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Friday, November 11, 2011

My Gratitude Journal: Strong Female Characters

Welcome to 11/11/11. I hope you are reading this at 11:11, too. ;-)

In my look this week at strong women in fiction, I've referenced a number of other people's lists of good books and I've mentioned some of the strong real women in my personal past. Today I want to share three of the strong fictional women who have also influenced my writing and my life.

One of the first non-picture books I can remember reading cover to cover was A LANTERN IN HER HAND. This book, by Bess Streeter Aldrich, told the story of a powerful pioneer woman on the American plains, doing much with little. I've admired her my whole life and she is influencing the character Eliza in my current work-in-progress.

As a young mother I laughed and wept with Anjuli, the heroine of THE FAR PAVILIONS. M.M. Kaye's masterpiece is set in Colonial India where any woman's life is severely restricted and Juli's is even moreso, and yet she makes courageous decisions, choosing love and loyalty over the easy way out and simply surviving when many would not.

Despite some of the really stupid decisions she makes in her personal life, I can't help admiring Scarlett O'Hara, the flawed but strong central figure in Margaret Mitchell's class, GONE WITH THE WIND. She also makes some tough right choices and helps others to survive during the grueling years of the American Civil War.

I commend these books and these women to you. May they ever influence my work in healthy, positive ways.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

One Strong Woman

In my work I've often written about strong women. Sometimes they're even physically strong, mentally prepared -- you get the drill. One such example is my very first fictional heroine, Robin.

In BENEATH SIERRA SKIES, my first book now turned e-book, Robin and Brandon are stranded in the high Sierras after the crash of a small plane. In an attempt to get help, Brandon leaves the shelter they've created and takes off. Robin finds him, fallen into a hole, several hours later. Here is their conversation:

“I’m afraid I stumbled upon this little shelter quite by accident a couple of hours ago.”

“You’re hurt.” Fear numbed the pit of her stomach. A serious injury now could mean death for both of them.

“I think I’ve rebroken my collarbone, and maybe a couple of ribs. It hurts to breathe too deeply. I wrenched my knee again, too.”

“Ow.” Robin winced in sympathy, but her sigh was mostly relief at finding him. “You shouldn’t be allowed out without a keeper,” she said as she dug the large bandages out of her purse.

“That’s why I’m so glad to see you. I can’t get out of this hole. I tried for a while before I realized I was stuck. With this shoulder useless and my knee hurt, I’m...well, let’s just say that if you hadn’t come along...”

She shuddered. “But I did come along, didn’t I?” she said, not wanting to think about the alternative. “Here, crawl out of that thing and I’ll see what I can do about that knee. I brought the long bandage for a butterfly wrap, too, and I’ve got your sling.”

Brandon smiled wanly. “It’s a good thing one of us is prepared.”

Okay, I know: This isn't really physical strength. It's her intelligence, her preparedness, her... I get it. But it's also her physical rescue of him that saves them both -- and this is not the only time.

Right now I'm writing more strong heroines -- one an unwilling psychic, one a pioneer -- and I'm giving them their freedom to be as strong as they like.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hordes of Strong Women

Today's view from the blog is going to take you into the world of fictional strong women, or perhaps I should say worlds. Follow me; you'll see what I mean.

Fantasy fiction is full of heroic female characters. Not coincidentally, fantasy fiction written by women leads that pack. For a quick overview, read the descriptions of a few of the books listed on the "Fantastic Females" Booklist. Conquering monsters in unknown worlds is right up there for fantasy fans.

If you are more interested in Young Adult fiction, you need look no farther than Katniss from the recent HUNGER GAMES series, or this list from the Serpentine Library. For strong women in children's book, check out this list from About.com.

No matter how different the worlds they inhabit or the audiences who read them, these women all share some traits with the iconic Western hero: they do the right thing for the right reason, regardless of the challenges, and they defend those who can't defend themselves.

Let's hear it for strong women -- on our bookshelves and in our lives.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Strong Women

First let me send out a shout to my first exposure to strong-but-sensitive men: Happy Birthday, Dad!


Now let's have a look at strong female characters. I heard (haven't been able to confirm) of an interview with Joss Whedon, the producer, director, writer, actor , composer, etc. who has contributed greatly to American pop culture. (Think Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly...) Supposedly the interview went like this:

Q: Why do you write such strong female characters?

A: Because people keep asking that question.

I think that about settles the matter. In my case, I write strong female characters because I've always been surrounded by strong women and because I've tried to be one myself.

My female ancestors crossed plains in wagons, raised large families alone after being widowed, argued for female suffrage, and generally stirred things up. There is evening a somewhat apochryphal tale of a great-grandmother who found a bobcat on her kitchen counter and strangled it to death with her apron strings in defense of her sleeping baby. Wow.

I also write women because, being one, I see better through a woman's eyes, and I make them strong women because women can be heroes too, and often have been throughout world history.

For purposes of my plots, the women don't have to be physically strong. They, like my strong male characters, are willing to do what they fear in the defense of what they believe is right, challenge established belief, and pioneer defend the weak and helpless around them.

A few strong fictional women are currently inhabiting my head. I welcome them.

Monday, November 7, 2011

This Just In!

Who knows what motivates our muses? Certainly not I. If I could write a tell-all on the care and feeding of inspiration that would fit everyone's creative streak, I'd go down in history for my contributions to humankind. I won't write such a book. I don't even comprehend what my own muses are up to.

This past month is a case in point. Here I am, going along about my regular business, working full-time at the day job, trying to keep up with a dozen routine commitments (you know the kind: exercise, learn Italian, study Renaissance Florence for a book I plan to write in the distant future, live) and struggling to make even a moment for writing.

I make the moment, sit down to write and Voila! A blank page -- one that stays blank -- or even worse, one I fill with drivel, erase, and try once more, dribbling drivel again. Blah. Nada. I have one or two chapters on several pieces that are going nowhere, and doing it slowly./p>

Then bam! Out of the blue comes a story and just like that, I'm off and sailing: still working full-time, still exercising, learning Italian, etc., and WRITING, more than 60 pages in less than a week. And it's good! Yeah, okay, I know I can't be the only judge of that, but according to Sondra Perl's "felt sense" (thank you, literary theorists!), it's good. It was born in my head to be good, and thus it is.

This happened to me once before. I had written the first book in my Rainbow Rock Series and was starting work on the second, just thinking to myself about the characters and how the plot might develop when bam! The story popped out of my head like Athena from the brow of Zeus. AT THE RAINBOW'S END was written, edited, and sent off to my publisher in ten days -- and they loved it! They printed it without changing a word, and it is still among my more successful books.

Can lightning strike twice? I'm sure hoping so. Can I rope in my muses and get them to work like this all the time? Not a chance! But I do intend to keep trying.