Station Alpha – Chapter 1

So, I might have mentioned I have a book coming out soon? This one?

Station Alpha Aislinn Kearns

Station Alpha

Well, as a special treat, I thought I would release a little sneak peak to you all! I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 1

A harsh rattle shattered the peace of the night.

Christine shoved the enticing tendrils of dreamless sleep aside. Her phone had awoken her, buzzing on the wooden nightstand; the sound only loud because everything else was silent. She squinted against the unwelcome glare as the flashing screen lit up the room.

Christine hesitated for just a moment, then reached to pick it up with a resigned sigh. She caught sight of the time as she swiped the screen. 2:02am.

This had better be good.

When Jimmy had interviewed Christine for her new job as personal assistant to his ageing father, he’d warned her that it might mean some all hours phone calls. But she’d thought it had been a polite ‘maybe once every few months you’ll get a call at 10pm’ warning, not a ‘in your second week you’ll be woken in the early hours of the morning’ warning.

“Christine speaking,” she answered, trying to sound less groggy than she felt.

“There is a team of men converging on your house right now,” came the unexpected reply from a low male voice. Unfamiliar, urgent. “You need to run.”

“What?” she asked, blinking in an effort to focus. A prank call? She checked the number and realised she didn’t recognise it.

There was a grunt on the other end of the line, sounding a lot like frustration. “There are about…fifteen guys or so in black combat gear outside your house, ready to storm it. You need to get out while you still can.”

“Listen here, buddy,” Christine began, anger stirring within her. What kind of creep was this guy? She sat up in the bed. It was hard to deliver a set down with righteous fury when you were prone in a warm bed.

The cold air in the room chilled her arms and shoulders, bared by her tank top. A shiver played across her skin as she drew a deep breath to begin her tirade. The new angle gave her a perfect view out of the bedroom window. Christine froze with the breath still in her lungs.

There was a flash of movement outside.

She couldn’t tell what it was, other than it was big. Human-sized. She lived on a large lot on the outskirts of the city. No person should be anywhere near her house. Not at this time of night.

And anyone that was there wouldn’t be paying a neighbourly call.

“Please tell me right now if you are messing with me,” she told the man on the line. Her throat was tight with dread; she could barely squeeze the words out.

“No,” he said, and Christine realised that he sounded deadly sincere.

“What do I do?” she asked as she threw back the covers. She didn’t waste time on fear, though her heart was hammering in her chest. She stuck to the practicalities—get safe.

Some instinctive part of her mind told her to stay low, keeping out of sight from whoever was outside. She crawled across the floor one-handed, gripping her phone to her ear like a lifeline. The worn carpet scraped against the exposed skin of her knees.

“They’re at the front and back door now,” the man on the phone told her. She stuck her feet into the running shoes she’d abandoned by the bedroom door the night before, not bothering to tie them. “They aren’t covering the storm door to the basement. You’ll have to get out that way.”

She nodded, forgetting he couldn’t see her.

The good news was that the storm door was right near where she’d parked her car. The bad news was that it was also near her front door—just metres away from where he’d said there were bad guys. At least, she had to assume they were bad guys. She couldn’t imagine why the good guys would attack her house in the middle of the night.

“But they’ll see me,” she told him, whispering.

“Yes, but you’ll have the element of surprise. You can probably get to your car before they start shooting.” His voice was matter of fact.

“Probably?” she asked, the phone still to her ear as she snatched her keys off of the hallway’s sideboard, grabbing her bag while she was at it. “Wait, shooting?” she continued as her brain caught up with her mouth.

His reply was sardonic. “They have guns. I have to assume they will use them.”

Christine reached the basement door. Of course they had guns. A thought occurred to her. How did her mysterious saviour know that they had guns, or where they were standing?

“How do you know where they are and what they have?” she asked, wrenching open the rarely-used basement door. It creaked, loud in the silent house. Christine froze for just a moment, listening hard. She’d half-expected a door to burst open, spilling evil men into her home. But nothing moved.

She trod down into the darkness. After a few steps, the weak light from the house could no longer penetrate the gloom. She slowed, even though the adrenaline gushing through her body urged her to run, to move. She wouldn’t do herself any favours by falling down the ancient stairs. The flaking wooden banister beneath her hand did little to steady her. A few pricks made Christine think it was giving her splinters, but she paid no attention. She had bigger things to worry about.

It would have helped if she could see, but she wasn’t stupid enough to turn on the light.

She reached the bottom of the staircase, and her eyes began adjusting to the gloom. Weak moonlight streamed through the small, grimy window. Lumps were haphazardly arranged around the space. If memory served, it was all long-forgotten detritus from her childhood.

“Well?” she demanded, not forgetting her earlier question as she picked her way forward. If he could see the people outside, could he see her, too? Perhaps her entire house was rigged with cameras. She swallowed past a nervous lump.

“Later. Let’s get you to safety first.”

“How can I trust that you aren’t leading me into danger?” she countered. The storm door was almost in reach. “You could be out there with these bad guys right now. Maybe you are leading me outside to my doom to save you the trouble of breaching my house. I could run straight into their arms.”

“Fine. I’m watching via a live satellite uplink. Happy now?” he growled.

“It’ll do,” she told him. “For now.” Christine had to believe he was on her side.

“Good. Be ready to make a run for it when I say go.”

Christine took a deep breath, creeping up the steps to the door. “Wait a moment, I need to unlock it.”

He made a sound of frustration—something that seemed to be a habit with him—but said nothing. Christine felt around in the dark until the rusty metal of the bolt grazed her palm. To her relief, it wasn’t padlocked. She had no idea where she would have kept the key if she’d needed one. It wasn’t good for her safety, but excellent news at this moment. She’d rectify that bad habit later.

She worked the bolt open, trying not to make too much noise. She was conscious of the men hovering on the other side, only a few steps away. After a steadying breath, she whispered the words, “All right.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone. Christine focused on keeping the air coming in and out of her lungs steady. She was tense, ready, her ears straining for any sound in the quiet night. She couldn’t hear the men out there, but it didn’t mean they weren’t waiting for her.

“Now!” the man yelled, and Christine threw open the doors and started running. She didn’t look around, even as she reached her car and tugged open the driver’s side door. Thank god for automatic keyless entry. The lights flashed, then flashed again. Her mind caught up as she slid into the driver’s seat. The violent report of sound penetrated the roaring in her ears. She realised those second flashes were gunfire.

She ducked as she started the car with a press of a button and slammed it into gear. Bullets pinged off the body of the car, but none shattered the windows. Not taking the time to wonder why, Christine rammed her foot hard on the accelerator and sped off. She spun the wheel, angling the car down her long driveway. Her heartbeat thudded in her ears, drowning out all other sounds as she raced down her driveway.

She flicked on her headlights to see the turn, and they bounced off dark cars lining the road. Big SUVs, every one of them. There had to be at least ten, maybe more. She spared a glance at the rearview mirror. The armed men, weighed down by an obscene amount of weapons, raced down the drive toward those cars.

She turned onto the road that ran outside her house and lost sight of them for a moment. She focused her eyes on the road ahead, determination filling her.

“Are you all right?” The gruff question sounded through the car’s speaker system and Christine jumped. She realised that her phone had automatically connected via Bluetooth. It had slipped out of her hand in the chaos, and she suspected it was somewhere in the foot well. “Were you hit?” he asked with more urgency when she didn’t immediately reply.

“No. No, I’m okay.” She thought she heard a sound of relief. “Are they following me?”

“Yes,” he said shortly.

Christine swallowed and pressed even harder on the accelerator.

“Just follow my directions, and you’ll be all right,” said her saviour. She frowned. She couldn’t keep calling him that.

“What’s your name?” she asked. The words came out thin and muted. Terror had stolen her voice.

He cleared his throat. “Paul,” he muttered. “Now turn right.”

She slid the car around the corner and immediately checked the rearview mirror for any pursuit. It took them just fifteen seconds to turn onto the same road. Not good.

“Where am I going?”

“Somewhere safe.” It was obvious he didn’t intend to tell her any more, at least for now. Still, she’d already put her life in his hands for the night. She’d trust him a little longer. “Turn left.”

She did, the steering wheel wobbling in her hands as she fought to gain control.

“Can you give a little more warning on these turns?” she asked, gritting her teeth.

“No. I don’t want you to telegraph the turns to your pursuers. Right.”

She spun the wheel, and found herself on a suburban street, more populated than her own. Her pursuers were still not far behind, and closer every second. The engine whined as she flattened the accelerator, but it made almost no difference to her speed. Her car was built to be environmentally friendly, not to win in a high-speed chase. She assumed that men who stormed houses must have cars built for speed.

“They’re gaining,” she ground out.

“Shit,” said Paul. Christine couldn’t agree more.

“What do I do?”

“Left!” he barked. She turned again, tires squealing. Her heart plummeted for a moment as she fishtailed along the road. The vehicle was out of her control for just a few seconds before she ruthlessly tamed it.

The brief error had cost her. A dark car, leading two others, was inches away from her bumper. Christine tried to pull away, but it was no use. The lead car gunned its engine and drew even with her for a split second. The tinted windows of the car prevented her from seeing inside. But the creeping sensation ghosting over her skin told her the driver was watching her. A shiver trickled down her spine.

The car jumped forward, overtaking her. It positioned itself just ahead of her, blocking her path.

She looked left. Another of the cars was parallel with hers, risking any oncoming traffic by driving in the wrong lane. A glance in the rearview mirror confirmed that the third car was behind her.

“There’s a right turn coming up,” said Paul’s soothing voice through the speaker.

Christine took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. Her hands tightened on the wheel.

“Turn!” She did, bumping over the kerb before pressing the accelerator to the floor.

The car that had been behind her managed to follow at the last minute, tires squealing. Within seconds, it closed in on her. She felt a slight tap against her bumper as it nudged her. The car rocked. Her heart leapt into her throat.

He had her. Whoever was driving that car could cause an accident without any danger to themselves. Christine was powerless against it.

But then, the car braked, backing off. It settled a car length behind her, seemingly content to follow her. The other two cars had caught up, but none made a move towards her.

“Left,” Paul said again. Christine followed his direction without comment, her back tires screeching.

“Why aren’t they gaining again?” she asked.

Paul grunted. “Looks like they’ve got new orders. They’ve probably been reminded their instructions are to capture—not kill—you. Which explains why they only fired at the body of the car.”

If it was at all possible, Christine’s heartbeat sped up even more. “Why?”

“Don’t know. We’ll discuss it later. You still need to lose them.” A brief pause. “Right.”

She spun the wheel, and wrenched her focus back to her driving. The defensive driving classes she’d taken a few years ago had not prepared her for this. It required her full attention. She couldn’t afford to have her mind wandering into speculations.

Five minutes later, Christine was in the centre of the city, dodging the few cars that found themselves on the road at this time of night. She glanced at the clock on her dashboard. 2:24am Christ. Not even half an hour had passed since her life had completely upended itself.

Her pursuers were falling behind a little now that there were more streets for her to wind through. Paul directed her with absolute precision. He gave her only as much time as she needed to make the turn, and no more.

“Left.”

The car skidded a little on a wet patch as she turned. She wasn’t sure what had caused it, as there hadn’t been any rain lately. She hit the kerb with her rear tire, bouncing before righting herself. The engine throbbed with strain.

“Shit,” she muttered, then felt an immediate hit of lapsed-Catholic guilt.

“You’re doing real well,” Paul said in an encouraging voice. Christine was oddly soothed.

The orange glow of the streetlights bathed her path. The whoosh of her tires on the road was the only sound she could hear.

She made a few more turns as Paul instructed, running a few red lights in the process. Christine was grateful that the late hour meant that she didn’t endanger anyone else.

“I think we’ve lost them,” Paul’s voice murmured. Christine glanced in the rear view mirror to see he was right. The black SUVs that had been glued to her trail had disappeared.

“Thank God,” she breathed, easing her foot off the accelerator.

“Don’t slow down too much,” Paul told her, still tense. “Keep to the speed limit. Don’t relax until you’re safe.”

Her racing heartbeat returned full force. Just for a moment, she’d felt the relief of safety. But he was right; it was an illusion.

She cruised the streets. Crossing the river, the bare neighbourhoods she’d left morphed into lush green suburbs. He was taking her east, skirting the edges of the Portsboro central business district, with its skyscrapers and high-rises. While during the day the city centre teemed with besuited workers, at this time of night it would only be populated by a few drunk stragglers.

As she drove, Christine checked every few seconds to make sure the cars weren’t following her. Paul still directed her, just with less urgency, giving her plenty of time to turn.

“I have so many questions,” she said into the darkness.

“Like I said. Later.”

“Are you directing me to where you are?”

He hesitated. “No.”

“Then where am I going?” Panic itched at her, leaking into her voice. Paul had saved her life. She felt attached to him. But going to an unknown location, alone? The thought made it difficult to breathe.

“A safe house that the company I work for owns.”

“What do you do for a living?” she asked, partially to sate her curiosity, and partially to distract herself.

“This and that. The company does all kinds of jobs. I do most of the surveillance.”

“Is that why you were watching me?”

He was silent for a moment, and Christine wished she could see his face. She sensed that he was debating how much to tell her. Or maybe deciding if he should lie to her.

“Sort of,” he replied.

“Well?” she demanded.

He directed her to pull up around the back of an apartment building up ahead. Christine complied, pulling into an empty space near the back of the lot, but didn’t make a move to exit the car. Trees hung over the surrounding fences, blocking out much of the moonlight. The car was dark, shadowed.

“Go inside,” he ordered.

“Not until you answer me,” she said, feeling bolder now that the immediate danger had passed.

He made one of those frustrated sounds again, almost a growl.

“I’ll tell you when you get inside.”

She shook her head, then wondered if he could see her. “No. I don’t know what I’m walking into. You need to give me something.”

He was silent for a long moment. She could hear his short breaths coming through the speakers.

“Fine,” he ground out. His displeasure was evident in the way the word sounded like it’d come through a clenched jaw. “Someone hired us to watch you, but not as protection. We were meant to ascertain whether you knew certain information. They thought you might be a corporate spy.”

“Who’s ‘they’?”

“Your employer.”

“Mr. Disik?”

“His company.”

“I wasn’t aware he had one,” she whispered. She felt small compared to the vast swathe of information she didn’t know. “Why do they think I’m a spy? I never did anything. I’ve only worked there for two weeks.”

“He’s retired, though still listed on the board of directors. We were hired to watch you, see if you met with anyone suspicious.”

“And?”

“Nothing. If we hadn’t found anything after three weeks, the job would have been over. You would never have known we were there.”

“But then tonight happened.”

“Yeah. And I broke just about all the rules we have in getting you out of there.”

“Saving my life was against the rules?” Her heart hammered.

He cleared his throat. “No revealing ourselves to the suspect. No direct contact with the suspect. No interference in any operation, meet, or other unusual activity. No revealing that we have access to our own personal spy satellite…” He sounded like he was ticking each item off on his fingers.

“Right,” she murmured. She squeezed her eyes shut as tears sprang in them. “Well, thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet. You’re not inside and safe.”

She smiled at his grumble. “One last question, and then I promise I’ll go in.” Her heartbeat was slowing to a more normal rate.

He grunted, and Christine took it as a yes. “Why did you break the rules for me?” The words came out in a whisper.

He was silent for a long time. Christine once again got the feeling that he was considering whether he should lie.

She didn’t know this stranger. But he’d helped her through the most dramatic event of her life. Now, it was just the two of them in the enclosed cabin of her car, his voice surrounding her in the early morning quiet. Like a confessional. It all combined to weave an unexpected spell of trust and intimacy between them. His answer mattered to her.

He sighed, and it sounded pained. “From what I could tell from my—our—research and surveillance, you didn’t deserve whatever they had planned for you. Or, at least, I hoped you didn’t.”

“Will you get in trouble for disobeying?”

“That’s another question.”

She grinned, and the expression felt strange on her face after the events of the last hour or so. “Humour me,” she told him.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Could go either way. Now will you come inside? It’s on the fourteenth floor. Apartment two.”

She almost laughed at the playful petulance in his voice. “Yeah,” she said, to put him out of his misery. She gathered her things and got out of the car. It wasn’t until the frigid air hit her that she realised she was wearing her pyjamas. She tugged at the hem of the shorts, fruitlessly attempting to cover more of her legs. It had been a while since she’d showed that much skin in public. At least she’d had the foresight to put shoes on.

All the energy drained out of her at once. Christine felt bereft, shivering alone in a strange, unfamiliar parking lot. She trudged inside, almost uncaring about what might await her.

 

If you enjoyed that sneak peek, you can preorder the book here:

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Writing Motivation Tips and Tricks

If you are like myself and any other writer I know, keeping yourself motivated is the biggest obstacle to getting your words on a page. So many distractions – life, social media, that spice rack that suddenly needs alphabetising – and too little time. You’ve got the ideas, you know what comes next, but you just need to sit down and write the damn thing.

Today, I am going to share some of the things I use to trick myself into writing:

  1. Freedom

If you haven’t heard of Freedom by now, you’re really missing out. It’s an app – with both free and cheap versions – that blocks out either selected internet sites, or just your entire internet, for a selected period of time.

I generally choose ‘all internet for 1 hour’ and it is amazing how productive I can be when I am not checking Twitter every two minutes.

This is a lifesaver to keep you focused, particularly when you only have a limited window in which to write. Definitely worth the purchase price if you can afford it.

  1. Word Wars

This is great if you also have a writer friend that is struggling to find the motivation to write. Set yourselves a selected period to write for – 30 minutes, an hour, even a day – and then write like the wind. Comparing your wordcount at the end can be wonderfully motivating.

Knowing that someone else is struggling with the same things you are is also really comforting. You can beat the lack of motivation together!

  1. Finding the Right Accompaniment

I don’t tend to listen to music when I write, I find it too distracting, but I have a little trick when I really need to kick myself in the pants and get writing.

Behold, an extended loop of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song:

14 and a bit minutes. But it’s usually enough. When that music is on, I feel like I can conquer any writing obstacle there is. Nothing seems impossible with the Pirates of the Caribbean theme music playing. I don’t like to overuse it in case it loses its power, but it’s great for a last-ditch attempt at getting myself in the writing mode.

  1. Competing with Yourself

Sometimes, you need the motivation of a Word War, but you don’t have any writerly friends available to compete against. So, you can do the next best thing: compete against yourself.

My way of doing this is playing the Pirates of the Caribbean theme above and trying to beat my personal best of words written in that 14 and a bit minutes (480). I have also been known to try to beat my personal best of words written in a day (6,000).

  1. Reward Yourself

Set yourself a word goal – I generally go with 1,000 words, but it can be whatever you like – and give yourself a reward when you get there. Each person’s reward will be different for them, but mine is almost always food-based.

 

These are some shortcuts I use to motivate myself to write, but quite honestly the best thing in the world is to develop a habit of doing it every day, and don’t break it for anything. It’s the best way I have found to make writing easy. Whatever it is – 200 words a day, 1,000 – just create a habit and before you know it writing will no longer be a chore, it’ll just be one more thing you do in your day.

Good luck!

Top Thirteen Action Heroines

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have an obsession with action movies – particularly crappy, B-Movie, Straight-to-DVD action movies. I own every film that Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren have done. I’ve seen almost every Stallone and Schwarzenegger movie out there, and was first in line to see all The Expendables films when they came out. Even the more obscure actors, like Michael Jai White and Olivier Grunier are ‘auto-watches’ for me. And the more terrible they are, the better.

So, as an avowed action lover, and a feminist, I go out of my way to find female-led action movies.

When I initially thought about writing this post, it was ‘top ten female B-Movie action stars of the 80s and 90s’.The 80s and 90s are my favourite eras! And the research required to write the post would be vastly entertaining. While I could only think of a few female action stars of that era off the top of my head, I was sure there must be plenty I was forgetting. I’ve seen a number of B-Movies with female leads. Haven’t I? Unfortunately, after thinking about it for a few weeks, and even researching films I’d never heard of in an effort to find some more, I could still barely make a top 5.

I was so disappointed. Surely Cynthia Rothrock could not have been the only woman making a career out of B-Movie action? Ex-porn star Traci Lords did a couple, but that was it. There simply had to be more female equivalents to Dolph Lundgren and JCVD.

So, I expanded my parameters.

Top ten female action stars of all time. Surely that would yield enough fodder for a large list.

But no. Despite my best efforts, I could not find enough women that classified as action stars. Many actresses, such as Lucy Lawless and Maggie Q, would have qualified if they’d been in more movies, but they are mostly only known for their roles on TV. Michelle Rodriguez comes the closest to being a bona fide action star, making her career in action-heavy roles, but she is rarely the lead in any of her movies. Gina Carano and Zoe Bell have done a few B-movie roles and are worth watching, and I have high hopes for Ronda Rousey. That still doesn’t quite make a top 5.

There were some action heroines, sure, back in the day. Sarah Connor, Ripley, Lara Croft…the list goes on. But the actresses who play those parts are equally – or even better – known for other roles. Do they qualify as action stars in the same way that Stallone or Schwarzenegger do? I honestly don’t think so.

I have to ask…why is this? Are female actresses simply more versatile? Or are there not enough action roles for a woman to sustain a career doing them? Movies with female heroines make a great deal of money, particularly lately, as this list will show. And yet they are still not even remotely as common as male-led action movies. I have my own theories of why this might be, but…oh, let’s face it, it’s sexism, isn’t it? Ugh.

There just seems so much left unexplored in the genre and it frustrates me!

In choosing the heroines on this list, I paid special attention to those that have carried their own film franchises. They are interesting and strong enough to lead multiple movies, and some still have sequels forthcoming. Clearly, the world is still hungry for female leads in action movies.

So, without further ado, my Top Thirteen Action Heroines list, in no particular order.

  1. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games series)

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Proving that female led action movies (and books) can appeal to both males and females, The Hunger Games series is one of the highest grossing film series of all time. Due in no small part to Jennifer Lawrence’s terrific performance, Katniss is the kind of complex, interesting female character that audiences were craving. Unfortunately, she was whitewashed for the films, which was disappointing. I hope they remake the films one day featuring a WoC as a heroine, and actually deal with Katniss and Peeta’s respective disabilities.

  1. Ellen Ripley (Alien series)
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ALIENS, Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, 1986, TM and Copyright (c) 20th Century-Fox Film Corp. All Rights Reserved

Ripley was the first true action heroine of cinema. Her iconic status helped pave the way for all the subsequent female-led action movies. And it’s not hard to see why. She’s tough, ballsy, and could hold her own against any threat, human or non-human. While the later films in the series may not quite live up to the brilliance of the first two, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is always compelling. Her impact is still felt 35 years after her first appearance, given that a recent-ish (and apparently pretty good) video game – Alien: Isolation – centres around her daughter, Amanda. There are still talks of a proper Alien sequel, but goodness knows if they’ll ever pan out.

  1. Lara Croft (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider & Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life)

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Spawned from the popular video game series, Lara Croft has beauty, brains and an impressive physicality. Though I have my issues with the films and the games (they are, if nothing else, designed explicitly for the male gaze), Lara Croft is no doubt an iconic heroine. She is strong, capable and a symbol of self-empowerment for women. While Angelina Jolie was more than suitable for the role, I am excited to see what Alicia Vikander will do when she takes over in 2018. Hopefully she’ll be less of a ‘Fighting Fucktoy’ (FFT).

  1. The Bride (Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2)

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While I must admit to never being a great fan of Uma Thurman, The Bride is inarguably an awesome heroine. Never the subject of the voyeuristic male gaze, it is her violent revenge that is fetishized, not her body. She is a warrior, through and through, and her journey through nearly five hours of films is brutal, bloody, and absolutely fascinating.

  1. Alice (Resident Evil films)

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So far Alice has led five films, with the sixth and final movie due out next year. Also based on a video game franchise, the Resident Evil films are an intriguing blend of horror and action, much like the Alien films. Milla Jovovich has built her career and a very successful franchise around the role of Alice, who is tough and capable (though admittedly highly sexualised. Again. Starting to notice a trend…). The franchise also features many other strong and interesting female characters, including Michelle Rodriguez’s Rain.

  1. Lucy (Lucy)

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The most recent film on this list (not including forthcoming sequels) Lucy demolished the testosterone-heavy Dwayne Johnson-led Hercules at the box office. Scarlett Johansson’s Lucy flipped gender expectations, with her male sidekick playing the ‘love interest’ role that connects the heroine to her humanity. Lucy is an unusual action heroine in that she is not a physical force. She uses her mind and new-found powers, and prefers to temporarily disable her enemies rather than killing them. However, on the downside, ScarJo has now made rather a habit of playing characters that should be Asian. There are unfortunate racial undertones (overtones?) here and, oh, who am I kidding, it’s pretty racist.

  1. China O’Brien (China O’Brien 1 & 2)

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I admit I mostly included China O’Brien because I couldn’t bear to leave Cynthia Rothrock off this list completely, and I enjoyed these films slightly more than the ‘Tiger Claws’ series. Though not a great actress, Rothrock managed to create a solid career in B-Movie action movies, including a number of Chinese films. While China O’Brien could have been a better movie, the character is still interesting. Small, pretty and blonde, China manages to kick the butts of many macho bad guys. And that is always satisfying to see.

  1. Selene (Underworld film series)

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The gun-toting, catsuit-wearing Selene (another FFT) instantly captured the imagination of audience members when she debuted onscreen in 2003’s Underworld. Kate Beckingsale brought a toughness to the role that perfectly contrasted her pretty, vulnerable face. The mythology underpinning the Underworld film is dense enough that it has supported numerous films, one of which did not feature Selene at all (and is also the lowest grossing movie of the series). Selene will return in next year’s sequel Underworld: Blood Wars.

  1. Yu Shu Lien (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

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While I mostly tried to stick to Western films for this list, there are plenty of indisputably awesome action heroines from around the world, particularly in Asian cinema. I couldn’t leave this list without mentioning at least one. Michelle Yeoh has starred in both American and Chinese films, and made a name for herself with action roles. None more familiar or iconic to Western audiences than that of Yu Shu Lien in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (and its Netflix sequel). Yu Shu Lien is a warrior, quick and powerful, she fights with elegance. This is contrasted with her reserve and maturity throughout most of the film.

  1. Samantha Caine / Charly Baltimore (The Long Kiss Goodnight)

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Shane Black wrote some of the best action movies of the 90s. The Long Kiss Goodnight cements that reputation, but it is Geena Davis’ terrific turn as both school-teacher Samantha and CIA assassin Charly that truly makes the film. She uses her height and physicality to great effect, morphing into the terrifying (and awesome) Charly with ease. Seagal or Stallone were reportedly both considered for the role, and it’s hard to imagine either of them doing half as good a job. Just goes to show that female-led action movies can sometimes be more interesting than their testosterone-fuelled counterparts.

  1. Nikita/Maggie Hayward (Nikita (1990), Point of No Return/The Assassin, La Femme Nikita, Nikita (2010-2013)

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Given that this was a list of action heroines, I felt that the fact that this character kept getting remade was reason enough to include her. The essence of the story remains the same each time. A woman with a questionable past is recruited by a shadowy organisation and trained to kill. Eventually, she escapes and regains her own agency, triumphing over those that had manipulated her for their own purposes. It is an empowering story, and one that still resonates with audiences. No doubt we have not seen the last of Nikita.

12. Imperator Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Film Review-Mad Max: Fury Road

This photo provided by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ action adventure film, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

While Max was meant to be the hero of this franchise, all that was blown out of the water when Furiosa came on screen. Fierce, unsexualised, badass, and with a hint of vulnerabilty, she is the action heroine that I have always dreamt of. (And minus an arm!) It didn’t hurt that I shipped her and Max like burning, but I think the film ended the way it needed to. The inevitable sequel to this film won’t be half as interesting if they move on from Furiosa’s character like they plan to. As much as I like Tom Hardy, Max won’t be the same without her. I say, either bring them back together, or do a spinoff with Furiosa as the lead. Otherwise, what’s the point?

13. Sarah Connor (The Terminator, Terminator 2, The Sarah Connor Chronicles)

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I’ve saved my favourite for last. Over the course of two films, Sarah Connor (as played by Linda Hamilton) transformed from a vulnerable waitress into one of the best, toughest action heroines in American cinema. She knew the fate of the world was on her shoulders, and that of her young son, and because of that responsibility she hardened herself into a warrior. But Sarah still had her vulnerabilities, which just made her all the more human. The character still had enough depths to explore that she was granted a TV show starring Lena Headey in 2008, but it unfortunately only lasted 2 seasons. (Still pissed about that cliffhanger, not going to lie.) When the franchise was rebooted last year, Emilia Clarke didn’t quite set the world on fire with her version of the character, but I still enjoyed the first half hour of that film. But nothing can take away from Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor. It is no wonder that everyone in the future knew her name, and Kyle Reece idolised her by her reputation alone. She is an absolute icon.

 

Well, that’s my list of top action heroines. I think it is pretty clear that we need more diversity (when will I get my dream lesbian action heroine?) and less sexualisation, but that’s true of pretty much everything.

Agree/Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

 

Planning for Pantsers

I’m a proud pantser. That is, someone who doesn’t really plan before starting work on a new story. I often begin writing a book with little-to-no idea how it will end. I get bored if I plan too much. If I’ve worked out the story from beginning to end, then I already know what’s going to happen, so what’s the point in writing it? For me, half the joy of writing is discovering the story as I go, just like any reader would.

So, I pants it, and make it up as I go along. The first scene, the first few thousand words will come to me easily enough.

But then the problems will begin.

I’ll get stuck. Somewhere between 5,000-10,000 words I will stop dead and just simply not know what comes next. Sometimes I can chip away at the block. A few words here, and few words there, until I am through the other side and writing again. But the problem with this approach is that it slows me right down and wastes my precious writing time. And it will happen multiple times a book.

So, I’ve developed a strategy, one that allows me to pants my heart out, while still having a vague idea where my story is going. Basically, I plan out only the major beats in the story. Chuck Wendig calls these the ‘Tentpole Moments’.

When planning this way, I will write out all the major turning points of the story. Usually there are 5-10. Sometimes, I will fill in the gaps between with scene ‘suggestions’ that will change and evolve as I go. Other times I’ll just write ‘stuff happens’ and know I’ll have to figure it out later. (Sorry future Aislinn!)

For example, my ‘plan’ might look something like this:

  • Suzie and Dan meet (coffee shop?? Rollercoaster?? Prison??). They like each other.
  • Suzie finds out Dan is actually an alien.
  • Dan finds out Suzie is a scientist that studies alien life forms.
  • Suzie’s colleagues capture Dan and experiment on him.
  • Suzie helps him escape? Or he gets himself out and takes her prisoner? They go on the run together.
  • They hideout (where??). Government is looking for them. (why?? Suzie works for government?)
  • Dan manages to contact his people. (how?)
  • He and Suzie get it on. (Of course)
  • The government come close to finding them, but Dan’s people arrive in time. They whisk Dan and Suzie away to his planet.
  • HEA

It’s not really much of a plan, is it? It says nothing about the settings, or the characters. There is no detail about any of the scenes, from tone to place to emotional content. The wheres and hows and whys are all missing. All of that comes as I write. But it does give me a very basic story structure. An outline that will carry me from one scene to the next.

Nothing I write down is set in stone. It is malleable and often changes. And the more I write, the more obvious the direction the book must go in will be. Once I get over the middle hump, writing is much easier, because I am essentially writing the payoff to everything that I have written before, and taking things to their logical conclusion.

I like writing towards big moments, having a vague idea of what is coming so that I can choose the scenes that need to get me there, and shape them to fit the story I’m telling. Of course, the one thing that will never change through all my story planning is the note – ‘HEA’. It’s amazing how much of a difference it can make, knowing you are writing towards a happy ending, and knowing what you will need to get there.

Here is what my plan for Soldiering On looked like after I had finished writing it:

Plot outline

Anyway, so, if you are a pantser that is struggling with writer’s block, maybe try this method. Write a bullet point outline – fill in any details that you know – and go from there. As new ideas and plans come to you, update your plan. Even just putting it in writing will help you clarify what you need for your story. And it is very satisfying to cross out scenes as you write them!

Good luck!

Soldiering On and Station Alpha are available for pre-order!

So, as of yesterday, Soldiering On and Station Alpha – my first two releases in my Soldiering On series – are available as preorders from selected retailers! More will be added over the coming month until release day.

Pre-Order Soldiering On at Amazon (US)
Pre-Order Soldiering On at Amazon (UK)
Pre-Order Soldiering On at Amazon (AU)
Pre-Order Soldiering On at Amazon (CA)
Pre-Order Soldiering On at Kobo

Pre-Order Station Alpha on Amazon (US)
Pre-Order Station Alpha at Amazon (UK)
Pre-Order Station Alpha at Amazon (AU)
Pre-Order Station Alpha at Amazon (CA)
Pre-Order Station Alpha at Kobo

They’ll be released on August 5th! I hope you enjoy them.