Falstaff Books

Of Monsters and Men


John G. Hartness is comfortable writing about monsters and those who hunt them. In the latest Shadow Council novella, Angel Dance, Frankenstein's monster, aka Adam Franks, is hunting demons and zombie alligators in the Big Easy and environs. Helping him in his endeavors is a voodoo priestess, a militant nun, and the disembodied consciousness of a tech genius who was killed in the line of duty—monster hunting duty, that is. What could possibly go wrong? Because it's a novella and not a novel, fewer things go wrong than they otherwise would, but it's still a fun ride and the bad guys get theirs, which is always important in urban fantasy, not to mention the real world. The depth in this slim volume is to be found in the minds and hearts of the characters born of John Hartness’ imagination. I've written before about the monsters within and also about what makes us human, but I don't think I've contemplated humanity from the perspective of the monsters themselves and it's an interesting viewpoint. When we weigh the pros and cons of Frankenstein's monster as "human" to which category would he belong?

That Frankenstein's monster has a name is the first step on his road to humanity. He's got a name and not just a label. He's not 24601, he's more like Jean Valjean. Having a name humanizes us. It's the first gift our parents give us after they give us life. Naming ourselves is a key strategy if we're ever attacked by a serial killer—we're told to tell our tormentor our name to avoid being wholly objectified (what, you didn't read or see Silence of the Lambs? Get on that, it's good shit). It appears that Adam named himself (aka the first man) and adopted a modified version of his "father's" surname. Clever monster.

In addition to a name, Adam also has feelings—which he doesn't welcome because they come with pain (can't have one without the other, as I've also noted in a previous post). Adam seems somewhat indifferent to the emotional highs that feelings engender but is highly sensitive to the depths of despair to which grief can drive us. It doesn't feel like an equitable arrangement to Adam, and he would prefer to do without those pesky feelings. Which he can't. Too bad, so sad. He's got to feel along with the rest of us. Sometimes, he feels irritable about his feelings. Ironic that.

Mostly, Adam has feelings surrounding his friends. I think he's as bewildered as the rest of us that Frankenstein's monster has friends, but we can all probably think of people we know about whom we could say the same thing. But Adam does have friends who he cares about and who care about him. And those friendships create obligations that are potentially dangerous.  They also create opportunities for more, intense feelings. And eventually they require Adam to let go of the mortals who have touched his once dead heart, to return them to the depths of the earth on whose surface he continues to walk. Hmmm... sound familiar?  He's just like us. Or perhaps we're just like him. Beyond feelings, our monster is also developing a sense of humor as these stories progress. In the beginning, Adam is as humorless as my old algebra teacher, and equally literal in his thinking (have I ever mentioned how much I hated algebra? No?  Let me tell you... just kidding!  See, I have a wonderful sense of humor, but I digress). As we get to know Adam, he finds delight in teasing his fellow monster hunters and jerking their chains a bit. I'm not sure how funny it would be to have Frankenstein's monster punking me, in fact; I'd probably run away screaming, having lost my sense of humor completely, but that could just be me. With each joke and prank, Adam became more human to me and I become more invested in his fate.

Adam also has a moral compass, a directional aide I think most monsters eschew. For example, one of the criterion for Pinocchio to become a real boy was the development of his conscience, allowing Jiminy Cricket to take on other tasks. Unfortunately, I think if we make the possession of a conscience a requirement for humanity a lot of us would fade from this plane of existence. Having a working moral compass seems less and less prevalent in our society; the new normal feels like anarchy where truth is not just relative but alternate; a lack of basic human dignity and a sense of fairness is sorely lacking in our leadership. But I'll get off my soapbox now. The truth is I'd much rather have Frankenstein's creation in the White House than the monster currently in residence. But I digress. Again..

Another tantalizing clue in this story relates to the possibility that Adam has a soul, which is what distinguishes other monsters from men in several series that I've read. Adam had always assumed he was soul-less, but new information indicates that his assumptions are incorrect, as assumptions tend to be. I expect John Hartness will develop this line of inquiry in later novellas and I'm looking forward to it. In the interim, we'll put "having a soul" in the TBD category and count it neither for nor against Adam.

We are left with our judgment, then. Is Adam a monster or not?  Can we count him as human? Where should we draw the line? As I was writing it occurred to me that many of us human types would be found wanting if we applied these criteria to determine the validity of our own humanity. Maybe the line between monsters and men (and women) is more blurred than we'd like to admit. Maybe all of us have the potential to be monsters and all monsters have the potential to be redeemed. I'll wait for the next John Hartness novella and see what he thinks while I spend my time gazing at my navel, a decidedly human endeavor.


Anchors Aweigh


I just finished a fun-filled romp through the somewhat disturbed imagination of John Hartness. I like John Hartness. I've never met the man, but he is an enthusiastic contributor to Facebook and a prolific writer, so I feel like I know him somewhat. He got fed up with the world of independent publishers and decided to do something beyond bitching; he started his own publishing house. You've got to love that. And he's got a good eye as a publisher: I very much enjoyed Of Lips and Tongue, which I wrote about here, and Changeling's Fall, which inspired another blog. And he writes cool as shit protagonists, including Jimmy Black and Bubba the Monster Hunter. My favorite of Hartness' heroes is Quincy Harker, son of Mina and Jonathan Harker of Dracula fame, and his latest adventure is entitled Heaven Can Wait. Quincy is an enhanced human with tendencies toward supernatural manifestations (he's a sorcerer/mage/wizard type)—meaning he's fast, strong and can conjure great energy balls of fire on par with Harry Dresden. Quincy hunts and fights demons and if it's Tuesday, he must be saving the world from becoming the dominion of the devil. Were that my ‘To Do’ list was as exciting. In this story, Q is trying to prevent the dissolution of the barriers that separate Heaven and Hell, and avoid the destruction of the earth as collateral damage. He's all over that action. In his efforts to save the day, Quincy attempts a little astral projection, leaving his body in the care of his fiancée and using her as an anchor, and their telepathic link as a tether back to his physical existence. He asks her to "tug" on their mental link occasionally, just to make sure they're still connected and that he can find his way home. It's an interesting metaphor: using the ones we love as anchors to our existence in reality and our feelings for them as the connection that binds us to ourselves. 

As I was reading the passage that described this communication and binding system, I was reminded of the many hours I spent in various playgrounds during my children's early childhood. I have twin sons and they were active boys. We needed to do something with their unbridled energy, and playgrounds were the perfect arena for them to expend their exuberance and exhaust themselves. So, every day I would very consciously "run them" and encourage my little men to tire themselves out. And every day they would burst upon the scene in the playground like they owned the place and run around Ike maniacs on crack. And I would watch them like the paranoid New Yorker that I am, never taking my eyes off them lest some perverted kidnapping serial killer snatch them. And yes, my behavior was extreme and likely disturbed. But it was the boys' behavior that was more telling.  While they devoted themselves with complete abandon, their eyes would lift from time to time, meeting mine, making sure I was still there, "tugging" on our link so they would know that they could always find their way home. Periodically, they would rush headlong over to me for a quick hug or kiss or just a touch of my leg or my hand—enough to prove that their eyes were not deceiving them, and I was there in the flesh, which meant that they could race off again to play with absolute security, knowing their anchor hadn't slipped, and that they wouldn't be abandoned or lost.

And it's not just children who act this way. Like Quincy and his love, Rebecca, committed couples do this all the time. I often go about my business over the course of the day, content in my activities, when I pause and shoot off a quick text to my husband, tugging on our tether, waiting for his emoji response or a few short words that let me know he is there and that we are still connected. He does the same, especially when he's away from his home office and we're more physically distant from each other than usual. I've had people comment that we communicate more than seems "normal" (and what the hell does that mean anyway?), or at least more often than couples who are well beyond the honeymoon phase, but I'm delighted that our bond is so strong and so connected. We don't need to exchange tomes of information. Just a small tug. 

I do this with my close friends as well. Back in the Dark Ages before cell phones and texting, my friends used to give me a hard time because I was known for calling and saying something to the effect that I was calling to tell them that I didn't have time to talk, but I wanted to let them know I was thinking of them. These days I just send a text. It's my way of pulling on the tethers that bound me to the reality of my life. 

So, while I cannot project my astral body to other planes of existence by tethering my essence through a extrasensory mental connection, I can and do emulate the great Quincy Harker in a more mundane way. Once again, we find truth in fantasy within the pages of my beloved books, where mythical creatures lead paranormal existences in alternate universes that look a lot like our realm, only more magical. 


Who Are You?

Who Are You_.png

I'm almost finished with Changeling's Fall by Sarah Joy Adams and Emily Lavin Leverett. It's good enough that I'm feeling seriously resentful that I have to take time away from the book to write this blog. I'm anxious to know how it ends and wondering if it will be the beginning of a series. I'm also wondering how two people write a novel together—does one write one chapter and the other write the next one, or do they write scenes from different POVs, or what?  Anyway, the novel has some interesting themes, the foremost of which involves questions of identity and how who we perceive ourselves to be affects who we are versus how others perceive us. These are interesting questions.  In the novel, Deor, a changeling raised in the human world by her human mother, has come to the land of Faerie to find her father and attempt to reverse the illness that is depleting her health. Deor has no idea who sired her, beyond a first name, but there are a number of hints she might be the bastard daughter of the ailing king. Meanwhile, the main male protagonist, Raphael, is being adopted by said king because the monarch claims not to  have any heirs.  Lots of politics and drama ensues, all centered on issues of identity, heritage, relationships and the tangled webs they weave. 

In the world of Changeling's Fall, adoption is a painful process and not knowing one's parentage is equally difficult. I don't think this is all that different from our world. When we are adopted or we adopt a child, by definition we are leaving our biological families who cannot care for us—for many legitimate reasons—to go to a family that—again by definition—wants us desperately. I am not adopted (although I longed to be as a child, away from my mother), nor are my children. But we were planning to go that route to create our family if our efforts to conceive were unsuccessful, and I gave a great deal of thought to the process. In addition, we have many close ties to adopted children that also inform my opinions.

I've always believed that the sting of being given up by birth parents could be offset by the overwhelming love adoptive parents bring to their children. Those who adopt do so with deliberation and consciousness, and the hoops that one must jump through are rigorous, to say the least. You've really got to want to adopt to make it happen. These children are deeply, deeply desired. Receiving that kind of love changes a person. So does giving it. 

But there are still issues of identity that need to be addressed, no matter how much love is involved. In today's world of open adoptions, kids often know their birth parents and can acquire information about health histories or genetic composition. That may not be true with foreign adoptions, but whatever the case, adopted children never know who they would have been if they'd been raised by their DNA donors. Moreover, adoption requires additional efforts to "find" ourselves, and like all of us, discover not only who we are, but also who we want to be.

Not knowing our parents is major obstacle in forging our identities. We can also be affected by not knowing who our parents are, even if we know who they are. For example, I know my father was Jack Uchitel. I know what he looked like and where he was from. I knew his brothers, but not his parents. I adored him with every fiber of my being, but I can't say I really knew him, to my everlasting regret. I knew a small sliver of him as "Daddy," the wonderful guy who turned his attention toward me every once in a while and when he did it was like Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one. But I didn't know him as a man, or an employer, or as a friend. I'm not sure what his philosophy of life was, although I could discern bits and pieces based on clues he provided during our rare and brief interactions.  But a lot of my identity is nevertheless based on my being his daughter. If I found out he wasn't my real dad, I think I'd be devastated. And I want, explicitly, to be like him, or at least to be the man I imagine that he was.

My guess is that kids who are adopted go through a bit of that as well; imagining who they would be if their birth parents turned out to be the Platonic ideal of parenthood. Plus they get to assume the mantle of any positive traits of their adoptive parents, and leave behind the parts they don't like with the justification that the relationship isn't biological, so they are not destined by their DNA.

And while many if not most kids do not twist themselves into the same pretzel shapes that I enjoy in playing out these mental machinations, all of us yearn to create ourselves. Or find ourselves. Or lose ourselves in an identity to which we aspire.  And those of us like Deor and Raphael who are among the lucky ones, soon realize that no matter our parentage, biological or adopted, our identities are our own. There may be signposts along the way, clues from our various mothers, fathers and grandparents, but in the end, who we are is all up to us. We need to choose wisely, no matter the circumstances of our birth or upbringing. After all, we can be anyone we want to be.

Note:  This is my last new post for the next month. I will be suspending my blog as I work toward the 50,000 words needed to participate in NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month, November 1-30, 2016. Please wish me luck and send productive and creative thoughts my way, as I can use all the support I can get. I will be posting my word count every day on Twitter (@truthinfantasy), so please like and retweet to show me the love. I plan to be back in December with new posts. Until then, be well and prosper. —Anne






Presence Is the Best Present

Presence is the best present.png

I recently finished Man in Black by John G. Hartness. The series is getting better and better and I read it in one sitting. In this installment, our boy, Jimmy Black, is now the top vampire in Charlotte, NC. He's come a long way, baby. Jimmy has had to grow up in a hurry and figure out how to get serious about his new responsibilities. It's not easy being the head honcho in the first place, but on top of that, no one is taking him seriously. Not the other vampires, and not even the very human crime boss of Charlotte, Marcus Owen, despite his own deficiencies in the paranormal department.  And while Jimmy feels confident in his inherent superiority to a mere mortal, he is not prepared for the effect of Owen's outsized presence. When Jimmy meets Owen for the first time, he is surprisingly overwhelmed. As Jimmy learned, presence is an interesting attribute. One either has it or they don't. And while it might be possible to dampen one's presence for effect or necessity and grow in presence over time, one cannot amplify a quality that isn't … present.

But man, oh, man, when it’s there, presence is a force of nature. Have you ever seen Bill Clinton in person?  He electrifies a place. President Obama has his fair share as well. Many politicians do.  Preachers too. Rock stars and A-list actors may have it more than anyone.  When we meet someone with the gift of presence, we know it. They are the ones towards whom all heads turn when they enter a room.  Sometimes it's a function of physical beauty, like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean (if you're an old movie buff, as I am—think Margot Robbie or Chris Pine if not). But even when the person with presence is beautiful, it's something more than that. Personally, I think it's chemical—even when you haven't actually seen this kind of individual walk into a room, you know they're there because your lizard brain senses it. And if we become the object of such a person's attention? Oh, Nelly, things get hot.  These people have power.

Power is itself an attribute or sign of presence. Powerful people often feel like they also have great presence. The issue is, which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did Nelson Mandela have presence before he acquired power?  Did Elvis Presley? What about Anna Wintour?  If we looked at their high school yearbooks, would all of these folks have "Most Likely to Succeed" labels under their awkward teenaged photos (and yes, I understand that Nelson Mandela likely didn't have a yearbook photo). I suspect that presence of the inherent, chemical variety is a prerequisite for presence of the powerful variety and that the second enhances the first—but can't necessarily make it stick.  Look at Bill Gates; not much presence there, just s geeky guy with enough smarts to change the world.  His achievements confer power, and the power bestows a titch of presence, but not really. Bill Gates just doesn’t have it, despite his smarts, his wealth and his power. That’s a great trifecta, but it’s not the same as having presence. Ask Hillary Clinton, who hasn't "caught" any presence from her husband, which is a shame, because she could use it against Trump, who, unfortunately, has quite a bit of presence.

Presence conveys an illusion of competence, trustworthiness and strength (there could be truth below the illusion, but not necessarily). When a man or woman of presence tells us something, we are apt to believe it. It's almost like being mesmerized by a vampire.  We want to believe this incredible creature who is telling us things with great confidence and weight. We yearn to believe.  In fact, depending on the level of personal presence someone has, and the degree to which we consciously or unconsciously want to give up our will, we do believe. It’s an authority and obedience thing.

Presence conveys authority. Which is scary. I remember going to a Michael Jackson concert in the 1980s at a huge stadium in Florida. And as I was looking around at all of the delirious fans, I had the unpleasant thought that if Michael asked his fans to jump up and down squealing like pigs, they would. If he asked them to turn to the person next to them and land a sucker punch, my fear was that way too many would jump on that bandwagon, just because Michael asked. The authority of presence can certainly be abused. We’ve seen that too, all too often.

Presence is a quirky concept. Like pornography, we know it when we see and feel it, but we may not be able to describe it. But it’s hard to ignore when it’s there. I suspect that as overwhelmed as Jimmy was by Marcus Owens' presence, and as underwhelmed as Marcus was by Jimmy's, Jimmy Black, Master of Charlotte will grow in presence as he settles into his powerful job. And if that happens, the seeds of that presence were always there. I guess that John Hartness has been waiting quite some time to let Jimmy's inner badass out. And I also suspect that we will all take notice.  Because it's a big deal when Elvis has left the building.





Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones.png

I took a chance on a new author based on John Hartness’ Facebook recommendation. It was a novella, so I figured if I didn't like it, I could stop reading, secure in the knowledge that I hadn't missed anything (sometimes with a novel-length book I become convinced that goodness is lurking just beyond the next scene, even though that is often not the case, but the triumph of hope over experience is hard to extinguish). Of Lips and Tongues, by A. G. Carpenter, is a southern gothic horror story, and none of these descriptors would normally make it past the moat dragons guarding entry to my Kindle. But an endorsement from a favored author circumvents my normal skepticism any day, and I’m so glad. Of Lips and Tongues was mesmerizing—in much the same way as the protagonist’s original "magic of the tongue."  Delaney’s magic is subtle and unique. This is a story about how sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can break our world. In Delaney's reality, evil can be conjured with malicious intent and unfortunate utterances. Here, a golem capable of great harm is created by "the sum of everything dark in the human spirit—envy, fear, guilt, spite—all stuck together with the bitter magic of unkind tongues." For Delaney, there is "magic in our words. Evil in our whispers." Words create reality in this plane. How terrifying.

As is often the case, this fantasy story reflects some deep truths. Words can definitely hurt. Words can create the embodiment of our guilt and shame and fear and precipitate all resulting bad behavior. One look at our current political arena is enough to convince anyone that ugly words and whispers have the power to distort the past, shape the present and manipulate the future.

The characters in A. G. Carpenter's novella (the first of a trilogy, happily) talk about how guilt can lead us toward rationalization and justification, especially when we use our words to hide our feelings. Guilt arises when we knowingly do wrong, and then we contort into all kinds of twisted shapes to salve our affronted conscience. It's the teacher we malign after she gives us a well-deserved "F."  It's the ex-friend we belittle because she dumped us for talking smack behind her back. It's the colleague we mercilessly torment because he works harder than we do and we wouldn't want him to seem too good. Or the boss we gossip about, passing speculation off as ground truth to make ourselves feel important for disseminating salacious information.

There is magic in our words, evil in our whispers.  Words have power. Ask "Crooked Hillary" or "Lying Ted."  Ask Ryan Lochte how much his "misrepresentations" cost him. I can't imagine he doesn't believe in the power of the spoken word any more. Perhaps he'll be more judicious with his future utterings. And I'm sure The Donald will continue to wield his weapon of choice; after all, continuous repetition of untruths creates its own reality as the repeated words carve neural pathways in our brains until we can no longer distinguish between truth and fantasy. I read it in the newspaper or I saw it online, so it must be true. A candidate for president of the United States keeps saying it, and where there is smoke, there is fire.

Words hurt.  Ask the victims who've been bullied. Ask the kid being teased on the playground whether name calling is a harmless pastime. Ask anyone who's ever been falsely accused of a crime; it's hard to come back from that, even if one's innocence has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Someone made an accusation, so there could be something to it. There must be something to it. There is something to it. It must be true. Such a slippery slope.

But A. G. Carpenter only tells half the story here (it's a novella, after all). As much as words can make evil, they can also do great good. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I would rather read those thousand words, and "see" the pictures they create in my imagination. And while I love photography, I prefer to read and re-read a book instead of looking repeatedly at a picture. Because the vision created by the words in my mind's eye is different every time I read a passage; I might add a slightly different tone to the color of the heroine's hair, or tweak the way I hear her voice in my head. Words have that power, and it is good.

I'm indebted to John Hartness for turning me on to A.G. Carpenter and her compelling words. She writes about the evil that we do with our lips and tongues, but where there is evil, there is the potential for goodness.  And while Ms. Carpenter writes about the evil that we speak and the pain it can cause, her words on the page point to the beauty of words and the pleasure that they can bring.




To Write or Not To Write

To Write or Not To Write.png

I'm reading a new series. It has dragons. Enough said. I also just read a post by John Hartness (author of some of my favorite urban fantasy novels), which talked about how to become a good writer. It involves writing. And reading. And getting better at same. How do these disparate thoughts connect?  Well, I'm on the third book of Jessie Donovan's Stonefire Dragons series, and it's getting better.  Clearly, the first two books, Sacrificed to the Dragon and Seducing the Dragon, were good enough to ensure I kept reading through to this book, Revealing the Dragons. The writing is getting better, the plotting is getting better and the series is getting better.  Ditto for Mr. Hartness, so I guess he's taking his own advice. Encouraging. And all of this thinking is in keeping with my topic of the week—maybe of the year:  how to improve myself. It's the whole talent versus work question. Nature versus nurture. And I'm confused. And scared. And depressed. And hopeful. And did I mention confused? Today's post is all about me (I'll try to bring my personal angst back to a larger application by the end of the post, so bear with me, please). I'm at a crossroads: should I keep writing this blog, hoping to maybe turn it into a book, and possibly make this the prelude to writing fiction? Which I have no idea how to write. So maybe this is all an exercise in futility (clearly my pity party of last week isn't quite over).

So here is the dilemma: I'm not a natural fiction writer, despite my teenaged attempts to write a novel (stranded island, threesome, no plot beyond they crashed, they survived, they eventually got rescued—highly episodic and predictable). Yet I yearn to write fiction. But I have neither stories nor characters rolling around in my head, clamoring to be let out. I have oodles of desire, but no discernible ability to translate that into action. Or none that has manifested itself thus far.

According to John Hartness, fuck me—till I faint, as one of my bosses used to say to me (who, while vulgar, was supportive, helpful, instructive and all-around wonderful, so I'm repeating his favorite adage with affection and respect—truly). Anyhoo, as I was saying, I think I'm screwed. I think maybe I don't want this enough, I'm too lazy, too stupid, too disorganized, too ADD, too little, too late. I have a quote from Laurell Hamilton above my desk, "How bad do you want it?  That's the first question. Once you've answered it, you can get to work or give up. But you'll know which it is."  And my deepest fear is that I've already answered that question. 'Cause if I wanted it badly enough, I would have already done what it takes to do it.

On top of that, I saw a cartoon on Facebook earlier that made fun of someone who thinks people still read blogs – as in they’re passé. Which freaked me the fuck out (clearly, I'm also slipping in my commitment to keep the bad language to a minimum). All of this feels futile.

But, back to John Hartness’ counsel to, "Suck it up, buttercup."  If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. He notes that most writers write a lot of stuff that will never see the light of someone else's Kindle. Nor should it. Most of what beginning writers write is shit not fit for human consumption. So we need to keep writing. And then keep writing some more. I was feeling pretty good about the 250,000 words I've already written for this blog. But John talked about writing a million words before anyone wanted to publish them.  My neighbor, a best-selling author, writes more than 10,000 words a day. Every day (well, maybe she takes weekends off…).

And while John Hartness would say that work is all that is needed – which should be good news for me, as we can all control how much we work, but not how much talent we have, I still believe inspiration has a place in creative writing. As in it requires creativity, which, in turn, necessitates a visit from my Muse, who is a fickle bitch and hasn't stopped by my place to visit in quite a while.

But I think John would say, "Fuck your Muse!  We don't need no stinking muses to get shit done!  Because a good work ethic, and grit, and hard work trumps inspiration. Every. Single. Time."  Or, at least, that's what I imagine he would say. He might ask me what I'm doing today to make my dreams a reality.  Do I have an action plan? Am I willing to give up sleep and my social life (or at least some of it) and other ways I spend my time (like on Facebook)?  Am I willing to put my money where my mouth is and take some fucking action?  And no, not just writing this blog and occasionally reading about how to write. Just doing it already, knowing that the first several hundred thousand words are going to be dog meat?

To write or not to write?  That is the question. Or, at least, it’s my question. I’m sure many of you have a similar question rattling around in your brain, although perhaps it pertains to getting married, or having kids, or changing jobs, or pursuing your own passion. I don't have any answers, just lots of questions today. Any thoughts would be most appreciated.


It's a Kind of Magic

It's a Kind of.png

If I say, “I’ll take ‘Magic’ for $400, please, Alex,” what was the question? If you guessed, “What do Quincy Harker, The Book of Mormon and Freddie Mercury have in common?” you would be a Paranormal Jeaopardy rock star. If you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, read on, dear reader, read on. I'm still thinking about Heaven Sent, by John G. Hartness. His writing is getting more fluid, and the snark factor more elegant (and yes, there is such a thing as elegant snark, and John Hartness is a master). Beyond the snark are some interesting musings. Today's cogitations involve the way magic works. I believe we can and do make magic every day. It involves focus and energy. And maybe a little something extra. Apparently, John Hartness agrees with me.

In the Quincy Harker novella series, Q is not quite human; he's faster, stronger and lives longer than mere mortals. He's also a powerful mage, or wizard, depending on your nomenclature. He can make shit happen that may elude the rest of us.  Interestingly, he has learned, through trial and error presumably, that when he casts relatively straightforward spells (like repairing broken doors), it doesn't matter which words he uses. Latin or Pig Latin, it's all the same, as long as the intent and focus are there; summonings and more elaborate spells require more precision in elocution. Or so we’re told. But let's stick with the original premise here, which is that intent is more important than content. This interesting idea is somewhat nuanced, and is therefore likely to be bastardized, but we’ll give it a go.

And here we get to the connection with The Book of Mormon. If you haven't seen the play, run, don't walk. Peed my pants laughing: the musical lived up to its hype. Beyond that, however, the plot is deep; it involves the slow realization by the lead LDS characters that the intention behind religious views is more important than the content. This is a truth I've always believed. God/The Universe/Krishna/Buddha/etc. doesn't care what the sign on the door says. Dogma is dumb, and love is all. When we exclude, judge, shun, and shame in the name of religious purity, you've lost me, as well as any God that I believe exists. I know this is not what most folks who self identify as "religious" versus "spiritual" would say, and maybe that's the difference right there. But if the content of our beliefs is more important than the intention behind our actions, we're not worshipping the same God.

And intent over content is also how John Hartness explains magic, mostly. As in mostly, all it takes is focus, intention and energy. Which makes a lot of sense.  But it's still definitely a kind of magic. Which explains why sometimes it works better than others. For example, when I've failed at something, or done less than my best, or the outcome wasn't what I'd hoped, I stop to think about where the magic went wrong. Was it my level of commitment? Was it a paucity of purity in my intention? Was it a lack of energy or focus (I usually misplace my focus before my energy, but that's what makes me so joyfully ADHD)?

But magic is not solely mundane, either in truth or in fantasy. It exists, no question about it, and we can all make it—without consciously casting spells. And we don’t need the suped-up DNA that Quincy sports from his parents, both of whom served as snacks for Dracula (kind of like how a bite from a radioactive spider can do a number on one's genes). But all magic, in addition to intention, focus and energy, has some fairy dust added to it. We might call it the hand of fate, or God's grace, good luck or whatever, but it's often there, just under the surface, of all we do. It's a kind of magic, in the truest sense of that concept, which is how we get to my favorite queen, Freddie M.

At least that's how it works for me. But, as Quincy notes, it’s magic, so who really knows? All I know is that I can make it. When I think of some of my achievements, and some of my defeats that really weren’t, I know that there must have been some supernatural mojo behind the outcomes of my life. I should have died 100 times during my misspent youth. And I should have ended up sad, lonely and stupidly neurotic, wandering the streets of New York as a truly lost soul, if we all got what we deserve. But I think my heart is fairly pure and my destructive tendencies are mostly self-directed, so perhaps my better-than-I-deserve existence does have a lot to do with intent instead of content (but we’ll only know for sure after I go the way of all flesh whether I I end up taking the elevator up or down).

On the other hand, and this is where the nuance comes in, we all know about the pavers that constitute the road to Hell. Good intentions don't trump bad or evil outcomes. Sure, it matters that we mean well, as I’ve written about before, and if it's a first offense, then that makes even more of a difference. But just because we didn't mean to break the mirror, doesn't mean we aren't going to suffer from seven years of bad luck. So, intent is important, but all things being equal, content has an important role to play as well.  Even when we're making magic.

So, thank you – Freddy Mercury, Book of Mormon and dear Q for adding some magic to my day. I hope that this post has added a tiny bit of fairy dust to yours.


Free Willie

Free Willy.png

I just spent a couple of very pleasant hours with John Hartness' new Quincy Harker novella, Heaven Sent. The plot describes how Quincy first met his guardian angel, Glory; in fact, he hadn't been aware he had a guardian angel in the first place. Turns out those GAs are pretty handy to have around, and not just because they can stop bullets on your behalf. On a less convenient note, however, Quincy (whom Glory christens "Q") learns that guardian angels can only intervene in very specific circumstances, and that they kind of suck at information sharing. When Q takes issue with Glory's failure to communicate—not to mention help him when he asked for help—she informs him that angels do not have free will—they cannot help themselves from following "Orders from upstairs."  That stopped me cold. Slavery in heaven? Apparently so. It also got me thinking about one of my favorite topics, free will and making good choices.  We all want to make good choices, right? But free will ensures that we often miss the mark. Why is this the case?  I suspect I won't know for sure until I shuffle off this mortal coil. In the interim, I can speculate. Or navel gaze. Your call. What is free will, anyway?  For me, free will is the potential to make poor choices and engage in serious self-destruction. I'd like to have a more positive outlook about one of the defining characteristics of humanity, but in looking around me, and also inside the recesses of my own dark corners, it's hard to be optimistic. Free will ensures that even when we know—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that option A is a better choice than option B, most of us choose B anyway, particularly if it involves chocolate. Perhaps I should only speak for myself. And not to sound like a broken record, but 66% overweight and obese Americans, almost 20 million alcoholics, and the many millions who support Donald Trump all point to the fact that we aren't so good at making good choices with all this free will we have. 

And then we can ask ourselves, why is free will a defining characteristic of humanity? Why not have us all be angels, who apparently can't make a poor choice (explains the whole halo thing for sure, by the way)?  Wouldn't that be nice?  Always making good choices, always doing the right thing? Always marching in lock step with the Big Guy Upstairs? Oh, wait, maybe that last thing isn't such a great idea. We'd all be Stepford Wives and mental slaves and where would be the fun in that?  In fact, if I pull this string a bit more, without free will, nothing makes any sense at all. There would be no search for truth (we'd all agree on what it is), no striving toward excellence (because it would be a universal imperative, not an aspirational construct), no winners and losers, because competition wouldn't be an option. Sounds pretty boring, not to mention pointless. 

But if we believe in free will, as I do with every atom of my being, what does our free will have to say about topics like predestination, divination, destiny, etc.? It's another interesting mental puzzle. I love my Tarot cards, which I use mostly for guidance, but sometimes to sneak a peek at what might be just around the next temporal bend, just beyond my line of sight. I also believe in destiny to some extent. But even with those beliefs, I still believe we can make a mess of things if we want to. I figure it's kind of like genetic expression: my family has a genetic predisposition towards lethal heart disease.  I know this, and it colors the health choices I make. So, I could let history play out again and again and go to an early grave following a massive heart attack, like so many of my relatives. Or, I can take care of my heart and avoid that particular destiny. I'm going with the second option on that one. But not all of my cousins have made similar choices and they are currently six feet under.  Free will.

Free will also trumps Divine omnipotence in my philosophy of life. In other words, the Big Guy (or Gal) upstairs cannot save us from ourselves, no matter how badly most Christian theologians have mangled the whole salvation through Christ concept. God isn't some sort of everyday Santa Claus, dispensing get out of jail, or the hospital free cards on demand, even if we've been very good girls and boys. For me, God is limited by His/Her own rulebook: humans have free will and they get to choose. And in order to be a sporting kind of God, God makes sure to make the right choice slightly more difficult, or uncomfortable, or less pleasant than the wrong choice. Otherwise, as I've written about before, it wouldn't be a real choice. If it were easy, we'd all be angels. 

But it's not and we're not, and that is the reality of life. And it's OK, actually.  Having to work to do the right thing and make good choices tempers us in the crucible of living, forming our characters and making us who we are.  It gives us the work of a lifetime, provides structure to our days and purpose to our existence.  I think free will is necessary to all of that and that the Big Guy/Gal was pretty clever when this system was put in place.  After all, as Quincy tells us, balance must be maintained. So where the angels can't help but do good, the demons can't help but do bad. And we humans are somewhere in the middle, trying to muddle through. So I'll pull out my "Free Willie" t-shirt (I loved that movie), and I'll have my little inside joke, and offer my support to whatever God put all of these pieces in motion in the first place.

I'm Not Listening

I'm Not Listening.png

I've just started John Hartness' Bubba the Monster Hunter stories. I'm still not entirely sure if this is a novella series like Quincy Harker or more of a collection of short stories, but no matter.  I'm digging Harkness’ style mightily, and I love that he moves these plots along in a timely manner, rather than dragging them out over three hundred pages. You go, John Hartness! Your efficient storytelling style working for me. But, enough literary critique. The topic at hand is the phenomenon of things that go in one ear and out the other. I would love to say that this is an injustice that has been visited on me while my own auditory skills remain wholly unaffected. That would be a bald faced lie (although you know what they say—lie big or go home—you know, like Donald Trump—oops, did I say that out loud?!). What, they don't say that?  I must not have been listening. My bad.  And that's the point. It is my bad.  And yours, and pretty much everyone else's. I started thinking about how little we listen to each other as I was reading about Bubba and Skeeter (fabulous names, by the way) in Hartness' collection (or "Season One" as he calls it) entitled, “Scattered, Smothered and Chunked," which sounds truly unappetizing.  In an exchange between our monster-killing heroes, Skeeter (the brains) explains the current assignment to Bubba (the brawn). It's a last minute explanation, delivered immediately before the action goes down.  To the readers, Bubba explains that Skeeter never tells him anything about a case "until it was time for the killing." Apparently, like many of us, Skeeter doesn’t like repeating himself and Bubba readily admits that he usually only "about half listened" to Skeeter anyway. What a friend, I thought to myself.

But then I thought to myself some more, and I had to retract my sarcasm (I love it when that happens—yes, I'm being sarcastic). Don't many of us "about half listen" to our friends and loved ones? Don't we listen with half an ear, or let others' voices roll off of us like ball bearings in an ice rink? I'm sure I'm guilty of that, and I know absolutely that my husband and kids are repeat offenders.  In fact, the problem is so pervasive that in almost any lecture or workshop about how to communicate better, or be a better partner, friend or employee there is always a section on active listening. I'm pretty sure when I was growing up it was just called "listening." As in you pay attention to what I'm saying and I'll give a shit about whatever you're blathering on about in return. No, I honestly don't mean that. But that used to be the social exchange and the currency was our attention. That all seems to have changed.

These days, when I'm "actively listening" to someone, maintaining full eye contact, making an effort to ask intelligent questions, leaning in and trying to appear as if I'm hanging on your every word, I've often been accused of being "aggressive" and "offensive."  We've watered down our presence and attention to the point where when someone gifts us with the full Monty, it's uncomfortably overwhelming. And how sad is that? It's so sad that when Bubba throws away a line about not fully listening to his partner—you know, the one trying to keep him alive while Bubba hunts the things that go bump in the night—it's meant to inspire a smile, not condemnation. I feel like a geezer bemoaning the state of our youth these days. Gag me.

What's going on here? Why does this happen?  I have a few theories that involve denouncing the state of our society, the world at large, and the like. But I think the epidemic of ADHD (a problem I suffer from myself, in fact), the hyper stimulation offered to all of us who are reasonably affluent and living in the developed world, and the constant competition for our attention are a big part of the problem. And then there is the incessant background noise. One of the things I love and crave about our home on the beautiful Chesapeake Bay is the spectacular sound of silence. In the morning, when I get up before anyone else and watch the sun come up over the water, there is nothing to hear except an occasional bird and sometimes the gentle lapping of the water against the shore. It is bliss.

On the other hand, the cacophony of TVs, radios, iPhones, boom boxes, video games, sports announcers, little kids, dogs and cats, colleagues, bosses, leaf blowers, lawn mowers, ambulances and other noise pollution is deafening. Literally—most of the baby boomers and now the Gen Xers are losing their hearing as a result of all the racket. No wonder we protect our ears by only lending half of then to all the voices vying for our notice.  So I get it. I do it. But what about when it is important for us to listen?  Have we basically lost the ability to separate the auditory wheat from the hum of chaff that surrounds it?  I fear that we have. I rarely feel fully attended to—it isn't often I know that my family members don't have one ear on one of their many electronic devices. It's off-putting and hurtful and can lead to one of two equally unfortunate outcomes—I get louder, or I get a serious case of the f-its. As in FU, I don't want to talk to you anyway.  This does not make for healthy or happy relationships. Nor for long-lived ones. So I "gently" point out to my distracted family that I'm feeling ignored and they respond with their undivided attention. Mostly.

So, let's not follow Bubba's example, even though I seriously like the dude and he kills zombies with battle axes, so he's got to be cool, right?   But I'm afraid his relationship skills leave something to be desired, and his listening skills flat out suck. Let’s give each other the gift of attending. Let’s lend each other both of our ears, instead of just one, or fractions thereof. Please don’t tell me, in any of the myriad ways there are to say, “I’m not listening.” It would be a tragedy of Bubba-like proportions.


Helping the Parentals

Helping the Parentals.jpg

I’m intrigued by adult authors who write so convincingly about being in high school.  Personally, I’ve blocked out a lot of what I went through during those years. But it came flooding back to me as I read John G. Hartness’ foray into YA lit, From the Stone (New Knights of the Round Table, Book 1), a re-imagining of the King Arthur story where the characters are the geeks and freaks of our teenaged memories. Mr. Hartness captures the gestalt of that phase perfectly—the camaraderie, the debilitating insecurities, the ubiquitous stereotypes walking around masquerading as originals, because no one at that age really wants to be original—even the outsiders trying to be original do so in distinctly unoriginal ways.  You remember, right?  It was a nightmare. I love it when an author nails the teenaged zeitgeist, mostly so I can be grateful that I’m well past that particular circle of Hell (Dante failed to write about that one—it’s the eighth circle, I’m pretty sure). It’s a clever story, and my only complaint is that I have to wait for the next one to come out—hurry, Mr. Hartness, hurry.   In one scene, Gwen, one of the protagonists, responds to her mother’s concerned questions by assuring her worried parent that all was well, when it clearly was not.  In another scene, Gwen tells her parents that she’s dating Rex (aka Arthur) even though they’re friends not lovers, so that they won’t be so afraid she will grow up to be a crazy cat lady.  When Rex asks why Gwen had been so untruthful to her mom and dad, she responds that, “It's all about helping the Parentals make it through these difficult teenaged years, right?”

I will say that when I was a teenager I was in no way concerned about sparing my parents' feelings or helping them deal with me in all my hormonal, angst-ridden glory. They owed me for having the audacity to bring me into the world. All the responsibility was on them, not me. Mature, I know. But I wasn't, no matter how much I thought I was or wanted to be. 

The relationship between young adult children and their parents is tricky. It's a time of significant transition and one that often goes disastrously wrong. Parents often have a hard time letting go and kids often overestimate their ability to thrive in the real world without the direct and indirect support of their elders. Even when parents are prepared to let go to an appropriate extent over time, it's almost impossible to know where to draw the lines between encouraging independence and establishing necessary boundaries, no matter how earnest the efforts. I know this from first-hand experience.

I also understand the concept of managing one's parents.  I definitely did that, all the time, in fact. It wasn't for their benefit, but for mine.  A complacent parent was an unconcerned parent. Moreover, I always equated parental management with the strategies of ancient Roman administrators; it's all about the bread and circuses, dude. Feed the 'rents a steady diet of good grades and entertain them with the bullshit they want to hear about how much we want to succeed and go to a good school and get a good job and give them grandchildren. Problem: solved. But it mattered not at all to me whether their motivation to stay out of my biz was because they felt authentically calm and confident about my future, or because of my uncanny knack for lulling them into a false sense of security with my razzle dazzle. These are not the ‘droids you’re looking for.

In short, I didn't care at all about my parents' feelings. It was of no concern to me if they worried about the job that they were doing; I was a very typical, self-centered teenager interested mostly in what I could get away with. My strategy was to keep the focus firmly on my brother and his issues—thus keeping all eyes off me. I was not above convincing my brother to wear eyeliner like Mick Jagger and then pointing out to Mom and Dad that their son was wearing makeup and might be gay—and yes, back in the day, there would have been something wrong with that for my parents, sad to say.

As demonstrated by my willingness to impugn my brother’s reputation, my primary approach to dealing with the Parentals was to lie.  All the time. About everything. I'm told that that's the best way to pass a lie detector test (although I don't actually think it’s true).  By lying constantly, I completely lost sight of the line between harmless exaggerations and little white lies  (like Gwen telling her mother she was dating Rex) and soul-sucking deceptions that obscured my identity and corrupted my essential self.  Such lies are destructive—self-destructive, mostly, although they don't do anything for the target of the deceit, either. But back to Rex, Gwen, Lance and the gang. As I thought back on Gwen’s comments, I had to acknowledge that maybe the reasons for her misdirection concerning the nature of her relationship with Rex were self-promoting, but I don't think so. These kids seemed genuinely concerned about assuaging their parents' fears, which struck me as sweet.  I hope that if my kids are going to lie to me, it will be with similarly generous motives, misguided though they may be. Mostly, I just hope they’re not like me at that age.  That would be the ninth circle of Hell.

Newton's Third Law

newtons third law.png

I'm not much for science. Haven't studied it since high school and did not excel at it even when my brain was younger. But it turns out that sometimes what we learned in high school math and science can be useful, contrary to what we thought to ourselves (or even dared say out loud) during Algebra II, "This is so DUMB! When will I EVER need this in real life?"  Come on, all of us said it. We were wrong. Today I'm contemplating Newton's Third Law of Motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This holds true in real life, and it more or less applies to my beloved paranormal and urban fantasy novels. Even in my make-believe worlds, what goes up, must come down. 

This truth in fantasy is what separates the high octane from the decaf among authors, in my opinion. I love it when writers offer a pseudo-scientific explanation for the paranormal quirks and characteristics of their characters.  In John Hartness' Quincy Harker series, Q is the son of Jonathan Harker and Mina Murry Harker, both of whom served as snacks for Dracula. Apparently the regular donations affected the DNA of Quincy's parents, resulting in a human child with a little something extra in the magical ability, strength and longevity departments. Another example, Lynsay Sands' Argeneau vampires, are the product of scientists on Atlantis mixing nanobots with mitochondria, giving them long lives, superhuman strength and vitality in exchange for replenishing their blood through ingesting that of humans. Cool stuff.

But I digress. I know you're flabbergasted. Back to Newton's third law and how in the real world it posits that you cannot create something out of nothing. Nor can you do something without some sort of karmic retribution, whether of the positive or negative variety. Karma's a bitch, baby, don't you forget it. 

This truth also holds in the paranormal and urban fantasy arenas. In most of the books I read, balance must be maintained. The most explicit expression of this is in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by JR Ward. In her world of vigilante vampires protecting their kind from soul-less humans intent on their destruction, everything comes with a hefty price tag. Save your beloved from death by disease? Okay--provided you forgo the possibility of children. Bring a ghost back from the dead? No problem, if your mother is willing to sacrifice her most prized possession. Obtain the power to inhale the life force from your enemies? Piece of cake, as long as you understand that it will taint your own life essence in the process.

It turns out that Goethe got it right--if you want an extra serving of whatever earthly delights tempt you most, you gotta make a deal with the devil. As I've written about before, there ain't no free lunch. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We need to obey gravity, you know, because it's not just a good idea, it's the law.

So where does that leave those of us who ride the see-saw of life going endlessly up and down?  Well, to begin with, we shouldn't be surprised when the other shoe falls-- we tossed it to the sky in the first place, after all. What goes up must come down. Secondly, we need to savor, savor, savor the high times, knowing they will inexorably be followed by the inevitable lows. Whatever is happening will stop at some point, and whatever wheels we set in motion will continue to turn -- until they don’t (which may actually violate Newton's First Law of Motion, but I'm not sure--I think I mentioned I wasn't a science geek).

Sometimes, however, it appears as though the world doesn't really work this way. Some people seem to have a disproportionate amount of grief and trouble, while others seems to perch on top of the world and remain there. For me, I always think that these instances of putative inequity might not be what they seem. Alternatively, we may all be living out our karma from past lives or alternate universes. I don't really know, except to say that on most days, I prefer to think there is a big weighing scale with two side-by-side plates, racking and stacking our actions and responding with equal and opposite reactions. Anything to believe that it's not all just random chaos out there. That would be depressing. 

So for today, I'm going to choose to give credence to karma as if it were dogma--I believe in the power of balance; I worship at the bottom of the apple tree where Newton was inspired to articulate his Third Law of Motion; and I will continue to read fantasy books that reinforce my concepts of truth.

Forced Intimacy


hristie Brinkley has been all over the news lately because although she is 60 years old, she looks 30 in photographs. And while she's best known for being highly ornamental (which is my least favorite thing for a woman to be known for), she's also been in the news on other occasions, such as when she and her then boyfriend, Rick Taubman, were in a helicopter crash in the Colorado mountains. After the crash, Brinkley married Taubman and gave birth to their son, only to get divorced eight months after the wedding. Why am I discussing a former supermodel's love life?
It's because I've been thinking about high adrenaline situations that lead to a false sense of intimacy, which in turn leads some to mistake what should be only a moment for forever. That's what happened to poor Ms. Brinkley. It's also happened to some of my favorite fictional friends. The whole near-death-experience-leading-to-happily-ever-after is a common trope in paranormal and urban fantasy, and one I'd like to explore. So come on in and sit for a spell while I contemplate crisis-based communion.

I'm just finishing John Hartness’ Quincy Harker novella series (I know… they’re short… but life has a habit of getting in the way of pleasure – aka reading and writing). In the second book, our favorite demon hunter saves the life of his favorite nemesis and sometime partner, Detective Rebecca Flynn, using magic. By doing so, Quincy opens an irrevocable mind link with the detective. So not only do they share an extreme situation that results in Quincy healing Rebecca’s mortal wounds, but now they're permanently in each other's heads. It doesn't get much more intimate than that. 

As an avid fan of the proverbial HEA, I've been expecting them to ride off into the sunset together ever since, even if they remain snarky as they lope along to their HEA. But so far, my expectations have been dashed. Grrr…I have about 45 minutes left to read in the final installment, and I'll update you if things change, but it seems that Quincy and Rebecca’s relationship is unusually restrained given the mortal wound scenario they conquered – together. Even Q acknowledges that the particular chain of events could lead one or both of them to misconstrue the intense emotions around the unfortunate occurrences as true love. Yet, they are rational enough enough to understand the resulting mind link has led only to feelings of warmth and affection, where perhaps they hadn't existed before. But not to passion. There’s not a sex scene in sight, more’s the pity.

Contrast that with the experience of my very favorite paranormal couple, Dragos and Pia Cuelebre. In their original story, Dragon Bound, author Thea Harrison throws our protagonists into all sorts of harrowing situations, including a car crash, kidnapping, imprisonment and subsequent escape. These plot twists serve to cement their adrenaline-fueled feelings for each other fast, leading to satisfactorily steamy and intensely emotional sex scenes and an eventual HEA (after more harrowing, near death experiences, of course). 

And because this is fantasy and not truth, Pia and Dragos don't get divorced after a few months. Instead, they commit to an eternity together (which for practically immortal beings is a BIG freaking deal). But because this blog is called Truth in Fantasy, let's see where we might find some reality amongst the rainbows and unicorns. 

It's true that stressful or critical conditions can create a crucible in which artificially intense emotions may brew. It's why so many workplace romances develop. When people work together meeting deadlines for demanding bosses, sparks ignite and things can smolder pretty quickly. Sadly, such short-term intensity can mask underlying fissures in compatibility, values, and the ability to communicate in ways both can understand. Then, sex distorts everything further, rendering vision and common sense collateral damage. We've all seen it happen to our colleagues. Hell, we may have seen it happen to ourselves.  It's rarely pretty. 

Except when it works.

Early in my relationship with my now husband, we had a crisis. Long story short, my ex-fiancé, the Green Beret, figured out that I was seeing someone else and he was angry. He had no standing, mind you, as we were definitively broken up, but that wasn't his perspective. To add insult to injury, my new boyfriend was driving my old boyfriend's car, which I still had. Needless to say, we didn't want the Special Forces officer to find out his replacement was driving his car. It’s bad enough to be supplanted – but the car was the dangerous cherry on top. It was not a good scene. I was terrified of my ex's anger. My then-new boyfriend also had a healthy respect for the damage his predecessor could do. We were co-conspirators in a made-for-TV movie, trying to figure out how to hide my new boyfriend's identity from the old boyfriend (we considered removing the name plate from the newbie’s office door as a good first step), and get out of Dodge ahead of the shooter. The whole ordeal culminated in my new boyfriend and me going away for our first weekend together -- taking the relationship to the next level.

Almost twenty-three years later, we're still playing kissy face – this time in our own car though – so it all worked out. Perhaps not like in Dragon Bound, but better than it did for Christie Brinkley. Sometimes truth and fantasy are more of a journey than a destination, which sometimes works out just fine. 


A Hostess with the Mostess

the hostess with the mostess.png

'm still enjoying the Quincy Harker novella series by John Hartness. I especially like Quincy's irreverent attitude and general ‘badass-ery’.  Maybe a novel length Harker story would be too much of a good thing, like when Dave Barry turned his hilarious columns into a book-length rant, but it's possible I would enjoy this character in a more developed plot with additional back story and maybe a bit of romance thrown into the mix.

Make it so, Mr. Hartness. Pretty please?

Anyhoo, now, onto my point, which is the plot of book two in the series,

Straight to Hell

. In this novella, Quincy must avert the end of the world by preventing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from riding off into the sunset and triggering Revelation in all its glory. Q and his team deal with Pestilence and Famine pretty handily, but War and Death give them a run for their money.  It's all very exciting. And, along the way to averting Armageddon, there was an interesting subplot involving the Sword of Ares’ search for a new host to be the incarnation of War.  

Turns out, incarnating War involves a fair amount of anger.

When the Sword scanned Quincy for the requisite environment in which to thrive, it found him wanting. In Quincy's words, "I felt the magical essence of War search through my soul, and eventually decide that I was lacking. I wasn't the avatar War wanted."

This got me thinking, naturally. What, you don't contemplate becoming an avatar for War, aka Anger?  How about Lust?  Sloth? Greed? Gluttony? Pride? Envy?  Have I covered the bases? Did any of you see the movie "Seven," with Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey?  At the end of the movie Spacey exhorts Pitt to kill him, urging Pitt to embody Anger. It’s a brilliant and very disturbing movie because of one of its core questions; would we make an acceptable host for any or all of the Seven Deadly Sins? If so, is there any desire to become less accommodating and hospitable?

I seem to be an excellent hostess for the scourge of Pride, and I make a cozy hangout for Envy as well. I'm not proud of my affinity for these mortal sins, and I'm envious of those whose heads and hearts are better protected from these invaders. But my chemical makeup seems to beckon Pride and Envy like mosquitos to ankles in high grass at dusk. I'm riddled with the stuff. 

For me, being a good host to Pride means that I don't fight the urge to ride high on my righteous horse.  Most of the time, I'm certain I know it all, and I'm positive that what I don't know isn't all that interesting or important anyway.  I'm the one who said, when asked by my boss why I always act like I'm the smartest person in the room, "Because I am." I've written about my pride before. It precedes the fall each and every time, but I'm a slow learner. I’m not proud of that.

There was also a time when War might’ve found me a comfy home. Those were not good times. But I got over my Anger, and settled more securely into Pride and Envy.  For me, Envy is about wanting something to be other than it is. Envy is paging through catalogues, imagining myself wearing, using, and buying whatever crap is being peddled. It's reading People magazine and fantasizing about what it would be like to be Princess Kate or Jennifer Lawrence. It's thinking about acting, looking or being something I'm not and likely never will be. I don't just make a decent hangout for Envy, I'm putting out home-baked cookies on my best china to welcome it this particular wickedness.

I wish this weren't the case (Envy again). I'm not holding my head high (Pride in its alternate guise of self pity).  I actually strive for self-awareness and to show the door to Sins when they come to call ("What's your hurry, here's your hat."). I meditate, journal, practice yoga and gratitude. And I've definitely made progress. But I can't say with any certainty at all that any Sins would find me lacking. I'm desperately afraid they would find me all too willing to make me their vessel. What does that say for the state of my soul?

I have no idea. But, if Quincy is sufficiently morally ambivalent (what with acting as judge, jury and executioner for a wide variety of human and paranormal baddies) that if his soul is not in danger of being an acceptable avatar for War, mine is probably not any worse than most – especially as I neither judge nor condemn anyone with any actual authority behind my adjudication. So maybe I'm just a garden-variety sinner, nothing more than another bozo on the ethical bus. Which strangely enough hurts my pride and makes me envious of those hosting the big Sins. Guess I'm not the hostess with the mostess after all. Probably a good thing in the long run.  I’ll let you know.

<img src="https://www.facebook.com/tr"/>

I Love My Potty Mouth

I love my potty mouth.jpg

I've been having trouble focusing on my beloved fantasy books of late. I would be in a panic over this development, except that it's happened before and, thankfully, I know that this sickness will pass...eventually. I have no idea what causes it, and I don't know why it happens when it does, but I will be profoundly grateful when it blows out the same hole in my brain that it entered. In the interim, I've found the best remedy is reading a short story or novella, requiring only a small commitment, which is perfect right now. Normally, I don’t love short works because it's too traumatic when I become invested in characters and worlds, only to have the party end prematurely, leaving me bereft. However, when I'm feeling squirrelly like this, less really is more. Especially when the novelette is good—and it’s doubly excellent when there is more than one. A novella series! And John Hartness has just what the doctor ordered; Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter. I'm digging Quincy. He's a total badass with an engaging voice and cool attitude -- I want to have a beer with this dude. You know,if I drank beer. And one of the things I've learned to love about him in a gratifyingly short period of time is his potty mouth. It's fucking awesome. 

Now, my kids and husband read my blogs, so I am mindful of my language, trying to keep it mostly PG-13. Also, I had completely bought into the bullshit that using profanity was indicative of a paucity of imagination, not to mention class. So I've controlled myself. And I'll go back to doing so when this particular post is finished. But for today, Quincy Harker has inspired me to let my profanity out of the box. Whee!

So, to begin my peon to profanity, Mr. Hartness employs my favorite cuss word of all time: "fucktard." No, it is not a nice word, nor is it particularly PC. But my, oh, my, is it descriptive. And so often eerily accurate. Kind of like a Ouija board when used correctly. And good old Quincy bandies it about with aplomb. Which leads to the second reason I'm rapidly falling in love with John Abraham Quincy Holmwood Harker; he actually knows how to use profanity effectively. So few do.

Which is why the nasty rumor got started that people who have filthy mouths are ignorant and offensive. It's because some people do use cuss words when they can't find any others. Mouth breathers come to mind. But for the rest of us, John Hartness' fictional firebrand included, cursing makes us stronger, more resilient, more satisfied, less stressed and more imaginative— did you know, for example, that the word "fuck" can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, and interjection and still make sense?

Apparently science backs me up on this, folks. It's true! Cursing helps us tolerate pain and discomfort better than if we didn't acknowledge that shit hurts. It makes us feel stronger and more confident (fuck yeah!), and can also help in forming and strengthening social or communal bonds (do you remember the first time you let the F-bomb slip in front of your boss and how boss the moment turned out to be when she cussed right back at you?). When we share the forbidden fruit of a mutual potty mouth, we feel closer to our fellows.

Except when to do so alienates those around us. And aren't they the party poopers? Yep, there are those who find swearing, especially when coming out of the mouths of "ladies," to be quite offensive. Which can put a serious harsh on my mellow, I'll say that here and now. I've actually been asked if I kiss my children with "that mouth."  Shocking, really. Not to mention sexist and misogynistic. Not that that's not totally offensive. No way.

Having said that, though, I must confess that my beloved family despises my foul mouth and routinely exhorts me to stop swearing. They've tried the cuss jar, the disapproving glares, pleading and begging. And while I do try to contain my colorful language, or at least curb the most excessive of the excesses, I really can't say I've met with overwhelming success.

But to that I say, "Fuck it." I do the best I can. Because I I love to swear. It makes me happy. It truly does make me feel strong and confident—the kind of woman who is un-fuck-with-able. The kind of woman who doesn't give a flying fuck what other people think of her. The kind of woman who is creative and resilient, with a high tolerance for pain and discomfort, which is a requisite quality for living with integrity in this world, since you asked. And anything that helps me live my truth with more ease and joy is not something I'm giving up any time soon.

So, my apologies to those I've offended and will continue to offend. I will rein it in for my blog posts, because, mostly at least, these aren't rants. But I did feel a burning need to take a moment to express my appreciation to John Hartness and Quincy Harker for reminding me why I find cursing to be so fucking satisfying.

The Things We Do for Love

The things we do for love.jpg

I've just finished Book Two in the Black Knight Chronicles, Back in Black, and AC/DC would be a perfect soundtrack for this installment. I can already tell that this series will get better with age, just like our vampire heroes, Jimmy and Greg.  I'm happy to report that the Lost Boys I wrote about here are starting to grow up a bit. Plus, this second offering introduces the world of the Fae, always a winning combination with the Sanguine, as our favorite bloodsuckers are called by the Tinkerbelle types. As the series progresses, we're getting more of the backstory, enough to know that it started with a girl. Doesn't it always?

In this case,  Jimmy Black was a young man at a bar feeling inordinately lucky that he was going to go home with a girl who was clearly out of his league. Looking back, Jimmy figured that this was one time where looking a gift horse in the mouth would have been a good idea, never mind those Trojans. As he tells the story, just as he was about to see heaven with his hottie, she bites him. No, it wasn’t, “Love at first feel.” It was game over, new vamp rising, and, oh, by the way, Jimmy accidentally turns his best friend, Greg, in the process. The things we do for love. Or was that lust?  Can a 20- something male tell the difference?

ight now, I'm reliving the roller coaster that is first love with one of my sons, and the experience is bringing up unpleasant memories of all of the extreme, intense, ridiculous, pathetic, courageous, unbelievable things I've done for love over the years. It's been an emotional saunter down memory lane… making it particularly difficult to watch my boy go down the path, knowing as I do the potholes he will encounter along the way. All parents wish to spare our children pain, but I also know there is no protecting him from life in all its glory and despair. Tell me again who suggested we have children?  Oh, yeah, it was me. And my husband. And we had to work at it too, so I guess we must have been sincere in our desires. Makes me want to go back and knock some sense into my younger self.  Just kidding… most of the time.

Jimmy's wide-eyed incredulity at his good fortune in attracting a beautiful girl reminds me of my own sense of wonder at the dawn of my first relationship. That one wasn't so good, unfortunately, and I ended up doing some pretty terrible things in the name of not-being-able-to-live-without-his-love type of obsession (I won't besmirch the name of love by labeling what I felt for my first boyfriend as such). I accepted infidelity. I ran over whenever he crooked his finger.  I endured casual cruelty, of the emotional variety, because I "loved" him so much and he was really just toying with me for his own amusement. And at some level I knew that, but it didn't matter because he was all I could think about and all that I wanted.  Does anyone else remember the intensity of first love? I do. I felt kicked in the teeth (me and Ozzie).Thank God that shit is over.

The things we do for love suck.  Because when we talk about the things we do for love, we mean the self-sacrificing things, the self-effacing things, the difficult things and the things we never thought we could do, or that we wanted to do. Love makes us strong like bull, and tenacious, and creative, and shameless. Love and fear are the most motivating factors in the world, and while things never work out well when we are motivated by fear, they don't always work out well when we are motivated by love, either.

But is it actually love motivating us when we take self-destructive actions in the name of these strong emotions? As I wrote about earlier, we know a good choice from a bad choice by its fruits. I think the same thing holds true for determining whether our actions are inspired by love or some more base emotion—like lust, pride or greed. When we become obsessed with someone and do things we shouldn't (like taking home strange partners we’ve just met in a bar), our motivation probably isn't pure.

When I look back at my own experiences, and look now at what my son is doing, it's important to look at the fruits. A good relationship makes us better--we feel supported and loved, so we feel free to take chances we otherwise wouldn't, knowing we have a safe harbor from the storms of growth. A good relationship leads to self enhancing activities, not self destruction.

On the other hand, bad relationships just suck us drykind of like what that vampire hottie did to Jimmy on their first and only ‘date’. A bad relationship makes us feel desperate, not secure, anxious, not safe, and pessimistic, not hopeful. A bad relationship can lead us to give up our friends, ignore our obligations, and isolate us from our families and communities. Bad relationships erode our self-esteem because we find ourselves doing unhealthy things—middle of the night booty calls, or making frantic phone calls to find out where the ostensible significant other is spending his or her time. Sucks us dry, leaving us desiccated.

So, the things we do for love can be good, of course, but the things we do for feelings less than love can leave us feeling sucker punched.  So let's hear it for growing up and maturing, just like Jimmy and Greg.  Because experience does help us discern the difference between love and lust, as my son will also learn… soon I hope. And I'll feel good that my days of bad behavior in the name of love are well and far behind me. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Life is Change

Life is change.jpg

Yesterday was my twentieth wedding anniversary. I tweeted about it. What? You missed my tweet? Shame on you! Anyway, the event got me to thinking about just how long twenty years is, and all that has happened and all the ways I've changed and haven't changed over the course of two decades. As I was contemplating this passage of time, I was also enjoying a new author (new to me, might not be new to you), John G. Hartness. His series is The Black Knight, and it's about vampires named Black and Knightwood who happen to be private investigators. Book one, A Hard Day's Knight, was fun. And while I could regale you with commentary on nerdy vampires and evil demons, both of which populate Mr. Hartness' book, what I want to discuss is the difference twenty years can make, or not.

In the book, our hero, James (call me Jimmy) Black and his trusty sidekick, Greg Knightwood, are two vampires who were turned two decades ago when they were in college. So they were about 20 when they became undead. Not a great age for boys, who tend not grow up at all until they are about 30. So, according to that logic, Jimmy and Greg should have grown up for about ten years before the events of the book occur. But not so much. In fact, they repeatedly refer to how much hasn't changed in the two decades since their first death, including, mostly, their luck with women, their tendency to make puerile jokes, and their love of all things video. My first thought at contemplating such stasis was, "How incredibly depressing." 

It's not that I didn't like myself twenty years ago. Well, I didn't love myself, that's for sure. But I liked myself better than I had when I was 15, or 20 or 25. The trend was favorable. And it's also not that I didn't appreciate having a body that had 20 fewer years of wear and tear on it. I did. Although in many respects I'm healthier and more fit than I was back then. But, realistically, I looked better back in the day, according to our youth-obsessed culture. I didn't need the kind of skin care regimen I do now, and losing weight was a lot easier. Ah, well.

But while I didn't have as many wrinkles and my skin hadn't had as long to bow to the law of gravity, nor did I have the perspective that I do now. There's something about being able to look back such a long distance in the rearview mirror that allows me to relax into the present with much more serenity and grace than I was capable of twenty years ago.

So many of my life questions have been answered in a positive way. I now know how so much of the story ends--I know that I chose wisely and well in my husband--after all, we still like each other 20 years later, and we also still love each other.  I look around and realize that is no small feat. I know that I finally did get pregnant--after four long and painful years filled with surgeries, injections and more time in stirrups than the U.S. equestrian team. I know that I'm not the best parent that ever lived, but also that I've  avoided many of the mistakes that my parents made. I know that the friends I had had twenty years ago are still my friends today--as are the ones I met over 45 years ago. I know that I finally beat bulimia--although it took much, much longer than I would have thought or hoped.

The upshot here is that a lot has happened in 20 years that has affected me profoundly. And unlike Jimmy and Greg, I'm not immortal, so those 20 years count--and they count a lot. Many believe that the years between 30 and 50 represent our prime--the zenith of our mental and physical existence (my mother used to say that a woman didn't grow into her face until she was 30, and we've already discussed the male brain --such as it is).

I think I'd be pretty bummed if I traversed my 30s and 40s and had not much to show for it (for Jimmy and Greg it's their 20s and 30s, but still).  God knows that I pray to make new mistakes, and to not repeat the past ad infinitum. That's just depressing--Groundhog Day again and again. So, for me, there was definitely a flash of sadness as I read about two perpetual boys, who happen to be dark creatures of the night (sort of), but prefer to play at being Peter Pan, living as Lost Boys in a basement apartment in a municipal cemetery (not that that is cliched or anything).

And as I contemplated the characters in my paranormal fantasy novel, I thought about all the people I've met and known who resemble our unaging and unchanging heroes more than is flattering. Unfortunately, I know a number of lost beings who refuse to learn the lessons of the Universe, and who get stuck in the past and in their limitations so that they never grow and evolve. These sad souls stay in bad marriages, show up for the same bad jobs day after day, and drink at the same bar stools night after night. They are vaguely--or not so vaguely--dissatisfied with their existence, filled with self loathing and disfiguring bitterness, yet unwilling to do anything to change their circumstances. These people break my heart.

Life is change. And in the world according to me, only fictional vampires should endure an unchanging existence. Certainly not people. We must all aspire to evolution in a positive the direction so that the problems we had 20 years ago differ in kind and not just degree from those that darken our doorsteps today. We have nothing to fear but stagnation--and that should scare the pants off us, no matter how old we are.

Reject equilibrium. Protest stasis. Eschew satisfaction with the status quo. Embrace growth. Pursue adaptation. Stretch. Reach.

Or not. Your call.