If you drew up a list of what makes a heroine truly badass, could you define it strictly in bullet points?
Or would it be some kind of sloppy nonsense? Would you say “oh it’s just some kind of je ne sais quois?
Authors who write characters like that tend to work hard to balance strengths and flaws in their heroes. Believe it or not. Undoubtedly there are authors who have no trouble simply creating a character that’s going to be amazing without even thinking twice, while others labor over the traits that will make their character likable, real, admirable, and yet tough and strong all at the same time.
In a world of Instagram influencers and what appears to be absolute perfection at first glance, one thing that always gets to me is how it’s the imperfect that creates interesting people. Perfection is daunting and unapproachable. There’s nothing there to grab hold of and fall in love with. It’s cold, unsympathetic, and unfriendly.
The struggles in life create wrinkles and scars—they show how a person overcame something in the past and likely developed strength from an obstacle. A face with crow’s feet, a slightly crooked nose from a fight as a kid, a tiny blemish from a skateboarding accident on a person’s chin—all those things create a story in a face, in the eyes.
Like that freaking awesome song by Survivor, “I Can’t Hold Back.” And I can’t. I’m smitten, immediately, by stories in other people.
Anyway, look, I know it’s a stretch. But great songs deserve to be dropped anywhere they can be.
So, in my spare time, ha, I put together a list from trustworthy authors who’ve created tough female protagonists. These ladies kick some kind of ass, while also keeping that certain something which makes them approachable and gorgeous in that specific way we love as readers. There’s nothing like getting to know a character from the inside out that’s so unique to reading.
There’s enough here that if you’ve checked out some of these books, try one of the others! I pulled the blurbs from each book’s Amazon description. Click the cover to go to the Amazon store!
They thought they could destroy House Sinister for good, but they weren’t expecting Evangeline…
Evangeline was living a great life in the Badlands as a Guard at House Sinister, but her world is shattered when three rival Houses attack. She’s forced to watch as her mentor and father figure is slaughtered.
His dying command: The House must survive at all costs.
She escapes to the upperworld, landing her in the middle of Los Angeles, where she possesses the body of a wealthy philanthropist.
Too bad she catches the eye of the Black Ops Paranormal Police Department. In exchange for keeping her identity a secret, she agrees to work for the undercover organization.
There are killers hunting for her, and the PPD is putting her life on the line daily, but rage is on her side. All she has to do is survive one year and then she can bring honor back to House Sinister. Besides, it’ll give her the chance to kill a handful of the vicious bastards, and that’s a perk she’ll gladly embrace.
When that year is up, though, Evangeline will return to the Badlands with her two best friends: Pain and Death.
Kate Daniels is a down-on-her-luck mercenary who makes her living cleaning up magical problems. But when Kate’s guardian is murdered, her quest for justice draws her into a power struggle between two strong factions within Atlanta’s magic circles. Pressured by both sides to find the killer, Kate realizes she’s way our of her league—but she wouldn’t want it any other way…
Don’t kidnap a weretiger unless you’re ready to have your ass kicked…
Bethany Black is a rookie cop in the New York Paranormal Police Department (PPD). She’s fast as hell, tougher than nails, and she’s got no problem with blowing up stuff.
She also turns into a ferocious tiger when she gets sufficiently pissed off.
New York City is where the supernatural mob snagged its foothold back in the day. Goblins had poured in from the Netherworld and taught locals how to properly manage the criminal climate. They sold protection, rattled cages, and raked their fingers across the back of honest society.
It took years and tons of Paranormal Police Department officers to gain back control.
But now the city is on the brink of falling apart.
The PPD lost half its uniformed cops during an all-out war with a nasty mage, and the latest mob boss is looking to capitalize.
Translation: Blood, blood, and a bit more blood.
Too bad the mafia decided to kidnap Bethany’s best friend. He’s only one of two remaining weretigers in existence. She’s the other.
Remember what happens when Bethany gets pissed off?
Yeah, well, she’s seriously pissed off…
If there’s one thing I hate more than anything, it’s the undead.
So, just my luck that I’ve got a ghost living rent-free inside my head…
When I was just a kid, my parents were sacrificed by a necromancer. I survived. Barely.
But, the ordeal left me hating two things – necromancers and the undead they bring into the world.
Fast forward years later and I’ve been possessed by a ghost! But, Treth of Concord isn’t just any ordinary ghost. He’s proud, chivalrous and a knight from another world.
Now, with his counsel and some cheap swords I bought on the internet, I hunt the undead of Hope City. For honour, for vengeance, and maybe just a hefty bounty.
My name is Kat Drummond, and I’m a Part-Time Monster Hunter.
I’m Val Thorvald, and I’m an assassin.
When magical bad guys hurt people, I take care of them. Permanently.
This doesn’t make me popular with the rest of the magical community—as you can tell from the numerous break-ins and assassination attempts I’ve endured over the years. But thanks to my half-elven blood, a powerful sword named Chopper, and a telepathic tiger with an attitude, I’ve always been able to handle my problems with aplomb. Maybe some cursing and swearing, too, but definitely aplomb.
That changes when my boss is afflicted with a mysterious disease, a government agent starts investigating me, and a godforsaken dragon shows up in the middle of my latest job.
I’ve taken down vampires, zombies, and ogres, but dragons are way, way more powerful. And it doesn’t look like this one is going to like me.
Worse than that, he wants to use his magic to compel me to do his bidding, as if I’m some weak-minded minion.
That’s not going to happen. I’d die before being some dragon’s slave.
But if I can’t figure out a way to avoid him, save my boss, and get rid of the government spook, I’m screwed. Or dead. Or screwed and dead. And that’s never comfortable.
When my magic manifested at puberty, my parents sold me to the Illuminati. The Order of the Illuminati trained me as an assassin, spy, and thief. But when they sent me to steal a magical artifact that reveals Truth in all things, I discovered that I was working for the Dark and not the Light. The Illuminati trained me well, and paid the ultimate price for their deception.
Thousands of miles away, I landed a job in a quirky little bar. But the scattered remnants of the Order still strive for world domination, and no one leaves the Illuminati alive.
Mercy Thompson is a shapeshifter, and while she was raised by werewolves, she can never be one of them, especially after the pack ran her off for having a forbidden love affair. So she’s turned her talent for fixing cars into a business and now runs a one-woman mechanic shop in the Tri-Cities area of Washington State.
But Mercy’s two worlds are colliding. A half-starved teenage boy arrives at her shop looking for work, only to reveal that he’s a newly changed werewolf—on the run and desperately trying to control his animal instincts. Mercy asks her neighbor Adam Hauptman, the Alpha of the local werewolf pack, for assistance.
But Mercy’s act of kindness has unexpected consequences that leave her no choice but to seek help from those she once considered family—the werewolves who abandoned her…
Cold-blooded kidnappers. Long-lost magic. When things get serious, she goes full Sherlock.
Ashira Cohen takes pride in being the only female private investigator in Vancouver. With her skills, her missing persons case should be a piece of cake.
She wasn’t counting on getting bashed in the skull, revealing a hidden tattoo and supernatural powers she shouldn’t possess.
Or the bitter icing on top: a spree of abductions and terrifying ghostly creatures on a deadly bender.
And don’t even get her started on the golems.
Reluctantly partnered with her long-time nemesis Levi, the infuriating leader of the magic community, Ash resolves to keep her focus on the clue trail and off their sexual tension because WTF is up with that?
But with a mastermind organization pulling strings from the shadows and Levi’s arrogance driving her to pick out his body bag, can Ash rescue the captives and uncover the truth or will the next blood spilled be her own?
How tacky, that I put my own book in here! Who does that?!
It’s because I really felt that space opera needed representation in this list…
Cue the blurb.
She just got out of prison…but that doesn’t mean she’s free.
The City of Jade Spires might look utopian, but it’s certainly no paradise. Just ask Holly Drake, a schoolteacher in prison for killing her husband.
Serving an unfair sentence sucks, but at least she’s safe. That is, until someone exonerates her and she walks free. She has no idea who’d do this for her, until they reveal their hand: they have a job for Holly.
Recognizing her old life is over, she has no other choice. If only she knew how to steal a priceless jewel about to be moved off-planet. But as the screws tighten on her need for cash she remembers just who to ask.
With only days to assemble her crew, she races to stay ahead. The question is: how far across the 6 Moons system will they have to go, and how deep will they have to dig into the underbelly of their world to succeed?
More importantly, can they even pull this off before time runs out?
I just looked through these titles again and they’re almost all urban fantasy. Welp. What are you going to do? The ladies rule in UF.
But, just to twist things up a bit, next week I’ll highlight the genre-bending male leads in urban fantasy! It’ll be epic!
Space opera with badass female leads never gets enough love. Well, maybe what I should say is that it needs more love from me.
So I wanted to highlight a selection of books from authors who’ve done female protagonists who really own it as leaders.
The sole exception to the female lead thing is Empire Reborn, which features a male lead, but I wanted to include the book here, because as of now, it’s a new release, and I know AK Duboff’s books are excellent.
Everything on this list is well-reviewed, so at the very least, it’d be a great idea to download the sample and see how you like it, then buy the whole book when you’re hooked and feel like the premise will deliver!
Oh, and don’t forget to enter my giveaway! Go here to enter!
Karin Makos lives a lie. Genetically engineered from birth and raised in a scientific compound to gain unnatural powers, she has since escaped and built another life, hidden from those who created her. For her, the chance to pilot a small-time scrounging vessel to remote corners of space is the dream. After years on the run with her sister and enduring the constant paranoia of living planet-side, going off-radar gives her exactly what she wants: freedom.
That dream is shattered.
A system-wide attack decimates humanity and leaves the survivors scraping for clues. And Karin might know where to look.
But digging into her past comes with a whole new set of secrets and consequences, none of which she wants to face. Plagued by strange dreams of her sister and a sense of growing danger, Karin and the crew of the Nemina must race desperately across space to find their loved ones—and answers.
Jason Sietinen lives in the shadow of greatness. He’s worked hard to become a TSS officer in his own right, but having war heroes for parents is hard to top.
When Jason is assigned to investigate a mysterious attack, he finds evidence of powerful transdimensional beings never before seen. Or so he thought.
Jason soon learns that critical information was lost through the millennia: Tarans had an ancient treaty with the aliens. Unfortunately, rogue actions by a shadow faction within the Empire just broke the peace.
Rudely yanked from cryo-sleep to find herself among a crew of modded humans in deep space, and on a burning spaceship, no less, Daisy’s world just got a whole lot more complicated. And it was only going to get worse.
As if the creepy cyborg and the mechanically-enhanced human crew weren’t bad enough, what was supposed to be a simple flight home to Earth was going horribly wrong. A deadly plot was unfolding. One that could jeopardize the entire human race. And Daisy found herself stuck in the middle
It wasn’t her job, saving the world, and she sure as hell didn’t want it. But the tough young woman didn’t have a choice. But with Daisy reluctantly coming to the rescue, did humanity even stand a chance?
After a soldier is left for dead, Eva Delgado’s life begins to unravel.
The truth of what happened remains a mystery, and the government will stop at nothing to keep it buried.
Together with the unit’s medic, Eva finds herself branded a terrorist and enemy of the State, hunted by two opposing governments.
When the pair uncover a plot that could have ramifications for the whole galaxy, they know they have to act, but it will take all of their training, cunning and just a bit of luck to do what no one else has achieved.
But what do you do when every secret begets another? And how far will you go to find the answers?
On a lost world, far removed from Earth, a group of humans struggle to survive.
Two thousand years after their ancestors lost control of a hidden genetics research facility, the descendants of mankind have been reduced to a tribe of two hundred survivors. They fight, kill, and die in an endless cycle, all in the hope that things will get better.
Lucia is one of these colonists and the daughter of the tribe’s leader, the Director. Together with several other candidates, she must soon undergo a trial to decide her father’s replacement. The winner will shape the future of the entire colony.
She will need to survive monsters while searching darkened tunnels for Cores to win, but making through each day is hard enough.
Forget winning the trial. The real challenge is staying alive.
Sera leads a simple life.
A little smuggling, some drinking contests, and captaining her star freighter, Sabrina. But when she picks up a mysterious shipping container on Coburn Station, things begin to go wrong. She finds herself at odds with The Mark, a dangerous pirate organization that wants the cargo on her ship.
Inside the container she not only finds a woman, but a secret thought lost millennia ago. The woman is Tanis Richards, and she knows the location of the Intrepid, a missing colony ship from humanity’s golden age.
Sera knows how to help Tanis and the Intrepid. But to do that, she will need to reveal a secret that will pull her back into a life she left long ago. A life from which she was exiled in shame and disgrace.
Have I gone mad? Escape the beach in a book? Who would even?!
I know. I know. Call me crazy, but reading and the beach go together like tequila, triple sec, and lime juice (and salt, for sassy people, like me!). So if you’re going to do it, do it with the right books. Why read something boring when you could be out in space or fighting vampires, while you soak up the sun between dips in the water?
In a few days, I’ll be on the beach, and I’ll be reading from this list. Trust me. I’ve already started a couple of them (and they’re good!). I usually have about 3-4 books going at once and the best ones win!
No, it’s more mood based than that. So, that was a little joke for competitive people like myself.
That’s the part about writing as my job that I love–reading is “work.” WORK! Ha! Life-hack.
I’m currently in the middle of this one. I dig it. For fun, I recently looked at the reviews on Amazon and laughed that someone complained that it’s like the Kate Daniels books. Then they cited a bunch of mythology tropes as though proof that Breene copied the Ilona Andrews team.
I guess no one can ever write stories now with similar tropes in them because of Kate Daniels! Everyone else go home! Stop writing, fools.
Ha. Yes, well, I haven’t read Kate Daniels yet, but the sheer brute force of the fans is daunting.
But I like the style of this one. I love that Reagan isn’t a wilting flower, or an overly girly girl. She wears leather and I haven’t had to endure even one scene where she looks in the mirror to describe her dress for three paragraphs and how the color accentuates her amber curls.
I like the way the book is built, giving equal attention to character and action. Reagan isn’t comically overpowered and struggles to win battles.
And ultimately, I dig her vibe. Would have drinks in a bar with her. My newest form of rating. 😉
Read the first, loved it and have really really wanted to immediately dive into the second. But I had other things I needed to read first.
From the first, I can say that I dig both leads, including the pirate Tenebris. I know that Buroker meticulously creates her storylines and worlds, so I basically know what I’m going to get and chances are, I’ll love it.
Would have drinks with Casmir, and likely the smuggler Han Solo type character (but we might get in a fight!). But mainly Casmir. I’d probably scare him, but he’s so gentle I’d never know.
Started this a few weeks ago and had to put it on hold. Kingsolver’s voice is a lot like Breene’s in the Born of Fire, where the chick is a no-frills badass type.
So, this is just a personal preference. While I can fully hang with the Anne Shirley, Jane Austen female-character types, there is something I struggle with in certain Urban Fantasy heroines. I still haven’t put my finger on it.
Maybe it’s the overwrought prose or where I’m bludgeoned over the head with talk of just how cutesy these ladies are, you know, even though they go around kicking vampire butt, they STILL love to don the evening gown and be the center of all the male attention.
I want to punch them. It’s me. Not them.
And no, I don’t feel that way at all about Lizzie, Emma, or Anne Shirley.
And I didn’t feel that way about the protagonist in this book. She’s cool. So far. Would have a drink with her. Probably…
So, I know what I’m going to get in a Logsdon book. Strong writing that carries me along at satisfying clip, together with settings that don’t confuse me, plus an exciting story with jokes and twists I don’t see coming.
Also, I’ve heard about this character a ton from several people (including the author) and so I want to sample the wares. Also, the gun on the cover is pretty sweet. I wonder what it is?! I almost want to say a 1911, but the cut of the barrel doesn’t look familiar.
Oh, just looked it up. It’s totally a Desert Eagle. Damn. Of course Ian Dex has the biggest caliber handgun around. What a man, what a mighty fine man (sung like Salt ‘N Peppa). Laughing emoji. I wonder what he’s compensating for? Hmm. Laughing with tears emoji (have I overdone this joke?).
Not sure about drinks with this guy yet. Probably? With a gun like that… well… is he safe?
This one is burning to be read. I finished book 7 and was pretty distraught and a bit too emotionally drained to dive right into 8.
I feel an incredible amount of loyalty for the characters and the storyline, and in the end, that will outweigh the apprehension that’s gnawing at my peace. Why is it being gnawed at? I don’t know. A lot of destruction. Stuff I didn’t see coming at the end of book 7 (even though that was the first book I’d read in the series…crazy story, that. So this was my second read).
I was a bit sapped at the end and felt a smidgeon of indignation (killer band name!) for how it all went down. That’s a good thing, right? Because it means that the author has kicked so much ass through seven books that my heart was shredded at the end and yet I still want to keep reading.
I think that’s what it all means. I love the adventure and look forward to the challenge of overcoming the messes made in 7. Would have two drinks with Kane and Rebel, together. Or separately. Lancelot too.
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I’ve been reading a lot lately–almost as much as I did in college as a literature major!–and have developed many, many, many opinions. And what do we do with opinions? Share them! Right?
So basically, I’m throwing out four great reads that really slay it in any of the following places: on the bus, on the train, poolside, or on a long flight.
I’m about to go on a long flight, myself, so I’ll probably come back with even MORE great reads, and I guarantee I’ll be reading books in these series or by these authors (+ more!).
Let’s get started!
Should it be PNR? I don’t know, and I’m on book 8, so…
What I do know is you should read it if you enjoy any of the following shows and the tension between the leads: Warehouse 13, Bones, and probably Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I’ve never watched it, but I hear that the banter and tension resembles what’s in that show). There’s globe-trotting, vampires, epic fight scenes, and hunting for answers that are usually just out of reach.
Point is, this series is damn fun. The main POV is that of Kane Arkwright who is funny as hell. I don’t remember which book it’s in, but I’ll never forget this one line where Kane drops onto the back of a flying vampire like “a really good-looking anvil.”
An anvil! I don’t know, it just made me laugh out loud.
Kane’s easy to love though arrogant, and he looks out for his friends and nurses a crush on his partner, Rebel, and so there’s basically nothing I want more for Kane than for him to ONE DAY LAND Rebel.
I know that sounds not very romantic, and maybe a bit shoddy of me, but they’re just the facts. I have this sneaking suspicion that the author will never let that happen…
This one comes out of the gates of hell at full speed. But also, at this nice, emotionally fulfilling pace. The main protagonist quickly brings us into her world, which is not ours–but rather a version of the underworld where succubi and other sundry creatures live and compete for supremacy.
Logsdon’s writing is sleek and to the point, with well wrought scenes that keep both halves of your psyche engaged–we get the emotional sphere of the female lead as well as her no-nonsense action. She’s never overpowered and knows what she’s up against, but her wits keep her alive, which benefits all of us.
Also, it’s hilarious.
You’ll just have to. I didn’t want to, I’ll be honest. I was hoping to stick to one POV in this superb entry point into the Star Kingdom universe, but unfortunately Buroker is a master and I ended up loving both POV characters.
Both the aging (and full of aches and old war-wounds) scrappy female smuggler, and the mild-mannered robotics engineer are excellent characters. I just have to say, damn.
As I think about how this one worked me over again, surprise, I’m smitten once more. Buroker is skilled at starting at two points and setting up the entire story to work perfectly as the two seemingly unrelated storylines come together.
I may have given away too much already, but I really dug the world building in this and the galactic tension she’s set up. I have no idea where it’s going to go, but I’ve got book 2 queued up and can’t wait to dive in.
…with no hope on the horizon. Oh wait, getting out of jail when she expected at least five more years, that’s kind of hopeful.
Ok, so yes, I’m recommending my own book. I know. It’s very classy. That’s how I live. This series is space opera, but it’s also the origin of a found-family. Holly Drake is basically starting from scratch. She needs a new career, new friends, and maybe someday a new lover (will she, won’t she…hmm, what will it be?!).
A job that could help her falls in her lap, but now she’s got to put together a crew to run a heist. How the hell does one pull off a heist? She’s about to learn.
Check them out! And look, if you choose any from this list, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
There are entire universes out there, waiting to be discovered. Is that why we read? Escape? To learn how others see the world? To vicariously experience more than we could ever conceivably live in just one lifetime?
For me, there are so many reasons. One is to fall in love, to explore the mind of another, and in doing that learn more about myself. It is the ultimate exploration, a journey of the interior. Why do YOU read?
If you’ve tried out any of these books, do let me know in the comments! And leave your recommendations for me there, if you’ve got something you think I should check out!
My website is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to products on amazon.com. The amount I earn from your purchases is fractions of pennies.
Before he died, Calvin—my dad—made these two…vases, I guess you’d call them. I have three, and there are more scattered among my sisters and maybe among people I don’t know—I didn’t really move in his circles, or know if he even had circles.
Looking at them, they’re probably not that impressive. But here’s why I think they’re amazing aside from the fact that my dad made them.
I’m not suggesting that the jaws of art critics will drop, though once I did get the opinion of an NYC based art critic on them because I thought that would be cool.
He said they’re worth millions.
Judging from his art, maybe Calvin felt too much (and maybe isn’t that something that defines artists?). I hardly knew him—my mom divorced him when I was 9 and we grew apart. But I think I know that thing about him—that he was passionate and longed to create beautiful art. And when I look at what he made, I realize things about him and I wish I could talk to him about that stuff.
On a factual level, I only know a few things about Calvin Grotepas. Like, his birthdate, and so his astrological sign. Cancer, if you’re wondering, a water sign. Water signs hide depths and hidden worlds and I know that brands me as into woo or something to even mention it, but in my experience, birth signs impact relationships and certain signs are drawn to other signs.
His parents were immigrants—his mother was British, and his father was from the Netherlands and the man spoke very little to no English. Calvin was raised in quite poor circumstances, and paid rent beginning at the age 14.
Those things shaped him. But his passion drew him to fascinating interests. He admired the work of Henry Moore, and probably other sculptors, but I remember Moore because Calvin took me to an exhibit at the U of U to see his work.
I was super little and only remember trying to pay attention and make him proud of me for being so attentive and interested in his interests.
When I was older, he spent a lot of his time throwing pottery on the wheel and attempting to fuse a wheel thrown style with sculpture. He did loads of bronze casts of sculptures and the forms he conceptualized there would also end up as handles on lids of wheel thrown pots.
At some point, his muscles began to deteriorate. His pinky finger wouldn’t bend, so it would cut through the pots as he threw them and ruin his work. I still remember the day he told me, years after the fact. Those were the things he bore alone and I look back and wish things could have been different for him.
If you’ve ever thrown on a wheel, you’ll understand how disastrous an uncooperative finger could be, and that it would mean an end to the experience altogether.
What was happening? He eventually discovered that he had a very rare muscle wasting disease likely catalyzed by lithium treatments for his mental illness.
But he didn’t give up creating.
Even when he could no longer follow that specific passion, he transferred it to a new way of building the forms he loved.
Hand-built pots take patience. I’ve only dabbled in clay a bit—courses in junior high, high school, and college—but I know enough to know that any weight bearing component of a piece must dry enough to support new layers.
There’s something organic, alive, and patient about these vases. They’re built layer on layer, slowly. I never got to ask him how long it took to make one. I wish I had.
What’s even more surprising about these vases, is how light they are in relation to how large—some are at least one cat-length! To me they suggest waves and growth, movement, and they breathe as though they were thrown, but no, they were formed by hand. Pressed together, molded and shaped over long periods of time.
I’m not a specialist in art, let alone sculpture, but I look at the periods of Cal’s creative life and I believe he reached his peak when he began to make these vases. Hitting that peak, even at the moment when his power had been blunted, required a lifetime of mastering previous lessons and principles related to clay and working with it.
If the road had been easy, if he’d not been forced to give up the wheel, if his body had cooperated forever till he died, he’d have never uncovered the genius and beauty that lay within him, dormant.
It required a new path, one that was found when there was no other way to go, when he’d been robbed of his comforts and was forced to find a new method to still do what he loved.
I have so many regrets about my dad. But I’m pleased to have these pieces of him scattered around my house, reminders of what was hidden within him, the beautiful parts of his soul that were blocked from both of us by pain and sorrow.
In coming to these realizations about him, I’ve also come to understand the complexity of humans, and most especially my parents—the people we tend to expect to be perfect when we’re children.
As a general rule and in my view, people are confusing and hard, though I always tend to love them. I want them to speak my language and meet me on my terms, but often the only way to hear them is on THEIR terms and by learning their language…sculpture, pottery, and science fiction were my dad’s languages.
And I hear him.
I think I do, anyway. And ultimately, I just think these vases are super cool. And everyone should see them.
Grief is weird.
I don’t even know how to handle it. Does anyone?
I’ve never said the words “gallows humor” more in my life than I have the past two weeks. I’ve never laughed more through tears as I have in the past few days.
I don’t cry much. I explained why a month or two ago to my friend Lindsay–allergies are the bane of my existence. I get itchy eyes and a runny nose all year long from cats, dogs, ragweed, pollen, mold, dust mites, insert some random thing here…but my eyes and nose also will mistake tears for an allergic response and just turn into a full blown allergy ATTACK.
Attack makes it sound so much more violent! I love it.
In response, Lindsay said, “So you’re saying you’re allergic to crying.”
Astute observation, my friend. Very astute, indeed.
I laughed. She had me. Yes, I’m allergic to crying.
So anyway. Not my norm.
I wasn’t even going to share this. But another friend who is also an author mentioned that I should. And it fits. Because the man I’m about to tell you about was my biggest fan.
He read everything I ever wrote, even this one shitty story I wrote as a 12-year-old and carefully “hid” along the side of my desk in a pile of other papers. Hidden in plain sight, as it were.
He wasn’t supposed to read that story. Why did he go rummaging through my things? I was pissed. He said it was good. He was forgiven a little.
The last story I gave away to my newsletter subscribers, “Cry Olly Oxen Free,” well, he adored it. He read through earlier drafts and helped me work out some of the details. And improved it mightily, I might add.
The stuff about the substation was particularly guided by him, because he was a power engineer and designed substations. He thought that was my best short story yet. I don’t disagree.
Often, growing up, I just wanted to get away from home to get away from my parents, and him sometimes a lot, because he loved to always be working on a project in his shop, and he ALWAYS, WITHOUT FAIL, needed an assistant.
If I heard the shop door open, the best thing I could do (and my sisters as well), was make myself scarce. Otherwise I’d be stuck for at LEAST ten minutes holding the damn solder while he soldered two wires together, to make some broken, crap appliance work again.
Yes, very classy of me. And not selfish at all.
I know a little about a lot of things because of him. He was annoying and beautiful and happy and funny, and unabashedly himself.
All those things people say about other people–oh yeah, that’s an annoying trait that that person has, but it’s the thing you’d miss about them once they’re gone–is true.
He’s the epitome of that, that sense of oh damn I’m going to murder him because he sings “Sherry” so loud and hits those high notes (somehow) and is so proud of it, or he has to carry a snack size Ziploc full of Pero into the breakfast diner and ask for a tea kettle of hot water, oh it’s so embarrassing…
That’s him. And he was my step dad. And he died July 14th.
And it was sudden as hell.
One week I’d heard he’d been admitted to the hospital 4 hours away.
I could have driven down to see him, but I put it off (because they weren’t sure what was wrong with him or how long he had, but they were projecting maybe four months).
The next time I saw him, he’d declined to the point of being in a wheelchair, sleeping on morphine, mere minutes from death.
I hugged him a ton. He could understand and hear me. I told him I was sorry I’d been a brat on Mother’s Day, the last time we’d talked. And he was the best dad that I never deserved.
He tried to tell me that I used the F-word too much in my books.
Can you believe that? He was trying to trap me into some kind of deathbed promise! The gall…
I laughed. He smiled his notorious smile.
I told him I took most of them out, anyway.
He said something like, “You’re creating a reality…”
And then he was too tired to keep speaking.
Tonight I realized that he was the best dad I could have asked for. I always called him my step-dad. It’s something I guess I started as a ten year old and never let go of. This little thing I could control.
But he was my dad. He was there for me always, no questions asked. I could call him for advice about anything and I did, regularly. Dad things. Like what the hell is going on with these light bulbs I’m trying to buy (he knew lots about lighting)? Why is my car making this noise? My car broke down, I need help! This cop confiscated my truck when they gave me a ticket, and it’s your truck, can you come help me?
He walked me down the aisle. He was there lickity split to see my two babies.
The last thing I could write for him, was his obituary. I didn’t anticipate writing it for him when he was only 70. He just barely buried his father. I thought my dad would live to be at least 90 himself.
I think I could sit here and list forever the things he did for me, all that he taught me, how easily he loved me and became the father I needed and never once made me feel like I wasn’t his kid.
So. When he asked to be buried in a pine box and carried to the cemetery in an old truck, I thought, “That’s just like him. So dramatic!”
Can’t he just get buried in one of those elegant shiny things lined with silk?…but then I saw the actual elegance of the casket he’d asked for. It’s plain and understated and well made. Beautiful. A fitting resting place for him. Funerals in the time of covid are strange and awkward, but it made me extra grateful for the people who showed up to say goodbye.
Unless, of course, what the author meant with that song is: life doesn’t get easier. You just get better at handling the absolute hell of it.
That’s TOTALLY what they meant. It has to be, right?
I can’t figure out why, but I feel less prepared now to handle just about everything than I felt ten years ago.
Maybe it’s Time. Maybe it’s a few things acting all together at once. You know, like a perfect storm? Late thirties, early forties should be called Hell on Wheels and Life’s Perfect Crap-Storm.
At the age I am now, I fully expected to have a decent grasp on everything that mattered. Instead, I feel frayed and shredded by life.
Life, they say, is a paper shredder and we are the vessel that passes through it.
They don’t say that, but they should.
I keep thinking about “Oooo Child” and singing it as I manage all the storms life is throwing at me. I am more unsettled internally than I have ever been in all my life. And I had some trauma as a kid. I mean, who didn’t?
I would think that childhood shit would have set me up to laugh in the face of my mom’s burgeoning dementia, the impending doomsday scenarios the world keeps SHOVING down my throat (the corals are bleaching, fires in Australia!, penguins are murdering each other, doom, doom, doom!), and my own approaching obsolescence just hanging out there on the horizon of my future, threatening me with a smarmy grin on its face (that JERK!).
Instead, I’m feeling like filing a lawsuit against the Five Stairsteps and suing their asses off for writing that song and poisoning the public with its happy message of patience and confidence for what the future will bring.
I mean, HOW DARE THEY?
Honestly, the poison they’ve filled me with is so bad that when my own kids are feeling like life is unjust and why aren’t they free to eat cereal and Top Ramen for EVERY meal, I want to break into song to them, “Ooooh child, things are gonna get easier…”
Why does mom force healthy meals full of vegetables and love on them every damn day? “Oooh child things will get brighter…”
Why must we go to tumbling? Why do you force us into that torture chamber known politely as “public school?”
“Someday, yeah, we’ll put it together and we’ll get it all done. Someday when your head is much lighter. Someday we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun! Someday when the world is much brighter!”
That’s what I want to do, just sing those lines to them.
But it’s lies. That’s all. I just, at this point, I see it all as a disservice.
Instead, when my kids complain, I should play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for them, and let them explore the doom that modern life actually consists of.
Because it ISN’T going to get better. It’s going to get worse. And won’t Moonlight Sonata will just facilitate the pensive, moodiness that realizations like that require?
Can I always just blame The Crud? Even when it ends?
I think that’s fair. Much like Millie Vanilli’s old advice, to blame it on the rain, I will blame it on The Crud (remember Milli? They were ROBBED!), and other environmental events unrelated to my actual state of mind and personal issues.
So there we go–I will blame it on a phase, and on The Crud, and NOT file a suit against the Five Stairsteps. They’ve been saved! They have no idea how close they came to my dangerous machinations…. bahahaha!
I mean, I think their song was right, right? Ok, so I’ve talked myself out of that frivolous lawsuit. I think the issue really is that everything is a phase and if you can just get out of this one phase that’s plaguing you, you’ll eventually escape all the phases right up until they put you in the ground and bam! You’re done! And wasn’t that easy? Ha ha, good job, old chap!
I’ve been thinking about what makes me tick lately. And because I’m such a commoner, I figure this applies to other people all over the place.
Like people everywhere find the same things alluring that I find alluring because I guess you could say I suspect that I’m quite boring and haven’t really enjoyed the privilege of developing any fetishes. I know. Right? How drab of me.
I mean….don’t get me wrong. I’ve had some time to figure this out and if we’re being frank about it (which we are, it’s the only way to be, I’ve got no time for games), I’m a damn sapiosexual.
Now, I don’t really KNOW what that means, precisely, because I think it means a lot of things. But now that I’ve written that—about me being a sapiosexual—I’m questioning it’s validity.
I should look that up before I go swinging it around as a label that we can apply to me.
Again, time. But, I think it means that what a person finds alluring and sexy and sexual is the mind.
To me this would explain why readers can develop crushes on characters in books. Because it’s about the story that exists in a person’s head and in the head of the author who has written the story (?). Not necessarily any function of reality.
OK I just looked it up and it took me like 3 seconds. I don’t know why I was complaining about time four minutes ago, but it’s just like me to find an excuse for a simple task like that, meanwhile I can dig into writing a book that takes weeks if not months without even batting an eyelash.
Oh, by the way. Looking it up did confirm my suspicions–sapiosexual. It means a person finding intelligence sexually attractive or arousing.
I know that this doesn’t necessarily bear pointing out, but I’m going to venture into the territory anyway, if for no other reason than that I find it hilarious to state and possibly reiterate if you already noticed it. The subtext in that definition is that this means there are people who don’t care about intelligence. Maybe that’s overstating the facts. But does that mean there are people who don’t give a shit about the intelligence of the people they’re attracted to?
I find that weird.
I dated a couple guys in college who were kinda gorgeous. In fact, I wondered what the hell they were doing with me they were such ideal physical specimens of male. I know that’s funny, because I know I should have potentially seen it as complimentary and that I could interpret it to mean that I was super hot.
Instead, I simply assumed they thought I’d be easy because I was so beneath their actual level of attractiveness, so much that I’d be begging them to bed me.
Is that, what? My religious upbringing pounding shame and modesty into me so much that I can’t even accept that perhaps on some foreign plane of existence I am somewhat attractive?
I don’t know. I have no answers. I just know that the end of that story about the super hot guys was that they were dumb, I couldn’t respect them, and their brains at all, and so it lasted about a day, which is as long as a clever person can last with a person who has never managed to develop their mind or their personality.
It’s not bad. It just is. And I don’t feel like a dick for pointing it out, because we are all free to choose what aspects of ourselves we develop. Yes, we are products of our environments and so some start out better off than others. But it’s also true that many people are never hot, and so they start off lower on the totem pole of blessings of pure awesomeness from day one.
All this was meant to lead into the central idea here, which is this SUBLIME concept that I had recently conjured up in my head that the BEST love stories have a sort of gravitas to them.
Not to diminish the Romeo and Juliet love stories out there—but those kinds of stories ARE based on something naive. At some point maturity pushes us past them. And at this point in my life, I think they kind of suck. I’m sorry if that’s a brutal proposition to put out there, but kids that naively commit suicide over love are damn morons (yes, this is a story. But….a story that we have idealized!).
There are other options. Use your head. Consider alternatives. Maybe, I don’t know, put on a disguise and leave town? You are, after all, living in medieval times when it would be super easy to go off grid (there was no grid) and just blend in with a village several serfdoms away.
Someone will likely school me on how wrong I am about what I just said. That’s fine. I’m here to learn even when I’m saying stuff like I have it all figured out.
I will admit that there’s something cool about that trust of youth that love will save you and save everything and that it is worth the pointless sacrifice of everything else to get it.
Here’s the crux of what I’ve been thinking about regarding love and love stories: these days, what I admire most is the mature love story—I don’t know what else to call it, so if you have a better term, let me know. This to me is the older person finding a fire in their heart, knowing better how long life is, but still letting the flames of hope and desire awaken within. They do it willingly, almost.
So, forgive me the examples, but take Cmdr Adama and President Roslin in Battlestar Galactica, or in the Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson—Dalinar and Navani—and consider how different the choices they make are. Their love stories aren’t pure whimsy. They’re built from embers that have never gone out, fanned alive by layered emotions and mental realizations that aren’t solely dictated by instinct.
I trust these stories. The characters have survived hardship. The flames in their hearts are more like those embers I already mentioned, and not a quick bonfire that will burn itself out in a day. Their desire is borne of mutual respect as much as passion—they’re likely not just going to succumb to a whim and then wonder what drugs they were on the next day.
I know that youthful romance and sex are easily packaged and sold in books and film. They’re cake. Because beauty and ripe sexiness are easily transmitted through physical appearance as messages for everyone to understand quickly. So that is how love is communicated—sex and beauty. It’s harder to build something deep like that Roslin/Adama storyline. That takes four seasons or two 1200 page books, for Dalinar and Navani.
But I was just thinking how gorgeous it is to see stories like Adama’s and Roslin’s as a focal point in bigger stories that hammer their way into the halls of legend (possibly only the halls of legend in my own head) Was the Adama and Roslin story always meant to be a major plot point or did it grow over time, organically?
It seems that, almost as a culture, it is the youthful passions that form the template for what love is and how it’s represented in story. But I question that. I think in actuality it is the stamina and respect that the mature love story embodies that we have built the Love Story edifice upon.
This post is heavy. And raw. And I’m sorry, in a way, to share it. But hopefully you’ll forgive me! Next week will be better.
You know me. I like to joke and have fun! It’s my favorite thing to do—approach the world with a sarcastic hilarity that makes me laugh all the painful stuff off. I’m like Terry Pratchett that way (I love his approach to life and death!).
But I need to tell you all about this. Just know that you are free to skip it and do what we all do to get by: pretend that life isn’t painful.
My cat died a few days before Thanksgiving. We’ve had him for 15 years. He’s been sick and suffering for a while, but I think we hoped eventually he’d recover and be ok for a few more years.
He continued to decline. We had to face the music. You know how hard this stuff is. You know that these are the Things About Life No One Wants to Deal With.
His name was Sobek and he passed away on Monday. We buried him near where my other cat is buried (and his surrogate mother), in my childhood home (my sister bought it a few years ago and is renting it to my cousin).
It was a warm day for November in northern Utah. My daughter, Zoe, played on the jungle gym. My son helped Stoker dig the hole.
There were ghosts everywhere there, for me. Remnant memories of my childhood. Of all the animals we’d ever had funerals for as children, of my many past cats, of my mom shouting at me from the deck to put my shirt on as I played outside with my BF cousin (male, the one living in the house now), as a five-year-old. I know. Yes. I played with my shirt off. The boys did it. Why couldn’t I?
Grief is such a strange thing. I don’t understand it.
The week passed like a rough old beast that can’t be tamed. I went to work. My son went to school and called me often from his 3rd grade classroom.
Yesterday, I sat in the car as Stoker ran into a store to grab a coffee. I thumbed through a workbook the school counselor sent home for our son to use to work through his grief. It helped me understand my own.
The song “Breakers Roar” started playing. It’s this old-style country song by Sturgill Simpson.
Stoker trained to become a recording engineer in Nashville (he’s really amazing at it!). That’s where we adopted Sobek. And it’s where I also grew to appreciate old school country.
The song. It’s just. Wow. Poignant. Moving. I don’t listen to country that much, but when I do, it’s generally older stuff like that.
It hit a nerve. I was crying, suddenly. Just overcome with the song, with the sublime nature of life. The pain that we must embrace or allow to ruin us, turn us into angry humans, afraid of empathy and love.
I saw the four of us as though in an out-of-body experience, my little family, in the room at the vet’s, holding Sobek before we released him and let him return to light and energy, before he slept what Mary Oliver calls the “unshakeable sleep,” (blog post featuring the whole poem).
It all hurt so much. I kept seeing my son’s little 8-year-old face crumpled into tears and anguish. I saw Stoker holding Sobek tight and weeping. And Corbet looking at me like he was going to explode, like he didn’t understand how something could hurt so much.
I know. I really get it too, Corbet.
And it was so, so beautiful, but so painful. It ached so much.
But within the ache and the pain and the immense sorrow that I can barely hold inside my body, is this respect and awe at the other side of all that—the joy.
Life is beautiful. If we let it be that. But we have to be dedicated to love, to never letting the anger take away the love and dearest parts of what we may have and hold.
I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to hurt again like I have been hurting for the cat that was such a good companion for so long.
But I will. Because it’s worth it. Besides, I’m already in this deep. What can I do now but face all of it with the aplomb and dedication that my ancestors gave me?
I hardly understand love and suffering and how in the blink of an eye we can be holding onto a warm, living body only to have it suddenly go cold. I don’t get any of that. But I will choose it all again and again.
I must be an idiot.