All posts by K. Rawson

The Beast is Back

Under the heading “Truly Strange” I offer this:

I have a battery-powered ambiance lamp which I keep on my nightstand. I started the habit after spilling my wine for the 400th time.

Josh and I binge-watch shows on his laptop before going to sleep, so I put the ambient light in red-mode (which allegedly supports melatonin production), and so I don’t try to set my wine on a part of the nightstand that isn’t there. (I know, I know, I probably shouldn’t drink wine in bed, but it’s the only way I can think of to make sure it’s handy when I wake up in the morning 😉 ) Anyway, when it’s time to go to sleep, I pick the lamp up and fumble for the tiny switch on its base to turn it off.

However, this morning at the stroke of 4:00, while I was in the midst of explaining to my dream-mom that gardening IS work and not just a hobby, because it could potentially IMPROVE the value of my home, and that was why I had no free time to see her, because I worked two jobs–both the day job, and my dream-imaginary part-time job, and plus all the mom-things I do, and the job of keeping the house clean and the laundry washed and the pantry stocked…

And that’s when the light came on, which sounds like a metaphor, and a cliché at that–but no. The light came on. The
Taipow LED Night Light, Bedside Table Lamp for Baby Kids Room Bedroom Outdoor, Dimmable Eye Caring Desk Lamp with Color Changing Touch Senor Remote Control which I got at Amazon.

The light that can only come on by picking the damn thing up and feeling around the base for its switch (yes, there’s a remote, but I threw it away in fit of konmarie).

I have no explanation for this. It was in bright-white mode (the default), but my point is that it’s not like I left the damn thing on in a pinot-induced stupor. This was no accident. It was a wake up call, and no I’m not talking metaphorically.

When I was writing HitList I’d find myself waking up at four, completely and unable to get back to sleep. And on more than one occasion it felt (or seemed) like someone, some thing had tugged at my foot, or yanked at the covers. I’d roll out of bed and write for two hours, until it was time to get ready for the moneyjob and see the urchins off to school.

At the time I joked about it–called it The Beast–but I was only half joking. I was filled with fire. I wrote the first draft of HitList in three months, a feat I haven’t been able to duplicate in the three novels since.

I have a new baby now and it’s something different than the four Contemporary YAs I’ve written. It’s a memoir manifesto on life-and-gardening in the age of climate catastrophe. It’s about what it’s like to live in a town gut-punched by two massive natural disasters in less than 15 years, what is like to grow up in the state with the least amount of natural land than any other, and about what happens when an inexperienced gardener goes native.

Today is our Derecho-versary. One year ago today, a category four land hurricane flattened our town. It blew off the top floor of apartment buildings, peeled the roof off of a number of area schools and businesses, and left a 200-year old oak tree in pieces on my yard. We’re still trying to stitch our city together. The woman two doors down from me has been a climate refugee ever since.

Our house, immediately after the derecho. One year ago today.

There’s just so much to say about this–the growing gravity of unprecedented climate events: fires and windstorms and floods (oh my). About everything: from the precious monarch eggs on the milkweed outside, to the deadzone in the Gulf of Mexico larger than Connecticut. And I’ve got plenty to say about it; enough to fill a book, I think.

Not a book filled with grim warnings and dire predictions. Rather, I think it’s a book about hope. It’s about how wonderous the world is, how resilient, and how much we can accomplish if we put our minds to it, if we work together and quit letting change-fearing hate-mongers sway us with cheap manipulations. And about how much we stand to lose if we don’t.

Which is why I’m up at 4:00am and why I’m pretty sure The Beast is back.

If you want to keep up with me, follow The Official Karen© on Medium where I post angry letters to the Governor and will be submitting a series of essays for their Writer’s Challenge. Or, check out Iowa Native Gardener, where I blog about my attempts at native prairie restoration and try to justify the copious amounts of pokeweed in my yard.

Love you, my most dear readers, and if you’ve read this far, well then, thanks.



Women of Courage: Monica Lewinsky

Monica Lewinsky: Compassion Crusader

Imagine you’re twenty-two years old and you’ve just made a mistake. You were impulsive, you misjudged someone, you hurt someone, you were selfish. Look, you don’t need to imagine—who hasn’t screwed up?

Now imagine your mistake ignites a national scandal and your name will forever be a dirty joke in low-brow circles. Imagine everything about you is considered public property, and people everywhere feel free to comment on every aspect of your person.


I’ve seen some very dark days in my life. It was empathy and compassion from friends, family, coworkers, even strangers that saved me. Empathy from one person can make a difference. Compassionate comments help abate the negativity.

Even if you’re too young to remember the sex scandal that rocked Bill Clinton’s presidency in 1998, you may have heard her name in rap songs.

Monica Lewinsky was just twenty-two years old when she landed an unpaid White House internship. Not long after, she embarked on a regretful affair with one of the most powerful men in the world. Three years later, every explicit detail of the affair was broadcast around the globe. And, as if twenty-four hour television coverage was not enough, the press had a brand new medium: the internet. In 1998, Monica Lewinsky became the self-described patient zero in the cyber-bullying epidemic.

How She’s Courageous

A less courageous woman might have changed her name and lived a life of quiet anonymity. In Iceland. But courage has nothing to do with living a perfect life. Lives are messy, people stumble, people make mistakes. The majority of us have the luxury of doing it with a modicum of privacy.

In 2010, after more than a decade teetering in and out of the public eye, Monica was deeply affected by the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi. It was then she began to realize how her painful experience could be used to help others. In a landmark essay published in Vanity Fair in 2014, Monica took charge of her narrative and launched a campaign to support victims of internet shaming.

How Her Courage Affects Others

Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing: You can survive it…you can insist on a different ending to your story. Have compassion for yourself. We all deserve compassion, and to live both online and off in a more compassionate world.

Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying. More than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyber-threats online. Over 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the Internet. And it’s growing. There was an 87% increase in calls related to cyber-bullying from 2012 to 2013 alone.

As an anti-bullying activist, Monica travels to universities and schools spreading a message of compassion. Her TED talk has been viewed over 12 million times. In October of last year, she launched a PSA which concisely illustrates how people behave differently online versus face-to-face. Last fall she launched a #BeStrong Emoji keyboard app so users can support those experiencing online harassment.

How She’s Affected Me

Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop. We need to return to a long-held value of compassion and empathy.

As a writer obsessed with the impact of technology on society (and the author of a book on cyber-bullying), I find Ms. Lewinsky’s insights into the perils of media spot-on. While these pitfalls are the playground where my books happen, the forward-thinking Monica is working to shape privacy guidelines, as well as standards for responsible media consumption, for the coming years.

I had the pleasure of seeing her speak in person last October. The next day, as I read the online commentary on the news article, I realized the ongoing abuse she must still endure. The comments were filled with vitriol and personal attacks. As a person who often struggles to summon the courage to hit publish on a blog post, I am humbled by breadth of her courage and the depth of her compassion as she steadfastly champions her cause.

Learn More

Also, don’t miss her PSA below:

Originally published on

Women of Courage: Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King at the Democratic National Convention

Coretta Scott King, Fearless Champion of Equality


The woman-power of this nation can be the power which makes us whole and heals the rotten community, now so shattered by war and poverty and racism. I have great faith in the power of women who will dedicate themselves whole-heartedly to the task of remaking our society.

While you may be familiar with the works and words of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., you may not realize his wife was an undaunted champion of equality in her own right–even before she married her famous husband.

In addition to her activism to promote the rights of African-Americans, Mrs. King was an activist for women’s equality, and was also an early and outspoken supporter of LGBT rights.

Coretta Scott King, 1927-2006

Born in 1927, her great-grandmother (a former slave) presided at her birth. She grew up in Alabama where she graduated valedictorian of her high school. A woman of great musical talent, she earned her admission to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. It was there she met her husband.

Like many women of her time, she set aside her own ambitions to support her husband. When Martin Luther King Jr. became a full-time pastor, Coretta became a full-time pastor’s wife.

How She’s Courageous

When fear rushed in, I learned how to hear my heart racing but refused to allow my feelings to sway me.

Sometimes, courage means standing up for one’s beliefs. Sometimes, courage means bravery in the face of death or injury. But throughout her life, Mrs. King epitomized both types of courage.

When she was only fifteen, her family home was burned to the ground by white racists. Once married, the King family received death threats due to their participation in the Montgomery bus boycott. Mrs. King was home with their baby when their house was bombed. Later, just after the bus service was integrated, she was present as shots rang through the house. Unfazed, she stood her ground and remained true to her cause.

In April 1968, only four days after her husband was assassinated, she went on to lead the planned march in his stead. From there, she spoke in his place at a peace rally in New York City. Eventually, she took over the leadership duties of the movement altogether–all while her husband’s killer remained at large.

She went on to become a vocal supporter for LGBT rights even when opposed by members of the church she so loved. She called for more funding and research into the AIDS epidemic and lobbied for an amendment to the Civil Rights Act to include members of the LGBT community.

How Her Courage Affects Others

Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.

There is a timeless and resounding truth to her words, and I count her as a champion of progressive causes throughout her life.

She worked by her husband’s side as he became leader of the Civil Rights Movement. After his death, she founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. And, if last Monday was a holiday where you live, you can thank Coretta Scott King. After fifteen years of lobbying, she was successful in having his birthday recognized as a federal holiday in the United States.

Learn More

My Life, My Love, My Legacy, by Coretta Scott King, Available in book stores January 2018.

This has been an edition of Women of Courage. Check back every Sunday through February for new articles celebrating real and fictional heroines to inspire you.

Originally published on

The Top Seven Badass Women of Game of Thrones

WARNING: Spoilers abound.

Today I’m going off-script for my Women of Courage series to talk about not just one courageous woman, but seven of them.

Over the years, television has brought us the occasional heroine. Perhaps you’re old enough to remember Batgirl or Wonder Woman. Or maybe you were a pink power ranger two years running on Halloween. And those were great, don’t get me wrong. But for decades, Hollywood has been serving us the female flavor of a male archetype. Sure, those women chased the bad guys and rescued kittens. They did everything the guys did and they did it in lipstick, heels, and a bustier. Isn’t that feminism? Ahem, not exactly.

Game of Thrones is a sword opera, complete with all the sorcery and dragons you’d expect. Westeros is a land where leaders compete to rule the Iron Throne.

Kingdoms, by nature of the word, are patriarchal. But women can and do rule throughout Westeros. And if you’re keeping score, it’s safe to say the ladies are in the lead.

This is not a land where all the women are dewy nymphs, where all heroines are soft-focus. There are beauties, to be sure. But the show includes fierce females from eight to eighty.

These are not your typical damsels in distress, awaiting their knight in shining armor—and not just because some of the bravest knights are women. Yes, it’s dungeons and dragons, but in contrast to dearth of female characters in the Lord of the Rings, the women of Game of Thrones are not just present, they’re central.

Note today’s installment is about the HBO series rather than the books, which I admit I have not yet read. 

Top Seven Badass Women of Game of Thrones (in no particular order):

Yara Greyjoy

“And she is your rightful ruler. Those of you that have sailed under her, and there are many of you here, you know what she is! She is a reaver! She is a warrior! She is Ironborn! We will find no better leader! This is our queen!”

―Theon Greyjoy declaring Yara as the rightful Queen of the Iron Islands.

With her brothers lost to war, Yara was raised in Iron Country as a surrogate son. The Ironborn are a rough lot. These are a nation of plundering foragers, and it speaks to Yara’s leadership abilities that she has commanded her own longboat since a young age.

Yara is not your lipstick leader—Yara is fierce, tough, and impossible to fool. Even her brother Theon (the male heir to the throne) knows she is the rightful leader. She’s also one of the few LGBT characters on the show, in a groundbreaking sort of role that I hope leads to more central characters like her in the future.

Sansa Stark

When Game of Thrones opened, Sansa was more concerned with elegant gowns and fashionable hairstyles. She spent most of her time mooning over Prince Joffrey and being generally annoying. But instead of the fairytale ending she dreamed of, Sansa wound up a political pawn, passed around Westeros like flagon of mead. With no say in her fate, she endured horrific abuse at the hands of a series of men.

Nonetheless, she escaped her tormentors and survived. Eventually, she returned to the North to claim her title as Lady of Winterfell, where she rules as a savvy leader with keen instinct for military strategy.

Sansa has enjoyed one of the more complicated character arcs of the series, taking her from petulant princess, to tragic victim, to steely leader.

Brienne of Tarth

6’3” and powerfully built, Brienne of Tarth eschewed her highborn title to pursue knighthood. A formidable fighter, Brienne is one of the few people who could take on The Hound and prevail.

Unlike most of the players on the show, Brienne seeks no power for herself. Instead, she seeks only to serve. Mature and loyal, Brienne possesses an unbreakable moral sense. Her only flaw seems to be a talent for bad luck.

After besting all the men in a competition, Brienne asks to be named kingsguard to her adored Renly. But when Renly is assassinated under her watch, she makes an oath to Catelyn Stark. After Catelyn’s death, Brienne is determined to protect her daughters, Sansa and Arya–whether they want it or not.

“All my life men like you have sneered at me. And all my life I’ve been knocking men like you into the dust.” –Brienne of Tarth

However it was through the complicated, genuine, platonic relationship she developed with then-fellow-hostage Jamie Lannister where we saw Brienne’s compassion was equal to her integrity.

Though she’s portrayed without any attempt to feminize her, it hasn’t stopped Jon Snow’s lieutenant Tormund from seeing through her armor–and many fans are rooting for that relationship to blossom.

Margaery Tyrell

She’s beautiful. She’s bosomy. She’s craves the throne, and she’s not above manipulation to get it. But unlike many women of her ilk, she’s charitable. This is a woman who’s grown up in a man’s world and has had to subjugate her desires to the men around her. But her desires are kind and genuine. She believes in the good of every man and woman, with the rightful exception of Cersei.

Though marriage is a political arrangement to her, her undeniable benevolence wins the hearts of both suitors and subjects. Where scheming and manipulation generally inspire an audience to hate a character, Margaery’s pure intentions have audiences rooting for her.

Arya Stark

Sansa’s little sister Arya Stark was only a child when Game of Thrones opened. She could not have been more different than her prissy sister. The tomboyish Arya would rather best her brother at archery than do needlework. Luckily, her father approved, and arranged sword-master training for the girl.

When outside treachery tore apart the Stark family, Arya found herself far from home, compiling a growing list of grudges. An encounter with the Faceless Man ultimately resulted in the opportunity for her to train as an assassin. When her training was complete, Ayra made her way back to her beloved Winterfell with a superpower: the ability to assume others’ identities.

Like Brienne, Arya is an accomplished fighter. But where Brienne is altruistically loyal, Arya is full of vendettas and carries a hitlist. Only five-feet tall, this petite fighter is a force and a longstanding fan favorite.

Cersei Lannister

She’s ruthless. She’s conniving. Let’s not mince words: the woman is evil.

Every show needs someone you love to hate and Cersei Lannister fulfills that role. It isn’t just because she cheated on King Robert. With her brother. Or that she passed off all three children as Robert’s and then worked to assassinate him.  No Cersei is a never-ending source of entitled treachery and is not even above mass murder.

Nothing in the world matters more to her than her children her family the throne. When her plot to install her sons to the throne fails not once, but twice, Cersei seizes power herself.

The only greater threat to the people of Westeros are the White Walkers. By now, she’s lost everything she valued. Will she ever pause to wonder what she’s fighting for?

Daenerys Targaryen

I spent my life in foreign lands. So many men have tried to kill me, I don’t remember all their names. I have been sold like a broodmare. I’ve been chained and betrayed, raped and defiled. Do you know what kept me standing through all those years in exile? Faith. Not in any gods. Not in myths and legends. In myself. In Daenerys Targaryen.

Daenerys is the only daughter of the Mad King. When King Robert seized the throne after the Mad King’s death, she spent her early life in exile with her abusive brother. When he trades her to the barbaric Khal Drogo in exchange for an army, Daenerys makes the best of the situation, and it isn’t long before the two fall in love.

This is only the beginning of the polarized nature of her fortune, and Daenerys goes through several reversals from ruler to slave before getting a firm grip on the crown. In the process she wins the loyalty of the many slaves she freed along the way.

Her sometimes wrathful nature is tempered by her socialist tendencies. She’s suffered, and through that suffering has developed great compassion. She’s also mindful of her family reputation for blind wrath, and strives to be a good leader by surrounding herself with experienced counsel.

The show features even more courageous women, such as the free-spirited Ygritte, a skilled archer who wins Jon Snow’s affection, the pint-sized Lyanna Mormont, a relative newcomer who instantly became a fan favorite with her blunt talk, and of course the worldly-wise Olenna Tyrell, grandmother to Margaery, who engineers assassinations over tea. And don’t forget Melisandre, the ancient and beautiful lady of dark arts and twisting loyalty.

I confess I resisted watching Game of Thrones for a long time, having formed a rather snobbish resistance to it. I imagined it was a swashbuckling sword opera with steamy sex scenes and epic violence. And, I was right. There’s incest! There’s rape! There’s gratuitous female nudity! There’s also a perplexing amount of castration going on. But, as I came to discover, there are more powerful women in diverse roles than any other show in the running.

The women of Westeros don’t just chase the Iron Throne. Many have cast off feminine stereotypes to pursue the life of general, knight, or assassin. Many have had complicated character arcs which have taken them from pawn to player, or Lady to leader.

In a world where Hollywood continually serves up heroines to do battle in lipstick and heels, Game of Thrones provides a plethora of refreshing women to root for.

Originally published on

Women of Courage: Lilia Aguilar Gil

Lilia Aguilar Gil

Lilia Aguilar Gil: World Changer


My mother told me ‘You need to excel because you’re a woman. You are going to change the world, because when you’re educated, you need to give back.’

Lilia Aguilar was ten years old the day two strangers showed up at her home with an astonishing story. They were her parents, they told her. They were intellectuals and activists, and they had left her to stay in rural Mexico for her own safety.

Sounds like the start of every epic hero novel, but this one is true. Up on until then, Lilia had believed the twenty other children living in the primitive home to be her brothers and sisters. In fact, they were all children of dissidents.

By age twelve, she had become an activist herself. At twenty-one, she was attending college at Harvard and flying to Mexico every weekend to campaign for a seat in Mexico’s Congress.

Since then, she’s served in various political offices in her conservative Chihuahua and now holds two Masters degrees.

How She’s Courageous

In the US, it might be difficult to comprehend the violence that takes place in Mexico and Central America.

More than 30,000 people have gone missing in Mexico in the past decade alone. Femicide is rampant and punishment next to non-existent.  A man is more likely to likely to go to jail for stealing a cow than for killing a woman. Since 1993, more than 1,500 women were brutally murdered in Juarez, their bodies left to rot in the desert.

Ms. Aguilar championed the creation of Juarez’s Femicide Committee, where she fights to change a culture of impunity for murdering women. She knows that speaking out against corruption can get one killed. She herself was kidnapped—although she dismisses the experience as ‘taken’, in a world where kidnap and extortion are chillingly commonplace.

How Her Courage Affects Others

“As soon as I got back to Cambridge I was the student, with a lot of papers to write, discussing issues with amazing people like Amartya Sen. Two days later, I was in Mexico, wearing heels and suits, speaking in the media … But I believe in putting theory to practice, so I was doing both things because I thought it was possible to bring great change to my state.”

Women of Mexico and Central America face many challenges due to violence, crime, and gangs.

“It’s a man’s world,” says Lilia. She goes on to explain that in a culture where sexism and misogyny is so entrenched, women first must be educated as to their rights before they can recognize that discrimination and violence against them is wrong.

She’s also outspoken thought leader. Lilia speaks at women’s events worldwide raising awareness about the risks women face in Mexico and Central America.

While in office, she worked to reform the outdated constitution and helped establish new laws for youth, women’s equality, and governmental transparency. She’s also fought for electoral equality and poverty alleviation.

How Her Courage Affects Me

As a mom to a Latina daughter, I was aware of the struggles the women of Central America face, but reading the accounts knocked the breath out of me. It was the sort of thing I sensed between the lines when I read my daughter’s birth mother’s interview.

My son has two young classmates who walked some 2,000 miles from Guatemala seeking asylum. For them and girls like them, the peril of such a journey is better than the almost certain death they face by staying.

Learn More

Lilia Aguilar and women like her are changing the world for Latinas. If you’d like to learn more about the challenges they face or find out more about Lilia, visit the links below:

Panel: Why women and girls of Central America are fleeing to the US

Harvard InterviewInclusive Security BioWikipedia

This has been an edition of Women of Courage. Check back every Sunday through February for new articles celebrating real and fictional heroines to inspire you.

Originally published on

Women of Courage: Ching Shih, Pirate Queen

Chinese junk
Chinese junk


The year is 1796. The place: a floating brothel in the South China Sea. A beautiful prostitute is kidnapped by order of the notorious pirate leader Zheng Yi. He demands that she marry him. She agrees, but with conditions.

Her terms? A fifty percent split of his booty and the right to lead the fleet at his side.

Though her true name is lost to history, we know her as Ching Shih (literally ‘widow of Zheng’), and she was arguably the most powerful pirate in history.

Rise to Power

Pirate ships in South China Sea

After Zheng agreed to her terms, the pair took the Red Flag Fleet from 200 ships to 600, uniting rival pirate bands in the process. Zheng played the bold, brash leader, while Ching was the calculating strategist. Their power grew as they looted and blackmailed over an ever-expanding region.

Zheng died in a typhoon in 1807, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power. She acted quickly, wooing Zheng’s second in command Chang Pao. He readily agreed to marry her and she agreed to continue to co-captain the fleet. From there, her influence only continued to grow.

Under Her Leadership

“Under the leadership of a man you have all chosen to flee. We shall see how you prove yourselves under the hand of a woman.”

A consummate business woman and excellent military strategist, she controlled a vast network of pirates, farmers, spies across the whole of the South China Sea. Ships, boats, and coastal villages from Macau to Canton were required to pay her tribute. At the height of her power, she commanded more than 1,800 ships. An estimated 80,000 men, women, and children were part of her well-run syndicate. In comparison, the notorious Blackbeard had four ships and 300 pirates.

She governed with a strict code of bylaws and most infractions were cause for execution, including the rape of captives. Which is not to say that a pirate could not take a beautiful captive as his own. He only had to agree to marry her and be faithful. Promiscuity was cause for execution.

Known as the “Terror of South China”, the Chinese, Portuguese, and British navies were unable to defeat her. Her conquer of the Chinese navy was so complete, one epic battle even resulted in the sailors surrendering to enlist in her fleet.

A Most Audacious Retirement Plan

credit: Takoya Fischer as Ching (based on Cheng Shih) in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Source

As you can imagine, the Chinese government was none to happy about the power the Red Flag Fleet wielded over the region and in 1810 the emperor amplified efforts to stop the outlaws.

With her keen instincts, perhaps Ching Shih realized her time was up.

She walked unarmed into the governor’s office and negotiated a surrender which included full amnesty for her and most of her fleet. Astoundingly, they all were able to keep any plunder they amassed.

Eventually, Ching retired to Guandong, where she ran a notorious gambling house and brothel. She died at the age of 69 with her family by her side.

Learn More:

Originally published on

Women of Courage: Hermione Granger

Hermione Granger, as portrayed by Emma Watson
Hermione Granger, as portrayed by Emma Watson

Hermione Granger: The Badass Heroine We All Want To Be

Let’s face it. Without Hermione, Harry Potter would be a footnote in Voldemort: The Rise to Power, and we muggles would be little more than subservient house elves to our magical overlords.

For anyone who’s been living on Mars for the past couple of decades, Hermione Granger is one of three central characters in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Spoilers abound, so if you haven’t read the books/seen the movies and still plan to, stop reading now and check out this compilation of cute baby sloth pictures instead.


Hermione was only eleven years old when an owl arrived at her postbox bearing the Hogwarts acceptance letter. One can only imagine her muggle parents’ surprise upon learning their daughter was a witch.

Brainy and studious, she seemed a natural for highbrow-house Ravenclaw. Instead (without hesitation), the Sorting Hat placed her in Gryffindor, a house whose members are renowned for their courage. It didn’t take long to prove the Sorting Hat right.

How She’s Courageous

“We will fight! We’ll have to, to reach the snake! But let’s not lose sight now of what we’re supposed to be d-doing! We’re the only ones who can end it!”

The Harry Potter series wouldn’t be a series without Hermione. Without her courage and intellect, The Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone would have been a single foreshortened novel ending with Harry and Ron strangled by Devil’s Snare.

Most of the time, Hermione need only rely on her keen intellect to rescue her friends and untangle the many mysteries, but she never backed down when it came to defending the oppressed. Though there are plenty of articles which recount her badass credentials, here are some of the highlights:

  • She stands up to Umbridge’s umbrage.
  • She calls out Trelawny’s quackery.
  • She organizes SPEW, a society to protect the rights of house elves.
  • Came up with the whole Dumbledore’s Army thing.
  • Kept secrets, even when tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange.

And who can forget that satisfying moment in Prisoner of Azkaban when she punches Malfoy?

Fans of the series may recall in Ron & Harry sweeping in to rescue Hermione from a mountain troll in the first book, but it’s worth noting they rescued her using the spell she taught them.

Interestingly, Rowling says she resisted her editor’s requests to remove the troll scene, stating “Hermione is so very arrogant and annoying in the early part of Philosopher’s Stone that I really felt it needed something (literally) huge to bring her together with Harry and Ron.”

Hermione Granger, as portrayed by Emma Watson
Hermione Granger, as portrayed by Emma Watson

Aside from the troll incident, Hermione rarely needed rescuing. Rowling was bemused that as the series unfolded people often said, “Don’t kill off Ron” but no one ever expressed such concerns about Hermione. The reason, Rowling speculates, is everyone knew Hermione could take care of herself.

The only time Hermione was ever truly helpless was after being Petrified by the Basilisk in Chamber of Secrets–and even then she held the climax-solving clue clutched in her hand! And, by Deathly Hallows, Hermione is pretty much rescuing Harry and/or Ron on every other page.

How Her Courage Affects Others

“Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.”

Since 1997, Rowling has sold over 450 million Harry Potter books. Some people swear they had no interest in reading until they came across the series. In the US, 49% of kids have read a Harry Potter book by age 15-17. 61% of Americans have seen at least one of the movies.

Children’s books often follow familiar patterns: princesses need rescuing, or a girl has a problem and enlists a boy to help solve it. There are exceptions to be sure—but few girls in popular fiction have the agency Hermione Granger has, and none have her far-reaching influence. She’s the most admired characters in children’s fiction, right after Harry.

She’s a great role model: unapologetically brainy, fiercely activist, and never afraid to take charge. By the way, she’s still taking charge: in 2019 she’ll be elected Minister of Magic.

In 2017, the Potter Alliance launched In World Without Hermione campaign for gender equality (Hint: #WithoutHermione, Voldemort wins, everyone dies). The annual campaign helps raise funds for girls’ education and has raised $43,155 USD since October of last year.

How Her Courage Affects Me

“Books! And cleverness! There are more important things! — Friendship! And Bravery!”

I was all grown up by the time the first Harry Potter book came out, but I confess I’ve read all the books once twice okay, at least six times. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched the movies. By the time the series was winding down, my son and I would have weekend movie marathons to prime ourselves for the next release.

Rowling’s portrayal of Hermione affects my own choices as a writer. Like Hermione, my protagonists tend to be brainy, although they tend to get themselves in way more trouble than Hermione ever did. But like Hermione, they don’t need a boy to rescue them. And Rowling’s refreshing portrayal of an enduring, platonic friendship was in my heart as I crafted my protagonist’s sidekick in The Kwan Factor.

Hermione and the witches of Hogwarts don’t live in a perfectly feminist world, but in a world that very much reflects our world. They proudly and unapologetically seize their place in it. What can be more inspiring than that?

Learn More

If all of this talk of Hogwarts has you jonesing for Harry Potter movie binge, now’s the time—the entire series is currently available on HBONow.  Or better yet, you can pick up your own box set at Amazon.

Read More

This has been an edition of Women of Courage.

Originally published on

Women of Courage: Those Parkland Girls

Emma Gonzalez
Emma Gonzalez

This is not the post I planned to write.

For the last segment of my Women of Courage series, I planned to write a feel-good empowering piece about the girls. You know, our girls. The future. The girls of Generation Z.

I’ve got three Zs myself, and it’s the audience I write for when I write those nerd-girl books with smart protagonists and thinly veiled allegories about society-grappling-with-rapidly-changing technology.

But then, Parkland happened.

On February 14th, 2018, the United States endured yet another mass shooting. At a high school in Parkland, Florida, a former student charged into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School armed with an AR-15. Seventeen kids and teachers were killed.

This time, contrary our typical pattern—the one where politicians offer ‘thoughts and prayers’, and tell everyone ‘it’s too soon’ to talk about common sense gun regulation—something different happened.

Those Parkland Girls and the Badass Girls of Generation Z

Three days after the tragedy, 17-year old Emma Gonzales wiped away tears as she lambasted do-nothing legislators at a gun control rally. Her impassioned speech went viral.

The Parkland kids weren’t backing down. They gave speeches, they did late night shows, they organized marches, they gave interviews. They launched a movement. They took crap from condescending conservative news hosts, they jousted with lawmakers at town hall meetings, they endured ridiculous fabrications.

“The right to bear arms … does not and never will overpower the individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”–Florence Yarad
These kids grew up in the dark shadow of Columbine. They grew up taking their shoes off to fly on airplanes and doing active shooter drills. They’ve seen seventy-one mass shootings in their lifetimes. All across the country, those kids rose up.

Smart kids. Savvy about social media, undaunted by trolls and bots. They know divisive memes won’t fix anything, so instead they went out and did things.

Girls like Florence Yarad, Parkland survivor who marched on the state capital and said, “The right to bear arms … does not and never will overpower the individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

They organized walkouts all over the country.

Girls like Demi Oo, a senior who participated in one of the walkouts in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who said, “Although participating in a walk out is a very basic and minimal choice of action, it paves the beginning of change. Even though students don’t have the power to change the way our society is on our own, we have and use our voice in hopes to be heard by those who can help us.”

“We are intelligent and we are resilient and we are brave, and we are willing to fight for what we believe in.”–Lane Murdoch
Within days of this storm of activism, the Oregon legislature passed a bill banning convicted domestic abusers and stalkers from buying or owning guns. The First National Bank of Omaha cut ties with the NRA. Enterprise, Symantec, MetLife, Best Western, Delta and United Airlines followed suit, and the list continues to grow.

Those kids said #NeverAgain. They organized a march on Washington DC occurring March 24th and nationwide school walkouts are slated for April 20th.

Girls like Carly Novell who slammed back at Tomi Lahren’s statement that ‘the gun massacre in Florida wasn’t about guns’ by tweeting back:

“I was hiding in a closet for 2 hours. It was about guns. You weren’t there, you don’t know how it felt. Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings. This IS about guns and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns.”

These girls know that even though the media magnifies discord, 97% of Americans support universal background checks and 83% are in favor of a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases.

Girls like Lane Murdoch who started a national movement with that’s already 150,000 strong. “We are intelligent and we are resilient and we are brave, and we are willing to fight for what we believe in.”

Girls far removed from the stereotype of ‘don’t let the boys think you’re smart or you won’t be popular’ bullshit that has shaped female identity since time began.

Carly Novel and Delaney Tarr on The Opposition With Jordan Klepper

Girls like Delaney Tarr, who appeared on The Opposition with Jordan Klepper and eviscerated NRA talking points.

Activist girls, standing up for what they believe in.

Six days after Gonzalez’s viral speech, and countless demonstrations later, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced he wants to make it “virtually impossible” for a dangerous person to get a gun and is crafting legislation to do just that.

Informed girls. Undiscouraged by our inability to fix the problem up to now.

“We’re going to make the world a better place” — Amanda Parsons

Girls like Amanda Parsons, a student who participated in a walkout in Iowa City, who said, “We’re going to save not only our generation, Generation Z, but the generations after us. We’re going to make the world a better place.”

And you know what? I believe it. They already are.

Originally published on

Women of Courage

Go to any mainstream movie these days and you’ll likely sit through a half-dozen movie trailers featuring all sorts of male superheroes kicking ass and keeping the world safe for…well for whatever it is we have these days. However, it wasn’t until my daughter and I went to Wonder Woman earlier this year that it hit me how rare it is to see women in these roles. I mean I always knew it was that way. But it wasn’t until I witnessed it with my daughter beside me that I thought about how much that sucked. And how empowering it was to see these portrayals, and to read about real-life heroines.

And so, I’d like to honor all the real and fictional heroines who inspire me by sharing their stories with you. In the coming weeks, look for tributes to Women of Courage, like the groundbreaking Oprah Winfrey, the badass Sarah Connor, and the woman who quite literally wrote the book on courage, Brene Brown. These women inspire me daily. I hope they inspire you too.

Is there some badass, brave, and wonderful woman that you’d like to see recognized? Let me know in the comments.

Originally published on

Women of Courage: Brené Brown

Brene Brown
Brene Brown

Brené Brown, Ambassador of Vulnerability

Dr. Brené Brown wrote the book on courage. Literally.

Actually, she’s written five of them, including four New York Times #1 bestsellers. Her latest, Braving the Wilderness, was just released this September. In addition to bestselling author, she’s also a public speaker, scholar, leadership guru, and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.


“The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it’s courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.”Brené Brown’s journey into courage began while working as a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She set out to understand the anatomy of connection. After conducting hundreds of interviews with subjects from all walks of life, she uncovered the concept of wholeheartedness. This wholeheartedness was an essential talent in accepting oneself, and had a positive correlation with life satisfaction and healthy relationships. Her gift for storytelling has brought her groundbreaking work to millions. Key concepts which she explores include empathy, shame, vulnerability, and creativity.

How She’s Courageous

Ironically, Brené got into research as a means to avoid vulnerability—not that she would have admitted it at the time.

She set out to prove what she knew to be true. Instead, she found that wholeheartedness sprang from vulnerability, a trait she was fully opposed to expressing at the time. So, she did what any researcher does when they discover everything they believe is wrong:

She totally lost her shit.

With the help of a therapist and loving family and friends, she came back, armed with strategies for wholehearted living that the research backs up. To date she’s helped millions to live more fulfilling lives.

“I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.”

Anyone who has ever tried to create lasting change–whether it’s losing ten pounds or quitting a bad habit–knows it’s never as easy as flipping a switch. Lasting change demands a deep look at who we are and what we truly value.

Wholehearted living is no exception. The practice demands continual self-evaluation, honesty, and a support system of friends and/or family that accept you for who you are.

Brené walks the walk—living as she inspires others to live. Humble and hilarious, she’s the first to admit her teachings can be tough to follow, and freely admits to stumbling. Her efforts are continuous and evolving and she shares these struggles openly in her books and speeches.

How Her Courage Affects Others

Brené Brown has won fans including powerhouse Oprah Winfrey, author Elizabeth Gilbert, and even her own idol, the late Maya Angelou. Her TED Talk on Vulnerability has had over 30 million views.

When Brené Brown started her research on connection, she had no idea that she’d begun a journey that would change everything, including her own way of life. Nor did she have any idea how many lives she would change in the process. Her work on shame and vulnerability has had a positive impact on leaders, creatives, and anyone seeking a more fulfilling life.

How She’s Affected Me

I first came across Brené in the form a video: Brené Brown: Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count. If I remember right, it was my partner in Braving who brought her to my attention (thanks Michelle!). As a creative who tends toward pathological shyness, the video reached me on a deep level and I became an instant fan. Since then, her audiobooks have landed a permanent spot on my playlist and I’ve got her TED Talks on speed dial for low days.

You can learn more about Brené Brown below.

This has been the first of my articles on Women of Courage. Check back every Sunday at 3:00 pm CDT for new articles celebrating real and fictional heroines to inspire you.

Originally published on