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mae cooks
I know it has been a while since I started waggling my arms around yelling 'Ladies in books! Let us SPEAK of them!' but today that time has rolled around again.

I am afraid I am also going to have to talk about my own book a lot, with spoilers! Which is not to say that I think I am the One True Feminist Icon for this age (sadly, far from it) or that my book is without any of the unconscious weird things that end up in everyone's books. But, I can speak for my own feelings in a way I cannot speak for anyone else's. As I have not yet been dipped in toxic waste and gained the power to read minds.

Also a lot of the responses to girls in my book has made me think more about the responses to fictional girls in general. So I find them a good starting place.

I would also like to say that I love young adult books. It is my genre, and I will be discussing it! (Though not exclusively.) It is awesome that it's a girl-dominated genre, too. It's unusual to have a boy narrator in YA.

There are still all sorts of problems with them. There is the problem that a lot of said girls are concerned with their dreamy boyfriends and nothing else. (Which is indeed a problem: as someone who definitely lost a ton of readers by writing about a family drama with some romance rather than a romance, believe me I know.)

If someone said, Sarah, I am in the mood for some fabulous lady-centred books! I could not recommend my own. I would say, Come back in a few years, I hope to have something for you then! In the meantime, take Margaret Mahy's The Changeover, Diana Wynne Jones's The Time of the Ghost, Justine Larbalestier's How To Ditch Your Fairy, Karen Healey's upcoming Guardian of the Dead, Saundra Mitchell's Shadowed Summer, Malinda Lo's Ash, Holly Black's Valiant and Alaya Johnson's upcoming Moonshine and you know, get down with your bad self. They are all extremely good. They are also books I'd classify as lady-centred (a girl's point of view, who cares about a lot more than her boyfriend and has issues unrelated to him, and girl side-characters as well).

Now, sometimes books have ensemble casts full of boys and also girls, and sometimes they are likewise awesome. Like Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix, which are alike in that both have a great heroine whose relationships with boys gets the most page time, but who also have several important ties to girls and aforementioned great heroine.

And then there are books who are boy-centred. I would count the Demon's Lexicon trilogy among them - for me it does expand into an ensemble cast and the second and third books are from a girl's point of view, but since the running thread of the trilogy is about Two Brothers and Their Relationship, and the majority of the main characters are boys, I think we shall leave it there.

However this does not mean that boy-centred books do not have to have girls in them who are important, because no books in the world should be dismissing half the world. (Just like the girl-focused books I mentioned above have many excellent guys in them. ) Since that is gross and insulting and also means the books are not as good as they could be, which is a shame. We should be able to read anything and not have it contain insulting terrible things, but since such is not yet the case: without further ado here are some boy-centred books which I think also have good treatment of ladies.

Naomi Novik's Temeraire series is a boy-centred book: the two main leads are boys. (One is a fine gentleman in a cravat. One is a dragon.) She's obviously thought about women in it, though: carved them out a place in the dragon corps very specifically, has an awesome scarred officer lady, a plucky girl trainee, a naive young captain lady, and a girl who lives in normal Napoleonic-era English society and has to make her own decisions based on the life she is confined by, independent of her feelings for a guy.

Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series, starring Miles Vorkosigan, lunatic accidental leader of a mercenary team in space. Which at first consists mostly of dudes, and Miles's strongest emotional tie seems to be to his killer bodyguard and his killer daddy issues. But he does have a childhood friend turned fellow mercenary, and the most awesome mother of all time. About whom there are prequels. And women crop up more, and more. Being people. Refusing to marry Miles all over the place! And once, proposing to him.

L.K. Madigan's Flash Burnout is a boy's point of view, with a strong boy friendship - which is also about being wanted by two girls. A nice situation in theory, but very complicated given that girls are individuals, and have needs and problems our teenage narrator doesn't fully understand. It doesn't work out well for any of them: they all emerge with dignity.

Holly Black's White Cat, which has a boy narrator and is deeply concerned with his relationship with his two criminal brothers, but which also has an extraordinary heroine, a fascinatingly terrible mother, and all the ladies have agency and quite obviously lives independent of guys. I can say no more because! It is not out until May.

As you can see I think all these books are awesome too. (I also think said books are awesome because sometimes readers will gravitate towards boy-centred books, perhaps because they have issues about girl-centred books, and then the girls being cool in that series will make them more receptive to other books in which there are ensemble casts or girl-centricness.)

So I already have two essays about girls in books, and our responses to same: Ladies, Please! and Ladies, Please Carry On Being Awesome. If you have not read them, do so, for they contain many of my points! Reasons why girls are awesome, and reasons why people might be biased against them.

After examining how boy-centred narratives are much more awesome for having girls in them, I also have some stuff to say about the excuses people make for why they don't like the girls or how the girls are not awesome. (Yes, sometimes these excuses are known as 'reasons.' But I see them so often, I begin to think of them as 'excuses.')

I Add A Disclaimer Here: Not liking some girl characters, including one or all of those written by me, does not mean people are prejudiced! Some people (for instance) don't like Mae, some don't like Jamie, some don't like Nick, and so on. Dislike away! But I still do feel that these reasons are used often enough that they're worth examining.

1) One of the very strangest to me is 'Maybe the writers do not like their girls as much as they like their boys?' I just don't believe many writers feel that way. I love mine. There has never been an instant of time in which I did not love them as much as the boys, and now since reading the responses people use about all female characters, and which they naturally use about mine too? She's too perfect/kind of a ho/just not as well-written/not necessary to have her there at all/too awesome for me to relate to/maybe the writers don't like them as much/she should be more 'something'/girl characters are constrained by the writer existing in a sexist society/not as well-developed as men. Well, in a protective fury, there are moments I love the girls much more now. But from the start, as much. Of course, as much. It would be bizarre not to! Most writers write their character because they love them. So thinking about why said writers love them might help other people love them too!

2) She's Too Perfect. I see people say this while talking about how they also don't like the girl's flaws! Demon's Lexicon exampleCollapse )

3) She's kind of a ho. Everyone gets to make out with whoever they want, people. Unless they have made a prior commitment to someone else, it is only their own business! Also, make sure you hold up guys to the same standard of morality.

Also: girls should be judged by their romantic relationships to dudes alone! Really, now?

4) Not as well written. This is a judgement call I cannot make for people. I can only put up my hand and say, same amount of effort put into writing each character. I presume this is a general-writer-thing rather than a Just-Crazy-Me-Then thing, unlike the fact I survive on thirteen cups of tea a day.

5) Girls Are Not Important to the Plot: I have heard this said about Mae, that Demon's Lexicon could have been done without her. It is not true. She is the instigator of the entire plot. (She is not the protagonist, however. I've heard that, too, that she's the main character and the book is about everyone wanting to date her. I... don't know what to say about that!)

Further Details, Spoilers for Demon's LexiconCollapse )

6) Too Awesome For Me To Relate To: Honestly this just makes me want to cry. Girls are awesome, often! Boys are awesome, often! I don't actually often relate to characters, so I may be missing the boat on this one, but most days I can look at myself and think 'room for improvement, but not at all bad.'

Even today, when I am writing a blog post instead of going to the bank. While wearing, I will conceal nothing from you blog readers, a pink ruffled dressing gown. Very girly. And awesome: it's fuzzy. (And my six-foot-four weights fiend brother bought it for me, because he thought it was awesome.) You are probably awesome, girl reader! You can relate to the awesome all you like. And you are probably awesome, boy reader! (I know my brother is.)

7) She should be more kickass/patient/understanding/strong. All perfectly relevant criticisms! But, I see them levelled at girls more to the extent where what I hear is 'like a boy.'

8) The Sexism, it Exists! We are all undone, undone!

There is a feeling that because sexism exists, writers are hampered in their writing of women, and therefore said female characters are necessarily limited.

Well, I mean, yes. It does exist. We've all noticed.

There are also issues with writing people with disabilities, people of colour, people who are gay. There are even issues with writing straight white guys, because they too live in a world where inequality exists, and this affects them too! All these issues! That's why it is impossible to ever write any characters at all. And so all my writing goes like this 'the void... BLANK PAGES ... the void... BLANK PAGES.' It's very deep.

Oh no, wait.

So - yes, I am confined by my desire not to be sexist. And not to be racist or homophobic! And this applies to all my characters. Not just the girls. Or the gay ones. All of them! Until I write a book set in a strange Everyone Is Equal Utopia, and let us face it, probably that won't work out well. (See George Orwell's Animal Farm, a book about lots of animals trying to live in happy equality on a farm without humans. You can assume it does not end well from the fact it has left me with a life-long distrust of pigs.)

The Terrible Constraints of An Imperfect World: SpoilersCollapse )

9. She's not as well-developed as the boys. Again, this is pretty much a judgement call, though sometimes characters develop Over Time. Further thoughts: SpoilersCollapse )

The summary of all these tangled thoughts is this: all kinds of books can be awesome, and one of the most important factors in their being awesome is to try and write all characters in them as individuals, and with respect.

With that in mind, do think of all the reasons not to like women that are applied to fiction, and every time, do try to think about whether it's a reason or an excuse. Also, name me boy-centred, girl-centred and ensemble cast books where girls are done right!

For my part, I will keep trying too!

Comments

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rabid_fyrefly
Jan. 25th, 2010 11:31 pm (UTC)
I feel as though girls are too candy-coated in todays YA genre. I'm 22, and I love to read young adult, but I'm starving to find more characters like Mae! For exaple in The Mortal Instruments, Clary talks back, has her own independant thought process, and doesn't always do what's expected.

(It might just be my mindset and the fact I've had terrible experinces with relationships.)I think teenage girls need to be more confident and understand that what other people say isn't always worth listening to. Like Elizabeth from Pride and prejudice. She was a little rebel for her era. (And reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies made me love her all the more!)

This is why I love Mae so much! She's got personality, unlike lets say (I'm going there) Bella from Twillight. Bella has no gumption!
lady_moriel
Jan. 26th, 2010 07:31 am (UTC)
Bella has no hobbies, that's honestly the thing about her that bothers me the most. Her life pretty much becomes All About Edward from the second she lays eyes on him, and even before that there isn't much that defines her aside from liking Phoenix and not liking Forks and OH THERE IS THAT WEIRD CULLEN KID, HE IS SO BEAUTIFUL. New Moon's where it becomes the most painfully obvious, of course, when she decides that her story has ended because Edward left her, because her whole life is about him, but she doesn't even have anything to distract herself--she goes to school, she does her homework, she cooks for Charlie, and she mopes about Edward. But even in Twilight, like when she was waiting in that hotel room with Alice and Jasper for, I don't know, a couple days or something? They were cool with chilling and being zen or whatever, but she pretty much fidgeted the whole time, to which I would have to say, please girl, you call yourself a bookworm and you didn't bring something to read? If she really hadn't had time, she could at least watch TV (but no, she has very little interest in TV and none at all after Edward leaves because any TV reminds her of him) or read the Gideon Bible or something.

*cough* Um, yeah, I have Issues with Bella. >_< And that doesn't even touch Edward's genuinely abusive behavior...
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malreaddoald
Jan. 2nd, 2011 04:55 pm (UTC)
You're the only one.
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zhilbar
Jan. 26th, 2010 12:50 am (UTC)
Maybe it has to do with her being the relatively sane one.
alioli
Jan. 26th, 2010 01:07 am (UTC)
See, I don't have lots of double standards, I think (I just cannot understand the 'she's a ho!' thing), but I sometimes have issues with too perfect females as opposed to too perfect males (which are uninteresting to me, but don't enrage me as much). My problem is that I often feel some didacticism in the way some female characters are insistently shown as AWESOME. I'm not the epitome of the modern woman: strong, independent, confident. And yet, I don't think I am entirely awesomeless. Sometimes, and because AWESOME LADY usually means these things nowadays (it's a matter of the current female models, I guess), I feel like I'm being indoctrinated.

Don't get me wrong, I do love a confident independent lady (Katniss, Chloe Saunders, Elizabeth Bennet if it comes to that!) and I'm superglad they exist in literature -they are necessary and fun- but I get annoyed if the narrative makes a point of it, I'd like to come to that conclusion on my own, you know? NO FIREWORKS NEEDED, MR AUTHOR. I also like an awesome character better if the very traits that makes them awesome have a bad side that gets them into trouble, because that's how personalities are IRL (I think you do this very well with Mae, BTW, I like how stubborn she is, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.)

I guess that what I'm trying to say is that:

a)Personally, I hate detecting didacticism in books (not only about women, but just about anything. I know issues should be addressed, even more so in YA literature, but I'd like this kind of thing to be cleverly disguised whitin the plot) and

b)I DO NOT think that there should be fewer strong independent women in literature, but I wish there was a wider variety of ways a lady can be considered awesome nowadays. Sometimes I feel like I'm being a bad feminist because I'm shy and quiet. I know that's a personal issue of mine, but I think it's a pity we embrace these canons. After all, feminism is all about having the freedom to be YOURSELF, right? For instance, I think Anne Elliot is AWESOME in capital letters and I'm not sure how the modern public would react to her.

P.S. Just so you know, I LOVE that scene on the boat! They are both being awesome there: Nick with the not being afraid of taking 'the girl's place' and Mae with the SHAMELESS FLIRTING. :D I ship them because I find it kind of endearing that they're so cocky and because their love would be full of delicious flirting and playfulness. I think shared goofiness is the sexiest thing there is. I'm weird like that. :)
alioli
Jan. 26th, 2010 01:25 am (UTC)
Oh, by the way, I just started watching The Vampire Diaries and I was pleasantly surprised with Elena! Isn't she great? She's very no-nonsense in a smart, logical, non-aggresive way that I'm loving! Plus, her friend the witch is a really lovely character as well, I'm glad that she's not your typical wacky best-friend-of-the-main-lead.

The boys are a little annoying, though. So far I'm rooting for her ex. :D
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evelynlela
Jan. 26th, 2010 01:45 am (UTC)
So I used to have an issue with the really awesome girls, because most people are so totally insecure, myself included that I couldn't relate and I couldn't see them wanting to be my friend.
Now I'm friends with many excellent ladies and I've realized that having a lot of interested guys is more because guys are into girls than that she is someone too perfect and unreal.
Anyhow while these girl characters can still scare me because I'm not good at rejection I've come to see that they are realistic one of the common -but real rather than the charmingly clumsy thing- flaws of such girls is that they seldom tolerate certain groups of people. Different for each girl -like Sin and Mae- but sometimes it includes the insecure, or those who lack their skills. It's fair enough on occasion as Nick thought Sin's was the people are rejected because they don't have what they want other people do it as well. It just hurts more because they are awesome and you want them to like you. I have to find How to Ditch Your Fairy you've mentioned it before and it sounds wicked.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 26th, 2010 02:20 am (UTC)
Sarah, I loved your book and its characters, but I have to admit I didn't like Mae as much as, say, Alan. I fully agree that your above (very cleverly exressed!) reasons are silly ones to dislike Mae or other female characters for, but since my reasons didn't fall under the umbrella, I thought I'd give you my two cents.

She rubbed me wrong from her first scene, where she checks Nick out after he gets back from disposing of the magician's body. No, checking out boys is not omgyouwhore! to me at all - quite the opposite; had it happened under different circumstances, I would have been all, "Go, girl!"

But her interaction with Nick previously was essentially a fight, with him insulting her. And from my understanding, she didn't appreciate it when it was happening - so half an hour later, when she forgets her anger and gives him the eye - well, it just seemed like she didn't have a ton of self-respect. Now, I understand that our brain/pride does not control who we find hot, but there was no indication that Mae felt uncomfortable for being attracted to a guy who treated her with disdain, you know, all the time.

I'm not suggesting you should be afraid of him or anything. But for a girl with so much pride (like you said, roof), her lack of issue with Nick's treatment of her (he treats everyone except Alan like that, to be fair to him, so it wasn't like he was sexist) is not believable. I know towards the end she tells him off, but that was only in respect to being a pawn between Nick and Alan.

I liked Mae's character outside of her romantic tension with Nick fine - but since the book is from Nick's POV and we see a lot of her relationship with Nick , so it stands out. And since it was introduced in conjunction with Mae herself, I couldn't dissociate her herself from her Nick's potential love interest.

I fully realize not everyone may sure my reservations, and that they're probably not founded on perfect logic. But that was just the way the book and her character came across to me. I like the other female characters in your book, though - Sin, Olivia, Merris.
conspiire
Jan. 26th, 2010 02:30 am (UTC)
Sorry, I forgot to log in there! ...Although, looking back over my comment's typos, I kind of want to unclaim it now...
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clnyboi232
Jan. 26th, 2010 02:32 am (UTC)
I have always considered myself a feminist, doing my best to be as non-prejudiced as possible towards all genders; but your first two essays showed me how terrible of a job I was doing in regards to literature and media in general. Granted, being non-biased and non-prejudiced seems to be a continual learning process for me, having grown up in an extremely religious, traditional home while maintaining friendships with extremely liberal and diverse individuals. I am now happy to say that I've been finding strong female roles to appreciate as of late, and your character, Mae, is one of them. The scene you pointed out while they are on the boat is actually my favorite scene with her in it.

I've always enjoyed your book recommendations, and I do believe I'll try to pick one from among your list to use my amazon gift card on at some point. Currently though, I have just started to attempt to reread your book. I say reread, because I am trying to read it in Japanese. I figured, being in Japan for a year, it would help with my reading and comprehension skills. Plus, it has a kickass cover. However, this also means I now have three separate copies of your book. I have never bought three copies of a book before. I bought a copy in the US last June, and I just bought the Japanese version, only to realize I needed an English reference to help me, so I bought it on Kindle as well. The part I'm most interested in is to see how Yumiko Ban translated Mae. Gender roles defined within language itself interest me.
alias_sqbr
Jan. 26th, 2010 02:53 am (UTC)
I realise it's not about books but just after reading this post I came across this piece of female character algebra :) (Possibly it appeals to me because it combines two of my favourite things)

Actually, a book which combines fantasy, awesome female characters, an ensemble cast AND a female algebraist is "The Privilege of the Sword". There should be more books like that.

(Also I feel I should point out that some of your readers may be neither girls NOR boys)
hamsterwoman
Jan. 26th, 2010 03:30 am (UTC)
Ooh, enthusiastically seconding Privilege of the Sword! Katherine was such a great POV character, but if was extra-wonderful to have such a range of very different, sympathetic female characters.

Also, that's an AMAZING Cheery Littlebottom icon!
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raucousraven
Jan. 26th, 2010 03:30 am (UTC)
in which i do ramble on.
You make a series of cogent, well-written, intelligent points! Also, I would challenge people to read R.A. MacAvoy's Lens of the World series and not have to rethink the whole concept of gender through the first and second books, then rethink it all again in light of the last book. In non-fantasy, I still think the first half of A Girl of the Limberlost could serve as an example of how to write a compelling girl's pov that has nothing to do with thinking about boys at all.

You also show a heartening love for another one of my favourite series of all time, known to some as I Vote Koudelkas For World Domination, or more commonly, Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan Is Categorically Awesome. She just... spindles and mutates the extremely difficult social circumstances of Barrayar in such provocative ways. That extremely trenchant social critique on the uterine replicator she gives her son in Mirror Dance? Was one of the few times I have actually near-choked with glee.

Also, Cordelia totally participates in the ladies on rescue missions trope. And when Ekaterin does that thing she does at the end of Komarr? GLEE, I say. GLEE.
disordered_mess
Jan. 26th, 2010 03:48 am (UTC)
I find it interesting talking with my friends, many of whom are male, the differences in how harshly characters are judged. The men I know tend to do much less hating on the girls than the women. And isn't that distressing? We're our own worst critics. And you just about can't win -- god forbid she be too perfect, because that's not realistic. But a flawed heroine? Well, she's a slut/bitch/harpy/mean/passive/weak... It's intensely frustrating, sometimes, to discuss books with some of the women I know. I can't even imagine how aggravating it has to be from the author's perspective.

As to books with good women... I just recently finished Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn, and I quite liked it. The heroine is far from perfect -- rather melodramatic and naive, and not all that perceptive to start. But I really enjoyed it as a coming of age story, and her decisions were not based on romance, though it is there. She stands on her own two feet, and makes her own mistakes. And the contrast between she and her half-sister was very interesting in the choices they each made and what that says about them. The book wasn't perfect, and there were elements that I wished Shinn had explored further, but I really enjoyed the story. And Corie as a heroine? Loved her.
mlt23
Jan. 26th, 2010 04:32 am (UTC)
I love strong female characters and I especially love strong female characters who don't have to be awesome in traditional male roles. Because as much as I love reading about Tamora Pierce's Kel and all the other heroines who succeed in traditionally male dominated things, it's frustrating that the best way to get respect is to be more manly.* I love Lady Alys in the Vorkosigan series because she is awesome and acknowledged as such by all the awesome male characters like Simon and Gregor and Miles, even though she doesn't participate in the military madness of Barrayar.

*Although hitting someone with a sword is really fun and satisfying. Fencing lessons... :)
godly_nyx
Jan. 26th, 2010 04:48 am (UTC)
I have no idea why everyone is complaining about Mae! I totally loved her in Demon's Lexicon and found her totally fascinating! For me, Mae was really real in the sense that a lot of her problems are a lot like the ones that normal girls have and that we are always complaining to eachother about (well, perhaps without all the magic and demons). But unfortunately, it is quite common for a lot of people to start hating on the female characters which I find kinda sad :(
imagined_away
Jan. 26th, 2010 05:05 am (UTC)
I - I *love* Mae.
I mean she's not my favorite, though I feel having to compete with Alan is just plain unfair. But again then Alan at the very least physically - uh not including the whole limp thing (not that there's anything wrong with that) - is the kind of guy I look for. And he's nerdy.
Which explain my love of Mae entirely. Not that I like homework but I'm rather nerdy too. In different ways, but still nerdy. Awesomely nerdy even.
And she has pink hair! She proves that you can have pink hair and not be some crazy hooligan! I will forever be grateful to you, Sarah, for making a character who dyes her hair crazy colors and is still A DECENT LOVING HUMAN BEING. Sorry. Can you tell it's a sore spot?
In short I think you write awesome, flawed, human, girls. Don't let the haters keep you down!

And your robe sounds *awesome*, I haven't had a robe since I was about five. Your brother also sounds awesome.
insane_duckfish
Jan. 26th, 2010 05:46 am (UTC)
God, I agree with this sooooo much. I would like to point out that I have so much trouble choosing my favourite of your 4 main characters, because I sit here and go "Mae is my favourite because she makes no secret of the fact that she likes books and attractive men!" and then I go "but wait, Jamie is my favourite because he is hilarious and kinda nervous about the whole 'magic and things that will kill you' thing!" but then I'm like "but Mae is my favourite because she's not so nervous about magic and things that will kill you, and sometimes that's awesome and sometimes it gets her into trouble!" and then I'm like "But wait, Alan and Nick are my favourites too!" The point of which is that I definitely felt Mae was equally as well developed as characters with the same amount of page-time, and I'd like to thank you for Doing It Right with regards to the girls. I don't want to have to deliberately find girl-centric books to enjoy awesome female characters - I want to be able to read awesome books that have awesome female characters.

Also, thank you for all of these recs, I will be checking them all out immediately. Many of them were already on my 'to read' list, but many of them I hadn't heard of, too. Also, uh, just so you know - my girlfriend has been trying to get me to read Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series for over a year, and I saw your rec of it and thought it sounded totally awesome, and then realised "oh hang on, that's that book I'm meant to read. Maybe I should get on that...." XD
insane_duckfish
Jan. 26th, 2010 05:53 am (UTC)
Oh, and to add my own rec for awesome books with awesome women? I'd have to say The Orphan's Tales series by Catherynne M. Valente - it's not strictly female-centric in that there is a huge ensemble cast, but many of them (more than 50%. Probably more than 70%, although I haven't exactly counted) are female and get to be awesome in lots of different ways and they all get to be real people and I love these books so much. I want to make everyone read them immediately.
themadpoker
Jan. 27th, 2010 12:10 am (UTC)
I'd like to second this! The Orphan's Tales are absolutely fantastic: two of my top picks from the books I read last year.
lady_moriel
Jan. 26th, 2010 07:19 am (UTC)
There are some really awesome girls in Emma Bull's War for the Oaks--well, I guess I'm only thinking of two, but still, they are awesome and they have the best bantering, love-expressed-through-insults friendship ever. There are awesome guys, also, including one who isn't actually a human (actually...I take that back; most of the awesome guys aren't human), and generally they are all awesome together. And I think the girl narrator of Robin McKinley's Sunshine is pretty awesome too. She works in a bakery and makes things like Bitter Chocolate Death! Also she accidentally ends up fighting vampires.

I suppose part of the problem happens when the girl--or whoever, really--isn't the main character, because inevitably readers won't get to know the non-main character quite as well. And then of course the other problem happens when there are girl characters who are supposed to be awesome but actually are honest-to-God Mary Sues, and they give all the genuinely awesome girls a really bad name...and given that the crap-to-quality ratio in fiction probably holds true no matter what area we're talking about, I suspect there's a fairly high Mary-Sue-to-well-developed-girl-character ratio too. Which is also probably true with the guys, only...nothing stands out to me at the moment and I'm not sure why. Poorly written female characters seem to end up being more memorable than poorly written male characters, for some reason. (Well. Eragon was terrible. And Edward and Bella are both badly written. Otherwise, mostly drawing a blank, though this could be because I like good fiction, period.)

I seem to run into problems with this in my own writing when the character--guy or girl, but since for some reason my protags are mostly guys, the secondary characters in question tend to be girls--doesn't have the POV and thus ends up getting developed less fully, somehow. This is even more a problem when the characters in question are in an SF story when I haven't completely figured out quite how things people might be and like and do today, in ways that characterize them as characters, should translate into a higher-tech society that is probably not going to have the same entertainments and careers and blah blah. Which probably means I should a) spend more time world-building and b) stick in real-world analogues until I figure out something better. Or something, I dunno.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 26th, 2010 08:40 am (UTC)
esther
"the running thread of the trilogy is about Two Brothers and Their Relationship"

this quote ensures that i will be purchasing the other books in the trilogy and reading, possibly repeatedly, and certainly obsessively XD
sleepinbeast
Jan. 26th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
Christopher Moore generelly writes good female characters, I think, both as protagonists ("Bloodsucking Fiends") and as secondary characters (see Mary Magdalene in "Lamb").

"Gone with the Wind" has EXCELLENT ladies (and gentlemen) of various kinds!

"Anna Karenina" also has well fleshed out characters of both sexes, with at least two of the protagonists being female (Anna and Kitty).

Pratchett writes some wonderful women; I really like Agnes Nitt and Cheery Littlebottom, for example. And Maladict is soooooooooooooo cool.

Sorry, not much YA, since I don't read that as much. But other genres have awesome characters too!


As for Mae, I didn't really get a like/dislike relationship to her, but the same is true for Jamie. Probably because I was busy mentally staring at Nick and going "WANT HAVE" (first round) or underlining all the bits of foreshadowing (second time round). But I liked the chapter of TDC you posted and am really looking forward to getting into Mae's head.

Your essay is relevant to life outside books – specifically, I notice how professors get judged more harshly if they are female. I also remember a short report in Germany's feminist magazine Emma about a US professor who changed her sex (female to male) and later had to overhear people talk about how Professor X was so much better than his sister used to be. Hm.
sleepinbeast
Jan. 26th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
Ugh. Spelling mistakes, I makes them. Then I forget to proof read. Sorry. :-/
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narcissa_malfoy
Jan. 26th, 2010 09:44 pm (UTC)
That was one of my favourite scenes. I actually think about it often, and it always brings a smile to my face :)
lady_moriel
Jan. 26th, 2010 10:49 pm (UTC)
Also, I liked Mae fine, especially since our introduction to her was her not flinching away from Nick's giant sword, but I suppose she was a little overshadowed to me or something--I loved Jamie because he was hilarious, and Nick because he was sarcastic and badass and somehow both unsympathetic and likable, and Alan because he was awesome. Mae started out well but did come off, after that, as if she was just dabbling in occult stuff for a thrill and didn't have any idea what she was talking about, although that got better once it became clear to her that she was getting into scary real stuff. But I expect I'll fall in love with her more once she's the POV character, and I did love how straightforward and protective she was.
essie007
Jan. 27th, 2010 12:33 am (UTC)
Every book written by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Some are girl-centered, some are boy-centered, but all of them contain well-rounded female characters, and a respect for women. On a side note, she's a YA author, and one of my favorite all time authors and I highly reccomend everything she's ever written.
_tigerfish_
Jan. 27th, 2010 12:46 am (UTC)
Long-ish ramble
First of all, kudos for these excellent and thoughtful essays on fabulous ladies in fiction! Jumping into the discussion:

I have to confess that Mae did not rock by boat as much as the rest of the cast in DL. I kept feeling slightly resentful towards her, although there were moments that I genuinely liked. She had some awesome, awesome lines ("Thank you - I grew them myself" is one of my all-time favourites) and I loved the sibling-relationship with Jamie, which reminded me of my own horde of younger brothers. It was ever so puzzling because I like your other female characters. Very much, actually. I adored Olivia right from the start, even before you gave us the delicious bitter chocolate cake that is The Arundel Tomb. Marie! Olivia! Marie and Olivia! *swoons* Awesome, awesome sauce, indeed.

So, I have this theorie. Perhaps Mae and moi did not hit it off because Nick was the narrator, skewing my perception of her? Since, honestly, I appreciated her awesomeness so much more in the first chapter of Demon's Convenant. In DL Nick tried very hard not to like her and she posed a very real threat to him (and his brother). *shrugs* I don't know, perhaps I was picking up this vibe? Jamie is easier to like, Nick did not think much of him, so we got a blank sheet. Add some witty banter, stir and you've got another Jamie fan. Mae on the other hand is forever pushing and shoving, she's reckless, romatic, fiercly protective, stubborn and very much her own person. I know all these things on a rational level, but could not quite warm up to her, looking through Nick's eyes.

Verdict: I am really looking forward to book #2 and more Mae (and from her point of view, too). In the words of Emperor Gregor: Let's see what happens...
(Anonymous)
Jan. 27th, 2010 02:01 am (UTC)
(Conversely, as I've said before, if I'd written Nick as Nicola - someone very strong, someone who didn't attach much emotion to hooking up, someone who wasn't in touch with her feelings, well, that would have been great. Until the end when I said 'Ha ha, that girl, the one you don't see enough? Of course she's literally a demon. No human girls are like that, you should have known!' Which would have been gross, and a betrayal of the girls who connected with that character.)

What about boys who connected with Nick? Betrayal? Or different, and if different, why?

Rgds

Zaf
sarahtales
Jan. 27th, 2010 08:59 am (UTC)
Well, like I said, having a boy who was 'things traditionally associated with boys' means that there are a lot more of this type of boy character for boys to connect with. It's not the same, because people haven't been waiting to see the character, and then finding one single lone example, and then having to go - oh.
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nutty_moo
Jan. 27th, 2010 03:56 am (UTC)
I don't think I have a preference on the Male V Female lead issue. I read books of all types. But I need a good mix. Sometimes there isn't enough female interaction in some books. The girl being the heroine a lot of the time spends her life surrounded by males. Which works in some but not in others.

My theory about people's reaction to YA girls is this:
Jealousy. Pure and simple. We want to be them therefore we hate them.

Also sometimes you are not put in the head space with the actions of some characters and that can make them harder to relate too. I know with Mae I found that I didn't want her to kiss Nick. I couldn't understand it. She had Alan. He was all booky with glasses but could fight and be awesome all at the same time. I might be a bit biased though as I love Alan. :)
shachi
Jan. 27th, 2010 06:20 am (UTC)
I will rec before I babble, because I feel it's more constructive that way 'round. ^^; You've already mentioned Bujold and I feel there's probably no real reason to rec Megan Whalen Turner at this point, because someone probably already has. ^^

Midori Snyder's Oran trilogy, if no-one else has said it yet. Fantastic, fantastic flawed and strong women AND men. Who work together! Some of them like each other! Some of them don't! Some of them don't know how! Probably one of the best girl-centred/ensemble series EVER. EVER. And I don't usually say that lightly. ^^

Daniel Hood's Fanuilh series. Male-centred, not many female characters--but the ones that are there, are awesome. I cannot recommend them enough, but if I go into specifics, I could be here forever.

Robert Asprin's Myth series. Male-centred/ensemble. It's a humor fantasy series, but that doesn't mean the women can't be cool too. To which I say, Yes.

After much thinking and stuff, I think the primary reason I wasn't a huge fan of Mae isn't that I felt she was too perfect in general. I did like the "I'ma go climb a roof now kthx" fail, for example. I did feel she didn't get called on her flaws enough, but that is pretty much because I'm a mean person and not because I think she actually *needed* to be called out by another character for the story's sake or, probably, her own.

I think I may have said this before, but it's not that I think that Mae is actually written as too perfect all of the time. Honestly, when I pare it down, the only things I *really* had an issue with were her being a natural at the summoning (Sin I can understand because she was kind of bred to do it, but I felt that, although you do say she likes dancing, Mae being a prodigy at it could have been led up to better, especially considering what counts as dancing to most people her age these days) and Nick's "pure steel" thought/line (because it was at a point in the book where I just felt he didn't really have a reason--because of him more than because of her--to give her such high praise; it was something I didn't feel really meshed with the way his POV had been going up until then).

I didn't particularly *like* her flirting with both brothers, but that's a personal issue rather than an issue with the writing (and it has more to do with the fact that Alan and Nick were raised as brothers rather than the fact that she is flirting with two different boys). Did I like that she did that? No. Can I see a real person doing that? Yes. Do I think it makes her a poorly-written character? No. Is it something that makes it impossible for her to be awesome anyway? No; it's a barrier to me personally, but I'm pretty sure it's not one to everyone, and in any case, she does have her good qualities, and will probably be fascinating when we get a peek into her head. Not that she's not interesting as it is, of course--I just feel she's likely to become much more so.

Similar rationale for other things about Mae I wasn't a particular fan of--except for the two instances mentioned above. Usually, things I didn't like about her were things that I didn't like about her as a person, not as a character, if that makes any sense. These were things that don't make her not awesome and certainly do not make her badly-written—just things I wouldn't like in anyone, boy, girl, fictional or real (for what it's worth, I would totally have Judged a male character who hit on sisters in much the same way. Nick doesn't *really* count on that front, because I feel he teases Jamie more because it scares Jamie than because he wants Sweet Jamie McLovin').

Basically, I do think TDL is awesome, I do think most of the female supporting characters (Merris and Sin) are awesome. I like Olivia a lot more after the short story you posted, but I didn't hate her before--I thought she was a flawed badass, but a really realistically flawed badass, if that makes any sense. Upon rereading, I'm still not Mae's hugest fan, but I don't hate her and am prepared to change my mind about her. She's definitely written realistically and, I think, therein lies the problem. ^_-
shachi
Jan. 27th, 2010 06:48 am (UTC)
Actually, upon further reflection, I think the "other things about Mae I wasn't a particular fan of", etc, more or less boil down to "things that didn't make her into the girl I wish *I* could have been when I was her age". <.< Not necessarily things that I wasn't when I was that age, mind you. Which is slightly to do with me being in my mid-twenties rather than in what's considered the usual YA bracket, and much more so to do with me being fantastically egotistical and enjoying the wish-fulfillment part of reading. 8D So, those bits, probably not the same as actual criticism. ^^
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