Tag Archives: heroinequestion

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!

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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..

Loren Rhoads looks the Heroine Question in the eye…

Posted on September 23, 2015 by

LoreNoMoreHeroes covern Rhoads is the author of a new space opera trilogy — comprised of The Dangerous Type, Kill by Numbers, and No More Heroes — all coming from Night Shade Books in 2015. She’s the co-author with Brian Thomas of a succubus/angel novel called As Above, So Below. She authored a collection of travel essays from graveyards around the world called Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel and edited The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two and Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues: True Stories of the Unsavory, Unwise, Unorthodox and Unusual. You can learn more at lorenrhoads.com.

I asked: 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?

Loren: When I was 4, my parents moved out of town to a piece of land near the farm where my dad grew up. Our new house stood on what had been a wheat field. The low spot between two hills was bordered by a creek that tended to flood, so Dad borrowed a steam shovel and a dump truck to dig a pond farther back on the property. He used that dirt to fill in the area around the house. For several glorious months, the acre around the house was covered in random mounds of dirt, studded with wildflowers, weeds, and clumps of willows. It was the perfect setting to play Peter Pan.

At home, my younger brother let me pretend to be Peter. Once I started kindergarten that fall, my new friend Kirk insisted I be a girl. So I became Tiger Lily to his Captain Hook. To this day, I remember the excitement I felt, pretending to sit on Marooners’ Rock, my arms bound behind my back by imaginary ropes, waiting for my chance to escape the pirates.

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

As the chief’s daughter, Tiger Lily is basically a princess, but she wasn’t restricted to living indoors and learning needlework. The pirates caught her boarding the Jolly Roger with a knife in her teeth. For a girl like me, struggling not to be tamed by the public school system, she was the ideal role model.

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?

The heroine of my trilogy, Raena Zacari, is definitely Tiger Lily all grown up. Raena is self-sufficient, stealthy, implacable, armed with knives, and hangs around with a band of media-obsessed pirates. I hadn’t drawn the connection between Raena and Tiger Lily until now.

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 grew up in an era of gendered language: actor/actress, steward/stewardess. I never felt that to be female was to be less than male, but I do sometimes think that women’s contributions are obscured beneath traditionally masculine terms like firefighter or hero. Strangely, I don’t see the gendering when it comes to terms like flight attendant or pilot or soldier, so perhaps I will come around to less gendered language in time.

Still, to answer your question, I prefer heroine. It’s important to me to call out the salient point of these characters as role models. Gender makes them more special, rather than less, probably because when I was young, there were so few adventure stories about girls. I want to celebrate their difference because for so long, I craved to see myself reflected.


 

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.

Alex Bledsoe takes on the Heroine Question

Posted on September 16, 2015 by

Alex BledsoeAlex 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.

Maria Alexander Questions the Heroines

Posted on September 9, 2015 by

maria-alexander-webMaria Alexander’s debut novel, Mr. Wicker, won the 2014 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. Her dark short stories, poetry and nonfiction have appeared since 1999 in publications such as Chiaroscuro Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, BITCHSF Signal, Gothic.net, PseudopodParadox: The Magazine of Historical and Speculative Fiction and many others. Champlain College uses her nonfiction to teach about female warriors in popular culture. Since 2010, she’s been studying samurai swordsmanship. Don’t ask her which is mightier. You’ll probably regret it.

She lives in Los Angeles with two ungrateful cats and a purse called Trog.

I asked, as I always 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?

My access to books was pretty limited, but my father had four books that had a huge influence on my imagination: The Red Fairy Book, the double-volume of Andersen’s Fairy Tales and Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and The Emerald City of Oz. Except for Gerda in “The Snow Queen,” I didn’t find many inspiring figures in the grotesque fairy tales. However, I very much felt kin to Dorothy. I wanted to run off to an imaginary land and have magical adventures with great friends like Ozma. I never really liked the Disney princesses, but Dorothy (who was later named Princess of Oz) I loved.

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

Dorothy accepted challenges without hesitation, was loyal to her friends, and proved braver than the Hardy Boys. I know because I read almost all of the first fifty Hardy Boys books. Someone gave them to my mother when I was in first grade and I promptly devoured them. The Boys made an enormous impression on me but I didn’t identify with them the way I did Dorothy. Maybe my spooky childhood had something to do with it. Or perhaps because I had so little freedom, I could only imagine escaping by magical means. I grew up Greek, and in Greek culture, girls are prisoners in their own homes.

And then there was Ozma. A few years after I read Emerald City, I got ahold of The Marvelous Land of Oz and discovered she’d been a boy. How I loved that! I’d liked nothing but boyish toys since I was wee. For my first Christmas when I was four years old, I’d wanted a racecar set. I was bitterly disappointed to discover that my dad had bought one for his godson and that I would just get another doll. I hated Christmas for many years, even after they finally gave in and bought me the CB radio I asked for when I was eight. Anyway, at some point, someone (Glinda?) turns Ozma back into a girl. No one ever turned me back into a girl – at least, not a “proper” one, given how much I’ve always loved monsters, bladed weapons and games. Still, I connected a lot with the gender-shifting-boy-who-was-really-a-girl character.

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?

The main character of Mr. Wicker is Alicia Baum. I named her thus as a tribute to my early love of L. Frank Baum’s books. But because my childhood was frightening in many ways, Mr. Wicker is also my retort to Baum’s world. Alicia is a grownup, fucked up Dorothy, and The Library of Lost Childhood Memories is a bleak, twisted counter to the poetic Oz. Hey, that’s what happens when your father is the Gnome King.

Finally, 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 equally well by hero?

I’ve never liked that word. Even if it’s not technically true, it sounds as if being a heroine is somehow different from being a hero. And maybe it is. I’ve too often seen “heroines” who aren’t protagonists while the “hero” is almost always the protagonist. (Hence the MRA furor over Mad Max: Fury Road.) I’m seeing this too often in the Young Adult novels I’m reading right now. Sure, the girls are tough, but they’re either playing second string to boys or they’re just not driving the plot. On the other hand, I absolutely loathe talking about what makes a “strong” female character because, unless we’re talking about what makes characters of any gender strong in fiction, it feels like we’re just further cementing women’s status as second-class citizens. Maybe doing away with the word would encourage writers think of the genders equally? I don’t know.

Peruse Maria’s website, stalk her on Twitter, befriend her on Facebook or ogle her boards on Pinterest. She digs it.

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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.

Updraft author Fran Wilde gets into the heroine thing…

Posted on September 2, 2015 by

FranWildeAuthorPhoto2015 (1)Fran Wilde’s first novel, Updraft, debuted from Tor Books on September 1, 2015. Her short stories have appeared at Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny Magazine, and in Asimovs and Nature. Fran also interviews authors about food in fiction at Cooking the Books, and blogs for GeekMom and SFSignal. You can find Fran at her websiteTwitter, and Facebook.

My Tor.com review of Updraft, by the way, is here.

Here are the questions, and her answers!

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 several – two were not literary though: Alice Paul, the political activist, and Marie Curie, the scientist.  Literary Heroes include Menolly, Meg Murray, and the hero I’m talking about here – Helva from The Ship Who Sang.
When I met Helva, I was undergoing treatment for scoliosis and spending a lot of time in a lunky, uncomfortable, experimental brace. Nothing like what Helva was experiencing, nor what others with more extreme conditions experience every day, and yet, that feeling of being encased — a brain in an uncomfortable container — rang so true. I remember being shocked by the first line, and the dehumanizing nature of “She was born a thing,” and even more shocked by the fact that this was one of the first stories I’d encountered that began with the word “She.”
Helva’s altering of her environment so that she could sing, and her use of the tools and her ship-body to relate to others — and her perseverance in the face of later events she couldn’t control… all of that stuck with me.
Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
Her reaction to an early compliment, “You have a lovely voice,” was to fully research the concept and find what she loved in the craft, then add it to her skills.  Her intellectualism, paired with her dedication to knowledge and completism (I was a bit of a completist myself… still am) captured my affections. The fact that her first partner, Jennan, spoke to her while facing where her physical form was kept cemented my affection for Jennan 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?
Oh hmmm… Well the singing, which happens in a lot of my stories, except Kirit is terribly bad at singing. I think the main thing they share is grit and determination. “The only way forward is through.” That sort of thing.
How do you feel about the word heroine? 
I favor the word hero. The diminutive isn’t necessary.

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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 take you to all the other interviews, or there’s an index of them here. If you’re wondering about my use of the word heroine, I’ve written an essay on the subject here.