Thursday, 14 June 2018

Heroine Fix: Finding Family in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with Quake

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature looking at characters whom I admire and who influence my own writing. (Warning: this article will contain spoilers.)

I've been enjoying Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since it first came out in 2013 and I've already done one Heroine Fix about the laconic and powerful Agent Melinda May, aka The Calvary.  But today I want to look at another of the awesome ladies of S.H.I.E.L.D: Skye/Daisy Johnson/Quake, played by Chloe Bennet.

As I went back to rewatch some of the early episodes, it occurred to me that the character's story is really a modern Cinderella story with a superhero twist and no need for a rescuing prince.  When we begin, Skye is living in her van and running a resistance movement online.  She's an incredibly talented hacker (which strikes me as a more useful skill set than cleaning house with the aid of lyric-directed mice and birds) and is recruited by Agent Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Bennet gives a masterfully nuanced performance, showing Skye's suspicion of Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as her desire to belong, both which make sense for someone who has been surviving on her own with no family and who has been subject to the foster care system.  For the first season, she is the Everyman, getting to demonstrate the audience's wonder at the amazing things that S.H.I.E.L.D. has to deal with.  There's a bit of a stepmother vibe between Skye and Agent May, who is continually pushing Skye to do better and Skye resisting those expectations as unrealistic.  And there's a prince, the handsome Agent Grant Ward, who definitely shows signs of being smitten.

In season 2, the story shifts outside of the usual expectations for a fairytale or superhero narrative.  We learn Skye's father, Cal, is still alive and searching for her (and is apparently a bad guy).  When they meet, Cal tells Skye that her real name is Daisy and that H.Y.D.R.A. killed her mother.  We also discover that Ward is a double-agent working for H.Y.D.R.A., making him forevermore ineligible as any kind of Prince Charming.   Daisy is transformed, not by a fairy godmother, but by alien terragen crystals.  She is cocooned in stone before shattering free.

Daisy is devastated by the multiple betrayals and shuts herself off from S.H.I.E.L.D.  She has these incredible powers but they are destroying her.  This part of her character arc was my favourite because it showed the value of chosen family.  Agent Coulson and the others may not be Daisy's blood family, but they care about her in a way that her father can't.  Her father's love is conditional, she must behave in a way that he approves and follow his example or his love is withdrawn.  Her family at S.H.I.E.L.D. loves her and cares about her no matter what.  They will protect her, fight beside her, and when necessary, fight against her to keep her from doing something she'll regret.  They put themselves on the line to reach her.

The next complication in Daisy's life is the reintroduction of her mother, Jiaying, who runs a sanctuary/training camp for inhumans (those who gain powers from the terragen crystals).  At first, Daisy is seduced by the apparent acceptance of those like her.  And there's another handsome prince on the scene, the dashing Lincoln.  And this one really does love her and want what's best for her.  But Daisy's mother isn't what she appears.  She only cares about the inhumans and doesn't care if the rest of humanity burns.  She's also willing to sacrifice anything, including Daisy, to achieve her goals.

The power of Daisy's arc comes from the fact that she is given everything she wishes for in season one: her parents are alive, she becomes a respected member of S.H.I.E.L.D. (even leading the team for the most recent season), and she learns to fight so that she'll never be vulnerable again.  But those gains also come with loss: her parents aren't the caring, supportive people that she hoped for, Ward is a traitor and Lincoln sacrifices himself for her, S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't always the good guys, and knowing how to punch and force-fling enemies aside doesn't mean she'll never be hurt again.  When faced with this pain, her instinct is to cut herself off from the world and bear the burden alone.

But the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents won't let her.  Whether she wants them there or not, they are always there to support her, just as a family should.  And they may not always get it right (because families are still just people and people make mistakes) but they don't give up.

That kind of family means a lot to me and it's one that I create for my own characters.  No matter how strong, badass, and powerful a person is, a family always makes them stronger and DNA overlap is not the only kind of family.  When we're most damaged, families are the ones who step up and say: don't worry, we got this.

(Keep on reading for more information on next month's Heroine Fix and a special offer on my books.)

Are you addicted to strong and interesting heroines like I am?  Share your favourite heroines with me on Twitter with the hashtag #HeroineFix.

And if you'd like to see how my version of a chosen family with superpowers works, please check out my lalassu series about a secret society of superheroes living among us.  Book 4 was just released and Book 1 is on sale for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Previous Heroine Fix: Celebrating Angry Girls with Meg Murry

Previous post: Happy Pride Month

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Next month, I'll be going darkside to look at the magnificent and terrifying Hela from Thor: Ragnarok.  Join me on July 12th as I take on the Goddess of Death for my next Heroine Fix.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Weekly Update: June 3 to June 9

Weekly word count: 9 036

I've been averaging completing a chapter a day for the last two weeks.  If I can keep that up, the manuscript will be ready before RWA.

I'm nervous about the whole idea of pitching to the traditional publishers.  My work doesn't fit neatly in a box (though I've made an effort to make sure that Deadly Potential has less bleed over than usual) and the media is full of doom and gloom reports about how the publishing industry is in trouble.  There's also the typical self-doubt: I'll be asking someone to judge something that has taken almost a year of my life in the course of a 3 minute conversation.  That's nerve-wracking no matter how you slice it.

I've been struggling some this week after the Ontario election results.  It is disheartening to see someone elected who is so antithetical to what I believe is important.  There's also been a challenge with the high-profile suicides and my own struggles with depression.  Some of the discussions have been really hard to see playing out.  It's hard not to despair when it happens to people who seem to have every advantage and if they can't do it, then what chance does anyone else have?  (My intention isn't to dismiss their pain, which must have been overwhelming, but to recognize how difficult and chronic depression is.)  There's also the usual messages of anger and attack against those who are suffering from depression, which is hard to see.

But it's also life and part of my self-care is reminding myself that I can only do the parts that I can.  And it is perfectly okay to take time to create something beautiful.  Maybe it's not "serious" work, but even tiny bits of beauty, joy, and hope are necessary to keep us going, especially in difficult times.   

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Happy Pride Month

I'm a romance writer which means I am a sucker for stories about people falling in love.  Finding that sense of connection can be one of the most transcendent and uplifting experiences we can have in our lives and there's nothing as intoxicating as the mix of intimacy and attraction that solidify a romantic partnership.

This is why it pisses me off when people try to dismiss other people's experience of falling in love.  That sense of exultation should never have to be tarnished with fear of being hurt or judged or otherwise made to feel less.  (And this post is not intended to diminish the experience of asexual or aromantic people, who also deserve to be be happy, comfortable and judgment-free.)  I don't care why people feel they have the right to quash love that doesn't fall into the cis-hetero-allo box, they don't have the right to hurt others.

I've gotten into a number of arguments over the years with people who don't see themselves as spreading pain and hatred because they don't associate their own words, actions, and reactions with the more virulent and violent forms of bigotry.  And there is a point in saying that assuming that two men checking into a hotel must want two beds is not the same as shooting people in a gay club.  Okay, not the same.  But both are still harmful.  

Imagine how exhausting and demoralizing it must be to have to constantly be prepared to justify oneself.  To not be sure whether or not someone's rejection of you will be supported by those in authority and the public around you.  To constantly hear dismissals, insults presented as crappy jokes, and outright mean comments.  And even worse, all that negativity is aimed at one of the happiest parts of your life: the person that you love and the connection between the two of you (or more, to include those who are polyamorous).

Tackling hatred can feel overwhelming but there are some things we all can do.  First and most important, educate ourselves.  Know what you're talking about in terms of homosexuality, heterosexuality, pansexuality, bisexuality (and any other prefixes you run across).  And the best way to educate yourself is to listen to those who wear those labels.

Be willing to speak up against the crappy jokes and casual insults.  Don't wait to see if someone else is offended.  And don't expect someone else to carry all the weight of explaining why that's a problem.

Be representative in your language and examples.  This one is surprisingly hard and not everyone is always going to be happy with what you use.  But to give an example, you can avoid reinforcing a false gender binary by using "they" instead of "he/she".  It's small, but sometimes it can help.

And last but not least, remind yourself that people's relationships are not actually your business.  If someone chooses to share, that's great (and you can be supportive).  But otherwise, the odds are good that you don't actually need to know whether or not two people are roommates, lovers, friends, siblings, or married.  By being accepting, then you can avoid reinforcing stereotypes and certainly avoid pushing someone beyond their comfort levels.

Then maybe we can work our way to a point where no one has to worry about who they fall in love with and they can just get on with enjoying it.

Here comes the shameless plugging: I've just released book 4 of my Lalassu series about a secret society of superheroes living among us and if you'd like to check out book 1, now you can do so for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Previous post: Ink Tip: Writing Influences: a look at the amazing writers who have inspired and influenced me.  

Monday, 4 June 2018

Weekly Update: May 27 to June 2

Weekly word count: 11 998

It's been another flying week of working on Deadly Potential.  I've got my gaze focused on pitching at RWA Nationals and it's going to be a solid race to get it all done.

But I've also started to find myself thinking of what will happen afterward.  I've really pushed myself this year and while I don't regret that, I don't want to keep on at this pace.  I don't want to burn myself out.

I'm considering giving myself a few weeks away from writing once Deadly Potential is finished.  A few weeks to tackle other things that have gone undone around my house (specifically, I have some rooms that need painting).  Maybe another week or two to update my series guide.  I think that might help me to come back fresher and better.