those people, I learned a lot about myself. I’m looking forward to spending more time with all of you and can’t wait to create new memories. We have many more adventures ahead of us in the coming year and beyond.

Looking ahead to 2020, I’ve decided not to come up with a list of resolutions like I normally do. Statistics show that 80 percent of people will fail to keep their resolutions. I’ve been seeing a trend on social media that encourages people to choose one word to represent the things they want to achieve in the coming year and to create positive change rather than set up a bunch of unattainable goals that set you up for failure.

What is my word for the year? CREATIVITY

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As a writer, this word has a lot of meaning to me in terms of what I’m creating. I have several writing projects I fully intend to finish in the coming year, and I want to take a deep dive into reconnecting with my creative energy. That means finding more time to read, reflect, and experiment with my writing. It also means pushing myself out of my comfort zone by submitting more work and taking more risks.

I want to apply this word to the way I approach my entire life — how I eat, how I move, how I worship, how I grow, and how I love.

I am officially divorcing myself from the toxic institution of diet culture. I have struggled with weight loss and self-esteem issues since I was 10 and I am done with feeling shame about my body. I am going to get creative about how I feed myself by trying new recipes with my son, cooking for friends, and learning to enjoy food rather than seeing it as something I am constantly judging and evaluating like myself.

I’m also going to get creative about how I move my body. Exercise is something I usually view as punishment for the “bad” food choices I make. No more. I am going to try some new forms of movement this year. Activities that feel more like play than work. And, I’m going to make more of an effort to get outside and enjoy Nature. It isn’t enough to just move more. I want to learn to love my body. Not because I finally conquer it and bend it to my will, but because I accept it as it is right now in this moment and treat it with the love, care and kindness I would show a loved one.

Over the past several months, I flipped the script and started listening to not only my own intuition, but also what black women and women of color — women who look like me — have to say about health, healing, mindfulness and spiritual practices. Women like Bre Mitchell whose podcast, Brown Girl Self-Care, examines how women of color can learn from each other to heal themselves and their communities while addressing how institutionalized racism further complicates gender-bias, single parenthood, sexuality, abusive relationships, ancestral trauma, poverty, depression/anxiety, access to healthcare, and other issues disenfranchised women around the world deal with on a daily basis while simply trying to survive. I’m going to allow myself to trust my own inner voice, the voices of women of color, and the voices of my ancestors I have been ignoring. In 2020, my goddess spirit guides for creativity will include Kali, Frida Khalo, and Yemaya. Strong feminine beings who embody raw creative power and the healing magic of transformation.

And finally, I’m going to apply this creative vibration to how I view romantic relationships. At 47, dating has become more of a chore than something I enjoy. Being single doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Instead, I’d like to look at this phase of my life as an opportunity to grow and learn more about myself without worrying about how others perceive me. I’m burned out on online dating and I don’t have lots of opportunities to meet new people face-to-face. As a single parent who works full-time and is pursuing a writing career, I don’t have a lot of free time. And, I’m not satisfied with the asynchronous dating model of texting and waiting for days to hear back from someone who I might not see for months. That isn’t dating. At least, it isn’t what I want. So, I’m going to date myself in 2020 and come up with some interesting ideas of places to take myself and create new ways to show myself some love. If I end up meeting someone who genuinely wants to take the time to get to know me, great. If not, I’m still going to enjoy myself on this next rotation around the sun.

What will your word be in 2020?

Am I a Real Horror Writer?

Last night, I finally sat down to watch Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019). If you’re a horror fan and haven’t watched this amazing documentary, I highly recommend it. Based on Robin R. Means Coleman’s book, Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present (2011), the film not only discusses the historical lack of representation of black characters in horror films, but also examines the misrepresentations of black people when they appeared in them. As you might expect, the filmmakers and actors discussing the films and their historically important contexts talk about their fears and experiences with racism while trying to create art within a genre that subconsciously depicts monsters as The Other in relation to white people and culture in place of ethnic minorities.

After watching the documentary, I was inspired to watch a film from the Blaxploitation era, Sugar Hill (1974), which is about a woman, Sugar Hill, who uses Voodoo to avenge the death of her fiance. The film opens with what appears to be a Voodoo ritual with black people in traditional Haitian Voodoo garb dancing to a serious drum beat. I couldn’t help thinking of Angel Heart (1987), and expected to see Epiphany Proudfoot show up with her chicken. As the opening credits end, so does the dance and we become aware of the fact that the people dancing aren’t in a secluded location away from prying eyes, they are actually performers at a place called Club Haiti. They are performing Voodoo for a predominantly white audience. They are literally performing an aspect of blackness that is a stereotypical representation of black people in horror films. This also made me think of a similar scene in Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988).

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Typically, in horror films, Voodoo is shown as something evil, something to be feared. Depicting Voodoo practitioners as women who use their magic to hurt others, or exact vengeance, is a trope that I worried about perpetuating while writing Invisible Chains. I didn’t want to stick to the common stereotypes associated with black women, especially mambos, in horror narratives.

While Sugar is a strong female lead in a horror film, the film is still riddled with tropes like dangerous black women using magic for revenge. Her fiance, Langston, owns Club Haiti. A white gangster wants to buy it, but Langston refuses. So, he sends his henchmen to kill him. They beat him to death and leave his body in the parking lot of the club for Sugar to find.

Sugar doesn’t just use magic, she calls upon Baron Samedi who raises an army of the undead made up of former slaves who died of disease while still on slave ships. Their bodies were dumped in the water and washed up on the shore near Sugar’s childhood home. So, this movie has a lot going for it in terms of supernatural horror that looks at racism in the United States (in the past and in the present of the 1970s).

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In exchange for Baron Samedi’s help, Sugar offers up her soul, but he’s more interested in her body. But, Sugar’s final revenge is taken when Baron Samedi takes the racist girlfriend of the gangster back to the Underworld with him in place of Sugar. In my opinion, that gave the film a happy ending.

Black women in roles like Sugar are viewed as frightening and dangerous because they wield power. My protagonist struggles to accept her strengths and often downplays or hides her abilities for fear of being punished for either her knowledge or power. Her strength is a secret and she doesn’t make use of her power until she’s pushed to the limit. She protects herself and others, rather than seeking vengeance.

I worried that by writing her in this way, people wouldn’t accept her as being “authentic,” and I struggled with my decision, which I think says a lot more about me as a writer and how I see myself than it does about my character.

I also struggled with the belief that because this narrative isn’t a traditional horror story — a slave narrative with a black female protagonist — people wouldn’t recognize it as a horror novel. In fact, people challenged the notion that I was writing horror while I was in my MFA program. But, as Tananarive Due puts so succinctly in Horror Noire, ”Black history is black horror.”

I already knew that what I had written is without doubt a horror novel, but having my beliefs confirmed by another writer I respect and admire made me feel a lot better about releasing this novel into the world. Black women have plenty of horror stories to tell, and perhaps, a female slave is the most qualified protagonist for an historical horror story set in America.

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Invisible Chains will be released in a week on July 22, so my anxiety is on the rise. But after watching Horror Noire and Sugar Hill, I feel more confident about how I chose to write my protagonist, Jacqueline, and I may actually be a horror writer.

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!

Fuck, Kill, Eat: Werewolves and the Death of Love

I’ve been thinking about werewolves a lot lately.

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No, really, like a lot.

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I recently listened to the audiobook of Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf, which is probably one of my favorite books of all time. I own a print copy and have read it twice, but decided to listen to it in my car on my way to work over the course of two weeks. I have a 40-minute drive to and from work Monday – Friday, and when I don’t feel like listening to music I listen to audiobooks that I download for free through an online service provided by my local library.

Over the past several months I listened to two Joe Hill novels, Heart-Shaped Box and NOS4A2, and the first two novels in the Vampire Diaries series by L. J. Smith. I had to stop listening to the Vampire Diaries novels, because I was getting pissed off at the fact that there are no people of color in the stories, and Elena Gilbert is a spoiled rich white girl who doesn’t deserve the love and attention of either Salvatore brother. I prefer the TV series to the novels mainly because of the diversity of characters and well…Damon Salvatore is a beautiful monster.

I would happily listen to more Joe Hill novels in my car, but I’ve either read or listened to all of them and last summer I even listened to Doctor Sleep and got my Charlie Manx fix through the world(s) shared between Joe Hill and Stephen King. I got very excited while listening to NOS4A2 when Charlie Manx talks about the different “inscapes” and the people he’s met that use them — Pennywise’s Circus (IT), the True Knot (Doctor Sleep), Christmasland (NOS4A2), the Treehouse of the Mind (Horns), the Night Road and Craddock McDermott (Heart-Shaped Box). Seriously, NOS4A2 is an Easter egg treasure-trove for readers of King and Hill. Treat yourself!

Reality has been kicking my ass, so my goal when choosing entertainment of any kind is to get as far from reality as possible. I often jokingly tell people that if a TV show, movie, or book doesn’t have vampires, werewolves, demons, witches, ghosts, or other paranormal characters, I’m not interested. But, it’s not really a joke.

I have been feeding my brain a steady diet of paranormal romance and dark speculative fiction. I binge-watched seasons 12 and 13 of Supernatural recently and now I’m suffering from Winchester withdrawal. Fox decided to cancel Lucifer, so I watched the last two bonus episodes and now that’s over and done. I started rewatching season 2 of Preacher to psyche myself up for season 3, but I’m not 100% sure of the date of its return to AMC. Then, on a whim, I decided to finally watch Lost Girl on Netflix. It has a Buffy vibe that I really enjoy and it is loaded with sexy, interesting, and often hilarious supernatural creatures. I like the dynamics between the Dark and Light Fae, I like the slow unfolding of the long cultural and political histories of this dual society, and I like the relationships that form between the characters. But, I’m not going to lie, the main reason why I’m watching right now is because of a certain werewolf.

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In the first season of Lost Girl, Dyson and the main character, Bo Dennis, become lovers. Because he is a werewolf chock full of Id and raging sexual energy, he is the first lover she’s ever had that didn’t die after having sex with her. Which, you know, is kind of a big deal when you’re a succubus.

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I mean, imagine if you had spent most of your adult life making love to people you’re attracted to or have strong feelings for, and each time you follow through on your sexual attraction, they end up dead. Sex with you is literally deadly. You are the embodiment of the death of love. Then, one day, you not only discover what you are and why your partners are dying, but you also find a mate who can provide you with what you need — companionship, acceptance, answers to your questions, finger-licking mega-boost sexual energy, and death-free sex. Death-free sex that is totally mind-blowing for both of you. You’d be tempted to think that love might still be in the cards for you.

I mean, love is still in the cards unless the person you love loves you so much that they inadvertently sacrifice their passion for you in an effort to save your life. Hence, the death of love. I mean, what’s more tragic than loving someone so much that you sacrifice everything for them with the consequence of never being able to love them again?

I’ve been on a werewolf kick for a while. Like I said, before I started watching Lost Girl on Netflix roughly a week ago, I listened to Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf, read by the late Robin Sachs, who lent his uber-sexy deep British accent to the first-person narrator, Jake Marlowe. Jake is a 200-year-old British werewolf who is facing the certainty of extinction of his species.

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For most of the novel, he accepts the fact that death is coming for him. In fact, he welcomes it. After 200 years, 147 of which he’s spent as a monster killing and eating humans, he’s done. He believes he’s seen it all and there are no new mysteries awaiting him. And then, the Universe has a few more laughs at his expense.

I suppose that most werewolf stories are really about love and it’s loss when you examine them closely enough. Lycanthropy is typically viewed as a curse that ruins the lives of the people who contract it. In most cases, lycanthropy is passed from werewolf to human through a bite. Unless lycanthropy is inherited through a family bloodline, or achieved through magical means, like wearing a belt made from a wolf’s pelt with a little black magic for good measure, werewolves are usually the survivors of violent attacks. And, once their physical wounds heal, the psychological ones are usually just beginning. If the werewolf has a conscience, they will most likely experience the early stages of a mental collapse after the first full moon when they turn into a homicidal maniac in wolf form.

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Jake Marlowe became a werewolf because he was bitten by one and during his first transformation he killed his wife. After killing and eating her, he read her journal and discovered that she was pregnant. His first act as a werewolf was to literally kill and eat love. For 147 years, he spent his life observing the sacred rites of werewolves: Fuck, Kill, Eat. He never found love again. At least, not until he realizes he’s about to be extinct. The Universe likes to laugh at us, but it seems to be especially jovial where monsters are concerned. At least romantic monsters who cling to their humanity in the midst of an extreme identity crisis. Jake assumes he’s the last living werewolf on Earth until he meets his female counterpart, Tallula Demetriou. So, not only is Jake no longer the last werewolf on Earth, but now he has a reason to live: Love.

So, what’s the deal with werewolves and romance? Well, who doesn’t want a passionate lover driven by their Id with superhuman strength, stamina, and a biological need to mate for life? A werewolf mate will literally kill people to keep you safe…or as an insane response to their unbridled jealousy.

At the heart of all werewolves is murderous rage and rapacious sexual energy. Left unchecked, they commit atrocities like Jake Marlowe killing his wife and unborn child, and while in human form they are often slaves to their libido. Without love, werewolves are basically fucking, killing, and eating machines.

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Typically, werewolves are portrayed as strong, handsome men suffering from some sort of identity crisis, or extreme guilt over becoming a murder once a month, and possibly an unbearable, soul-crushing melancholy brought on by unrequited love.

What I like most about Glen Duncan’s Last Werewolf Trilogy is the fact that we see the lives of werewolves from two perspectives, both male and female. Jake Marlowe’s acceptance of his true werewolf self — the good, the bad, the ugly, and the murderous — makes him an oddly likeable character. He has sex with prostitutes and somehow manages to not be a misogynist. He kills and eats humans once a month and somehow manages to be endearing in his descriptions of his own psychology. He’s a conundrum of horror, repulsion, intellect, cynicism, and raw sex appeal. Werewolves are mythological bad boys and they make excellent romantic characters when making terrible choices is your raison d’etre. I probably mentioned this before, but falling in love with monsters is usually a bad idea, regardless of what popular paranormal romance tells us. Whether you join Team Jacob or Team Edward, you’re essentially signing up for assisted suicide.

But, what if the werewolf is female?

If the 2000 cult horror film Ginger Snaps teaches us nothing else, it teaches us that female werewolves are dangerous monsters (and super-fucking cool). Their danger lies not only in the physical power that comes with their transformations each month, but in the empowerment that comes from shedding all the bullshit societal expectations of femininity. Female werewolves embrace their sexuality and engage in the mental gymnastics required to deal with the implied duality of being vessels for the creation of life and choosing to murder to satisfy the bone-rattling hunger for human flesh.

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But hey, don’t most women deal with similar dualities in every day life? Women are expected to be attractive to appease the ever-present male gaze, but only if they maintain the illusion of virginity. Women who ignore the male gaze and express their unique brand of sexuality or lack of interest in sex all together are accused of being sluts or hags. Let’s face it, there’s nothing more monstrous than sex-positive women who take full ownership of their bodies and decide who can and can’t have access to them.

Female werewolves choose their own paths. They embrace their sexuality. They choose multiple partners or mate for life. They become mothers or remain childless. They give the middle finger to societal expectations and rip out the patriarchy’s jugular.

As it turns out, Jake Marlowe is not the last werewolf. Tallula, his lover, his mate, his salvation, the love of his life (no pressure), makes the inevitability of extinction less likely. In fact, he gains strength in knowing that she is a better werewolf than he could ever hope to be. Tallula struggles with internal chorus of right and wrong that developed from her American upbringing and the expectations that women can only occupy certain roles — maiden, mother, and crone. And possibly, harlot. Tallula likes sex and engages in murder with the same ardor. She and Jake kill together and then have sex over the corpse in werewolf form, which ironically brings them closer together as a couple in their human guises. Essentially, their a serial-killing couple. Murder mates. Even monsters need love, right?

So, if female werewolves are more powerful and scarier than male werewolves, that might help explain how male werewolves have become sexually-charged eye candy in a lot of paranormal romantic fiction. I’m just stating that as a fact. It’s not a criticism in the least, because that would make me a hypocrite. There’s nothing I enjoy more than objectifying sexy werewolves…and examining the potentially dangerous ramifications of sexualizing monsters.

Peter Rumancek of Hemlock Grove, the Netflix original series based on Brian McGreevy’s 2012 novel by the same name, is an interesting monster. While he is physically appealing, his real attraction comes from his delightful irreverence and cynicism, and while his Romany upbringing predisposes him to criminal activity, his internal struggles are more geared toward keeping the people he loves safe rather than his guilt over killing and eating people.

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Then we have Alcide Herveaux, who could possibly be the sexiest werewolf ever in paranormal fiction. Charlaine Harris has kindly given us countless fuckable fictional characters, but Alcide is in a class all by himself.

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In Alan Ball’s adaptation of Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels for the HBO series True Blood, Alcide gets a much broader story arc than he does in the novels and his flirtations with Sookie Stackhouse got much further. He’s an interesting character who embodies strength and loyalty to a fault. And jealousy. Let’s not forget jealousy, which is essentially Alcide’s kryptonite.

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I have a soft spot in my heart for Alcide because he makes worse relationship decisions than I do. I mean, this guy has TERRIBLE luck with romance and his choice of partners, including Sookie Stackhouse, are pretty much all bad ideas. Plus, there’s the added bonus of him being naked a lot of the time.

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So, in the process of writing this blog post I realized that I have a lot more to say about werewolves and this post might be the jumping off point for a short series of posts. I definitely feel like I have more to say about female werewolves vs. male werewolves, and I’d like to talk more about Glen Duncan’s trilogy. But, I need to think about the subject a little more deeply.

Which reminds me, while I was listening to the second audiobook in the trilogy, Tallula Rising, I was able to solve or at least recognize the solution to an issue in my own writing. Tallula talks about her feelings in relation to motherhood and the acceptance of the terrible things she does and that are done to her. It was a moment of clarity that confirms the idea that in order to become a better writer, you need to read more books. I’m not going to talk about that moment of clarity in this post. I’ll save it for a future post. But, I will say that the irony of finding clarity about my own identity, my own writing, and the world I live in through stories about monsters is not lost on me. My own otherness has made me feel connected to monsters since childhood and I have always felt empathy toward characters who have no control of who or what they are. I suppose, I feel a kinship to monsters and the older I get, the more I take pride in that fact.

I’m going to keep up the ongoing process of self-discovery through writing in the hopes of becoming not only a better writer, but hopefully, my best self. And, I’m going to keep thinking about werewolves.

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I mean seriously, can you blame me?

Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Life I Learned from InspiroBot

I’m not sure if you noticed, but there seems to be a surplus of inspirational platitudes out there to help us get through everything from bad break-ups to writers block to staying motivated while pursing our personal goals. Don’t believe me? Spend five minutes on Pinterest and let me know what you find. In fact, here’s the board I use to collect inspirational platitudes.

These tired, often recycled quotes that encourage us to keep our chins up and move forward, no matter how bad the reality of our situation might be, are for the most part well-meaning sentiments. However, if you’re a cynic like me, and have a dark sense of humor, or if you’ve simply been through some truly terrible experiences in life, traditional motivational quotes might piss you off. At the very least, they will inspire a need to mock them.

I’ve been going through some rough times lately. And, by lately, I mean for the past several years. As a divorced, middle-aged woman of color who is a single parent living paycheck to paycheck, I can attest to the fact that the struggle is real. This isn’t my first Everything is Going to Shit Rodeo. In fact, I have developed this uncanny ability to remain calm and keep moving forward in the face of every challenge that has come my way.

So far.

I have yet to curl up and die, but don’t assume that I’m a superwoman who doesn’t need anybody’s support to get through the tough times. That just isn’t true. I cry. I scream. I write.  I cry some more. And, I am blessed with an amazing network of people who want to see me succeed. Friends who want to help if they are able. Family who is always there for me. I’m not fighting these battles alone, but after a while, I get worn out from dealing with these challenges day in and day out. I’d like to be able to put down the plates spinning above my head without letting them shatter on the ground.

You may be asking yourself, “How does she cope?” To be honest, although my struggle is mainly the product of a lack of stability, I still have a roof over my head, enough money to pay most of my bills (my defaulted student loans not included), and as always, I have a back-up plan. Okay, one or two back-up plans.

There are people in this world, in this country, in my neighborhood, who are worse off than I am. Yes, I am struggling for stability, but I won’t have to go live on the street with my son, and I won’t have to do anything seriously demeaning to earn money. Like I said, I have a back-up plan.

As you might imagine, people who want to see me succeed have lots of kind words of support and encouragement, and yes, even platitudes. Again, all given with good intentions. And, I believe that people are sincere when they offer their words of support. But, the darker side of me, my cynical self, needs humor to deal with the struggle. Because, let’s face it, if I’m not laughing, I’m more likely to start shouting obscenities at people which only makes matters worse.

My taste in humor runs from absurdist to gallows. For example, last year around this time I was watching Twin Peaks: The Return and one of the funniest scenes in the series that made me literally laugh out loud, was in episode 11, in which Gordon Cole (David Lynch) makes the following assessment while staring at a man whose head exploded without explanation, leaving only the bottom half of his face: “He’s dead.” I replayed the scene three times and laughed over and over. Sometimes, gaping head wounds can be hilarious. In my opinion, overstatement of the obvious, especially in the context of the finality of death, can be extremely funny.

Around the same time last year, a good friend of mine introduced me to the AI inspirational meme generator, InspiroBot. Initially, I just laughed at the random  inappropriateness of the memes. But then I realized that this alternative to insipid, empty platitudes about finding happiness in the worst of times, was exactly what I needed in my life. In fact, I’ve been playing with InspiroBot almost every day since I became aware of it. And, I’m not the only one who’s enjoying the nearly Dadaist memes that range from the absurd to the eerily thought provoking to basic common sense. InspiroBot introduces itself like so:

I’m InspiroBot.
I am an artificial intelligence dedicated to generating unlimited amounts of unique inspirational quotes for endless enrichment of pointless human existence.

So far, InspiroBot has brought me hours of enjoyment, stimulated my own creativity, and reminded me that laughing at things that make most people uncomfortable is actually soothing to me. The memes it generates are funny enough, but the interface is also humorous in a scary science fiction sort of way. It reminds me of AI in films, like Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Skynet Corporation from the Terminator franchise, and David 8 from Alien: Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. The darkly humorous interface inspired Michael Walsh to write an article about InspiroBot suffering from an existential crisis for The Nerdist.

I don’t know if InspiroCorp©™® will be the catalyst for the destruction of humankind, but while I’m waiting to find out, I’m learning lots of interesting things from InspiroBot. As an agnostic who continues to search for meaning in the Universe, I’m open to finding meaning in places that might not make sense to others. At the moment, InspiroBot is one of my preferred forms of meditation. If meditation can be compared to a slot machine that generates bizarre Jungian Stream of Consciousness platitudes that either enlighten or confuse. Even if the path ahead for me isn’t clear, it’s clear to me that InspiroBot wants me to look at things differently. Here are five examples of wisdom I’ve gleaned from the AI meme generator.

Number 1: InspiroBot reminds us that our fear of dying alone may be the primary force that drives us to seek out romantic relationships. Marriage is the logical conclusion for most people who find love in this life, much like death is the logical conclusion to life itself.

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Number 2: Sometimes, you need to start with a clean slate. Which means, you need to learn how to not only accept the fact of change, but embrace it. Starting over can be scary, but it is often necessary to move forward to the next phase of your life. Whether that means quitting a job you hate, leaving a relationship that is sucking the life out of you, or literally setting something you’ve created on fire, like a short story or a painting, so you can begin again with a fresh perspective.

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Number 3: It’s okay to be weird. Being weird, especially in the company of fellow weirdoes can be an intense mood elevator. Getting together with like-minded people, whether they’re horror writers, furries, or goths, can really lift your spirits and remind you that you’re not alone in the world, and more importantly, you aren’t completely crazy. Unfurl your freak flag!

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Number 4: Life lessons aren’t always happy occasions. In fact, I often believe that the more traumatic the lesson, the greater the learning opportunity. People like to tell us to “move on,” or “suck it up,” or “get over it.” Bullshit. Embrace your bad times and learn from them so that you don’t have to repeat them in the future. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”

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Number 5: The previous meme reminds us that we can learn from our mistakes. One of life’s lessons I have to keep relearning is to not chase after people who do not have my best interest in mind. I have a terrible habit of finding myself attracted to people who will most likely cause me harm. I mean, honestly, my love of monsters relates to both fictional characters and literal people from my past. The idea of seeking out a partner who will either consciously or unconsciously hurt you due to who they are, their life choices, or a history of bad behavior in romantic relationships is almost always a bad idea. Breaking this habit is an ongoing project for me. At least when it comes to real people. My love of fictional monsters will probably never go away. Vampires, werewolves, and Lucifer just do it for me.

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Inspiration can come from unexpected sources. Some people seek enlightenment through religion, others seeks answers in Nature. For now, my answers come from InspiroBot. Laugh if you must, but don’t knock it until you try it.

Fallen Angel at the Crossroads

So, I’m a little behind in my posts this week, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it. It’s been a productive week and here I am writing another blog post whether I am able to write 28 posts in a month, which is a great goal, but simply not possible for me this year. It’s OK. I’ve been writing other stuff and the real goal for me is to just keep writing every day that I can. With that said, let’s get back to February’s theme of fuckable fictional characters.

I celebrated my birthday this week and got an unexpected gift when Charlaine Harris announced that there will be a second season of Midnight, Texas. Ironically, I had written two posts about characters from the series recently, one about Manfred Bernardo and one about Fiji and Bobo. Today, I’m staying in Midnight, because there’s another character I’d like to talk about. A certain fallen angel that makes my heart beat faster and makes my mind wander to very naughty things.

Fallen Angel at the Crossroads: Joe Strong

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Joe Strong is a fallen angel who is in a same sex marriage with Chuy Strong, a Mexican American who happens to be half-demon. Talk about a mixed marriage. Although Joe and Chuy are out about their marriage, they aren’t that open about the fact that Joe is fallen and Chuy is part demon. These secrets are part of the reason they live together in Midnight, Texas where they own and operate a tattoo parlor/nail boutique. Joe’s skills as an artist earn them a comfortable living in the middle of nowhere, but his paintings are far more interesting than any body art he’s creating.

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When we first see Joe, he appears to be going for a morning run, but when he reaches the creek, he strips off his shirt and reveals a pair of magnificent white wings that are hidden beneath his otherwise human-looking exterior. Joe spreads his wings, takes off at a run, and soars into the air. It was at that moment I fell in love.

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I’m not 100% sure why, but I have a thing for fallen angels. Depending on the mythology of the fictional universe you’re writing or reading in, fallen angels aren’t automatically demons. I’m working on a novel that features a fallen angel who is a demon, but I struggled with whether or not to refer to him as one or the other. I think referring to him as a demon has more power in certain ways since he spends a lot of time in Hell and my protagonist is bound to him by an arranged marriage. When they are wed, she has to follow him to Hell. Thems the rules! Beyond my character being a demon and spending a lot of time in the company of his brother, Lucifer, the first fallen angel, he is motivated by a sense of justice and takes his job as an assassin charged with rounding up the baddest of souls very seriously.

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Joe also seems to be motivated by a desire to do the right thing in most situations. He is kind, helpful, willing to fight to keep the people he cares about safe, and the reason he is fallen is because it was his job to kill demons and when he met Chuy he fell in love. He couldn’t justify killing demons if he was in love with one. So, he left his gig in Heaven and decided to live on Earth. In Midnight.

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His choice to live in Midnight initially seems to be because he is in hiding, which is true. But as the first season of Midnight, Texas unfolds, we learn that there is a coming battle between Good and Evil, and this isn’t the first time Joe has been around to witness the carnage. Midnight Crossroads has a dark history and it attracts people with preternatural abilities. It is a magical hotspot, but unfortunately as the veil between worlds weakens, the creatures who are attracted to Midnight aren’t exactly coming to fight on the side of Good.

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Joe is hesitant to talk about the fact that he’s an angel, more hesitant to talk about the fact that Chuy is a demon, and he really doesn’t want to talk about the opening of the veil. He’s worried that if he tells the truth, his friends and neighbors in Midnight might reject them. But, he’s also worried about his Enochian brethren finding him and Chuy. When an angel decides to fall, that kind of pisses the rest of Heaven off. There’s one particular angel who is exceptionally pissed off about Joe’s decision to fall and his reasons why.

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Bowie is an older and more powerful angel who was Joe’s mentor back in the day. Together, they slew demons left, right and center the first time all Hell broke loose on the land where Midnight now sits. Despite his reservations about killing, Joe did his duty and was good at his job. So good, that Bowie bragged about her protege and took it personally when Joe fell. Bowie is kind of single-minded when it comes to killing demons and anyone she deems on the wrong side of Heaven. Ironically, she herself falls and becomes something she would have battled against in the past. She is more monstrous than Joe or Chuy, because she embodies several of the Seven Deadly sins, including Pride and Wrath. She threatens the life of innocent mortals to draw Joe out, and goes on a rampage to end Joe’s life.

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Chuy and Joe are worried that if Chuy’s demon side shows itself, it will be almost impossible to control it. Chuy has apparently been struggling with the pull of Evil coming from under Midnight, but seeing Joe’s life endangered sets him off and he releases his demon self in a fit of fear and rage. Chuy kills Bowie, but almost kills Manfred and Joe as well. Joe is able to get Chuy under control, but sends him away when he realizes the extent to which the veil is having and effect on him. When the other Midnighters see Chuy’s true face they are shocked and afraid. But once Bowie is defeated and the dust settles, they are a little more willing to accept the truth of Joe and Chuy’s real identities and still consider them friends.

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Joe wants to do the right thing and help his friends in Midnight, but his one weakness is Chuy. If your greatest weakness is lying to protect the love of your life, I can understand the motivation to keep their true identities a secret.

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Let’s be realistic here, folks. Joe is not only a fallen angel. He’s a handsome white man who is in love with a Mexican American man. Even without Chuy being a demon, there are people who would gladly hurt them just for being in love. Add the fact that they are essentially forbidden from being together because of the whole Good vs. Evil thing, and they could potentially be two of America’s most wanted for crimes against good Christian values. Whatever the hell that means. Good Christian values sounds more and more like an oxymoron to me these days. I’m not an Atheist, but I’m also not a Christian by default, which a lot of people seem to think is the case. I don’t have a problem with Jesus Christ, it’s his followers I take issue with most of the time.

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There’s a lot more happening in Midnight, Texas than just a supernatural soap opera. Charlaine Harris’ characters challenge a lot of popular mainstream views of how life in the United States should be, and the TV show kicks those characters up a notch by creating interracial relationships at a time when people who voted for Trump are basking in the pastiche of making America great again. Unfortunately, the America they’re hoping to reclaim never really existed. Same sex marriages and interracial marriages, legally recognized or not, are not new editions to the American cultural landscape. Our history is full of examples of both. Just because they don’t appear in the whitewashed version of history found in most textbooks, doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. You can’t make America White Again, because it never truly was.

The Color of Love

As a writer who happens to be a woman of color, it’s important to me to see myself in books, film and art. Seeing other people of color in important roles isn’t as uncommon now as it was for me when I was growing up, but I am not just a person of color. I am ethnically mixed. My mother is white and my father was black. I was raised by my mother’s family and am more culturally white than black according to the tiny boxes people wish to place us in here in America. I am primarily attracted to men of European ancestry and have only dated and had long-term relationships with white men. I don’t think my ethnicity and dating practices make me that unique, but it has taken me nearly a lifetime to see healthy relationships between women of color and white men depicted in films, books, and on TV. In my nearly 46 years, it has been within the last roughly 10 years that it has become commonplace to see interracial couples in commercials, on TV shows, and in films that didn’t have a darker undercurrent. The specter of racism hanging over that relationship and making it nearly impossible for it to exist.

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I remember being very excited to see Lisa Bonet and Mickey Rourke’s sex scenes in Angel Heart when I was a teenager, but the older I get the more I realize that their relationship was fraught with many problems, the least of which being that she is murdered. Racism is prevalent in the film. And despite the fact that Harry Angel is aware of racism and segregation in his hometown of New York City, it is even more apparent that blacks and whites don’t mix when he gets to New Orleans. To be fair, the film is set in the 1950s, so Jim Crow is alive and well. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the police officer investigating the string of deaths that seem to follow Harry Angel refers to Epiphany Proudfoot as Harry’s nigger. What should surprise us is that Harry does nothing to defend Epiphany’s honor. I mean obviously he enjoyed her company if his blood-soaked orgy fantasy while screwing her is any indication. So, if he really does like her, at least sexually, and is worried about her safety, then why doesn’t he tell the detective not to call her a nigger? One reason is due to the history of interracial relationships in this country being either forbidden, kept secret or simply flat-out denied and erased from history. But, our history isn’t nearly as lily white as the textbooks would like us to believe.

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Like I said, interracial relationships are becoming more common in works of popular fiction, but who is writing them? Who is performing them? How are they being depicted? This summer I was shocked, delighted, and fascinated by the choice to change the ethnicity of two of the major characters in Charlaine Harris’ Midnight Texas series for the TV adaptation. In the novels, Fiji Cavanaugh, the local witch, is a plump little white woman who is head over heels for Bobo Winthrop, the handsome owner of Midnight Pawnshop. Their relationship is complicated in the novels, but the decision to make Fiji a woman of color on TV takes the level of complication to a much darker place. And, the choice to cast a very dark-skinned black man as Lemuel Bridger was interesting since in the novels his is one of the palest vampires alive. The rewriting of Lemuel’s backstory, making him a slave who kills his master after becoming a vampire, is almost a new American mythology of revenge. The first time I encountered this concept of a slave becoming a vampire as a form of freedom, was in The Gilda Stories, by Jewelle Gomez (1991). But as even Lemuel realizes, he traded one form of slavery for another.

The Color of Love: Bobo Winthrop and Fiji Cavanaugh

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Bobo Winthrop first appears in the Lily Bard Shakespeare series of mystery novels written by Charlaine Harris between 1996 and 2001. Lily Bard is an amatuer sleuth who gets involved in the darker aspects of the community she lives in. Lily’s past is also dark and she initially attempts to stay out of the public eye, but can’t allow bad people to get away with their evil deeds. She cleans houses for a living and is a martial arts student. Lily cleans the Winthrop house, and Bobo is also a martial arts student who sometimes works at the gym where they workout and take classes.

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Bobo is the teenage son of a wealthy well-connected family in Shakespeare, GA. His family is involved in the White Supremacist movement, which Bobo is extremely ashamed of and tries to distance himself from his family once he becomes more aware of their activities and the fact that they have actually had a hand in killing people. Most notably, the bombing of an all Black church in Shakespeare.

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When Bobo reappears in the Midnight, Texas series, he’s an adult and has been running from his family for many years. He bought the pawnshop from Lemuel and had established himself as a regular in Midnight, which means he has a dark past and is intentionally trying to keep a low profile. He’s one of the few human characters in the novels, but his past is dark enough to make him fit in, and his fiance is murdered in the first Midnight novel. Because she has lied to him about her identity and the fact that she’s already married to someone else, he slowly discovers that she was plant that brings back the truth of his past that he has tried to escape from.

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As I mentioned, in the novels, his best friend is Fiji Cavanaugh and she is a small, chubby white woman who is also a witch. Fiji fantasizes about Bobo and having a relationship, but her low self-esteem and body image issues keep her from getting as close as she’d like to the handsome man with the very dark past. And, he doesn’t exactly profess his undying love for her either. The TV show makes their relationship even more complicated by casting a woman of color as Fiji. Fiji and Bobo are still friends. Bobo’s fiance, Aubrey turns up dead and she is married to a white supremacist who was trying to get information about a legendary stash of weapons Bobo stole from his family to prevent them from killing more people. Fiji doesn’t know about Bobo’s past even though they are good friends. Of course, Fiji has some secrets of her own that cause a bit of havoc as the story develops. Bobo is attracted to Fiji and admits that the first time he saw her, he thought he was out of her league. Her kindness and friendship over the years hasn’t gone unnoticed, and when Aubrey dies, she’s the first one to offer comfort. And, when anything happens to Fiji, Bobo is usually the first to come running to her rescue or to defend her honor. And yet, they aren’t a couple.

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It takes the two of them much longer to get together in the novels, but the TV show dives right in and does a mashup of all three books in 10 episodes. Because I read the novels, I had no trouble keeping up. However, the timeline is out of whack, and there are missing characters. I’m doubtful of a second season showing this summer, because, hey, I love the show so it probably won’t get renewed…so  who knows what will happen next?

In the show, like the novels, when Fiji discovers Bobo’s connection to white supremacists and is kidnapped because of that connection, she is unable to trust him for a long time. The truth of his past and the fact that his secret put her in danger causes her to take a break from their friendship. Obviously, casting a woman of color as Fiji gives so much more weight to this revelation.

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She loves Bobo, but knowing that he was raised by white supremacists, regardless of his beliefs and actions as an adult, raises some serious trust issues and makes Fiji reconsider her feelings. It doesn’t help that Bobo is showing an interest in her that goes beyond friendship and he even tells her that he loves her.

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Bobo pleads his case, tells her that he’s ashamed of his family, but misses being able to see them. He’s completely honest with her and is worried that she’ll reject him. But, rather than badgering her and begging for forgiveness and trying to show her that he isn’t like his family, he tries to give her the space she needs to figure things out. His feelings are hurt, but he doesn’t blame her for not trusting him. He continues to worry about her and does what he can to keep her safe, let her know he loves her, and has to wait for her to welcome him back in.

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In the meantime, there’s a demon communicating with Fiji who wants to be her new boyfriend so he can have access to her high concentration of witch mojo. In the books, like the show, one of Fiji’s secrets is that she’s a virgin. In her 30s. Apparently, virgin witches over 30 are not only rare, but very powerful. And, the demon wants to get on that. The entire town is in danger, and the demon keeps encouraging people to kill themselves, because it feeds on death and the more death there is, the easier it is for him to rise out of Hell. In the third novel, Night Shift, when we find out Fiji’s secret, the male characters all volunteer to help Fiji with her…problem. Fiji is beyond embarrassed and totally freaked out that all of the men, including Joe who is in a relationship with another man, offer to take her virginity. In the novel, it has to be performed like a ritual on top of the Hellmouth, which means she has to do it in public with the lucky fella. First time jitters don’t even cover that effed up situation.

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In the TV show, Bobo offers the solution to Fiji who initially thinks he’s crazy. So, after weeks of avoiding being alone with Bobo, Fiji decides to have sex with him. Now, we already know that they care about each other and Bobo can’t imagine…or really even tolerate the thought that someone else would put their hands on Fiji. He’s a nice guy, but jealousy is kind of an issue for him beyond the desire to keep Fiji safe. At least they get to do it in private on the TV show.

The choice to make Fiji a person of color was a bold one on the part of the scriptwriters and casting director. It gives the problem of Bobo’s past more weight and addresses some of the typical concerns people have about interracial relationships. Not to mention the fact that NBC put an interracial couple on during prime time while racists are trying to make America white again after Trump’s election. AND, made white supremacists the bad guys, second only to demons. Stick that in your Evangelical Christian pipe and smoke it.

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What’s really interesting to me is the fact that Fiji never mentions race in any of their conversations. Bobo simply confesses that he was ashamed and that’s why he didn’t tell her about his family. And she says she’s upset because it was a lie of omission. He lied to her. She doesn’t say anything like, “how could you lead me on and let me fall in love with you when you were raised by racists who you’re on the run from?” His lie almost cost Fiji her life.

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But, once Bobo has deflowered her and chased the demon away…literally with his penis, all is forgiven and they become a couple. In the TV show, Manfred has more of a hand in defeating the demon, but in the novel, some much needed sex magic does the trick. Bobo’s white penis saved Fiji’s life. You read that right. Fiji’s salvation came in the form of a white man’s penis.

Let that sink in for a moment.

As a woman of color who has dated only white men, I have had the misfortune of dealing with racist relatives who make off-color jokes about my sexual proclivities because apparently black women’s vaginas are a source of fear and mystery, reminiscent of the Dark Continent itself. My exes who had never dated anyone other than white girls/women before dating me were either making huge mistakes or conquering some unknown territory according to some of their friends and family members. So, seeing Bobo and Fiji warmed my heart because I want them to be together. Despite his past, Bobo really is a good man and truly loves Fiji. And, let’s face it, they’re a hot couple. If NBC nixes a second season, my dream would be for it to get picked up by Showtime or HBO so that Fiji and Bobo get a lot more sex scenes. No, like a lot of sex scenes so they can try lots of different positions. And, that would also open up the possibility for Joe and Chuy to have a few sex scenes. Because Bobo is hot. Manfred is hot. But Joe Strong makes my mouth water.

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As hot as Bobo and Fiji are as a couple, seeing them together and knowing Bobo’s backstory caused me to remember some uncomfortable parts of my own past. Bobo isn’t going to be able to take Fiji home to meet his family. That isn’t an option. Part of me envies that fact. Meeting someone’s family for the first time is usually fraught with fear for me. Fear of past hurts, fear of further rejection, fear of actual physical violence. When I was a teenager, I called my boyfriend’s house, and his father told him that his nigger was on the phone. I was only 14. No one’s father has ever said that to me since, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t thinking it. And, it is certainly always on my mind each time I meet the friends and family of a new partner.

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You may ask yourself, why would I continue to date white men if I harbor fears like that? And my answer to you would be, because you can’t choose who you are attracted to or who you love. Maybe the real takeaway from Midnight, Texas shouldn’t be that Bobo’s white penis saved a black woman from damnation. Maybe the takeaway is the fact that people come into our lives and regardless of our pasts, regardless of our differences, we can’t help but fall in love. I’m a cynic and the fact that Bobo’s penis saved the day isn’t something I can completely ignore. None of the penises I’ve encountered have ever been magical enough to save me from certain doom. In fact, they probably caused me more trouble than anything else. I think most women would say the same regardless of their dating preferences. But as cynical as I am, I’m also a hopeless romantic who still believes in love. And, I also firmly believe that the color of your lover shouldn’t matter as long as they love and respect you.