The first chapter books I read (and reread, endlessly), starting when I was five going on six, were a series of history books that had belonged to my mother, all written for red-blooded American girlz. They were biographies, many of them about the childhoods of various U.S. presidents’ wives. The practice of history in these books was not exactly rigorous. Even the non-FLOTUS women’s stories were whitewashed in a way that meant, for example, Jane Addams and Julia Ward Howe’s entire lives were covered in a hundred pages, with charming anecdotes, and without a single mention of the suffrage movement.
I know. Boggle boggle boggle, right?
These were been the books that gave me the typical view of a woman’s viable career options: saint/martyr/kindling, presidential spouse, cannon loader, author, native guide, or founder of such organizations as the Red Cross or the Girl Scouts. I also remember them as having happy endings all round, for Clara Barton and Louisa May Alcott and even for Sacagawea. Though not for Joan of Arc, unless your philosophical outlook can be best summed up as Too bad about the horrifically painful execution, honey, but you got to go to a coronation, and that had to be cool. Also: yay sainthood!
(Joan’s bio was from a different-but-related series; she was the one non-U.S. citizen in the batch).
When I initially launched the Heroine Question interviews, it didn’t occur to me for a second to question whether I should be using an ungendered noun, like hero or protagonist. Or woman protagonist. Honestly I’m a sucker for a good pun, and even more of a sucker for a bad one: I have an entire pinboard full of the things.
I spent twenty minutes of my life making this.
Basically I had a vision. And that vision was a series of posts entitled “Caitlin Sweet kicks Heroine!” and “Martha Wells on her Heroine Habit” and equally questionable clicky fodder.
When I reached out to that first raft of authors who’d be doing heroine here on my blog, I had a fair expectation, based on most of them being in my age cohort, or near that vicinity, and the fiction available to us when we all were kids, about some of the answers I’d get. I’d limited the field to written works or their authors–no TV, no movies, no frickin’ Lara Croft. I figured there’d be answers within the SF and fantasy realm: an essay on Lucy of Narnia fame, maybe Alice of Wonderland, or Meg Murry of A Wrinkle in Time. (That one’s coming.) Tiger Lily from Peter Pan. I also anticipated, correctly, that someone would mention Anne of Green Gables and Jo March from Little Women.
I also thought we’d hear about Emma Woodhouse and Jane Eyre and Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins and Scout Finch. And authors: Agatha Christie, Nelly Bly and Mary Shelly. (Erma Bombeck was a surprise, but a welcome one.)
I expected my interview subjects would sometimes be picking female characters from novels not generally considered to be genre fiction, in other words. Women who weren’t engaged in universe-saving or fleet-footed-adventuring or anything remotely approaching derring-do. It didn’t, when I was coming up with this particular series, even occur to me that heroine had to mean anything other than 1) showing up to carry a given literary work; 2) inspiring a young writer-to-be.
Much of this unquestioned assumption of mine grew from the fact that heroine was the catch-all term within the educational realm for girl characters. “The heroines of Jane Austen’s novels…” is a time-honored lit crit phrase meaning Lizzie, Emma, Ann, Fanny, Katherine and that drummer whose name I can never remember. “Lucy Maud Montgomery’s hot-tempered heroine…” has long been a valid mouthful of a way to refer to PEI’s favorite redhead. You know, when you’re afraid you’ve somehow used “Anne” one too many times in an English essay.
(Pro tip: Just say Anne again. The essay’s about her… it’s cool.)
Oddly, I think if you said “Jane Austen’s heroes are…”? The answer you’d get much of the time would be Darcy. Knightly. Brandon.
Is this good? Well, no. When one looks at it squarely, it’s even, perhaps, a little queasy-making. The above three dudes aren’t world-savers and they aren’t even the protagonists of the novels they’re in. So it’s sad that some might find it easier to credit Willoughby with heroism for plucking an injured Marianne off a hillside than to bracket Anne Elliot with Tomoe Gozen when the former insists upon visiting a broke and sick old school friend, against her family’s wishes.
Does heroine still have a use, and does it lie solely within the realm of classic literature? Are there modern heroines who aren’t heroes? Should I rename this series “Girlhood heroes of …” or “Chicks we worshipped way back when…”
More importantly, if I do retitle, is there some way to get a faintly tasteless string of puns out of the deal? Extra points if you make me sorry I asked this.
Friday happened and I didn’t manage to post anything… honestly, because I forgot I was trying for a few gratitudes to wrap up the week. But…
One of the things that is exceedingly lovely for me is that notes are coming in from my trusted readers on the nth-draft version of The Nature of a Pirate, and the feedback so far leads me to believe that it’s about as good as I think it is, with a few fixable flaws to give it personality.
Even now, Kelly is typing madly at the last of what I know will be an excellent and insightful round of comments.
Two: I have begun work on what I hope will be a short story (as opposed to a novelette, or a novellismo, or a novella, or some other deitydamned long thing, that is) and I’m dictating the draft. Its working titles are “The Perils of Slow Reflexes in Meatspace” and/or possibly “The Euphemism Font.” Dictating meant I could work anywhere, and I spent a happy couple of hours on the shore of Lake Ontario today, looking at all my fellow sun-worshippers, enjoying the breeze, committing fiction, laughing at doggy antics and taking the occasional bird photo. Then I went to the bakery and bought a serious load of Forno Cultura cookies and bread items, which is a source of gratitude all on its own.
Third and finally: I am beginning to bash away at the beginnings of having a Redbubble store for a few of my best photographs. What this means, eventually, will be that a handful of them will be up all the time for the ordering, as prints, greeting cards, tablet skins, and what-have-you. And when someone asks for a print of something specific, as sometimes happens, I’ll add that to the mix, possibly on a limited-time-offer kind of deal.
What it means now is a lot of experimenting and play, some of it with photos that will only be up until I determine exactly what I want. One of the current experiments is the above shot of CinCin, which–thanks to Cats of Instagram–is now and will probably remain the shot of mine seen by most humans anywhere ever.
If you’ve asked for a print in the past, still want it, and remember the shot (or can even describe it using your words) let me know and I’ll bump it up the queue. And yes–the dragonfly close-up will go up soon, I promise, once I’ve racked up a few more experiments.
Or you should, anyway. Is my argument.
As I write these words it’s Thursday the 23rd, and I am sitting in Luma, which is the upstairs restaurant at the Tiff Bell Lightbox theater, at King and John Streets in Toronto, having what Kelly and I like to call a Superglam Writing Date. It’s a lovely spot for it–spacious and comfy, with good coffee for me, interesting wines for Kelly and a little plate of cookies and random shards of the dessert menu, made for sharing. The staff are pleasant. The crowd is upbeat and bubbly, pleased with the fact that most of them are dining, drinking, and then heading into a darkened room to share a brainy film experience with strangers. The music is neither too intrusive nor laced with yeeoldey hits of days gone by. (And you never get cuss-laden misogynist rap, which is more than I can say for the Jimmy’s on Gerrard.)
Normally I would be writing fiction and nothing else on an outing like this, but I am taking a little break from The Nature of a Pirate while some trusted writers and readers gnaw on it. The goal is one more pass through the text, starting Monday, working from their comments, and then a submission to my editor by summer’s end. After that, I will probably write some grant applications and short stories while contemplating my next novel-length move.
A few things I’ve been involved in lately:
- SF Signal’s Mindmeld asked what fictional character I (and Kelly, and several other writers) would offer Canadian citizenship to. I chose: the Tick. My argument is that Toronto, while lovely, could use a lot more of the surreal.
- Also on SF Signal, the full ToC for License Expired has been released. It is a wonder to behold. In addition to a gleamingly awesome author line-up, including Kelly, this Ian Fleming inspired anthology has some fantastic story titles: my Moneypenny story is called “Through Your Eyes Only,” for example, James Alan Gardner will be giving us “The Spy who Remembered Me,” and Claude LaLumiere’s story is entitled “You Never Love Once.”
- Finally, I’d like to announce that my Tor.com novelette “The Color of Paradox” has been selected by Sandra Kasturi and Jerome Stueart for the Canadian Best Of antho from ChiZine Publications, Imaginarium 4, where it will appear with stories by So Many People!! Peter Watts and Gemma Files and Kelley Armstrong and Peter Chiykowski and Eric Choi and Cory Doctorow and Helen Marshall and David Nickle and and and… it’s an incredible line-up, and I am lucky to be in it.
All very pleasing things, and I hope to announce another reprint sale soon, once the contract’s in and done. Is the summer being similarly kind to you? I definitely hope so.
photo by Kelly Robson
Tomorrow I have another author interview coming up on the site, this one with David B. Coe, who has a book out this week and will tell you all about it tomorrow! So today I am having an early go at the three great things posts I’ve been (somewhat) getting up on Fridays, to celebrate the random and not-so-random sources of joy in my week.
What’s tricky about this is that I’ve already bibbled a bit about the awesome run to the African Lion Safari and Niagara Falls, and getting to reconnect with dear friends in the process.
What else happened? Here’s three things:
One: Lovely people have been offering up bouquets of support for various projects. A relative texted me this morning, just to let me know he’d pre-ordered A Daughter of No Nation, for example, and a couple of friends are reading the third book in the trilogy, The Nature of a Pirate, to let me know if the plot cogs in the mystery are 1) sufficiently mysterious; and yet 2) not overly opaque. One of them mentioned diving into a second read a week later, which is above and beyond the call and much appreciated; the other wrote me out of the blue to quietly hint he’d love a shot at the unpolished manuscript, even though it’s been taking me a hundred years per page to read his current novel. The last couple of rounds of notes-from-editors on some of my upcoming stories have been insightful, too. Good readers make the sausage tastier.
People are wonderful, in other words, and I am incredibly blessed.
Two: As I was teaching this week, I came up with the following analogy, which I think holds up even without the conversation that sprung it, and which I can probably turn into a whole essay at some point.
Making up POV as you go is as valid as any kind of pantsing, but at some point you will have to decide who’s telling your story. Once you do, you’ll know how the narrative voice will handle your various characters’ names. Once you know that, you can clearly establish how each character generally refers to the others, and be consistent from there.
Imagine being a professional driver of some (improbably) generic stripe. Imagine that each morning you get up, go to a parking lot, and get to choose between driving an ambulance, schoolbus, limousine, hearse, taxicab, an armored car, a catering truck… you name it. The thing you do with your day is, arguably, more or less identical: you’re operating a motor vehicle. But which of the vehicles you choose–an apparently simple and innocuous decision–is going to determine whether you’re spending the day surrounded by preschoolers or rushing to the scene of an accident.
In all of the above cases, weaving all over the road is unprofessional. But choosing a vehicle at random and then trying to figure out if you’re transporting a coffin or picking up Robert DeNiro at the airport… one could argue that it’s a bit outlandish.
Figuring out which POV you’re going to use to drive the story isn’t innocuous. Don’t underrate it.
Three: My good friend and teaching guru Linda Carson teaches a color course at Waterloo University, which means among other things that she has one of the coolest boards on Pinterest. She asked me to do her an Instagram favor this week, and a side effect of that was that I found out about this. Human ingenuity in the pursuit of cool beauty makes me happy. I expect this will make you happy too.
The first person I met when I went to university orientation, back in 1985, was Christina: a voracious reader, Henry VIII aficionado and fellow theater geek who joined the student newspaper the same day I did. We laughed, we learned, we did a bunch of shows… and, in the fullness of time, we eventually graduated. Due in part to the mixed miracle that is Facebook, we have remained connected.
Xtina came to Toronto with her husband Scott last weekend, and by way of celebrating Kelly’s birthday took us on Sunday to the African Lion Safari in Cambridge. Ontario friends, I am surprised that it was a couple of Alberta kids who told us there were lions, omg lions, within easy driving distance. To say nothing of the rhinos.
We rounded out the day with a quick run to the Devil’s Punchbowl and then went on to the Vegas-for-families tourist explosion that is Niagara Falls. The splendid natural impressiveness of all that falling water did, once again, transcend the horror of the crowds and the tourist tack.
(I will note for the record that Niagara Falls has the most sewerific Starbucks bathroom I have ever seen. Scott will back me up on this, so you don’t need a photo.)
The full photo set is here.