Marvel’s Feminist Astigmatism

OK. Full disclosure here. I grew up reading comic books, and my preference was for Marvel. Until my sophomore year in college (a/k/a the prehistoric era).

In fairly short order (or so it seemed to me) they turned Jean Grey, Marvel Girl, into the Phoenix, and then the sun-eating-killing-billions-of-people-monster Dark Phoenix. Then Storm, also known as the African semi-goddess Ororo, became leader of the X-Men…and thereafter got her weather-control powers taken away by a mutant-power-neutralizing gun. They messed with my two favorite characters. I was, to put it mildly, Very Upset.

These story lines prompted my one-and-only letter to Marvel, accusing them of not being able to handle women with real power. Let ’em be able to go toe-to-toe with the men, and suddenly they were somehow too big for their britches and needed to be cut down.

I pretty much stopped reading comics after that. Yeah, maybe I was Very, Very Upset.

So now, after more years than I care to think about, Marvel is making headlines about the “New Thor”…who’s a woman.

Let’s put aside for a moment that this decision disses Thor himself as a hero. He is somehow “unworthy” for his hammer, Mjolnir (which he’s only honorably wielded for, like, a millenia?)

Who it really disses are the female super-heroes, already on the job. Doing the same job as the boys–in high heels and backwards, as Ginger Rogers famously remarked. But everybody gets excited because “finally” women will get some new level of respect, because one takes over a man’s name. Like Ginger would be any better, if we called her Fred Astaire?

Ororo–who later went on to wield Thor’s hammer during the time she’d lost her mutant abilities–really doesn’t need it to be herself. Don’t ever make the mistake of calling her Thor. Her name stands on her own merits.

I think there’s a lesson in there. Too bad the Marvel folks just don’t get it.

The Calm Between Reunions

For my husband and me, July is Family Reunion Month.

I might’ve mentioned here before that my marriage was the union of two tribes. In practical terms, this means we travel a lot to see ’em all, and July is the high watermark.

We just got back from Illinois. (Lock the front door, oh boy!) My husband drove up to Illinois with his brother and sister-in-law for their mother’s family’s picnic. I’d already flown to Pennsylvania to be on hand for the surgery of a family member, then I flew out to meet them in time for the party. The weather was clear, and not too hot, with a light breeze. The farm was in its party clothes. Cottage garden flower beds in full bloom, meditative cows watching the goings-on, a wren feeding two hatchlings. The perfect setting for the kids to run around in, while grown-ups shared recent news, old stories and laughter, celebrating new babies, consoling fresh griefs.

My husband has employee benefits with an airline–we get to fly for free…on a standby basis, if there’re available seats. So we left the car up in Illinois and flew back to Texas. Between over-full flights and weather, we didn’t get home until after 11pm, instead of 3pm like we’d hoped. And now, a few days of catching up on mail, bills, chores, and laundry–and paying attention to two cats who are trying to pretend their “Auntie Sarah” didn’t stop by twice a day to cater to them.

In other words, a few days of calm. Then, we’ll fly back up to Illinois (I’m hoping  for fewer delays and bumps), and get in the van to drive out to eastern Pennsylvania, where we’ll do it all over again. Only more so.

The reunion on my side of the family goes on for days (weeks, even), with folks arriving from all parts of the US as soon as they can, and leaving only when they have to. We have one big party for friends as well as family that starts on a Saturday morning and goes all day, often into the wee hours of the morning. Upwards of 200 people come. There’s slip’n’slidin’, softball, volleyball, and a hotly contested horseshoe tournament. “Uncle Herm’s Dirt” is a pile of sandy soil under a tent, with plenty of plastic trucks, cars, buckets and trowels for the littlest participants. In the barn, Uncle Joe calls a couple of square dances, backed up by the family pickers. At almost 90, he’s planning to hand off the calling responsibility to his daughter Joanne this year. (Thank you, Joni, for taking us on!) And almost all day long, there’s pickin’n’grinnin’. Under the Big Tent or in the barn, we get out the guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, basses, cello(!)–and occasionally wax paper and combs and wash-tub bass–for homemade music that spans the generations, where Willie Nelson, Simon and Garfunkel, big band favorites, old hymns, bluegrass, Irish, Scots, and German folksongs, Dave Matthews, etc., live comfortably together. As we like to say, or perhaps warn: “The more you drink, the better we’ll sound.”

An experienced Grill Team feeds the hordes with burgers, hotdogs, sweet corn, tomatoes, and all the sides and desserts brought by attendees, washed down by kegs of beer, soda, and water. Like my husband’s tribe, we’re a self-serve kind of family. We put up the tents, build the slip’n’slide, make the food, wash the dishes, clean up after the parties, etc. We get the kids involved, so they learn how to throw a reunion. Along the way, they learn that work can be more fun–a lot more fun–than video games.

This year, we’re celebrating 100 years and six generations on “The Farm.” Our hope and prayer is that our descendents will enjoy another 100 years and six generations, gathering on The Farm, just being family together, with all their friends, too.

I think this experience of family is why I gravitate to (and ground my fiction in) the idea of Scots clans. For all that Forge–and it’s soon-to-be-released prequel, Seeds of Enmity,–are set in another arm of the galaxy in the far future, I believe the human heart will always need families in which to thrive.

Oddly, the German side of my family is more into the clan gatherings than the Scots side…but we’re improving our track record there, too. We’ve figured out we just have a heckuva lot of fun together, even if we don’t have quite the full-bore musical/athletic/etc. extravaganza of our paternal family.

Which proves my final point: You don’t need a farm to have a reunion. You don’t need hundreds of people…or even people related by blood (about a third to a half of the folks who show up at our reunion are “related by love”…you know, the people you grow up calling aunt and uncle, and you’re about 12 before you figure out their kids aren’t really your cousins, but by then it’s too late…they are). All you really need is to pick a place, a day, a time, bring some food and drink, and just do something together. Sit and chat; play a game. Don’t play instruments? Have some tunes on…be brave and do some karaoke. The point is to spend a day with people you love, doing nothing more than celebrating the fact that you’re in each other’s lives.

And making those memories together is a darn good way to spend a summer day. Which is why I’m actually looking forward to flying back to Illinois and driving out to Pennsylvania before finally driving back to Texas, once again via Illinois. I’ll probably post this tune then, too.


Happy Independence Day!

Okay, I haven’t been blogging much, lately. I’ve been trying to wrap up a novella–“Seeds of Enmity,” a prequel to “Forge”–while also editing the sequel to “Forge.”

But it’s the Fourth of July! So…happy Independence Day, folks. And a heartfelt thank you to not only the Founding Fathers, but to all the service men and women who made their dream of freedom a reality.

More on new projects later. Right now…don’t you have some fireworks to watch?

Here’s the best soundtrack for it…

Memorial Day

Most of the time, Memorial Day makes me think of the countless men and women who have given their lives in defense of freedom.

Today, I found myself thinking of two men I never knew.

My Uncle Charlie was my Dad’s next youngest brother. He served as a paratrooper in WWII, in “The Big Red One”–something I didn’t know until just a few years ago. Dad told other Uncle Charlie stories. He had really bad allergies. He sent more than his paycheck home to Grandmom & Grandpop, because he consistently won at poker. (My brother John and sister Kath inherited his gift for card playing.) In a cruel twist of fate, Uncle Charlie died in Europe, run over by a Jeep, after peace had been declared. Grandmom thought all four of her older boys, all of them in service, would return home to her, until the telegram came that brought her to her knees, sobbing in grief.

My mom had never met her Australian first cousin, William Stanley Brennan, until he stopped to visit his American kin in Pennsylvania on his way to England via Canada. From the way she talked about him, I think she had a case of instant hero worship. Stan had volunteered for the Royal Air Force. My sister MaryBeth, in doing some family research, discovered he was killed in action less than four months later.

These are only two of the stories that put faces and names to the men and women we remember today. When we remember all those who have fallen, let us remember that every one of them had a story: a face, a name, a family, hopes and fears and dreams….

Let us not only honor all of them. Let us honor every single one of them.

They Call Me Baby Driver

I’ve mentioned I like to travel, right? I especially like road trips because I just plain like to drive. Especially highway driving. On the open road with family.

My most recent sojourn was a trip with my Uncle Joe and two of my cousins to visit another cousin, his son/their brother. I flew to an airport along their route, they picked me up, and six hours later we were there. I drove out in a new Ford Escort, which gave me a five-minute fuel history, and might’ve had a button on the dash that launched warp drive. (As soon as they come out with that, I am so going to Forge!)

Before we went to my cousin’s home, we went to his garage. I’m not kidding. He has some really nice cars. Classics.  So I got to sit behind the wheel of this:

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a 1940 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet, one of a limited production run of 350. I dunno…I kind of think they could’ve stopped tinkering with dashboard design right here…

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But when the rubber meets the road…as long as it’s got a half-way decent ride and will get me where I’m going, I like to be behind the wheel of most anything. For those of you who feel the same way, here’s a Simon & Garfunkel tune I’ve regarded as my personal theme song from the time I was thirteen, and within spitting distance of my driver’s license. Enjoy the song, and enjoy the road!

Happy Mother’s Day

I’m not a mom. But for a couple years I took care of my two grandnieces and grandnephew. When I began they were 5, 3, and 1, and when I moved away they were 8, 6, and 4. During that time I often thought of my mom, who had recently passed. Especially in the beginning, I had a lot of doubt and second-guessing. I had no desire to wind up as the featured character in my grand-nieces’ and -nephew’s therapy sessions when they grew up!GreatMom by Meghan

In an extreme moment of angst, I asked Mom for some kind of sign, whether I was a) doing the right thing and b) would I do a decent job of it. I don’t know about other moms, but mine could read my mind. I figured if she could do it here, it would be easier for her on the Other Side of the Line. But I was still a bit surprised when, in the midst of my internal conversation with Mom, my eldest grandniece drew this picture. Struck by the drawing’s light and airy feeling, I asked, “Who is that?”

“That’s Great-Mom. And she’s happy you’re with us.”

And I knew a sense of peace. Mom was smiling at me. It would be okay. As a daily reminder, I kept the drawing on my dresser mirror.

[These kinds of real-life occurrences, by the way, are why I don’t dismiss ESP. My mother, and her mother had the Scots’ “Second Sight”–which is why the humans of the Scotian Realm have psychic abilities!]

In honor of Mom, and all moms out there, here’s my favorite “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl, as performed by the stellar men’s chorale, Chanticleer. I heard this live in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall–one of the most acoustically perfect halls in the world. I had to grab the armrests to keep from floating away on the sheer serenity of their song. After the performance, we had a chance to meet the members of Chanticleer, and I told one of them, “When you sang the ‘Ave Maria,’ I could feel the planets moving.” (My comment wound up in one of their newsletters!)

I hope you enjoy it…and have a very happy Mother’s Day.

Ticket to Ride

I just had my passport photo taken at the local pharmacy. A relatively painless process, even for one as photogenically challenged as me.

The whole process of getting a passport brings up a lot of memories. I got my first-ever passport in 1999, a year that still lives in infamy in my personal history. Whether it was my burner of a job, my health, the health of my mother, my love life…it all sucked. Other people, in 1999, were afraid the world would end in Y2K. I was kind of hoping….

But just in case it didn’t, I got myself a passport. A sort of promissory note to myself, to look ahead to the days when life would improve. When the new machine started up; when Mom got better; when I wised up and glued my heart back together….I would finally make that trip to the UK I’d always wanted.

And in AD 2000, I did. Life did improve. And I went to London, Paris (bonus!), Edinburgh, and Glasgow.

It’s not like my world was perfect when I left, or when I got back. But I’d learned a few things.That I could get through tough times. That having something to look forward to helps. A lot. And that sometimes, the most important promises to keep are the ones you make to yourself. (A lot of those lessons showed up in Forge–Keir founds his extraordinary endurance on a reason to hope, and a love he’s not even sure is real.)

I forgot to renew my passport–it had done its work–and now I’m getting a new one. But the circumstances are vastly different, because they’re happy. I’ll be traveling with my wonderful husband to Spain, taking in the sights…and looking out for fodder for my next story.

Here’s a song that celebrates the Journey to better times…as long as you Don’t Stop Believin’. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

I hope you’re living on the sunny side of the street. If not…may the power of hope soon lead you to better days.


“And the skies are not cloudy all day…” Hah!


Here I am, home on the range, looking out the kitchen door at the–indubitably–cloudy sky. And it’s been that way, pretty much…all day.

In Syracuse, NY, where I spent three years, this wouldn’t be a cause for comment. In that beclouded city, Annie never would’ve believed the “sun’ll come out tomorrow.” Because it just didn’t. Except maybe in August.

But here, in Texas? I was led to believe, by song, folklore, and Himself, that it was always sunny in Texas…except when tornadoes tear up the landscape and throw it into the sky. My husband also teases me about the sun never shining in Pennsylvania–which is patently untrue. We’re not Syracuse, after all. But my case wasn’t helped when, during our last four-day visit in March, it snowed twice and the sun hid its face behind a heavy swath of clouds in shame.

Don’t get the idea that I’m complaining. This is just by way of pointing out that…Hey! It’s cloudy! In Texas! Who knew?

There’s a serenity in a cloudy day. Trees are swaying in the wind, the birds are singing…and clouds can be pretty. If I didn’t believe that, I never would’ve survived my sojourn in Syracuse.

And really, this whole post is just an excuse to play the song going through my head, because it perfectly captures the feeling of a cloudy day.

Whether it’s rain or shine, sunny or shadowed, wherever you are…here’s hoping your own personal weather is set to “smile”!

On the Wings of Dragons

I think I was in late grade school or early high school when I first read Dragon Riders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. My eldest sister handed it to me, saying, “I think you’ll like this.” And just like that, I was hooked, catching up with ones already published, waiting for the next one out. Swallowing up The Ship Who Sang in one sitting…

McCaffrey stood out from the other SF authors I first read because of the way she integrated music into her stories. Sometimes as the stage setting, sometimes, as in the Harper Hall Trilogy, taking front and center. To this day, I still think about Menolly and her struggle to become a harper. Music is a vital part of my life, and her work resonated with me. (It holds true for me as a writer, as well. In my first book, Forge, the hero saves himself from death-by-trash-recycling by singing raucously–and drunkenly–enough to be heard by the tech who was about to hit the waste-processing button. You can read the first three chapters here.)

In celebration of Anne McCaffrey’s birthday–and her love of music–here is one of the filk tunes from the Masterharper of Pern CD.

Care to share your first memory of reading McCaffrey, or perhaps meeting her at a con? Please leave a comment!



Happy Easter with The. Best. Bread. Ever.

My youngest older sister married a nice Slovak boy. My maternal uncle married a nice Slovak girl. They both brought great recipes into the family, so that we began to say, “cut a Slovak, they bleed good recipes.”

Here’s one of my favorites, my sister’s take on Paska, the slightly sweet and wonderfully dense Paska-wholebread from the traditional Slovak Holy Saturday meal. Paska, along with red beets-and-horseradish, ham, sausage, hard-boiled eggs, new salt, syrec*, apples, and nut and poppy seed rolls, is loaded into a basket and taken to church for a special blessing, then served up at noon. I look forward to Paska all year long. Since I won’t be back in Pennsylvania for Easter, my kind sister generously sent me a loaf. I did a happy dance through the kitchen!
(*A mild, homemade cheese. Great with apples and the ground red beets and horseradish.)

Paska’s Basic Dough**
**The original recipe calls for an interior cheese dough. My sister’s never bothered with it, and I’ve certainly never missed it. The entire recipe can be found in God Bless the Cooks–a cookbook dedicated to feeding family reunion hordes with proceeds supporting charitable works. Let me know if you want to buy one ($20). I can hook you up, while supplies last.

Yield: Four Paskas
Baking pan: 9″ tube pan (optional)
Temperature: 325F for 10 minutes, then 350F for 40 minutes. (Total: 50 minutes)

8 cups flour
2 Tbs. salt
1 cup warm water
1/4 lb. butter
1/2 cup sugar, divided
2 cups milk, at boiling point
1 cake yeast
3 eggs
1 cup golden raisins (optional)

Crumble yeast in 1/2 cup water and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Set aside for 5 minutes. Pour boiling milk over sugar and butter; add balance of water. Cool to lukewarm. Sift flour into bowl; add salt, eggs, milk mixture, yeast, and raisins. Knead dough until smooth and elastic. Place dough in large bowl lightly greased with vegetable oil. Cover. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about two hours, in a warm place.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured board and shape into four parts. Place into 9″ tube pan, covered to prevent drying, and let rise for 30 minutes. Just before placing in the oven, brush top with beaten egg yolk. Bake for 325F for 10 minutes, then increase temperature to 350F and bake for another 40 minutes.

(The tube pan is optional. I’ve also seen these braided, and clearly, a round loaf is perfectly acceptable!)

The reward:
Paska-cutMy own Paska tradition: the first slice, just buttered; the second, with butter and honey; the third, with strawberry jam. Repeat as necessary.

Now, if she’ll send me a loaf of her raisin-cinnamon bread, I’ll post that recipe, too!