Tag Archives: heroinequestion

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.

Heroine question vs. Marie Brennan

Posted on August 26, 2015 by

Marie Brennan is an anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for material.  She is currently misapplying her professors’ hard work to the Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent; the first book of that series, A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award.

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?
I didn’t realize it until I was in college, but apparently I imprinted on Cimorene, the heroine of Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons. I studied Latin, I learned to fence — though I can’t make cherries jubilee, so I didn’t copy her in all respects. (I also had a deep and abiding fondness for Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden . . . though fortunately for all involved, I never tried to imitate her!)
Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
I think I’m very attracted to pragmatic heroines. I’ve never been the sort to get swept away by my passions or my dreams; I like the characters who feel quite strongly, but don’t let it overwhelm them. Those kinds of characters tend to be proactive problem-solvers, which is my kind of daydream; I want to imagine myself as a person who can get out of a sticky spot by virtue of skill and wits. I can’t say for certain that I would volunteer to be a dragon’s “captive” princess just to solve my marital difficulties — but as solutions go, that one seemed pretty clever to me!
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, I definitely write heroines in the vein of Cimorene. Heroes and heroines both, really; my characters all skew toward the pragmatic, so that I have to push myself to write more impulsive types from time to time. Lady Trent would get along great with Cimorene; they could swap stories of their experiences with dragons, and then vanish forever into the library, never to be seen again. <lol>
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? 
It does have a different connotation than “hero,” doesn’t it? I admit I usually talk about a book’s “protagonist” or “main character,” rather than using a gendered term. The word “heroine” evokes two particular connotations for me. One is a character who acts in a heroic fashion: Wonder Woman, Katniss Everdeen, women and girls who fight on a grand scale for the greater good. I would never call Mary Lennox a heroine in that sense, because her story operates on a more personal level, and Mary herself isn’t intended to be admirable. The other is the female half of a romantic leading pair, the counterpart of the story’s hero — I often see it used in that sense in romance genre circles. If romance isn’t central to the story, I don’t tend to think of the main characters as a hero and a heroine, even if they pair up like that. Outside of the story proper, I’ll use the word “heroine” if I’m talking about a role model (as you are here) . . . but on the whole, it isn’t a word I deploy very often.

 

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Marie  is also the author of the doppelanger duology of Warrior and Witch, the urban fantasy Lies and Prophecy, the Onyx Court historical fantasy series, and more than forty short stories. More information can be found atwww.swantower.com.

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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 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.

Alma Alexander on the Heroine Question

Posted on August 19, 2015 by

Alma Alexander's Wolf, out August 21, 2015

Alma Alexander’s Wolf, out August 21, 2015

Alma Alexander is an internationally published novelist, short story writer and anthologist whose work appears in more than 14 languages worldwide. She has written many different kinds of fantasy – high/epic, historical, contemporary, urban, YA – and occasionally detoured into science fiction when the muse strayed out amongst the stars.

When asked if she imprinted on any particular literary heroine as a child, she said:

I’m almost certain that for a lot of us the kneejerk  response to this is the same: Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. She was so iconic, so seminal (not to mention the only one of the sisters with whom I had a remote connection – Meg was the goody two shoes, Amy was a spoiled brat, and Beth was the ghost of a pretty kitten)… and she was a writer, and she pushed on her dream until she got published and many of us who did the same thing eventually ended up identifying with that because that was our dream also. That was something that we – that I – grew up looking up to, waiting to accomplish. But I didn’t want to be Jo. I just wanted to be a writer.

I don’t think that I ever “pretended” to be someone else. My best recollections point to my wishes being more aligned with being the best me I could be. Using the convenient metaphor of Narnia, I never wanted to be or pretended to be Lucy or Susan. What I wanted was to be found worthy of being a true friend of Aslan, who was Not A Tame Lion, when judged for myself, in my own right.

Can you remember what it was Jo did or what qualities she had, besides being a writer, that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?

It wasn’t the pretty. It wasn’t the nobility. What always drew me in were strength and wits and smarts and the occasional spark of true wisdom.  That was what the best protagonists carried within them and  that was what I sought within myself if I ever thought about wanting to emulate them. I wept with them when hard choices had to be made, and they made them; I laughed with them in delirious joy when risks were rewarded; I held my breath as they did during the moments when outcomes were hanging by the thinnest of threads. Strength, wits, smarts, and wisdom. If they could shoot a straight arrow, all the better – for them – but it didn’t make me want to go out and buy a bow and start practicing archery (well, I shot a bow and arrow and I wasn’t bad at it when I did, but eh, you know what I mean). What I was looking for was… was resilience, an ability to bend in the wind like
a reed by the river if that was needed but to spring back up straight and true after the storm was over. I never thought vulnerability was a weakness, nor tears, nor taking a moment to draw a deeper breath – but they could not be allowed to be the last thing that was there. There had to be Strength. Wits. Smarts. And Wisdom.

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?

In terms of debts, in that context, everything – my characters owe everything to that philosophy. I have never been afraid to put them through the wringer in any story I ever wrote because any heroine who stepped forward had those qualities. I think of Xaforn of the Guard, from The Secrets of Jin-shei, who lived and died for honor and for love – and of her jin-shei sister, also; I think of Amais who returned to Syai four hundred years after the events of The Secrets of Jin-shei, and of her friend Xuelian, who carry the weight of the world on their shoulders in Embers of Heaven; I think of Olivia from Midnight at Spanish Gardens, and Anghara of Changer of Days, and Thea of the Worldweavers series and Jazz, my ‘youngest’, the protagonist of Random.  They were all shaped by those tenets, they all had to live according to those  criteria. They had to know the odds, and be willing to go against them if that was necessary; they had to know fear, and fly in the face of it anyway; they had to recognize the stinging nettle and reach out to grasp it anyway if the need arose.

Everything I have ever read has built up to these heroines and all that they are. My heroines may not be part of a better world, as such, but the things that they do and that they are help make their worlds better. That is all I can ever ask of them. So far, none have let me down.

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 have no problem with the concept of a heroine, as such – but I think of the characters who carry my stories as my protagonists, as my people. I don’t know that I hold with “hero” as a solitary shining  figure standing off by him or herself anyway. We are all a part of the fabric. Some of us are just given a moment in which we shine harder than those standing next to us – and if we step into that light, we
are heroes.

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Alma lives in the Pacific Northwest, in the cedar woods, with her husband and two obligatory cats. Her website is here and she Tweets, is on Facebook, and has been even known to pin stuff.

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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 take you to all the other interviews, or there’s an index of them here.