More Wanda Maximoff, Please

**This post contains spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron, so proceed at your own risk!**

There’s been a lot of talk about the Black Widow’s representation in Age of Ultron (AOU), and that’s cool. Conversation is good. I’ve seen the film twice now, and I actually liked her backstory–but enough people are talking about that.

What I don’t understand is why no one’s talking about Wanda Maximoff.

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I’m not saying that Ultron passed the Bechdel or anything, but everyone seems to be forgetting that there is another female Avenger now. I’m pretty sure AOU can’t call her the Scarlet Witch because Sony owns the rights to X-Men (although I did find her action figure, so I’m not sure) but that’s who she is, and I seriously loved her.

Wanda’s got a pretty cool arc in Ultron. She’s powerful, and she has agency. As an antagonist, she’s directly responsible for Hulk’s smashing spree. After she realizes Ultron’s out to destroy, she’s the one who foils his plan, paving the way for Vision. 

In the course of the film, she gets to be angry, afraid, and tough. 

Plus, she totally gets the best shot in the movie:

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Book Recommendation Redux: THE MASKED SONGBIRD By Emmie Mears

25302137Title: THE MASKED SONGBIRD (SHRIKE Book 1)
Author: Emmie Mears

Amazon

Disclaimer: Let it be known that I purchased this book of my own free will and enjoyed it so much that I’m posting a recommendation/review.

I reviewed this book in October when it was released as THE MASKED SONGBIRD. It rereleases today, so it’s a perfect time to remind everyone how incredible it is.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb:

Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving. She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a flatmate to share rent. Gwen’s biggest challenges: stretching her last twenty quid until payday and not antagonising her terrifying boss.

Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength. All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbour from a beat-down by political thugs.

Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved. Finally—and most mysteriously—she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.

Superpowers don’t make a superhero. Real strength isn’t something you’re born with — it’s something you build.

-

I adored this book.

The voice. This voice is everything I want from first person. Gwen is fun to hang around with, and you never quite know what she’ll do next–which is why it’s totally believable that she’d suck down an open beverage when she finds herself in desperate need of one (no spoilers here!).

The story is rigorously true to its own internal logic, and to Gwen’s character. I know her well, so I believe in her choices. She may be hapless from the beginning, as the blurb tells us, but it’s clear she’s tough even before she can leap onto rooftops. She’s good at her job, yet she’s stuck with an evil boss. She’s bad at budgeting, but she doesn’t “solve” the problem by throwing expensive meals/shoes/etc. on credit cards (or hell, even affordable ones–the woman is barely surviving). She has flaws, interesting flaws that directly effect the direction of the novel. She’s also competent enough before she gets her super strength that I believe in her ass-kicking abilities when she does find she has powers–and in the loyalty and kindness that drive her to use them. It’s beautifully done.

The supporting characters are also intriguing. Gwen’s evil boss makes all other evil bosses look like kittens. Her neighbor is a-dor-a-ble. Her flatmate is charming. And her boyfriend…yeah, I think I dated him once. Even those who appear only briefly are memorable and nuanced, which I love–layers and secrets keep me guessing all the way through.

This book strikes a beautiful balance between a fun origin story and a serious contemplation of the price involved in becoming a hero. That choice fascinates me, as do the consequences. I think about it more than I should, probably. I love superheroes. I wrote a novel about superheroes. I was proudly biased when I started reading The Masked Songbird, and I wasn’t disappointed. I was thrilled to see a female superhero who faces these choices and the sacrifices that come with them, who rises to the occasion just like Cap and Spider Man–but (I’m itching to tell you more, but I won’t) brings her own unique spin to the story, too.

What surprised me the most about this novel was its depth of heart. It’s clear from page one that it’s going to be a fun read, but woe betide you if you go in expecting Emmie Mears to pull any punches. She raises the stakes throughout the novel, and she delivers. There’s a line in the climax that hit me so hard I had to put my e-reader down for a few minutes to catch my breath. It’s a moment that could be cheesy, but Ms. Mears pulls it off without sugary sentiment.

Is it too soon to ask for a Gwen Maule TV series? In the vein of Arrow? I’d love that. More importantly though, there’s a sequel on the way–which means lots more quality time with Gwen!

 

March News Roundup

March flew by, with lots happening on the writing front:

You can still get your hands on the Cactus Heart’s Speculative Issue, e-Issue #11, which I guest edited! It’s $5 for a gorgeous PDF.

And speaking of Cactus Heart, go find their table at AWP, where you’ll be able to pick up a print copy of The Egret’s Crossing: A Collection of Adventure Stories! I have a story in it, titled “The Oft-Mistold Tale of Lord Oliver and the Fae.” You can also order a PDF of the collection here for $5.

As for current projects, I’m in the middle of an epic fantasy novel, which I’m just calling SOULS for now. It has a title, but I don’t feel like broadcasting it quite yet. Don’t have many details to share (gotta stay tight lipped on my early drafts), but you could peek at my inspiration board on Pinterest here. Not much there yet, but it’s growing!

Lots more exciting news will be forthcoming in April–stay tuned!

Some stuff that’s been catching my eye:

Emmie Mears did a badass blog and Vlog series on Surviving the Query Trenches. Watch/read it, then check out the rest of her blog for craft advice, publishing news/opinions, and giggle-worthy Supernatural GIFs. And then buy her books.

Tabitha Blankenbiller is doing us all a service by rounding up weekly publications and awards on her website. And in case she leaves it out of the list, she had a beautiful essay in Hobart last week: Fiesta Barbie.

Kelly Davio’s doing an amazing series on The Butter called The Waiting Room–if you haven’t been reading her posts, you’re missing out.

And finally, Laura Heffernan has an overview of April writing contests (the kind for catching agents): on her blog.

Adventure Stories Anthology – Coming Soon!

 

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It was an absolute blast to contribute to this collection of adventure stories! Mine is called “The Oft-Mistold Tale of Lord Oliver and the Fae; Or, How Elyana Led Lord Oliver Underground.” I may share a snippet at some point as we get closer, if I get a green light to do that.

The settings in these stories range from ancient tombs and tropical islands to the frigid arctic. It’s going to be quite a collection, and I’m super excited to be a part of it.

It’s going to be available in print at AWP and by pre-order for $20, and you’ll be able to get a PDF for only $5.

Update! Here’s a link to pre-order a print copy: http://www.apiarylife.org/projects-1/

You’ll be able to get the PDF from the same link, after around April 15th.

Sachael Dreams by Melody Winter – Cover Reveal!

I have such an exciting post today, because I get to help celebrate the cover release for a book I’ve been looking forward to reading for months upon months – Melody Winter’s Sachael Dreams!

First, here’s a little bit about the book:  

Twenty-two-year-old Estelle Bailey has had enough of busy city-life and her hot-tempered ex. She escapes to the seclusion and peace of her family’s clifftop home in Ravenscar, where the soothing solitude whispers to her soul as strongly as the sea itself does. But her newfound contentment is interrupted when a mysterious man—a Sachael, master of seduction—joins her midnight swim unexpectedly.

Estelle struggles against his charm and the overpowering attraction she feels for him. He offers her a life she never could have imagined, a life beneath the waves . . . but at what cost? Before she can decide, she’s captured, ensnared by the Sect, a secret enemy of the Sachaels, becoming a pawn in a war she knew nothing about.

Now, she’s left with a new choice—escape the clutches of the Sect and flee into the ocean, or side with her alluring, intimidating captor and destroy the Sachaels forever. Can she turn her back on the man she might love, or will the secret of her heritage change everything?

Set against a picturesque backdrop, Sachael Dreams is the first in a new series, exploring themes of romance, love, and identity, and the struggle that happens when all three collide.

Find Sacheal Dreams on Goodreads.

And about Melody: 

Growing up, Melody Winter showed a natural ability in art, a head for maths, and a tendency to write far too long English essays. Difficult to place in the world when she graduated, she pursued a career in teaching, but eventually ended up working in Finance. Melody is convinced the methodical time she spends working with numbers fuels her desire to drift into dream worlds and write about the illusory characters in her head.

Melody Winter lives in North Yorkshire, England, with her husband and two sons. When not dealing with football, rugby, and a whole plethora of ‘boy’ activities, she will be found scribbling notes for her stories, or preparing for another trip to the beach. With an obsession for anything mythical, Melody revels in reading and writing about such creatures. In fact, if she wasn’t such a terrible swimmer, she’d say she was a mermaid.

Sachael Dreams is her debut novel, and the first in her New Adult Romantic Fantasy series—the ‘Mine Series’.

You can view more of Melody Winter on her websiteTwitter or Facebook.

Soooo are you ready to see the cover?

Here it is:

 

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Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Sachael Dreams will be out on February 24, 2015, and you can preorder it now for a discounted price today!

Snowy Thanksgiving

I spent Thanksgiving in New Hampshire with my parents, my two sisters, my husband, and one small cat who was more than a little confused by all the activity.

It was a great weekend, despite the fact that we lost power – for 48 hours. We enjoyed the time together (thankfully, my parents have a wood stove and a generator they turned on for limited periods of time so we could do important things like charge phones, drink coffee, and take hot showers) and we got to have Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. Very grateful for that! And for the ability to flush toilets without having to fill the tank (my parents are on well water). It’s the little things.

The snow stayed in the trees for days, even after the sun came out. It was incredible. Here are some photos!

During the storm

During the storm

Blue skies

Blue skies

Snow's still hanging in the trees!

Snow’s still hanging in the trees!

I Signed the Pact to #WriteInclusively

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The symbol for #WriteInclusively

SC Write issued a challenge today asking writers to agree to a pact to write inclusively. The pact, and the reasons why it’s important, can be found here: http://scwrite.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-pact-for-writing-inclusively-please.html

Because of this initiative, I also came across Deb McKellan’s blog post, Being Black in Writerville. I’d urge you to read that, too.

I enthusiastically signed up for this pact, and I’d encourage others to do the same.

As a white writer, it may be scary to think about writing diverse characters. I get it. I’m white. I’m sometimes afraid I’ll make a big mistake, do something wrong or hurtful. But writing is about pushing to the heart of what it means to be human. How can we do that if we whitewash our stories?

Take the risk. Make mistakes. Get feedback. When people point out mistakes? Listen to them. Do better next time.

A lot of us feel helpless about what’s been happening in the news, and how can we not? This is a step we can take, action through our words. If we writers won’t do it, how can we expect that anyone else will?

I want to say a word about reading diverse literature here, too, because SC Write and Deb McKellan have articulated better than I can why writing inclusively is important. Please, please read their posts, which I linked above.

With regards to reading: put your money where your heart is. Buy books by diverse authors. Check them out of the library. Request them from your local bookstore.

I’m guilty of sometimes relying too heavily on the titles I see in reviews and on lists to make up my to-be-read pile. Unfortunately, authors of color are consistently underrepresented in reviews and on booklists (many coming out this time of year). When I find my shelf is looking a bit whitewashed–and I’m getting better about monitoring this–here’s what I do:

  1. Turn to Goodreads lists.
  2. Run a Google search (obvious, maybe, but worth noting).
  3. Request recommendations on social media.
  4. Follow threads like #WeNeedDiverseRomance and #WeNeedDiverseBooks.
  5. Go to readings, book festivals, and conferences that embrace diversity. The Brooklyn Book Festival in September had authors of color on every panel I attended. I added many of them to my list of authors to check out.

My hope is–and despite the horrific news lately, I do still have some–that the more diverse books we buy, the hungrier publishers and booksellers will be to acquire them. Spend some of your book-buying dollars on diverse books, and you’re helping everyone.

Bonus: reading books by a wide range of authors will always, always improve your writing.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Drinking Game & Signature Cocktail

Blog series: TV Show Drinking Games and Signature Cocktails. The game’s designed to be fun whether you’re catching up on one episode or settling in for a good binge watch (but uh, no binge drinking please. Binge drinking is bad).

Up next is the on-again, off-again, can’t-quite-quit-it show that is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Fair warning: the drinking game may contain minor spoilers for Season 1, but let’s be real: you can pretty much skip Season 1. Or start with the episode directly before the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Annnnyway, the themed cocktail is:

The 0-8-4
You’re not sure exactly what it is, but you know it’s dangerous.

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I wonder if Coulson had these in T.A.H.I.T.I.

This one requires a bit of setup, but it’s SO worth it. It’s a pineapple/jalapeno margarita, and it’s insanely delicious.

Setup:

  • One batch of jalapeno-infused tequila.
    I used this recipe from Foodie Misadventures. I made a half batch using 1.5 jalapenos in 400 ml of tequila, because I only had small mason jars. This made for an intensely spicy margarita, and I loved it. But if you want something subtler, maybe reduce the jalapeno. It’s simple, but it needs to be started at least two days in advance.
  • One batch of Sriracha salt for the rim
    I found a great recipe on Buzzfeed. This involves baking for one hour.

For the drink:
Foodie Misadventures has a recipe,  but I prefer Triple Sec to Grand Marnier and I wanted the lime juice to have a stronger presence in the margarita, so this recipe is a variation on Ina Garten’s recipe here.

Ingredients:

  • 1 part jalapeno-infused tequila
  • 1 part Triple Sec
  • 1 part lime juice
  • 1.5-2 parts pineapple juice
  • Pineapple/jalapeno garnish (if desired)

AoS2-PineappleMargarita-KateSheeranSwed

Spread the Sriracha salt on a plate and wet the rim of the glass with one of the cocktail ingredients (I used pineapple juice, because it’s sticky). Dip the glass upside down in the salt and repeat until the edge is adorned.

Combine the jalapeno-infused tequila, Triple Sec, lime juice, and pineapple juice with ice in a cocktail shaker. Pour the drink into a glass, garnish if desired, and get ready to play the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. drinking game!

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The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Drinking Game

Level 8
(Sip it!)

Skye hacks something

Coulson withholds information

Fitz makes puppy eyes at Simmons

Simmons does science

May kicks someone’s ass

Ward says he will never lie to Skye

Ward lies

Tripp gets to do something! Anything!

Lance Hunter and Bobbi Morse squabble

May silently flies the plane, or silently engages in any activity, while another team member attempts a heart-to-heart
BONUS: is Coulson attempting the heart-to-heart? Drain half!

Creepy alien carvings

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow reference

Clint Barton/Hawkeye reference

 

Level 9
(Half glass!)

Skye hacks something without permission

May kicks another team member’s ass
BONUS: is it Ward? Drain it!

Coulson fanboys over weapons/artifacts/Cap trading cards

Thor/Hammer reference

Cap reference

Tony Stark/Iron Man reference

Hulk reference

 

Level 10
(Drain it!) 

Skye hacks something despite specific instructions NOT to hack that particular thing

Maria Hill appearance!

Nick Fury appearance!

 

What did I miss? Feel free to add ideas in the comments!