Published Article: Females in Fantasy

A while back I posted about the absence of females in fantasy fiction, an ongoing debate, which provoked quite a heated discussion recently at Tara Moss’s The Book Post. The comments there are something to behold and worthy of a read.

In any case, I reworked my original post and submitted it to Lip, a magazine for girls who “think, feel, create, speak out and live. Girls who aren’t afraid to be themselves.”

As luck would have it, they accepted my submission and this week published my article on their website. Hoorah!

If you’d like to have a read, it’s at: http://lipmag.com/arts/books-arts/heroes-and-heroines-females-in-fantasy/

~storytelling nomad~

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Books, Birthdays and Best Friends

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 22

Book you plan to read next

And with another extended absence I offer my sincerest apologies and propose we turn a blind eye to my blogging indiscretions and continue with the 30 Day Book Challenge.

Agreed?

You rock!

So, onto the book I plan to read next.  I have a few sitting on my shelf and am as yet undecided which I will read next, but there is one amongst them that I’d like to mention: La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales.  A memoir/travel book recounting the author’s “love affair with Italy and the most enchanting language in the world”, I think it’s highly probable that I’m going to enjoy it.  Why?  For four main reasons:

  1. I love Italy
  2. I love Italian
  3. I love travel literature
  4. I love the person who gave it to me

Yep, that’s a pretty good indication that I’m going to like it.  Point number 4 is particularly important.  You see, on Saturday it was my birthday.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ME!

Okay, I’m done.  As I was saying, on Saturday it was my birthday, and herein lies part of the reason for my blogging absence.  To celebrate the big two six, I decided to spend the weekend in the beautiful city of Melbourne and catch up with two of my very good friends, both who I’ve known since High School.  On the night of my birthday the girls took me out to an amazing Italian restaurant in Carlton, where I ate far too much and happily indulged in the magnificent company.

One of these lovely ladies is named Priscilla.  She’s not the queen of the desert, but she is many extraordinary things: a talented music therapist in the making; a fellow Buffy enthusiast; a devoted chicken connoisseur (the girl loves her chicken);  but first and foremost she is one of my best friends in the whole world.  The whole world, I tell you!  I can safely say she has been for quite some time in the top three when it comes to those who have supported and encouraged my writing, and I love her very much for it and am so grateful to have her as a friend.

As it turns out, she always knows, as often only best friends do, just what to get me on my birthday.  This year she gifted me the aforementioned book, with the following inscribed message:

Best Friend Love

Thank you Priscilla.  I’m sure I’ll love it, and even if the book isn’t inspiring, you my friend, are.

~storytelling nomad~

Busy being a nerd

Gone Fishing.  Not really.  But had I an office door of some description, that is the sign I’d have liked to have had hanging off it, just because that’s what all the cool kids seem to do these days, you know?

But I digress.

I have been absent from the blogosphere my pretties.  How many times have I set my eyes upon those blogs apologising for their absence, listing their feeble reasons for their lack of posts, cowering on their knees, praying for mercy as they beg forgiveness? Many a time have I witnessed such a sad state of affairs and scoffed at their insolence.  “Shame on you!” I have shouted with a lofty arrogance!  And yet today, my friends, followers, minions…today I yield myself as one of those sad, unworthy bloggers.  OH THE SHAME!

Before I ask of you your compassion, your mercy, your humanity, I must first follow suit and list three reasons for my unexpected leave:

  1. Work – At the snow.  You all knew this one, and frankly, with no electricity or reception I had little choice while this was happening.  Therefore, I refuse to apologise for this you evil fiends!
  2. Supanova – Ohhhh this is where it gets interesting and I start to weep with joy at the memory of my recent trip to Sydney where I joined my fellow nerds at the annual fantasy/sci fi convention.  More about this below.
  3. The Plague – Well that’s what it feels like okay?! Apparently it’s just ye ol influenza, but if the black death gets me don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Also, it has rendered me incapable of blogging, eating chocolate, being anything other than horizontal, and has brought on a severe need of Buffy reruns (potentially also due to aforementioned Supanova trip.  Unconfirmed).

So, as you can see, the past week and a half has had moments of pleasure and pain, joy and sadness, heaven and hell…but mostly, just a lot of no blogging.  Please accept my sincerest apologies.  Are we done?  Good.  Because now I demand you share in all I have to tell you about the nerd fest that was Supanova.  If you are at all confused about this awesome event, I suggest you mosy on over to their website www.supanova.com.au and educate yourself before someone discovers your nerdy ignorance.

But before I go on, I cannot contain it any longer.  I met, talked to, and touched with my bare hands two amazing celebrities.  James Marsters aka Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (SQUEEEEEEEAAALLL!), and Tom Felton aka Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter movies, who, without the beach blonde hair that so befits some men/vampires – cough Spike cough – is quite the hotty.

My world is complete!

Oh James, you naughty boy!

Moving along.  It was a bit touch and go there for a while with that damn Chilean ash cloud that continues to stuff around domestic and international flights here in Aus.  Come on Chileans, can’t you keep your volcanoes under control like the rest of us?  As it turns out, last Thursday I was on one of the first flights allowed out of Tassie after a week of flight troubles…phew.  Made it to Sydney and got ready for the 3 day Supanova bonanza.

Adz and I having a few train troubles

I went with my super awesome friend Adz, who is a big nerd also.  After one train hiccup (see right), we made it to the showgrounds where the event began on Friday night.  We spent 2 hours standing in line to purchase our photo and autograph tickets for the Sat and Sun, knowing from previous experiences that this line would get much, much longer over the weekend.

On the Saturday and Sunday we spent our time meeting the celebs (Cue more SQUEALING!), scouring the merchandise stalls and staring in amazement at the as always high standard of cosplayers.  For those of you unfamiliar with cosplay, the faithful wiki dictionary defines it as:

The practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game, esp. one from the Japanese genres of manga or anime.

Captain Jack Sparrow Cosplay

In other words, absolute awesomeness.  There were characters from Star Wars, Firefly, The Disney Movies, Superman, Pirates of the Caribbean, Iron Man and so many I didn’t recognise that even I at times felt an unworthy nerd…and that happens rarely.  One of my faves was a certain Captain Jack Sparrow, who looked the spitting image of Johnny Depp.  Sensational.

On the Saturday evening we had the pleasure of watching James Marsters in concert.  Yes ladies, the man can sing! My best friends Mel and Aly joined us, and we couldn’t help but start sighing and giggling every time he looked our way with a cheeky smile.  What a hunny.

On the Sunday evening, Adz and I had the added pleasure of attending a small after party with James and Gareth David Lloyd from Torchwood.  I’ve never watched Torchwood, so can safely say I know zip about the show, its characters and actors.  And yet, as eight of us sat at a table with this actor, everyone seemed relatively star struck.  Except me of course.  I was saving that for James, and well, like I said, I didn’t really know who Gareth was.  Soooo I tried to make conversation, and of course I put my foot in it when I asked “Where in England are you from”….to the WELSHMAN.  Okay okay, so I know being English and all I’m supposed to know this stuff, but I don’t.  It all sounds pommy to me! Thankfully he was most gracious about it, and after receiving many daggers from the Torchwood lovers around the table we managed to steer conversation back to safe topics such as the weather and food.  Boring!

And James, well James was just James.  Buffy is my all time favourite show so it was an amazing experience to meet and talk with him.  He is a big charmer and so interesting, and has the same laugh as Spike…by which I suppose I mean Spike has the same laugh as James? Regardless…I don’t really know how to describe the experience in words.  It was amazing, and yet also strange.  I can see how some fans could get ‘overzealous’ with their admiration (in fact, I think there was one potential stalker at our table), but even so, I find that meeting these ‘celebrities’ further strengthens the reality that differentiates the characters from their performers.  I love Spike and his character, and I ‘know’ him pretty well.  James was awesome and I could see bits of Spike in him, but he isn’t Spike.  Plus, he doesn’t have an English accent…I know, right!?  The actors were interesting, kind and gracious with us, but at the end of the day, this is their job, and meeting us is part of how they market themselves.  It was a wonderful experience, as it always is at these events, but it again reminded me how we can enjoy the shows and the characters in them, but meeting the actors isn’t meeting the characters, because sadly, they don’t exist…sob!

In any case, the night ended on an unexpected note with a lovely girl we met, Susannah, reading my Tarot cards for me after the celebs had left.  It was uncannily accurate!  I have always been interested in this sort of ‘supernatural’ thing; tarot cards and clairvoyants etc, but have never considered it seriously enough to actually try out, my inner sceptic telling me not waste my money on what might be a load of crap.  I’d love to do it again though because it really was amazing what she told me of my past, present and future.  She had me when she pulled out the card with the words: ‘THE HERMIT’.  She was in my head I tell you!

The festivities ended with me, the plague, and a terrifying few hours as the Chilean ash cloud threatened my return flight home.  Thankfully I was on one of the last flights out of Sydney before they went into shut down mode again.  Fate anyone?

Well, I think this account of my absence is long enough for now.  I shall leave you with some photographic evidence of me and my recent squeeze, James.  Here’s to the next post not taking as long as this one.  Of course, if I die of the plague then I can only apologise further and ask that you say kind, but funny things about me when I’m gone.

Me and Spike (My boyfriend, obviously)

~storytelling nomad~

Heroes & Heroines: Females in Fantasy

I recently came across an interesting post over at Words about Words in response to an article posted on the Guardian website yesterday, entitled The incredible shrinking presence of women SF writers.

Now, despite my love of all things fantasy and a slight (read: considerable) reading obsession, I have to admit that until it was pointed out to me recently, I didn’t really notice the distinct lack of female presence in the science fiction and fantasy genre. I mean, I just wanted to get lost in the story, you know? I wasn’t really fussed if it was written by a man, woman or your neighbour’s talking llama, as long as it was well-written, entertaining, and for a few hours a day let me escape to my merry reading bubble.

But try as I may to reach my happy place, I found I simply could not with this new found information. I started noticing the severely unbalanced male to female writer ratio in my book collection and began questioning the male protagonists in my favourite stories. Whatever happened to Harriet Potter, the girl who lived? Did Tolkien not think Frodina could have saved Middle Earth? Surely Bella could have survived in a world without Edward Cullen saving the day every ten pages?

The revelation came to a head, however, on discovering that my favourite author had changed her name from Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden, to the ambiguously gender neutral Robin Hobb when she began writing her bestselling series, The Farseer Trilogy, led by male protagonist Fitz. The reason? Apparently boys are reluctant to read anything written by girls for fear of catching girl germs and being subjected to lovey dovey romance scenes when what they’re really after is war, sword fights and Tarzan-like displays of chest-thumping male domination.

“Really?” I hear you ask. Well, apparently Hobb is not the only one afraid of this outcome. J.K. Rowling’s use of her first name initials is not mere happenstance, and when I recently attended this year’s Supanova Pop Culture Expo in Melbourne, I listened with interest as Australian fantasy author Jennifer Fallon expressed her regret at not giving herself a male pseudonym for similar reasons. In a recent interview she was asked, “If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?” To which she replied:

I’d go to the past, just before I was first published and change my name from Jennifer Fallon to John Fallon. Then all the boys out there who assume that all female fantasy writers write soppy romance fantasies would pick up my books and read them and I’d be much, much richer.

Now, I know boys can be pretty boneheaded, but for it to make such a difference in a society where I like to think we have reached some level of gender equality; for it to have reached the point where authors are putting considerable thought into changing their names in order to sell their books, well that does surprise me. Not to mention, it makes me consider my potential (and at this stage very distant) future in writing fantasy fiction. Should I be considering a male pseudonym?

Similarly, the Words about Words blog that brought me to this discussion also considers the lack of strong female heroes within the genre itself.   I’d like to entertain my suspicions that this has something to do with the fact that many (but by no means all) fantasy novels, are set in a mythical past, often resembling a folkloric history of our own.  Now although fantasy, and all speculative fiction, ultimately has the creative license to build a world that doesn’t adhere to what we know as reality, a reader needs something to connect with, something familiar in order for them to relate to and follow the story without too much effort on their behalf.  This is what M. Thomas refers to in his Teaching fantasy: Overcoming the stigma of fluff, as the “Blue Skies, Green Grass” theory:

A fantasy novel usually follows the “Blue Skies, Green Grass” theory.  It has oceans, mountains, forests, and fields.  It has small towns and big cities, usually medieval in setting but not always.  Many fantasy cultures have not yet reached an age of technological sophistication, and most, but not all, deal with some aspect of the supernatural world that has some historical basis in human myth–fairies and elves, for example. (Thomas 2003:60)

I bring you to this point because, if the reader is placed in a medieval type setting, then they might expect some level of medieval type principles, which would result in the men as the warriors and the women bearing the children type structure.  Perhaps this answers to the lack of female heroes? Perhaps not.

Joss Whedon - my brain crush (picture courtesy of screenrant.com)

Joss Whedon, writer and creator of the cult hit television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and director of the upcoming Avengers movie, may not be a writer of literature, but his writing sits as high as the best of them, and just between you and me, I’m pretty sure I’m in love with his brain. He created Buffy because he saw an absence of strong female characters and set out to rectify it. He refused to stick by the convention that a heroine needed to be warlike or ‘manly’. Buffy was, for all intents and purposes, a typical sixteen-year old girly girl and Joss is even quoted as saying:

When I created Buffy, I wanted to create a female icon, but I also wanted to be very careful to surround her with men that not only have no problem with the idea of a female leader, but were in fact engaged and even attracted to the idea.

Although he struggled to get Buffy off the ground, the show eventually prompted a change in small screen heroines and was significant in influencing the future of strong female characters on television as we now know it.

While I’m reluctant to enter the gender issue debate, I do think it’s worthwhile to recognise the gaps that might exist in any medium, because by doing so we give ourselves the opportunity, as women and as writers, to embrace a potential niche in the market and make it our own. Perhaps, if we pay heed to the absence of female writers and protagonists in fantasy fiction, then we might follow Joss’s example, endeavour to be pioneers, and make female characters more prevalent in the genre without misrepresenting or distorting the credibility of the historical and mythical worlds in which we place them.

Do I detect a challenge?

This post has since been published at Lip Magazine and All that is Wrong with the World.

~storytelling nomad~