Tag Archives: heroinequestion

Ada Hoffman fires the Heroine Question into Space!

Posted on December 6, 2017 by

Ada Hoffmann is the author of Monsters in My Mind. She has published over 60 speculative short stories and poems in magazines such as Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and Uncanny. She is a winner of the Friends of the Merrill Collection Short Story Contest and a two-time Rhysling award nominee.

Ada was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 13. Her Autistic Book Party review series is devoted to in-depth discussions of autism representation in speculative fiction. You can find her online at http://ada-hoffmann.com/ or on Twitter at @xasymptote

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?

My parents were careful to keep me supplied with brave, plucky, intelligent female role models as a child – The Paper Bag Princess, Princess Leia Organa, Princess Eilonwy, Lucy Pevensie, Ariel, Nala, Hermione Granger. It was the 90s, and even the Disney princesses were plucky. The woman who comes to mind most, though, was a real woman – the astronaut Julie Payette.
Julie Payette is an engineer, a pilot, a robotics specialist, and was the second Canadian woman in space. This year, she was appointed Canada’s Governor General. It’s a good year for Canadian women who want to go to space.
It’s hard to explain what space meant to me as a small child. There are forms of romanticism that don’t survive adolescence unaltered. There is something wonderful about the idea of blasting off into the unknown, going where no human has gone before. But it was simpler and deeper than that. I grew up on science fiction and fantasy, a literature of infinite possibilies. I knew that Narnia and Tatooine and Middle-Earth weren’t real – but space was. And without space the way I imagined it as a child, without its infinite array of strange new worlds, the Earth simply felt too small.

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

When I was five or six years old, I told a boy at school that I wanted to be an astronaut. He said, “You can’t do that, you’re a girl.” My parents rebutted that argument by showering me with books about women astronauts – people like Sally Ride and Roberta Bondar. (I don’t remember having a book about Valentina Tereshkova, but I certainly knew of her as well.) They took me to public talks at the local university, one by Bondar, another by Payette.
Both women caught my attention, but Payette was the one who captured my imagination. Bondar had already retired and become an environmentalist. I liked environmentalism just fine, but I knew she was never going back into space. Julie Payette’s space adventures were, at the time, still in front of her.
I must have stuck out, an eight-year-old child in a sea of college students, but I don’t remember feeling self-conscious. I do remember the signed picture of Julie Payette that my dad got for me, with my name on it. “Ad Astra!” it said. That picture stayed on my bedroom wall right up until I moved out.

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?

My female characters are really not much like Julie Payette, and it’s because of what happened after I was a child.
In junior high school, I stopped wanting to go to space. I was old enough to understand that modern space travel – cramped, crowded, physically and mentally grueling, and stuck in Earth orbit – was not what I’d thought. I was also old enough to know I could never be an astronaut. I had a bad autistic burnout in junior high school. I could barely attend class or make friends; my parents despaired that I’d ever be able to live independently, let alone train for space travel. I lost that dream, not because I was a woman, but because of my disability. It was one of many things I lost.
Most of the female characters in Monsters in My Mind, even the child characters, have more to do with my adolescent self than my childhood. They’re lonely; they’re struggling. They’re in danger in ways they can sense but cannot fully understand. They make bad choices. They hurt other people. They experience shame. They are, in some cases, literally monsters.
In many stories, though, they get what they want. In some, they’re happy.
And in one story, “Moon Laws, Dream Laws,” an autistic woman goes to space – although the result is not what she or her wife anticipated.
My story doesn’t have a sad ending, after all, and it’s because of my writing that it doesn’t. I had been writing little stories my whole life, but it took years to really work out what that meant. To understand that there were other worlds to go to, after all; worlds that had been there all along. Worlds of the unknown, worlds of infinite possibility. Worlds inside me.

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?

It’s a useful word. I grew up believing that women could do anything; I barely remembered the boy who told me otherwise. But I was able to do that because I had access to so many women role models. Their practical example was more important than any words. The word “heroine” calls attention to women heroes, and by doing so, it benefits the people – like me – who need them.


About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (usually) 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 Faith Mudge, Stephanie Burgis, and S.B. Divya . If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

Kari Maaren sneaks extra (moral!) fiber into the Heroine Question

Posted on November 29, 2017 by

Kari Maaren is  is a writer, cartoonist, musician, and university English instructor who lives in Toronto, Canada. She has just published her first novel,  Weave a Circle Round, an old-fashioned kids’ fantasy adventure. If you challenge her to a duel, she will choose a ukulele as her weapon, or possibly an accordion if she really has it out for you.

Her website is here and she is on Twitter as @angrykem.

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 want to say Meg Murry, but I know she’s been covered pretty thoroughly by other people. I’m still going to sneak Meg into my answers because I just can’t help it. However, for my main answer, I’ll go for Elizabeth from Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess. I was obsessed with Elizabeth when I was little. I can still quote sections of the book.

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

Elizabeth is the complete opposite of me. She’s girly enough to moon openly over a boy, but as soon as her One True Love is kidnapped by a dragon, she just hops into that paper bag and sets out to rescue him. I stopped being brave enough to tell boys I liked them after one of my friends made it clear to me, when we were both about nine, that I wasn’t pretty enough to do that. If a dragon burned down everything I owned and kidnapped my (secret) One True Love, I would probably go to pieces. Elizabeth was a girl who could get things done. As well, my middle name is Elizabeth, so when I was younger, I sort of saw Munsch’s Elizabeth as my secret identity. Maybe Kari would never have been able to do those things, but Elizabeth could. I also identified strongly with the end of the story, when Ronald rejected Elizabeth because she was dirty and dressed in a paper bag, and she called him a bum and waltzed off into the sunset alone. A lot of the other stories I heard at that age told me the girl was supposed to marry the boy and live happily ever after. Elizabeth could live happily ever after without marrying the boy. I wanted to be her so badly.

Sneaky Meg note: Meg is much more flawed than Elizabeth, which is why I love her. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that Meg saves the day not with her strengths but with her faults.

Sneaky Alyx Response: I loved that about her 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 creations owe her?

Weave a Circle Round’s protagonist, Freddy, starts off as more of a Meg than an Elizabeth. She’s singularly immature at the beginning of the novel, and while her faults aren’t the same as Meg’s, they’re just as pronounced. She’s very unlike Elizabeth in that she has to grow into her own competence. Elizabeth has an arc, but because the book is so short, her development happens very quickly. She goes from a princessy princess in love with Ronald to a paper-bag-wearing badass capable of tricking a dragon in the blink of an eye. Freddy starts as a social coward in denial about just about everything, and when she finds herself in a bad situation, she doesn’t snap immediately into Bravery Mode; she has to work at it. I still love Elizabeth, but she’s a wish-fulfilment fantasy. That isn’t a criticism—we need our wish-fulfilment fantasies—but I find that my characters tend to muddle through their adventures instead of facing them head on.

Sneaky Meg note: Meg’s faults will, I suspect, reverberate through everything I’ll ever write. Freddy doesn’t use her faults to save the universe, but they’re also firmly part of her, not superficial elements that are cast aside when she grows up a bit. As I tell my students a lot, there’s a difference between a “strong character” and a “strong person.” Strong characters can be weak people. In fact, many of the best stories are about weak people struggling against their own weaknesses.

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 like the word “heroine.” Yes, it’s rooted in the word “hero” and can be seen as redundant, but the problem is that when we collapse the terms, we still treat the male hero as the norm and the female hero as a deviation from the norm. The term “male hero” seems redundant; the term “female hero” doesn’t. Therefore, when we speak of “female heroes,” we often mean women who fit the male heroic standard, not women who fit some gender-neutral heroic standard. The word “heroine” acknowledges that women can be heroic—in the literary or the broader sense—without necessarily conforming to a model regarded as inherently male.

I study and teach fairy tales. My course has a unit on heroes and a unit on heroines. The students tend to go into the course assuming that the heroes will be handsome princes and the heroines passive princesses awaiting rescue. What they learn is that while there are certainly plenty of passive princesses, they tend to have been made that way by writers such as Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. There are many “Cinderella”-like stories in which Cinderella doesn’t just sit around and moan because she can’t go to the ball. Fairy-tale girls go out into the world to seek their fortunes just as often as fairy-tale boys, and both boys’ stories and girls’ stories frequently culminate in marriage (not love but the economic transaction of marriage, via which both boys and girls can rise in the world). At the same time, the handsome princes the students are expecting tend to appear only as simple reward figures in female-centred stories, while the “heroes” unit is full of tricksters. “Hero” and “heroine” are both words with rich histories, and they’re more complex than a lot of people know. Getting rid of “heroine” because everyone assumes it’s a lesser, demeaning category does a disservice to the spinning women who used to sit around weaving tales about clever girls using magical women’s implements—spindles, carding combs, spinning wheels, needles, even laundry—to complete their quests. The sword is not the only weapon out there.


About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (usually) 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 Faith Mudge, Stephanie Burgis, and S.B. Divya . If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

Faith Mudge gets her Heroine from the Lowood School

Posted on December 28, 2016 by

Faith Mudge

Faith Mudge is a writer from Queensland, Australia, with a passion for fantasy, folk tales and mythology from all over the world – in fact, for almost anything with a glimmer of the fantastical. Her stories have appeared in various anthologies, including Kaleidoscope, Cranky Ladies of History, Hear Me Roar and Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists. She posts reviews and articles at beyondthedreamline.wordpress.com, and can also be found at beyondthedreamline.tumblr.com.

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?

I can’t remember how old I was when I first read Jane Eyre, but I’m pretty sure it was in my early teens, around the point when I was devouring so many other classic novels that my written vocabulary started to sound like a teenage Victorian, the kind of prose that’s less purple and more a really annoying shade of magenta. I do not now like a lot of those books, but I’m always going to have a certain residual fondness. They were what I needed at the time.

Jane Eyre was different. It’s a favourite of my mother’s, so the copy I read was hers. These days I have two of my own, just to be safe. I’m lucky – mine was a childhood filled with stories and I had a small army of heroines to look up to, all of whom have contributed to who I am in different ways. It’s hard to pick just one! But Jane Eyre is one of those books that leaves a strong impression every time I re-read it, reminding me of just how good it is. The writing is decisive and elegant, the plot is strong. And most of all, I love Jane. She remains one of my favourite characters in anything ever.

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

Oh, that’s easy. Jane is indomitable. She starts out as this fierce, desperate little girl who craves love more than anything and grows into a woman with a quiet, cool exterior who is an absolute force of nature underneath, a woman who is strong enough to walk away from love when it isn’t good for her. She is an extraordinary balance of calm head and passionate heart,  with a rich inner life that she doesn’t share with people who don’t deserve it. In the depths of her despair, she decides that she will care for herself – which is a tremendously powerful statement that has always stuck with me. How many heroines, even now, are allowed to say that? The prickly edges of Jane and Rochester’s personalities mostly work together very well, but she’s only ever in his life on her terms and he’s very much aware of that. I detest St John, not just for being the unrelentingly unpleasant person that he is, but for getting at Jane’s weak point, which is a strong sense of duty that can be turned against her. She’s also a very loving person, amazingly non-judgemental given the times when she lived, and she doesn’t need to be pretty or socially important to have a story worth telling – or to be worth loving in return.

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?

All my characters are very different people, of course, but that indomitability, that strength of will, is definitely a trait carried throughout my work. I like writing about women who say no. The complexity of duty and how to define your own moral compass, what we owe the people in our lives and what we owe ourselves, are big themes in Jane Eyre and often weave themselves into my stories as well. Jane is a complicated woman making difficult decisions and she’s never dismissed or punished by the narrative for being the person that she is. I love that. I try to treat my protagonists with the same respect.

How do you feel about the word heroine? Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served equally well by hero?

There does seem to be a trend towards the disuse of feminised words and that really bothers me. As a society, we need gender-neutral terminology. That’s very important. But it’s a big language! There is enough space for gendered terms as well, if they are useful, and I think the word ‘heroine’ is very useful. What’s wrong with a word that says, unequivocally, ‘I am a woman and I am amazing’? There are plenty of specifically feminine insults. Why not build up a lexicon of strength?


About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (mostly) 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 S.B. Divya. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

Stephanie Burgis Marches with the Heroines

Posted on November 9, 2016 by

Author Stephanie Burgis

Author Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan but now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffeeshops. She is the author of two historical fantasy novels for adults, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets, both published by Pyr Books. She’s also the author of over thirty short f/sf stories and a trilogy of Regency fantasy novels for younger readers, beginning with Kat, Incorrigible. To find out more and read excerpts from all of her books, please visit her website: www.stephanieburgis.com.

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?

I imprinted SO HARD on so many literary heroines as a kid! It’s actually hard to narrow it down – Anne of Green Gables! Jane Eyre! Elizabeth Bennet! Meg Murry! I loved them all – but: when it comes down to it, I identified with Jo March (from Little Women) in SO many ways.

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

She was a writer! (Which I already knew I wanted to be, from the time I was seen.) And she was fiercely ambitious with her writing from very early on in her childhood. In the book, she and her sisters even wrote a magazine as kids where she self-published her own stories – and as a kid, I actually did the same, circulating it ONLY among my own family members! Jo loved acting in plays that she’d written, she was wildly romantic, but she was also socially awkward and frequently messed up in important social situations when she most needed to do her best. She dreamed of traveling in Europe, just like I did; she was devoted to her family and she fought fiercely with them too. She felt real to me and she was wonderful.

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?

My MG heroines probably have more in common with her than most of my adult-fic heroines, but there are definite commonalities throughout. I love writing fiercely ambitious and determined heroines (of any age), in the same way that I’ve always imprinted on them as a reader.

In my new historical fantasy novel, Congress of Secrets, I set out to take the trope of the powerful, manipulative, woman who’s often portrayed as a villainess and make her the heroine of the story instead. Caroline, my heroine, has been planning her scheme for years, and now that she’s finally back in Vienna under the guise of a new identity (using the 1814 Congress of Vienna as her excuse for the trip), she’s ready to do whatever it takes to accomplish it…even if she has to resort to the same kind of dark alchemy that ruined her childhood.

However, while she is ruthless in her determination, she’s not unfeeling; like Jo, she’s actually devoted to her family, and her whole scheme is based around trying to save her father from unjust imprisonment. So, while she and Jo March might not have many surface similarities, a few of the essential qualities are the same.


About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (mostly) 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 S.B. Divya. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

Elizabeth Bennet… and? S.B. Divya’s heroines. @divyastweets

Posted on October 5, 2016 by

img_0095S.B. Divya is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. When she isn’t designing high speed communications systems, raising her daughter, scratching the cats, or enjoying dinner with her husband, she writes. In her past, she’s used a telescope to find Orion’s nebula, scuba dived with manta rays, and climbed to the top of a thousand year old stupa. She holds degrees in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing, and she is currently Assistant Editor for Escape Pod. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, including Lightspeed and Daily Science Fiction, and her writing appears in the indie game Rogue Wizards.

Her debut science-fiction novella, Runtime, was released by Tor.com Publications in May, 2016. You can find more online at www.eff-words.com or on Twitter as @divyastweets.

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 have two heroines for this list: Ariane Emory (from CJ Cherryh’s Cyteen) and Elizabeth Bennet (from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). I fell in love with them in my early teens – later than the playground years, but I was busy running around at that earlier stage of my life and spent less time with books.

Ariane Emory isn’t someone you hear lauded very often even though Cyteen is Hugo-winning trilogy, maybe because she isn’t always the most likeable person in the room. Elizabeth Bennet, on the other hand, is practically a household name these days, but when I got to know her, she was an obscure character from a “required reading” book that most of my peers seemed to abhor.

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

What drew me to both of these heroines is that they, like me, didn’t fit in with the mainstream. Ariane Emory is the clone of a genius scientist, raised with great privilege and loaded with expectations. She rises to the occasion, but in the process, she learns to embrace her individuality and use her intellect to her advantage. I certainly identified with her adolescent angst and her exclusion from general society – I was a top-of-the-class nerd, intended science major, and never quite fit in, either – and I admired her confidence and ownership of her capabilities. Those were two personality traits I didn’t possess.

Elizabeth Bennet isn’t as far removed from general society as Ariane Emory, but she’s also very intelligent, perceptive, and willing to rebel against the standard model of woman in her times. She’s more interested in the qualities of mind and heart than in fashion or status. She’s quick witted, something I desperately wanted to emulate as a pre-teen, and much like Lizzie, I had no desire to marry for money and social comfort. That may sound bland considering how popular Jane Austen is today, but at the time I read Pride and Prejudice it was my first exposure to the author, to that period and setting, and to the idea that there have always been women who resisted their expected role.

How does they compare to the female characters in your work? Are your heroines the literary ancestors of your characters? What might your creations owe them?

My main character in Runtime, Marmeg Guinto, is certainly a rebel, highly intelligent, and resourceful, so she has parallels to Ariane Emory and Elizabeth Bennet. I don’t think I’m capable of writing a female or non-binary protagonist who embraces traditional/conservative roles. I’m lucky that I came across examples of similar heroines at a formative age.

Unlike the two favorites listed here, my character, Marmeg, does not come from a place of privilege. As a kid, I found it romantic to have women in positions of power who could then exercise their will. That might also be an artifact of the 1980s, when feminism was just starting to hammer away at corporate and political glass ceilings. Today, I’m more interested in how we can empower women who aren’t traditionally seen as heroic.

I’m also more class conscious as an adult, and that informs a lot of my fiction. That’s covered much more in Jane Austen’s books than in CJ Cherryh’s. I love the way Austen uses Lizzie as a lens through which to examine society, and (now that I’m thinking about it) that is definitely something I have to credit as an influence. A couple reviews have said that Runtime is as much a work of social commentary as science fiction, and I take that as a compliment.

Another facet of both heroines, but especially Ariane Emory, is their moral grayness. Both of them are flawed, and that is something that my characters exhibit, too. I believe that our flaws and our moral choices are what make us interesting human beings, so I guess it’s no surprise that my favorites are far from perfect.

Bonus round: How do you feel about the word heroine? When I embarked on these posts, I was 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 don’t love gendered nouns, and I’m trying to break the habit of using them, but they can serve a purpose when you’re trying to highlight the treatment of women. For the word heroine specifically, I think it evokes a particular image – that of the Strong Female Character. Saying that a story has a woman or girl as the main character feels different than saying it has a heroine, in part because of the mythos associated with the root concept of a hero. A heroine by association must be active, in control of herself (as much as anyone is), and destined for greatness.


About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (mostly) 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 J. Kathleen Cheney, Linda Nagata, and Kay Kenyon. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.