Tag Archives: heroinequestion

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.

Kelly Robson goes after the Heroines

Posted on July 29, 2015 by

IMG_2509Kelly Robson’s first fiction publications appeared this year in Clarkesworld, Tor.com, Asimov’s, and the anthology New Canadian Noir. She spent four years living a weird alternate life as the wine and spirits columnist for Canada’s largest women’s magazine. She’s @kellyoyo on Twitter, and her website is at http://kellyrobson.com/.

I asked her the same questions I put to the rest of the lovely folk who agreed to this run of interviews.

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?

Nancy Drew, Nancy Drew, Nancy Drew.

I’m sorry, is there anyone else?

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

I am blessed/cursed with vivid memories of my childhood, so yes, I sure can remember.

At the age of seven I had no real books, just a few picture books I’d long grown out of. I was a precocious reader but my parents were too caught up with the implosion of their marriage to realize I was starving for reading material.

Mom did occasionally take me to the library but she kept me in the little kids section. I vividly remember bringing stacks of picture books home, burning through them in 20 minutes, and then having nothing satisfying to read.

At some point my Dad and I went into the city – probably to take to the ophthalmologist – and we stayed with my Auntie Amy. I found three Nancy Drew books in her basement rec room. They were The Secret of Shadow RanchThe Mystery of the 99 Steps, and The Secret of the Old Clock.

I started with The Secret of Shadow Ranch. It was a transcendent experience — I fell into it like a hallucinogen. In this book, Nancy is knitting a sweater for Ned. I didn’t know who Ned was, so I imagined he was a kid my age, because then he and I could be friends and that would get me access to Nancy.

Auntie Amy let me take the books home. A million thanks to wonderful aunties! Mom thought Nancy Drew was too old for me (my mom was always invested in keeping me young). Dad never liked to see me reading. I don’t think they ever took books away once I got my hands on them, but they never helped me get any, either. To this day, access to books remains one of my hot button issues.

I could go on, but we were talking about Nancy.

She’s the perfect wish-fulfillment heroine: Not an adult but certainly not a kid. Completely independent emotionally, intellectually, financially, socially, and physically. Nothing is denied her. She can go anywhere, do anything. For me, Nancy was a drug.

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?

Nancy isn’t in anything I’ve written so far, but she does figure into some work I have planned, about characters who’ve been in my head a long while. The less said about them now, the better.

I’m interested in characters who, like Nancy Drew, have everything. What can and can’t they do with that power and privilege? How far will it take them? What barriers can’t be crossed?

I’m not interested in the person who comes up from nothing to achieve much. I’m interested in the person who has it all and finds out how little it does for them.

How do you feel about the word heroine? In these posts, I am specifically looking for female authors’ female influences, whether they’re other writers or Anne of Green Gables. Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served by equally well by hero?

The term hero is no longer clearly gendered the way prince and princess are. It doesn’t require alteration the way fireman and chairman do. Hero is often a gender neutral term, much like actor.

If you asked me about my favourite hero, would probably have interpreted it as gender neutral and (being who I am) I’d probably have assumed you meant superhero. But since you asked about my favourite heroine, I understood your meaning completely.

I think heroine is a useful word that drills down to a specific meaning without contortions. Let’s not get rid of useful words.

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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 Jessica Reisman.

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.

I hope to get up a post that takes the answer further than “I pun, therefore I am.” And I have folded a question about this word into the later interviews; you can see Kelly’s answer here.

Heroine Roundup, Yee Haw!

Posted on July 26, 2015 by

full_wildthingsNow that we have more than a dozen Heroine Question interviews in the can, I feel as though an index would be a nice thing to have. If you prefer to simply browse the most recent interviews, they are here for the squeezing. If not, I present the following list of authors, with interview links and a link to one of their books:

 

The first time I did an interview series on my blog, I asked long, complicated questions. Though the Journeys series–which is about how established SF writers like Jack Dann and Walter Jon Williams got to that point–is really interesting, the essays are lengthy. I like a good chewy read as much as the next human, and I’m a little appalled by the tl;dr phenomenon. Still, after I’d done a blog tour or two, I felt a little as though the incredibly long interview was an imposition on my guests.

So this series is meant to keep it simple. Initially, I’ve been asking three things:

  1. 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?
  2. Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
  3. 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?
After a few interviews had appeared, a bonus question came into the mix:
  • How do you feel about the word heroine? In these posts, I am specifically looking for female authors’ female influences, whether those women they looked up to were other writers or Anne of Green Gables. Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served by equally well by hero?

 

The idea is to give the interviewee the option to keep it short and sweet, if they choose–to shoot me three quick answers and a biography/book cover, and to hopefully give us all something to think about in the process.