Tag Archives: guestbloggers

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.

Louise Marley sings the Heroines into Battle

Posted on October 14, 2015 by

The Child Goddess Full cover.inddLouise 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.

Juliet McKenna runs the Heroine Question to Ground

Posted on October 7, 2015 by

McKenna-colour-smallJuliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels. The Aldabreshin Compass Series, now being reissued in ebook formats, explores an absolute ruler’s dilemma when his armies and authority cannot counter devastating magical attack.

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?

This turns out to be a surprisingly tricky question because thinking back to my earliest independent reading in an English primary school, I was drawn to fantasy and historical fiction very early on, through writers like Rosemary Sutcliffe and books like The Boy with the Bronze Axe. All my favourite stories had male leads. There were usually girls around them and I distinctly remember wanting to know more of their stories but that so rarely happened. It wasn’t till later that I discovered Noel Streatfield’s girl-centred stories and books like Little Women and What Katy Did.

Giving this considerable thought, I realise that the first story to satisfy my wish for girls sharing an adventure on (nearly) equal terms was The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis. That’s where I encountered Aravis Tarkheena – and her mare Hwin, another independently minded female character who doesn’t care two lumps of sugar what other horses might think of her rolling on the grass when she gets back to Narnia.

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

Aravis took charge of her own destiny. Even at the cost of being prepared to sacrifice her own life rather than be forced into a vile marriage, at least until Hwin intervened. That’s significant too; Aravis wasn’t stupidly stubborn. She was ready to listen to reason and to take a different road, all the way to Archenland. She wasn’t stupidly impulsive either. Aravis planned and prepared her escape, using her wits. When events took unexpected turns, she adapted and went onwards, learning all the way. I really, really liked seeing an intelligent girl who made things happen rather than waiting to have things happen to her.

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?

She’s very much in the same mould as (almost all) the women I write as protagonists and point of view characters; Livak and Halice in the Tales of Einarinn, Risala and Janne in the Aldabreshin Compass, Failla, Larissa and Branca in The Lescari Revolution books. They’re all pro-active and decisive, using their skills and wits to get what they want or to get themselves out of trouble. Even Zurenne in The Hadrumal Crisis eventually learns to stand on her own two feet and to make her own choices after a lifetime of deferring to men.

And while Aravis ends up married to Shasta, they’re friends first of all – even though they’re still often quarrelling long after they’re married, according to the book’s final page which I’ve just gone and checked. There’s a very good chance my characters’ relationships owe something significant to that. Friendship is the foundation of every solid romance in my writing – and that never means my female characters giving up on their own ideas, even when some difference of opinion causes tension.

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?

The older I get, the more I find the term ‘heroine’ problematic, in terms of fiction at least. Because it seems to be so inherently and indivisibly part of a pair; hero and heroine – and the hero always comes first. The heroine is defined by that relationship with a man above anything else. Her choices and motivations are driven by the actions and needs of lover, husband, son or father. Which isn’t to say these motivations can’t be as complex and varied as anything else when it comes to driving a story but since my teens, I’ve wanted female characters in my reading to be doing so much more than that. Female heroes.

That’s why, when it comes to personal heroines – or female heroes – in terms of epic fantasy writers, I so very much admire Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Moon and Melanie Rawn. Their work is full of strong girls and women making their own choices, and dealing with the consequences on their own terms, even when those decisions turn out to have unexpected, awkward or even dangerous consequences. These characters can and do have romantic and family relationships but those are facets of their lives and personalities, not the be-all and end-all of their stories. More than that, these women remain distinctly feminine, not sacrificing their own integrity by merely attempting to out-macho the men (Something I’ve seen described as ‘faux-male’ behaviour which I think is rather neat.) Reading these writers assuredly had a powerful influence on my own work.

Southern Fire-small


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 Kelly Robson. Or, if you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

Leah Bobet questions the Heroines

Posted on September 30, 2015 by

An inheritance of ashes.jpgLeah 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..