Since the birth of my son, I’ve had a very different on perspective on being a woman. The new view came from a purely biological fact: that I survived a pregnancy and (barely) a birth, and brought a new human being into the world. From the moment of conception, the fate of the human race is in our hands. It’s as simple as that.
After childbirth, I felt empowered beyond belief. I never thought I would feel so different, so changed. People thought I was crazy to have a child without pain medication, in this day and age. But for me, it was something I felt was necessary. I wanted to feel connected to the generations of women that came before me, that had their children without modern medication. I felt that going through childbirth in such a manner would literally be a kind of spiritual connection… and I was right. It was even more profound than I can explain to you here.
But you see, it’s gone beyond that. I’ve been going through my writing in the last 28 months, and noticed that, whereas most of my protagonists in previous works were men, nearly every single novel and short story is female-centric. My NaNoWiMo novel, Pilgrim of the Sky is, in fact, what I would even call a feminist novel. Sure, it’s fantasy. Sure, it’s alternate history. But at the heart it’s about what it is to be a woman, what powers we hold, the oldest powers…
Yet in spite of characters like Maddie and Cora, I am careful about writing women. Because, I feel, many so-called feminist characters are, well, masculine women. A woman with a gun, or with the ability to kick lots of ass (not that it isn’t cool, mind you) doesn’t make a feminist. It makes for a good story, and one that likely will be appealing to all genders, but I don’t think it gels with my personal vision of feminism.
I’ve purposely moved Cora’s progression in the AGC very slowly. She’s young, she’s smart, and she’s powerful–but not all at once. Too many fantasy novels begin with a young person realizing their talents right away and going on to do amazing things. But I want to be true to her as a woman, as someone who’s a lot like me, who moved slowly from realization to application. I don’t want to write her as a woman warrior, because she’s not. But she can hold her own in many other ways.
In some ways she’s the hardest to write of the bunch, because she’s seventeen. She can be annoying and emotional, romantic and selfish. I find myself cringing writing some of her chapters because, well, I was all those things, too. And it’s hard to write the ugly side of seventeen. But it’s essential for her, as she grows; I want to present a character as realistically as I can, even if she’s in a made up world. And so far, from what I’ve heard in the way of reactions, it’s working.
Too much SF/F is just… unrealistic. And sure, there’s magic and science, and capabilities we don’t have in this real world. And as scarce as women are in fantasy–especially those who aren’t either debutantes or warrior maidens–I take what I do very seriously. I want the women to be real, capable, and moving without buying into stereotypes or cliches. I’m just sick of it.
Aside from Cora, though, there is Princess Ellinora. And with her, there is even more difficulty. First, she’s a princess, of course. Physically, she’s weak. Emotionally, she’s weak. She’d addicted to vialc, an opiate, and in spite of her marriage of three years, she is still barren. The Queen doesn’t take her seriously, her husband abuses her, and the love of her life is banished from the castle. She is abused physically and mentally… and yet… yet… I find in her a great deal of strength. No, she is not the likeliest of heroines, true. But she is something special, and her journey is a fascinating one.
Lastly, there is Kaythra Bav. If Cora is the maiden, and Ellinora is the mother (at least, hoping to be), then Kaythra is the crone, of sorts. At least, she’s past childbearing. But she is an unusual woman–having risen to power both on her wit and her proximity to the Queen (once her lover). While on her exterior, she is tough-as-nails, inside she’s fragile. She doubts herself constantly, in spite of her perceptions as High Counselor to the Queen. Though she doesn’t figure into the story until the last third of the first book, her presence is felt throughout–she is abducted by Soderon rebels while on a diplomatic mission, and this news riles the Queen and everyone at Hartleigh Castle.
These three women are at the center of the AGC. Not to discredit my boys, they’re important, too. But these women are the ones that drive me to keep writing; their stories are my stories, shared in a way that, even if I tried, would not be likely with the others.
“You really might want to consider honing that sense of humor of yours, you know. If you plan to become Queen, you’ll need to learn how to guard your emotions better. You’re like an open book, Ell,” said Richard. She hated how he called him Ell. Ellinora was too long, granted, but Ellin was just fine as a nickname.
“I can’t help but feel the way I feel,” said Ellin, pulling off her gloves. Her maid, Nella, helped her out of her shrug and put her robe around her shoulders. Davenport, Richard’s butler, had already set out an afternoon snack, but just the smell of it turned Ellin’s stomach. She had no appetite for the rich, garlicky foods Richard so adored. “I wasn’t aware I was being judged so—by my husband, none the less.”
Richard went to the table and waited for Davenport to pour him a cup of tea before turning to Ellin again.
“Well, I am also a member of the court, and I am only advising you. I’m not the only one that finds your demeanor these days a little… disconcerting.”
“Disconcerting?” Ellin asked, shooing Nella away. “What in hells does that mean?”
“Unsettling,” Richard defined.
“I know what the word means!” said Ellin, her voice rising higher. She grit her teeth, willing that she could control her temper; but when it came on it was near impossible to quell. This, Richard knew all too well. “How is it that you are all speaking about me behind my back?”
Richard whispered to Davenport, and the butler excused himself. Lord Darlington smoothed his mustache with his thumb and forefinger, his lips puckered slightly as if it helped him to think. Ellin hated that expression. It made him look like a mole, she thought.
“You practically fell asleep in the middle of the Queen’s briefing today, El,” said Richard, calmly, taking a sip of his tea. He dabbed at his mouth with his kerchief. “You realize if any one of us had done such a thing, we’d likely have been tossed out on our asses. But you are the princess, we must remember that, and therefore you’re afforded luxuries the rest of us are not.”
“Why are you doing this?” Ellin asked, her voice barely a whisper.
“Because you need to know, El. You need to understand you are being watched, measured—”
“I know that. I have been watched every waking moment of my life.” She had started crying, but she couldn’t remember when that had happened.
“Perhaps you should see a physik…”
“No!” cried Ellin. “I don’t want to see a physik and I don’t want to see you—”
But Richard was quick, and had her in his arms before she could make her getaway. She’d been planning a swift exit to her bedroom, she could always lock him out of it. His hands were like vices around her wrists, his breath hot in her ear. She squirmed, but he pulled her closer.
“You will listen to me,” Richard said, shaking her. Straining, Ellin tried to twist out of his grasp, but he only squeezed harder. “I am your husband.”
“You spineless—” she cried, kicking him in the shin, hard. She was wearing pointed-toe boots, the current rage in fashion circles, and the impact was surprising, even to Richard, for he lessened his grip and then slapped Ellin so she stumbled and fell back on the floor.
“Fine, have it your way, you brat,” said Richard, rubbing his shin ruefully. “Go away to your little room. Go on, then. Sing your pretty little songs and draw your silly little pictures. When you decide to start acting like a woman, I’ll be waiting.”