Alyx Dellamonica

Alma Alexander on the Heroine Question


Posted on August 19, 2015 by

Alma Alexander's Wolf, out August 21, 2015

Alma Alexander’s Wolf, out August 21, 2015

Alma Alexander is an internationally published novelist, short story writer and anthologist whose work appears in more than 14 languages worldwide. She has written many different kinds of fantasy – high/epic, historical, contemporary, urban, YA – and occasionally detoured into science fiction when the muse strayed out amongst the stars.

When asked if she imprinted on any particular literary heroine as a child, she said:

I’m almost certain that for a lot of us the kneejerk  response to this is the same: Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. She was so iconic, so seminal (not to mention the only one of the sisters with whom I had a remote connection – Meg was the goody two shoes, Amy was a spoiled brat, and Beth was the ghost of a pretty kitten)… and she was a writer, and she pushed on her dream until she got published and many of us who did the same thing eventually ended up identifying with that because that was our dream also. That was something that we – that I – grew up looking up to, waiting to accomplish. But I didn’t want to be Jo. I just wanted to be a writer.

I don’t think that I ever “pretended” to be someone else. My best recollections point to my wishes being more aligned with being the best me I could be. Using the convenient metaphor of Narnia, I never wanted to be or pretended to be Lucy or Susan. What I wanted was to be found worthy of being a true friend of Aslan, who was Not A Tame Lion, when judged for myself, in my own right.

Can you remember what it was Jo did or what qualities she had, besides being a writer, that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?

It wasn’t the pretty. It wasn’t the nobility. What always drew me in were strength and wits and smarts and the occasional spark of true wisdom.  That was what the best protagonists carried within them and  that was what I sought within myself if I ever thought about wanting to emulate them. I wept with them when hard choices had to be made, and they made them; I laughed with them in delirious joy when risks were rewarded; I held my breath as they did during the moments when outcomes were hanging by the thinnest of threads. Strength, wits, smarts, and wisdom. If they could shoot a straight arrow, all the better – for them – but it didn’t make me want to go out and buy a bow and start practicing archery (well, I shot a bow and arrow and I wasn’t bad at it when I did, but eh, you know what I mean). What I was looking for was… was resilience, an ability to bend in the wind like
a reed by the river if that was needed but to spring back up straight and true after the storm was over. I never thought vulnerability was a weakness, nor tears, nor taking a moment to draw a deeper breath – but they could not be allowed to be the last thing that was there. There had to be Strength. Wits. Smarts. And Wisdom.

How does she compare to the female characters in your work? Is she their literary ancestor? Do they rebel against all she stands for? What might your creations owe her?

In terms of debts, in that context, everything – my characters owe everything to that philosophy. I have never been afraid to put them through the wringer in any story I ever wrote because any heroine who stepped forward had those qualities. I think of Xaforn of the Guard, from The Secrets of Jin-shei, who lived and died for honor and for love – and of her jin-shei sister, also; I think of Amais who returned to Syai four hundred years after the events of The Secrets of Jin-shei, and of her friend Xuelian, who carry the weight of the world on their shoulders in Embers of Heaven; I think of Olivia from Midnight at Spanish Gardens, and Anghara of Changer of Days, and Thea of the Worldweavers series and Jazz, my ‘youngest’, the protagonist of Random.  They were all shaped by those tenets, they all had to live according to those  criteria. They had to know the odds, and be willing to go against them if that was necessary; they had to know fear, and fly in the face of it anyway; they had to recognize the stinging nettle and reach out to grasp it anyway if the need arose.

Everything I have ever read has built up to these heroines and all that they are. My heroines may not be part of a better world, as such, but the things that they do and that they are help make their worlds better. That is all I can ever ask of them. So far, none have let me down.

How do you feel about the word heroine? In these posts, I am specifically looking for female authors’ female influences, whether those women they looked up to were other writers or Anne of Green Gables. Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served by equally well by hero?

I have no problem with the concept of a heroine, as such – but I think of the characters who carry my stories as my protagonists, as my people. I don’t know that I hold with “hero” as a solitary shining  figure standing off by him or herself anyway. We are all a part of the fabric. Some of us are just given a moment in which we shine harder than those standing next to us – and if we step into that light, we
are heroes.


Alma lives in the Pacific Northwest, in the cedar woods, with her husband and two obligatory cats. Her website is here and she Tweets, is on Facebook, and has been even known to pin stuff.


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, or there’s an index of them here.

Hugo solutions, Kelly Robson and taking the conversation to Sasquan


Posted on August 18, 2015 by

Kelly Robson and the miracle of mirrors.

Kelly Robson and the miracle of mirrors.

Over on her blog, Kelly has advocated an elegant solution to the current battle over rebranding the Hugo Award. It is this: abandon the rhetoric, step back from telling stories about who’s doing what and and why they’re wrong on the Internet, and pay a damned mediator. It seems to me that the World SF Society or Sasquan might have some seed money, since the latter’s garnered something like 2000 more voting memberships than usual.

The idea is for stakeholders to fundraise the necessary dosh, pick some leaders, hire the pro, and talk our collective way to a solution. Then (if a Hugo rule change to prevent system-gaming is part of the package) presumably we’d implement it over the next several conventions.

Now that Kelly’s original post has had some time to air and counter-arguments have come in, she’s examined those, too. Chief among the questions is the issue of whether people on one side or the other are capable of or willing to negotiate in good faith. To which: hey, you can’t know if you don’t ask.

The theme of both posts is simple. This whole thing sucks, right? It’s either seek a solution, or play “You said, I said, no you said,” whackamole in our blogs indefinitely, while the rest of the world–or the devoted fannish book-reading portion of it that cares–wonders when drug-addled clowns got bored with their usual pursuits,  like running the Western democracies and poisoning the planet in a mad pursuit of all the dollars, and moved on to hobby pursuits like setting flamewars amid the literature of ideas.

Creating posts about how a bunch of writers are wrong, evil, passe, misguided, dumb, gulag-builders or covered in bees has its charms. Snark is fun. But not only does whackamole take time that should go first to creating fiction, the current strategy also saps energy from the important work of making the field more diverse. And we were getting traction with this, people. I don’t want to stop. I want to continue seeing our best love, energy, talent, words and Tweets going to singing the praises of “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn,” by Usman T. Malik, to asking if you’ve seen Kai Ashante Wilson’s “The Devil in America,” and to noticing that Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles are getting asked some ludicrous questions about She Walks in Shadows. Maybe someone could even get the hell over there and say something smart.

So. If you are going to Sasquan, and if you know someone who has influence over any of the players in this particular power struggle, consider having a chat with them. About letting go of the namecalling, about trying to agree on a way forward.

Too cool for school? Five ways to real up your characters.


Posted on August 17, 2015 by

imageYou’ve all read the book whose protagonist moves ever so calmly from crisis to crisis. Maybe they experience the occasional pang of angst, but they never really need to do anything more dramatic about their problems than whip out the bastard sword (or the monster gun or ye holy guitar of rock godness or even their wand) and, y’know, lay waste. They’re together in a way that most of us aren’t.

From a reader’s point of view and the longer a novel goes on, this can be deeply alienating. No, we don’t always pick up fiction to read about someone as flawed and messily chaotic as the person falling apart, one cubicle over, from our desk at work. Most of us prefer to have a little bit of space from slow-motion drama explosions, real or fictional. But coolness, while it’s superficially attractive, is also distancing. It breeds remoteness. If someone is too cool, they become untouchable.

How do you find the balance between admirable and accessible? Here are five things you can check within your own writing:

We feel what they feel. Maybe Tyrion Lannister’s problems aren’t our problems (and for that, hooray!) But when his big sister’s carrying on about how she hates him for taking their mother’s love away, and why can’t he just die… well, what younger sibling hasn’t felt a shade or two of that? Tyrion’s an unlikely character, living in a shockingly hard-to-navigate world, but his sibling problems unlock a path into relating to him.

They snap when we’d snap. Behaving badly is part of character and there’s an art to choosing the moments when your mostly-nice characters devolve into rampant asshole behavior. (And, on the other side of things, the points where your evil ones experience those humanizing instances of benevolence.) Push them hard. Give them the emotional resources to put up with a certain amount of adversity, because few of us like a shrinking violet. Let them play it cool for awhile if that’s their thing… but at the point when any sane human being would break down, lash out or overreact, make it epic.

They have crimson or raven tresses, just like yours! Also: flashing violet eyes, adamantium manicures, bracing personal hygeine and an apostrophe in their N’Ame. No. I’m lying. That was a trick. The reason we like Harry Potter, if we do, probably isn’t that lightning scar. It’s the bravery, loyalty to friends and–for me, anyway–the fact that he hauls his ass in to work every day. Sure, work in this case means surviving and prevailing over he who can barely be spelled, but I dig perseverance.

Here’s one that’s crucial: they give a demonstrable shit about other people. I’m reading Fran Wilde’s Updraft right now, and there’s a crucial turn where her heroine believes she’s succeeded at something her best friend has failed at. And she’s happy for herself, and even takes time to celebrate, but she also spends a significant amount of time and energy thinking about ways to help that friend pick himself up off the not-ground and get back to his life.

They take risks. Sure, there are whole books about scaredy-cat wimptastic emotional basket-cases, guys who are so busy worrying about doing their job perfectly that they never ever extend themselves to make contact with another human being, but they are written by Kazuo Ishiguro, and the rest of us are probably better off not trying to emulate him.

Part of putting yourself in a fictional character’s shoes is believing you can fill them, and that is vastly more possible if they experience the range of human behavior, the noble and the petty, the humorous and the pathetic, the mundane and the glorious. No matter how awesome your characters are, let them break pattern now and then; give them a chance to be just like us. We’ll love them all the more for it.

Metablogging – should I close my WP blog to comments?


Posted on August 13, 2015 by

imageMost of the comment action when I post an entry happens at my personal Facebook, where I have a fair number of followers and where my chattiest fans and friends tend to be active.  If I shut down comments here, all of that action will either happen there or on Livejournal, which still mirrors my posts.

People would, of course, still be able to send me e-mails via the A.M. Dellamonica website. All I’d really be doing is concentrating the conversations about my blog posts into a smaller number of venues.

This is one of those rare occasions when I’m asking for advice and opinions. Does your blog allow comments? Have you shut this feature down, as many people seem (lately) to be? Does your site have a “here’s why there’s no comments enabled?” section? I’m interested in all the pros and cons.

A.C. Wise bites into the Heroine Question


Posted on August 12, 2015 by

GlitterCoverFrontA.C. Wise was born and raised in Montreal, and currently lives in the Philadelphia area. Her short fiction has appeared in Shimmer, Apex, Uncanny, and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2015, among other places. Her debut collection, The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again, will be published by Lethe Press in October 2015. Aside from her fiction, she co-edits Unlikely Story, and contributes a monthly Women to Read: Where to Start column to SF Signal. Find her online at and on twitter as @ac_wise.

The inquisition began, as it always does, with this: 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?

Anne of Green Gables is a tempting choice, because who wouldn’t want to be her? Plus I’ve always had a thing for red hair. But since Anne has already been covered, I would say Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time/The Time Quintet by Madeline L’Engle. Meg is much more like me anyway. Anne is a force of nature, and I love her for it, but Meg is a quieter kind of heroine. On a related note, I’ve always been quite fond of the Mrs. Ws (Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which), from a Wrinkle in Time, but despite being heroic, and otherworldly, and amazing, they aren’t quite the center of the story in the same way as Meg, who is the story’s heart in more ways than one.

Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?

One of the reasons I was, and still am, drawn to Meg is the very fact that she’s a quiet heroine. She’s awkward. She doesn’t feel as smart, or talented, or confident as the rest of her family seems. Outwardly, they appear to have it all put together, and Meg is still trying to figure herself out, where she fits in the world, what she wants to do with her life. She’s caring and loyal and would do anything for her family – all good qualities in a heroine. Her bond with her little brother, Charles Wallace, is especially touching. I also appreciate the fact that she’s ‘the chosen one’ and the only one who can save Charles Wallace not because she has special, mystical powers gifted to her from on high, or because of any prophecy, but because of who she is and who she has always been. She loves her brother, and she knows him better than anyone else, and so she’s the only one who can reach him through the bond they share and bring him back home.

How does she compare to the female characters in your work? Is she their literary ancestor? Do they rebel against all she stands for? What might your creations owe her?

I would say the ladies of the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron are the complete opposite of Meg Murry in many ways, and also very much like her in other ways. On the opposite side, they are far more flashy, outspoken, outwardly confident, and willing to resort to violence when it’s necessary to save the world. They’re all also older than Meg, so they’ve had more time to sort themselves out and figure out their places in the world. At the same time, they are also fiercely loyal, and love each other like family. At the end of the day, they would do anything for each other. Despite the fact that they have had more time to figure themselves out, they all still have their moments of self-doubt, questioning where they belong, and how to be the kind of people they want to be. Underneath all the glitter and glamour, they are still human after all.

How do you feel about the word heroine? In these posts, I am specifically looking for female authors’ female influences, whether those women they looked up to were other writers or Anne of Green Gables. Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served by equally well by hero? 

I see hero and heroine as relatively interchangeable, but I would like to see the definition of both expanded to recognize there’s more than one way to be heroic. There’s frequently a tendency to equate strength with action. There’s nothing wrong with hero/ines who charge into burning buildings, or jump into a fight with swords-a-blazin’, but there is room in our narratives for quieter heroics, too. A parent protecting their child is a heroic act. A character standing up for what they believe in, even when (or especially when) that belief goes against the status quo. People like Meg Murray, saving her brother through love. Again, good action sequences and hero/ines saving the day in big, dramatic ways, are tons of fun, but I want to see the quieter acts of heroism from characters of all genders make it onto the page and screen. There’s room for both kinds of strength and bravery in our stories and they don’t have to contradict each other.


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, or there’s an index of them here.


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