Tag Archives: heroinequestion

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.

A.C. Wise bites into the Heroine Question

Posted on August 12, 2015 by

GlitterCoverFrontA.C. Wise was born and raised in Montreal, and currently lives in the Philadelphia area. Her short fiction has appeared in Shimmer, Apex, Uncanny, and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2015, among other places. Her debut collection, The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again, will be published by Lethe Press in October 2015. Aside from her fiction, she co-edits Unlikely Story, and contributes a monthly Women to Read: Where to Start column to SF Signal. Find her online at www.acwise.net and on twitter as @ac_wise.

The inquisition began, as it always does, with this: 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?

Anne of Green Gables is a tempting choice, because who wouldn’t want to be her? Plus I’ve always had a thing for red hair. But since Anne has already been covered, I would say Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time/The Time Quintet by Madeline L’Engle. Meg is much more like me anyway. Anne is a force of nature, and I love her for it, but Meg is a quieter kind of heroine. On a related note, I’ve always been quite fond of the Mrs. Ws (Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which), from a Wrinkle in Time, but despite being heroic, and otherworldly, and amazing, they aren’t quite the center of the story in the same way as Meg, who is the story’s heart in more ways than one.

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

One of the reasons I was, and still am, drawn to Meg is the very fact that she’s a quiet heroine. She’s awkward. She doesn’t feel as smart, or talented, or confident as the rest of her family seems. Outwardly, they appear to have it all put together, and Meg is still trying to figure herself out, where she fits in the world, what she wants to do with her life. She’s caring and loyal and would do anything for her family – all good qualities in a heroine. Her bond with her little brother, Charles Wallace, is especially touching. I also appreciate the fact that she’s ‘the chosen one’ and the only one who can save Charles Wallace not because she has special, mystical powers gifted to her from on high, or because of any prophecy, but because of who she is and who she has always been. She loves her brother, and she knows him better than anyone else, and so she’s the only one who can reach him through the bond they share and bring him back home.

How does she compare to the female characters in your work? Is she their literary ancestor? Do they rebel against all she stands for? What might your creations owe her?

I would say the ladies of the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron are the complete opposite of Meg Murry in many ways, and also very much like her in other ways. On the opposite side, they are far more flashy, outspoken, outwardly confident, and willing to resort to violence when it’s necessary to save the world. They’re all also older than Meg, so they’ve had more time to sort themselves out and figure out their places in the world. At the same time, they are also fiercely loyal, and love each other like family. At the end of the day, they would do anything for each other. Despite the fact that they have had more time to figure themselves out, they all still have their moments of self-doubt, questioning where they belong, and how to be the kind of people they want to be. Underneath all the glitter and glamour, they are still human after all.

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 see hero and heroine as relatively interchangeable, but I would like to see the definition of both expanded to recognize there’s more than one way to be heroic. There’s frequently a tendency to equate strength with action. There’s nothing wrong with hero/ines who charge into burning buildings, or jump into a fight with swords-a-blazin’, but there is room in our narratives for quieter heroics, too. A parent protecting their child is a heroic act. A character standing up for what they believe in, even when (or especially when) that belief goes against the status quo. People like Meg Murray, saving her brother through love. Again, good action sequences and hero/ines saving the day in big, dramatic ways, are tons of fun, but I want to see the quieter acts of heroism from characters of all genders make it onto the page and screen. There’s room for both kinds of strength and bravery in our stories and they don’t have to contradict each other.

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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.

 

Alexandra Renwick looks at the Heroine Question

Posted on August 5, 2015 by

Alexandra C. Renwick, author and editor

Alexandra C. Renwick, author and editor

Alex C. Renwick was designed in Canada, built in California, and grown in Texas. She has written dozens of short stories as Camille Alexa, including her award-nominated collection Push of the Sky, which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was an official reading selection of Portland’s Powells Books SF Book Club.

She currently lives somewhere between Portland, Austin, Vancouver, and Montreal.  You can learn more at http://alexcrenwick.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? Who was she?

My initial response to this is, Spock. I can think only of Spock as a fictitious character I imprinted on as a child.  But he’s no heroine, and of course there were literary ones, back when I was sevenish, eightish.  Since my favorite book Watership Down was particularly dude-ly (and all rabbit-ly) I’ll have to  go with Scott O’Dell’sIsland of the Blue Dolphins Karana, who lived alone on an island nearly her entire life.  Meg from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time would be a distant runner up.

Karana and Meg (Spock, too, actually) were all huge for me, too! Can you remember what it was these characters did or what qualities they had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?

Well, O’Dell’s heroine is based on Juana Maria, a Nicoleño woman left for 18 years as the lone inhabitant of San Nicolas Island off the California coast before finally being discovered in 1853. My father’s from Grenada in the West Indies, so I felt kinship for an island story (though one set off a distant coast).  And I’d always rankled at the narrow Disneyfied blonde/blue-eyed version of feminine beauty. I adored a protagonista not cast in that mould, and identified far more with her than with, say, Cinderella and other dewy ladies.  Of course, it was her unflagging resourcefulness and ability to survive by herself, to reason, to make do, to figure things out and take charge of her own destiny that I found so enthralling.

Meg was resourceful too, and daughter-saving-father was a nice fresh take on sons being the stars of what felt like every other written story in the universe, starting with the Bible(?).  L’Engle herself suggested the reason “forty-odd” publishers passed on A Wrinkle in Time (her agent sent it back to her after 26 rejections) was that it had a female protagonist in a science fiction setting.  It has now been continuously in print since first publication (in 1963), so maybe that’s useful to remember for those of us who identify as going against the grain.

How do Meg and Karana compare to the female characters in your work? Could they be listed among your characters’ literary ancestors?

Oh yes! Definitely.  My fascination with writing frontier fiction in general — whether space colony SF, Paleolithic fantasy, or weird-west historical — has its roots in understanding how people might tackle certain problems in extreme circumstances and with limited resources. I guess at heart I’m really a hypothetical-realities anthropologist.

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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, with awesome people like Charlene Challenger, Gemma Files, Caitlin Sweet, and Karen Miller.

Also about this post: As I have mentioned, writer Alex Bledsoe recently asked about my use of the gendered word, heroine, in this series. I could have gone with hero, true, or “female heroes” since I was looking for women authors’ female influences. To be honest, my initial inspiration came from my ever-mature desire to make tacky-sounding drug jokes: Gemma Files on Heroin! Oops! Heroine! That kind of thing.

Me on Heroine

Posted on August 3, 2015 by

cranford memeThe first chapter books I read (and reread, endlessly), starting when I was five going on six, were a series of history books that had belonged to my mother, all written for red-blooded American girlz. They were biographies, many of them about the childhoods of various U.S. presidents’ wives. The practice of history in these books was not exactly rigorous. Even the non-FLOTUS women’s stories were whitewashed in a way that meant, for example, Jane Addams and Julia Ward Howe’s entire lives were covered in a hundred pages, with charming anecdotes, and without a single mention of the suffrage movement.

I know. Boggle boggle boggle, right?

These were been the books that gave me the typical view of a woman’s viable career options: saint/martyr/kindling, presidential spouse, cannon loader, author, native guide, or founder of such organizations as the Red Cross or the Girl Scouts. I also remember them as having happy endings all round, for Clara Barton and Louisa May Alcott and even for Sacagawea. Though not for Joan of Arc, unless your philosophical outlook can be best summed up as Too bad about the horrifically painful execution, honey, but you got to go to a coronation, and that had to be cool. Also: yay sainthood!

(Joan’s bio was from a different-but-related series; she was the one non-U.S. citizen in the batch).

When I initially launched the Heroine Question interviews, it didn’t occur to me for a second to question whether I should be using an ungendered noun, like hero or protagonist. Or woman protagonist. Honestly I’m a sucker for a good pun, and even more of a sucker for a bad one: I have an entire pinboard full of the things.

poe boy meme

I spent twenty minutes of my life making this.

Basically I had a vision. And that vision was a series of posts entitled “Caitlin Sweet kicks Heroine!” and “Martha Wells on her Heroine Habit” and equally questionable clicky fodder.

When I reached out to that first raft of authors who’d be doing heroine here on my blog, I had a fair expectation, based on most of them being in my age cohort, or near that vicinity, and the fiction available to us when we all were kids, about some of the answers I’d get. I’d limited the field to written works or their authors–no TV, no movies, no frickin’ Lara Croft. I figured there’d be answers within the SF and fantasy realm: an essay on Lucy of Narnia fame, maybe Alice of Wonderland, or Meg Murry of A Wrinkle in Time. (That one’s coming.) Tiger Lily from Peter Pan. I also anticipated, correctly, that someone would mention Anne of Green Gables and Jo March from Little Women.

I also thought we’d hear about Emma Woodhouse and Jane Eyre and  Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins and Scout Finch. And authors: Agatha Christie, Nelly Bly and Mary Shelly. (Erma Bombeck was a surprise, but a welcome one.)

I expected my interview subjects would sometimes be picking female characters from novels not generally considered to be genre fiction, in other words. Women who weren’t engaged in universe-saving or fleet-footed-adventuring or anything remotely approaching derring-do. It didn’t, when I was coming up with this particular series, even occur to me that heroine had to mean anything other than 1) showing up to carry a given literary work; 2) inspiring a young writer-to-be.

Much of this unquestioned assumption of mine grew from the fact that heroine was the catch-all term within the educational realm for girl characters. “The heroines of Jane Austen’s novels…” is a time-honored lit crit phrase meaning Lizzie, Emma, Ann, Fanny, Katherine and that drummer whose name I can never remember. “Lucy Maud Montgomery’s hot-tempered heroine…” has long been a valid mouthful of a way to refer to PEI’s favorite redhead. You know, when you’re afraid you’ve somehow used “Anne” one too many times in an English essay.

(Pro tip: Just say Anne again. The essay’s about her… it’s cool.)

Oddly, I think if you said “Jane Austen’s heroes are…”? The answer you’d get much of the time would be Darcy. Knightly. Brandon.

Is this good? Well, no. When one looks at it squarely, it’s even, perhaps, a little queasy-making. The above three dudes aren’t world-savers and they aren’t even the protagonists of the novels they’re in. So it’s sad that some might find it easier to credit Willoughby with heroism for plucking an injured Marianne off a hillside than to bracket Anne Elliot with Tomoe Gozen when the former insists upon visiting a broke and sick old school friend, against her family’s wishes.

Does heroine still have a use, and does it lie solely within the realm of classic literature? Are there modern heroines who aren’t heroes? Should I rename this series “Girlhood heroes of …” or “Chicks we worshipped way back when…”

More importantly, if I do retitle, is there some way to get a faintly tasteless string of puns out of the deal?  Extra points if you make me sorry I asked this.