I finished book 1 up last night. I did it by being obsessive and staying up until 6am, but once I had the late teen chapters going it seemed like a bad place to stop. Just one more chapter, just one more, and hey! I don’t recommend the method, but then I don’t really recommend OCD, either. May as well get some use out of it! And James stayed up with me to read the last chapter and tell me how the whole story pulled together. I also managed to shave like 12k words off the bloated bugger, which makes me very happy. Now, James and I may have both been more than slightly groggy, but we both think it works… so. Out it goes. My query is winging its way toward an agency as we speak. I don’t know what the etiquette on saying where you sent things is, but I’ve got one published writer friend who’s currently publishing out a fantasy series, so I shot it to his agents and crossed my fingers. Here’s hoping!
I do want to briefly meta on some of this gender-in-fantasy stuff that’s going around lately like a cold. And I say briefly because I like irony.
Sometimes, reading the meta that goes around fandom and working on my story, I get this angry shoulder-devil reader in my head. I write what I write for the story, but I try not to buy into the awful sterotypes and tropes that I was practically breastfed on as a storyteller. deepad made an amazing post during the Cultural Appropriation Imbroglio which I recommend everyone read, because it took the thing to an angle I’d never considered. How we are all fed these stories and ideas and how they get into our head as "of course that’s how the story goes, that’s how the characters look, that’s how the hero acts, that’s how the heroine acts." He’s coming at it from a cultural direction, and right now I want to come at it from the gender-in-fantasy direction that’s been kicking around.
Every time I make one of my female characters cry, every time she needs help, every time she’s looked down on for being thegender she is, every time she’s subjected or even threatened with sexual assault, every time she falls in love, every time she gets pregnant, every time she’s the healer, every time she’s the psychic, every time she’s the mama bear, every time she’s beautiful, every time she’s a princess, every time she’s the witch… that shoulder-devil reader in my head squawks about how I’m betraying my gender. And part of me sits there and chews on it and wonders how right it is. I wonder if I’m undermining my own freedom to have strong female characters by refusing to write them that way.
Because we do get these stupid tropes stuck in our head. Even Eowyn got hurt, rescued, locked away for the battle and then married off. The Ladyhawke of the title really does nothing but scream and act as the tug-toy for the male protagonists. Princess Toadstool is in another castle. Princess Leia is the best shot with the laser pistol, but she still needs to be saved by the boys, who immediate speculate about hooking up. And that just scrapes the surface of the stuff I grew up with, I could bring you a hundred examples, but why bother, you folks know most of this stuff already, whether you realize it or not.
I don’t like the men-with-boobs trope, mostly because in my head, behavior isn’t limited by gender. Two of the most emotional people I know are my mother and my best friend; two of the most outwardly stoic are my husband and my best friend’s wife. So the "making your princesses men-with-boobs" bit is insulting, to me anyway, because what the hell is that saying? That only men can be sexually aggressive, physically aggressive, like guns, carry knives, etc? On the other hand, the books and movies we grow up with tell us that yes, that’s how it works, and it’s not really subverting that to make your card-carrying ice-cold badass a woman if there’s really nothing female about her.
Now, I’ve got a character in this book who is probably one of the strongest characters I’ll ever write. She IS a card-carrying badass ice-cold bitch. She leads a coup, raises her own army, raises herself up by her own bootstraps from the bottom of the heap to the top, and is totally ruthless about bulldozing the world around her into the shape she wants. She’s a nearly-unstoppable badass with a sword and magical speed/strength to go along with it.
I don’t think she’s my only strong female character. In fact, I don’t think being a driven, ferocious killer necessarily make you one. I certainly don’t think all my female characters need to be like her, because yikes. But when she has her breakdown and cries for a moment over what she’s done, that reader-devil went "YOU JUST RUINED EVERYTHING!"
One of my main protagonists happens to be female. She happens to be proficient with weapons, efficient, outwardly confident and stoic. It’s all about the quest for her, she doesn’t sidetrack, she doesn’t want her emotions in the way. She doesn’t cry. She gets shit done. She saves the boy, and she’d like to hook up with him but she’s too busy working and has no time for love. She’s protective and emotionally distant. She reads, when you really look at her, a bit like those old fantasy heroes, with her stiff upper lip and dedication to honor above all.
And you know what? It’s nonsense. She is the LEAST strong of my female characters. She has no agency. She does what she is told, she adheres to rigid behavior standards because she’s been told that’s how it works, she feels ashamed of her emotions. She’s terrified every minute that something changes and she needs to do something that doesn’t fit with the plan. When she cries it’s because she’s been forced to see that all she’s doing is following someone else’s plan, blindly, because she’s too scared to think about it.
So did I fit the trope or subvert it?
I don’t know, and I won’t know. I don’t writefor tropes, I don’t tailor my stories to be popular, but I would like them to be empowering. I would like them not to hurt other people. I would like people of other races, and people of all genders, to be able to read the stories without getting hurt by what I’ve put on the page. It’s not always possible. There’s a rape scene that I’ve been chewing on for about four years because it’s such a big event that I never want to do for the wrong reasons. But that shoulder-devil is really starting to piss me off.