Eligibility post 2017 for "Every Hair Casts a Shadow"

Everyone is wrapping up the year with eligibility posts, so I thought I would do one as well. For the record, I don't consider my works to be award worthy.  My goal is to write entertaining stories that give people relief from their everyday cares. Before umbrage erupts across the cybersphere, I don't mean to imply that award-winning stories aren't entertaining, they often are, but they also contain an extra layer or two of a message pertinent to the time in which they are written. My stories tend to move on more personal rather than universal themes if that makes any sense at all.

With all that said, my only published story in 2017 was the Los Nefilim story "Every Hair Casts a Shadow," and it was published in the anthology Evil is a Matter of Perspective.

The guidelines for Evil is a Matter of Perspective were very specific. The editors wanted a story that used an antagonist from an existing series, and the story had to be told through the antagonist's point of view. Given that antagonists are usually the silent motivators behind most stories, the task was much harder than I initially thought it would be, especially with a word limit of seven thousand words.

I considered several antagonists for the job. A lot of people wanted to see Prieto--snarky angel for the win--but I chose Alvaro, because his stakes are higher. I can't say more without spoilers, but the upshot of it all is that Alvaro lost big in the first three novellas of the series. He is a grandfather who wants his grandson Rafael to be raised in the daimons' ancient traditions. His antagonist is Diago, who wants Rafael to turn his back on those traditions.

The story is set at the height of the Spanish Civil War during the May Days of 1937. The setting was a deliberate choice on my part, because that particular conflict showed a city at war with itself, much as families can be in conflict with one another.

One thing I didn't have either the time or the words to explain in the story is a little about the events. Until this particular conflict in Barcelona, there was an uneasy alliance between the Unified Socialist Party (PSUC), the Estat Catalàt, and the Workers' committees (the Communist Party), all of whom were united against Franco's Nationalists.

For those who don't know anything about Barcelona, La Rambla is the wide avenue that divides the city. This dividing line was exceptionally important during the May Days of 1937, because the Unified Socialist Party (PSUC) and the Estat Català controlled the urban sectors east of the Rambla while the Workers' committees dominated everything to the west. 

To cross from one side of La Rambla to the other placed one in enemy territory. That is why Alvaro's crossing of La Rambla--literally crossing from one faction to the other--symbolizes how important it is to him to bring Rafael to his heritage. As a matter of fact, it is in this story that Alvaro utters one of the most heart-felt lines I've ever written for him when he warns Diago: “Don’t make my mistakes. Don’t instill in him [Rafael] the angels’ prejudices against the daimons. Don’t teach him to hate the colors of his soul.”

It was the closest Alvaro has ever come to apologizing to Diago and a genuine plea for him to step back and examine his motives. So if you look at one way, "Every Hair Casts a Shadow" is a generational story of a grandfather who wants to teach his grandson about his heritage over the father's objections.

Or it's a story about an evil daimon trying to subvert a young man to the dark side of life.

It all depends on your perspective.

Special thanks to Adrian Collins and the editors at Grimdark Magazine for giving me the opportunity to write for the anthology. It was a great deal of fun to do.

We deserve Wonder Woman

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The best part of Wonder Woman is the theme, which I didn't see a lot of people talking about over the summer. I could be wrong, or have missed the posts, but having re-watched the movie with captions, I picked up several things on the second viewing that I missed on the first, and the best part for me was the overall theme of the movie.

I know, I know, you don't need no stinkin' themes in your fiction.

But for me, themes are the best part of a work, especially one as layered as Wonder Woman. If you have a chance to watch it again, note how many times the word "deserve" shows up throughout the dialogue.

It starts at the beginning when Diana's mother tells her that the world doesn't deserve her. It's not something that is hammered home, but Patty Jenkins gives subtle nods to the idea of deserving help or getting what one deserves in clever ways.

The guys even make a joke of it during a toast:

Charlie: May we get what we want...

Steve: ...and may we get what we need...

Sameer: ...but may we never get what we deserve.

Then we reach the end when Diana is disheartened because she believes she's failed to kill Ares and stop the war. She echoes her mother's refrain that the world of men doesn't deserve the Amazons or their help, that the world doesn't deserve Diana.

That's when Steve tells her that giving help, or doing the right thing, isn't about "deserve," it's not about blame. It's about what we believe.

That is the concept that saves Diana in the end. When Ares echoes Diana's mother's words that world doesn't deserve her, Diana tells him that it isn't about "deserve." It's about what we believe, and Diana believes in love.

And love ... well love is patient and kind. It doesn't engage in self-seeking, nor does it boast, because love is not proud. Love does not exult in evil. Love seeks and honors the truth. Like Diana, love protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.

If we believe in love, we can drive back the darkness and change the world.

That is the message of empowerment that Wonder Woman gives us.

It's a great movie and one of the finest examples of good storytelling that I've seen in a long time. If you haven't seen it, I hope you will. 

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.