Created Equal

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It is generally understood that when Thomas Jefferson (he was the designated scribe of the committee of five that came up with this document) put quill to parchment, the word “men” meant land-owing white males.

Many of us are familiar with the heroic exploits of our Founding Fathers, but many of the equally heroic tales of brave women are much less well known.

Who could forget the tale of sixteen year-old Sybil Ludington’s forty mile ride (twice as far as Paul Revere’s) to muster the local militia to fend off a British raid on Danbury, CT? You can read about her in Sybil’s Night Ride, Sybil Ludington’s Midnight Ride, and Women Heroes of the American Revolution.

Cokie Roberts wrote Founding Mothers about the challenges of the wives and other female family members faced while their men were away.

If intrigue, espionage, and cross-dressing are more your cup of tea, you might check out Vicki Leon’s Uppity Women of the New World.

Whatever your Independence Day plans, fresh and novel tales of derring-do make them better!

 

Inside the Palisade – an Interview with K.C. Maguire

by Artemis Greenleaf

InsidePalisadeHello! It’s my turn to post, and I have the honor of interviewing our own fabulous K.C. Maguire.

Thanks for interviewing me this week.

Congratulations, K.C., on your upcoming release, Inside the Palisade. Your latest novel is a YA sci-fi dystopia about a teen named Omega who has been raised in an all-female community, and one day happens on a boy who is absolutely, positively not supposed to be there. Would you tell us a little bit about Omega? What is her life like inside the Palisade?

 Omega actually leads a pretty bland life until she meets Ghent (the hidden boy) and starts to learn the truth about her cloistered society. She lives alone with her mother and works in a clothes factory. She has always suspected she’s a little different from everyone else, partly because of her weird eyes in a society where everyone else is genetically engineered to be perfect, and partly because she’s always thought there must be more to life than what she’s seen so far. She discovers that she’s right, but it’s a dangerous journey.

The best journeys always are! Your protagonist is named Omega. The Omega symbol (Ω) was used in Vietnam War draft protests. In computer science, it refers to a missing (null) or inapplicable value. Is there a symbolic connection to her name?

 Partly. I decided to use Greek letters for all the women’s names as a way of “ordering” the society. Women are given Greek letters as first names which they often shorten or change to nicknames. I picked Omega for my protagonist because I wanted to be able to shorten it to “Meg” as an homage to my youngest daughter who was just born when I started the book.

What is the reasoning behind banning men from the community, and how was it accomplished?

 This is a dystopian society where war and violence has ravaged the world outside the palisade. Over the years, a mythology has developed among the women that the men were to blame for all the violence (which, of course, isn’t true, but it comes to be accepted). Men weren’t initially banned, but gradually died out and weren’t replaced as women figured out how to genetically engineer babies to be girls.

 What inspired this story?

In my other life I work in a very male dominated profession and I often leave meetings thinking things like “it would be so much better if women were in charge.” Of course, I don’t really believe this, but it was a thought experiment as to what *might* happen if women actually were in charge. I’m not the first author to experiment with this idea, but many YA sci-fi books have large male character presences even if the protagonist is a woman. I thought it might be fun to turn the idea on its head and see what happens.

My 7th grader is attending an all-girls school this year. What advice would Omega give her?

I went to an all girls school for a while myself and I didn’t like it much. Girls on their own can be very catty and bitchy, although they can also be wonderful and I made some great friends at that school. My advice to anyone starting any school or new social situation is to just be yourself. If you’re honest about who you are and what you want, you’ll never be disappointed in yourself. And if other folks can’t accept that, they’re probably not the best friends for you anyway.

 You’ve created a rich sci-fi world inside the Palisade, where women depend on technology for the survival of their community. What impact has this technology had on their evolution as a species?

 In many ways these women have over-relied on technology while resources and personnel have dwindled. If they’d had less technology and had to work on new ways to move forward as a society, they might have done better in the long run.

 You’ve gotten some rave reviews on Amazon. Is this book the first in a series, or will you leave readers guessing about what happens to Omega?

 I didn’t necessarily plan it as the first in a series but I always knew it had “series potential” in the sense that there’s a lot more that is likely to happen to the young protagonists after the story closes. I’ve actually toyed with an idea for a sequel based on another character’s perspective. In many ways, Omega has fulfilled her character arc in this book, but there’s a lot of room for growth for a number of the supporting cast featured in this book.

I know that you write across several genres, but focusing on sci-fi, who are the top five authors who have inspired you the most?

 I love so many authors that it’s hard to narrow it down to five. Of the more classic sci-fi writers, I love Ray Bradbury and enjoy Robert Heinlein and Philip K. Dick. Of the more contemporary writers, I love Karen Lord, A.M. Dellamonica, and Nalo Hopkinson. There’s also a short story writer (Ray Vukcevich) who is kind of like the Salvador Dali of sci-fi short stories.

There are so many genres because people enjoy different kinds of stories. What kind of reader will love this book

I really think the audience for this book is people who like a fast-paced action story and tend to enjoy “what if” scenarios. There’s a touch of adventure and romance, but it’s mainly a thought experiment about what an all-gal society would look like with past pacing, lots of twists and turns and (hopefully) unexpected reveals.

Finally, would you share an excerpt from the book with us?

 Here’s a little snippet from the middle of the book when Omega and Ghent are arguing about why the women use Greek letters for names and what the options used to be…

“Why the name Ghent? Where did it come from?”

He shakes his head, causing his matted hair to flutter around his ears. “My mothers never liked the Greek letters.”

“And I guess it would be weird for a boy”—I stumble over the unfamiliar word—“to be called Alpha or Beta or something.”

“You don’t think it’s weird for girls to have those names?” He seems upset. I turn away, not knowing what I said wrong.

There’s a rustle of blankets and in a moment he’s on his knees in front of me. The intensity of his gaze makes me feel weak. “Don’t

you see? It’s another way the society controls you. Forces you to conform.” He reaches for me, but I jerk away.

He massages his neck as if in pain. Then he looks over at the bookcase. “Hold on,” he says as he rushes to it and traces his

fingers along the cardboard edges that jut out along the shelves. Obviously searching for something. With a rush of breath, he

pulls out an object. An antique book with a tattered cover. He flips it open. I can’t hide my curiosity. I’ve never seen a paper

book before. I move over to him and kneel by his side. He’s not handling the object with the care I would expect. Instead, he flips

through the pages with his thumb. The paper makes a crackling sound. I lean across until I can see the words, printed in real ink.

“Here it is. Listen to this.” He looks up at me before turning his attention to the object in his lap.

He’s going to read to me. A thrill of anticipation shoots through me. In a melodic voice, he begins, and it’s as if a

thousand butterflies have been released in my stomach.

“My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing

longer or more explicit than Pip. So I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip. I gave Pirrip as my family’s name, on the

authority of his tombstone and my sister – Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith.”

My eyes close as the ancient words fill me, rolling from the deman’s tongue like silk. I’ve never heard anything this strange

before, at least not from a book.

“Do you like it?” he asks.

My eyes fly open when I realize he’s speaking to me.

“What is it?” I ask.

“It’s called Great Expectations.”

“I don’t understand. What does it mean?”

“This part”—he taps his finger over the paragraph he read— “means that people didn’t always use Greek letters for names.

They were able to choose names for themselves. Even make up nicknames, like Pip did.”

“That’s not such a big deal. We use nicknames now. You call your mothers Del and Epsie,” I say, but the words ring hollow.

Nicknames don’t seem like such a great innovation when we only have twenty-four names to choose from.

 

What Vacation Type Are You?

By Ellen Rothberg

I’m on vacation. I have been on vacation since July 1. It’s an experimental vacation, as my husband calls it, because he is working, remotely, from our vacation spot in Vail, Colorado. Working remotely, is a new phenomenon brought on by smart phones, computers and other electronic geniuses we now possess. I am not working remotely, unless you consider trying to orchestrate the movements of the people in my life that I left behind in Houston. Electronic gadgets do not work quite as well for my purposes as they do for my husband’s. His experiment has been a limited success. Mine, not so much.

So, why when I left the heat of Texas for the beautiful, coolness of Colorado, am I not considering the experimental vacation a success? Well, there are several reasons, most of them pretty reasonable. Let me share them in no particular order:

  1. I have an elderly mother, well taken care of, but still pretty dependent on me for social interaction. .Unfortunately, she often thinks that close friends and family are out to get her. This leaves me to smooth over the hard feelings and try to help her reframe the misconceptions. This feat, despite being a mental health professional, is often too much for me at home, let alone from 1000 miles away.
  2. Colorado is a young, vibrant, fitness-minded, outdoorsy place. I am not young, vibrant, fitness-minded or outdoorsy. I will not wake up one morning and say to myself, “I can’t wait to go on a five mile hike at 8200 feet above sea level”. I live the other eleven months of the year in a city at or below sea level. My lungs can’t take the altitude change and anyone who’s ever been to Houston knows there is nothing to hike up to. This is not to say that I can’t enjoy a nice walk by a babbling creek in 65-70 degree weather in July. I am just not going to dream about it.
  3. One of my children is about to be married. The wedding is two weeks after I return home. I think that anybody who has ever been even remotely involved in the planning of a wedding knows what I am thinking. Enough said!
  4. I am one of  number of education professionals who have some part of the summer off from work. I won’t get into the debate about how educators have the whole summer off or how we are paid enough for the job we do. I will only say that my school year kicks off on August 10, the week after my return from the month long experimental vacation in Colorado.
  5. Oh, did I mention that my month long vacation in Colorado took place in a fancy condo rental? Yes, it is beautiful, but I still did laundry, dishes, cooking (OK, not that much cooking), and cleaning up. The hourly rates to have the condo cleaned on a daily basis was more than I make per hour as an education professional. Oh, I forgot, I wasn’t going to talk about that.

What is my ideal vacation? One where I sit on the beach, holding my second or third frosty rum or tequila concoction of the day as natives serenade me with whatever island specialty tunes they choose to play that day. Oh, and where the trials and tribulations of my real life back home take care of themselves for the time I am gone.

 

 

Mother’s Day By Ellen Rothberg

Mother’s Day has always seemed a bit superfluous to me. After all, isn’t every day Mother’s Day? The moms, more often than not, are the conductors of the daily life around the house. Aren’t we the ones who wake the children, dress the children, make sure the children have their homework tucked safely inside the blue folder in their backpacks? Oh, I know, Mother’s Day is our day off from those responsibilities, but really, do we ever have a day off? Even if dads are supervising mom’s day off, the potential for disaster is looming in the distance in the form of a missed playdate or, heaven forbid, a lost baseball uniform. So, on this Mother’s Day, I offer the top ten things we don’t want for Mother’s Day. You can call it the “Yes, I’m a Mother ________________. Don’t Mess With Me Day!” official Mother’s Day anti-gift list.

10. We don’t want flowers from 1-800-FLOWERS. They usually require us to do our own arranging which, unless we’re Martha Stewart, we can live without.
9. Don’t BBQ and call it a Mother’s Day meal because we know we will be the ones doing the dirtiest part of the clean up. You know that’s true!
8. See #9 we are not OCD about cleanliness, so we don’t need a t-shirt
proclaiming “People With OCD do it over . . . and over . . . and over”. 7. Breakfast in bed — this is really not necessary since we hardly ever eat breakfast unless you call driving by Starbucks for a Skinny Latte, breakfast. I know it looks cute and cozy on tv, but it is just messy and uncalled for in reality.
6. Bath salts in provocative fragrances. We rarely bathe because we’re too busy trying to do everything else!
5. Like #6, we don’t want perfume in a scent we’ve never worn. Do you know what we usually wear?
4. Here’s a hint — don’t say I’m not your mother and therefore you do not need to do anything special. That’s lame.
3. Anything the children made. I know, that sounds awful, but do we need another clay jewelry holder? How about some new jewelry to place in the fifteen holders we already have?
2. Time for ourselves. Well, we do like that, but it doesn’t mean that we all stay in the house and the family tries to give us some quiet space. It either means that everyone leaves (yes, the father will probably be the driver) or I leave and get a massage, pedicure, manicure or all of these indulgent things.
1. Ah! The number one thing that we don’t want for Mother’s Day is the
total absence of our beloved families. Because we work hard, we totally love hard. Being a mom is the hardest, best job anyone could have and we do it with pride, fierce protectiveness and a sense that in the end, we wouldn’t trade one minute of our family memories . . . Well . . . there was the time the kids ran through the neighbor’s sprinkler as we were leaving for their aunt’s wedding . . . that’s a story for another time.

Strong Women and We’re Not Talking Body Odor

This is Mandy Broughton. [taps mic] Is this thing working? [feedback noise] Mandy Broughton here with another victim, er, guest for my hot seat.

Several weeks ago, Patricia Flaherty Pagan had asked me to read an advanced review copy of her upcoming anthology, Eve’s Requiem: Tales of Women, Mystery, and Horror. Once I finished it, I knew I needed to add Ms. Pagan to my collection of torturees interviewees.

Eve'sRequiemCOVERfront

These thirteen short stories are about real women in extraordinary situations. Okay, it has horror so it’s not all fun and bonbons. But they are all powerful women who take an active role in their fate. And they pack quite a punch without any of the benefits of spandex costumes.

MB: The upcoming anthology, Eve’s Requiem, co-edited by you and Fern Brady, will be released in October. The collection features strong female characters, good and bad, in dangerous situations. But I noticed Ms. Brady’s name is listed first. To keep with the theme of strong females, is it true you two arm wrestled to see whose name would be on top?

PFP: Alas there was no arm wrestling or WWF (wild writing females) style smackdowns. It is the publishing industry’s custom to list the editors alphabetically, so that it how we did it. We were blessed to worth with excellent writers and fun stories, but compiling an anthology is a lot of work, so it was helpful to share the process.

MB: Doing a collection of short stories with female leads can be risky. And none of the characters, to my recollection, were six feet tall, weighed 100 pounds and could bench press 315 twenty times without breaking a sweat. Are you afraid that you might have alienated the spandex-karate-Jiu-Jitsu-superhero-big-breasted reading demographic?

PFP: The Jiu-Jitsu loving crowd shouldn’t underestimate the characters in Eve’s Requiem. The shotgun- wielding, elderly aunt in Wendy Leeds’ story “Bloodline” could take out an action movie heroine any day!
But seriously, stories celebrating characters who look more like the average reader are slowly but surely being published in America. Not that we don’t have further to go. My own mission-oriented small press has set the goal of publishing more fiction about women from diverse backgrounds. America isn’t full of tall, skinny, white chicks, so American bookshelves shouldn’t be either.

MB: I see you have several events celebrating the release of Eve’s Requiem: Tales of Women, Mystery, and Horror. My book events tend to include coercion, duct-tape, and lots of dragging of bound bodies. I’ve come to realize this might not be the most productive way to approach book signings. What do you see as the recipe for success at book events?

PFP: So far the secret ingredients seem to be:
1. Cupcakes
2. Organized friends
3. Accessibility
4. More cupcakes
At the reading and launch to celebrate the publishing of Up, Do Spider Road Press’ collection of flash fiction by women, we served gourmet cupcakes from a well-known Heights cupcake bakery. It’s amazing how much more interesting writers sound while you’re devouring just the right amount of chocolate ganache! We will therefore continue the tradition and serve gourmet cupcakes at our Eve’s Requiem launch party at Writespace Houston on Friday, October 10 at 8 pm. Stop in to hear good stories and or to eat cupcakes. Either way, it works for me.

Thankfully, I have also lucked into meeting some organized and motivated author friends since moving to Houston. Tireless author-preneur Pamela Fagan Hutchins and enthusiastic novelist Gay Yellen have graciously invited me to join in on some of the Women of Mystery readings this fall. I will not be involved in the catering, but I am honored to be invited to read with such a talented group. These group readings will feature several power-house authors, including best-selling novelist Stephanie Jaye Evans and this wacky author named Mandy Broughton. Houstonians can stop into the Barnes and Noble in River Oaks on Saturday, October 18 at 2 p.m. to investigate.

Accessibility is everyone’s problem, so I am also trying to set up events that all readers can enjoy. I am happy that we are able to hold out upcoming launch at Writespace, a great writers’ organization that also happens to be located in a handicapped accessible building. In addition, I was able to book an ASL interpreter for the event. I hope that Spider Road Press will have the resources to hire ASL interpreters for future events as well. Because all readers like fiction and cupcakes.

MB: Finally, I enjoyed your story, “Bitter Sweets,” also found in this collection. Of all the tales, I think it had the most realistic feel, as if it could have occurred. Readers demand to know, did you sneak into Doc Brown’s laboratory and borrow his DeLorean to go to 1919 Boston to do research?

PFP: I would love to see the look on people’s faces if I did roll into 1919 Boston in a DeLorean. The streetcar drivers and ice delivery men would be seriously spooked!

While I couldn’t count on Doc Brown, my AP history teacher and community college lecturer dad pointed me towards the historical facts. In fact, his joy in telling the story of the real life, surreal molasses flood in Boston’s North End in January, 1919 planted the seed for the story. For more details, I borrowed his copy of historian Stephen Puleo’s great book about the disaster, Dark Tide. Nonfiction sometimes bores me, but Puelo writes well about a truth that was just as strange as fiction. I highly recommend his book.

If readers are interested in checking out my story and the twelve other suspenseful tales of peril and survival in Eve’s Requiem, they can save money by preordering it for a discounted rate between now and 10/5/14. See Spider Road Press’ online store for more information.

Spider Road Press

MB: Thanks so much for the interview and good luck with the launch. I look forward to cupcakes buying a sighed copy.

PFP: Thanks for the chat!

Eve'sRequiemCOVERfront

 

Read it! You’ll never look at flower gardens, haunted houses, dark roads, walking home from work, and 1919 Boston the same way again.

 

And, dear readers, in the great capitalistic tradition, I have a word from my sponsor.

[begin commercial] My book, The Cat’s Last Meow, is being featured on Monday September 29th 2014 at eBookSoda, a new readers’ site where they’ll send you ebook recommendations tailored to your taste. www.ebooksoda.com. I’ve found some good deals there. It’s kind of fun browsing. [end commercial]