Princess in Chains: Is the Urban Fantasy Heroine a Victim of Writers’ Imaginations?

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I’d like to thank Alesha Escobar, friend and fellow indie author, for giving me the opportunity to host her here on my site as she kicks off her end of the Addicted to Heroines Blog Tour.  The tour will run from February 1-10 and will feature a handful of talented indie authors who’ve written some kick ass heroines.  For more information, click on the banner and follow along for a chance to have fun, meets awesome authors, and even win some prizes.

Princess in Chains: Is the Urban Fantasy Heroine a Victim of Writers’ Imaginations?

Quick.  Name one of your favorite urban fantasy heroines.

Now, give me one or two qualities that make her awesome.

Was one of them the fact that she could wield magic and swords like nobody’s business (Also known as being kick-ass)?

You’re not alone. Many readers (and writers) of the genre enjoy a strong heroine who can defend herself and others, if needed. However an interesting discussion has emerged as to whether or not this is the only road for our heroine to go down and if we’re forcing her into a singular role that sends the wrong message.

Physical strength and domination have always been associated with traditional male power, and a woman who exerts physical prowess must theoretically either transition into the realm of masculinity or at least be validated by it. Thus the UF heroine appears to distance herself from other women, she must be the sole “princess” among a nearly all-male cast, and as another writer put it, she must be “weaponized.”

The concept of the fantasy heroine jumping into the fray alongside the heroes isn’t something new. Examples range from the cross-dressing female knight, Britomart, of Spencer’s The Faerie Queene to the shieldmaiden Eowyn of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, who described her domestic life as a “cage,” and sought freedom and honor through taking up the sword and going to war like her male counterparts.

The UF heroine isn’t much different, except that her armor is a pair of leather pants (or ridiculously tight jeans, but that’s another story), and her sword is a pistol or magical ability. She too, wishes to break her chains and rattle her cage, and show the world what she’s made of.

Let’s be honest. There are those fist-pumping “You go, girl!” moments we love to revel in when we see our heroines karate chop an assailant, blast an evil warlock into next week, or punch the arrogant guy who doesn’t know how to keep his hands to himself.

However, if punching people is all she does, and there’s little else to our heroine, then it can get real old real fast. So in that respect, I agree with our friends who point out that we need more displays of different types of strength. There’s intellectual strength, emotional strength, and moral strength. Just think of times you’ve had to make a difficult decision, but chose what was right over what was easy–that’s a show of strength. Or how about a day you felt like falling apart, but then you ended up making it through, perhaps even helping someone along the way; that also, is a show of strength.

Our UF heroines don’t have to be princesses in chains, they can be as complex and multilayered as we’re willing to make them, and for me, that’s one of the awesome parts about being both a writer and reader of the genre.

You might appreciate the following heroines:

  1. Sabriel, Sabriel (Abhorsen, #1) by Garth Nix
  2. Karigan G’ladheon, Green Rider (Green Rider, #1) by Kristen Britain
  3. Alexia Tarabotti, Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate, #1) by Gail Carriger

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authoraleshaAlesha Escobar writes fantasy and urban fantasy stories to support her chocolate habit. She earned a B.A. in English Writing and a Master of Science in Education, and has enjoyed both teaching writing and being a writer. Her hobbies include reading, watching movies, and making crafts. She is currently working on the final installment of The Gray Tower Trilogy. Connect with her online for updates and discussions at http://www.aleshaescobar.com

 

After 1 Year and 100 Posts

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A year has passed since I’ve started this website in the form in which it now exists. It’s been a good year. I’ve met and connected with an awesome community of indie authors and I’ve managed to gain a little bit of exposure for my book and make some sales in the process.  I procured a few interviews with interesting and prolific indie authors and artists, landed multiple guests post for this site, and have written a few for others as well, learned a bit about self-promotion, and wrote multiple book reviews.  I am also active on Goodreads.  Starla Huchton did and incredible job redesigning my book cover, and I joined Amazon’s KDP Select program.

I joined two anthologies over the past year.  Grim5Next Worlds Undone anthology is a spectacular idea conceived by Lyn Midnight wherein 36  writers collaborate to create twelves stories written in three parts about the apocalypse. The collaboration eventually went on to include artists and musicians and even a children’s project. Unfortunately, the project became too large and unwieldy for our lovely editor and it eventually fizzled out.  As of late however, it appears that Worlds Undone may be making a comeback.  I’m hoping it will.

The other anthology that I am involved with is more personal and dear to me. It started from a comment that I left on a fellow indie author Matt Williams’ site. We discussed the idea of going to space and that discussion turned into an anthology entitled Yuva.

Me: Four nerds verging on geeks live in my house, of which I am one. One of our nerdiest but fun conversations centered around the question “Would you rather go to space or the bottom of the ocean?” Hands down the answer was space.I once dreamed that my son, now 21, would one day go to space and walk on Mars. He is no longer a child who dreams of space, although it still intrigues, and space seems a distant childhood dream of his. But even for myself, at the ripe old age of 41, the idea of going to space is a bright hope, even though I know it is unattainable and unrealistic. But, given the chance, I would go. This post reminds me of the awesomeness of our great universe, of the chaotic randomness, of the beauty of this world and the things we have to be grateful for, and of how utterly minuscule we people really are in the grand scheme of things

Matt: Okay, you need to write this down. I foresee you doing a story where a family does go into space. Ho boy, I smell another anthology here!

Me: An anthology about space, going to space or anything related sounds awesome. I vote for you to be the editor. What do we need to do to get started?”

yuva_cover-0Yuva, still in the works, will consist of twelve stories of which mine will be first.  We’ve managed to fill about eight of the spots, so if anyone out there would like to contribute to a space and colonization anthology, shoot me a message.

Over the course of the last few months I realized that I had a bit of an unintentional theme going, that of time management. I wrote quite a bit about the subject and several fellow indie authors contributed some really amazing posts about how they manage their writing time.  As time is such a difficult thing for me to wrangle I think I was subconsciously looking for a way to reconcile my lack of time with my desire to be more prolific.  I’m still struggling with that one but one thing’s for certain, if you want to produce, you just have to do it.

Apart from the issue of time management, I didn’t have much of a plan as regards what I’d talk about here, which quite frankly was very much counter to my goal.

Over the past year I’ve read many posts about creating a unique author brand. I don’t think that I’ve done that successfully as regards this blog.  I blog about the things I like, an eclectic mishmosh of “stuff”, for lack of a better word.  For many reasons I’ve purposely stayed away from more challenging controversial topics.  I either feel under informed, unqualified, or quite honestly afraid to engage in these challenging discussions out of fear of alienating readers but as I have so few, (hahahaha) it’s pretty much a moot point.

Keeping with the idea of a theme I’ve decided to choose another topic to give special focus this coming year.  I’ve been giving this considerable thought this past month and have decided on critical analysis/reviews of SFF books written by women.  This will certainly not be to the exclusion of other post ideas and I hope will be interesting for readers as well as a learning experience for me.  I never feel as if I am well read enough.  I plan to read and listen to books.  The first review will be of Bujold’s Free Falling which is already quite interesting.  I plan to read more by Bujold, in addition to Leguin, Butler, Zimmer Bradley, and McCaffrey among others.  If anyone has suggestions of authors I should check out, fire away.

Honor

Honor

I’d hoped to have completed the outline of Honor&Truth by June, but that didn’t happen.  Then I got caught up working on my anthology stories, hit a writing slump that seems to happen to me every year around September, got distracted with children, life, work (which has been a beast!), the internet and attempts to promote An Unproductive Woman.  So, my efforts are renewed and I’m back at it.

Honor&Truth is a serial novel blog that I worked on for about a year and a half.  I finally stopped more than thirty chapters in.  I didn’t want to but felt compelled as I’d never so much as outlined a single chapter and my story, written by the skin of my teeth and posted every two weeks, had so many plot holes I couldn’t keep up with them.  I stopped the blog in order to regroup, merge H&T with another story that kept spinning in my head, and begin a serious rewrite.  Months have passed and on that account, I’ve failed.  Fortunately, I love the story and the characters enough to keep pressing.  And even better and heartening, the characters Bilqis, Honor, Araminta (Old Mother), Siti and many of the others talk to me everyday.  Loudly.

Honor&Truth has a new name.  As Truth does not exist in the current outline, it wouldn’t make much sense.  As it stands the story of Honor exists as the second tale in the Hinterland Chronicles.  But don’t hold me to it.  As I am still in the outlining phase, this could still change.

I’ve been nominated for a few blog awards, the last and most important of which is the Blog of the Year Award.  This honor was conveyed upon me by Matt Williams, to whom I am grateful.  A complete post about is soon to come.

My greatest work for this coming year will be continued simplification.  In other words, weaning out the unnecessary to replace with what I value.  I value my relationship with God, my family, my writing, and my health.  So this coming year will include renewed efforts to create peace and productivity with regard to those things I deem as most important to me.  Why is life such hard work?  Forget I asked that.

What have you accomplished this past year?  Toot your horn!  Tell me about your successes and failures.  Tell me what you have planned for 2013.

 

Review: Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, You Had to Be There

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I finished this book several days ago but waited to write the review. I wasn’t sure for a long time what I would say. I mean, I know I liked the story, the set up, the complexity, but there was also something a little off putting but I wasn’t sure what that was. Then I broke down and looked at some of the other reviews to see if anyone else had the same sense that I did. I was very pleased to note that I wasn’t the only one.

Like many of the other people who reviewed this book, I will not get caught up in enumerating the plot points. It would simply take too much time and it would never really convey the true sense of the book. It’s like the old saying, “You had to be there.”

Perdido Street Station is an enormous book in every way. China Mieville has written a book so layered, and rich, and sensual that I think that one of these days I may need to go back and reread it to get the full effect. The prose is lovely and aged and yet not. The amalgamation of genres here, because I’m not sure I would call it steampunk (but then again, I am not the expert), is well executed. A blending of genres, in the way that Mieville has achieved, I imagine, is not something easily done, and I give him mad kudos for that. It works so well. PSS is fantasy and science fiction and drama and romance and steam and something unnameable all rolled into one. The effect is stunning.

Bas-Lag, the fictional world that Mieville creates in PSS is so richly and thoroughly conceived that I will have clear pictures of the places and people who lived there for a long time to come. Mieville’s style of world building is complete and concrete with so much presence you can almost smell the stink of it. New Crobuzon, the city in which this story takes place is a dirty metropolis populated with many races (as in non-human) all with their own histories, customs, affectations, and physical characteristics.

Mieville does not pretty up any of the races either, by offering idealized fantastical elfin beings. He gives the reader a view of each of his racial creations, including humans, through the same brutally honest eyes. No one is spared inspection, no one is absolved of their own shame or glory. And through the muck of each person’s weakness, beauty, and shame, Mieville has managed to weave an adventure, a mystery, bromance, romance, magical/science lore, and a quest.

I read every word of this book with a sense of writerly awe… and yet there was that off putting “thing”, for lack of a better word. But I do know the word, now, after giving it a lot of thought.

VERBOSITY. Every reader is as different as every author, so I understand and appreciate Mieville’s style here. That said, I tend more towards crisp spare prose. I don’t need the author to guide me or convince me of how I should feel. I can make up my own mind. Just give me the bones, I’ll imagine the flesh on my own. In this tale, and considering Mieville’s story telling style, I see the necessity to embellish and paint, so I can accept much of the wordiness. But not all. I would have preferred to see this manuscript pared down by at least 1/4.

There is also the question of the profanity. Some people are okay with it. Some people even like it, thinking it lends a real or raw quality, I’d venture to say. But me? I find it repellent. More than that, I find it not necessary. Even more than that, I find it shocking. Profanity adds shock value, causes the reader to sit up, pay attention, in my case cringe a little, recognize that something big or deep or noteworthy is happening. In my estimation profanity is a device used to prop up weak prose. It is distracting and lame. Mieville’s prose is absolutely breathtaking, even in all of its verbose glory, and totally DOES NOT require the multiple helpings of profanity in order to keep a reader’s attention. Not mine, in any case.

Mieville uses a lot of “big” words. I think I read in another review that it is almost as if he had a thesaurus on hand as he wrote this. That works for me. I like Mieville’s brave use of uncommon words. I don’t believe in dumbing down prose. I think its okay to ask the reader to step up their game a little bit.

I vacillated about how many stars I wanted to give PSS. For the crafting of unique, varied cultures and races, the inventive use and blending of genres as well as language and style, and also for the central story I’d give PSS five stars any day of the week. But there is the matter of the profanity and verbosity (editor please!). All together I’m giving PSS 3 stars.

I’d likely still read Mieville again. As a reader I feel that Mieville did his job in rendering a compelling story. As a writer, I’ve learned tons from Mieville about writing fearlessly and about giving the imagination freedom to crank out what it wills.

*****

Also posted on Goodreads.