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.