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.

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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 the some of the 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.

Dead Men Do Tell Tales

I’ve been a fan of Charlaine Harris’ characters since I picked up my first Sookie Stackhouse book, Dead Until Dark. It wasn’t until I started reading some of her other series, like the Harper Connolly series, the Lily Bard Shakespeare series, and the Midnight Texas series, that I realized she likes to recycle some of her characters. Most of the characters who appear in the Southern Vampire series stay put in that world, but when you branch out into her other books, you realize that the worlds are more connected than at first glance. Charlaine Harris is masterful at not only creating worlds we can see ourselves in, but characters that feel like best friends and potential lovers. No one writes about the pain of loss, the fear of loneliness, and the desire to simply be left alone after a great tragedy as well as she does in the context of mystery and urban fantasy novels. And, when you begin delving into some of the other series, you’ll begin to recognize some of your old friends and acquaintances. For instance, in the Midnight Texas books we encounter Manfred Bernardo, who also appears in the Harper Connelly series, and Bobo Winthrop, who appears in the Lily Bard Shakespeare series, and John Quinn, who appears in the Southern Vampire series.

Shortly before NBC debuted the short-lived TV show, Midnight, Texas, I finished reading the third book in the Midnight series, Night Shift. While I absolutely adored the TV show, it took a lot of liberties with characters and plot lines, and if I hadn’t read the books beforehand, I might have found the show confusing and absurd. But, since I was familiar with the characters and had read all three novels, it was fun to watch the story unfold and see how the characters would interact with each other.

Like I said, NBC took some liberties with characters, especially with their appearances, but in the end, the changes made the show a bit more interesting. It also made some of the characters more attractive and deepened the relevance of their relationships. When I started writing this post, I considered devoting a paragraph to each character and simply writing about the ensemble of characters. Why you might ask? Well, because for the most part, each of them is perfectly fuckable. Then I stopped to think about and realized there are two characters in particular that I had the hots for all summer, and two couples. So, rather than just write one post and shoot my load all at once, I’m going to write four posts about the same show and delve a little deeper into each character/couple.

Dead Men Do Tell Tales: Manfred Bernardo

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For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll be focusing mainly on the TV show based on the Midnight books, but I will point out differences between the show and the novels from time to time, like the fact that I wouldn’t look twice at Manfred if he looked the way Charlaine described him in the novels. Actually, that’s not an entirely fair assessment. I would look twice at Manfred in the novels, because his appearance is striking due to his multiple facial piercings, tattoos, and essentially albino complexion. However, the actor (Francois Arnaud) portraying Manfred in the TV show turns heads for other reasons.

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Manfred is an interesting guy. In the Pilot episode, we learn that he earns his living as a psychic, with a website, wealthy clients, and fancy hotel room meetings. As a psychic, he communicates with the dead and tries to make peace for their loved ones, but Manfred is no charlatan, he can really talk to the dead, which actually makes him a medium. In fact, spirits like to hitch a ride inside Manfred and use his body to communicate with the living. In the opening scene, Manfred’s body gets hijacked by his client’s deceased husband who goes into a jealous rage after her learns his wife is now dating his friend and business partner. Manfred manages to take control of his body and prevents the disgruntled ghost from stabbing his wife with a shard of a mirror he shattered.

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Soon after, Manfred gets a phone call and we get some sketchy details about money he owes to someone who is chasing after him. Agitated by the phone call, the next scene we see is of Manfred traveling through the desert in an old beat up RV and meet the ghost of his grandmother, Xylda, who is bound to the vehicle. Manfred inherited his abilities from Xylda, and comes from a long line of fortune tellers, psychics, and seers. He’s on his way to Midnight, Texas to settle down and most likely, hide out for a while at his grandmother’s recommendation.

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He meets up with his landlord, Bobo Winthrop, who owns Midnight’s pawn shop and moves into his new home. It doesn’t take long for the unsettled spirits of Midnight to introduce themselves to Manfred and seek his help to communicate with the living. The day after he moves into town, the water-soaked, bloated body of Bobo’s missing fiance, Aubrey, is discovered in the creek bed near the picnic area where Midnighter’s are having a BBQ.

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It also doesn’t take long for Manfred to develop an interest in a local young woman, Cree. Cree likes Manfred, too, but she has to sneak around to see him due to the fact that her father is obsessively over protective. Despite her dad’s efforts to cock block Manfred, Cree and Manfred develop a romantic relationship. Even though Cree’s family secrets almost cost her and Manfred their lives, they aren’t the most interesting couple in Midnight.

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The longer Manfred stays in Midnight, the more we learn about his past and the fact that Destiny may have brought him to the strange little town where unusual people make their homes, including a vampire, a witch, an angel, and a weretiger for starters. Manfred’s talents come in handy as more of the darkness buried beneath Midnight comes to the surface.

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Something is waking up under Midnight, whatever it is it is increasing the spiritual activity in town, making Manfred’s house uninhabitable for the medium for cannot keep the ghosts at bay. Not only are the spiritual inhabitants restless, but the dark energy in the town begins to attract other dark forces and the secrets each Midnighter keeps hidden become harder to hide. Fortunately, weirdness is the glue that keeps folks in Midnight together. In fact, Manfred’s weird talents quickly make him a welcome addition to the strange little town. And, his insights help to solve Aubrey’s murder and clear Bobo as a murder suspect.

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Manfred wins the trust of the other residents of Midnight and proves himself to be an invaluable weapon in the fight against evil.

The Magic of Doggy Style

If you haven’t read the Jane True Urban Fantasy series, you should. I picked up a used copy of Tempest Rising (2009) at a thrift store back in September and read it cover to cover in two days. I have an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, and I’ve made a point of reading at least one work of fiction by the faculty who teach and mentor in the program. I finally got around to reading Nicole Peeler’s series about Jane True, a twenty-something small town girl who is essentially treated like an outcast due to the fact that she has a dark past. Most of the people in her small town of Rockabill, Maine aren’t very nice to Jane, because they believe that she’s nuts and responsible for the death of her best friend and lover, Jason. Jane blames herself, too. Working at a bookstore and caring for her sick father, who is still pining after his wife who left him when Jane was still very young, Jane doesn’t have much of a social life. Her favorite pastime is swimming in a hidden cove despite the strong currents that seem to recharge her and make her happy. Jane’s mundane life quickly gets turned upside down when she becomes aware of a large magical community after accidentally discovering a dead body. Jane gets pulled into this magical world and learns that she is actually a part of it, and her mother was a magical creature who came from the sea.

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In the first two novels, Jane is romantically entangled with a vampire-like creature, a Ryu Baobhan Sith, but she soon realizes that while Ryu is super sexy and a great lover, his idea of love and hers don’t mesh. He cares about her, but he’s invested in the relationship for somewhat selfish reasons. As a half human half Selkie, she will live a much longer life, and her blood is more satisfying than human blood. He tries to persuade her into leaving her friends and family in Rockabill to live with him in Boston, and she realizes that she doesn’t love him enough to do that.

But, I’m not here to talk about Ryu regardless of how sexy he might be. I’m here to talk about a much sexier magical dude and shapeshifting hottie, Anyan Barghest.

The Magic of Doggie Style: Anyan Barghest

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First and foremost, if you don’t know what a barghest is, don’t feel silly. I had to look it up too. But, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica online, a barghest comes to us from Northern English folklore, particularly from Yorkshire, and is “a monstrous, goblin dog, with huge teeth and claws, that appears only at night.” If you saw one, you were doomed to die soon, but if you only caught a glimpse, you’d live on for a few months.

Anyan Barghest is a shapeshifter who spends most of his time in dog form in the first novel. In fact, Jane doesn’t know he can turn into a man until much later in the story and is shocked given the fact that he makes a habit of sleeping next to her and hanging around when she’s naked or changing her clothes before or after a swim. Of course, once she sees what he looks like in his human form she’s embarrassed, but able to forgive him due to the fact that he’s not only smoking hot, but he also makes a regular habit of saving her life and is an excellent mentor.

Anyan and Ryu have history, they are rivals and butt heads a lot when it comes to the best way to go about doing things. Ryu is all about protocol and becoming romantically involved with women during investigations. Anyan disapproves of Ryu’s relationship with Jane, because the Baobhan Sith has a reputation for using women for sex and blood. Which, he’s technically doing with Jane.

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When Jane nearly dies at the hands of some magical bad guys, Anyan rescues Jane in human form while completely naked, which makes Jane’s libido sit up and notice. He’s a big man, physically fit, strong but on the slender side, with lots of dark messy coarse hair, and a long nose that twitches a lot like a dog catching a scent. The Barghest is a powerful magical being, he’s an amazing leader, and he cares more about people than politics. He’s kind of a legend in the magical world Jane finds herself in, and most people either respect, fear, or hate him. But, as the books go on, we learn that Anyan has many friends in the magical community and people love him. Including Jane, who wrestles with her feelings for him.

Why does she wrestle with her feelings? Well, a lot is happening in Jane’s life. She had a major fling with Ryu, the  called it quits when he gave her an ultimatum about living with him. She knows she can’t have a relationship with him, but misses him. She’s trying to learn more and strengthen her magic. There are several magical bad guys who want to see her dead. She learns the truth about her mom and why she left when Jane was young. Anyan is much older than Jane due to his magical status, and he’s also older in terms of his experience. He’s a mentor and friend, and even though he makes her heart beat faster, she has a lot of self doubt where the Barghest is concerned.

With each book, Jane gets a little stronger and she spends more and more time with Anyan. He saves her, she saves him. He teaches her to strengthen her magical defenses. She fantasizes about all the things she’d like to do with him naked. She discovers that his human alter ego is a famous artist and sculptor. In fact, she’s fond of his work, including the metal headboard he designed for his bed that has an intricate design of lovers in different poses from the Kamasutra. Could this guy be any hotter?

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Yes, yes he can. He also rides a motorcycle, has a restaurant quality kitchen, smells of cardamom, and when he finally kisses Jane, he establishes his dominance by pulling her hair. Sweet baby Jesus! But you know what’s hotter than that? Nicole Peeler’s ability to extend the feeling of denied release for roughly four books. That’s right, Anyan and Jane have the hots for each other or at least the sparks of the hots by the end of the second book (if memory serves me correctly), and they experience coitius interruptus over and over and over and over until I was literally shouting, “Oh my god, just fuck him already!”

They get interrupted so often, that it actually gives Jane time to figure out what she wants from their relationship. She doesn’t want to make the same mistakes she made with Ryu. Even though Anyan wants her as badly as she wants him, he agrees to put off having sex for a bit longer so that he can really practice the art of seducing her. Which, if you ask me, the time leading up to two people getting it on is often hotter than the first time they finally do the nasty.

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At any rate, I’m at the beginning of book 5, Tempest’s Fury (2012), and Anyan has just promised to make Jane beg him to have sex by the time he’s done seducing her. But not in a douchebag way like if Ryu said it. So, at this point, they still haven’t consummated their relationship, whatever it might be. So, at the end of book 4, Eye of the Tempest (2011), when they were just about to get it on, I mean he literally had the tip in, I was super excited.

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But once again, they were interrupted and I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” LITERALLY the tip. And then, nada. I would have given anything to see the look of frustration on Anyan’s face right at that moment.

But now, I’m looking forward to Anyan’s efforts to seduce Jane, because he had my attention the first time he showed up naked to save her. I mean, if he hasn’t broken out his A-game yet, my loins are seriously in danger of bursting into flames.

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So yeah, while I’m typically into hot, sensual vampires like Ryu, I’m totally Team Anyan.

Love, Sex and Beautiful Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People successfully completing the challenge claimed to:

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

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

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

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

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