Random notes about things I'm doing:

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First, a picture of my cat:

This is Emerson. She is affectionately known around the house as Murder Cat. She's only been with us since May, but she is beginning to rule the roost. She has learned that the most important job of a writer's cat is holding down the books and serving as supreme lap-warmer.

When she first came to live with us, her coat was very thin and she weighed in around 5.5 pounds. As you can see from the picture, she now sports a most luxurious coat and is a bit on the chunky side. She is solid black except for some ash colored wisps of fur at her cheeks. All in all she is quite dignified, except when she is using the furniture as a jungle gym.

In other news:

I've learned that I totally suck at NaNoWriMo, because keeping word counts is a chore.

I've also learned that no one pays attention to me on Twitter, except when I say something that I don't really think anyone will pay attention to, and then the tweet goes viral, and then I have to spend time monitoring the tweet.

I don't know anything anymore.

I'm watching Mindhunter on Netflix. I can't stop. I haven't seen a show this intelligent and engaging since Penny Dreadful. It's become like an addiction. I'll tell myself that I'll only watch one episode and then two hours later, I'm still into it.

Mindhunter is engaging, because I remember a lot of these killers. They dominated the news when I was a young adult, so it is absolutely fascinating to watch the FBI's serial crimes unit take shape and apply the techniques they learn. Let me also point out that I love how the cast is headed by two very sharp intellectual women. It's just a powerhouse of a show, and I highly recommend it.

I'm also writing words on a novel, working toward the climax, and I'm reading a book to blurb that I will tell you more about later.

Books that I have finished include:

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Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs.

Recent World War II veteran Bull Ingram is working as muscle when a Memphis DJ hires him to find Ramblin’ John Hastur. The mysterious blues man’s dark, driving music–broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station–is said to make living men insane and dead men rise.

Disturbed and enraged by the bootleg recording the DJ plays for him, Ingram follows Hastur’s trail into the strange, uncivilized backwoods of Arkansas, where he hears rumors the musician has sold his soul to the Devil.

But as Ingram closes in on Hastur and those who have crossed his path, he’ll learn there are forces much more malevolent than the Devil and reckonings more painful than Hell...

This is Jacobs' debut novel, a mix of Lovecraftian horror and Southern noir set in 1951. Jacobs' musical background is evident, especially in the first half of the novel where the focus is Ramblin' John Hastur and his mysterious music. He also manages to serve up some of the most believable zombies I've read in a long time. Whenever I thought the novel couldn't offer a surprise, Jacobs managed to bring a new twist to onto the page. Overall it was spooky and good and a very satisfying read.

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The North Water by Ian McGuire

Behold the man: stinking, drunk, and brutal. Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaler bound for the rich hunting waters of the arctic circle. Also aboard for the first time is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money, and no better option than to sail as the ship's medic on this violent, filthy, and ill-fated voyage.

In India, during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which man can stoop. He had hoped to find temporary respite on the Volunteer, but rest proves impossible with Drax on board. The discovery of something evil in the hold rouses Sumner to action. And as the confrontation between the two men plays out amid the freezing darkness of an arctic winter, the fateful question arises: who will survive until spring?

This is a gripping story that was difficult to put it down. At the same time, I can't rightly recall the last time I read a book so utterly full of horrible men, who probably deserved every evil thing that happened to them. Maybe it was the time when I read Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. Or possibly The Road.

Yes. Maybe then.

Anyway, the pacing in The North Water is relentless, and in spite of my growing revulsion of the characters, I couldn't put the story down. The novel does have a few moments of grace and the ending is something of a relief, but quite frankly, I needed a shower after I finished.

So if my grimdarky fans would like to whet your eyes on some dark wicked historical fiction, I highly recommend The North Water.

I'll be around some but not a lot. Remember: if you need me, email is the best contact method until further notice.

where I'll be ... not here, but somewhere

Murder Cat, pictured here on the back of the writing chair, serves double duty as judgmental cat. This is her being judgmental.

Murder Cat, pictured here on the back of the writing chair, serves double duty as judgmental cat. This is her being judgmental.

This isn't going to be a long post. More like an update than anything else.

October wasn't a fun month for me. I had a root canal in one tooth and a different tooth broke. My dentist, on the other hand, had a marvelous month. Sometimes that's the way the enamel crumbles.

The good news is that the recurring sinus infection that I've been suffering from for the last year is finally gone, because the infection didn't really come from my sinuses--it came from the abscess in my upper tooth. Not fun doesn't always equal bad.

Murder Cat is thriving. Unlike my darling Macavity, who I still miss, Murder Cat thinks wolf spiders are the greatest toys ever and great fun. Thus far, she has killed around seven wolf spiders, four beetles, and two flies. It has taken about six months, but she has finally decided that she likes cuddles, too. She is also determined to fight the laptop for lap supremacy, which is very nice in the mornings.

I have a book I have to write.

In addition to the book, I am reading a novella for a friend in order to critique her work. She is a wonderful person and a fabulous writer, so helping her is both a pleasure and an honor. She deserves one hundred percent of my attention. I've also been asked to review an anthology of novellas and a novel, both of which have rather tight turnaround times. Like critiquing my friend's novella, these are tasks that I enjoy and am looking forward to doing.

I am pulling back from both Twitter and Facebook for a period of time. For my author friends, I'm part of a group on Slack, and if I can get the hang of Slack, I will be moving even more of me off Facebook. Until further notice, I'll be spot-checking both the Twitter and Facebook feeds to make sure they don't get hacked, but that's about it. I will not be checking Facebook chat or Messenger unless it is a family member.

I'll be posting to the blog and also through my newsletter. If you scroll up, you can see where to insert your email address for your preference. Blog posts will continue to me more numerous than newsletters, and these will also roll through my Twitter and Facebook feeds as always. 

If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, I've set up a feed over there. I am there as TFrohock. There is a huge chunk of words in the my feed (50,765 to be exact). That is the first three-quarters of the novel that I'm working on. I want to complete it in November, but there are a lot of words for me to unpack, so there is that.

If you need me, contact me via email.

Stop making it all about sex

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So here we are all over again with my thinking thoughts leaking into blog posts, because Twitter is transient, and the words initially slipped through my feed late on a Saturday night, and I was tired, because in addition to recovering from a bad cold, I'd been writing all day, and I just didn't have the energy to engage. I haven't forgotten the two threads scrolling past my weary eyes, and while the cold seems to be fading in the rear-view mirror, the book and its impending deadline looms ahead, but if I don't write these things now, they will be lost forever, and Lord, but I'm so tired of having to say the same things over and over again, the thought of a bit of permanence and a link seems extremely appealing.

The tweets, they rolled like this. First from A. A. Freeman:

And then from Marian Crane came a second thread:

Especially this:

While both threads are worth your time, it is the subsequent thread by Marian Crane that hit me in the gut, because I see some people automatically assuming that any book with a LGBTQ character is hard-core erotica. To paraphrase the sum of all of the parts, the comments people generally give me boil down to:

I don't read books with gay characters because I don't read porn/erotica.

Which I think is absolutely marvelous, because I don't write porn/erotica, and seriously, what the hell made you think I did?

(And let me pause here to make this qualification before umbrage erupts: there is certainly nothing wrong with erotica if that's your thing. I'm not putting it down. I'm simply saying: it's not what I write.)

Automatically connecting gay men with sex doesn't just come from readers who are uninformed. An author, who is known to be quite progressive, once suggested (with the best of intentions) that I use the tagline "Angels! Demons! Looming civil war! Hot man love! Demon sacrifices! Don't miss it!"

And I was all like, YEAH, until I got to "Hot man love!" and that stopped me dead, because there's no hot man love in my book. Not the kind of "Hot man love!" that people generally think of when they think of "Hot man love!," which is usually the variety of "Hot man love!" used in porn or erotica. I mean, Los Nefilim isn't even a romance by genre standards. It's a dark urban fantasy. Diago happens to be gay. He has a partner. They never have sex in the story. The story isn't about that. I don't understand anything anymore.

But in many ways I do.

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I'm reading 'Los Invisibles': A History of Male Homosexuality in Spain, 1850-1940 by Richard Cleminson and Francisco Vázquez García. As the authors document both the legal and medical attitudes toward gay men in Spain during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I began to realize how much emphasis is placed on the sex act itself. The doctors of the late nineteenth century spend a great deal of time on physical characteristics of the men, especially their genitalia. These lawyers and doctors considered gay men primarily through the lens of sexuality, much in the same way that a lot of heterosexual men, and to be fair women, tend to view women: as sexual objects, nothing more.

That's not the way it is in real life. Gay men (and women, for that matter) think a lot less about sex than many heterosexual men (and some women, for that matter) think they do. Some heterosexual people, quite frankly, seem to be obsessed with evaluating other people's sex lives: how much sex are they getting, whether they're dressing to attract sexual partners, who they're having sex with, and whether it is "wholesome missionary sex," or if they're into kink, which is defined as anything that isn't "wholesome missionary sex." Girls are sent home because of "inappropriate clothing," which means that the person sending them home is thinking about sex without owning their own sex thoughts, because they are so busy projecting their own sex thoughts onto the other person.

The sexual police rhapsodize about how sex is sinful, but for some reason they can't stop thinking about sex, or interpolating sex into every single human interaction, and therefore believe that the rest of us are as sex-obsessed as they are. The attitude becomes so inherent in society that when someone writes a novel or a story with a LGBTQ character, then the expectation is that the story is all about sex, because apparently, sex is all some heterosexual people think about.

I've seen gay men in fiction represented as being either constantly on the hunt for sex, or consumed by thoughts of a sexual nature. They are quite often portrayed as predators or victims or perversions. In more than one case, the gay man is placed in a story either as the villain or for comic relief.  These are caricatures.

Having the priviledge to know several gay men and their partners in real life, I can assure you that most gay men are emotionally centered, confident, and successful. That's not to say they don't have problems, but they don't spend their every spare moment wallowing in angst over unfulfilled sexual needs and lusting after every young thing they see. I don't know who you're hanging around with, but the men I know are in long-term loving relationships and spend their time focusing on their jobs and their families. They are nothing like the caricatures portrayed in literature and film.

Stories are powerful tools, and fortunately more and more stories are showing balanced views of members of the LGBTQ community. That was precisely what I wanted to do with Los Nefilim. I wanted to show you the people that I know: confident men facing the struggle to make the right decisions for themselves and their families based on their personal ethics.

If all you can see in that is sex and porn, then those are your porn thoughts, not mine, and you can stop projecting them on my characters right now.

Pennywise the Great and Terrible is IT [movie review]

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My father was a storyteller. It was how he taught his classes. He loved history, and in order to pass that love along to his middle school students, he disguised the dust of the past in dramatic story form. I'll never forget being at a campground one night when he regaled us with a retelling of Bram Stoker's Dracula. With the dark of night around us, a fire crackling nearby, his strong baritone carried the tale and transported us to a different world. The story was one that I knew well, but my father sparked new life into his rendition and captivated me.

Around that same time in the mid-seventies, I discovered the novel Carrie and became a lifelong fan of King's works. I read It when it was first published in 1986. After seeing the movie, I browsed through the first chapters and in doing so, I recalled how King's voice always drew me his worlds. He speaks to the reader very much like my father spoke to us when he retold Dracula that long ago night.

There is a conspiratorial tone to his works, as if he is drawing us close to share a terrible secret, and it is only when the last page is turned, do we realize that he merely holds a mirror to show us the monster wears our face. He gives us so much about the people in his fictional worlds that we feel like we know them, because in a lot of instances, we know someone just like them, or we are them. When he paints the picture of a small town--be it 'Salem's Lot or Derry--he peels back the illusion of genteel small town life to accurately portray the willful blindness that walks the streets and enables the monsters in the sewers to thrive.

I recognized King's small towns, because I lived in a version of Derry, where each individual's reality is layered by one's social status and the color of one's skin. Some people are forced to live within the abyss while others are afforded the luxury of looking away. King's skill is his ability to show us our prejudices without alienating us. He also makes the losers the heroes, which in many ways gives us hope that we can persevere over incredible odds. 

Capturing the essence of King's voice and tone is one of the reasons his literary works are so hard to translate into film. Well, that and the sheer magnitude of some of his works--It being one of them.

In the novel, when Georgie is going through the house to find the paraffin that will make his paper ship float, he is thinking about how his brother Bill is a good writer, not simply because he can write well, but because he can see. Likewise, translating a novel to film isn't so much about screenplays and theatrics, although those aspects are part of the process, but the true success lies in the director's ability to see what the author intended, which, finally, brings me to the movie.

Andrés Muschietti knows how to see. He manages to condense the story of the Loser's Club in such a way as to capture the true essence of the children and their complex relationships without diminishing either the story or the characters. The actors who portray the children in the Losers' Club were all excellent and perfectly cast. In what could have been an unintentionally comic episode, the scene in the library with Ben Hanscom [Jeremy Ray Taylor] and the headless child was absolutely horrifying. This was due to Taylor's performance and Muschietti's direction along with judicious use of CGI.

At no point does Muschietti let the film devolve into corny scares. He takes the time to build the mood before launching the more horrific scenes. Like King, Muschietti manages to use Derry's facade of normalcy to contrast the darker shadows lurking beneath Derry's surface.

Which, of course, brings us to the star of the show, Pennywise.

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Bill Skarsgård's performance is what turns this film from a remake into a retelling. In an absolute expert performance, Skarsgård uses his voice and eyes to fluctuate between childlike innocence and outright malevolence. During his conversation with Georgie, his voice is pitched sweet and high in the beginning and gradually deepens as his mask slips. In equal parts appealing and repulsive, he chuckles and speaks to Georgie with childish delight of circuses while drooling over the meal to come.

In a reverse transformation of Guillermo del Toro's faun in Pan's Labyrinth, where the faun becomes younger and more vibrant as the movie proceeds, Skarsgård's Pennywise becomes slightly more horrific with each subsequent scene. His forehead seems more bulbous, his makeup a little more cracked, and his voice deepens to give the audience one disquieting peek after another into the monster itself.

It is a retelling, but a damned good one and well worth your time. If you can't wait for the next installment, I highly recommend the book. Let Stephen King whisper his tale into your ear. You'll definitely find yourself somewhere within the pages; although, I can't guarantee you'll like what you see.

I went to see THE DARK TOWER so you wouldn't have to [a review]:

Last weekend, I saw Atomic Blonde (I know this is a review for The Dark Tower, hang with me for a minute).

Atomic Blonde was rated R as it should have been. If you're not in America, R means the movie is for mature audiences only. Atomic Blonde lived up to every one of my expectations, and when it comes out on DVD, I'm going to buy it so I can watch it again.

When I saw The Dark Tower was rated as PG-13, I lowered my expectations for the film, and here's why:

The Dark Tower novels were brutal, just as brutal, if not more so, than the story in Atomic Blonde. Susannah's story-line alone is horrific and that is all before she ever lands in Roland's world. The PG-13 rating said that the studio wanted a movie directed toward preteens and marketing and games and toys and that is precisely what the movie is. 

Being an urban fantasy does NOT make it a bad movie. I imagine a lot of the younger members of the audience enjoyed it immensely. As a matter of fact, from a story perspective, it was a very good movie. It simply bears only a passing resemblance to the novels.

Idris Elba as Roland was the best part. If you want to go and support this movie so that you see him in more leading roles, your money won't be wasted. He captured Roland's gravitas and his rare moments of amusement. While Elba gave the most nuanced performance in the film, his co-star Tom Taylor was also excellent as Jake Chambers. He and Elba had a lovely chemistry that really carried the film.

And while the film worked as a coming of age story, the movie failed for fans of the series, because The Dark Tower is really about Roland, not Jake. By changing the protagonist from Roland to Jake, the horror is replaced by wonder, and it's all sort of like the Wizard of Oz, but with gunslingers and creepy monsters and the Man in Black.

King gave Satan/Death a corporeal form in the Man in Black, and in doing so, he gave flesh to the evil that walks among us. The movie gives us the Man in Black as a Cruella de Vil caricature intent on slaughtering preteens instead of puppies. Somehow I never imagined the Man in Black to be quite that organized and operating from a command central. His was always a more subtle menace as the chaos that wanders among us. The movie robs him of that role, and in doing so, gives Matthew McConaughey's character very little to do other than walk around and be nasty to people.

If they ever do an R version of The Dark Tower and have McConaughey reprise the role, I'll be on the front row, popcorn in hand.

The plot proceeded smoothly from point to point, sometimes too smoothly. I never felt a great deal of tension, but the cast was great, and I was never bored. There was a lot of shooting; however, I found the violence in Wonder Woman to be far more intense than anything I experienced in The Dark Tower. There was also a nice little nod to Pennywise about midway through, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, coming soon to a theater near you. 

Overall, I enjoyed The Dark Tower movie as a light urban fantasy. However, if you're looking for something with guts, read the books.