2nd Annual International Peggy Carter Day

Yes, I know it’s been a long time since I posted last, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind people that the 2nd annual celebration of International Peggy Carter Day is coming up soon–April 9th to be exact!

What is International Peggy Carter Day? Here’s the statement from the Facebook Group:

On April 9th, 2018, in honor of our favorite Agent’s birthday, we invite Peggy Carter fans to join us in celebrating a character that has brought so much into our lives by taking part in the Second International Peggy Carter Day.

How do you participate in International Peggy Carter Day?
1. On Monday, April 9th, 2018, channel your inner Peggy Carter! Maybe it will be by wearing something Carter-inspired like those retro sunglasses, or those Mary Jane pumps you love so much, that power suit that makes you feel professional and confident, or a stout pair of Army boots. Carry that Stratton compact or tuck a compass in your pocket. Paint your nails red or put on a red fedora. Do whatever makes you feel like Peggy. Maybe the only thing you have to put on is attitude. Tell yourself “I know my value.” Believe it. Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise.

2. Revel in the feeling of empowerment this brings you, you deserve it. Maybe this is the day you ask for that raise or negotiate a better loan. Tell someone you love them. Stand up for what you believe in. Stand up for someone else. Stand up for what’s right. This is your day. Own it.

3. Take pictures! Share your pictures or experiences HERE and on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and across your social media sites #PeggyCarterDay and #IKnowMyValue). Share on your LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, and Imzy accounts. Spread the word among your friends, too.

This year, Besame (in a brilliant marketing move) has released a limited edition Field Agent Lipstick Kit and is encouraging people to post their kit-related pictures to social media with the hashtags #BesameCosmetics  #BeTimeless and #MakeupwithHistory

Be sure to tag them on their social media sites too! If you want a Field Kit you’d better hurry–there aren’t that many left!

Instagram: @BesameCosmetics
Facebook: /BesameCosmetics
Twitter: @BesameCosmetics

4. Last year we promoted Alzheimer’s Awareness by encouraging people to post pictures of themselves sharing a link to an organization in their country—such as the Alzheimer’s Foundation in the United States: www.alzfdn.org 

You can certain do that again! But we’d also like to support the Time’s Up movement this year.

This is an international celebration! We want to see Peggys from all over the world! So be sure to seek out the groups in your area and share the information.

5. We’re also encouraging people to post a picture of themselves holding up a whiteboard or sign with the words: I know my value because______. Fill in the blank with the word that makes you feel your self-worth.

Some people may feel they can’t participate because they aren’t into cosplay or they don’t look anything like Peggy Carter. We encourage people to participate in any way they feel comfortable, the key sentiment here is to embody her spirit in any way you want. It doesn’t matter if that embodiment is external with clothing, or internal with attitude, something else entirely, or all of the above. Anyone can participate. We can all be Peggy if we choose.

Every time you get a group of Peggy fans together, you’re likely to hear how much the character has impacted their lives for the better. In Peggy, we have a heroine who is not a superhero, who doesn’t have special powers, but who gets the job done through hard work, competence, intelligence, and grit. Who has loved and lost and has persevered through much adversity. Who isn’t perfect, but owns up to those imperfections to always do her best.

With one iconic line, she taught legions of fans self-confidence and self-worth. “I know my value” is one of the most powerful sentences ever spoken by a female character. As fellow fan Katie White said, “Peggy Carter is strong and confident, and she gives people who cosplay as her the ability to see what it means to be confident and strong, even if it’s just for a few hours.”

Many Peggy fans have already embraced the idea of emulating everyone’s favorite agent on a daily basis, but for some, this is a new concept.

So join us for International Peggy Carter Day.

The Importance of Play to Your Creativity

dscn3989Toward the end of October, I was all set to write a post about how much fun I’d been having lately. I was anticipating an upcoming release, working on final edits for another, and completing a WIP on a deadline, and yet I’d taken a couple of Saturday afternoons off to play rather than work on these things. I had a charming post in mind about the benefits of play to your creativity.

And then the November elections happened. I won’t sugar-coat it. I was devastated by the results. The implications of the impact of the new administration are staggering on so many levels: personally, financially, emotionally, environmentally… I could go on. I struggled to finish my projects. I began stress eating–and have probably gained ten pounds, I’m afraid to look at the scale. I stopped coloring my hair (and at the moment resemble a skunk with the two inch wide streak of gray running down the middle of my scalp). I’m not  sleeping, and when I do manage to catch a few hours of sleep, I have nightmares.

Writing a cheerful post about the benefits of play to your personal creativity seemed not only frivolous, but pointless as well. Instead of writing about the importance of having fun to energize the writing process, I wrote about why we need our storytellers more than ever. Instead of sharing pictures of me playing with action figures or planning my next cosplay, I wrote about living with fear. Recently, I read a post about how we as creators should keep our mouths shut about politics unless we were political writers. That’s fine if you wish to do that. If you’re concerned about losing readers because of sharing your beliefs. I’ve been turned off by artists who have revealed their true selves to social media, so I get it. But let me say for the record if you don’t buy my works because you revile the things I believe in, well, I doubt seriously you would have enjoyed them anyway.

And let me tell you this: we ALL have a stake in the future here. Regardless of our sexual orientation, our gender, our economic status, our religious beliefs, our age, our ethnicity, our belief in science and education, our status as US citizens… because we ALL live on this planet, and the upcoming administration will put all of that at risk. Not just the part where the cishet white males in the 1% tax bracket live. And given the rampant lying and corrupt inaccuracies coming from the upcoming administration, there needs to be visible and vocal protest every day, otherwise they will continue steamrolling over the rights of everyone.

But that brings me back to the importance of play. Yes, it took me a while to see that. There are two points I want to make here. The first, is that while we all know to be successful as creators, we must be disciplined about working at our craft every day, there are reasons why we still need to read and watch other works, and yes–play.

I have a very good friend who, because we live on different sides of the country, we only get to meet up once a year. However we email each other. We send each other cards and gifts (okay, most of the sending is on her side because she’s awesome like that). And we pose pictures of our action figures in scenes like storyboards and send them to each other.

steve-respondsTwo weeks before the election, I spent 3 or 4 hours posing action figures with props against different backdrops in my yard. I wasn’t conscious of the time. I didn’t stop what I was doing and check my social media platforms every few minutes. I was engrossed and having fun, playing with dolls outside on a gorgeous autumn afternoon. I can’t tell you when the last time I’d had so much fun by myself had occurred. Probably the previous winter, when I spent hours in the snow posing action figures in an epic battle between the Abominable Snowman, Queen Elsa, and the Wraith.

The following weekend, I sorted through my costumes, trying them on and determining which needed more work before the next cosplay event. For someone who goes to conventions once or twice a year at best, I have a lot of costumes. And the afternoon I spent dressing up, attempting to master Peggy Carter’s hair and makeup, was another delightful day spent.

agent-carter-red-dress-and-shoesHere’s the funny thing. I ‘should’ have been writing. I have a limited amount of writing time each week, and wasting it playing with dolls or dress-up should have made me cringe. But it didn’t. Those weekends stand out as some of the happiest, most relaxing in memory–that didn’t take place on vacation, that is.

Even more astounding, by letting my mind play all afternoon, I woke up the next morning with the solutions to sticky plot points ironed out, as well as on fire to jot down some new ideas for different stories. Creativity doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It needs fuel and fertilizer. It needs oxygen and freedom to grow. And the best part: it’s self-perpetuating. The more you play, the more creative you become.

Which brings me to the second point: as I’ve said before, we need our storytellers more than ever. Chuck Wendig has written some fantastic posts about how to create art and make cool stuff in a time of trouble, as well as the need for hope. That is true for all of us as creators, but I say this as well: it’s true for all us period. We need our heroes. We need to believe that good will win in the end. We need the courage that comes from emulating our heroes and the relief from fear that comes from a few hours of play, be that coloring, or making crafts, or dressing as your favorite kick-ass character, or reading, or writing, or whatever. When you realize that J.K. Rowling’s Dementors are a metaphor for depression, or that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was heavily influenced by his experiences in WWI, then you realize that we’re all political animals in the end–and we all need hope.

 

 

Dear Women’s Fashion: Size 12 is not XL

Okay, fair warning. I have my Ranty McRant pants on again.

This time the subject that’s been weighing on my mind recently is the ridiculous–and unfair–standards when it comes to women’s clothing. My musings on the subject began a while back when everyone was sharing a post written by Kallie Provencher for Rantchic.com called “24 Things Women Over 30 Should Stop Wearing.” No, I’m not going to share the link here because the post is pure clickbait. My reaction to it when everyone was talking about it was to tweet “The one thing women over 30 should stop wearing is the censure of random strangers on the internet.” Suffice to say, there was a lot of eye-rolling. I feel bad for the author, actually. If she’s lucky, she’s going to spend more time over thirty than under it, and according to her, life is over at twenty-nine and counting.

A beautiful rebuttal was written here, however. WarningCurvesAhead posted a brilliant collection of classy, sassy women wearing whatever pleased them–and looking smashing while doing so. I want to be these women when I grow up. I wish I had a fraction of their sense of style and their confidence in carrying off what looks great on them.

But one of the things Kallie Provencher frowned upon women over thirty wearing was graphic t-shirts. Which brings me to today’s subject: sizing of women’s clothing. Now, I’m a sci-fi geek. You can pretty much ask me about any sci-fi universe and if I can’t whip your butt playing Trivial Pursuit, I will at least have heard of it and am familiar with it. And I love my fandoms; Doctor Who, Firefly, Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate… I love mashups and crossovers. I love fanfic, fanart, and fan vids. My friends know the way to make me squeal in the ultrasonic range, so high I can only be heard by dogs, is to surprise me with something from one of my favorite shows. Just this evening, the BF surprised me with a CD of ambient engine noise from ST:TNG. Just think, now I can hear the murmur of the Enterprise’s engines lulling me to sleep on an endless loop instead of the usual white noise machine.

One of the things I love doing is sharing my fandom pride with graphic tees.

About the same time these previously mentioned posts circulated, another post caught my eye: Man Tries on Girlfriend’s “XL” Clothing and Gets Pissed About Double Standards.

Yeah, because my friends and I have been talking about this, too.

Now, for the record, let me state I am a solid size 12. There was a period of time when I was closer to a 10–there are days when I’m closer to a 14, but 90% of the time, I’m a hard 12. I wear a 36 C sized bra. Now I know in these pictures, I might look ginormous, but remember, the camera adds ten pounds. (I know what you’re thinking here, but trust me, only ONE camera is pointed at me in these photos…)

Let’s start out with a T-shirt I bought a few years ago. It’s a medium, but unisex. This is important, as you’ll see later on. NOT a men’s shirt, not a women’s shirt, unisex.

Medium UnisexYou can’t see it clearly, but it’s a “Hello, My Name is” shirt, with “Inigo Montoya–you killed my father, prepare to die” penned in. It’s also autographed. That’s neither here nor there. What’s important is the size.

This is a medium WOMEN’S T-shirt. I love Agent Carter, and this was sent to me by a friend. A friend who knows what I look like, and assumed I would wear a medium T-shirt.

Medium Women FittedOkay. I got into it, though I look a sausage encased in Saran Wrap. That’s what it felt like, too. And believe me, getting out of it was interesting. I seriously thought about using a pair of scissors… I was very disappointed, needless to say. I love this character, the show, and this sentiment. I should point out as well, that many of the graphic T-shirts I would order, like this one, do not come in a men’s or unisex option.

Right, then obviously, a medium is too small. So, when I ordered a T-shirt for myself (a lovely mashup of Frozen and Doctor Who), I ordered a large.

Large Womens Fitted

Um, I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t look all that much bigger than the medium to me. Okay, so maybe the material isn’t cutting off my circulation, but it is still sucking down to my skin like it was painted on. At this point, I *finally* took a good look at the sizing chart. That’s when I saw that a size 12 is an XL on most sizing charts for the graphic T-shirts I like.

Excuse me, WTF? 12 is considered XL? Since when? Since when does the size of the average woman in the U.S.–which is 12-14 by a Google search–considered extra-large? It brings me back to the pissed off boyfriend and the double standards of the clothing industry.

Okay. Deep breath. Order the XL. You like the shirt and you want to be comfortable. And you don’t want your arms to go numb when you’re wearing it. Exchange the large for an XL.

Here’s the XL:

XL Womens FittedNo, I am not kidding. This is the XL. It is microscopically different from the large, but honestly, it looks so much like the large I had to look at the time stamps to make sure I wasn’t posting the same picture twice. AND, I would like to point out, the shirt only comes one size larger–the XXL. That is insane. No, I’m sorry. It’s just wrong. What kind of message are we sending to young women (because obviously women over 30 shouldn’t be wearing graphic tees, right?) when 12 is considered XL? When there is so little difference between sizes that someone has to get the very largest size a product comes in just to be comfortable?

I honestly don’t know which is worse: vanity sizing, in which clothing companies mislabel clothing as being a smaller size than it is so women will feel good about buying it, or this. It  feels like a slap in the face either way.

BoysofSummer[The]FSOkay, rant over. In other news, Dreamspinner Press is continuing the Lazy Days of Summer sale until June 24th, which means you can get a copy of my award-winning The Boys of Summer for only a dollar! It’s the perfect beach read at the perfect price–but it won’t last long!

On Dreamspinner/Amazon/AllRomance

 

 

 

Fool'sGold-400x600And coming up next month, I’ll be releasing Fool’s Gold, a story about Olympic level eventing–just in time for the 2016 Games!

 

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. 🙂

 

Agent Carter Hits It Out of the Park

Agent Carter PosterAnyone who follows this blog knows I’ve been a Peggy Carter fan from the moment Captain America: The First Avenger was released. So, be prepared, this post is going to be a bit of social commentary combined with fangirl glee.

Captain America was one of my favorite Avenger movies from the Marvel Universe collection. I’ve written about my love for Steve Rogers before, and why I think we need more heroes like him. I adored Peggy Carter in that film, and was sorry to realize that we’d probably never see Hayley Atwell in that role again. Once Rogers wakes in modern-day New York, after being in the deep freeze all those years, the following movies are all about Captain America in the contemporary world. But the funny thing is, fandom loved Peggy Carter, too. She got a 15 minute short film as a DVD extra in the Blu-Ray version of Iron Man 3, and we got a glimpse of what her life was like post WW2, an agent who was treated more like a file clerk and grieving for Steve’s loss. The agent who took it upon herself to get the job done where other agents had failed. The fans, myself included, loved it! Then she appeared in Captain America 2:The Winter Soldier, both in newsreels about her role in S.H.I.E.L.D. and then later, Steve visits her in a nursing home, in one of the most painfully poignant reunion scenes I can recall in a movie. My father lost the ability to put anything new into long-term memory toward the end of his life. I could completely identify with Steve having a conversation with Peggy, who was lucid and clear one moment, only to turn for a second and have to watch Peggy re-discover that he was alive all over again in the next. Oh, my heart!

Even then, Marvel wasn’t done with this character. The fandom reaction to the One-Shot Agent Carter film was so positive, rumors began to circulate that they were considering a series. I can tell you, I was both excited and nervous. I loved this character and I sincerely hoped they wouldn’t get her wrong. Now that might sound odd, considering that Marvel put her on the screen for me to fall in love with in the first place, but I’ve seen it happen before. Take a great actress in a terrific movie role and try to build a weekly television series around her, and before you know it, the character isn’t even recognizable anymore. Even my boyfriend fell into the habit of muttering, “Please don’t let them screw this up…” every time a promo came on.

Marvel is a wonder for tie-ins and story-arcs across their universe, but in many ways, Agent Carter is fresh ground for them. They have some facts they need to retain, and they can seed the series with nods toward future events (like they did with an appearance by a younger Anton Vanko, who goes on to create the arc reactor with Howard Stark), but they aren’t tied into comic-book events the way the Avengers are. In many ways, it’s like what they did with the reboot of the Star Trek franchise–since the new movies follow an alternative timeline, the writers aren’t locked into re-telling old stories, but can play around in this brave new world of their own making.

I was encouraged that the showrunners were on track for getting things right when I read that the same writers for Captain America, Markus and McFeely, wrote the pilot and the first episode. I was reassured when I read this interview with Atwell in which she is quoted as saying the show “feels like a small triumph for women on television.”

But it all boiled down to the premiere. Would it live up to my expectations?

Agent Carter promoOh man, did it ever.

I’ve never been moved to live-Tweet during a program before, but I joined the legions of others on Twitter that made #AgentCarter trend on Tuesday evening. The show had everything I wanted: a strong female lead who doesn’t take the crap she’s handed out by her co-workers lying down, who is fiercely independent, but it’s because she is the most competent person she knows–and that people she cares about tend to wind up dead. She just also happens to dress fabulously, too. I’ll be honest, half of my fascination with Peggy Carter is the juxtaposition of her kick-ass toughness with her ‘ladylike’ appearance. (Not to mention I simply adore 1940s style clothing)

I found the scene between her and Agent Daniel Sousa interesting. At one point, Sousa demands an apology to Carter from co-workers that had speculated on how many men Carter had ‘known’ during the war. Sousa is far more sympathetic to Carter than most of the field agents, perhaps in part because he is a disabled war veteran who also is discriminated against. When Carter first speaks to Sousa about the incident, he assumes she’s going to thank him for sticking up for her, but instead she lets him know in no uncertain terms that Sousa isn’t doing her any favors by making such a distinction–and that she doesn’t need his intervention on her behalf. It’s interesting because it sets the tone for Carter as a character–no sooner does she give Sousa a mild set-down, she softens it with an acknowledgment of their commonalities, and then sharply takes on one of her co-workers who sticks her with his filing–thus proving her point that she doesn’t need a man to stand up for her. While I was thinking that she should be giving encouragement to anyone who sides with equality in the workplace, I am reminded that this is 1946. A male customer can slap a waitress on the ass and she has no recourse. The customer is always right, especially if he is a man. Carter has learned when and where to take up for herself because she can’t count on having a man step in on her behalf. This is Peggy Carter: independent. Not used to asking for, or receiving help. Not a bitch, as some would probably label her. She’s just not a whiner.

This doesn’t mean that she can’t be hurt. She can feel pain. She can cry. Her hands shook as she tried to deactivate a deadly bomb, and she reached for the whiskey as soon as it was done. If she’s hard on the people in her life, it’s because the bad guys don’t show any mercy, and she doesn’t want anyone else to die simply because they know her. She curses when she hits her head. She likes nice things. She isn’t above using her sexuality to meet her goals, but she’s more than a beautiful woman. She’s not afraid to play the ‘female’ card, however. And why not? Sometimes it’s the best card in a woman’s hand, especially when the rest of the deck is stacked against her. She’s tough, and smart, and sexy, and she gets the job done. Better still, she has to learn to ask for help. To accept that she ‘cannot carry the weight of the world on her shoulders alone.” I know a lot of women who struggle with this concept. I am one of them.

Ultimately, that’s what makes Peggy Carter the heroine I can admire. She gets things done through grit, courage, and ingenuity. She thinks fast on her feet and meets new developments with aplomb. She didn’t take a super serum. She didn’t gain special abilities through a lab accident. She gets by on guts, brains, and training. And yes, this is a comic-book universe, but she is closer to any one of us than the average superhero. She could be the cashier at Wal-Mart, or your dental hygienist, or the data entry person for a large company. She is us.

Besame Red VelvetBesides, who among us hasn’t felt like we weren’t appreciated by our bosses? Who hasn’t longed for a secret identity or mission that sets us apart from the other people we meet in our daily lives? The appeal of this basic scenario is HUGE, at least it is for me. Which is why I squealed like a fangirl when one of my friends told me Hayley Atwell tweeted an “Agent Carter Starter Kit”, letting fans know what color nail polish, lipstick, and perfume Carter wears. Because let me tell you, if I can paint my nails with OPI’s Cinnamon Sweet and spritz on a little Besame’s 1940’s perfume, and walk out the door asking myself, “What Would Peggy Do?” then there is nothing I can’t face during my day.

That’s what fictional heroes are for. To make everyday heroes out of all of us.

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? 🙂 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. 🙂 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, 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!  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. 🙂 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.  🙂 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. 😉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.  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 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!
Flashwiredcuddlinglg
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.
MinorInconvenience-A72lgUnforgivingMinute[The]
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!
Daniel-and-PashaBound

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. 🙂

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.

Did Remington Steele do us a disservice? The bias against women

Smith CoronaI was a huge Remington Steele fan back in the day. It was the one show I had to watch each week.

I loved the premise: a woman trying to make it as a private detective figures out that she’ll be more successful if she creates an imaginary boss–a decidedly masculine boss. She cobbles the name together out of things in her office and Remington Steele is born. In many ways, it’s a sheer stroke of genius. Young, pretty, and female, Laura Holt probably didn’t inspire confidence in the sort of people who needed an private investigator. By creating an imaginary boss, she could present herself as his representative, could defer unpleasant decisions until she could speak with the boss; she could even make the boss the bad guy if the situation warranted it. It was a great plan, right until the time a con artist walks into her life and takes Steele’s identity. Laura is in the uncomfortable situation of not being able to out him without outing herself as well–and the con man needs a place to cool his heels. As premises for romantic dramedies go, this one was more clever than most.

I wanted to be Laura Holt. I admired her gumption, her classic sense of style. I wanted her shoes. I had a crush on Remington Steele. I loved Brosnan’s accent, I loved the banter between the characters. In fact, I think it was this show that made me fall in love with banter. It was like watching Nick and Nora from The Thin Man movies, which was appropriate, given Steele’s ability to find similarities in each case to old movies that he loved to watch.

I enjoyed the show so much that I was delighted to run across it recently on DVD. But watching it again proved to be a big mistake. With hindsight, I remembered that Brosnan wanted out of his contract to play Bond (though really, he was far too young at the time–his is the attractiveness that gets better with age) and was upset when they wouldn’t let him go. Despite being good actors, this situation strained the working relationship between Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan, and it clearly shows in their romantic scenes together, at least to my more mature eyes. The banter feels more like bicker, and the plots, meant to reflect some of the screwball comedies of the 30’s and 40’s, seem dated and cheesy now.

And then there’s the premise itself. Laura Holt can’t be taken seriously in a man’s profession without pretending to have a male boss. Despite having trained and apprenticed for her career (as she said in the opening narrative each week), it was usually Steele who solved the case, by recalling an old movie with a similar set up. So not only does Steele move in lock, stock and barrel into the identity she created, he’s better at solving crimes than she is, too.

handwriting_flickrI’ve been thinking a lot about this kind of thing lately. Recently I came across a NYT post by Fay Weldon, titled “Writer of a Certain Age.” She spoke of her long experience in television and the theater, as well as that of a writer. It was an extremely well-written and eye-opening essay.

It was also bloody depressing. In it, Weldon spoke of truisms in the various entertainment industries in which she’s worked–and in nearly all cases, the only time a women was considered important and worth listening to–be it in television, theater, or novels–is when she is young, pretty, and the love interest for a male lead.

Worse, Weldon seems to imply in her post that if you are so unfortunate as to be ‘a writer of a certain age’ and female, that you should really take advantage of the internet to lie to your fans and create a false persona like Remington Steele. Take a gender neutral pen name. Or if you acknowledge that you are, in fact, a woman, take this opportunity to pretend to be younger, thinner, prettier than you really are. Ouch.

ink pen_wikipedia_orgDiscussion of this post among my friends lead to whether or not bias still existed against women writers in this day and age. I found a blog post titled Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants, which seemed to parallel Laura Holt’s dilemma: she couldn’t be taken seriously as a woman. It wasn’t until she took the pen name James Chartrand that her freelance writing business took off–and she was able to pay off her mortgage. The discussion among my friends turned inevitably to gender neutral pen names. In the thriller/mystery genre, a gender neutral pen name is almost mandatory–just look at J.D. Robb versus Nora Roberts. I argued that this was more about branding, about allowing your audience to know by your pen name what kind of story to expect. However, J. K. Rowling was born because her publisher thought a female name wouldn’t appeal to the primary audience for the Harry Potter series: adolescent boys.

The Boys of Summer400x600Then there is my own genre. I write primarily M/M romances. At the time I sold my first story and was selecting a pen name, there was a big brouhaha about an author who’d been discovered to be female instead of male. The anger readers felt, presumably for being deceived, was so great that I deliberately chose a feminine pen name because I didn’t want there to be any ambiguity about my gender.

Frequently, the question of whether or not women should even be writing books about gay men and their sexual adventures is raised within the genre. Time and again, the same arguments come back: Tolkien never met a hobbit. Mystery writers usually aren’t murders themselves. Rowling never went to Hogwarts (I KNOW. Say it isn’t so!!) and to my knowledge, all science fiction is just that. Fiction. And yet I never seem to hear a single person take a male author to task for creating a female protagonist. This particular complaint about women writers seems to get raised every few months among my various lists and groups, too.

You will hear people say as long as the story is written well, they don’t give a hoot about the gender of the author, and since I feel that way myself, I believe people when they say this. But I have to wonder, especially in light of Weldon’s post. Of her encouragement to be anything other than what I actually am. Believe me, that post made me wonder if I’d made a serious mistake by going with a feminine pen name, and whether I should delete all my previous posts on aging and sexuality. Whether I should be someone other than who I really am. Because writing isn’t just a little hobby for me. I need it to help pay the bills.

I pretty much thought these arguments were limited to my genre (with the possible exception of the mystery genre as well). Lord knows, romance writers in general are considered the lowest of the low when it comes to ‘real’ writing. Turns out sci-fi and mystery writers also come pretty low on the ‘respect’ list, compared to the literary giants of the fiction world, which is sad because on any given day I’ll take a good mystery or sci-fi story over any self-indulgent, introspective Grand Literature novel. But I digress.

One of my friends pointed out this article to me on Literary Sexism: Still Pervasive and Real. It bears reading. While the beginning is about a critical review and the author’s response to it (which may not make a ton of sense if you aren’t familiar with Mary Gaitskill‘s essays and fiction), read it all the way through. There are some links to some searing examples of ongoing bias toward women. It’s enlightening as well as disheartening. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the pie chart graphs of the number of books reviewed by male versus female authors.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image11166602I can’t change who Sarah Madison is now unless I want to start all over again building a platform and readership from scratch, but I can certainly give more thought to creating my new persona for my projected traditional romances. Ironically, Sarah Madison would be a good fit for that genre, better perhaps, that for writing about hot men in hot water. The jury is still out as to whether or not I will actually take another pen name to write traditional M/F romances. The polling has run about 50/50 either way. I myself think, like Nora Roberts, it will be easier for those readers who don’t care for gay romances to find what they like to read if I keep the names separate.

This is certainly not meant to be a ‘wah-wah, woe is me, I’m a woman and the world is out to get me’ post either. It’s just that it seems to me that we should have come farther than Remington Steele by now. I’d like to point to one of my favorite television heroines, Kate Beckett from Castle and say we have come a long way, baby. But then I recall how much Stana Katic’s appearance has changed over the six seasons of Castle and how little she resembles a NYPD homicide detective anymore and how much she looks like a fashion model instead. And Castle usually solves the crime, too.

So it is tempting here to say that Remington Steele was a bad, wrong message to send to impressionable young women. But that would be wrong. I recall not all that long ago getting very angry over some young person’s lambasting of Star Trek: The Original Series on Twitter–commenting on how sexist, nationalist, racist, etc the show was. I tried to point out that for its time, it was groundbreaking stuff. That yes, the women wore mini-skirts and go-go boots, but it was the first show that depicted a black woman in a role other than that of a maid or a cook. That it tackled big issues. That it envisioned a future in which we’d solved so many of our problems by working together instead of trying to kill each other. The Twitter Hater wouldn’t listen and I had to drop her from my feed. She couldn’t understand that it took those very baby steps taken in Star Trek to bring us forward to the kinds of diversity and equality we see in roles for characters today.

I have to give that same kind of credit to Remington Steele. It was groundbreaking in its way as well, giving us a strong unmarried female heroine who had an interesting career and did exciting things. Laura Holt was smart and independent and I wanted to be her. She was one of the first characters I can recall to influence me that way. That’s exactly the sort of baby step that was needed back then. Today we have Kate Beckett, and Brenda Leigh Johnson (The Closer), and Rizzoli and Isles, and Captain Sharon Raydor (Major Crimes), and Peggy Carter (Captain America) and I could go on. It’s getting better. We’re seeing better roles for women, more older women in good roles. But the numbers are still pretty small compared to the good parts for men.

The fact that men got all the best parts and best lines was one of the reasons I’ve been drawn to male characters my entire life. I very much want to try my hand at writing a female character I can like and respect. The thought terrifies me, to be honest, which is why I haven’t seriously attempted it so far. But I will. Some day I will. And I have Laura Holt to thank for it.

 

 

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. 🙂

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.  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. 🙂

 

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!

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Coming Soon From Sarah Madison!

I have to snort a bit at the title of this post–it feels as though I should run a movie trailer, doesn’t it? But there are a lot of things going on right now that I’m very excited about!

Next month (32 days by the website’s counter!), I’ll be attending Galacticon 3 for the 35th anniversary of Battlestar Galactica! I’m a BSG fan from way back, and I was delighted to be invited to attend this convention as part of a panel discussion on fanfiction, as well as helping to host a workshop on writing fanfiction (or really, writing sci-fi in general). Imagine my glee when I found out that ComicPalooza was being held at the same time! Or when I discovered that Galaction is a HUGE event! I’ve been to sci-fi conventions before, but never one of this magnitude. I’m thrilled, and just a little nervous too. BSG Scriptwriter Terrance McDonnell is also going to be on the panel, and I’m not sure I won’t be tongue-tied as a result!

What do you think? Should I bring my Peggy Carter costume? I confess, I am looking for an excuse to wear it again.

Peggy Carter ShoesFirst, there are the shoes. C’mon, these are rocking shoes, aren’t they? 🙂 Then there is the time and effort I put into putting the costume together in the first place. I’m still having trouble with the skirt though. The one I got originally was too long, but when I had it hemmed, I didn’t take into account how short the jacket was that went with it, and I ended up with a gap at the waist. I’ve got another skirt now that fits beautifully, but is too dark. I’m not sure I can match the color to the jacket by May 23rd!

But then there are the extras that go with it! A dear friend of mine found the exact shade of red lipstick I’d been searching for: Victory Red by Elizabeth Arden–the favorite shade of women in WW2 and still manufactured today! You should have heard me squeal when I got my surprise package in the mail. Not only did it contain the right lipstick, but my friend went the extra mile,providing me with props as well! Lipstick

I guess it’s pretty obvious I have a interest in WW2 history. The clothing of the period fascinates me as well. I loved the Captain America movie, and I adore Peggy Carter. I think one of the reasons I love her as a character is that she never lost sight of her femininity, and yet she was as tough as nails. Truly a heroine I can look up to and admire. So you can imagine my reaction when, along with the lipstick, I discovered an era-authentic compact by Stratton, which my friend assured me was what all the women used in Britain during the war. But the crowning glory of the package was the antiqued locket that my friend made for me–complete with a picture of Steve Rogers in it!

Locket and CompactI mean, seriously? How cool is that? So you see, I really HAVE to take my Peggy Carter costume with me to Galacticon/ComicPalooza, right? I thought so.

Sadly, I have to confess that I have at least three Star Trek costumes, as well as one Battlestar Galactica one as well. And a Peggy Carter leather jacket, a BSG jacket, a Stargate Atlantis jacket… I think I’m going to need a bigger suitcase…

In other news, I have an interview and excerpt from The Boys of Summer up at Chris T. Kat’s blog, please do drop by, check it out, and leave a comment. As a matter of fact, I have a bunch of interviews lined up, including some giveaways too. I’m going to be on The Armchair Reader, Savvy Author’s website, doing a Q&A on Love Romances Cafe’s site, and doing some other guest blogging in the weeks running up to Galacticon. I’m going to be hosting people here in the upcoming weeks as well! I’m also putting together swag bags for Galacticon, and will be holding a contest soon for swag and a copy of The Boys of Summer. 

I’m planning to upload The Boys of Summer to ARe and Createspace this weekend (barring more formatting issues), so hopefully those of you that have been holding out for a print copy won’t have to wait much longer.

And believe it or not, I am writing. I’m working on two different projects with my good friend Claire Russett–we’re contemplating writing stories together for both of our sci-fi universes. I’m working on other stories as well, but having a hard time settling down to writing a particular one. Oh, I know, how about a poll?

What would you like to see me working on next?

What do you want Sarah Madison to work on next?

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