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.

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This election has had me thinking a lot about feminism. We didn’t just have an almost woman candidate for Presidency, but now we have a VP nominee as well (though, I can’t say they are a thing alike). When it comes down to it, they both wear skirts and power suits, though reportedly one is much more fashion conscious.

Okay, that’s not exactly what I’m writing about. No, I’m writing about something that really has nothing to do with the political sphere, other than it’s on the subject of women. But not women politicians–rather, women writers.

I’m blessed beyond belief to be a woman and a writer in this century. I think about the difficulties that women writers who came before me had to cope with, including and not limited to horrifying sexism, inadequate education, and social restrictions. That’s not to mention that many women writers had to work their crafts in the dark, having no one to look up to or reach out to for support.

But now I live in a networked world, where other writers are just a click away. There are dozens of women writers that I look up to, that have shaped the way I write and create worlds. I never felt, growing up, that my dream of writing was any less attainable because of my gender. And, thankfully, my supportive parents always instilled a belief that, if I worked hard enough at something, eventually I could do whatever I wanted.

Though it’s not to say it still isn’t difficult. I am often told, “just write a romance novel!” or “write as a guy, you’ll get published”. As a science fiction and fantasy writer, I’m in a genre heavily populated by men. There’s no chance in Hades I’ll move from this place, but it doesn’t mean it’s any easier. Sure, I know there are women writers in SF/F out there, but a quick glance at most anthologies and best sellers in the genre will show you that men still make up the bulk of the market. And though there’s been plenty of argument on either side of the fence, women still read a great deal of SF/F.

I think the crux of the argument is that there’s a tension between traditional/popular SF/F and feminism. Though I don’t think I can be called a feminist in the truest sense, I’ll never parade my characters around in chain mail bras. But it’s unfortunate that it’s what sells the books. As much as I’m enjoying playing 4th Ed. D&D I cringe whenever I see the drawings of female characters. I mean, really, do the Dragonborn have boobs? They’re frigging lizards.

Unfortunately I don’t think the popularity of that sort of writing will wane. People pick up the scantily clad ladies for the same reason they pick up romance novels–sex sells, end stop. While I’ve nothing wrong with a good shagging scene every now and again, it’s got to be there to mean something, to me. You cheapen writing by using too much sex. I’m sure there are people who will argue with me, but that’s just my stance.

So what’s to do? I think we, as women writers, ought to raise the bar even higher. Maybe that’s not fair for us, but here’s my thinking: if we write as expected, it doesn’t do anything, doesn’t prove anything. It only reiterates what people already think of as “female fantasy writing”. And it’s not to say to write like a man, either. Write from your heart, write from your being. Write what matters to you, be it the epitome of feminist fantasy or not. Whatever it is, just write! There are some amazing women writers out there right now doing exactly what I’m talking about, people like Cherie Priest and Elizabeth Bear, who do jaw-droppingly incredible work. The work is just… wow.

What I’m saying is that we, as women writers, ought not back down. We need to be confident, strong, and assertive. More than anything we need to believe in ourselves. That’s probably the thing I see most often, in women of all walks of life in this society. We don’t think we’re good enough. But we are. We’re more than good enough… with the right drive, and the right vision, we’re positively magical.

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!