Fiction Fragments: Douglas Gwilym

Happy Valentine’s Day, and Happy Birthday to me! Last week, I spoke with Gwendolyn Kiste about why Women in Horror Month is important to the future of horror. This week, Girl Meets Monster welcomes another Pittsburgh writer, Douglas Gwilym, whose handlebar mustache game is strong.

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Douglas Gwilym is a writer and editor who has also been known to compose a weird-fiction rock opera or two. If you aren’t lucky enough to have caught him performing his stories and music at venues around Pittsburgh, you can find him at douglasgwilym.bandcamp.com, follow his Amazon author page, or befriend him on facebook.

He’s an active member of the HWA and is the “Gwilym” half of the upcoming podcast Gwilym & Oreto’s Good Dark Fun. He edited four years of the themed annual Triangulation, now in its 16th year. He served on staff at Alpha Young Writers speculative fiction workshop, curates and narrates Douglas Gwilym Presents (a free short-story audio series), is a repeat guest on Alan & Jeremy vs. Science Fiction, and has explored Pittsburgh on foot from stem to stern, in search of good food and impossible truths.

He is a novelist looking for representation, his latest manuscript about an indie rock musician and programmer hiding out in the city from the monsters she made (literally) back in her hometown of Stonesthrow.

Three Questions

GMM: Welcome to Girl Meets Monster, Douglas. Storytelling happens in a lot of different settings and mediums — writing, spoken word performances, song lyrics, and visual formats — what is your favorite method of storytelling? Which do you find most challenging? What is your earliest memory of having someone tell you a story?

DG: I might be the wrong person to answer the first part? I know that you’re supposed to settle in, be a one-trick pony. Get really good at one thing. But I have the heart of a stubborn child in my ribcage (not in a jar on my desk), and the moment I make promises like that, I also begin the dogged work of undermining it all. That heart doesn’t like to do what it’s told.

When I was small, I wrote puppet plays and wished I could write books. I got discouraged with the quality of my output (couldn’t close the plot hole in that danged mystery story in fourth grade), and leaned into songwriting for many years. Both of those things got deeply rooted in me, so much so that I have a hard time seeing the boundaries. There’s always music and music culture in my fiction, and storytelling and role-playing in my songs.

That word “role-playing” slipped in there. I guess I am a “method writer,” if that’s a thing. I really tend to lose myself, forget who I am, when I’m deep in any kind of story. When I can’t nail the vocal for a song, I have been known to dress up as the character. Right now I’m hip-deep in writing a novel, and I find that I am not always sure who I am, even when I’m done with the word count for the day. Yes, I can see how that could become… problematical, if unchecked.

I love when artists from supposedly disparate mediums come together to tell a story. When music and visuals and words come together into a crazy rock opera or (even better for the participatory element) a video game. I got to teach at Alpha Young Writers workshop on a year when the inimitable N.K. Jemisin was guest speaker, and was super impressed that a geek-out on the value and potential of gaming as a storytelling medium was a key part of her presentation. I could easily get sucked into that world, be a writer for video games.

There are many things you could say about my upbringing, but… I definitely come from story people. My granddad was a talker and a letter writer. He could apparently type away at 75 wpm on a letter to his brother (or me) and simultaneously hold a conversation with a live human. Hard to imagine that letter or the conversation being any good, but hey. His great uncle was a locally-famous South Wales bard, and (perhaps under that influence) he tended to tell the story “the way it should have happened.” 8-track tapes of him reading were great treasures of mine as a kid. My mother did her part, filling my early childhood with folklore and fairy tales, Madeleine L’Engle and Narnia and Lewis Carroll. But I wanted to be able to “grab people by the lapels” like Grandpa.

GMM: What is your favorite haunted place in Pittsburgh? Have you ever gone exploring in Pittsburgh and gotten lost? What is the most surprising or disturbing thing you found while wandering through the city and its surrounding areas?

DG: I get lost plenty, because I often walk to be in my own head, not in a particular place.

We’re a one-car household, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Walking is good for me of course (being I-had-an-8-track-player years old), and I love what my pal Jonathan Auxier calls “the walking cure,” that idea that whatever you need, you can find out there on your feet. I’ve dictated short stories and whole chapters of things into my phone on long walks. I’m a big fan of our imperfect-but-oh-so-charming little city, and I like to see what you can see when you’re not in the belly of a steel-and-rubber carbeast. (We get addled in those things, shout and gesture at each other in ways we wouldn’t anywhere else, you know?)

A few months ago, a friend and I decided to walk the twelve miles from an eastern border of the city to a western one in a single morning. (The next rung on that ladder will hopefully be to walk from the easternmost border, in East Hills, to the westernmost border, in Fairywood—an addition of four miles.) It was a great thing to do with a Sunday morning. You see it all, with your feet on the sidewalk. And yes, a lot of it is haunted.

We passed through the Southside flats. I used to live there, in a house that turns 205 this year. I love to wander in the ancient crumble of those backstreets, looking for the lines of the bones of the original places, but my favorite spot—for my money the most haunted place in a city of considerable haunts—is just below the railroad tracks that guard the river from the flats (or is it the flats from the river?). You know the relatively civilized “rail trail,” of course, office workers rolling along in Starbucks cups, but if you push your way through the dense bit of woods below, you can drop into another world.

It’s kind of a graveyard, and definitely a ruin. Monolithic and unknowable mountains of broken concrete and steel beams break the surface of both earth and water there. Impossible doors bolted shut for a century lead down into the embankment. The litter at your feet spells out hobo symbols. You can perch there on the dinosaur back of riverfront steel and glass, and look up across the cool water at the cityscape for hours if you want, lost in your thoughts. Sometimes you will stand up and discover that you were not alone. I recommend it.

GMM: February is Women in Horror Month, and although you don’t identify as female, you write about female characters. What inspired you to write a story with a female protagonist? What challenges have you experienced while writing female characters? Why do you think it is important to tell stories about women?

DG: It’s important to tell all of our stories, and not just the stories of a privileged few.

But the real reason for me personally to be writing female characters is that I’ve filled my world and my heart and my skull with a lot of people who happen to be women. It’s no surprise that my wife and daughter are at the center of everything, but my closest friends (childhood, grad school, beyond) have, maybe a-little-more-often-than-not, identified as female. It would just… never occur to me, not to be trying to tell stories of women fully activated and working in-and-on their worlds, when I have those stories to tell.

The operative word here is trying. The challenge is real. But it’s like any other fiction-writing experiment: if you’re trying to be someone who’s not you, or in one way or another not like yourself, you’re going to get it wrong sometimes. That’s when a writer most needs to be a good listener, and be willing to check work against the experience of others. But you can’t sweat that during the writing process unless you want to spend all of your time spinning your wheels. Do your best, don’t be a jerk, and be willing to be wrong. Cultivate humility when sharing the results. Fix it when you need to, but don’t stop trusting yourself.

The very best thing is when it works. I will never forget when I was just getting started writing short stories and I shared one with a good friend. It was a first-person cyberpunk lucid-dreaming thing with a collective unconscious secret service and an elephant grandmother. She dug it. She said something like, “I felt like it was me.” Of course, I saw a lot of myself in the character, but it was a fantastic compliment. The high water mark I have shot for ever since.

Excerpt from They Take Our Best, by Douglas Gwilym

They sped us up or slowed us down to do their dirty business. A rung in the ladder to pull the ultimate heist.

Maybe you don’t hear what I’m saying. They took our best.

Janine was sitting next to me and she saw it, the weird thing with the clock hands, too. Truth is, we hadn’t really hung out in a couple years. We’d been in girl scouts together (“make new friends and keep the old”), and I remember catching fireflies with her in the little lot by the school we called the fairy forest, but all I knew about her now was what my mom told me about her living with her aunt out in Forest Hills and bringing her in to school on the way to the law firm. That the parents had finally snapped and told her she wasn’t theirs, that she wasn’t their daughter. That if she was going to act like that, contrary to God’s principles, she belonged to the devil. I knew that, and that meant something to me. I’d been trying to talk to her again. I’d been trying to find the right moment.

Ms. DeAugustino was going on about Pythagoras or something, and her voice had turned into a hum so low it harmonized with the air conditioner, and we must have both been staring at the clock, because then we turned and looked at each other, and we saw the shock in each other’s eyes. We stood up and walked right out of that class and if Ms. D tried to stop us, I didn’t hear. Maybe Janine noticed. We’ve done a lot of walking, since.

The Slow Wave hit again four days later. We were hunkering down. You’d think it would come in threes, but you’d be wrong. Maybe the first was just a test run. Maybe threes only happen in fairy tales, or back in that fairy forest.

For one hour after that second wave, we all saw the newsfeeds. The world had turned a big corner, and THEY—whoever they were—had given us a gift, as a prelude to… taking everything away.

At the highest point of elevation, in each of the fifty states, a tower appeared. Was it built? Maybe in some expanded moment, in the microscopic tide of seconds, while we were all too shocked to react?

Every state, every province, has one tower now, placed at the highest available spot above sea level. They are smooth, featureless, seamless. Made of ordinary steel, from what anyone can tell. At the base, they are about as wide and long as a football field. If you look hard, you can detect a gentle taper, but they’re so tall the tops are out of sight even from a distance.

That hour was an hour of panic, confusion, fascination. The scientists and diplomats and salesmen of the world put on their boots and gloves and were about to get out there for the time of their lives. They hesitated, maybe. There was just one more form to fill out. It didn’t pay to rush into the unknown unprepared.

Before anyone could get their business together, the Big Bad hit.

There was a whole lotta destruction. Everything you would expect to see if you watch too many disaster movies. The most consistent thing is people went through a lot of good old garden-variety shock. Setbacks, you’re used to. You go into your phone and change things on your calendar or at worst fill out another form. But passenger jets screaming across the sky and disappearing, and then the heat and the sound of an impact that’s obscured in light and soot and smoke and other people screaming? There’s not an app for that.

Things got so jumbled and bunched and dark and words like “looting” lost meaning because suddenly there were more important things than stuff. You saved yourself. You tried to save your loved ones, if enough was left of them to save.

There wasn’t, for Mom or Dad. And that’s all I know to say about that right now.

Dad, he always talked about the “walking cure”. He was a writer. Nothing exciting—like, psychology stuff. But he always said there was nothing you couldn’t figure out if you had a good pair of shoes and could walk far enough.

“Jody, come see this!” Janine shouts from a clearing ahead. It’s later in the afternoon than I’d imagined for our approach to the tower that sits atop Mt. Davis, thirty-two hundred feet above sea level. It’s brisk enough that me sweating isn’t taking the edge off, and I’ve been thinking about suggesting we stop for the night. I’m trying to get the burs off my jeans, and I look up to find her leaning over a weird broad spot, where the grass and some vining morning glories (still blooming) are mashed down. They’re not springing back up like they always would before. Flattened like under glass.

My hand passes inches above the depression, and doesn’t come into contact with anything. Open air. It’s a moment I’ll think about later. It’s when we really stopped asking questions because we’re tired. Tired of not finding any answers.

“You have any explanation for that?” she asks me.

“No,” I say. “I can’t remember having an explanation for anything.”

And then we twin again, like we did back in math class. We look up together, our attention completely shifted.

At the end of the clearing, like a gatekeeper back into the forest, is what looks like a tremendous yew tree—that’s the word that sticks in my mind for it, but I’m not good with trees. Its arms twist outward and upward and toward us, and in the heightened darkness of its shade, the first fireflies of the night appear. One. Five. A dozen on and then off. A dozen more to take their place.

She takes my hand, for the first time, and we stand there, barely breathe.

We’re close now. But here there’s this pocket of safety, of realness. This place that says things are still alright somewhere. Things can be right again.

Do you have a story hiding in a drawer you’d like to share with Girl Meets Monster? Send it my way at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

My Birthday Wish List

Today is my birthday. Yep, I was born on Valentine’s Day. As is typically the case, I am single. It’s like some weird curse or something. Being single on Valentine’s Day is a fact of life for me that I look forward to with dread and disappointment each year. When I have been dating people on my birthday, I spend the entire day waiting for something terrible to happen, and people have actually broken up with me either on my birthday or right before. Sometimes I wonder if they can smell my fear or lack of trust. Who can say?

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Psychologically and emotionally, I’m kind of a mess around my birthday. There have been years when I’ve had an amazing time with friends, like the time I celebrated my birthday in New Orleans with my cousin Tara and two of my other friends, Katie and Christina. Christina came all the way from Amsterdam to celebrate with us. That made me feel pretty special. We had a blast. My birthday fell, like this year, right after Mardi Gras, so we spent a long weekend hanging out in the Garden District and French Quarter enjoying parades, live music, shopping, and lots of food and booze with the locals before all Hell broke loose with crowds of tourists. I even got a spanking on my birthday from a guy wearing a leather aviator hat with goggles.

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That was probably one of my most memorable birthdays and most cherished trips to New Orleans. We’ll have to repeat that trip one of these days soon. My sides were sore from laughing after that trip and my heart had swelled to epic proportions. Spending my birthday in the company of women who love me was WAY better than any romantic getaway with some chump who was too afraid to stick around as long as many of my friends have.

I don’t have any flashy plans to celebrate my birthday today. In fact, I have a bunch of writing to do and I am trying desperately not to succumb to the siren call of procrastination. But, I have plans to see Black Panther with my son this weekend.

Next weekend, I’m heading out to Pittsburgh to see Swan Lake with my friend Stephanie and I have an appointment to see my favorite tattoo artist. I’m hoping to run into some of my other Pittsburgh friends while I’m in town.

Friends have been wishing me a happy birthday on social media all day, and I’ve received a few cards. I don’t anticipate any flowers or chocolates today since I’m single, but I’ve been thinking about things I’d like to receive for my birthday if I could ask for anything. Some of the things are a little absurd, but hey, it’s my wish list, I can ask for whatever I want, right? So, here’s my birthday wish list for things I’d either like to achieve in the coming year or at least before I turn 50, and a few things that are purely fantasy…in no particular order.

  1. Sell my thesis novel.
  2. Finish writing the two novels I’m working on and start writing their sequels.
  3. Finish the backlog of unfinished short stories and submit, submit, submit.
  4. Eat more fish and veggies.
  5. Visit my friends who live far away.
  6. Become financially stable.
  7. Buy a house.
  8. Student loan forgiveness.
  9. Save for retirement.
  10. Go on vacation.
  11. Write a memoir about my teenage years.
  12. Start running again.
  13. Attend events where I can wear multiple costumes.
  14. Find the courage to start dating again.
  15. Sell the movie rights to a book I write and cast Jason Momoa in the lead role. Hell, he can star in it, produce it, or direct it. I’d just like the opportunity to work with him.
  16. Ditto for Michael Fassbender.
  17. Trump’s impeachment and imprisonment.
  18. Or, I’d settle for a “magic bullet” that takes out Trump, Pence and Ryan.
  19. Learn how to scale a climbing wall.
  20. Take an aerial yoga class.
  21. Go to a music festival devoted to Doom Metal.
  22. See the Black Keys live.
  23. See Bryan Ferry live.
  24. See Duran Duran for a third time live.
  25. See Depeche Mode for a third time live.
  26. Send a sympathy card to the Devil.
  27. Write love letters to someone I truly care about.
  28. Meet Neil Fallon and work with him on finishing the novel I started writing based on Clutch’s eponymous album.
  29. Discover that I belong to a family of witches.
  30. Trust myself enough to fall in love.
  31. Learn to love my own body.
  32. Meet a tall handsome man with a beard, tattoos, a stable job, who is single and ready to meet someone just like me. I wouldn’t be upset to discover that he’s a werewolf.
  33. See the aurora borealis while swimming naked at midnight.
  34. Travel to Hawaii, Spain, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Egypt, South America…you get the idea.
  35. Visit more museums and art galleries.
  36. Travel in the TARDIS with the Doctor.
  37. Start a monthly movie night for moms to drop by and hang out with wine or other adult beverages.
  38. Attend a costume party with Michael Fassbender dressed as Carl Jung.
  39. Stop engaging in online dialogs with strange men who think they know me within a matter of hours or days. I’d like to think that I’m more complex than that and pride myself in getting to know people over years of face-to-face interaction. You can’t know a person through their Instagram or Facebook or Twitter account. Unless you’re Trump. We all know that guy’s an asshole.
  40. Learn how to paint.
  41. Learn how to speak German and at least one other language while relearning French.
  42. Get more tattoos.
  43. Purge more than half of my belongings and be done with the clutter of my possessions.
  44. Write a will.
  45. Go to more drag shows.
  46. Date a transvestite.
  47. Own more shoes.
  48. Wear more vintage clothing.
  49. Form an female punk band called Vagina Dentata.
  50. Spend more quality time with the people I love.

Not All Heroes Get the Girl

It’s hard to believe, but today is February 1. My birthday is a mere 13 days away. Yes, that’s right, I was a Valentine’s Day baby. Like most people, I don’t really enjoy having my birthday on a holiday. I especially don’t like having my birthday on a holiday devoted to consumer-driven socially acceptable and cliched acts of affection. Since I am typically single on my birthday, I like it even less.

A few years ago I challenged myself to write a blog post a day during the month of February. Out of 29 days (it was a leap year), I wrote 21 blog posts. Not bad, huh? And, do you know what I wrote about? Fictional characters. You see, I’m a writer and as a writer, my first love was reading. Or, more specifically, narrative. I love stories. All kinds of stories. But my favorite stories are character-driven stories about people — real or fictional — that I can relate to or care about on a very deep level. Characters who make me wish I lived their lives, characters I wish were my lovers, characters so filled with pain that I want to help ease their struggles with love and friendship.

For an entire month, I wrote about characters that had had a profound effect on me in terms of how interesting and complex their lives were either on or off the page, in books, comic books, TV shows, and films. Characters who were written or performed so well that they seemed real enough to touch, hold, and um…well…fuck. You see, the characters I chose to write about during the month of February were fictional characters that made me feel especially amorous. Fuckable fictional characters.

I am going to attempt to do that again this month. There are only 28 days in February, but I’m not sure I’m going to be able to come up with 28 characters to write about. I will do my best, but I may need your help to complete enough posts to make this a worthwhile endeavor. If you’ve read my blog before, then you know what I’m talking about. As before, I encourage you to present me with challenges and make recommendations for characters I have overlooked or you think deserve the attention. If you haven’t read my blog before, welcome. I hope you enjoy the ride. You should be aware, that given the title of my blog, Girl Meets Monster, I tend to like dark characters and monsters, including vampires, werewolves, and a few serial killers. But, not all of my favorite characters are traditional monsters. Some of them are simply tragic characters with complicated back stories that make them far too interesting not to love.

A few years ago I read Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy, and became enraptured by one character in the series who has haunted me since I first met him in the novels. Originally, I planned on including him in the first series of Fuckable Fictional Character posts, but for some reason he didn’t make it into the mix that time. Maybe it was because I didn’t have a physical representation to share with you. Or maybe, it was because I wasn’t entirely sure what to say about him. Well, recently, I started listening to the audio books and have discovered that I am still very fond of him.

Casting has begun for a TV series based on the books that is currently being filmed, but since this character doesn’t show up until the second novel, this character has yet to be cast. Obviously, I’m not talking about Matthew Clairmont, the romantic lead. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t chase Matthew out of bed for eating crackers, but I’m more interested in a different vampire in this series of novels. I’m not saying that Matthew isn’t fuckable, because let’s face it, he is. However, some of the qualities that make Matthew the romantic love interest in this modern vampire romance, can easily be viewed as flaws in real-world relationships. Vampires do not make ideal mates if you have any sense of independence and this is especially true if you are not a vampire yourself. All vampires have their flaws, but some are more dangerous than others and despite Matthew’s good qualities, he is not what I consider an appropriate mate for a modern woman with a shred of self-preservation and a desire for autonomy.

The vampire who stole my heart in this series is Gallowglass de Clermont. While he isn’t the main love interest of Diana Bishop, he still plays an important role in her life, a role that forces him to put his own desires and needs on hold out of a sense of duty and loyalty, and spend centuries trapped in a situation that will only end in unrequited love. How can you NOT love a character like that?

Not All Heroes Get the Girl: Gallowglass de Clermont

Before I begin delving into why this character is indeed fuckable, I have a few ideas of my own about appropriate casting. So far, the casting that has been down for the All Souls TV show has left me a bit unsatisfied. The actor they’ve chosen to play Matthew isn’t…well, in my humble opinion he isn’t exactly fuckable. His build is too slight. There isn’t anything frightening about him. He just isn’t dark enough to be believable as Matthew. If I’m not satisfied with the casting choice for Matthew, you can imagine my worry where Gallowglass is concerned.

A few weeks ago, I was joking with a friend of mine about the fact that I had two perfectly good candidates to play Gallowglass and an equally good idea about how to decide which of them would get the role. Gallowglass is described in the novels as a blonde giant, standing at roughly 6’6” with extremely muscular arms and broad shoulders. He comes from Viking stock, part Norse and part Gaelic by way of Ireland, with a love of the sea and sailing, and hand-to-hand combat as his favorite sport. In the past he wore actual armor, but in the modern age he’s developed a fondness for biker gear — black, faded concert T-shirts, black jeans, leather jackets, a wild mop of wind-blown hair, and tattoos. What’s not to like, right? My top two picks? Jason Momoa and Chris Hemsworth. Duh!

I know, it’s a tough call. But there can be only one. And, I think the best way to decide which actor will play Gallowglass is to have them compete against each other in a traditional Greco-Roman wrestling match. Not only would they be able to battle it out to see which of them is more powerful, but the rest of us get to watch them wrestle each other. Naked. I think this should be a pay-per-view event where people can vote for the winner, and the money raised could be split between the charities of their choice. It’s totally a win-win situation for everyone on planet Earth. The winner gets to play Gallowglass in season two and three of the Bad Wolf production, money will be raised for charity, and we get to watch two stunningly beautiful men test their strength against each other while wrestling naked for our viewing pleasure. Great idea, right?

WARNING: SPOILERS, SWEETIE

Anyway, let’s get into the meat of why Gallowglass is such a fuckable fictional character. Well, to begin with, he’s a great big hunk of a man who appears to be no older than 30, but since he’s a vampire with Viking heritage he’s been around a lot longer. Given the fact that he’s Matthew’s nephew and Matthew is close to 1500 years old, Gallowglass is at least old enough to still harbor resentment toward the French king over the fact that his father, Hugh de Clermont, was killed with the last of the Templars. Gallowglass fought at Hugh’s side during the crusades, and his primary occupation is mercenary for the de Clermont family and the Knights of Lazarus. Since his vampire father is dead, his loyalty lies with Matthew as opposed to the head of the de Clermont family, Baldwin Montclair. But, to be more precise, Gallowglass’ loyalties lie where he can keep Diana Bishop safe.

We first meet Gallowglass in the second novel, Shadow of Night, when Diana and Matthew travel back through time to Elizabethan England, in 1590. Gallowglass is sent to find Matthew at the behest of the de Clermont family Sire, Philippe de Clermont. When Gallowglass arrives at the Old Lodge on the outskirts of London, he is shocked to discover that Diana is not only Matthew’s mate, but also a witch.

In their world, a covenant was formed to keep vampires, witches and daemons segregated and to minimize their discovery by humans. Witches and vampires do not mix, and they certainly aren’t supposed to fall in love and join up as mated pairs. When vampires choose a mate, they mate for life. Vampires are predatory and tend to stalk their potential mates like prey. Jealousy and a fear of losing the person they love drives them to develop unhealthy attachment issues that make them textbook control freaks and overly protective of their love interest. Let’s recap. Vampires are monsters who exhibit unstable behaviors in romantic relationships and in some cases would rather kill their own mate than allow someone else to come near them. Matthew Clairmont not only practices traditionally dangerous vampire courtship habits, but he also suffers from a rare psychological disorder called blood rage, which makes him even more dangerous. He is not an appropriate love interest, and yet he is our romantic hero.

While Gallowglass is prized for his brawn and willingness to kill enemies of the de Clermont family either in battle or more discretely as needed, we soon learn that he has a solid grasp of human behavior, a keen eye for detail, and an intuition that makes him an excellent judge of character. Family and friendship are important to Gallowglass, so he forms close bonds with the people he has sworn to protect. And, he is willing to risk his own life to keep his loved ones safe. He can be scary when it is necessary, but he is also incredibly kind, often placing the needs of others before his own needs. He has a great sense of humor and tries not to take himself or other people too seriously. Because he spent a large chunk of his life living like a warrior, he doesn’t need a lot of creature comforts and prefers a spartan lifestyle and tends to be nomadic rather than putting down roots anywhere for too long. He enjoys traveling alone and going on adventures. In the modern age, his favorite form of travel is by motorcycle, but he can still sail a ship and fly an airplane.

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Just in case you aren’t convinced that Jason Momoa looks good on a motorcycle, here’s further evidence to prove my point.

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Diana often describes him as being too large for his surroundings, and made to feel uncomfortable by delicate things and social niceties, even though he was often the one telling her the appropriate etiquette and expected behavior when at court in Elizabethan England, like when to remain quiet and when to curtsy. And, whenever he sensed danger or discomfort for Diana, his instinct would be to pick her up and carry her to safety or comfort, which he almost never did because he knew it would upset her. He understood that she needed to feel independent and control her own surroundings.

We get to know Gallowglass more intimately in the third novel, The Book of Life, because he spends more time in the company of Diana without Matthew. It is in this novel, through Diana’s observation of Gallowglass that we learn that not only was he given the job of watching over her from childhood through adulthood so that she could eventually meet Matthew, but also that he has fallen in love with her. And, through his own admission, his feelings for her began when he met her in the past, which means he has been carrying a torch her for more than 400 years.

Because Matthew and Diana alter time by traveling back to 1590 and through the discovery of their time travel, Philippe de Clermont makes sure that they will be safe in the future before they meet and when they return to the present as a couple. Gallowglass was given the job of literally stalking Diana from the time she was born until when she and Matthew meet in the first novel. As a vampire, his instincts to mate with her would be strong given the length of time he spent watching over her and keeping her safe. He ignores his own instincts to mate with her, because he has been keeping her safe for someone else. Matthew. And he has done this nearly impossible task without either Matthew or Diana being aware of it. That is, until Diana realizes that Gallowglas was the one watching her throughout her life, and all the pieces fall into place when he allows her to see his tattoos that tell her story, including a tattoo of a siren with Diana’s face and her firedrake, Cora.

Here’s another vote for Chris Hemsworth in case you think I’m favoring Jason Momoa a bit too much.

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I want to be fair about the selection process.

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When I first read The Book of Life, I couldn’t help thinking that Gallowglass was a much better choice as a husband. He sacrificed his own happiness to ensure that two people he cares about can be together, ignoring his own instincts and desires to become mated with the woman he loves. In fact, Gallowglass has no other lovers that are mentioned in the book. He has lived a mostly solitary and possibly celibate life so that two other people could meet and seal their fates.

Diana feels guilt and pity toward Gallowglass when she realizes how he feels about her and she fiercely believes he is worthy of love. Just not hers. There are moments when I was reading the novel that I hoped something terrible would happen to Matthew so Gallowglass would have a chance at finding the love he deserved, but I realized that wouldn’t be fair to him, because he would always be second best. No matter how amazing he is, no matter how much he loved Diana, he would always live in Matthew’s shadow. Gallowglass is doomed to the realm of unrequited love, and when Matthew becomes aware of his nephew’s feelings for Diana, rather than remaining in the company of his family, Gallowglass leaves and continues his solitary existence. His role as Diana’s protector is no longer necessary in the present with Matthew there to take on that role full time. His instinct to protect her is no longer viewed as an asset, but rather as a threat to Matthew’s dominance.

Matthew is interesting, complex, emotionally unstable, attractive, sexy, violent and scary, so he makes a great vampire. He even has an accent that fluctuates between British and his native French. And despite the fact that he’s typically everything I’m looking for in a monster lover, I’m still on Team Gallowglass. Gallowglass is kind, funny, loyal, ruggedly handsome, strong, loving, protective, gentle, and always seeking adventure. And most importantly, selfless. Not all monsters are monstrous.

And sadly, not all heroes get the girl. I’d like to think that eventually Gallowglass will meet someone deserving of the love he has to offer who will return that love threefold and shower him with the affection he has been denied. At the very least, I’d like for someone to climb on top of him and ride him until his knees buckle and he screams uncle.

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Happy Birthday to Me: Self-Reflection and Self-Love

still-alive45 years ago today, I was born during a snow storm to a single mom who had every reason to be afraid of her new role. She was about to get divorced from her abusive husband, my birth father, and she was a young white woman living in rural Pennsylvania who just gave birth to a bi-racial baby. The doctor, believing that she was a threat to herself given her choice in sexual partners, gave her a tubal ligation so she couldn’t have any more children. I’m sure he believed he was doing the right thing, but he never bothered to ask her what she wanted. In fact, her parents gave the doctor permission to perform the procedure, “for her own good.” That’s how I came into this world. Born on Valentine’s Day 1972 in a blizzard to a woman who was subjected to physical and emotional abuse, sexism, and racism.

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Despite our rough start as mother and child, we’ve both survived and have many interesting stories to tell. She wasn’t always prepared for her role as my mother, and I don’t hold that against her because I struggle as a mom, too. Being a mom isn’t easy, but it’s especially difficult when you do it without any help from a partner. My mom was a single parent until I turned five, when she remarried. She worked full-time, but lived at home with her parents who not only condemned her choices in men, but also treated her like a child until I turned four and we moved out. So, for the most part my grandmother raised me. I don’t doubt that she loved me, but she was often misguided in how she showed her love. For instance, one of her first nicknames for me was “my little nigger.” Shocking, right? Well, here’s why I think it’s shocking. She genuinely believed that since people were obviously going to call me “nigger,” if she used that word as term of endearment my feelings would never be hurt. I’m just going to stop right there and let you soak that in.

Why am I dredging up these painful stories on my birthday? Well, because birthdays should be about taking a look back at the previous year or years of your life to get a sense of where you’ve been and where you might be going. Birthdays should have a certain level of self-reflection, so that we gain a better understanding of who we were, who we are, and who we hope to become. And, if like me, your birthday is on Valentine’s Day, you can spend a lot of the day wondering why you’re still single.

People often tell me how much they appreciate my dark sense of humor. Here’s a little secret, without my dark sense of humor, I never would have made it this far in life. Laughing at the things that make me and other people uncomfortable and finding beauty in darkness and the things that dwell there have been a part of my survival toolkit for as long as I can remember.

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I have suffered from depression since I was a child, but it was never officially diagnosed until I was in college. I’ve been in and out of therapy ever since then and plan to stay in therapy, because I don’t think there will ever be a time in my life when I don’t need it. It is only recently that I have begun to look closely at the events in my childhood that shaped me into the person I have become. A sensitive woman plagued by self-doubt who constantly fights to keep the shackles of low self-esteem from pulling her down into the depths of a depression she cannot claw her way out of even if she wanted to. My past experiences and relationships with family, friends, lovers and strangers have made me strong and taught me lots of valuable life lessons. I use my wit and creativity to interact with a world I often want to hide away from. I am an introvert with a desire to meet new and interesting people. I have MAJOR trust issues, so if I allow you to enter the wall I’ve built to keep pain at bay, don’t take that lightly, because I have a supply of bricks to shut you out at a moment’s notice. I am a loyal friend, a generous lover, and my love extends to ALL of humanity. I’m often disgusted by the behavior of my fellow humans, but my understanding of the darkness that dwells in our hearts has given me a solid appreciation of monsters and how they sometimes behave better than we do. We shouldn’t fear monsters; we should fear what creates them.

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A few days ago, I had a tarot reading done by a friend who envisions me as being trapped in a circle or cycle that is preventing my next stage of growth. But she reminded me that all I need is a small crack in that circle to let the light of creativity and hope into my life. She told me to try some different ways of approaching my writing, which I’ve been struggling to do lately. She told me to remember to breathe, and take time to take deeper breaths so that my brain and body can function properly. She also reminded me that I am strong and have faced many obstacles and overcome disappointment and heartache many times. I already have the tools I need to figure out what happens next. She told me to use the following mantra and imagine myself opening up to the endless possibilities that life and the Universe have to offer:

I am a powerful creator. I manifest with ease.

I’ve been saying this to myself regularly over the last few days and I’m beginning to feel better. I’ve been trying to reconnect with my power source, and pay closer attention to how I’m feeling and why I’m feeling that way. She also reminded me that I can choose what I give power to – people, situations, objects – I can decide how to feel about whatever is happening to me. She recommended that I sit down and list my intentions, the things I want most to happen in my life and the kind of people I want to attract and spend my valuable time with this year and for years to come.

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I haven’t started writing that list, but I’ve been thinking about it. I’m going to spend some more time drafting and editing that list over the next few weeks and months. This is a time of healing and growth for me. I know I need to schedule time alone and do the things that comfort me and make me happy. I need to give some serious thought to how people make me feel. If they are a constant source of stress or anxiety, and take more than they give, they can no longer be part of my life. I’m cleaning house – my heart, my mind, my body, my soul.

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While those early experiences, and other horrible experiences I don’t feel like mentioning right now, had a hand in shaping the person I have become, I am choosing to move forward. I want to leave as much of that negative bullshit behind me as I can. It has no place in my future. I don’t want to be a prisoner of my past. I have too many important things to do with my life. I have stories to write. I have adventures to plan. I have new friends and lovers to meet. And right now, I want to channel my energy to healing my heart, to writing and publishing, and finding a career that matches my passion and doesn’t simply pay the bills. I want to be open to receiving the love I want and deserve. I want to travel and discover new stories to tell. And, I want to show myself the same amount of love I give to others. I’m going to keep believing in true love – even if my true love turns out to be me. Actually, I’m hoping my true love is Tom Hiddleston, or Michael Fassbender, or David Tennent, or Tom Ellis, or at the very least someone with a sexy accent. But honestly, I’d prefer one of the fictional characters they portray. Just kidding. Sort of.

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So, on the first day of this forty-fifth year of my life, I am ready to live the life I crave. A life I have the power to create for myself.

Ghosts of Valentine’s Days Past

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I’ve been nursing a slight case of melancholy for the last few weeks brought on by a recent heartbreak. I say mild case because I seem to be pulling myself together much faster than I did the last time I found myself in this state of mind – this state of being characterized by self-doubt and a deep sense of hopelessness. Of course, the last time I found myself here, I was not only suffering from the grief associated with the loss of a romantic relationship, but also the after effects of being manipulated by a mind-fucking, lying, narcissist. If I can survive what my therapist called “a mild case of Stockholm Syndrome,” then I can pretty much get through anything, right? Right.

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February has always been a bit of a turbulent month for me. Primarily because it is my birth month. I was born on February 14. Valentine’s Day. A day characterized by grotesque gestures of forced affection and inflated expectations of being showered with insincere overtures of love and romantic gifts like heart-shaped boxes of candy and grocery-store-bought bundles of roses.

Having your birthday land on a holiday is a pain in the ass for most people. I feel sorry for the folks who were born on Christmas who often get cheated on the gift front, but since my birthday falls on Valentine’s Day, I can only express so much sympathy.

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If I had a dollar for each time a romantic relationship ended on or near my birthday, I’d have…well…$5.00. I seem to be perpetually single on my birthday. Some years have been worse than others. Some years I wished I was single, because the relationship I was in at the time was absolutely miserable. Watching someone you used to care about scramble to impress you with gifts and acts of kindness to prove their affection for you on Valentine’s Day is like watching firemen pull charred corpses out of a burning car crash. You hate to look, but morbid curiosity gets the better of you.

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I once dated a guy, a vegetarian, who cooked me a whole duck for my birthday. Before you get all weepy and think’ “how romantic,” this guy was a vegetarian because he hated animals and refused to “eat their dead corpses.” I had two cats at the time that he barely tolerated and constantly threatened to kill. He put a lot of time and effort into preparing that meal, but each time he did something nice for me, whether it was my birthday or not, there always seemed to be an undertone of resentment. Even though he was a good gift giver, the gesture was always spoiled by his nearly psychotic need for gratitude. The duck was delicious, but his expectation for me to give him my undying appreciation made it a bit hard to swallow. You see, we dated for nearly five years. Lived together for three. And each time someone asked him when he was going to pop the question, he’d say “I do all the time, when are you going to clean the cat box.” He cracked himself up every time he said it. Yeah, he was a real keeper.

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I should have left him after the first year we were together, because in hindsight, he was a textbook abuser of the emotional and psychological variety. His specialties were back-handed compliments, comparing me to other women in his life, and making me feel like my goals were pipe-dreams. But he had no problem taking credit for all the thankless support he claimed to provide when I reached those goals time and again. Goals I reached despite his constant stream of bullshit geared toward making my self-esteem non-existent.

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What was the final straw that broke the camel’s back? Seeing him, a 41-year-old man, throw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his Oomp Loompa Halloween costume together fast enough. Watching a grown man cry over a Halloween costume kind of cuts off the last shred of desire for him you might be clinging to. FYI, temper tantrums are a HUGE turn off. And just for the record, so are Oompa Loompa costumes. Everyone knows Willy Wonka is the sexy one.

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Perhaps the fact that I am single most years on my birthday, or wished I was, is one of the Universe’s cruel little jokes at my expense. Or perhaps the Universe has been trying to show me a different path that doesn’t involve romantic relationships. At least, not until I am stronger, more confident, and completely in love with the person I am becoming – or perhaps always was. I was just too busy fighting against men who were trying to steal my strength to make up for a lack of their own.

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This time feels different. I’m not nearly as angry as I used to be when a romantic relationship came to an end. I don’t feel completely alone and helpless. Maybe that’s because the relationship itself was good. You would think that when a good thing comes to an end you’d be more upset about it than when a terrible thing comes to an end, but no. It’s weird, I feel more hopeful about what happens next whether I have a significant other in my life or not. I’m trying to learn that I am enough on my own. I still hope to find someone who wants to stay in my life to share and grow, and build something together. But before that can happen, and be a real thing, I know I have to be ready to welcome that person into my life. I’m getting closer to that, but I’m not quite there. I still have a lot of personal demons to confront, but rather than condemning myself for having those demons, I’m going to embrace them and try to figure out how to turn them into positive aspects of my life.

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My birthday is 11 days away. This year I want to use this time for reflection and planning. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been living my life on too small of a scale. There are much bigger goals I’ve had in mind since I was a child and before I allowed people to do their best to crush my dreams. I want to see more of the world. I want to reconnect with my old friends who live in other parts of the country and in Europe. I want to write more. I want to push myself to become the healthiest version of myself ever. I want to make new friends and build stronger relationships with the ones who are already close to me, the ones who are always there for me no matter what.

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And, while I’m doing these things and making more plans, I’ll continue to work through the events in my past that have left deep, shadowy scars on my psyche by seeing my therapist and writing about my life, my fears, and my dreams.

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I’m sad that I lost my lover, but I’m going to be okay. I always manage to pick myself back up and move forward. I fully expect to have days where I cry unexpectedly because the melancholy that took roost in my heart and mind when I was a child demands to be heard.

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But I’m not going to allow that melancholy to be my compass. I want my goals and aspirations to be my guides, with the hope that the successes that follow will keep leading me toward the person I want to be. The person I believe to be my true self. My happier self. My whole self.

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Damon Salvatore

Hi. I haven’t blogged in a really, really long time, and I need some motivation to write. Today is the first day of February 2016, a leap year, and the month of my birth. I’m not going to tell you how old I am unless you ask very politely and promise not to laugh in my face. What I will happily tell you is that my birthday is February 14. That’s right. I was born on Valentine’s Day. People have a habit of saying how lucky I am, and what a special birthday it must be each year. Well…that isn’t entirely true.
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Here are my top 3 reasons why Valentine’s Day is a crappy day to celebrate your birthday on. Yes, I know it would suck to have a birthday on Christmas, too, unless you’re Jesus, but Valentine’s Day birthdays are their own special brand of Hell. So, let me count just a few of the ways that having a birthday on Valentine’s Day totally blows.

  1. Corporate-Sponsored Peer Pressure: Valentine’s Day manipulates you to find that special someone and/or give said someone not only your undivided attention, but also gifts that evoke romantic sentiments. There is nothing worse that being expected to buy romantic gifts for someone you have either recently met, or secretly hate and plan to leave soon. Especially of they do something really nice for you on your birthday.
  1. Envy: Watching other people who aren’t even celebrating a birthday receive flowers, cards, gifts, etc., and you might only get lucky enough to go out to dinner with a friend or eat a cake that a co-worker bought at the last minute on the way to work.
  1. Loneliness: Being single can be depressing at the best of times, but when you are single on Valentine’s Day, the feeling of being alone often feels more amplified. And, if it’s your birthday AND Valentine’s Day, some years you feel like the biggest loser that ever walked the face of the Earth.

Expectations run really high on Valentine’s Day for a lot of people, and birthdays can be bad enough if you experience anxiety about that fact that another year has come and gone and you still aren’t living up to your full potential. Talk about a double whammy.

Last year I was in a relationship that sent me straight to therapy and required medication. I’m still working on exorcising those demons. This year I am single. And, oddly enough, I’m pretty happy about that. I doubt this is the first time I was happy to be single on my Valentine’s birthday, but I don’t remember ever feeling so relieved.

This year to celebrate, I’m planning a party with some of my closest friends and we’re going to have an ‘80’s dance party. I’m very excited, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The purpose of this post, and a series of posts I plan to share with you each day this month, is to talk about some of my favorite fictional characters. More specifically, fictional characters I would hop in the sack with…or on a couch…or in the backseat of a car…or the hood of a car…or in a crypt…on a train…I think you get the idea.

ANYWAY, since this is the month of love and romance, and since I’m single and have sworn off online dating, I’m going to spend the month fantasizing about sexy fictional characters and why I find them so irresistible.

February 1: Damon Salvatore

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For the first installment of “Fictional Characters I Would Totally Fuck”, I offer you Damon Salvatore. Damon, Damon, Damon. Where to begin?

Well, for starters, he’s a vampire. That usually scores big points for me when it comes to fictional characters. I totally effing love vampires. And, I’ve loved vampires since I was about 12-years-old. WAY before Edward Cullen started sprinkling glitter all over the vampire fiction universe. My mother gave me a gently used copy of Interview with the Vampire for Christmas one year, and that solidified my obsession with vampires. I had spent a lot of time watching horror movies as a kid, and vampires and werewolves were my favorite monsters. I saw Bela Lugosi in Dracula when I was really young, and was given set of View Master disks that depicted a version of Stoker’s novel in cartoon images. I guess my interest in vampires started with Universal and Hammer films, and I devoured Dark Shadows. Let’s face it folks, vampires rock. And, I’ll most likely devote an entire post to Dracula this month.

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Stefan who?

But today, I’m going to talk about the hottest vampire in Mystic Falls, Damon Salvatore. I might be inclined to watch The Vampire Diaries if Ian Somerhalder wasn’t cast as Damon, but I’m not going to lie, he’s the main reason why I watch the show. He’s an incredible anti-hero who enters the story as a villain. He’s the bad boy older brother of the hero, Stefan Salvatore. Stefan’s attractive, and he seems to be a really nice guy. He’s handsome, emotionally stable, smart, romantic, and initially, safe. By all outward appearances, he’s a parent’s wet dream. This is exactly the type of guy high school girls should be interested in dating. Well, normal high school girls who are Hell-bent on having a safe, boring, vanilla relationship with a guy you could easily imagine marrying, and having kids with…if vampires could procreate. He was a perfect match for the heroine, Elena Gilbert. They were happy and I wanted them to be happy. But the moment Damon makes his first appearance on screen, I was like, “Stefan who?”

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This statement made me giggle like a school girl. A school girl with a deeply perverse imagination and access to classic smut.

Damon is everything Stefan isn’t. Impulsive. Sexy. Violent. Vulgar. Inappropriately funny. Stunningly gorgeous. Promiscuous. Vain. Reckless. Dark. Dangerous. Comfortable with being a vampire, and not afraid of his true nature. And his true nature is to be a monster. He never really pretends to be anything else, and when he is tempted to go against his nature, he always manages to disappoint the people closest to him by reaffirming that he is a monster and in many ways, proud of that fact. He’s a villain. I like villains. But more importantly, I like villains who seek redemption and show me that despite their murderous rampages, they really are the most logical, loyal, and honest character in the story. It helps that he’s the funniest character and gets some of the best lines in every episode.

All of his romantic scenes are hot. The way he kisses women, touches them, gazes at them, bites into their necks, tears off their clothes…there isn’t a dry pair of panties in the audience when he grabs the object of his desire and succumbs to lust. Or love.

And seriously, look at him.

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Yep, totally fuckable.

No, really, LOOK AT HIM!

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I’d skip prom to make out on the hood of a car with this guy.

I sure as shit wouldn’t kick him out of my bed for spilling blood.

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Bite me already.