Category Archives: Books

Books by others; whatever I’m reading.

J. Kathleen Cheney thinks heroines are witches

Posted on November 25, 2015 by

Dreaming Death by J. Kathleen Cheney

Dreaming Death by J. Kathleen Cheney

J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, with a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist.  Her novella “Iron Shoes” was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist.  Her novel, The Golden City was a Finalist for the 2014 Locus Awards (Best First Novel). The final book in that series, The Shores of Spain came out in July, and a new series will debut in February 2016 with Dreaming Death.

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?

I still have two books from second grade, and one of them is The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare. I don’t know how heroic one would consider Kit Tyler, the main character of the book. She doesn’t fight a battle, kill demons, or win the rich gentleman’s heart (actually, she does that last one but hands it back.) I admired her anyway.

I loved that book too! What was it Kit did–what qualities did she have that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?

What Kit Tyler does is defy expectations. That’s what I admired about her. She didn’t do things simply because she’d been told to do so. Since I seem to be wired that way myself, I could relate to most of her decisions.

Some of them came from simple ignorance on her part. For example, her inability to make decent corn pudding because she’s too impatient–I understand that all too well. To this day, I lack patience in cooking.

Kit makes mistakes, and most of the time she learns from them. But a lot of her defiance is borne of a willingness to look past other peoples’ prejudices and let her conscience drive her instead. And because of that she teaches a young girl to read and makes friends with the title witch. When she’s falsely accused or witchcraft herself, she faces down her accusers in court (with the help of her friends)….even though she was given a chance to escape her jail earlier and run away. She did what she thought was right, though, while knowing it might have a terrible outcome.

Of course, because it’s a novel, things come out all right in the end.

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 like to think that most of my heroines do the right thing, even if it’s not what they’re told to do, not the socially accepted thing, or not the most financially sound decision. In a lot of ways, they do go back to that second grade reading experience. They make mistakes. I want them to learn from them, like Kit Tyler did (although I will eschew the corn pudding experience.)

And I want them to make the hard choice, the choice that they could have worked around.

Hard choices are what make a heroine, even if she’s not killing demons.

Bonus round: How do you feel about the word heroine? In these posts, I am specifically looking for 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?

In most ways, hero and heroine are the same, the protagonist of the story. But heroine carries one added factor: the heroine usually has to defy societal norms. In most cultures, men are expected to step up while women are expected to wait. And that’s where a heroine’s actions can be much more subtle, yet still be heroic. In some places, heroism might be something as small as wearing trousers or going to school or talking to someone your family doesn’t approve of. And while men can face similar challenges, in most places, the bar is harder for women to cross. So I feel like the word heroine has that additional baggage attached.

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 allow you to browse all the other interviews, with awesome people like Linda Nagata, Kay Kenyon, and Louise Marley. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

Experimental Film, by @gemmafiles – Five Fucking Great Things

Posted on November 24, 2015 by

There are a lot of things about Experimental Film that are gaspworthy, horrifying, disturbing and exciting, and I hope to talk more about this book as time spools, but right now I just want to give you five reasons to read the living hell out of this awesome new horror novel from Gemma Files.

  1. Lois Cairns is not your standard protagonist – Lois is a woman in the midst of a profound midlife crisis. Her career has evaporated out from under her, her son’s autistic and difficult, and she can’t shake a nagging idea that it’s all her fault. She’s not twenty, or adorable, or on the cusp of love. But she’s smart and determined and fearless, and she knows more about movies than most of us could learn if we spent the next fifty years studying up.

2. The bad stuff isn’t lurking in the shadows. You know how vampires and spooks wait for it to get dark and dreary, and then creep up on you? You know that idea that you can barricade yourself in somewhere safe, and at dawn it’ll all be over for awhile? Not in this story. The dread thing in Experimental Film comes at you in the full light of a summer’s day, in all its searing heat and blinding glare.

3. I heart Haunted Toronto. This book is another piece in the creepy patchwork universe Files has created, and I love it with a love that’s true. Her characters have lunch down the street from my house. They get into full-on confrontations with monsters at the Kensington Market. And there’s always an expedition out to the backroads of cabin country, a part of the province I really haven’t seen yet, where the skin between worlds is thin and permeable and something far more disturbing than a Hellmouth is on the bubble.

4. Victorian Creep Factor, Canada Styles. The mystery at the heart of this book is about an early auteur filmmaker working in the days of silver nitrate and no rules. Iris Whitcomb made the same movie over and over, with the aid of spiritualists, as she tried to discover why her son Hyatt vanished in 1908.  Then she vanished too, from a moving train whose passenger compartment apparently caught on fire en route to the city.

5. Crunchy family stuff rounds out the dark notes. This brings us back, in a way, to the idea of an atypical hero. Lois is no lone wolf. She may want to be at times; she may be unconvinced she’s got much worthwhile going on as a wife and mother. But as she wrangles with the missing Iris and her incandescent producer, she also has to deal with her child, her marriage, her in-laws, and her own often-problematic mom. It’s not always easy to read–plenty of folks will find their own family-of-origin nerves twanging as things play out–but it’s very believable. And what good is a horror novel if you don’t feel, on some level, as if this could have happened to someone like you?

Gemma did a Heroine Question interview here back in June, by the way, so if you’re curious about who she liked to read about as a kid, check it out.

My current earworm is the Skyfall theme…

Posted on November 16, 2015 by

photoToday I have finished up a guest blog entry on ecofantasy for Charlie Stross, which you can read here.

I have also prepared for tomorrow’s thoroughly fabulous launch of License Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond, by making sure my reading of my Moneypenny story, “Through Your Eyes Only,” comes in under the five minute limit. I’ve booked a Send My Hair to the Sixties appointment at a place called Blo, and now I’ve also reminded you all that if you happen to be in Toronto, you really would be very very welcome to this shindig. (I tell you this even though, according to math, it increases my chances of winning the bespoke suit ChiZine Publications is giving away as a prize if you don’t come.) It’s at the Pravda Vodka House on 44 Wellington Avenue East. If you don’t want a bespoke suit, you can put my name on the raffle ticket.

(Are contributors even entitled to enter the raffle? Do I know? Don’t burst my bubble, okay?)

Earlier today, Iposted critiques for the last round of the Writing the Fantastic workshop at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Next up: revision exercises! (I do still have a few slots open in the winter session of Creating Universes, Building Worlds, by the way).  I have worked on a novel called The After People, fetched food from two separate groceries, and written out some questions for the SFContario panel on economics in genre fiction that I’ll be moderating next Saturday.

I made a salad, drank coffee, ate a persimmon before it had a chance to liquefy and contemplated my upcoming review of Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe of XKCD fame. Contemplated in this context is indeed a fancy term for “But she didn’t write a single word yet.”

Emails have been answered. Dishes have been washed.

And, since all this virtue and productivity means I am ignoring my young, I have refilled the bird feeder, which is the modern equivalent of slapping the kids down in front of Sesame Street with some Ritz Crackers.


Today instead of Heroine I give you Bondage

Posted on November 11, 2015 by

CZP-LicenceExpired-INVITEThe Heroine Question is on hiatus for a week, maybe two, as I reboot from World Fantasy Convention, gear up for SF Contario/Canvention 35, and figure out all the things I want to accomplish before A Daughter of No Nation is out on December 1st.

One of the very exciting things on that list is attending the launch of Licence Expired, The Unauthorized James Bond. As you see from this cunning invitational postcard, it will be at the swanky Pravda Vodka Bar. The publishers, World Fantasy Award winning ChiZine Publications, also offer this important info:  Costumes and Bond-themed dress is highly encouraged, and there will be prizes for the best costumes.

Drinks! Costumes! Prizes! Incredibly warped fiction with a License to Kill! My story is about Moneypenny, and is called “Through Your Eyes Only.” Kelly’s is an alternate ending for From Russia with Love, and it is sick beyond all measure. How can you pass this up?

More reps, more weight

Posted on October 29, 2015 by

keep readingAnother thing the recent comb through my old teen Alyx diaries has revealed is how much reading I did in the Eighties. Books upon books: histories, mysteries, Star Trek tie-in novels, Gore Vidal, Frank Herbert, whatever was lying around the house or the public library, you name it.

Nowadays I read a certain amount of fiction that is just okay. Short stories by writers I’m trying out, for example–pieces that are good enough to finish, but far from dazzling. I occasionally read fun things by competent authors because I’m following a series, or I’m curious to see how a particular concept comes off, or it’s in my fictional sweet spot. Or I’m tired and need something that goes down easy, like a cold beer on a hot day.

If you want to be a really good writer, though, I believe that you have to push yourself as a reader. Not every day, not with every book… but if you restrict your reading to the just okay and the pretty good, you’re deciding to be no more than pretty good yourself.

If you want to be super-fantastically excellent–and why get into this racket if you aren’t at least a bit ambitious?–you also have to read people who are better than you. Who are hard, who sometimes write things you don’t understand and can barely parse, who dazzle, challenge, baffle, delight, and infuriate.

Who are these authors for you? I’m tempted to mention one of my marvellous, talented friends, but to keep things less partial, I’ll open the bidding with Vernor Vinge.

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