19 Jobs Before Breakfast: Editor Alyssa Waugh on the creation of her I AM STRENGTH anthology, and running a small press

It’s August 10th, 2018. I’ve done little else since March besides work on I AM STRENGTH, an anthology my small press, Blind Faith Books, is producing to celebrate the everyday struggles and triumphs of women all over the world.

I AM STRENGTH book cover

I remember sitting in panel during a Wilkes residency and hearing that if you really wanted to be a writer, you would have to make sacrifices. There would be times you’d be sequestered in your hotel room working while listening to all your friends have a party down the hall. This summer I worked through drive-in movies, wing nights, dinners with my boyfriend, swimming invites, farmers market trips, and what would have been sitting out on the porch at sunset with a good book. I love the summer. So I feel my sacrifices were that in the true sense of the word, like giving up something you really love for Lent.

Blind Faith Books logo

When you start a small press, you agree to take on many jobs: manager, editor, promoter, interviewer, interviewee, designer, liaison, etc. You agree to become an expert in publishing, business, marketing, finance, law, and more. When producing an anthology, you are all of these things, all day, every day. I raised and distributed the funds, ran the submissions call, read the slush pile, wrote and sent acceptance and rejection letters, copy edited, did interior layout, and worked closely with the graphic designer to bring my vision for the cover to life. It’s not that I didn’t have help (Robert Antinozzi and Trilby Greene helped a lot, just to name 2). But I don’t have the luxury of delegating work that larger publishers do. When we say “small press” we mean small. Some days, most days, it’s a one woman show. There’s often no one to turn over a small job to. I just take the book from one step of the publishing process to the next. But that’s the whole idea of I AM STRENGTH. That women are superheroes. In the words of J.K. Rowling, we can “juggle 19 jobs before breakfast.” And we can do it all while bleeding, in heels, with underwire digging into our ribs, while still making time for our extensive beauty maintenance routines, while our looks are constantly being scrutinized, and while dealing with negative body image. Women work hard and excel at their jobs while being hit on, sexually harassed, or in the midst of unconscionable domestic violence. All this, of course, we rarely talk about.

We somehow started thinking it part of the superhero persona to suffer in silence—to never show “weakness.” I AM STRENGTH says let’s talk about them—the many slings and arrows endured by so many women on a daily basis. Let’s take up arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them. On the book’s cover, a strong woman casts a shadow wearing a hero’s cape that isn’t otherwise visible, because only she knows the real burdens she bears. In the book’s Foreword, contributor Marinda K. Dennis speaks of the chains we all carry each day, and how the only way to free ourselves is to write our way out. She says “writing nonfiction gives a piece of mind, and peace of mind.” Let’s write about these uncomfortable truths, and in doing so, come to terms with them. Let’s talk about why so many women have a #MeToo story, and/or a domestic violence story. Let’s try to get to the root of the problem, and then fix it. Because if men abusing women is this common, we are failing to raise our boys right, and we are failing our girls by allowing them to be abused. This is why one third of proceeds from book sales will go to No Means No Worldwide, whose goal is to create a rape-free world—partially through teaching women self-defense and the power of “No,”—but more importantly, through educating boys to respect women and to respect consent. One third will also go to Girls Inc., an organization inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.

The anthology isn’t all sad stories, though. In fact, there are hardly any. Because even in the tragic, scary, stories, the woman telling it always finds a way to rise like a phoenix from the ashes to become her own hero. They’re very inspiring. The book is divided into sections: Body Positivity and Self-Love; Overcoming Abuse and Injustice (this section is the largest, and we turned even more away); Emotional Recovery; Defying Expectations, Reaching Our Goals, and Supporting Each Other’s Efforts; Fighting for Life Through Pain and Illness; Empowerment; and Odes to Women We Love. The stories come from places including but not limited to Alaska, California, Oregon, Texas, India, South Africa, Bosnia, Trinidad, Ireland, Iran, and right here in Northeastern PA. They come from women of different religions, cultures, ethnicities, and persuasions. And while each piece in the collection is unique, the struggles are so much the same. Sexism varies in degree according to economic stature, race, religion, and culture. But it exists everywhere, and affects all women. If anyone ever tells you we’re living in a post-feminist world where we’ve achieved perfect equality and sexism is no longer an issue—that women no longer have any struggles—show them this book.

Still, despite the obstacles, here we are, courageously showing up, speaking up, and hammering our cracks in the glass ceiling. Every woman has a song of strength to sing, and when our voices come together it creates a chorus that cannot be ignored. It was a privilege working with these strong women, an honor to be trusted with their precious memories.

Concerning the work itself, editing nonfiction is a strange thing. It’s not like fiction where you can tell the author what their character should do or where the story should go. The stories are true, the “characters” real. The editor must strike a fine balance between bringing out certain aspects of the story without compromising the honesty and integrity of the piece. Sometimes you must ask a writer to dig deeper into a painful or difficult memory, and persuade them to do the last thing in the world they want to do: relive it. In excruciating detail.

Of course, you always want your writers to feel comfortable, but if you’re not going to dive deep for those details, you’re not doing creative nonfiction right, and you may as well not do it at all. The best stories, the ones that stick with us, do so because the writer was willing to slice open old wounds and bleed all over the page. By the same token, once you have that profoundly vulnerable, beautiful piece, you must corral the cold feet that ensue as the book moves out of editing mode and closer to publication. It’s scary enough for an author to let go of fiction, worrying it isn’t perfect, that there’s a typo on page 59 you’ll never be able to take back once it’s out in the world. With nonfiction, people panic they’ve said something personally, and this piece will reflect them permanently once it is published. They question whether they’ve been clear enough in their messages. They don’t want to be misinterpreted. Maybe they have given advice to women they won’t be able to take back, and are now over-analyzing their phraseology. They second guess. Maybe they were too over-the-top in their calls to action. Isn’t it for every woman to decide for themselves whether they want to join the revolution? Who do I think I am? Last minute jitters, and me trying to stop someone from pulling brilliant lines out of their piece at the last second. Me, pleading with contributors not to make their story blander, weaker, at the last moment.

You also must find the balance between being detailed and being safe. Many women who wrote about their domestic violence situations did so under pseudonyms, while also changing the names of people involved. And still, many were afraid their abuser would see the story and know it was about them. There’s none braver than the women who told those stories despite the fear.

I’m in the final stages of finishing the book now, and soon it will be available for purchase. I’m relieved and ready to relax for the first time in 5 months (well, besides still attending to my adjunct professor duties). Still, I know that in about a week I’ll start the preliminary work on my next publishing project. I feel I am doing what I was always meant to do: using my writing skills in conjunction with my activism to help make the world a better place. Even though it means long days, long nights, and long shots, and there are few financial rewards, I love what I do. There’s no other feeling quite like fulfilling your purpose. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” I agree.

I AM STRENGTH debuted on August 26, 2018 (Women’s Equality Day) and can be purchased here:


Please join the editor and contributors at these upcoming readings and book signings:

Big Blue Marble Bookstore, Philadelphia PA, Oct. 14th, 1pm

The Game Chateau, Wilkes-Barre PA, Nov. 3rd, 8pm

Barnes & Noble, East End Center, Wilkes-Barre PA, Nov. 11, 1pm

Library Express, Steamtown Mall, Scranton PA, Nov. 30th, 6pm

I AM STRENGTH available now!

Happy Women’s Equality Day! What better way to celebrate than with true stories of everyday superwomen? Score one for yourself in e-book or paperback, or gift one to that strong woman in your life. Best of all, 2/3 of the proceeds benefit NO Means NO Worldwide, whose goal is to create a rape-free world, and Girls Inc., inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. Don’t forget to check your local bookstores and libraries, and  #MeetTheContributors on Facebook for excerpts from the stories and interviews with the strong women behind them. #IAMSTRENGTH💪🏻💪🏼💪🏽💪🏾💪🏿

Stories of Strong Women Wanted!

We are currently seeking creative nonfiction by strong women and about strong women for our anthology, I AM STRENGTH: True Stories of Everyday Superwomen. We want to know: What is it like to be a woman, every day, wherever you are, and what kind of strength does it require? Stories should elicit an emotional reaction in readers and leave them feeling strong and empowered themselves. Tell us a true story about a strong woman you know, or about yourself. You can send poems, essays, or artwork that depict the ways women exhibit physical, emotional, and mental strength on a daily basis.

From summoning the emotional strength to love your body and yourself exactly the way you are, to the physical strength of fighting off an attacker twice your size, to the mental strength in overcoming everyday adversity, women are strong by nature. We are born ready to endure pain. We fight harder than men for everything we have, we need to be twice as smart, and we need to deal with it all while our looks are constantly being scrutinized. Strength is built into every aspect of our lives. Women hold their families together during times of grief and tragedy. Women have endured beatings, rape, unwanted pregnancies, vitriol, abandonment, workplace harassment, revenge porn—the list of abuses goes on and on. Women don’t need abuse to forge us into strong superheroes. Women are already strong. But women who survive abuse are ABSOLUTE WARRIORS. And the fact that these scenarios are so familiar to so many women means we need to be talking about them, and people need to hear that they are not alone in what they’re going through.

We want to showcase stories from grandmothers who survived wars, mothers who battled breast cancer like champions, sisters who combated anorexia and depression, and women who were able to overcome any kind of physical, emotional, or mental adversary through strength. We want stories of regular, everyday women, kicking ass in a million different ways every single day. We want women and girls out there to understand you can be strong, make a difference, and be a role model just by sharing your own story of strength. You’ve learned hard lessons. You’ve gained a lot of wisdom. Someone else can learn from your experience.

There’s someone on the other side of the world who needs to hear your story to understand they’re not alone. That’s the magic of writing. You can read something from one hundred years ago and relate to it. You can write something today that someone will read one hundred years from now and connect with. One of the most significant problems we have trying to identify with other people’s plight, whether it’s refugees, immigrants, girls being prevented from getting an education, a woman dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, whatever—there’s no teacher like experience. And if we haven’t experienced these things ourselves, it can be difficult for us to understand. And if we don’t understand, we can’t help—we may not want to help or think it’s even necessary. Here’s the thing though: we can’t all magically wake up in a woman’s life and suddenly realize what she goes through. So what can we do? Read. Read her story to understand what she goes through—that’s how we learn to empathize with our fellow humans. That’s how we live lives and experience things we otherwise would never be able to. Tell stories and read stories. It’s that simple. You don’t need any money or fame to write. You just need something to write with and something to write on. You don’t need to be a powerful person to write, but writing can give you power. That’s what this book aims to do: give women a platform who might otherwise not have one, and make sure their stories reach a wide audience.

We are currently experiencing a significant global shift concerning feminist issues, with movements like #MeToo increasingly propelling women’s rights to the forefront of mainstream discourse. Every woman has a song of strength to sing, and I AM STRENGTH will help amplify it.

How to submit:

To submit essays and poems, please save your work as a .doc or .docx file and e-mail it as an attachment to alyssawaugh@blindfaithbooks.com with “I AM STRENGTH submission” in the subject line. We prefer Times New Roman 12-point font and one-inch margins, but we’re more concerned with story than formatting. Save your document as I AM STRENGTH underscore The Title of your Essay of Poem. Example: “I AM STRENGTH_YourTitle”

On the first page of the document, include your name, where you are from, your contact information, and PayPal info, or indicate you wish to donate your story or poem. *Offering to donate a story or poem does not guarantee inclusion in the anthology.

To submit artwork, please save your art as a .jpeg with the format I AM STRENGTH underscore The Title of your Art – example: “I AM STRENGTH_YourTitle” – and email it as an attachment to alyssawaugh@blindfaithbooks.com with “I AM STRENGTH submission” in the subject line. Accepted artwork can appear in color in the electronic version of the book but will appear in black and white in the print edition. Artwork must be able to fit a 6×9-size book page.

In the body of your e-mail, please write a brief paragraph explaining your art, why you think it’s important, and why it should be included. Also include your name, where you are from, your contact info, and PayPal info, or indicate you wish to donate your art. *Offering to donate art does not guarantee inclusion in the anthology.

You should hear from us within a few weeks whether your work has been accepted or not. If you do not hear from us by July 1st, assume your work has not been accepted for this anthology.

Accepted stories will be published in the anthology in summer of 2018. Two thirds of the proceeds of books sold will benefit No Means No Worldwide, whose goal is to create a rape-free world, and Girls Inc., inspiring all girls to be smart, strong, and bold. Blind Faith Books will retain the remaining third of the proceeds to help fund our next endeavor.

We offer payment upon acceptance, but donated stories are also welcome. If you’d like to donate your submitted piece, please indicate so in the body of your e-mail, or on the document itself.

Deadline to submit is June 25, 2018 at midnight.

If you have any further questions, e-mail alyssawaugh@blindfaithbooks.com with “question” in the subject line.

I AM STRENGTH: True Stories of Everyday Superwomen


For my latest project, I’m editing a non-fiction book of essays, poetry, and art, created by women, for women. During my time as a teacher, and just as a woman, I’ve been listening to people’s stories of strength, and each time thinking: there’s someone out there that needs to hear this. From summoning the emotional strength to love our bodies and ourselves exactly the way we are, or to have to tell your parents you’re pregnant at sixteen, to the physical strength of fighting off an attacker twice your size, or battling through breast cancer like a champ, to the mental strength in overcoming everyday sexism, I AM STRENGTH will feature true stories of everyday superwomen. It will be diverse. It will be intersectional. And best of all, two-thirds of the proceeds from book sales will benefit No Means No Worldwide, whose goal is to create a rape-free world, and Girls Inc., inspiring all girls to be smart, strong, and bold.

I’m looking for some initial funding to help pay the writers for putting in the hard work and sharing their stories, as well as a talented woman graphic designer to create the book cover. There are some rewards for backers including free paperback copies when the book becomes available and a way to dedicate the book to someone—maybe their mother who is battling breast cancer, maybe their sister who is going through a divorce and summoning her emotional strength, or maybe their struggling trans friend who needs to hear supportive stories like the ones this book will feature.

These stories demand to be told. There’s someone on the other side of the world who needs to hear your story to understand they’re not alone. That’s the magic of writing. You can read something from 100 years ago and relate to it. You can write something today that someone will read in 100 years and relate to it. One of the most significant problems we have trying to identify with other people’s plight, whether it’s refugees, immigrants, girls being prevented from getting an education, a woman dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, whatever–there’s no teacher like experience. And if we haven’t experienced these things ourselves, it can be difficult for us to understand. And if we don’t understand, we can’t help–we may not want to help or think it’s even necessary. Here’s the thing though: we can’t all magically wake up inside a woman’s body and understand what she’s going through. So what can we do? Read. Read her story, try to understand what she went through–that’s how we learn to empathize with our fellow humans. That’s how we live lives and experience things we otherwise would never be able to. Tell stories and read stories. It’s that simple. You don’t need any money or fame to write. You just need something to write with and something to write on. You don’t need to be a powerful person to write, but writing can give you power. That’s all I’m trying to do. Give women a platform who might otherwise not have one. Of course, this will only happen if the Kickstarter campaign is successful.

We are currently experiencing a significant global shift concerning feminist issues, with movements like #MeToo increasingly propelling women’s rights to the forefront of mainstream discourse. Every woman has a song of strength to sing, and I AM STRENGTH will help amplify it. Please consider joining us in becoming an integral part of the new conversation on women. who contributes any amount, even just $1, will have their name featured as someone who helped make this worthy project possible. And stay tuned, because after funding is reached, I’ll be sending out submission calls for your essays and poems.

Fellow bloggers, if you find the project worthy I’d greatly appreciate a reblog. Please share with your followers on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumbler, and anywhere else you think people might be interested.

Thank you, and stay strong ❤


Kick-Ass Women of SciFi & Fantasy: Rosie McClendon

“It’s best to be ruthless with the past. It ain’t the blows we’re dealt that matter, but the ones we survive.”

This post is a two-fer: a book review of one of my desert island books, that also happens to contain one of my favorite kick-ass women of Fantasy. I first read this book in college, and even though I’d read plenty of Stephen King by then, including The Stand, I immediately labeled it my favorite Stephen King book. Since then, I’ve read almost everything he’s ever written (and the rest are on my shelf waiting), and having recently revisited Rose Madder, I can say with certainty that it’s still my favorite.

This may come as a surprise to anyone even vaguely familiar with King. You may never have even heard of this book. We tend to think of his horror classics: The Shining, IT, Misery, Carrie, or stories that have been adapted into movies, miniseries, and shows: Dark Tower, Under the Dome, The Mist, 11.22.63. If you google Rose Madder you’ll find many posts stating it is a “B side,” including some comments from King himself. You’ll find people who thought it too stereotypically feminist, not feminist enough, too supernatural, or not supernatural enough, and people who thought it was good enough, but nothing really special. Yet, I’m in a dedicated Stephen King fan group on Facebook where I hear time and time again how this is someone’s absolute favorite Stephen King story.

I’ll try to convey what’s great about the book without spoiling anything. I hope to encourage people who have never heard of this to read it, as well as those who have heard of it but have been deterred from reading it by negative feedback.

Rose Madder is the story of Rose McClendon Daniels, a wife trapped in a horrifically abusive marriage with her husband, Norman. Norman is a cop, and since he’s with the very people she would call for help, there is little she can do to improve her circumstances. His friends are all male cops as well, and all on his side. Rose is not allowed to work, and has no money of her own, and no independence. She can’t have anything she wants, including a baby, and Norman will make sure of this in as sinister a way as you can imagine. She can’t read. She can’t take a walk outside on a spring day to enjoy the flowers. All she can do is wait on Norman and clean the house. Seemingly up against an insurmountable set of obstacles, one day, after “14 years of hell all told,” Rose has just had enough and tries to leave anyway. She knows Norman will chase her down and most likely kill her, but she goes nonetheless. The only thing scarier, she thinks, would be if he never did kill her–that she would have to live the rest of her life taking his violent beatings. In spite of fear and almost certain death, Rose bravely strikes out to forge her own destiny, and starts calling herself Rosie McClendon, excising his name and presence from her life. But of course, leaving him behind entirely won’t be that easy.

This book is suspenseful. It’s both plot and character driven. While the concept of an abused woman escaping her circumstances only to be stalked by her abuser is not a groundbreaking idea, and while the themes can be a little on the nose,  Rose Madder elicits a hell of an emotional reaction. This book wrenches my gut, it brings tears to my eyes, it makes my heart race in anticipation, I can feel dread creeping up on me from a mile away before something terrible happens. This book inspired me, and many others to be strong when trapped in abusive relationships, and brave enough to leave these monsters. I had originally written “unafraid” instead of “brave enough,” and I want to stress that fear is intrinsic to true bravery in these situations. One criticism I frequently hear about Rose Madder is the villain is too over-the-top. Norman is not just sexist, racist, and homophobic, but takes these personality traits to the extreme. Yet anyone who has ever been in an abusive relationship won’t find Norman over-the-top at all.

You can be with a controlling, manipulative abuser who isn’t one tenth as bad as Norman, yet you can picture him doing the extreme things Norman does. If all your boyfriend or husband does (and I use “all” lightly) is hit you, choke you, hold you down and scream at you, eliminate your privacy, isolate you from friends and family, rape you–none of these are as frightfully brutal as what Norman does to Rose in the book. Yet you can imagine Norman having done all of these at some point before moving on to even worse aggressions, and before that, he even acted charming and sweet. It’s a sinister art, what abusers do, tricking and trapping even the smartest and strongest women into almost inescapable webs. Even when someone isn’t quite at Norman’s level, he can still be an evil monster, and you can still picture him doing the things Norman does, no problem. Because if they are capable of invading your privacy, controlling you, hitting you, raping you–what aren’t they capable of? The one who made you cry in wrenching sobs only to sit there, listening, unaffected, or made you fear for your life, has already lost their humanity in your eyes. To you, they are already that extreme monster and you have no trouble picturing them with the fangs or horns they may as well have.

And let me be clear: the abusive boyfriend or husband as a villain is one that never gets old. He never gets less scary. He is always disturbingly evil, and sadly, always relevant.

Another major criticism I often hear about Rose Madder is that the painting, one of the most important aspects of the book, isn’t well-described. What a travesty for one of the great modern descriptive storytellers!  Critics claim the reader can clearly envision the paintings in Duma Key, or “The Road Virus Heads North,” and how that description was done in only 112 words while Rose Madder is 420 pages and we still can’t really picture the work of art. But I always thought the painting was intentionally less descriptive than others he’d written. We have a hard time picturing it because it isn’t for us. It’s for Rosie. And a work of art need only speak to one person. We’re given just enough that we have the bones of where everything stands in the painting, but little enough that we can engage with our imaginations and imprint onto the painting whatever we need it to be.

To prove this point, if you search for interpretations of the Rose Madder painting you’ll find several, each containing a woman in a red dress (usually with a gold band on her upper arm) overlooking a temple or other stone structure (usually shielding her eyes) while a storm brews above. The woman’s hair might differ slightly from painting to painting, but it is usually blonde, except when brown to show the woman as Rosie McClendon, and the stone building might be in various states of decay, or might be to the right or left of the woman. But the fact that everyone comes up with basically the same picture means it can’t have been that poorly described. (I’ll include some interpretations at the end of this post.) The differences according to the artist’s interpretation are just that: what the artist/reader wants or needs most from the painting. What Rosie needs, is exactly what the book says. She sees the woman on the hill as free, unencumbered by men, society, or even a bra. She is comfortable, strong and brave. Rosie sees the subject of the paining as someone who isn’t too afraid to say yes to life and get what she wants, and it inspires her. And Rosie does indeed start getting what she wants.

Some say this is too convenient: that she, without struggle, gets the perfect job for her and becomes relatively famous within that field. But this never bothered me because I saw it as a sad reminder of the wasted potential of so many women in abusive relationships who aren’t allowed to leave the house or have their own financial independence or fulfilling careers. Who knows how many other things Rosie would have been good at besides this? Maybe she’s just really smart and talented, and all it takes is to get out in the world and try some new things to discover your potential.

People also complain that the book is too feminist. And I could write a whole book on how people are unjustifiably turned off by the word “feminist.” Others will say this book wasn’t feminist enough, or was adequately feminist but too cliché in its feminist aspects. I could also write a whole book about how, for some reason, it’s almost impossible for anyone to do anything “feminist” without someone taking issue with it. To keep it short, this is how most non-feminist women discover feminism: in its most basic form. Things become cliché to us after being inundated with them time after time. But for someone who has been imprisoned as long as Rosie has–for countless women just like her, the Indigo Girls aren’t a cliché feminist band; They’re new, exciting, and innovative. The same goes for the seemingly textbook diversity check-off. It’s an introduction to intersectional feminism, not an advanced course. It’s a starting off point for women who need a little inspiration to get going. Complaining about it is the equivalent of saying kids need to be reading Dickens and Fitzgerald in school instead of Harry Potter. Maybe if we let them enjoy Harry Potter and cultivate a love for reading, then later they’ll want to read Dickens on their own.

This is fitting since King is often criticized as not being literary enough–undeserving of writing awards or accolades–mostly because of the inclusion of supernatural elements in his work which gets him cast aside as “genre fiction.” Yet there’s as much insight to be gleaned from a King story as any other literary work, and it’s often less of a chore to slog through.

I love that Rose Madder opens with the image of a book being torn apart. Because reading is dangerous to tyrants. Even a Harlequin romance is powerful. Rosie might get inspired by a strong, independent woman and start getting it in her head that she can go anywhere and be anything, just like Rose Madder inspired women to leave their abusive relationships. If that was all it did, that would still be enough to make it one of my favorites. Books help us empathize with people in these situations and might make us want to help them too (like women helping each other in Rose Madder becomes such a powerful strength). There’s power in reading, and Norman (and men like him) want all the power. They want to control what we do, and even how we think–especially what we think of ourselves. Because the second we mark our price tag up, it’s game over for them. Their power is gone.

I’m not going to sit here and state that everyone who found a flaw in this book is wrong. It’s not perfect. But it elicits strong emotional reactions, it has staying power–people remember it, even ones who didn’t particularly love it–it has a compelling main character even though stories like hers have been told before, one of the most heinous and evil villains I’ve ever read, and it makes a profound statement about the power art and literature have to free us.

And what does the average reader say in refutation of all the negative criticism? The people in my fan group who laud it as their all-time favorite say: “I just liked it. There’s just something about it that spoke to me.” And it spoke to everyone a little differently. It spoke to other fans in ways that I didn’t consider when it spoke to me. But, like the Rose Madder painting, art need only speak to one person in just the way they need it to.


The X-Files: “Monday” and the Everyday Hell of Abusive Relationships

Art by Jared Adams

“I don’t think she was an accomplice. I think she was just trying to get away.”

These words, spoken by Mulder at the end of the episode “Monday” perfectly encapsulate the fear and danger in trying to leave an abusive relationship. She was just trying to get away. Only you can get out, no one can do it for you. No one can save you. You might die trying to get away, but even that is preferable to perpetual hell.

We know that the woman named Pam represents every woman. We only hear her name once. This could be done intentionally to both signify how she could be any woman, every woman, but also to show that these women aren’t just statistics and victims, but whole people with unique identities. She’s not just some woman. She’s Pam. It lends weight to everything that will happen after. She has a name, people and things she loves, a life, favorite foods, favorite movies, favorite books, dreams and goals.

But any woman (one just like Pam) can find herself in an abusive relationship. Smart women. Strong women. Because gas lighters are smart too. At least when it comes to this. Emotional manipulation is what they’re best at, and there’s usually no indication you’re in an abusive relationship until it’s too late. Using an amalgamation of countless real life stories, we can infer that Bernard probably started out sweet, telling Pam she’s beautiful and perfect and the only girl he’s ever felt this way about, that she deserves the best, and shouldn’t have to work. So he’ll work (as a janitor) so she doesn’t have to. It sounds very romantic and appealing until you realize that he’ll have her right where he wants her-with no financial independence of her own and no way to leave him once he starts showing his true nature.

But this is all just speculation right? We don’t know it’s an abusive relationship. The X-Files has always been subtle but profound. They don’t come right out and blatantly say anything. But we do have one important clue. So like Mulder and Scully we take what little evidence we have and run with it. We know this woman is living the same day over and over and has tried everything possible to stop the explosive ending from happening again. She drugs Bernard; it doesn’t work. She hides his keys; it doesn’t work. She even calls the cops on him herself. But like she says “he always gets here.” And she’s always there with him. There’s nothing she can do to change her circumstances.

When Bernard asks her why she’s always in a mood she replies “because nothing ever changes.” On the surface this is obviously directed at the “deja vu” of the repeating day. But beneath the surface it’s a commentary on the stagnant nature of being trapped in an abusive relationship. Often, the abusive party will apologize for their behavior and swear it’ll never happen again. Inevitably it always does. The only possible outcomes are a woman finally putting her foot down and getting away, living out the rest of her days in Hell, or when her abuser accidentally or intentionally kills her.

I like this bit from the show because you’d think calling the police would be more than enough. Calling the police with a tip about a bank robber with a bomb headed for a specific bank should be enough to stop Bernard, but for whatever reason, it isn’t. Going to the police for help if you are in an abusive relationship should get you out of it, but it often doesn’t. How many news stories include the details of a woman going to the police, filing a restraining order against her abuser and basically doing everything she’s “supposed” to do–“the right thing”–in order to save herself. But often abusers are controlling and possessive. They try to control where you go, who you can and can’t talk to, even how much money you have. When they lose control, the fear of no longer being able to possess the person they want can send them onto a violent and destructive path. But before that happens, they will do everything in their power to maintain that control. They’ll violate restraining orders, stalk, break into houses, whatever they need to do to try to talk the person into taking them back. The particular news story I’m thinking of ended with the woman dead after just such a series of events. She tried to get away, and he killed her. A final act of ultimate control. If I can’t have you, you aren’t going to be with anyone else. If I can’t control your existence, then you’re not going to exist.

But back to the main clue the woman is in an abusive relationship. One of the things she tries in order to change her circumstances is to tell Bernard “I’m not going with you.” He replies “Look, I’m not asking.” This is what abusive relationships are like. You don’t get to decide for yourself how you will live. You are told what to do. And you do it, or else. Frequently watching his episode I asked myself why doesn’t she stick to her guns? Why doesn’t she refuse to go with him? Probably because whenever she tried to say no, she got beaten. She’s afraid. You can see it in her face, her eyes and the bags beneath them, her stance. You can hear it in her voice. She is truly in hell. And there’s only one way out.

At the end of the episode Pam finally realizes what variable needs to change in the events of that Monday. She needs to be the one in the bank, not out in the car. She needs to be the one to get hurt. Bernard is responsible for killing her (accidentally), all the while claiming he was doing this for her. But as is the misplaced feeling of most abusers, that’s not really love. No freedom. No peace. That’s not a loving environment. Money won’t make her happy. Pam actually looks relieved as she lies on the floor of the bank bleeding out.

“This never happened before,” she says with the same optimism she exhibits whenever Mulder remembers something from the repeated day. Maybe this will do it. Maybe it’s finally, finally over. Maybe she’s finally free.

This is all juxtaposed with Mulder and Scully’s healthy relationship–one built on friendship, trust, independence, and mutual respect. Their banter with one another, even on a bad day, brings jokes, smiles, and conversations on fate versus free will. Scully volunteers to cover for Mulder and deposit his check for him, and (as always) they both try hard to save each other’s lives once inside the bank. We even see Scully cradling Mulder with gentle care, in stark contrast to the stiff and cold body language between Bernard and his girlfriend.

In this episode, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban cleverly show the hell, and all too often tragic ends that abusive relationships can meet.

“She was just trying to get away…”

Hell’s Laughter Coming This Halloween

Hey guys,

I’m very excited to announce that my first book of short stories, Hell’s Laughter & Other Spooky Tales, will be available shortly–just in time for Halloween! I’ve been keeping things pretty “hush hush” until now, but all this week I’ll be dropping clues about the stories in the collection. You can spread the word by sharing the clues and by using  #HellsLaughter. I hope you enjoy these little nibbles of horror, and if you like the teasers, stay tuned to know when you can purchase the full experience.


Kick-Ass Women of SciFi & Fantasy: Princess Leia

“Somebody has to save our skins.”

I opened the old draft of this blog post this morning immediately after seeing another one of the saddest headlines of what has been a brutal year: “Iconic Star Wars Actress Carrie Fisher Dead at 60.” I found that I started this blog post over a year ago. It was actually the first ever of this series that I tried to write. I just couldn’t come up with words good enough to honor her. Of all the women of science fiction, no one has meant more to me than Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia.

I knew I was going to love her the first time I saw her. Growing up, there just weren’t any sharp-tongued, strong women in action movies. And those were the ones I loved to watch with my brothers. They were exciting and adventurous. The only problem was it was men having all the adventures. Women were sidekicks, or worse, damsels in distress. Then my mother introduced my brothers and me to Star Wars and not only was it the greatest, most exciting adventure story I’d ever seen, it featured a main girl character right alongside the boys. At first it seemed typical: They were going to rescue the Princess. But it quickly became apparent that Leia didn’t need saving, and in fact, she was probably going to keep Han and Luke alive.

From the moment we meet Leia, she’s talking back to Imperial oppressors, and she’s not the least bit afraid:

Leia: Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.

Tarkin: Charming to the last. You don’t know how hard I found it, signing the order to terminate your life.

Leia: I’m surprised that you had the courage to take the responsibility yourself.

Tarkin: Princess Leia, before your execution, I’d like you to join me for a ceremony that will make this battle station operational. No star system will dare oppose the Emperor now.

Leia: The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

I immediately and irrevocably fell in love with her bravery and audacity.

Later, she quips to Han Solo, a strong personality himself whom she has no trouble handling:

“I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but from now on you’ll do as I tell you, okay?”

Leia was always more General than Princess.

She also has no qualms about calling out the boys’ lack of mission skills:

“This is some rescue. You came in here, you didn’t have a plan for getting out?”

Due in large part to Princess Leia, when I was a little girl, no one was a bigger Star Wars fan than I was. And yet, I never saw one girl in any Star Wars toy commercial. Even upon the release of Episode VII, there wasn’t a Rey action figure to be found. “Girls just don’t buy toys” or “Star Wars isn’t really for girls” came the standard, ignorant reply. Or even better: Rey has finally made Star Wars for girls. But Star Wars has always been for girls. Only now I see little girls in commercials flying X-Wings made from cardboard boxes and this seemingly simple thing is actually so significant it brings a tear to my eye every time.

Fisher herself also spoke to my feminist bones in a way few can. She put body shamers in their place when she said:

“Please stop debating about whether or not I aged well….Youth and beauty are not accomplishments, they’re the temporary happy by-products of time and/or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either.”

She’s also said:

“My body is my brain bag, it hauls me around to those places and in front of faces where there’s something to say or see.”

Carrie Fisher, I will miss you so much on such a deep level. I know you didn’t always love the Star Wars icon you became, but I truly couldn’t imagine a life where I didn’t grow up with Princess Leia in my favorite movie. I am forever grateful that you gifted Princess Leia to me and to the world. May you now forever find peace, one with the Force.

Princess Leia lives on, forever sarcastic, smart, quick-witted, and tough, deadly with a blaster and strong with the Force. She will always have played as important a role as Luke and Han in the Rebellion.  She was the first Princess I ever saw or read about that was in no way in need of rescuing, and Carrie Fisher’s is the first celebrity death that I am feeling as deeply as a personal loss. But she will live on through me and through every other little girl her character helped shape into strong, sarcastic, sharp-tongued, independent, kick-ass princesses.

Better Call Saul’s “Rebecca” Perfectly Captures Workplace Sexism and Gender Inequality

Not only is Vince Gilligan’s Better Call Saul every bit as good as Breaking Bad, it also has the one thing Breaking Bad lacked: a strong, kickass female character. Kim Wexler is an accomplished,  independent lawyer. But season 2 episode 5, “Rebecca,” showed us how real her struggle, and the struggle of professional women everywhere, really is. 

Before we even get to sexism, we get a glimpse of the minor annoyances women deal with on a daily basis that make their jobs harder, and that men simply don’t have to think about. In the episode, Kim’s boss, Howard, is punishing her in a particularly degrading way, by removing her from her office and putting her in doc review for long and tedious hours that completely waste her talents. She stays even longer than she needs to, working past midnight to prove to her boss what a hard worker she is, and that she will quickly climb out of this hole. When the other HHM employees go home for the night and Kim is the only one left, she removes her heels, letting out a sigh of relief, and gets back to work. 

If you have ever worn heels, then you know they’re uncomfortable. Moreso if you’re standing, walking, and working in them all day. Heels go from uncomfortable to painful. The longer you wear them, the worse it gets. By midnight one can only imagine the stabbing pain that would shoot through her feet and up her legs every time she took a step. Men, in their flat dress shoes, are never distracted by this pain on the job. Women must simultaneously deal with this everyday pain and ignore it, keeping up a level of excellence in spite of it.

 I suppose Kim could wear flats, but we learn early on that HHM is all about appearances. When we see Kim Wexler, we see what we envision a professional woman to look like. She wears a business-practical knee length skirt, and wearing anything but heels with it would look sloppy. The skirt also allows us to see her legs, which we know she has to get up earlier than her male coworkers to shave, and to do her hair, and makeup. And let’s just have a moment of silence in respect for the underwire we know is digging into her rib cage. 

Though this wasn’t in any way a part of the episode, it did lead me to think about women having their periods on the job. We have no idea what time of month this is for Kim, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much harder this week would have been for her if she had her period on top of everything else. It would be just one more little thing for her to worry about, and one she clearly didn’t have time for since she didn’t even have time to eat lunch. In the back of a woman’s mind during her period, she’s always planning and spacing out her extra trips to the bathroom (which is especially fun when she just can’t get away from whatever she’s doing) and worrying that she’ll forget about it and leave a stain on her expensive suit skirt or those fancy HHM chairs. Not to mention the cramps and headaches that would add to the foot pain, and make simply doing her job that much harder. And people still try to say women aren’t tough enough for certain jobs. Ha!

Then we get to the even worse challenges women face in the workplace on a daily basis. Working through lunch, because doc review takes up all the rest of her time, Kim works frantically and tirelessly to bring in new high-profile clients to her boss’s firm. She believes this will get her out of the hole. She makes phone calls from the stairwell (standing in her heels) because she no longer has an office. On one call, Kim has to explain that she is seeing someone, and we can infer that the man on the other end hit on her and probably told her that she sounded sexy. On another call, Kim is forced to explain that she’s not Howard’s secretarty, but an attorney, just like him. 

Eventually, Kim snags a toast-worthy client, and is so proud of herself that she cheers into an empty garage. When she and Howard meet the female client and a male who accompanies her, Kim and the female client book it up the stairs–a comment on how women are always moving faster and working harder because they have to just to break even–while Howard and the male take a leisurely stroll, because they can.

The worst part is, after all this working her ass off, Howard gives her case to Francis, leaving Kim once again with the  grunt work. 

Though Francis is a gender neutral name, we can assume he’s yet another man getting the assignment Kim deserves because as Jimmy says in the beginning of the episode recounting his first days with HHM: “Met some nice guys and gals. Well, gal. Singular.” This line shows how so many high-profile careers are still male dominated, due in no small part to the previously mentioned challenges and sexism. 

At the end of the episode, Chuck asks Kim: “Coffee?” She says no thank you, and he says “Can you make me some?” While because of Chuck’s “condition,” he thinks can’t make coffee himself, this is also another intentional comment by the show to illustrate how women are asked to do these kinds of “traditional women’s work” tasks around the office.  Asking this implies that Kim’s time is somehow less valuable than his. She can make the coffee (or the copies, or insert other menial task here) while he gets important work done. 

As the show wears on, Howard’s proclivity towards exercising power and control over Kim is becoming more and more apparent. And I was so impressed with how Better Call Saul showed workplace sexism and the other challenges women face, I wonder if they won’t eventually go for the biggest one: sexual harassment. Maybe Howard is too smart for that, or maybe I’m reading him wrong. But I know if he is stupid enough to try that on Kim, he’ll be sorry. 

Which brings me to my favorite line of the episode and a perfect one to close with. To Jimmy, who has been trying to devise ways to get Kim out of doc review, Kim says, “You don’t save me. I save me.”