The Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #2)The Laughing Corpse by Laurell K. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t do a lot of traditional book reviews and this isn’t going to be one of them, I guess, more like thoughts on the book while explaining why I think it’s so great. Maybe that is a traditional review. Whatever. It’s morning and I’m not awake yet.

A little bit of background:

The Laughing Corpse was published back in 1994 and is the second book in the Anita Blake Series. I first picked up Guilty Pleasures, book 1, with my high school bestie in 2002.

At that time the only other horror literature I’d been exposed to were the classics: Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. I’d read Anne Rice but found Interview with the Vampire too serious (much like Louis himself). Reading Anne Rice, for me, is like reading Herman Melville. I love it (some of it in Anne Rice’s case) but I have to be in the mood for long, plodding tones and slow, plodding plots. I’d also read Amelia Atwater-Rhodes and found her books entertaining and the characters compelling but they were very light and fluffy for me.

When I was on a summer job, one of my coworkers suggested I read Bloody Bones. Bloody Bones is book 5 so when I picked it up I was totally lost. But then my high school best friend bought a copy of Guilty Pleasures and said I needed to read it. So I did. And here’s why I loved it: Anita was real. I could hear her, see what she saw, smell what she smelled, feel what she felt. Laurell K. Hamilton makes her books like you’re plugging into the matrix. You get to live the book right along with the characters.

This was pre-Twilight. This was before everyone thought vampires and black nail polish was cool. I was more of the stereotypical goth girl than my friend but where I’d always been an “outsider” at my school, all the “cool kids” avoided her because she was new, she’d just moved to Arkansas from Florida and, as Southern preppy high schools are also incestuous institutions that follow the “keep-to-your-own-kind” paradigm, no one wanted to hang out with her except the other “outsiders.” This was before facebook took off and this was before anti-bullying regulations were set in place. We were no strangers to harassment and discrimination.

We weren’t accepted in our limited version of society, we had family problems at home, we struggled with addiction and alcohol abuse, we had unreliable boyfriends, but we could escape into books.

Here’s an image for you: underaged teenage girls sitting on a balcony overlooking a dark forest and the Arkansas River beyond, smoking cigarettes and reading Guilty Pleasures aloud to each other. At night. She was team Richard, I was team Jean-Claude. Guess who won 😉

I felt like Anita was someone I could look up to and maybe even be friends with, she struggled with thinking about religion and spirituality the same way I did. I wanted to be just like her and have a job when I graduated college. I wanted to have meaningful relationships and a solid sense of self. I found Anita and the rest of Hamilton’s cast of characters more real than any other characters I’d read at the time.

Thoughts on The Laughing Corpse:

In The Laughing Corpse, a killer zombie murders two families. But it doesn’t just kill them, it rips them apart and eats them.

You see a child with its stomach and intestines torn out. You see another child’s severed hand. You see a blood soaked baby blanket and possibly the little blob of meat that was left over from the baby.

You see ribs, you see ball joints, you see organs.

And that right there is my bread and butter. Because it’s real. When someone is murdered it’s not pretty, it’s not neat and tidy; it’s visceral and in-your-face. Showing this in literature, and the characters’ human reactions to this violence, are extremely important because somewhere in the world, this scene has happened. Minus the killer zombie, of course. But out here in the real world, a very unfortunate person met an extremely unfair end.

Daily life, for most people, is not filled with violence and death. But there are other bad things out there. You know the saying, “Everyone is going through something.” Hamilton not only gives me an escape from my “something” but makes me feel normal for having “something” to go through instead of feeling like a weird freak who can’t get her shit together (that’s another story for another time).

In the afterword to The Laughing Corpse, Hamilton writes, “Once upon a time it bothered me that I don’t think like the majority of people. That I walk through a world where the worst can happen, and often does. That I see danger where most people see nothing.”

This isn’t about being an alarmist or living in fear of all the things that can kill you, this, I feel, is about acknowledging and respecting the nightmares and, most importantly, showing that you can live through them.

When I re-read this book I’d forgotten that Anita was almost raped. Not by a vampire or any other supernatural creature, but a person. A human bodyguard for a human villain. Thankfully though, she wasn’t raped. She got free and kicked the shit out of that guy. But it still happened. A man put his hands on her.

I’m going to say something that you might not like. That attempted rape scene was important.

Not just for character development or plot, not because I like reading the horror genre, but because atrocities need to be looked at and acknowledged.

I didn’t like seeing Anita in that situation. I cheered when she got out of it. Anita was also tortured (physically beaten as incentive to do what the bad guy wanted) in that scene and yes, Hamilton could have chosen to not go that far–or faded the scene to black the same way romance authors will sometimes do sex scenes–but she did and I’m glad she did because, again, telling stories where REAL things happen is important.

I could look at Anita and say, “Wow, bad things happened to her.” Bad things happened to me too; making a connection with a character through a shared experience like that helped me not feel so alone, helped me function as a real human being.

In interviews and at book signings Hamilton talks about how fans will come up to her and say “Thank You” for making role models and heroes for them to look up to. She’s had people tell her that if Nathaniel could get therapy then so could they. And that’s a beautiful thing. And that probably wouldn’t have happened if Hamilton didn’t write the dark aspects of the human condition.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. Anita has loving relationships with people, Anita is happy with herself (most of the time) and if she can do that then so can I.

The Laughing Corpse ends with the bad guys defeated but the mystery of life is still sitting there waiting to be solved. Anita solved one problem but she has others to deal with in book 3. That’s life too. Even when things are going good something will happen to turn things upside down. Anita handles those things like a human. She gets pissed off, she gets sad, but she always solves the problem and carries on with her life. Even when it hurts.

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Even though I am in the happiest, most loving relationship of my life, I am also a divorcee.

A successful divorcee. Honestly, getting a divorce was the best decision of my life and I went through a brief, unrestrained period of telling all my friends at the time that if they were having relationship issues they should just dump their significant others and start fresh because it all worked out so well for me.

After watching Sarah Millican’s 5 Tips on Divorce, I decided I would make my own list…and share it with you.

My favorite part about Sarah’s tips is when she says something like: there comes a time when you realize that your ex wasn’t as brilliant as you thought he was. I didn’t worship the ground my ex walked on or anything but there was a lot I turned a blind eye too when I really shouldn’t have.

Disclaimer #1: I am not going to go into the ugly details of my divorce. I am not writing this to bash my ex (as fun as that would be). I am not writing this post to paint myself as a saint. This is a breakdown of a few of my experiences. At the end of the day, we were both terrible to each other, the divorce happened for a reason.

Things I learned when I got divorced:

1. Moving in with your parents (or other members of the family) is okay.

My divorce needed to happen and had many positive outcomes but I wouldn’t call it fun. Just like any major life change, a lot of adult things that need to happen and I did not have the ability to make it on my own at the time.

I worked with the lawyer and paid all the legal fees. My ex didn’t lift a finger to try to fix what was broken in our relationship and he didn’t help end it in a healthy way. I had to figure out how to balance moving out of my house, renting a storage unit, finding a new job (to pay for the legal fees), and take care of myself.

I felt extremely embarrassed about moving back home and I felt like I leveled-down or lost points as an adult. I learned the hard way that when it comes to survival you have to throw ego and pride out the window.

I know not everyone has positive relationships with family or other reasons why this might not be feasible.

I was very fortunate that my mother was willing to let me move back into her house after I separated from my ex. My two cats were very lucky too.

My relationship with my mother wasn’t perfect at the time, but I will always be grateful for her giving me a place to land and not have to waste money that I desperately needed to save on renting an apartment.

Moving in with my mom also kept me grounded. I didn’t go out and get trashed every night because I knew she wouldn’t appreciate me staggering home drunk. She helped me be accountable for my actions moving forward.

2. It’s okay to be sad about the whole thing.

Seriously. Even though I wanted my relationship with my ex to be over, he was someone who I’d spent almost 8 years of my life with. We had valid reasons for breaking up but it was still hard for me to close that chapter on my life.

I also had to deal with the fact that our relationship was unhealthy and there was nothing else I could do to make it work for both of us. I tried changing my behavior, even going so far as to pretend to be someone I wasn’t just to make him happy. That led to a lot of unhappiness and self-harm for me.

I felt like a failure for not keeping the relationship alive even though it was killing me. It was only after I had distance from everything that I realized how toxic things really were between us.

3. Counseling may or may not work. And it’s okay if it doesn’t.

Before I decided to go ahead with the divorce, I tried marriage counseling. I say “I” because my ex didn’t really care about counseling and didn’t think we had a problem ( or there was a problem but it was more my problem than his).

When we went in I immediately started crying and explained how I felt and everything that was stressing me out and what was wrong and my ex just sat there, not talking. The therapist then said I was an over-controlling manipulator and my poor ex was just sitting there afraid to even sneeze because I took over the conversation.

I didn’t go back to that therapist. She may have been right about me being controlling to some degree but she completely misinterpreted my ex’s silence as “fear.” Again, I’m not trying to vilify him but he was a manipulative asshole and knew exactly what to do to make himself look like an innocent victim.

That experience, though it was uncomfortable and I felt very let down by this mental health professional, made me realize that my ex never really respected me and it reinforced the fact that I needed to get out.

4. Know what you want.

While I was waiting for the divorce to be finalized, my soon to be ex-father-in-law told my mom, in an email, that some best marriages endure when the husband and wife live apart. He wasn’t talking about being in a long-distance relationship or living apart because of outside circumstances like job locations. He was trying to convince her and me that we should stay married but just be separated.

What’s the point in that? That’s like having a spouse with none of the benefits…which was what my relationship really was. To me, marriage is a partnership and separation is the opposite of partnership*.

I married my ex pretty early in life and I had no idea what it took to make a successful relationship. Communication and compromise are only at the tip of the iceberg. I firmly believe that you have to want to be around the person you marry, you need to want them in your life and their presence needs to bring you joy, otherwise, what’s the point of being married to them?

Getting divorced and saying goodbye to all that gave me the space to identify what I wanted in a life partner.

5. “Choose better next time.”

This last one is a bit tongue-in-cheek but it’s valid. After my divorce, I went to a comic convention with a few friends and got to see one of my heroes, James O’Barr. The Crow is one of my favorite comics, it has all of my favorite things; love, revenge, addiction, supernatural crow shit. It’s great.

I got my picture taken with him and I said, “Your stories got me through my marriage and my divorce.”

He said, “Choose better next time.” And we both laughed.

Relationships can be complicated and shitty but they are also super important. If you can’t honor and cherish the person you supposedly love, there is definitely something wrong. I mentioned earlier that I got married young, I had a few ideas about what loving someone else meant but I was too self-absorbed (as most 20-year-olds are) to really consider what making a commitment like marriage actually means.

Marriage means compromise and hard work, it means honest communication and forgiveness. It means stepping up and doing the dishes and laundry when you’d rather be napping.

When I was considering divorce I had to get really honest with myself. I didn’t love my ex anymore, I don’t know if I ever really did. Aside from work and interest in one video game, we had nothing in common. By the end of our relationship we weren’t talking to each other, we were making passive-aggressive quips or flat out fighting. But when I was in it I felt this perverse need to latch onto what was in front of me (even if it was toxic and I didn’t want to admit it). I was afraid I would end up with nothing. And just okay is better than nothing, right?

No! Fixer-uppers are fine for buying a house, not lifelong commitments to another human being. And why would you want to settle for “just okay?”

The most important lesson that I learned through my divorce is: there is no situation that you cannot get out of. Walking away might be complicated and difficult, walking away might mean changing your whole life but you always have the option to walk away.

Especially when walking away means building an emotionally healthy life.

Disclaimer #2: I am not a lawyer. Please do not use anything in this post as legal advice.

*Note: long distance relationships and couple separation based on outside influences like job location are totally different things. Couples are still together emotionally in those situations. I am actually in a long-distance relationship with my current husband right now, you can check out my thoughts on those here (part 1) and here (part 2).

Photo by Hutomo Abrianto on Unsplash

Hello there!

While working on launching my urban fantasy book series and working on re-branding my fiction, I thought I’d make a more personal post. Take the focus off of writing and let you get to know me a little bit better.

So, here are 10 things you may or may not know about me.

1. To start off, you already know that Jessa Forest is my pen name, not my real name. When I was in the process of picking out my pen name, my first choice was Jessica George, after my great grandfather. But that name was already taken.

Continue reading “10 Things About Me”

In the summer of 2020 I took a U.S. History course: 1619-1877. I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to take a history course that heavily analyzed the origins of slavery and the roots of systemic racism in this country. I am not an expert by any means now, but I have a deeper understanding of the conflicts (to say the least) that persist into today.

Note: Some of these articles and journal titles have language that we now consider problematic. At the time of publication, the language was considered normal. This illustrates, to me, the necessity for academia as a whole to update the language we use and the language we preserve.

Columbus and the Recovery of Jerusalem: Abbas Hamdani, Journal of the American Oriental Society vol. 99 no. 1 1979.

The Ohio Indians and the Coming of the American Revolution in Virginia: Woody Holton, The Journal of Southern History vol. 60 no. 3 August 1994.

“Rebel against Rebel”: Enslaved Virginians and the Coming of the American Revolution: Woody Horton. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography vol. 105 no. 2 Spring 1997.

Did Democracy Cause the Recession that Led to the Constitution: Woody Holton.

An “Excess of Democracy”: Or a Shortage?: The Federalists’ Earliest Adversaries: Woody Holton. Journal of the Early Republic vol. 25 no. 3 Fall 2005.

“From the Labours of Others”: The War Bonds Controversy and the Origins of the Constitution in New England: Woody Holton. The William and Mary Quarterly vol. 61 no. 2 April 2004.

Evangelicalism and the Meaning of the Proslavery Argument: The Reverend Thornton Stringfellow of Virginia: Drew Gilpin Faust. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography vol 85 no. 1 1977.

The General Strike and The Coming of the Lord from Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America: W. E. B. Du Bois.

Our Laborers Are Our Property and Each Person Works for Himself: the Ideal and Reality of Free Labor from Half Slave and Half Free: Bruce Levine.

1619: Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy: James Horn.

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Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

Mr. J. and I have been living apart (work reasons, we’re still married) since December 4, 2018 and I’ve surprised myself because thinking of all those days and all the days to come that we will still be apart doesn’t bother me.

Instead I putter along, going with the flow of the day, happy and motivated because we are doing this long distance thing to make a better future for us. But then some stupid little thing that makes me realize I haven’t seen my husband/best friend in forever and my carefully rationed optimism and positivity leave me and my mood sinks like a concrete block.

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS YOU NOTICE.

The first time I noticed the little things getting to me was when I had to do laundry for the first time since moving. And I thought to myself, ‘Seriously? I’ve already run out of clothes? And this is my first time doing laundry away from Mr. J?’ And then I thought about how many loads of laundry I will be doing in the 3 (maybe 4) years we will be apart.

That’s a lot of fucking laundry.

The second little thing was cutting my fingernails. I cut them the day before we said goodbye. Sorry if fingernails gross you out. But as I was cutting them I thought, ‘Seriously? I have to cut my nails already? Surely it hasn’t been that long.’ But it was. And my nails don’t grow very fast.

And then, a few months later I noticed my “new” (purchased the week before my move) bottle of Vitamin C was almost empty. I don’t take vitamins regularly even though I should. You could hold a gun to my head and say, “If you don’t take your vitamins every day for a week I will kill you and your cats.” I still wouldn’t be able to do it. And now that fucking bottle is almost empty. I can see the bottom of the fucking bottle.

It’s like hitting the pan on your favorite eye shadow and going, “WTF I just bought this!”

And the best part is I have thousands and thousands of other little moments waiting in the wings to jump out at me.

I turned 34 in February and I’ll be 36 or 37 when we can live together again. Almost 40, y’all. I know 40 is the new 20 but that in itself gives me pause. And like a cat that’s just fallen off of something and doesn’t want to admit there was a moment when it wasn’t graceful and in control of everything around it, I pretend I’m not upset, that that little thing/monster didn’t happen, and I move on with my day.

I don’t know if that’s the most healthy thing to do or that it will keep working but it’s working for me so far and that’s really all I can ask for right now.

Having a creative outlet also helps. Working with characters that I love helps.

My emotions aren’t going to be healthy 100% of the time. And that’s okay, as long as I don’t obsess over them. Obsessing, dwelling on the “poor me’s” or throwing myself a pity party are luxuries I can’t afford. And it’s not just because he wouldn’t want me to be sad. I want to look back on this time when we are together again and say, “Here a list of all the cool things I did.” Not, “Here’s how long I was sad for.”

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Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash