Writing in Spite of it All…

Hinfallingsnow_zps0b503108I’ll be the first to admit, 2016 wasn’t a very productive year for me.

To be perfectly honest,  I lived with a growing conviction we’d see a Trump presidency, and this hamstrung and paralyzed my ability to write.

I started at least four stories last year, reached the 40 K mark, decided they were utter crap, and abandoned them. Maybe they were crap. Maybe I just lost faith in them. It was impossible to concentrate on them to work through their issues as long as I lived with this utter, horrible premonition that everything was about to go to hell.

winter is comingAnd you know what? My worst fears came true. Since I’m a writer, that’s saying something.

Not only did Trump get elected President, but within hours of his taking office, links for climate change, civil rights, and GLBTQ rights disappeared from with WhiteHouse.gov website. Republican lawmakers in five states launched bills to criminalize peaceful protests. Every Cabinet member chosen by the Trump transition team could best be summed up by choosing the biggest, most vicious fox and putting it in charge of the respective hen houses. If he proposed making Cruella DeVille the Secretary of the National Humane Society, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. The gross manipulation of the confirmation hearings, with limiting questioning, means most of them will get rammed through regardless of the fitness of the nominee for office.

The GOP wants to defund Planned Parenthood and the National Endowment for the Arts. They announced plans to eliminate twenty-five of the DOJ’s Violence Against Women grant programs, and of course, they want to kill the Affordable Care Act. Millions will lose health care coverage as a result, and reinstituting the ability of companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions will doom many to backruptcy at best and death at worst. Medicare and Social Security aren’t safe, either.

I should also like to point out that because we have a Republican Congress and Senate, we are unlikely to see an impeachment go through, despite the fact Trump has already violated the Constitution he just swore to uphold by taking office without divesting from his businesses.That doesn’t even touch on the disturbing possibility the Russians interfered with the election for the sole purpose of getting Trump in office. Or the fact that given the age of most of the members of the Supreme Court, the incoming administration will have the power to influence legislation for decades to come. Let’s not forget the last time we had a Republican House, Senate, and President, we had the Great Depression and it took World War II to end it.

Wait, I take that back. We also had a GOP-controlled House, Senate, and Presidency from 2003-2006. Also one of the worst economic downturns in American history. Believe it or not, driving the economy bus off the cliff has nothing to do with POC, ‘the gays’, Muslims, immigrants, or ‘uppity’ women and everything to do with the policies of the GOP.  Not that Trump’s supporters will see it that way.

It’s a lot to take in. Not to mention, my firm belief we have an unstable man who cannot bear criticism in any form who has been given access to the nuclear codes, or that his closest advisors could double for Hitler’s Cabinet. Or that science and education are considered dirty words and in some locations, government officials are actively prohibited from using the words “climate change.”

It’s also hard to believe, in the face of all of this, that any scribblings I might create could have value or meaning. Isn’t it the height of frivolity to continue telling stories in such an environment?

I don’t think so.

It took me a while to reach this point. I’ve read posts on the subject written–far more eloquently than anything I could say–by other people. Probably the best of them have been written by Chuck Wendig, who wrote How to Create Art and Make Cool Stuff in a Time of Trouble, as well as this morning’s words of encouragement about the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States: No One’s Coming to Save Us, So We Have To Save Each Other.

Good words.They didn’t sink in right away, though. And I will probably have to refer to them again and again as I struggle with what the future brings to our country and our planet. Until this morning, when Trump was irrevocably sworn in, I think on some level I was hoping for a last minute reprieve. The Ring is tossed into the fires of Mt. Doom. Harry Potter destroys the final Horcrux. Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane. Something. Anything.

And yet, it did not. Trump has been sworn in, and the ravaging of our lands and our rights, the savaging of the public programs, the crippling of the already struggling middle class, has begun.

The battle lines have been drawn. So mourn, but don’t stop resisting. Don’t allow anyone to normalize what the GOP and the President are doing. Be outraged, but don’t let it paralyze you. Remember to take care of yourself and those around you that are struggling: emotionally, physically, financially.

Never Give UpOne of the things I’ve done that seems to help me a little is order some of these rings from Amazon. I got the idea from a post by The Bloggess–it seems someone gave her one of these rings once, and now she keeps some on hand so she can give them out to people she thinks needs them. I buy them three at a time and wear one until I give it away. When I’ve given away the last one, I buy three more.

Remember that we cannot function in a state of sustained fear and anger. Share those kitten pictures. Penguins. Otters. We need more otters. Baby otters. Corgis. Hell, Baby Corgi-Otter crosses. Sharing something that makes you happy doesn’t mean you aren’t taking things seriously enough. It means you’re in this for the long haul and you have to nourish your soul. That includes celebrating the events in your life important to you.

Read. Pull out your comfort reads, whatever they may be. I find I’m re-reading a lot of the children’s horse and dog books I grew up with, as well as historical romances. There’s something very soothing in reading about an era where the worst thing that happens is that you get cut dead by society or your sister makes an imprudent match. But if zombie apocalypse is your comfort read, that’s okay too. Read, and then share your squee. Make an author’s day and tell them how much you enjoyed their story. Leave a review.

Watch your favorite movies. Remember why you love your heroes. You know who was the biggest hero is in The Winter Soldier? Sure, Steve Rogers gave a stirring speech about doing what’s right when everyone around you is doing wrong. But the real hero in my book is the little tech guy who refuses to push the button that will activate the Insight program–which would kill thousands of people all over the world deemed as a potential ‘threat.’

He was inspired by Captain America’s words. But he refused to give in to doing wrong, even when he knew the consequences for refusal would be grave.

Also, if you are a creator, then create. More than ever we need our creators, our artists, musicians, and storytellers. Because it’s the creators that taught us about Voldemort and why he needed to be defeated. It’s the creators that give us Fight Songs, our Katniss Everdeens, and our Princess Leias. It’s creators who wrote  Captain America the inspirational speech, and creators who give us hope.

Rebellions are built on hope.

If you’re like me, and you think we’re in for a very rough time ahead, there are some practical steps you can take.

We each have to resist in the manner we can best maintain, however. I can call my Congressmen. I can donate a little to some organizations, but not all. I can write letters of protest. I can pen stories of hope. Marching in huge crowds? Makes me want to run screaming for the hills. This is a sustained march we’re on–a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself accordingly. Pick the organizations it is the most important to you to support and remember someone else will have different priorities. If every penny you have is going to your own survival, it’s okay you can’t donate money. Consider volunteering or some other way of showing the President he does not have the mandate of the people behind him. If organizing and participating in a protest march is your forte, I will cheer you on.

As for my writing, I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to what kinds of stories I should be telling now. I still believe as much as ever we need stories with happy endings. Stories where two people meet, fall in love, overcome adversity and live happily together afterward. Stories that take you out of your stressful, crappy day and transport you to another world for a few hours.

More than ever we need stories where diversity and acceptance aren’t dirty words. But I also find that I have other kinds of stories within me begging to be told now. Stories about finding your inner strength and power. About standing up for what’s right. I suspect my storytelling is going to be changing over the next couple of years. I’ll keep you posted.

I think this also means I’ll be spending less time on social media in the name of self-protection and increased productivity. I’ll still be around, but less vocal, less angry. I think we have our work cut out for us in the upcoming years, and yet I will probably be making fewer posts like this one.

I have lanterns to light. Hope to share. Stories to tell.

Time to get to it.

 

 

Why Peggy Carter resonates with so many women today

Value2Anyone who knows me even slightly knows I am a HUGE fan of Peggy Carter. Captain America: The First Avenger is one of my favorite movies, in part because I adored Peggy Carter in it. (I also might have a thing for the time period, seeing as I wrote The Boys of Summer 🙂 ) I’ve written about why I think Steve Rogers is the kind of hero we need, and I’ve written a little about my adventures in cosplaying Carter. I’m obsessed in the way only a fangirl can be. If you search this website for references to Peggy Carter, you’ll see what I mean.

Ever since Captain America:TFA came out, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing what would happen to characters like these after the war. After their brilliant, adrenaline-driven careers were no longer necessary, and they had to meld into suburban America. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a series under the pen name Madison Dean, a kind of X-Files meets Ward and June Cleaver. I thought it would be fun, and I was enjoying the research for it. Then Agent Carter came out, and I realized that I’m going to have to change much of how I envisioned my original characters in order to prevent it from feeling derivative.

Besame 1940 PerfumeYou know what? I don’t care. Because I enjoyed Agent Carter as a television show so much, it doesn’t bother me that it might have shot down my brilliant idea for a romantic adventure series. I enjoyed it so much, it even knocked Queen Elsa off the throne for my current fangirl obsession. (Lord knows, I’ve posted a lot about Frozen, too! You should do a site search on that one if you want to read them all…)

Yesterday, I got a text from a friend off at Emerald City Comic Con, saying she had a surprise for me. Now, I’ve been running on fumes this last week, dealing with an injured horse needing round-the-clock treatment in an effort to save his eye. So when I got her text, it piqued my curiosity but I’d forgotten where she’d gone this weekend. Then she sent me a photo of my surprise: an autograph from Hayley Atwell! Those high-pitched dolphin squeals of glee you heard around the world yesterday? Yeah, that was me.

I showed the image to the BF last night at dinner, and he said he’d been looking for some sort of Agent Carter-related thing to get me ever since the series came out, but he’d had trouble finding anything he liked. Which gave me the warm fuzzies, you know? We watched Agent Carter together each week when it was on–it was our one Must See Live television show, and I believe he looked forward to it almost as much as me (given the amount of teasing I got, I’m sure of it!). The fact that he’s been looking for something Carter-related as a gift shows he *gets* me.

Besame Red VelvetWhich got me thinking this morning, why Peggy Carter? Why not Black Widow, or Wonder Woman, or Kate Beckett, or Brenda Leigh Johnson, or any of a number of excellent female characters over the years? What is it about Peggy that strikes such a chord? Why did Twitter explode with live tweeting during Agent Carter? It’s not just because Hayley Atwell is adorable (have you seen the pictures she posts of her sleeping almost anywhere on almost anything? The one of her in the suitcase is my favorite) but because Peggy Carter herself really struck a cord with a lot of viewers.

For a heroine, she’s super-feminine in a way that is disarming. She’s not in a catsuit. She doesn’t look like she could break your nose with her elbow, despite the fact she can. She is under-appreciated at work, and her male superiors dismiss her abilities while at the same time take advantage of them. I love the fact that she anticipates the mission’s needs and has the information ready to provide before her bosses can even ask for it. I confess, I was disconcerted by the scene where she takes a male co-worker to task for standing up for her–I thought she should have rewarded him for being progressive, after all! But I realized that she dressed him down for intervening because no one should have to intervene on her behalf. To have a man back her in that scenario meant that her presence and usefulness was only allowed if validated by a male co-worker. It was an interesting distinction to make, and one far more subtle than the average comic-book show.

Cinnamon Sweet resizedBut she can ditch the feminine look to get dirty in the trenches. She can knock back Scotch with the best of her male companions, the ones who know her true value and don’t question what she brings to the team. Her hand shakes when she diffuses a bomb. She’s known heartbreak, and personal loss. She’s made mistakes, ones that have gotten people killed, and she’s suffered the guilt, as well as the consequences of her actions. She eats out at restaurants a lot, because seriously, when does she have time to cook? She curses when she hits her head. She is tempted by the luxury of staying a night in Howard Stark’s townhouse, so far removed from a life sharing flats with other women. She is wonderfully realized as a character. She is human. And she is a damn sight closer to most of us than the average role model we see on screen.

One of the best moments in the series is depicted on the mug above: Peggy states clearly that she doesn’t need outside validation to know her worth. She doesn’t expect it. She’s learned to live without it. She’s learned that the only person she mustn’t disappoint is herself. Praise from others is nice, but she doesn’t need it to know she’s done her best.

Forites shoes 1That is a wonderful, amazing, empowering mindset. Seriously, it is everything we could ever hope for in a role model. No, we’re not going to be able to take out bad guys with a mean right hook, but we can look smashing while we go about our business, do our jobs to the very best of our abilities, and we can hold our heads–and our standards–high when the rest of the world would put us down. Without whining.

I sincerely hope Marvel and ABC decide to renew the series for another season. It was by far the best thing I’ve seen on television in years. We need more female characters like this in television, movies, and books. And she’s inspired me to create some of my own.

A friend, knowing my obsession, linked me to this wonderful, amazing essay on Agent Carter and the power of friendship. Do check it out. You won’t be sorry. 🙂

 

Fabulous Five Blog Post: What’s Your Writing Style?

I was invited by Anne Barwell to take place in the Fabulous Five Author Blog Hop. The idea is that we answer a specific set of questions and tag five more authors to do the same. The hardest part of the challenge has been finding someone who isn’t already doing this! The best part, however, has been reading what everyone is working on and what their writing process is like. So here I go!

UnspeakableWordscover1. 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 in early October. I’ve started the sequel to that story as well, tentatively titled Truth and Consequences, because I left things on a bit of a cliff-hanger and I didn’t want my audience to suffer too long! I had a good session with my critique group today, and realized that I’m going to have to separate my plot lines and go for a fourth story in the series—there’s just too much going on to wrap it up in three books! I’ve just finished the galley proofs on Walk a Mile, and am anxiously anticipating the cover reveal. You know how it is with covers: it’s like finding out the sex of your unborn baby. You’ll love your child no matter what, but you want to know, right? I’ll be sharing the cover just as soon as I get it, believe me!

I recently had a short story published as part of The Not Quite Shakespeare Anthology, also from Dreamspinner. I also have several WIPs that need some serious attention—the kind where you evaluate the story and decide if it is dead in the water or simply needs more time to simmer. 🙂 I have a contemporary story that deals with the difficult topic of job burnout and depression, and another that’s a Regency romp. I want to get back to writing some science fiction as well.

I am seriously considering stepping a toe in to the traditional romance market, so I’ve been doing a lot of reading as a result. To be honest, I’m not sure I can write a heroine for a traditional romance story. I suspect when I launch the Madison Dean line of stories, I’ll be writing the same kind of quirky, non-traditional main characters, mixing a little humor, a little drama, some hot, sexy times, and a touch of paranormal activity together into story that’s a little bit out there. I have 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. 🙂 I’m excited about the idea of centering a heroine in the post-WW2 era. She’s come back from the war in which she’s done exciting, dangerous things, and is expected just to re-assimilate her life as a 50’s homemaker. Her partner, paired with her because he is the science to her soldier, has secrets of his own, one of which is that he took a pilot as a lover during the war. Writing M/F romance is a big departure for me, as Sarah Madison writes almost exclusively in the M/M romance genre. This is important to me, however. These are stories I want to tell.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The Boys of Summer400x600I 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. It may be an odd confession for a romance writer, but romance in and of itself is not the driving force behind my stories. I’m interested in the characters and how they interact. Falling in love is icing on the cake. I wouldn’t want to eat just the frosting, though, would you? There has to be some tart to balance all the sweet.

3. Why do I write what I do?

108267663_8Whew-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.:-) I’m aware that I’m your basic mid-list author and that I will never rise to NYT bestseller status. The idea of writing outside the M/M genre is stemming from a desire to try my hand at something new, but also because I like the idea of challenging myself to create a heroine I can admire. One that goes against some of the common tropes. One of the reasons I enjoying writing M/M romance is because there is something incredibly liberating about writing from a male point of view. I love the fact that when two male characters come together in a romance, they meet on equal terms. No one is dominant or submissive to the needs of the other (unless that is part of the story). They each bring different things to the table. They each take turns rescuing or being the one needing to be rescued. The best part? While I may be called upon to defend my right as a straight woman to write M/M romance, I’ve never been taken to task for the portrayal of the characters themselves.

I *adore* strong female characters. Give me the Zoe from Firefly, or Peggy Carter from Captain America, or Kate Beckett from Castle. Creating a heroine of my own that I like and respect will be tricky, though. Heroines seem to come in for a lot more criticism than heroes. If she stands up for herself, she’s a bitch. If she is vulnerable, she’s weak. If she sleeps with the hero without a major show of reluctance and some resistance that needs to be broken down, she’s a slut. If she doesn’t sleep with the hero at all, she’s a tease. I think it is very difficult to write a three dimensional female character without inviting the world to heap coals of fire on her head for failing to meet the mythical standard of womanly perfection. You know that cell they had you study in biology class? With the nucleolus and the ribosomes and the Golgi bodies? Do you remember that in the fine print, the textbook said that no cell contained all the parts we were studying? They just put them all in this one imaginary cell so that you could learn all the different parts possible in a cell.

That’s how it is with heroines. It is ridiculous to assume they will contain ALL the possible characteristics that go into making the perfect heroine. No matter how you create her, someone’s going to hate what you’ve done. That’s okay. As long as I love her, I won’t mind.

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, though.

Black ShoesAnd I love shoes. 🙂 So, creating my own kick-ass heroine makes sense, right? I can give her the impeccable style I don’t have.

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. Eventually the characters take form and I tone down the more ludicrous aspects of my fantasy. And lo, a story is born. 🙂

So there you have it! Now I’m going to some fabulous authors to answer the same questions next week on their own blogs and tag more authors themselves. And so on, and so on. Sometime during the first week of September, check out the blogs of Raine O’Tierney, Whitley Gray, Elizabeth Noble, and Eden Winters–and find out who they are tagging, too!