Mother, Matron, Crone: The Case for Female Characters Beyond the Ingénue

A guest post from Gail Z. Martin

Granny Weatherwax, Minerva McGonagall, Polgara,

Gail Z. Martin

Gail Z. Martin

Fiction, like TV, movies and advertising has an interesting, skewed view of the human race. In general, females show up briefly as children, mostly as adolescents or lusty and busty 20 and 30-somethings, and then vanish almost completely from view. Even ads for products clearly used by people over seventy (hello, home stairway elevators!) show female models who can’t be a day over 40. It’s like Logan’s Run, only without the jumpsuits.

Now go to any suburban grocery store or shopping mall. Wow, where did all the women come from? Who knew there were women older than 39?

Hollywood–and to an extent, big publishing–buys into the Madison Avenue-fueled belief that women have an expiration date stamped on them, just like yogurt. A freshness date, after which they’re no longer saleable. For some reason, they’ve concluded that although women buy the majority of books and manage most household spending, we only want to see stories about women the same age as our daughters.

Well? Are they right? It’s said that the only genre that can successfully pull off a female character over 40 is mystery/crime. Yet I see the line between mystery and urban fantasy blurring with every paranormal crime detecting novel that hits the shelves. Does the willingness to read about a main character over age 30 end when a reader changes aisles in the bookstore?

I suspect there are several biases at work here. The first is our culture’s obsession with youth. We’ve been told that unless we’re Botoxed and face-lifted to within an inch of our lives we lack value, because young is good and old is bad. However, this obsession primarily applies to women, since Sean Connery was still getting accolades for being sexy into his seventies, when his wrinkles were considered to be ‘craggy’ and his gray hair to be ‘distinguished.’

Secondly, there’s consumers’ presumed vanity and insecurity. Madison Avenue presents us with models for everything from Cadillacs to retirement cruises who look twenty years too young because the ad-makers believe that’s what we want to see. It’s assumed that we don’t want to see women (again, never men) who actually look old enough to be someone’s parent or grandparent in a leading role except perhaps in a secondary, minor role or in something on the Hallmark Channel. And maybe consumers share some of the blame. It’s one thing to claim we want to see a full age spectrum of women characters. But it’s another thing to put our money where our mouths are and actually purchase products that live up to what we said we wanted.

IronandBloodThere have been some notable exceptions. Movies like Reds and The Expendables showed older characters kicking ass. Other stories like Momma Mia and even the Harry Potter series featured women of a variety of ages, in different life stages and roles and of differing economic classes. Arguably, all were successes. So why don’t we see more such stories, especially since in real life, real women come in all ages?

As authors, we can easily make an effort to create and develop secondary and leading characters that are not in the ‘action hero’ stage of life and make them interesting, active, insightful, complex and realistic. Populate your fantasy worlds with female shopkeepers, sorceresses, fighters, seamstresses, queens, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, mothers, neighbors, healers and others who show the same range of ages you’d see at the supermarket. Show them as decision-makers, business owners, farmers, mages, social leaders, members of educated and influential religious orders, teachers, scholars, scientists and adventurers, because women have filled all those roles and more at a variety of ages all throughout history. (This is where it helps to read real history, not just watch what’s on TV.)

Not only does developing characters like these make fantasy more faceted and realistic, it presents a much more believable world, one where more readers can see characters like themselves. It’s a pleasant departure from all the lusty wenches and brawny heroes. And before someone chimes in that older characters can’t tackle action scenes, I’d suggest you look at cultures where people are physically active in their everyday life instead of working at desk jobs, and you’ll see men and women who remain spry well into their ‘golden’ years.

In my Chronicles of the Necromancer series, my main character, Tris Drayke, gets valuable guidance from his grandmother, a mage who helped to defeat the greatest threat of her time. In the Ascendant Kingdoms series, Blaine McFadden’s mother and a number of recurring secondary characters show resilience, ingenuity and strength as they help lead a shattered kingdom back from the ashes. Mrs. Morrissey and Mrs. Teller are just two of the characters in my Deadly Curiosities books on whom main character Cassidy Kincaide relies for advice and, in the case of Mrs. Teller, magical protection. And in the Iron and Blood steampunk books, Jake Desmet’s mother, Catherine, is a force to be reckoned with.

Bottom line: If consumers vote with their pocketbooks, viewership and readership for books that showcase characters–male and female–in a wide variety of ages and stages, then publishers, producers and ad agencies will finally get the hint.

Check out my new Steampunk novel Iron and Blood, co-written with Larry N. Martin, set in an alternative history Pittsburgh in 1898. In stores July 7!

The Hawthorn Moon Sneak Peek Event includes book giveaways, free excerpts and readings, all-new guest blog posts and author Q&A on 28 awesome partner sites around the globe. For a full list of where to go to get the goodies, visit www.AscendantKingdoms.com.

Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. In addition to Iron and Blood, she is the author of Deadly Curiosities and the upcoming Vendetta in her urban fantasy series; The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga from Orbit Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies.

Larry_N_MartinLarry N. Martin fell in love with fantasy and science fiction when he was a teenager. After a twenty-five year career in Corporate America, Larry started working full-time with his wife, author Gail Z. Martin and discovered that he had a knack for storytelling, plotting and character development, as well as being a darn fine editor. Iron and Blood is their first official collaboration. On the rare occasions when Larry isn’t working on book-related things, he enjoys pottery, cooking and reading.

Find them at www.JakeDesmet.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin or @LNMartinauthor, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, on Goodreads goodreads.com/GailZMartin free excerpts, Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin.

Do You Like Dragon Stories?

Cover of "The Draon's Hoard" AnthologyI’m pleased to announce that my story, “The Dragon’s Clause,” has been reprinted in The Dragon’s Hoard, edited by Carol Hightshoe.

Here’s the back copy text:

Dragons are well known for their hoards—but not all hoards are created equal.

A young dragon starts his hoard with some very precious gifts.
One dragon shares her complaints about taxes with a friend as they wait for a lunch delivery.
Another dragon defends her most precious treasures against a group of greedy goblins.
And yet another may hold the solution to saving the Earth after a devastating apocalypse in his collection of bottled treasures.

In addition to the normal gold, silver and jewels here you will find dragons who collect many different treasures.

28 storytellers invite you to enter The Dragon’s Hoard and share the treasures within.

If you’re interested in purchasing, here are the links:

Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Dragons-Hoard-Carol-Hightshoe-ebook/dp/B00YSITPD8/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1433515171&sr=8-7&keywords=the+dragon%27s+hoard

CreateSpace Paperback: https://www.createspace.com/5542170

Balticon was a Lot of Fun, (Despite the Mishaps)

Banner from Balticon 49 Convention
A bit overdue due to some intervening life stuff, but here’s my Balticon recap:

Totally Messed Up Registration & Scheduling
:
I’m not certain there was anyone who attended this year who was unaffected by Registration issues in what can only be kindly referred to as a Debacle.

Some people waited for over an hour to gain entrance: and these are people that pre-paid — or like myself — were a registered guest! Balticon was debuting a new system. (They probably should have tested it better prior to the first day of the con.)

Scheduling Errors, Ditto:
Closely related were scheduling errors. I was lamenting my lack of panels, and it turned out I was on one, but hadn’t been notified: mostly because our schedules were printed at registration. I was told to “come back in an hour” to get my tent card three times in a row.

Worse, the schedules weren’t finalized even up to the opening day of the con–and emails to schedulers weren’t returned. Some of my emails even bounced from the mailbox.

Sigh. I know the staff works very hard to coordinate the con.

Still, much fun was had.

Best Moment: Reading!
For me, the stand out moment was audience reaction during my reading. I shared a time slot with Vonnie Winslow Crist and we took turns reading from out work. I read a bit from A Favor for a Fiend, but with time left over, I also read from Stoned in Charm City.

For those of you who’ve read it, it’s the scene where Father Hughes is in the basement of Holy Rosary Church and, after calling on four archangels to protect him, manages to conjure up something else. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t read the scene yet, but when I got to the end, there was an audible gasp from the audience.

Oh, how my heart started beating! There’s nothing better than knowing you’ve written something that sparks a response in someone else. Totally made my con! Thank you, dear listener.

Cover of The Rippers Ring by Steven R. Southard

Steve Southard’s Book Launch:
I also enjoyed attending Steven R. Southard’s launch/reading of Ripper’s Ring. Steve brought along a 3D-printed copy of the ring described in the book, and I wish I’d thought to take a picture of it. Don’t despair, I think you can find the plans for it on his blog, (linked above).

If you enjoy Jack the Ripper stories, The Ripper’s Ring is for you. It’s an interesting take on what might have happened.

And Friends, Of Course!
Finally, of course, it was great to see all those people I only seem to run into at cons…you know who you are! Wishing you well until the next time!

2015 Balticon Schedule (And Announcement!)

Baltimore Science Fiction Society LogoIt’s that time of year again! Balticon.

I’m looking forward to a really special Balticon this year. Many friends are in town just for the event and I’m attending quite a few book launches and parties.

Here’s my schedule:

Saturday, May 23

2:00 PM – Autograph Session – At the Autograph Table
4:00 PM – Reading with Vonnie Winslow Crist – Parlor 1041
7:00 PM – Launch Party: Gail Z. Marting (Attending) – Frankie and Vinnie’s
9:00 PM – 15th Anniversary Broad Universe Party – (Attending/Possibly Reading) – Frankie and Vinnie’s

Sunday, May 24

11:00 AM – How to Start Writing – Derby (Tentative)
12:00 PM – Broad Universe Reading – Concierge Lounge (Attending)
1:00 PM – Broad Universe Reading – Concierge Lounge (Reading!)
7:00 PM – How to Incorporate Critique – Chase (Tentative)
7:00 PM – Dark Quest Book Launch Party – Frankie and Vinnie’s – (If Critique Panel is pulled from the schedule)

Announcement

I’m pleased to announced that A Favor for a Fiend is now out! This is the second book in the Charm City Darkness series.

Yay! I’ll be reading from Favor and there will be copies in the dealer’s room for purchase.

::: So excited! :::

favorforafiendfinal-print-04102015-2-400px-e

Purchase at:
Amazon Kindle
Nook
Barnes & Noble Paperback
Kobo Books

2015 Reader Survey – Let Your Voice Be Heard!

Man reading a book outside with a mountain view in the distance.Romance Author Marie Force is hosting a reader survey, which I hope will become an annual thing.

Take This Year’s Survey

The first survey concluded in June 2013, with about 2,950 participants. Here are the results: http://e-bookformattingfairies.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-readers-sound-off-how-they-read.html

Most of the participants were mainly romance readers–which is to be expected, since that’s Ms. Force’s fan base–but readers are readers (I think), so there should be some common stuff across the grid.

For instance, according to the survey:

  • Readers prefer e-books to paperbacks (77 to 52 percent). However, the question allowed readers to choose all formats that apply, and there appears to be crossover between the two most popular formats, indicating some readers buy books in multiple formats when the paperback is available.
  • Nearly 80 percent buy their books from Amazon, with Barnes & Noble scoring a distant second at 23 percent and iBookstore/Apple coming in third at nearly 13 percent.

(Where do you buy your books?)

See full results here – including a complete list of questions and how people answered them.

I encourage you to take the survey (only open for the remainder of May):

Take This Year’s Survey

Happy Reading!

Guest Excerpt from Rachel Rawling’s Latest: Ill Fated

I met Rachel Rawlings in October for Hallowread and picked up her first book in the Maura Kincaide series. I couldn’t put it down. I immediately bought the boxed set.

This book sounds like it will be as exciting as the others. Check out the awesome back cover copy and the excerpt below! (I can’t wait to read it!)

Back Cover Copy

Some things are destined to end in death. After the first attempt on her life Maurin wasn’t scared. Hell, she was almost flattered. But someone put a price on her head and things are getting complicated. Trouble is brewing in the fae courts and it’s spilling over into Salem. The UnSeelie Dark Guard have answered the call for her head on a platter and people closest to her are disappearing.

Can Maurin master court politics and find her missing men before someone claims the bounty on her head?

Author Photo: Rachel Rawlings

Rachel Rawlings

Excerpt from Ill Fated by Rachel Rawlings

“You’re awake?” He sounded more than a little surprised.

“I’m not really sure the state I’m in qualifies as awake.”

“Here I was, terrified to poke the dragon, and you’re already drinking coffee and talking in complete sentences.”

I snorted and took a sip of the aforementioned liquid gold. “Are you always like this in the morning?”

“If you’d let me sleep over you’d already know the answer to that question. Why aren’t you asleep?”

In general or just tonight, I silently wondered. “Bad dream. I’ve been tossing and turning all night. I finally gave in and got out of bed.”

Papers rustled in the background and when he spoke again, his voice was lower, intimate.”You want to talk about it?”

“Something tells me my nightmares are the least of our problems.”

“You have no idea. I need you to come down to my office.”

I sighed. “Can it at least wait until after sunrise?”

“Would I be breaking the no phone calls before noon policy if it could wait?”

“There really is no rest for the wicked, is there?”

He laughed and the sound warmed me more than a hundred cups of coffee. “Apparently not, in your case. Now, there’s a dirty chai latte and a croissant for you if you’re here before Amalie. I can’t promise real coffee and pastries will survive beyond five minutes of her arrival.”

“It’s four-thirty in the morning, Mas. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll make sure at least one dirty chai and croissant remain unmolested.”

“I’ll see you soon.” He was laughing as he hung up the phone.

Three hours ago I’d practically crawled through the doorway, exhausted from cleaning up after a newbie vamp who’d broken the Jus Sanguinis Intergentes when she killed her donor. The blood pact between people and vampires had a clear no killing, no exceptions clause.

It was up to the maker to ensure their child was ready to feed unsupervised. If something went wrong and the Council found out about it, we cleaned up the mess and the sire was subject to heavy fines and possible revocation of their rights to expand their blood lines. She’d been quite literally a bitch to track and take down.

Cover of Rachel Rawling's Book, Ill Fated.It had been a long night and it was shaping up to be an even longer day.

I wasted little time getting dressed, opting for a slip on black jersey dress, eighteen hole Docs and a leather jacket. Jewelry was a hindrance in my line of work. My meeting with Mason could easily turn into a run. Choked with my own chain? No, thank you. Unclasping the necklace, I set it in a glass dish on my bathroom counter. I ran a brush through my hair, a toothbrush over my teeth and slipped into the between. I stepped out of the alley two buildings down from the station and walked the last block and a half.

Amalie was swarmed by detectives trying to get at the goodies she brought over from the Daily Grind. She greeted me with a warm smile, shaking her head when I offered to pull her out of the fray. She had managed to endear herself to the entire department in record time. All it took was real coffee and fresh pastries. I pointed to Mason’s office. She’d make her way over once the starving masses had their fill.

Mason was so engrossed in the file on his desk he didn’t hear me come in. He looked as tired as I felt – too many double shifts. Despite an uptick in activity, SPTF was short staffed due to budget cuts. Without enough man power to staff the shifts properly overtime was mandatory.

“Is that for me?” I pointed at the to-go cup and white paper bag on his desk.

He finally looked up and gave me a smile which lit up his whole face. “As promised.”

I stole a quick kiss, grabbed the coffee and croissant, and settled in the chair across from him. I took a long sip of my latte, savoring the delicious mix of tea and espresso. “Man, I needed this. Is that the case you’re working on?”

“Yeah, we’ve got a real problem on our hands.”

“Don’t we always.” I tried to peak at the file.

Mason closed the manila folder. “I’d rather wait until everyone is here.”

“Who else is coming besides Amalie?” My curiosity was definitely peaked now. I reached across his desk, hoping to grab the file.

“You look exhausted. Tell me about your dream while we wait.”

I narrowed my eyes and glared at him. “I see this for the obvious distraction it is but you’re right.” Sighing, I rubbed my temple.“However, I’m exhausted, too exhausted to argue. So I’ll tell you. Prepare to be confounded.”

He listened intently as I filled him in on the nightly visits from the weathered old woman who washed my clothes and hauntingly called my name. I expected him to laugh and tell me it was just a dream, that I had nothing to worry about.

I didn’t expect him to look so stricken.

“Bean Nighe.” He all but whispered the name.

“You’ve heard of her?”

“Of course I’ve heard of her. How long has she been coming to you?”

I stared at him curiously. “A few weeks. Why?”

“A few weeks and this is the first I’m hearing of it?” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, obviously struggling to control his temper.“We talked about this. No holding things back, remember?”

“I thought it was just a dream.” I shrugged.“Honestly, I didn’t think it was a big deal.”

“It was a big enough deal for you to research it.” Agitation rolled off him in waves.

When I agreed to give this thing with Mason a chance I also agreed to some conditions. No more flying solo, no more rash decisions or rushing off to play the hero. We were a team, in everything. This was just one of many set-backs.

“I got curious, did a little digging. Until tonight, everything I found pointed to deep seated family issues, particularly with a mother figure. I’ve told you about my childhood, does that dream analysis surprise you?”

His growl told me he wasn’t in the mood for reasonable—at least to me—explanations. “When did you discover the true meaning of the dream? How long have you known about the Bean Nighe?”

“Tonight. This morning. Before you called me.” I held up a hand to stop the tongue lashing I knew he wanted to give me. “I would have told you. I got the impression on the phone there were more pressing matters than my insomnia.”

“Is this why you won’t let me stay at your place?” His gaze roamed over my face, searching.“Why you never stay at mine?”

“Is that the real reason why you’re so upset?” I arched my brows. “Because we’re not having sleepovers?”

“I stayed at your lovely apartment the first night we met.”
I turned to watch Aidan glide into the room, stopping behind my chair. Rolling my eyes, I snorted and muttered, “In the closet.”

Mason’s jaw twitched but he didn’t take the bait. “Aidan.”

“It’s almost sunrise. Shouldn’t you be hunkered down for the day?” I sighed, wondering what he was doing here. I was too tired to deal with Aidan and Mason and their combined testoserone.

Putting the three of us in a room together was like throwing lit matches at sticks of dynamite – eventually one of them will explode.

Buy Now! This link takes you to all of Rachel’s Books!

Learn more about Rachel Rawlings, an author of Dark Paranormal/Urban Fantasy and Horror at:

http://www.rachelrawlings.com/
www.facebook.com/TheMaurinKincaideSeries
twitter: @rachelsbooks
www.tsu.co/rachelsbooks

Bel Air Authors and Artists

Bel Air Authors and ArtistsIf you have any holiday shopping to do, why don’t you join me in downtown Bel Air, MD tomorrow from 10 until 3?

I’ll be at the Bel Air Armory for an Authors and Artists event where we’ll be showcasing our art and selling it.

There will be live entertainment all day–and food! (If for nothing else, come for the food!)

I’d love to see all my old school buddies. If you’re around, please stop in and say, “hello!”

Chessiecon 2014 – Had the Best Time!

The logo for "Chessiecon" - a pencil sketch of a fictitious seasmonster from the Chesapeake Bay.

Chessiecon

I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone associated with Chessiecon, from organizers to volunteers to attendees. I had such a blast!

I had a table in the dealer’s room, too, this year–so I got to see a lot more folks “regularly” as they passed on through to peruse various wares. I had a great time chatting with everyone.

Total squee: all those folks who asked for Book 2 in the Charm City Darkness series. You guys made my day! (Note: It will be out soon! :))

I have one more public event this year, next weekend at the Bel Air Armory for their annual “Artists and Authors” day. It’s my old stomping grounds, so I hope to see a lot of folks I went to school with (hint, hint). Please stop by and say hello!

Chessiecon, Anyone?

The logo for "Chessiecon" - a pencil sketch of a fictitious seasmonster from the Chesapeake Bay.

Chessiecon

Chessiecon is a new convention in the Baltimore area, rising from the ashes of Darkover, which has ceased to exist.

I’m pleased to say that I’ll be at the first Chessiecon next weekend. I’ll be doing a few readings, teaching a workshop on novel writing, and sitting in on some interesting panels. When I’m not doing that, I’ll be hanging out in the dealer’s room.

Here’s my schedule:

Friday, November 28, 2014

4PM-5PM Reading: Broad Universe, Timonium Room

6PM-7PM Workshop: Write a Novel in a Year in Just 15 Minutes a Day, Boardroom
Dreamed of writing a novel, but don’t have the time? It can be done in just a few minutes a day, and you can still take time off for vacation! Discuss the things that prevent writers from producing words, and learn tips and tricks to be more productive while you’re staring at the screen.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

11AM-Noon Beyond Christianity: Rituals and Religions in Speculative Fiction – GS3-5
Some novels integrate non-Eurocentric belief systems into the world of their characters.How does the integration of a non-Western value system affect the formation of a fictional speculative world? Does it affect plot? Who has written this well? How does the inclusion of different belief systems serve to bring more diverse sensibilities to the genre?

Noon-1PM Where are Your Gods? – GS3-5
Do you choose to publicize your beliefs or do you keep them private? Do you choose to risk alienating more traditional readers by an alternative spiritual path or do you stand up as an example? Do you feel ostracized for holding more traditional or conservative beliefs? Does your spirituality inform your writing? Can you be a monotheist but build a world of many gods? Join us for a discussion of the role of personal religious beliefs in your writing.

10PM-11PM Sex and the Believable Alien – GS1
When reading or writing SF erotica or romance, how alien can the aliens get before the story stops working for the reader? Do they have to be humanoid to make the story work? Why or why not?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

11AM-Noon Reading: Vonnie Winslow Crist and Kelly A. Harmon

Send me a note or comment below if you’re going to be there. I’d love to catch up with you over coffee!