Advance polls are open, Canadians! Whatever the outcome of the upcoming election, I am grateful to have periodic chances to at least try to give my corrupt, racist, hatemongering, anti-science Federal government the big ol’ Heave Ho, and I hope you are too. If you’re from some other country, and my usual lack of engagement with current news stories is one of those things that you like about this blog… well, you can be thankful that it’s almost over. We’ll be resuming our usual mix of art talk, writing essays, random babble about coffee, photographs of the cats, book-related links and Life of Alyx again soon.
I am not exactly sure when I shall advance vote. I’ve blown today’s chance, I think, as I’ll be haring off to do some things with a Kelly and a friend shortly. This weekend promises to be action packed, alternating more (fun) haring with bursts of writing. We both of us want to lay down some words over the next few days.
On a completely other topic and in case you missed it–I am running a contest all month where you can post this link about the Goodreads givaway on Twitter or Facebook, tagging me so I see it, and I’ll enter you for a copy of Child of a Hidden Sea.
Leah Bobet is a novelist, editor, and bookseller with Bakka-Phoenix Books, Canada’s oldest science fiction bookstore. Her debut novel, Above, was short-listed for the Prix Aurora Award and the Andre Norton Award and commended by the CBCs Best Books for Kids and Teens; her second, An Inheritance of Ashes, will appear from Clarion Books in the US and Scholastic in Canada in October 2015. Visit her at www.leahbobet.com.
I asked her: 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?
Hard question! This isn’t usually how I ever interact with books: I tend to fall in love with worlds, and the books I loved were the books that had something to teach me, or that showed me something new. Which is why this might be an odd answer: I absolutely loved Molly Grue from Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn.
I still love her, decades on. I never pretended to be her, but we live a little in each other’s shadows. She is the person in literature who grows with me always; who always has something new to show me whenever I reread that book.
Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
It’s funny, because understanding that connection took me a great deal more self-knowledge than I had as a kid.
Molly is manifestly not the first choice for a grade-school reader to identify with: She’s middle-aged, and tired, and full of bad life choices and regrets and cynicism. All in all, she’s not the person who is supposed to be able to go on an adventure or befriend a unicorn—but does. But that wasn’t why.
Even when I was very young, there was something about what Molly does in The Last Unicorn that appealed to me. She’s the person who keeps the soup on, who sees through bullshit, who is honest; who is practical and pragmatic and pays attention to rations and road miles and all the little things that actually back up the high-flying ideals of quest fantasy. The person who can call bullshit on other people, but in a way that’s compassionate, and who carves out a kind, warm, welcoming space inside a castle full of fear and despair. A unicorn can’t quite create solace in Haggard’s kingdom—but Molly Grue can.
Even very young, I understood deep down what a gift it was for Molly to listen to Prince Lir’s awful love poetry, and be his friend, and have him peel potatoes so he could be appreciated and useful to someone. And even very young, I understood that Molly’s hard-won competence and hard work were the only things keeping that quest together through the back half of the book, and admired the hell out of them.
She was kind. She gave people so much space to be themselves—and support to grow into themselves—mostly just by being herself, and taking care of the day-to-day braveries. She’s the very epitome of the “Chop wood, carry water” proverb. And in a very beautiful, quiet way, I think she helped me realize very young that kind was a thing I wanted to be too.
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 heroines owe her?
I think that idea of God being in the details, about quests being won on hard work and compassion, about a world made up of accreting small deeds and not so much the noble grand gestures has really rubbed off on my work thematically, even if it doesn’t show up in every character. I find myself telling a lot of stories about the characters we’re told aren’t supposed to get a story, be a hero, or take centre stage. I write a lot of stories about keeping the world on its keel.
But—and this goes especially for An Inheritance of Ashes—I write a lot of women who are angry, and have every right to be; angry and competent and kind. So maybe there’s a lot of Molly Grue in my women characters after all!
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 Tina Connolly, Alexandra C. Renwick, and Kelly Robson. Or, if you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here..
A Daughter of No Nation is on the Shelfie Top 10 list for Most Anticipated SF and Fantasy books, in great company, with novels by Charlie Jane Anders, Kameron Hurley and Catherynne M. Valente. Review copies of the book are percolating out to the usual (and hopefully a few unusual) suspects. Soon we’ll be hearing what people think of the second installment of Sophie Hansa’s adventures.
I’m finding the prospect a little nerve-wracking. I don’t think there was anyone who absolutely hated Blue Magic. There were a few people whose response came down to “Holy gosh, this book sure do have a lotta queer people in it!” but there’s not much you can do about that except go, “Yep.”
Child of a Hidden Sea, on the other hand, and Sophie in particular got under a few readers’ skins, and not always in a way that led to true and enduring love. I decided to take this as a sign that I’d become better at characterization, especially since most of the reviews were, in fact, raves. Anyway, it might simply be the effect of a lingering head cold, or the fallout from a rather unusual week, but right now I’m thinking my only sane response is to go “La la la, can’t hear you!” and think of something else until my head clears.
Having been to Stratford for the first time this past weekend, and having seen three shows – Carousel, The Alchemist, and She Stoops to Conquer, Kelly and I are finally embarking on watching Slings and Arrows. We’ve had so many chances to do so over the years–I think people have lent us the DVDs on three separate occasions, and we never quite managed to pop one into the gadget before sheepishly returning the disks. It’s been one of those gaps that was almost embarrassing to admit to, what with me being such a raging Paul Gross fan. But it never happened, until now, and it’s almost–but not quite–too dated. It’ll be good prep for seeing His Almighty Grossness and Martha Burns in Domesticated next month.
Alex Bledsoe grew up in Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (birthplace of Tina Turner). He’s been a reporter, editor, photographer and door to door vacuum cleaner salesman. He now lives in Wisconsin with his family. His novels include Long Black Curl, The Girls with Games of Blood, and He Drank, and Saw the Spider.
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?
The heroines that made the biggest impression on me as a child were Mina and Lucy from Dracula. I grew up in an isolated Tennessee town in the Seventies, so I didn’t have a lot of access to books, or anyone to suggest things to me. I read the “boy classics,” many of which, like Treasure Island and Moby Dick, had no female characters at all. So Dracula was the first book I read where anything was written from a female character’s point of view (for those who don’t know, it’s an epistolary novel with journal entries from many characters, including both Lucy and Mina).
Can you remember what it was they did or what qualities they had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
It’s terrible to say, but beyond the novelty of reading from a woman’s point of view, it was the reverence in which the male heroes held them that made them feel special to me as well. No one could put a woman on a pedestal like the Victorians, and since I had no historical context for it, I simply accepted it as the way I should look at them, too.
I was also moved by their sisterly support for each other. There are plenty of masculine partnerships in the story, but the bond between Lucy and Mina is just as strong. Also, Lucy has three suitors, and when she picks one of them, the other two are happy for him, not bitter or jealous. By the same token, they display no animosity toward Lucy, nor she toward them. It’s a surprisingly modern and sophisticated arrangement.
Of course, there’s all the symbolism of Lucy becoming a vampire and being dispatched with a phallic stake by essentially all the men in her life, but I missed all that until I reread it much later.
How does these women 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?
My Firefly Witch stories are told in first person by the husband of the main character, and he certainly puts his wife on a pedestal; since they were my first recurring characters and I started writing about them when I was in my twenties, it’s not too hard to see where that idea came from, although I hope that I handle it with a bit more psychological realism than Stoker.
Bronwyn Hyatt from The Hum and the Shiver is almost the total opposite, and would completely reject anyone putting her on any sort of pedestal. I can’t say this was a deliberate response to Dracula, but on a subconscious level, I can’t rule it out.
How do you feel about the word heroine? When I started talking to people about writing 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 teach teen writing classes at my local library, and most of the participants are young women. I tell them up front that I don’t like the word heroine: a character is either the hero of the story, or they’re not, and their gender is irrelevant. To me, the only reason for the existence of the word “heroine” is to let us know it’s a woman, and I’d like to think we’ve moved beyond needing to know that in order to decide whether to read a particular story. I certainly want my students to think that way, both about what they read and what they write.
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 Marie Brennan, Alma Alexander, and Kelly Robson. Or, if you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.
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
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.