Tag Archives: fantasy fiction

Responsible Heroines

Minstrel Cover

Today in church, L stopped me to tell me how much she enjoyed reading Minstrel. Currently she’s about halfway through, and she stays up past midnight to read.

L just turned 14 years old. She belongs to a demographic for which I didn’t target Minstrel. I don’t want to write young adult fiction, because I don’t want to focus on adolescent characters. I want to write about adults who get into gritty situations and prevail, breaking through pre-existing stereotypes. But as I wrote Minstrel, I thought about my friends’ daughters. I wanted my friends to be able to trust my work, to be able to hand my books to their daughters without first censoring them.

What I anticipated actually happened. My friends bought my novel and handed it directly to their daughters, without reading it first. Without asking me if I had included sex or f-bombs, or even if the subject matter was appropriate. They trusted me. They trusted my writing.

Minstrel now follows many fantasy novels as they gain considerable fans among the young adult population. Namely, among young girls.

Robin McKinley’s books are among those that have trended with young girls, despite being written for an older audience. The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown both feature grown characters. Not far out of adolescence, these heroines fight dragons and lead battles. They fall in love, but are not saved by their men. Often, they save the men.

Growing up, among my heroes was Alanna from the Song of the Lioness series. They were Harry from The Blue Sword, and Aerin from The Hero and the Crown. I began my love of fantasy with Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, from author Astrid Lindgren. From there I admired Princess Cimorene, who volunteered to be the dragon Kazul’s captive, and who teams up with the handsome king to rescue the dragon. These were the girls and women I wanted to grow up to be.

My mother was a wonderful woman. She was as combination of superhuman sacrifice and human weakness. She was independent, industrious, and morally upright. As I grew up, I became an eclectic mixture of my mother and my fictional heroes.

Now, my 12-year-old daughter has followed my example. While writing this post, I stepped out of my office to ask my daughter, “Who are your heroes? Fictional or real life.”

She replied, “Katniss Everdeen and Tamora Pierce.” Katniss Everdeen is the heroine from the popular books-turned-movies The Hunger Games. Tamora Pierce writes fantasy quartets about young women who prevail in male-dominated medieval settings.

My daughter didn’t choose me. Does that mean I’m a bad role model? I hope not, for I wouldn’t have immediately indicated my own mother if someone had asked me the same question at that age. Yet my mother was a wonderful role model. She was my reality. Alanna and Cimorene were my aspirations.

No matter how hard to you try to choose your daughter’s role models, she will still choose her own.

As Minstrel’s popularity grows among teenage girls, it further reinforces my responsibility as a writer. I could write horror or erotica, but I prefer fantasy. I prefer a genre that is devoured by teenagers of both genders, whether or not it’s written for adult audiences. And though many of my author friends claim, “You can’t control what the characters do,” I disagree. My muse may guide, but I have the final say over my work.

I could have made Molly a simpering little waif who let herself get bounced around by whichever man claimed her. Aerdra could have let her people die, or begged her husband to defend her, instead of taking up a hatchet and fighting alongside him. Finola remained the voice of reason and morality for her daughters, while her son battled politics within the king’s guard.

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, is often asked, “Why do you create these strong women characters?” Joss’ answer has now become a mantra for feminism and equality within art: “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

Joss’ inspiring speech is here:

Other authors who write strong female characters stand out as remarkable, or even abnormal. To this idea, Neil Gaiman has replied, “Well, I write people. Approximately half of the people I know are female and they’re cool, and they’re interesting, and so, why wouldn’t I?”

Orison

Daniel Swensen, an author friend whose fantasy novel Orison is due for publication in 2014, had problems with his main character, Randoval. The novel was staid and boring, and Randoval didn’t have the potential he needed. Daniel examined Orison and realized he followed the trend that so many fantasy authors follow: the men were the heroes, and the few females were oversexualized. Daniel’s amazing solution, which changed the entire tone of the novel, was to flip Randoval into a brown-skinned woman named Story Kai Tann. Suddenly, perspective changed. Friends and beta readers were amazed. Daniel’s editor even said, “Story could never be a man! Story as a man = boring. Story as a woman = awesome.”

Daniel said of his gender-flip, “I’m not trying to teach the world to sing, or anything like that, I’m just writing the kind of book I’d like to read myself. I don’t for one instant consider Orison to be some sort of Important Feminist Work; it most emphatically is not. It’s just a good fantasy yarn, which happens to have a female protagonist who doesn’t get by on her bare midriff and her sexuality. And if that makes my novel out of the ordinary somehow, well, all I can say is, it shouldn’t. I think it should be both common and unremarkable.

You can find Daniel’s blog post regarding this gender-flipping decision here.

So what, exactly, is my responsibility as an author? First, let’s briefly look at some of Minstrel’s growing fanbase:

Though L’s parents are happily married, she’s strong in her faith, and her family has a dynamic that I envy, L and several members of her family are currently undergoing health problems that will alter their future. L herself holds on with uncertainty.

K is 11 years old. She has been the victim of poor choices made by the adults in her life, since she was conceived. Though she’s an honors student, K continues to struggle past the examples set by some of the most important adults in her life.

As she nears 16 years of age, A has become a driving force in the success of her peers. Blessed with a strong and loving family, she maintains a high moral standing in high school, surrounding herself with friends who are not so lucky.

Then there is the teenage girl who stopped by my table at a book signing and asked, “Dad, I really want to read that book. Can I please have it? Please?” I explained the book to the father, who promptly purchased it for his daughter. If she had simply seen the novel in a bookstore, she would probably have wanted it just as badly, without the author present to assure the father of the content.

Which of these girls deserves a trustworthy piece of fiction, with role models and ideals they can follow? How would my writing career, or the trust my readers have, change if I threw in f-bombs, sex scenes, or overt violence into the books? As a parent, I consider this broad demographic the same way that I consider my own children.

Sahara

My own daughter, S, lives two lives because she switches back and forth between two biological parents. When people ask about the moral character of her father, I simply reply, “Well… we’re divorced.” She is still growing, still reaching that critical moment when she decides who she will become. And, if my daughter is going to pick role models that she has never met, I want to be sure she has some she can look up to.

I don’t feel like I owe the world a story. I’m not writing for a teen magazine, or for a rally of any kind. I write entertaining fiction. But when parents hand my work directly to children as young as 11, trusting me, I feel my responsibility is to keep that trust.

As I write Vassal, as the heroine encounters compromising situations and has to take the high road (or doesn’t) through each, I keep these young women in mind. I don’t write for the young adult market, but I write for the ones who might pick up my books. They’re the ones who hand my book off to their friends. They are my fanbase.

Meet the Characters: Liam

With just over 5 weeks to go until publication, anticipation is building over the release of Minstrel. Each week, until the major characters are introduced, you’ll have the opportunity to meet one character per week through excerpts from the book.

This week: Liam, the main protagonist and point-of-view character

Liam watercolor

Excerpt:

Molly took a moment to reply. “You said you could fight.”

His brow furrowed and he looked at her. Tears of humiliation sat in her eyes and she glared at him in accusation.

“What would you have me do?” he asked.

She shrugged. “I don’t-” She clenched her jaw and stared forward. “Nothing.”

“You think I should have fought for three pence?”

Her eyes widened.

“Yes, I only had three pence. I’m not stupid.”

“But-”

“Would you rather I had fought, been defeated, and had them take off my companion as punishment?”

Her jaw clamped shut. “No,” she said in a quiet voice. Her fingers readjusted on his arm. Her grip had become bruising during the robbery. She flexed her fingers then curled them around his arm again.

The gentle pressure of her fingers and the hushed tone of her voice were about the closest he was going to get to an expression of gratitude. He had indeed humbled her, without even asking her to launder his shoes. But instead of gloating, he simply felt satisfaction that he had done the right thing. If he had played the thieves’ game wrong, he would have lost his companion instead of three pence.

“How did you know?” she asked. “That they were going to do that?”

He glanced at the tattered rags covering windows, the permanent layers of soot and slime on the stonework. Symbols, drawn in kohl, marked doorways so thieves and murderers would pass right by. Here existed three things: dwellings of sticks or old stone, the inhabitants therein, and sludge. Nothing else. Upperclassmen existed on the labors of others and only needed gardens for beauty. Peasants fortunate enough to have their own houses, and clean dirt, grew vegetables and herbs. In the slums, people grew nothing. Instead of laziness, they existed on lack of resources or knowledge. If the king granted these people some land and seeds, they would only eat the seeds and use the land as a new dumping lot.

“This is where I was born,” he said.

A few streets back, they had passed his house. It had burnt down long ago, it appeared, and a new shack sat atop it. Instead of stopping in respect, paying homage to his mother and her labors to keep him alive as a young child, he kept walking. Her corpse had burned years before the house had. He passed on, as she had wanted him to do for the rest of his life.

“One of Amergin’s?” Molly asked as she kept her eyes forward.

“How else?” Liam nodded at the poor, sickly inhabitants leaning out of the buildings. “A man doesn’t leave any other way.” Even corpses stayed in the old neighborhood, burned on piles of garbage. Cottars only took away corpses from the safer streets.

“How far are we going?”

He hadn’t thought that far. He had meant to see his mother’s old home, but as that was gone, he just kept walking. Thoughts churned and memories surfaced: the bitter cold and the smoke from a damp fire pit. His mother, curled up in a ball to hide the hunger pangs as her son ate the only bread.

Liam had been a street urchin, a thief and a bully. He fought for his bread, and for his mother’s bread, and by the time Amergin’s summons had been delivered to his mother’s door, he had started fighting for other possessions as well. His mother did not know of his habits, else she would have tried to correct them. In the old neighborhood, though, those habits led to survival. Perhaps she would have let him continue to steal and fight, because it brought her food.

The master bard changed things. With a spartan moral code that included nothing about religion, Liam’s master taught him basic kindness for man. He taught him to treat women with respect. He taught him to never take anything he had not earned and which was not freely given, from man or woman. Other morals, those of chastity and honesty in words, followed a simple rule: being a decent man brought greater rewards than paying the consequences of what other men might call “sins.” Don’t take what you can’t replace, he said. Don’t say what you can’t correct. Don’t share beds unless you can afford a child. As others spoke of gods, or God, Liam did not know where those morals fit into a godly realm. He just knew to be a good man.

A Public Identity!

I’ve had two major steps in my author process.

mames

 

First of all, Minstrel is available on Amazon for pre-order, with a discount over $4. I also have a corresponding author page set up on Amazon. Feel free to click on the link to my author page and send me a “Like.”

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Minstrel Cover

Second, Minstrel is also available on Goodreads! If this is a work you are interested in reading, please indicate it by clicking the “Want to Read” button!

Thank you all for your support! The likes, links, and reposting are all noticed, and they mean so much to me.

6 Weeks til Minstrel

Minstrel Cover

In exactly 42 days, Minstrel will be available in eBook and print formats. Now that I type that out, it feels a lot longer than saying “six weeks.”

However, with projects going on like the Fall Flash Festival, AMMC, and the Jingle Bells anthology, those six weeks will probably fly by as we rush to make these deadlines. But these six weeks are going to be full of excitement and anticipation.

In two weeks, I’ll have a surprise to offer. This surprise will only be free on specific days. (No, it’s not Minstrel. We all have to wait until November 5th for that.) To keep updated, and know when you can snag this surprise, “like” and follow my Facebook page. I will only be posting the links on there!

Thank you! Now go out and enjoy those fall leaves.

Orison

I’ve recently become reacquainted with this author. A few weeks ago, I asked on Facebook if anyone had a friend who had self-published exclusively in E-book format, who would be willing to share his/her journey with me. My older sister linked me to Daniel Swensen, who then become a full mentor for my own journey. This man is amazing, so unselfish with his knowledge. I then realized that I had been acquainted with him ten years previously, as he regularly commented on my older sister’s blog. Even better.

Daniel has a work already e-published, a short story called Burn. You can find it on Amazon or on Barnes and Noble (through Smashwords.) Hint… it’s free on Smashwords and $1 on Amazon. Amazing read. Absolutely amazing. If you want a taste of Daniel’s writing talent, search for Burn and read it.

Burn-ebook-220x300

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/259466<<<<<< Smashwords link for Burn (hint, hint).

Though he has written several full-length novels, Orison is his first for publication. I’m only briefly familiar with Orison. However, when I read today’s blog post on Surly Muse, I decided I WILL BE READING THIS BOOK! His blog post explains why he gender-flipped his protagonist, from a competent white man into a competent brown-skinned woman. Not a sexualized woman who needs rescue… one who can survive on her own merits without sexualization or a need for a hero.

Orison

http://surlymuse.com/why-i-gender-flipped-my-protagonist/ – <<<<<< Surly Muse, Daniel Swenson’s writing blog!

This sums up how he feels about women as protagonists…

“I didn’t like that my only female characters were basically love interests. That’s precisely the kind of thing I don’t like in the fiction I consume, so why was I writing it? I realized my fiction was pulling stunts I occasionally tended to razz other authors for: lingering on the female’s clothes, putting them in situations the male character’s wouldn’t be in, adding sexualized nuances that the male characters didn’t have.

“I’d see stuff like this in other people’s fiction and think, why don’t writers just treat the female characters with the same set of dramatic standards? Why can’t we have a female character who doesn’t have to be captured or rescued by a man, whose life doesn’t center on her romantic interest in a male? How about some damn variety?

“And then it hit me. I could stop griping and just put my money where my mouth was. If I wanted to make a female character who didn’t get marginalized for being female, why not just make my protagonist female?”

And this…

“I don’t for one instant consider Orison to be some sort of Important Feminist Work; it most emphatically is not. It’s just a good fantasy yarn, which happens to have a female protagonist who doesn’t get by on her bare midriff and her sexuality. And if that makes my novel out of the ordinary somehow, well, all I can say is, it shouldn’t. I think it should be both common and unremarkable.”

Here I’m speaking to anyone who likes to see women as more than a set of boobs, who enjoys watching a woman actually take care of business, or is a woman who actually takes care of business!  Check out Daniel’s blog!  If you like what he has to say about why women should be protagonists… because they just should… add the blog to your favorites. Read Burn. Then keep an eye out, so you know when Orison is available.  I know I will.