The Interference of Real Life

One of the most annoying things a creative can deal with is when real life butts in and takes over.

That’s where I’m at right now.

My grandfather on my mother’s side passed away last night. He was 88. He was also a two-time heart attack survivor, a stroke survivor, a diabetic, an Army vet, an avid golfer, and a far more complicated man than most wanted to admit. He loved me and treated me as well as he knew how, but he also loved using the N word and ordering my grandmother around.

He had been in the hospital twice over the past month for various ailments, but he seemed to have been on the mend before we got that fateful call (in the closing laps of the NASCAR race at Bristol). It’s both a shock and not surprising at all, and I find the entire coming week upended. In the grief of losing a loved one, I find myself trying to square things away at my job before hitting the road.

All things considered, I’m lucky that I still have grandparents in my life at age 41. But that age also brings with it the sobering realization that my body is not what it once was; specifically, the fact that my 41st birthday brought with it a diabetes diagnosis (just what I always wanted…). The physical symptoms I began exhibiting over the summer, that had sapped me of my focus and creative energy, turned out to be exactly what I thought they were.

So now much of my non-work time is spent dealing with doctors who are urgent for me to do something now (even to the point where they prescribed medication I didn’t want without consulting with me first), a pharmacy that takes its sweet time filling the prescriptions I do want, and health insurance that doesn’t pay quite as much as it should for everything.

This is the part of adulting I could do without.

The only good thing going in my life right now–aside from the fact that I’m still alive and feeling physically fine, even if my doctor’s freaking the fuck out–is a potential romantic relationship that came to me out of nowhere. I’ll refrain from details here (because some of them are too messed up to believe), but suffice it to say…I need life to chill a little bit.

I’m still working to get Bitter End out before the end of the year (though some help from my editor on that would be nice), and I’d like to get back to Summertime‘s manuscript. I just…I need things to stop. I need a break.

I need to not adult for a few months.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

BOOK REVIEW: Iron Widow

Sometimes, rage can be useful.

Full disclosure: when I look at the world, and I see all the bad things certain people get away with, I’m filled with rage. Rage that leads me to think and wish things I’m not necessarily proud of. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy superheroes so much, because they tap into that power fantasy–the desire to hold accountable those society has let slip by.

Well, Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow doesn’t just lean into that justifiable rage; it dives head-first into it, with the majestic grace of an Olympic diver who gets all 10s and struts off with the gold medal. This book doesn’t just acknowledge that rage, it treats it like an asset. What starts as a revenge tale ultimately evolves into one where Zetian sets out to put the entire misogynistic out of its pathetic misery and set the whole thing on fire.

And she’s well within her rights to do just that.

Power fantasies get a bad rap in fiction, but fact of the matter is, almost every story is a power fantasy to some degree. The power to right a wrong. The power to save the aggrieved. The power to stand up to the bully. The power to admit when you fall in love. The power to live life the way you want. Iron Widow‘s greatest strength is leaning into that fantasy, admitting anger and other feelings we too often keep to ourselves. Zetian decides this world is no longer fit to exist, and she’s going to do whatever she has to in order to tear it all apart — and not once are we told to view her in a negative light.

That’s so damn refreshing. Especially after the past several years.

Iron Widow also takes one of my least-favorite tropes–the dreaded love triangle–and flips it on its head. The result is a tug-and-pull that doesn’t make me roll my eyes and includes LGBT representation that is too often missing from the trope. I actually wanted a little bit more in that regard, but there probably wasn’t room for it with all the rage and fury in the air.

Iron Widow is every bit the must-read it’s billed as, and I think everyone should have it on their shelves (yes, even the dudebros who would piss themselves in anger over a book like this). The sequel can’t come soon enough.

Rating: *****

Iron Widow is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook.

July 2022: Month in Review

There isn’t much to review, because I didn’t do much in July other than work and try to survive.

No, really.

There’s something I’m dealing with health-wise that is sapping both my energy and my ability to focus. I have an appointment set up to look into it, but I can’t help but feel how inconvenient this is. Like, I’m too busy for this nonsense. I have shit to do. I can’t be getting sick.

I have a feeling I know what it is, and it’s scary in a way, but again: there is too much shit to do. I don’t have time for this. Just because I’m 40 now, that doesn’t mean my body can start acting like a car once the warranty’s expired.

Stop it, body. I have things to do.

And when I say I can’t focus…I haven’t written a word in weeks, and I haven’t read anything in almost as long. There’s just nothing there, and I’m afraid there won’t be until I get some answers on this other thing that’s bothering me.

Sometimes, I hate this whole being human thing.

Reading
One book I did manage to read was Iron Widow by Xirna Jay Zhao. I don’t yet have it in me to write a full review (see above about the whole focus thing), but it’s a fantastic tale of righteous rage and using that rage to dismantle systems that don’t deserve to exist. Oh, and it takes one of my all-time least favorite tropes — love triangles — and turns it on its head. Everyone needs this book on their shelf.

On Sale
July saw Smashwords hold its annual Summer/Winter Sale, in which every book enrolled was available for 50% off. Did you take advantage?

You Like Free Stuff, Don’t You?
Have you subscribed to my newsletter yet?

No?

Did you know that if you do, you’ll receive a free novella? Specifically, the Bounty prequel Boundless?

June 2022: Month in Review

Another look back at the past 30-ish days.

Gotta Have Pride
June was Pride Month, and while I’m loathe to use Pride to sell stuff — if a queer writer can’t hawk books containing queer characters in the 30 days we even pretend to like queer stuff, then when can I hawk my books?

Why I’m a queer author worth supporting (before and after June, too!).

Book Birthday — Times Two
June 1 marked the anniversary of two of my books: my debut Bounty published on June 1, 2015, and one year later, I published Behind the Badge, book three in the series. This month is pivotal in my being an indie author, and I’d appreciate some help in the celebration (even though, yes, June is over).

Pretty…Pretty Good
This month, I reviewed two must-reads: The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams by Halo Scot and Dreadknot, book eight in S.E. Anderson’s hilarious Starstruck series. They’re both five-star books, and you should have them on your shelf. Or e-reader.

Or both. Support those indie authors.

I Made a Funny
You should read it.

I Also Got Real
Because sometimes, I need to just vent my feelings. Because I’m not just a writer, I’m also a full-fledged person (or so I’m told).

New Music That Kicks Ass
Spiritbox has again graced us with their presence, and my Garbage-loving ass is here for it:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Writers are People, and Sometimes, People Suck
I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone, but maybe in light of everything we now know about people like Joss Whedon and J.K. Rowling, maybe it’s time we stop putting creative people up on pedestals.

Like, buy my books, read my books, enjoy my books. But don’t make me out to be anything more than a good writer.

Help?

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

You Like Free Stuff, Don’t You?
Have you subscribed to my newsletter yet?

No?

Did you know that if you do, you’ll receive a free novella? Specifically, the Bounty prequel Boundless?

Re-Post: The Pitfalls of Idolizing Creators

In February 2021, Charisma Carpenter made a lengthy social media post in which she alleged inappropriate, sexist, and dangerous behavior on the part of Joss Whedon while she was on the sets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, where she played the character Cordelia Chase on both shows. Carpenter was showing solidarity to Ray Fisher, the Justice League actor who has made similar allegations against Whedon, and again, the man who was once held atop a pedestal as a paragon of feminism (simply because he helmed a genre TV show with a female lead at a time when that thing was still a rarity) was being exposed as a fraud.

Since Carpenter’s post, other Buffyverse actors — including Sarah Michelle Gellar, Michelle Trachtenberg, Amber Benson, and Anthony Stewart Head — have come forward in support and, in the cases of Gellar, Trachtenberg, and Benson, to allege their own firsthand experiences. For Whedon, who has also been accused of adultery and other inappropriate behavior by his ex-wife Kai Cole and has been fending off such allegation at least since he was tapped to write and direct the first two Avengers films, it’s yet more damage to his reputation.

More importantly, it’s a lesson in how we’re supposed to view people like Whedon.

First off, I believe and support Carpenter and her co-stars. Rumors of Whedon mistreating Carpenter have persisted for years — that he retaliated against Carpenter for getting pregnant in real life and he used Angel season 4 as a means to get back at Carpenter before writing her off the show. Whedon’s track record is now well-established, both when it comes to how he treats his female actors, his history with characters of color, how he treats just about everyone…

Joss Whedon is a person. A bad person, by all accounts. A bad person who just happened to create stories a great many people still enjoy to this day. I’ve written repeatedly that Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel were both key to my creative resurrection and the fact that I’m now a published author. That’s still true. I still (…mostly) enjoy both shows. Firefly and Serenity were enjoyable, and I even liked Dollhouse for a time.

But all that’s tempered by the realization that the man whose name is forever attached to those stories is a bad man.

For some, that means his work can no longer be enjoyed. That’s valid, and I’m not here to argue otherwise. The same is true for those who can no longer enjoy the Harry Potter franchise because author JK Rowling has, in recent years, revealed herself to be a virulent, unrepentant transphobe and bigot.

Rowling’s station is not that dissimilar to Whedon’s; they both created pop culture milestones, stories that touched millions of hearts and made them household names (at least in some circles). Both Buffy and Harry Potter should have created enough goodwill for them both to spend the rest of their lives. But Rowling and Whedon being who they are, blew through all that goodwill and revealed themselves to be what they are. Gross, abusive, bigoted, and — especially in the case of Whedon — the exact opposite of what we were told they were.

Creators are, for better or worse, people. We like to think they’re larger than life, like the stories and properties they helped bring to life, but they’re not. The same is the case for Gina Carano, who just lost her job with The Mandalorian because… well, everything; for Nathan Fillion, who was accused of bad behavior and having a bad relationship with his co-star on Castle; for David Boreanaz, who fielded his own allegations of inappropriate behavior on the TV show Bones; etc. etc. etc…

(And lest you think Boreanaz suffered for that, I remind you he’s now the lead in another show on CBS.)

How much of this is institutional? A fair bit, which is why we don’t hear from the likes of Carpenter and Gellar and Trachtenberg until decades after the fact. They understood, then and now, that speaking up would’ve jeopardized their respective careers, that Hollywood would’ve likely sided with Whedon over them. Which is why Fisher speaking up so soon after Justice League as he did so remarkable. There’s an institution behind the abuse and the disgusting behavior and the bigotry and the inappropriateness. Just ask anyone who ever crossed paths with Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein.

Still, the lesson remains: even the creators who have made things you love, things you adore with every fiber of yourself, things that have defined you in one way or another, are human beings. And human beings are often capable of incredibly messed up things, of horrible behavior. Sometimes, it can be impossible to separate the art from the artist (I know I have no desire to ever read any of Orson Scott Card’s work, and there are novels I’ve passed up on specifically because of who wrote them), but it’s also necessary.

It’s important not to put creators on a pedestal, to treat them as if they are gods among us. Because they’re not gods. They’re people.

Creativity is not some divine gift, handed down from on high, that gives us humans a free pass to act as we please. Sometimes, they’re good people (please tell me Lin-Manuel Miranda’s a good dude, at least). Sometimes, they’re not. Bad people can create great things, and we can’t let inappropriate behavior slide just because the offender created something we like.

No TV show is worth the abuse Whedon has allegedly perpetuated. No book is worth Rowling’s transphobia.

Consider This My Pride Month Post

Far be it for me to be all “buy stuff!” during Pride Month. Because there are far too many companies out there who just make their logo all rainbow-fied on June 1 and pander their asses off to get the less straight among us to part with our money.

Rainbows: they exist year-round.

(I mean, how else do you explain this?)

But then I remembered…duh, I’m LBGT myself! I oscillate between bisexual and pansexual, and there are times when I consider myself asexual as well (because sexuality is fluid and frustrating and occasionally stupid)…to say nothing of all the LGBT representation I have in my books. So, if I can’t hawk my wares during Pride Month, when can I?

Below is a breakdown of the LGBT rep in my books (both my current library and one of my WIPs). Note that for the most part, I don’t write LGBT stories (as in, my characters’ queerness is not the story itself). Those stories are important and have a place, but it’s also important to write stories in which LGBT characters simply exist. Because that reflects real life. LGBT people exist.

Anywho…

Jill Andersen Series
My police procedural/superhero series features multiple LGBT characters, starting with protagonist Jill Andersen. The war veteran/homicide cop/superhero is also decidedly ace, and I make that point explicitly clear on multiple occasions (because representation doesn’t count if it’s simply hinted at or thrown in after the fact–right, JK?).

There is also M/M romance in the series, between Ramon and Jorge; they’re engaged when the series starts, and in Behind the Mask (book four), they get married. I’ll never be confused for the romantic sort, but it’s important to show queer relationships that just…exist. See two paragraphs up for a refresher.

In Behind the Mask (book three), I introduced Mitch, an open trans woman. I won’t say too much more here, because that would venture into spoiler territory, but rest assured that Mitch has a huge role in Bitter End (book six, coming soon), where her story undergoes a massive shift.

Notna
Dr. Jack Corbett, the protagonist of Notna (or…co-protagonist, depending on your point of view), is a bisexual Black man. Though his sexuality has no bearing on the story, and his bisexuality is only referenced once in a humorous way, I felt it important that there be a bi male presence, particularly one who isn’t white. Because too often, bi means white and female and cis (it seems like to some, a character’s queerness is only viewed through the lens of a heterosexual man’s lustful gaze…but that’s a different essay for a different day).

Also…yes, Jack is in a romantic relationship with a cis woman. He’s still bi.

Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries (in-progress)
The closest thing I’ll probably ever write to a true love story, protagonist Summer Rhoades and sometimes-antagonist Lola Haskins are assassins. And lesbians. And former lovers. In fact, the last time they saw each other, it was at gunpoint and there’s a ton of angst there. But in a way, things develop into a will-they-or-won’t-they-(again) kind of back-and-forth as the book progresses and as Summer tries to keep from dying.

And hey, if you like HEAs (Happily Ever After, for the uninitiated)…this might be your book. Because I typically don’t do HEAs. But for this book, I’ll make an exception. Because honestly, aren’t we all tired of seeing queer romance that ends with one person dead? Especially if they’re lesbians?

(Glaring at you, The 100 and Atomic Blonde and too many other examples to count…)

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

2022 Writing Snippet #6

A periodic look at some of the passages and lines I’m most proud of. For this one, a passage from my current WIP Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries.

“Shit!”

Summer looked up with her eyes as wide as they’d ever been, her heart leaping up into her throat. “Shit? Lola, what do you mean…’shit?’”

Yanking the ski mask off her head, her curly purple locks springing free, Lola bit her lower lip as she began the laborious process of taking apart her sniper rile. It was a process Summer had seen several times over the past week, but she still couldn’t pull it off herself. “I missed.”

Summer blinked. “I’m sorry, what did you just say? Because it sounds like you said you missed.”

“Because I did!”

Summer watched as pieces of the sniper rifle came apart, like some bastardized form of Legos for bloodthirsty adults. The scope and barrel were one piece, until they weren’t, and then they disappeared in separate compartments of Lola’s black duffel bag. There were pockets inside pockets on that thing, so it appeared to hold more than it should. Like some magic fantasy bag or something.

“You told me yesterday you don’t miss!”

“Yeah, well,” Lola huffed, yanking a zipper shut before pulling off the shoulder stump and tossing into the opposite end of the bag, “I do when the wind gusts just as I pull the trigger.”

Writing Snippet #1 | Writing Snippet #2 Writing Snippet #3 | Writing Snippet #4
Writing Snippet #5

Random Thoughts

I.
I see you, cursor.

The way you blink. The way you beckon me toward the keyboard, only to laugh when I inevitably blank and pull back my hands. The moment’s panic when the opportunity to write is finally met with silence. The ideas of the recent past now little more than a fleeting memory.

I’ve published six novels, among other projects. I thought something got easier the more often you did it.

II.
It’s Pride Month. I’m bisexual. Sometimes pansexual.

My books feature plenty of queer characters. An ace protagonist, M/M romance, and a trans character in the Jill Andersen series. The lead in Notna is a Black bi male. I’m writing an assassin thriller that also amounts to F/F romance with probably the only ever HEA I’m gonna write.

So why am I still being ignored?

III.
I try not to bear my soul like this, but sometimes, I need to let the emotions out. And I have no other outlets.

IV.
I do, however, feel it’s important to be real that being an indie author is sometimes a struggle. The lack of sales. The paucity of social media engagements. People unsubscribing from my newsletter and my manuscripts proving uncooperative.

There are times when this indie author thing tests my patience and admittedly weak self-esteem. And hiding that fact just feels disingenuous.

V.
I want my books to appear on lists. Like LGBT lists. Best Books You Haven’t Read Yet lists. Best of [insert year here] lists. Any list. Just some validation that someone sees my work and acknowledges both its existence and its worth.

I just don’t know how to get there.

VI.
TikTok seems very much to be a thing in book circles these days. I can’t bring myself to jump in, though–mostly because I clearly still haven’t figured out Twitter and Instagram. I feel like I should learn to better utilize the platforms I’m already on instead of trying to learn yet another new one.

Besides, content ideas are few and far between.

VII.
I wish my favorite indie authors loved my books the way I love theirs. The love, as usual, feels one-sided.

VIII.
Why yes, I do have long-standing issues with self-worth and confidence. How could you tell?

Book Reviews XVII

The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams by Halo Scot

Halo Scot has quickly become one of my favorite authors, known for deeply intense stories featuring co-protagonists who are as equal as they are opposites, and for all the fireworks and the bloodshed and the lust, these stories have a heart and an earnestness about them that shines through.

The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams is no different. Though not nearly as disturbing as Scot’s Rift Cycle series can be at times (though this story is by no means short on the violence and the bloodshed), hallmarks of Scot’s writing are evident. Fortunately, they are all the best parts.

Slade is, for lack of a better word, the Chosen One. The only one who can fix the dystopian madness, and Koa begins as the person responsible for making sure Slade realizes her destiny. It’s much more complex than that, but that’s the spoiler-free gist–and it’s the backdrop for neurodivergent representation and LGBT representation and, most importantly, memorable, dynamic, and emotionally available characters.

More than anything, though, Heartbeat is the purest distillation of Scot’s writing. It’s urgent, intense. In your face. Scot has a lot of things to say, and they need to be said right fucking now, dammit and that urge, that necessity of message, is present in everything Scot writes.

That urgency, that intensity, is addictive, and it’s why the pages so often fly by. The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams is Scot’s best work, even if it’s not quite the mind-fuck one might expect. This is a must-read, another classic from Scot’s library, and anyone with even the faintest interest in spec fic or superheroes or Chosen Ones should not miss this classic.

Rating: *****

The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams is available in paperback and Kindle

Dreadknot by S.E. Anderson

The thing about comedies…every now and then, they punch you in the gut.

Dreadknot, the eighth entry in S.E. Anderson’s slapstick sci-fi series, does just that. Oh, there’s humor. Plenty of it. Lots of absurd situations, cracking dialogue, and laugh-out-loud one-liners. There’s also action, intense set pieces of zap-or-be-zapped that feel right at home in this particular drama.

There’s also heart. For a series where so many of the characters are immortal, there’s a lot of heart. Then again, we’re eight books in, and if you aren’t emotionally invested in Sally and Zander and Blayde and all the rest by now…what are you doing?

But with that heart comes the gut-wrenching finale. See, while Anderson was making you laugh over the course of eight books, she was also tricking you into feeling for these characters. Not just as individuals, but the collective. The way they interact with each other, the way their relationships evolve from book to book — even from chapter to chapter.

And then, at the end, she rips the heart out.

Sci-fi being what it is (and this series being what it is), nothing is truly final. But in the moment, it feels like it. Victories are hollow, tainted with the sorrow of loss. This is one of the funnier books in the entire Starstruck saga, but it’s also the most emotionally resonant.

Then again, this book does have the word “dread” in the title.

Rating: *****

Dreadknot is available in paperback and Kindle