Tag Archives: heroinequestion

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.

Tina Connolly versus The Heroine Question

Posted on July 22, 2015 by

Tina_Connolly-author-headshot1-colorTina Connolly is the author of the Ironskin trilogy from Tor Books, and the Seriously Wicked series, from Tor Teen. Ironskin, her first fantasy novel, was a Nebula finalist. Her stories have appeared in Women Destroy SFLightspeed, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and many more. Her narrations have appeared in audiobooks and podcasts including Podcastle, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, John Joseph Adams’The End is Nigh series, and more. She runs the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake.

She is originally from Lawrence, Kansas, but she now lives with her family in Portland, Oregon.

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?

Oh, totally. Some of my favorites: Aerin of Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, Anne and Emily from L.M. Montgomery’s books, several of the theatre-loving girls in Noel Streatfeild’s series (particularly Sorrel from Theatre Shoes), and Menolly in Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy.

What it was they did or what qualities did they embody that captured your imagination?

Sometimes they knew what they wanted, and sometimes it was more an inchoate yearning to do something. Stubborn. Anne having to deal with floods of emotion when struck by beauty (what is it, how do you transmute it into something). But despite being a lovely person, she didn’t particularly do anything with her creativity, not lasting, anyway, which made me end up identifying more with Emily, even though I didn’t want to be a writer as a child. The artistic heroines of Streatfeild’s books learn that you have to work at your craft, which was always a valuable lesson.

Aerin has to deal with a wild sort of magic running through her, and figure out how to make it useful, to help her country. (Not to mention the stubbornness of going through the scientific process, trying a billion different tweaks to her fireproof ointment till one works.) Menolly has to make music, and when she can’t, she runs away, not so much out of a well-thought out plan, just that the urge to create drives you on.

How do these women compare to the female characters in your work? Are they your heroines’ literary ancestors?

That is a really interesting question, because I don’t think I’ve written a heroine (in my books, at least) driven by the creative process yet (though I keep saying I want to write one.) All my heroines are stubborn, yeah. I was thinking it through and so far all my book heroines are driven by the urge to help, to set something right. There is something that they identify with, something that makes it personal.

In my newest book, Seriously Wicked, heroine Cam is stuck living with a *seriously wicked* witch.

When the witch summons a demon, he accidentally gets into the new cute boy at school. So Cam is determined to help the boy in distress, since it’s a little bit her fault, and even more it’s just flat-out empathy for someone else getting roped into the same awful things she’s roped into every day. So she’s stubborn, like me, and like my favorite heroines. I was realizing the other day that another trait we share is that Cam is certain she can juggle it all, keep all the balls and plates spinning. Stop the witch’s schemes and still get an A in Algebra.

I do want to write a creative-process-driven heroine, though. I just need to find the right SF-nal setting for it….

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Tina Connolly’s website is here, and you can find her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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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 Jane Lindskold, Gemma Files, Caitlin Sweet, and Jessica Reisman.

 

Karen Miller answers Heroine Questions

Posted on July 15, 2015 by

falcon throneKaren Miller was a spec fic fan long before she started writing her big fat fantasy novels. There’s every chance you’ll find ‘Scotty Beamed Me Up’ on her headstone once she’s gone. Right now she’s working on the 2nd book in her ‘The Tarnished Crown’ epic fantasy series.

Book 1, ‘The Falcon Throne‘, is on sale now in hardcover and paperback.

Is there a literary heroine on whom you imprinted as a child?

Casting my mind back to the dim, dark past of childhood … there are several female characters with whom I formed a strong bond. Lucy from the Narnia series, Norah from the Billabong series and Anne of Green Gables.

You’re the second person to mention Anne! Can you remember what it was she, Norah and Lucy did or what qualities they had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?

Lucy was in the first proper fantasy novels I ever read, when I was around eight. I loved her because she was brave and steadfast and she stuck to her guns even when her siblings doubted and mocked her.  Norah Linton, from the Billabong series? Probably readers beyond Australia have never heard of these books, but they’re pretty remarkable. They’re set in country Victoria prior to world war I, start with Norah in school and follow her life through to adulthood, marriage, having a child. While being very much of their time, Norah is never victimised or second-classed because she’s a girl. She’s courageous, loving, compassionate and honourable. She lives on the land, with all the challenges that contains, does war work in London, has adventures. Her mother’s dead but she has a loving father and brother and her brother’s school friends, all of whom treat her like a person first and foremost. She’s an animal lover and so am I, and to this day when I re-read the series there are books or parts of books that I can’t read because the author doesn’t sugarcoat life on the land and it’s genuinely distressing!

Lastly, Anne of Green Gables. Again, these are books of their time so some things need to be read in context, but even so — Anne is a rocket. Fearless, determined to be herself no matter the opposition, a passionate lover of books and believer in the power of the imagination. These three heroines spoke – and to this day still speak – to parts of my soul and provide hope that it was and is okay to be that kind of person.

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?

Interesting! I’d never thought about it but in a sense these characters have strongly informed some of the female characters in my work. I try not to write any character as strictly a hero or a heroine. While some people end up with more ticks in the ‘good guy’ box, rather than the ‘bad guy’ box, and vice versa, I believe we are all of us a mix of good and bad and on any given day, faced with a particular challenge, one side or the other is going to win out in how we deal with it … and it’s not always the side we want, or that society wants. Also, characters will interpret themselves and their choices in the most favourable light – as we all do! – so while they see themselves as heroic, the objective observer – and other characters – see the opposite. And, as I said, sometimes we act heroically in our lives and sometimes we do take the easy or the dishonourable or the coward’s way out … and usually my characters do both at some point, depending on the circumstances. Even my villains do the right thing now and then! But those heroines I fell in love with as a child certainly have helped me to shape my own understanding of what makes a person heroic, at least for me, and that understanding informs my writing to this day.

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? 

Hmmm. Hero/heroine — it’s one of those gendered differences that carries so much baggage. What a male character might do that’s seen as heroic is often likely to be condemned when done by a woman. The different expectations/standards attached to men and women in most of the world’s societies persist and inform opinions on what makes someone heroic.  I certainly think of those 3 favourite female characters as heroic – and by extension, their creators, 3 great female authors. In many ways they managed to create heroic girls who weren’t simply fake boys. They shared some characteristics with ‘male heroism’, but in other ways they were great young women in ways that only a woman can be. Too often, these days, female heroes are simply men with boobs. The element of empowered femininity has been stripped away, which isn’t good.

There are certainly ridiculous elements to dramatised heroines. If she’s not Buffy with supernatural powers your average woman is not going to take down a strong, fit and trained man. Girl power only takes you so far. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the genuine and legitimate differences are physical, not ephemeral. Qualities of character are unisex – courage and honour are not gendered  (though there is a subset of the male population that would like us to believe they are.) Likewise unheroic acts aren’t gendered although, again, there are some folk highly invested in making us think they are. That’s what comes of raising boys as primarily defining themselves as not-girls, with all the gendered bias and stereotyping that entails.  On this score, I’m not sure it’s possible or even desirable to eliminate the female version of ‘hero’, for either gender. But we do need to make it very clear that some acts will always be heroic, no matter which gender performs them.

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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 Karen’s answer here.