Kay Kenyon’s latest novels are the fantasies Queen of the Deep, about an enchanted ship, both a colossal steam vessel and a Renaissance kingdom; and A Thousand Perfect Things,about a Victorian woman’s bid for forbidden powers in an altered India of magic. Her science fiction quartet, The Entire and the Rose, was hailed by The Washington Post as “A splendid fantasy quest as compelling as anything by Stephen R. Donaldson, Philip Jose Farmer or yes, J. R. R. Tolkien.”
Her novel Bright of the Sky was among Publishers Weekly’s top 150 books of 2007. Other of her SF works were nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award and the John W. Campbell award. A founding member of the Write on the River conference in Wenatchee, Washington, she is currently working on a paranormal historical mystery.
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 earliest fictional stars in my universe were male. Most of the exciting books, whether mysteries or action adventure, were told from the male viewpoint. I think this is one reason I got a late start in feminism: my beloved books had few role models for girls.
(That, and a complicated childhood, where “what do you want to be” was a reach too far for a kid who just wanted to handle the day-to-day.)
This all changed when Dune came out. OK, Paul Atreides. Fine. But the rock stars were the Bene Gesserit. I was no longer a child, but as a young woman I was drilling down into science fiction and becoming enthralled with the sense that the lid was off of confining realities. Other planets, other beings, other value systems. As Dune peeled back layer after layer of the Bene Gesserit, I was smitten.
How did they capture your affections and your imagination so strongly?
Oh boy, where to begin. I loved their quiet, scary strength–and that it didn’t come from innate powers, but from acquired abilities. You could be trained. The key to their power was a frightening intelligence derived from spiritual/mystical disciplines; that appealed immensely. Here was a realm where women could really compete. And they were successful as a group as well as individually: a matriarchy that engaged with geo politics over thousands of years. And what was their reception by the male-dominated world?
They were feared by everyone, derided by many who called them witches or weirding women. And look at the power of the older members of the order, those who became Reverend Mothers. Yet, if you were young and beautiful you could use sex as a power and no one would dare call you a bitch. And by their lights, they were guiding humanity along a path, so there was a vision and a cause to believe in.
How does this compare to the female characters in your work? Are the Bene Gesserit their literary ancestors?
My tribute to the Bene Gesserit came in my fifth book, Maximum Ice, a Philip K. Dick-nominated novel. The Ice Nuns: powerful, tapping into the quasi-crystal Ice of the altered Earth, their version of melange. And in my quartet, The Entire and the Rose, I may have found a subconscious literary inspiration here for Cixi: ancient, supremely political, feared by even the aliens who hold sway, she is the supreme head of the Magisterium.
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?
For a long time the language has been dropping diminuitive forms of nouns that specify female. (Few people would use “aviatrix” for example.) Eventually “heroine” may pass from use as well. Most people don’t use the word to indicate a female example of a major character except to create a topic-specific, useful category. As you did in this series.
(Otherwise you might have said female protagonist, but that’s a mouthful.) As long as it’s useful in particular contexts it doesn’t bother me.
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 Louise Marley, Juliet McKenna, Alex Bledsoe, and Kelly Robson. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.
Louise Marley, a former concert and opera singer, is the award-winning author of eighteen novels of fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction. She holds the world record for most concise author bio ever, probably because she was spending her time writing utterly remarkable things like the hair-raising The Terrorists of Irustan, or The Child Goddess, whose cover is pictured here. For more, see www.louisemarley.com.
I asked her, as I do: 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?
The first heroine I identified with, at the age of about 8, was Jane, in Edward Eager’s enchanting novel Half Magic. Jane was like me, the oldest of a passel of kids, in a family with no father and a mother who was often away working. Jane, with her siblings, had to figure out why their wishes were coming half true, and how to get around that. Jane had to manage the younger ones in her family, and save them–and occasionally her mom–when the half-magic coin got them into trouble. I was fairly well convinced magic was real, and kept dreaming up ways it might be available to me.
Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
Her courage and leadership were subtle, but appealing to a kid who also had to manage younger kids and try to juggle the practical with the imaginative. I loved the magic of it all, and wondered if I would have been able to solve the mystery of the magical coin myself.
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 can’t say that Jane has inspired my female characters, I’m afraid, much as I loved her. My characters tend to be larger than life, heroic in the classical sense, and sometimes operatic. Of course, Jane was a kid–will always be a kid. In my as-yet-unpublished middle-grade sf novel, the protagonist is a girl who solves problems with science, and it could be that she has things in common with Jane, though she’s a bit older. The one thing Jane shares with my heroines would be the conviction that there is an answer, somewhere, just waiting to be found.
Bonus round: 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 love the word heroine, and I love the other feminine forms of words–actress, authoress, murderess, and so forth. I hate the title “Ms.” and would much prefer to be called “Miss” as a generic honorific, the way opera singers are. Vive la difference, in my mind. I celebrate the feminine!
Bonus bonus: Once I discovered Superman, and then Supergirl, only the fact that I had reached a more advanced age–nine or so–stopped me from running around in a red cape. I thought Supergirl was the luckiest creature in the entire world. Talk about larger than life! I used to study those stories, and write in to the magazine if I thought there was an error.
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 Leah Bobet, Alex Bledsoe, Marie Brennan, and Juliet McKenna. Or, if you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.
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.