Alexandra Renwick looks at the Heroine Question

Posted on August 5, 2015 by

Alexandra C. Renwick, author and editor

Alexandra C. Renwick, author and editor

Alex C. Renwick was designed in Canada, built in California, and grown in Texas. She has written dozens of short stories as Camille Alexa, including her award-nominated collection Push of the Sky, which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was an official reading selection of Portland’s Powells Books SF Book Club.

She currently lives somewhere between Portland, Austin, Vancouver, and Montreal.  You can learn more at http://alexcrenwick.com

Is there a literary heroine on whom you imprinted as a child? A first love, a person you wanted to become as an adult, a heroic girl or woman you pretended to be on the playground at recess? Who was she?

My initial response to this is, Spock. I can think only of Spock as a fictitious character I imprinted on as a child.  But he’s no heroine, and of course there were literary ones, back when I was sevenish, eightish.  Since my favorite book Watership Down was particularly dude-ly (and all rabbit-ly) I’ll have to  go with Scott O’Dell’sIsland of the Blue Dolphins Karana, who lived alone on an island nearly her entire life.  Meg from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time would be a distant runner up.

Karana and Meg (Spock, too, actually) were all huge for me, too! Can you remember what it was these characters did or what qualities they had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?

Well, O’Dell’s heroine is based on Juana Maria, a Nicoleño woman left for 18 years as the lone inhabitant of San Nicolas Island off the California coast before finally being discovered in 1853. My father’s from Grenada in the West Indies, so I felt kinship for an island story (though one set off a distant coast).  And I’d always rankled at the narrow Disneyfied blonde/blue-eyed version of feminine beauty. I adored a protagonista not cast in that mould, and identified far more with her than with, say, Cinderella and other dewy ladies.  Of course, it was her unflagging resourcefulness and ability to survive by herself, to reason, to make do, to figure things out and take charge of her own destiny that I found so enthralling.

Meg was resourceful too, and daughter-saving-father was a nice fresh take on sons being the stars of what felt like every other written story in the universe, starting with the Bible(?).  L’Engle herself suggested the reason “forty-odd” publishers passed on A Wrinkle in Time (her agent sent it back to her after 26 rejections) was that it had a female protagonist in a science fiction setting.  It has now been continuously in print since first publication (in 1963), so maybe that’s useful to remember for those of us who identify as going against the grain.

How do Meg and Karana compare to the female characters in your work? Could they be listed among your characters’ literary ancestors?

Oh yes! Definitely.  My fascination with writing frontier fiction in general — whether space colony SF, Paleolithic fantasy, or weird-west historical — has its roots in understanding how people might tackle certain problems in extreme circumstances and with limited resources. I guess at heart I’m really a hypothetical-realities anthropologist.

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About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with female writers about their favorite characters and literary influences. Clicking the link will take you to all the other interviews, with awesome people like Charlene Challenger, Gemma Files, Caitlin Sweet, and Karen Miller.

Also about this post: As I have mentioned, writer Alex Bledsoe recently asked about my use of the gendered word, heroine, in this series. I could have gone with hero, true, or “female heroes” since I was looking for women authors’ female influences. To be honest, my initial inspiration came from my ever-mature desire to make tacky-sounding drug jokes: Gemma Files on Heroin! Oops! Heroine! That kind of thing.

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