Is Our Thirst for Kink Promoting Rape Culture?

Keep off the Grass_flickrI shouldn’t be writing this blog post right now. I have a story on a tight deadline that’s kicking my ass and if I don’t get it DONE then I might well conclude that I have no business being a writer. I’ve been going through some deeply upsetting things in my personal life which has left me with the emotional stability of a three-year-old coming down from a sugar rush. And I know this post will piss a lot of people off. Also, there is no way I can say these things without sounding like a disgruntled old woman yelling at the neighborhood kids to say off her lawn.

Well, there you have it. I confess: I am a grumpy old woman yelling at the kids. Stay off my lawn!

You might ask what prompted this need to vent. Well, it’s simple, really. A few days ago I came across two things in close sequence that made me scratch my head and go WTF? The combination of the two things kind of solidified some thoughts I’ve been having for a while now. Namely that I’m concerned that some women might inadvertently be prompting the very rape culture they claim to abhor. That the freedom we experience now to indulge in our kinky fantasies celebrates the very opposite of a healthy romantic relationship.

Mind you, the rape-trope has always been popular in romance fiction for reasons I don’t fully understand. Maybe some readers readers enjoy it because they like the idea having all control (and responsibility) for their actions taken from them. For someone else to call all the shots. Okay, it’s a fantasy. I get that. The notion that you could fall in love with this person and enter into a healthy, loving relationship with your rapist is ludicrous, but persistent. Yes, I’m looking at you, Luke and Laura from General Hospital. No. That never worked for me, sorry. Face it, these fantasies were developed in an industry that, at the time, demanded purity from their heroines. God forbid your lead female character *wanted* sex, that made her a slut! Certainly we’ve moved beyond that, right? Women are allowed to want sex, think about it, talk about it. Nothing wrong there.

And I’m not condemning BDSM stories out of hand by any means! In the right hands, the depiction of a dominant-submissive relationship is not only incredibly hot, but completely understandable as well. The dynamics of the D-S relationship help me better understand what makes the characters tick as people outside of their sexuality. I get the intensity that the fine edge of pain can bring to a sexual situation. I love seeing a different side of a character–how who they are in the bedroom can be entirely different from the face they show the rest of the world. It’s fascinating storytelling.

I believe that the reason 50 Shades of Grey smashed sales records had much to do with the fact that for the majority of readers, this was an entirely new-to-them genre. For readers tired of the usual pirate-capturing-the-heroine story, or the handsome boss/faithful secretary, or even the vampire-slayer and her undead boyfriend, 50 Shades was something new. Romance readers are some of the most voracious consumers of fiction, and for some jaded readers it had to be like finding another wing of their library that they didn’t know existed. Suddenly BDSM became wildly popular, reflected in the explosion of popularity of kink-memes in fandom as well. For those of you that are unfamiliar with kink-memes, these are story fests where people write fanfic about their favorite characters in a kinky sexual situation. The stories are frequently what is referred to as ‘PWP’, which stands for “plot, what plot?” as the only purpose for the story is the depiction of the kinky act.

Redhead bondageI have nothing against any of that. I think it’s great that we as women can express ourselves and explore our sexual fantasies and desires. But the other day, I ran across a promo for a book that caught my attention. I don’t remember the title, but it apparently was doing *very* well on Amazon, better than anything I’d ever written, that’s for sure (so feel free to assign me the obligatory ‘sour grapes’ attitude now). In the blurb, however, someone was described as being in the position of finding subs for his Dom, and that he was ‘going to find out that this little sub came up swinging’. I read that and blinked. Okay, I know NOTHING about the bondage culture. What I know about the BDSM lifestyle comes entirely from stories that I’ve read. But correct me if I’m wrong, here. Doesn’t finding ‘subs for his Dom’ and a sub that ‘comes up swinging’ sound a bit like the woman in question doesn’t have a choice in the matter? Or am I totally missing something here?

I’m willing to concede that I am. After all, I don’t read in the genre very much, and there are certainly subtleties to the lifestyle I might be completely clueless about. But it made me raise an eyebrow, that’s for sure. The fact that this story was selling like hotcakes also made me wonder if anyone reading those stories questioned the relationship between the main characters at all, or if they ate it up with a spoon and reached for the next one just like it. And if the latter were true, what did our fantasies say about our ability to choose healthy relationships for ourselves?

man in handcuffsThe second thing I ran across was less ambiguous as far as I’m concerned. I stumbled onto a conversation on Facebook that kind of shocked me. Again, don’t get me wrong, here. I think we’ve come a long way from the kinds of stories written in the 70s in which the only way a ‘good’ girl could have sex in a romance novel was if she was captured by pirates and raped–or got married. I frankly enjoy seeing pictures of attractive people in sexy situations. We’re a visual beast, after all, otherwise we wouldn’t have so many pictures of cats doing funny things on our timelines. I’ve posted sexy pictures, and have entered into conversations where my contribution is largely to wipe drool off my chin and ask if anyone else thought it was hot in here? I’ve fantasized about favorite characters in sexual situations that explore different dynamics of their relationship.

But in all of those scenarios, my two characters were in a consensual situation.

The conversation I ran across was about two adversarial characters in which one is at the mercy of the other. Again, I’ll be the first to admit I read Draco/Harry stories or any other such pairing that might make you scratch your head and wonder how anyone can picture the two characters together at all. A good writer can make me *believe* in an unlikely pairing–even between enemies. I’m also not above hurting my characters. I’m not against dark stories filled with angst, either. Granted, these days I like to know that there will eventually be a happy ending, but sometimes there is great solace in suffering along with your favorite character. I’m fond of the Hurt/Comfort trope myself, but you know what? Usually the hurting and the comforting take place by two different agencies.

So I was completely taken aback by the conversation about the bad guy hurting the good guy–the inherent hotness of this non-consensual attack on someone’s person and his powerlessness to stop it–as well as the statement that ‘you know you were thinking this, too’.

Um. No. I wasn’t thinking that. And I’m not sure why someone would find this titillating and sexually gratifying, either.

There’s a scene in the 2006 version of Casino Royale in which Bond has been captured by the baddies and is being tortured. Okay, talk about a series of movies that has a long history of objectifying women (and I’ll be the first to say I had some problems with scenes in Skyfall as a result). However, Casino Royale played with traditional Bond film treatment of women by making Bond himself the objectification in the film. Yes, most women I know remember well the scene in the beginning of the movie in which Daniel Craig rises out of the sea. I know I do! I noticed as well how mighty fine Chris Helmsworth was in that completely unnecessary half-naked scene in Thor: The Dark World.

In the torture scene in Casino Royale, Bond is stripped naked and tied to a chair in what appears to be the hot, damp hold of ship, the only illumination coming from a couple of lanterns. Bond’s chair has had the bottom cut out of it, and it isn’t long before we find out why. From the shadows The Big Baddie asks him questions, swinging a weighted piece of rope. When Bond doesn’t give him the desired answers, the Big Bad smashes him in the balls with this homemade kosh. Bond is scared. He is in agony. He screams with each strike. When he is asked for the password, he takes a moment before he can come up with the Bond quip that will invite another hit to his balls. It is a brutal scene. It is meant to be.

The Bond we see recovering from this attack is a changed man. He’s questioning why he is doing what he is doing and whether it is all worth it. He resigns his commission in order to live some semblance of a normal life with Vesper. He doesn’t get that chance.

Casino Royale is one of my favorite Bond movies. And this from a girl who typically demands that happily ever after! Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond made him a human being to me, something more than just the suave spy or the government’s assassin. For the first time, I got the appeal of the franchise.

blindfolded man in handcuffsBut here’s the thing. Even though we have the interaction between Bond and The Big Baddie, and we can see the respect that LeChiffre has for Bond’s integrity and strength of will, at no point would I want to see the two ‘together’. At no point can I imagine the two of them getting together for more of the same. There is a huge difference in my mind between what took place in that torture scene and what happens between consenting adults. That’s entering into a situation with someone you trust out of your own choice, and I think that’s worlds away from the kind of gleeful suggestion that it would be hot and entertaining to see Loki brutalize a helpless Thor, or Sherlock at the sexually abusive hands of Moriarty.

I’m all for women being comfortable enough with their sexuality to discuss their hot-button kinks. I’m aware that some hot-button kinks are other people’s ‘hell, no, would never go there!’ But I wonder sometimes whether we are now celebrating that which we would despise if the characters in question were female. If maybe after all these years of forced silence, we now don’t know where to stop?

Or maybe this is just one more thing that I am hopelessly old-fashioned about and I should just duck my head and go back to working on that damned story…



Faberge Shampoo, or what are you working on now, Sarah Madison?

red_flickrRemember that old Faberge shampoo commercial? You know, the one where the woman with the luxurious hair says, “And I told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on.”

That’s a bit how social media works, isn’t it? πŸ™‚ I got tagged for a ‘and so on’ type of blog post by my friend and fellow author Margarita Gakis. The idea is that I answer a few questions about my writing and tag three more fellow authors, who will, well, you know. And so on. Margarita is the author of Trial by Fire (Book One in the Covencraft series) and one of those brilliant, amazing authors who creates splendid characters with depth and dimension–and is also darned funny. You should check out Trial by Fire–book two (Counter Hex) is in the editing process and book three is underway!

MargaritaTrial By Fire









Here are the questions I received:

1. What am I working on?

Hah, this might as well read ‘what should you be working on?’ I’ve just finished the sequel to my FBI/paranormal story Unspeakable Words. Walk a Mile will be coming out with Dreamspinner Press sometime this fall. I’ve started the sequel to that story because I left things on a bit of a cliff-hanger and I didn’t want my audience to suffer too long. πŸ™‚ However, I’ve put that on hold a bit as I work on some other, smaller projects. I have a short story coming out sometime in June in the Not Quite Shakespeare Anthology from Dreamspinner. I’m working on a piece of fanfiction right now, and yes, I still write fanfic. I write it because it’s fun, and because I can let my imagination rip and stretch my writing muscles without worrying about whether or not it will pay the bills. I am writing less of it than I used to, though, primarily because of lack of time. I liken it to a palette cleanser between courses, however. Fanfic brought me back to writing after a 20 year drought. There will always be a special place in my heart for it.

Peggy's ShoesHowever, part of my temporary detour from the latest WIP, tentatively titled Truth and Consequences,Β is that I am seriously considering stepping a toe in to the traditional romance market. I came across a submission call for a M/F anthology with a tight deadline. I’m doing a little research to see if I can create something this particular press would be interested in. If so, I might be launching the Madison Dean line of stories sooner than I thought!Β  I’m also making plans for a new series of stories set in the 1950s, in which my main characters are undercover agents investigating paranormal events in a small Southern town. Think of it as Ward and June Cleaver meets Area 51. πŸ™‚ This is a big departure for me, as Sarah Madison writes almost exclusively in the M/M romance genre. The Madison Dean persona and website still needs a bit of work, but we’re getting there.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The Boys of Summer400x600Hmmm. I frequently describe my stories as being ‘romances with a twist’. I find odd things interesting. I spend most of my time running around thinking, ‘hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…?’ What that means is that you’ll seldom find a straightforward romance among my stories. As you can see from above, I describe Unspeakable Words as a ‘FBI/paranormal story’. The Boys of Summer is a contemporary story, but it has a long historical sequence within it. Crying for the Moon is about a vampire who wants to live a ‘normal’ life. The fun of writing for me is to create a set of characters and put them in a crucible of sorts–to put them in hot water and see how strong they are.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Whew-boy. That’s a tough one. I wish I knew. I write stories that appeal to me. I’m aware they don’t work for everyone. Sometimes I wish my own thought processes were a little more mainstream.Β  πŸ™‚ I’m aware that I’m your basic mid-list author and that I will never rise to NYT bestseller status. I’ve been toying with writing outside the M/M genre. In part because I want to try my hand at something new. In part because I am tired of justifying myself within a genre where some people repeatedly question the presence of any women authors at all. You know, that’s an inherent misogyny that is incredibly frustrating to face time and time again. The implication is that we as women are incapable of accurately portraying a gay man. That we wouldn’t do the same kind of research necessary before we’d write a story about someone with a spinal cord injury, or a historical novel, or a police procedural, or any other topic with which we don’t have personal experience. Sexism is just as ugly as racism or homophobia, and sadly, women authors (and by association female readers as well) are often accorded by some the intellectual respect that someone would give a semi-literate chimpanzee.
But also because I *adore* strong female characters and would give my eyeteeth to be able to create one that doesn’t make me want to bitch-slap her 20 pages into the book. You know what I mean. The kind of woman who can eat whatever she wants and never gain an ounce. The kind who is completely unaware of her beauty (show me a beautiful woman in ignorance of her attractiveness and I’ll call her a liar) and has improbably colored eyes–how many women do you know with lavender-colored irises?? No, my heroines are more like Zoe from Firefly, or Peggy Carter from Captain America, or Kate Beckett on Castle (before she started looking so much like a fashion model–seriously, I preferred her sharp-edged classy look from the beginning of the series) or Amelia Peabody from the Elizabeth Peters novels. So yeah. There are days when I dream of writing a ridiculously runaway bestseller like 50 Shades of Gray. Sadly, that kind of story doesn’t interest me as a reader or a writer. I’d die happy if I created a series heroine I adored.
And I love shoes. πŸ˜‰Black shoes_resized
4. How does my writing process work?
Well, it usually starts with a ‘what if’ idea. What if rooftop gargoyles came to life every night? What if they were fascinated by humans, read their books, observed their activities? Or what if a vampire decided to shun his old existence and attempt to live life as a moral? What if a hard-ass FBI agent accidentally touched an artifact and developed paranormal powers? I LOVE what if questions. They take my mind on a wild journey where improbable dangers and cheesily romantic things happen. I play around with these ideas for a while, daydreaming over chores or before I drift off to sleep at night.Β  Eventually the characters take form and I tone down the more ludicrous aspects of my fantasy. And lo, a story is born. πŸ™‚
So there you have it! Now I’m going to tag three authors to answer the same questions next week on their own blogs and tag three more authors themselves. And so on, and so on.
My three fellow authors:
Anna Butler is the author of several short stories in Dreamspinner anthologies, as well as her sci-fi short story Flashwired. I’ve been extremely fortunate to be part of the beta process for her epic five book sci-fi Taking Shield series that is currently submitted to a publisher, as well as her delightful M/M romance Gilded Scarab. She is an incredibly gifted author–her world-building is stellar!
My next victim tag-ee is Sarah Granger. I’ve only recently discovered this author! I fell in love with her M/M historical romance A Minor Inconvenience–I can’t say enough good things about it! You can check out my review here. I was absolutely entranced by this story and count it among one of the best M/M romances I’ve read this year. She also *nails* the Regency genre down cold. If you love historicals, this is Jane Austen meets Horatio Hornblower in a story Jane would blush to tell.
Last but not least is Hb Pattskyn! I was fortunate enough to have Hb on the website talking about her book, Hanging by the Moment, and I’ve been following with interest her decision to take charge of her health and remake her body. I’m looking forward to hearing what she’s up to now–all three of these tagged authors will have their posts up May 6th so be on the look out for them!

Captain America: Uncool, Unappreciated, and Absolutely Necessary

Captain America Shield_flickrI went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier again. I had been to see it during its opening week, clutching the BF’s knee as we went through one dizzying action-packed scene after another. I was practically breathless by the end of the film, and really felt that one viewing was insufficient for me to assimilate everything that was tossed at me in 136 minutes it took to air the movie. In fact, if I have any complaints about the film, it is that we raced headlong from one explosive scene to another. I could have used a few more scenes of dialog, simply to catch my breath between collisions and attacks. The solid rush of stimulation diminished the impact of the actions sequences after a bit, reducing their overall tension by turning them into one sustained crush.

There will be spoilers here. Just warning you now. If you haven’t seen the movie and you don’t want to be spoiled by my thoughts here, hit the back button now. This is just my personal reaction to the movie and why I think we need ‘real’ heroes–unequivocal good guys.

The Boys of Summer400x600I’ll be the first to admit that of all the precursors to the first Avengers movie, Captain America was my favorite. Anyone who knows me knows I have a thing for stories set in WW2 (hence The Boys of Summer) and that I adore Peggy Carter. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the first Iron Man movie as well–watching Tony Stark go through the process of redeeming and recreating himself was truly delightful. Robert Downey, Jr. IS Iron Man. πŸ™‚

But my heart belongs to Captain Steve Rogers.

Recently, however, I discovered that this wasn’t a cool thing to admit. Steve Rogers is boring, according to some people. He is too straight-laced. He’s corny. He’s *gasp* old-fashioned. Most of my friends prefer Tony Stark’s in-your-face, completely unapologetic caustic brilliance or Loki’s smiling cruelty, which somehow makes you ready to make excuses for him even as he slides a knife between your ribs. I can see the appeal of both of these characters; I enjoy them myself. Mind you, the character of Steve Rogers was created at a time when the country needed an avatar for American victory over the Axis Powers seeking world domination. Some of that hokey patriotism is present in the current incarnation as well.

But you know what? I think we need more Steve Rogers in this world. Let me tell you why.

He’s a good guy. No, I don’t mean in the sense of being a superhero. He was a good guy before he ever gained super powers. In fact, that was the whole point of the Super Soldier serum experiment back in the 1940s: it took whatever personal characteristics you had and accentuated them as well as giving you physical strength and rapid healing. That was why Red Skull became a villain when he partook of the serum. It increased his thirst for power and all the dark, evil thoughts inside him until nothing would satisfy but the creation of a world order with himself as leader. Steve Rogers *had* to be a decent guy before undergoing the testing in order not to become a monster afterward.

We already knew that he wasn’t a quitter, based on how he never gave up in a fight, even when he was being beaten to a pulp. That he wanted to do his part for his country, even though ‘killing Nazis’ was not his motivation. No, he knew that sometimes you have to stand and fight because it’s the right thing to do. We knew he had courage, as evidenced as being the only soldier who threw himself on the dummy grenade when told that everyone was in danger. We knew that he wasn’t an unthinking dolt when he managed to get the flag off the flagpole (thus earning himself a ride back to camp) when it was apparent that brute strength alone wasn’t going to get the job done. The first movie did a marvelous job of showing us why Steve Rogers became Captain America.

What I don’t get is why this somehow makes him contemptible in the eyes of many movie-goers today. Why standing up for what you believe in and being a decent guy makes you boring and predictable and less likeable than the Lokis of the entertainment world. Steve Rogers, I love you. Let me count the ways…

The banter with Natasha throughout The Winter Soldier was brilliant because she was the perfect counterpoint to him. Jaded, ruthless, cynical: Black Widow is about as far as you can get from Captain America and still be on the same team. I liked how what he offered was the one thing she probably seldom got from men: the offer of friendship and trust. I liked too, how even though Steve is told that he can’t trust anyone, this film was ultimately about surrounding yourself with people you could trust. I don’t think the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television program has pulled off the same complex issues with the same finesse or success. While I care about Cap, and Falcon, and Black Widow, and Fury, and Hill, I cannot say the same for the AoS team. I feel more for poor, tortured Bucky than I do for Agent Ward, who presumably has been conditioned to be a similar type of assassin. One storyline works for me and the other doesn’t. I think the difference lies in the nature of Steve Rogers himself.

Locket and CompactThe scene in the nursing home with Peggy Carter was especially poignant for me. Toward the end of his life, my father lost the ability to put anything into long-term memory. I’ve lost count of the conversations we had where he was completely lucid and articulate one moment and the next we were repeating the conversation from the very beginning again. Steve went to visit Peggy, knowing that the woman he’d fallen in love with was lost to him. And you can tell from that scene that it wasn’t the first time he’d visited Peggy. No, he’d been there before–the look of pain and loss on his face when Peggy exclaimed again over his reappearance from the dead made it obvious that he’d had this same conversation with her before. And yet he came back. He didn’t have to. But he did it because he loved her.

Or what about that speech he made over the S.H.I.E.L.D. intercom, announcing to everyone the truth about his fugitive status and what Hydra had planned for the world? Yes, it was a cheesy speech. But it was every bit as moving as the St. Crispin’s Day speech by Henry the 5th. It’s the kind of speech that makes you say, “Yes, I will follow this man into the gates of Hell.” It motivated people to stand up for what they believed in, to take sides in this war on personal freedoms (and you’d better be paying attention–the Patriot Act and the elimination of Net Neutrality make the machinations of Hydra’s algorithms to eliminate potential trouble-makers based on their internet history not so far-fetched after all). You know who the biggest heroes in this film were? Agent 13 (who is Sharon Carter, Peggy Carter’s great-niece) for questioning her superiors as to why Captain America was being treated like a criminal and the guy at the control panel who refused to launch the codes that would activate the Insight program. That, my friends, is what Superheroes do for us–they inspire us to be everyday heroes ourselves.

“I’m following Cap’s orders.” We do things like this because we believe in that hero. In order to inspire that kind of put-your-life-on-the-line action, our hero has to be someone worthy of emulating to that degree.

Then, too, there is Steve’s determination not to give up on his friend, Bucky. We know the Bucky that was is no more. The Winter Soldier is no more Bucky, Steve’s lifelong friend, than the rabid dog at the end of the film is Ol’ Yeller. Does that make Steve stupid when he tries to get through to Bucky? Perhaps. There was that moment in Ol’ Yeller in which the heroic dog that he was hesitates for a split second before the madness of rabies closes in on his brain again. Steve’s need to get through to Bucky is about likely to succeed. But it is that same determination that sees him placing the last chip into the control panel that will change the targeting system for the Insight ships, despite being shot multiple times. We watch him take bullet after bullet and still drag himself up to that control panel because replacing that chip will save millions of lives.

You know what? That man, the man that would visit the love of his life in the nursing home even though they are out of sync with each other by 70 years, and the man who would stick by his friend even though, through torture and experimentation, that friend has become a monster–that is the man I’d want at my back. That is the man I can admire enough to refuse to do something that is wrong–even if there is a gun pointed at my head He’s a bona fide hero here, and frankly, I think we need more of them in our lives.

I’ve been talking with several of my friends about this lately. About the dearth of admirable heroes in television and in the movies. How producers sneer at the ‘square jawed hero’ and instead introduce characters that they believe are more accessible because they might as well be our boss or our next-door neighbor. We’re supposed to relate to their dilemmas because we recognize them as people we know. Well, you know what? I am routinely disappointed in the people I know. I need something better than that if I’m going to be encouraged to stick to my beliefs, to stand up for civil rights being eroded or denied, to keep trying to be a better person. I’m sick of dystopian fiction and programs that make the future look so bleak we might as well curl up and die before tomorrow comes. I don’t know about you, but I need a hero that I can believe in. Someone who will give me the courage of my convictions and help me get through the bad days.

Fellow author Jamie Fessenden and I were discussing this on Facebook the other day, and I quote him here:

I do miss the hopeful science fiction (and comic hero) stories of the 50s, despite the elements of propaganda. I’m with Sarah in being tired of dystopian fiction. Some of it is really good (I love The Hunger Games), but I would really like to see a more optimistic portrayal of the future now and then. Especially for teenagers. I don’t think we accomplish much by telling the next generation it’s all hopeless, so we might as well just give up and accept that. There’s a thin line between propaganda and giving people something to strive for.

Another one of my friends also agreed with me, stating why she loved Doctor Who so much. She quoted to me what Steven Moffat once said about The Doctor, and I’ll share it here:

When they made this particular hero, they didn’t give him a gun, they gave him a screwdriver to fix things.They didn’t give him a tank or a warship or an x-wing fighter, they gave him a call box from which you can call for help. And they didn’t give him a superpower or pointy ears or a heat ray, they gave him an extra heart. They gave him two hearts. And that’s an extraordinary thing; there will never come a time when we don’t need a hero like the Doctor.

He’s right, you know. Likewise, there will never be a time when the world doesn’t need a Steve Rogers. Even though we may not be smart enough to know it. Even though it may not be the cool thing to admit.

Why We Need Heroes

Steve MedallionI’m a geek at heart, I’ll admit it.

I grew up watching Star Trek, Star Wars and the original Battlestar Galactica. I once won a contest for tickets to a science-fiction convention by answering a Star Trek trivia question on a radio show. I have a Next Gen costume that I made despite the fact I possess no sewing skills whatsoever. That’s what fandom love will do for you. πŸ™‚

I graduated to Babylon 5 (which I still say was among the best sci-fi television ever on the air), the X-Files, and Firefly. When ‘television’ became live-streaming and broadband, I was there, watching my shows: Torchwood, Doctor Who, the Stargate series…

What attracted me to these shows was something I am finding scarce among television shows today. It’s the sense of Team. It’s the group of people who somehow, together, supersede their individuality. It’s the notion that this group, be it the Pegasus expedition, or the crew of the Enterprise, or Misfit Toys band of characters on Serenity, are people you want at your side and covering your back. They are better together than they are alone. I miss that in this wave of reality television, gritty cop shows, and post-apocalyptic, Lord-of-the-Flies type shows that are predominant today. I don’t want to see back-stabbing and small-minded pettiness. I get plenty of that in real life.

Peggy's CompactI know why this kind of show is the driving force in television right now. Science fiction television is expensive to make and usually has a fierce, but smaller than national average of viewers. We are a jaded and cynical audience as well. It is easier to believe in the dark universes of fairy tales and vampires than the optimistic universe of Gene Roddenberry. But there is little out there that can make me drop everything and tune in week after week. Little that compels me to weave further stories about these characters or that universe. That makes me fly across the country to meet the actors, that drives me to spend months putting together a costume.

I think it is because science fiction and fantasy lend itself more easily to people spinning off their own stories in their minds. I’ve been writing ‘fanfiction’ in my head for as long as I can remember–I just didn’t know that’s what it was called. In fact, I thought I was strange because I did this, and on more than one occasion, tried cutting it out of my life. Little did I know that I was purposely uprooting my passion and throwing it in the dust heap. Fortunately, the roots of true writers are tenacious and tough, and the little bastard of creativity kept sending out new sprouts.

But I also think it is because science fiction leads itself more to role models I can identify with myself. Strong female characters who can take names and kick ass along with the boys. Strong male characters that are a little bit better than you are. That give you something to look up to, to strive to be. I don’t want a hero who’s perfect–but I don’t want one with feet of clay, either. I don’t fall in love with characters that are like my boss, or my co-worker, or me.Β  I want something better than that. A higher standard to hold up and live up to. I can deal with heroes that need redemption–as long as you show me that spark worth saving is there.

Peggy Carter's ShoesRight now my current hero is Peggy Carter from the 2011 Captain America movie. She is the embodiment of everything I love in a heroine: she is tough as nails but she never loses sight of her femininity. She plays by the rules, even though she doesn’t agree with them, unless something so important comes up that she willingly breaks them. Actress Haley Atwell, who played Peggy Carter to perfection, is quoted as saying this about her: “I likened her character to that famous Ginger Rogers quote. ‘She can do everything Captain America can do, but backwards and in high heels’. She’s an English soldier through and through, although she always looks fabulous. She might stand there with a machine-gun shooting Nazis, but she’s obviously gone to the loo beforehand and applied a bit of lipstick. She doesn’t need to be rescued. That’s exciting to me – her strength. I think she’s quite stubborn, a slightly frustrated woman who struggles with being a woman in that time. But more importantly she’s a modern woman and she sees something in Captain America that she relates to, and becomes kindred spirits. He treats her very differently to how she’s been treated by lots of men, in this kind of dominated world she lives in. So she’s very much a fighter.” (Wikipedia)

Victory RedI adore Peggy Carter as a character. I loved her relationship with Steve Rogers in Captain America–she liked him before the transformation, but she was a little gobsmacked by the transformation, you could tell. Still she kept her cool and downplayed her attraction until the point at which she saw another woman flirting with him. Just after she catches him being kissed by the aggressive flirt, there’s a scene in which Rogers and Stark showed her the shield they were testing. They ask her what she thinks and she pulls out a gun and shoots point blank at the shield while Steve is holding it. She puts the gun down and says the shield seems to work just fine to her. Simply. Awesome. She is a wonderful character. I was sorry to realize that we probably wouldn’t see any more of her as the series franchise has left WW2 behind and moved into our own time frame now.

Then I heard that Marvel had made a short film with Atwell reprising the role of Peggy Carter as part of the Blu-Ray DVD extras. Well, I don’t have a Blu-Ray, and my ability to see the film was nil, but it got leaked on the internet and thanks to an eagle-eyed friend, I did get to see it. You know what? Peggy is in mourning because she thinks Steve is dead–but she is going on with her life too. She is fighting a system that doesn’t value her because she’s a woman, yet she is not only doing her job but better than everyone else too. This is what women have been doing for decades to make it possible for women like me to work in the profession that I do. And though I know she is a fictional character, wondering “What would Peggy do?” helps me straighten my skirt (when I happen to be wearing one) and lift my chin and get on with my life.

Maybe that makes me the geekiest of geeks. But I’d rather live my life with my fictional heroes to guide me than a dark, colorless existence without them.

Peggy Carter Sun-2_resizedNo, I’m no Hayley Atwell. That’s not the point. The people who celebrate International Walk Like Beckett Day are not trying to look like Stana Katic. They are embracing the power that the character of Kate Beckett gives them. For you, it might be Ivanova from B5, or Brenda Leigh Johnson from The Closer. Maybe it’s John Sheppard from Stargate Atlantis or Mal from Firefly. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that if your heroes give you the strength to make it through the day, if you are a little better at the end of the day because of them–embrace the power they give you. πŸ™‚


I do think in small part the reason Peggy Carter resonates with me so much is the amount of time I spent researching WW2 and the Battle of Britain in particular, for my most recent M/M romance, The Boys of Summer. If you’re looking for a hot summer read, then you might want to check it out!

The Boys of Summer400x600

When Your Fandom Heroes Become Heroes for Real…

StarTrekoldpixMost of you following this blog know that I was at Galacticon 3 and ComicPalooza last weekend. I had a great time, though I would argue that one of the difficulties with attending such a large combined convention is that you have to pick and choose what events/panels/presentations you will attend. There were over 20 K attendees when all was said and done. The Convention Center was enormous–a regular rabbit warren of rooms and lecture halls. The venue also held an upscale lawyer’s graduation in the middle of all the sci-fi chaos (I wonder if any heads will roll over *that* bit of planning) and at times, it looked like a cartoonish clash of families at a wedding with the lawyer types in their $2 K outfits looking down their noses at the sci-fi fans and *their* $2 K outfits! I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of the lawyers crowd had really wanted to be at the sci-fi convention–we looked like we were having more fun!

I wish I had worried less about my joint presentations (they went well, mostly due to Anna Butler’s superb organizational skills!) and had taken the time to sit in on some of the panels. I wish I’d taken charge of my time better–that I had not run hither and hon but had said, “I want to be here and do this” and just did it. I wish I’d brought a better camera, and had packed the video camera anyway. I wish I’d spent less money on food (though it was hard, darn it, everything was so bloody expensive in Houston!) and more on autographs, photo ops, or merchandise. I had my reasons. I was trying to be good, trying to stay within the budget. I have quarterly taxes due this month. I have a filling that’s suspiciously painful. The laptop is locking up more and giving me the Blue Screen of Death and I don’t know how many more times the Lt. Colonel John Sheppard School of Computer repair will work (i.e. turn it off and back on again). I told myself I didn’t need to stand in line and be one of many telling an actor or actress how much I appreciated their work. How the character they represented gave me the strength or courage to be a better person.

I wish I’d followed my inner rebel and had, at the very least, determined to sit in on the panel given by Sir Patrick Stewart instead of following the schedule I’d been given. Because sometimes when you stray from the path laid out for you–that’s when amazing things happen.

I found out later exactly what I’d missed.

I’m a Star Trek fan from waaaaay back. I’ve watched it as long as I can remember watching television. Through the endless re-runs of The Original Series, Next Gen, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise (until Paramount pulled it and tried to run with it on their own channel, which I didn’t get). I saw all the movies, and I love the re-imaged Star Trek movies with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto and the rest of the new cast. I thought the decision to go with an alternative reality a *brilliant* move on the franchise’s part, allowing for new stories with the characters we knew and loved. I can compartmentalize when I want to, so I can sort of block out the fact that the re-imaged series has effectively negated everything from The Original Series on. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not just an alternate reality, it’s an alternate universe too. πŸ˜€

My love of sci-fi isn’t limited to Star Trek by any means. Babylon 5, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis all top the list of shows I can watch over and over again. In part because of the unapologetic strong role models for women. In part because there was a sense of ‘team’ among these shows, and it made you as the viewer strive to be good enough (at whatever you did) to be considered part of that team.

I get that the actor is not the character. I can separate the two in my mind, which is helpful when you love a character and the actor may or may not be someone of similar character strength. That is why it’s called acting after all. But even though I can maintain that distance, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside when a celebrity whose work I admire turns out to be admirable in other respects as well. It somehow validates your love of that character just a little.

This past week, I’ve seen a photo in which John Barrowman, on meeting a young blind girl, took her hands and placed them on his face, guiding her to his hair, his eyes, his lips, his cheekbones so that she could ‘see’ him. The picture is blurry but you can see the genuine patience and understanding on his face–this is something that he wanted to do. And though I frequently joke about how everyone loves John Barrowman and wants to kiss him, well, after this, I think it might be true.

photo by jareed flickr commons

photo by jareed flickr commons

I also read a wonderful quote from George Clooney this past week. Many actors have come out in support of equal rights, most memorably for me: Chris Evans, Daniel Ratcliffe, and Anne Hathaway. I liked what George Clooney had to say on the matter: β€œAt some point in our lifetime, gay marriage won’t be an issue, and everyone who stood against this civil right will look as outdated as George Wallace standing on the school steps keeping James Hood from entering the University of Alabama because he was black.”

But the showstopper for me is the Q&A that I missed, the one with Sir Patrick Stewart. Today, the internet is abuzz with what happened there. I’m going to give you the links from both sides of the story–from viewers and the person who asked the question as well. They can tell the story much better than I can because they were there and I was not.

A member of the audience asked Sir Patrick Stewart what was the achievement he was the most proud of outside his acting career. He answered by saying it was his efforts to call attention to domestic violence against women. What happens next–well, you’ll have to watch and read it to get the full effect.

Sir Patrick Stewart at a soccer game--public domain

Sir Patrick Stewart at a soccer game–public domain

First the video in which Sir Patrick answers the question, stating it is in men’s hands to stop violence against women. His powerful, thoughtful, insightful words are ones everyone should hear. I defy you to watch it without tearing up. Can I say that the fact that the woman in the audience was wearing a Next Gen uniform makes me recognize a kindred spirit? Someone who uses the worlds she reads about and watches on television and in the movies to make her life better. Stronger. Healthier. A Trill at that. If you know anything about Star Trek, you’ll recognize that co-joined species as one that experiences many lives in a symbiotic state with its host–and how symbolic that is, whether the questioner realizes it or not.

Next, we have the woman who asked the question and her response to that emotional moment (taken from from her Tumblr account). I’m so glad there was someone taking pictures as well as videoing this experience. It’s a powerful one that needs to be shared. I’m so glad that Lemon Sweetie had the nerve to stand up and ask her question, and to get the answer and connection she needed and deserved. And the standing ovations!

So I think it would be an understatement to say that I regret not sitting in on that Q&A panel. The take-home lesson from that is this: sometimes you need to trust your instincts. Sometimes you need to say, “what the hell, it’s a once-in-a lifetime experience”. Because finding out a fandom hero is a real-life hero? Priceless.

TRRSizzlingSummerReadsBoxAdAs an FYI, the Summer Sizzling Reads starts today and lasts the entire month of June! Be sure to register at The Romance Reader to be entered to win tons of prizes all month long! My Q&A will be up June 3–if you don’t know the answer, come check out the website–I’ll post it here. Answering the question on TRR site will enter you to win a copy of The Boys of Summer!