Tag Archives: guestbloggers

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.

Linda Nagata gets her Heroine on the prairie

Posted on November 4, 2015 by

LindaNagataLinda Nagata is a Nebula and Locus-award-winning science fiction and fantasy author whose more recent work includes short fiction like “Nahiku West,” runner up for the 2013 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the novel The Red: First Light, a near-future military thriller that was a finalist for both the Nebula Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Originally self-published, The Red: First Light is now available from Saga Press/Simon & Schuster, along with its sequel The Trials, and the concluding volume of the trilogy, Going Dark.

Linda has spent most of her life in Hawaii, where she’s been a writer, a mom, and a programmer of database-driven websites. She lives with her husband in their long-time home on the island of Maui.

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?

So many details of childhood have faded into the mists of time, but one literary heroine I clearly remember is Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved the Little House on the Prairie books and read every volume our library had on the shelf. These were adventure stories, telling of a life alien to me but one that I could understand—and I’m still drawn to adventure stories.

But I didn’t dream of being Laura. Though the Little House books were based on real life, it was another real-life woman who truly captured my young imagination.

On the pages of National Geographic and in Time/Life nature books I read about the biologist Jane Goodall and her work studying chimpanzees in their natural habitat—living in the rainforest and becoming accepted by these creatures that were so much like us but so different. That, I decided, was what I wanted to do as an adult. And while I ultimately went in a different direction, Jane Goodall’s presence in my imagination surely encouraged an interest in biology and natural history that I still possess.

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

The things that most appealed to me as a young girl were exploration, adventure, living in the wild, and animals—animals of all sorts. Our family had the usual dogs, cats, birds, fish, and briefly, horses. I dreamed of more exotic pets. I even had a little book on capturing wild creatures and keeping them as pets. That’s not something I would encourage these days, but it was fun to contemplate at the time. I even set a few live traps, though I never managed to capture a rabbit. Anyway, I was in love with nature and the natural world (still am), and in addition, an interest in science was strongly encouraged in our home.

Enter Jane Goodall: a fiercely intelligent young woman, quiet and soft-spoken, but still daring to go out into the wild, into this beautiful forest, to do Amazing Science, interacting with chimpanzees in their natural environment. It triggered all my checkboxes and I was soon telling people that I was going to be a primatologist.

Really.

I wonder sometimes if I grew up in an alternate reality. I hear other women my age tell of how they were discouraged from pursuing nontraditional interests, but that was never the case for me. My family, and my father in particular, encouraged all kinds of intellectual interests, and I grew up in a changing world, where I was very aware that women like Jane Goodall existed, and that many things were possible.

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’ve never considered this before, but I think a good argument can be made that Jane is a literary ancestor of some of my characters. Determined, independent, finding her own path, taking her own approach. I like to write about women characters with those traits—women who are confident in their own abilities.

Bonus round: How do you feel about the word heroine?

I’m fine with it. I’ll admit that being a woman often feels like a drawback, especially given the sorts of books I like to write—action adventure that is not focused on traditional “women’s issues” (as if women have a limited range of interests!). Still. I’d rather see the feminine accepted and respected, than erased. Granted, some feminized nouns sound a bit archaic, but “heroine” works for 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 Kay Kenyon, Louise Marley, Juliet McKenna, and Alex Bledsoe. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

Sean Williams calls out Pern in the Heroine Question

Posted on October 28, 2015 by

Sean Williams, photo by James Braund

Sean Williams, photo by James Braund

Sean Williams is an award-winning, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of over forty novels and one hundred stories, including some set in the Star Wars and Doctor Who universes. His latest is Hollowgirl, the final book in his Twinmaker trilogy. He lives just up the road from the best chocolate factory in Australia with his family and a pet plastic fish.

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?

As a young boy who wasn’t into sports or fighting, I struggled to identify with many of the male leads in the science fiction and fantasy novels I loved. It was always a treat, therefore, to encounter women in fiction who stood out from the norm, women like Tenar in The Tombs of Atuan, Teela from Ringworld, and Lessa from many wonderful Pern books. I was tempted to pick one of them in answer to this question in order to then speculate as to whether I would regard them with such awe now, after many subsequent years reading through a much wider library than was available to me back then. The truth, though, is that the heroine who immediately came to mind, and who has had the greatest influence on my life, on and off the page, is one of Anne McCaffery’s lesser known characters: Sharra of Southern Hold.

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

I know exactly why she made such a big impression on me. Sharra’s not a major character in the early Pern books. She doesn’t appear at all until The White Dragon, and even then she largely plays against the main character, who she later marries. But she made a big impression, at least on me. She’s described as “not pretty”, with irregular features, a long nose and a chin that is “a shade too firm for beauty”, yet she has many other attractive qualities, and not just her voice. She is an accomplished Healer, which later leads her into the sciences and the annihilation of her world’s greatest biological threat. Curiosity and a keen wit makes her a smart operator of the people around her, including her husband. I admired her for her brains and for not being one of the beautiful people. That doesn’t stop her from needing to be rescued pretty soon after we meet her, but you can’t have everything, alas.

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?

Sharra rebels against her family to do what’s right, and uses her brain as well as her heart to determine what “right” might be. My female leads (and I love writing female leads) are always trying to find that same balance between gut and intellect. This is nothing new, of course, but I do think of Sharra when I approach their particular issues. Clair, the main character of my Twinmaker series, is constantly struggling between the mismatch between means and ends. Intending sincerely to do the right thing doesn’t mean you won’t accidentally destroy the world, because no one’s superhuman. Everyone’s imperfect.

The idea of imperfection is important to me, too. That’s the story engine at the heart of Twinmaker–the idea that “improvement” is automatically a good thing. Erasing imperfection, to my mind, erases identity and uniqueness in all facets of life and art. When I said earlier that Sharra influenced me off the page and on, I was referring to a line I’ve used often: that she gave me my love of women with interesting noses. Bordering on facile, but there’s a grain of truth to it. Buff blokes blowing up the bad guys are as tedious as their perfect peril princesses. I like my characters and my friends to be imperfect, entertainingly flawed, beautifully real.

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 Kay Kenyon, Louise Marley, Juliet McKenna, and Alex Bledsoe. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

Kay Kenyon drills down in The Heroine Question

Posted on October 21, 2015 by

Kay Kenyon picKay 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.