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.


(Taken from Eliza by way of Joelle Anthony.)

Calamity Jane
Ten things Sally Din wants

1.) Her own way. Though this particular facet to her personality, in her youth, made her appear selfish and rather stubborn, it’s proved helpful as she’s aged. She likes to think of it as tenacity. Being a woman, she’s got to prove herself daily to her men (or so she feels) and this unwavering sense of what needs to be done is central to that success.

2.) Sir Renmen. Sally has known Lee Renmen for the last twenty years; though he’s about a decade her junior, the two have had a long, sometimes perilous relationship. Since they are both knights, neither can marry; Din has been proven sterile (though there is some argument as to whether or not this is, in actuality, true). Renmen is a knight and a priest, and Din is notoriously neutral to religion (“If it works, fine. But I’m not holding my breath.”)  As of the time of The Aldersgate they are in a rocky period, and, as any of the Knights of the Asp would tell you, that doesn’t make Sally fun to be around.

3.) Recognition. Though she’s humble on the outside in many ways, always giving good spoils to her knights and praising their good work, Sally likes nothing better than to see her name in print. Except, that is, when she’s being accused of slaughtering 300 innocent townsfolk.

4.) To be obeyed. As the Captain of the Asp, Din does not like to be crossed. Her favorite method to get folks to pay attention and obey her when they’re not is a round of public humilation. Nothing like being screamed at and called a “leech” in front of thirty-odd knights and pages.

5.) To survive. Sally is as tough as the Territories that created her and sharp as a whip. If it comes down to survival, she knows how to do it and to do it right. At all costs, she could survive in the wilderness, if needs be, most likely undetected, for years. She’d had to do it before, and she could do it again.

6.) To see her pages succeed. It’s been a tough go the last few months for the Order of the Asp; they’ve lost two of their men, including Sir Gawen’s–the most famed knight of the bunch–page. As such, Sally’s felt a bit of a failure; losing men is never a matter she takes lightly. Her newest recruits, a blacksmith’s kid named Brick and a skinny oddball named Mesmer. She realizes she might be a little tougher on them than she’s been on previous pages, but she does it to make them stronger.

7.) To turn a profit. It’s not to say the the Order of the Asp isn’t innocent of all charges against them. Retrieving wares from smugglers and from thieves is a sticky business, and the crown doesn’t exactly pay the best wages. So, in order to keep her knights happy and to keep them well provided for, she is known for augmenting the retrieval lists after a run in her favor.

8.) To get revenge. Over the years, Sally’s accumulated a rather lengthy list of people she’d like to seek out revenge upon. Whether or not this revenge comes in the way of physical, mental, or financial injury is dependent upon the original crime. But members in this list include people as high up as Queen Maelys herself, to a barkeep who once made a comment about her rear end.

9.) Guns. If there’s one thing she loves more than Lee Renmen, it’s her own steel. She’s ever in the quest for better, more accurate guns, and owns close to a half dozen herself.

10.) To kill. There’s a thrill about it, to Sally, something dark and forbidden. The first time it happened she was horrified at the excitement that had run through her, the knowledge that she’d held a man’s life in her hands and extinguished it. The man had deserved it, but whether the 40 or 50 odd souls she’s taken in her time on the earth have, she can’t say. “Justice depends on how you look at it,” she’d say. “So it depends whose orders I was following at the time.”

The Valkyrie\'s VigilYes, I realize my post title looks a little like a thesis topic (save for the Talking Heads reference, hah!). And although I will be the first to dispel the often nebulous and detrimental highways and byways of literary criticism, I can’t be completely free of it.

But to the point. I am a woman, and a writer. And by and large, a lover of fantasy, science-fiction, steampunk, and a great many other genres and subgenres. Fantasy comes first, and always has, by way of Tolkien, Lewis, and L’Engle, with whom I attribute to saving my sanity as a child and, in many ways, showing me what I need to do with my life.

But I can’t help but feel altogether disappointed, most of the time, when it comes to women in fantasy. I think my first big disappointment came from Tolkien, really. Certainly, there is Eowyn; and Arwen and Galadriel wield their own powers well. But as far as the main characters in the story are concerned, there are no women–not in the fellowship, not from the Shire. Eowyn, the only woman that takes up a sword and fights has to disguise herself as a man to get any respect at all, and in the end, quietly marries and has done with it.

This “warrior-princess” role has been adopted as one of the main archetypes in fantasy fiction in the years after Tolkien, with its own adaptations. You can’t peruse the shelves at your local bookstore without the busty, iron-clad, berserker-haired shield maidens with less skin coverage than a garden-variety stripper. Oh, she’s sexy (if you’re into… that, I guess) and savvy, and she’ll fight as well as any man. But more than anything, she sells the books.

No, I don’t have a problem with women fighting. I also understand that the bias regarding women as warriors stems from age-old legends and myths; these are stories in which “men are men, and women are women” to put it to the old cliche. And that’s fine. But by and large, the sexist view of women as trollops is only bound to discredit fantasy as a genre even further.

What bothers me about women in fantasy is the tendency for authors to simply stop asking the hard questions. Women are very different than men; we face different issues growing up, and we even think differently (recent science has done some fascinating research into this area). For this reason women in fantasy tend to fall into the Arthurian dichotomy–either you’re like Morgan le Fay: an adulterous, evil-minded, conniving crazy woman, or you’re like Elaine: fragile and honorable, but damaged and idealistic. Of course, there are plenty of shades in between. I haven’t read everything, and I doubt I’ll get the chance to before I die–but you get my point.

This is all quite dangerous territory. And I don’t suppose I have a concrete answer; really, it’s a comment. I want more. I want more from heroines than dressing up as men and fighting; I want more of the conflicts and difficulties it takes being a woman; I want more writers to play with our heads, challenge our concepts about gender and sexuality. It seems in the realm of fantasy fiction that the possibilities would be endless! And yet, so much fantasy writing simply chases its tail around, being “familiar” and “expected” and, ahem, boring.

But, I guess chain mail bikinis sell books, right? And that’s what publishers want. So maybe if I ever want to get myself published I have to compromise a bit.

No, no. That won’t do. That won’t do at all!