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Martha Wells

My Flying Lizard Circus

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Links and Older Women

I thought I was well yesterday, but my fever came back last night. So, ugh, basically. I'm sick, but not sick enough to feel justified in not getting stuff done. I don't think that's helping.

The new (fourth) season of Vera is on acorn.tv now. They only put notices of the new stuff up on their revolving splash page so you have to keep an eye on it. Also, brand new Poirot coming up on Monday.

Couple of links:

* Ten Things I Never Knew About Publishing by Amanda Rutter
As you all know, I was a book blogger for a few years before taking up a position in publishing, and so I went into the process of publishing novels with rather naive eyes. I learnt a lot. And I learnt quickly. And there were some things I learnt that I just had no idea about, so here I present them to you.

This one is going on my section of
Publishing Information Sites for Beginning Authors
when I get a chance.

* A Dribble of Ink: Women Made of Chrome by Teresa Frohock
I wish there were more Jane Navios in fantasy. Oh, you see them in science fiction and horror, but not in fantasy. There is an unwritten code that women in fantasy novels must not be older than thirty, or they’re all the grandmotherly types over sixty, but rarely are there any in the forty to fifty range. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but since the 1990s, female characters over forty seem to have faded into the background scenery, and very few are protagonists.

It's been so long since I wrote Wheel of the Infinite that I've forgotten exactly how old Maskelle was. I was definitely thinking late 40s-early 50s at least, and she had children who were now adults.

There was also Ravenna in The Element of Fire, who was in her early 50s, though she was a major character but not the main POV character. (when I was first workshopping the early manuscript, two of the male readers revealed that they thought of Ravenna as ugly, like the caricatures of the elderly Queen Victoria. I pointed out the description of her in chapter 2, which is "Her graying red hair was tucked up into a lace cap and she wore a dark informal morning gown. She was over fifty now, and the years hadn't diminished her beauty, but transformed and refined it. Only the faint laugh lines around her mouth and the shadow of strain at the corners of her eyes betrayed her age." (I based her looks on Katherine Hepburn, around The Lion in Winter time period.) They insisted that I had changed that description after they read it. I hadn't, but they were reading about a powerful older woman and they couldn't help but picture her as harsh and ugly.)

I feel like I'm forgetting some characters. There's Karima, in The Fall of Ile-Rien, who is Giliead's mother. She's not a main character, but she has a lot of effect on the plot.

There are a lot of older Raksuran women in The Books of the Raksura who are major and minor characters. Flower and Pearl mainly, then later Malachite of Opal Night and Ice of Emerald Twilight. I always thought of Blossom as being in the human equivalent of her 40s, too. In "The Tale of Indigo and Cloud" (one of the novellas out this September) Cerise is an older mature queen.

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(NM. Not a lady. Doh!)

I love how the characters of Maskelle and Ravenna are so largely defined by the maturity that has clearly come with age. They don't become useless or obsolete as a result of age, like a lot of older characters in stories (especially women).

And I really love how the older queens in the Raksura books give a sense of having been honed by age. Even Pearl, whose experiences seem to have made her a little less...stable? than the other queens, is still an incredible force. The comparison that comes to mind is the way some sword blades (Japanese? I think?) took a long time to make, and were folded over and over to increase their strength, and polished over the course of a long time to make them incredibly sharp. That's kind of how I conceptualize Raksuran queens.

Edited at 2014-08-07 03:12 pm (UTC)

That's a very cool image.

Swan in my first novel, The Z Radiant, is in her 40s; and Snow in Deep Terrain is, too. Of course, who knows if DT will ever see the light of day...

I hope it does, because I love that book so much.

Older female characters is one of the (many) things I love about your work.

Speaking of _Wheel of the Infinite_, james_nicoll reviewed it recently as part of his Rediscovery series, if you haven't seen that.

Edited at 2014-08-07 05:35 pm (UTC)

That was me that sponsored it! I'd asked for any of the novels, but mentioned that I had a particular fondness for Wheel (I was also re-reading it). I asked later if he'd be willing to review more, in a few months, and he said yes.

I was definitely in funds (and James not-in-funds) when I did it. I'll need to wait a bit to sponsor more, or start co-sponsoring, because our big-but-very-doable home improvement project has, of course, morphed into a oh-we-have-to-do-3-other-things-which-then-spawn-2-more-great-monstrous-money-inhaling-monster. While the end is in site, kinda, I need to conserve funds for a bit.

Hope you feel better soon!

Now that I'm almost 43 I find, on re-reads of Wheel of the Infinite, that I've moved from being pleasantly intrigued by the perspective of Maskelle as an older female character to nodding along in understanding. Oh yeah, the creaky knees *nodnod* But still badass and awesome as all get out! Gives me hope, lol ^_^

Yes - this is something I've become increasingly conscious of as I've gotten older myself. The vast majority of female characters in fantasy and science fiction books I've read - at least, characters who are central to the books - are much younger than I am now. It used to be fairly common for me to find characters I could identify with to a pretty fair extent, and now it very rarely happens.

I suppose I should qualify that by adding that of course it's possible to identify to some extent with any character, regardless of age, gender, etc., if they're well written - but there's a stronger sense of identification that comes with recognizing elements of yourself and your life in a character, and that happens much less for me these days. Really, about the only two books I can think of offhand that have middle-aged women as protagonists are your Wheel of the Infinite, as you note, and Cherie Priest's Boneshaker.

The latter also particularly caught my attention because the character being a mother is quite central to the plot - it's centred around her going off to rescue her teenage son from an ill-advised quest that is likely to get him killed. And it made me think about how rare that was - that mothers in SF&F usually fit into one of a small range of stereotypical roles:

1. They can die tragically as a source of motivational angst for their kids or spouses, who are of course the real protagonists of the story (a specifically maternal version of the women-in-refrigerators trope).
2. They can be helpless innocents who have to be protected in some way, including being protected from knowing anything about whatever the focus of the story is,
3. They can be controlling influences who try to stop their kids from being adventurous, being different in any way, etc. (this one's particularly common in YA, probably because those books are aimed at teenagers who may well be resenting their own parents).

And that's really about it, that I can think of anyway. Mothers who don't fit into one or another of those three roles are very rare in speculative fiction. By contrast, fathers end up being protagonists a lot more often - usually in the context of either protecting their families, or avenging their families' tragic deaths (see #1 and 2 on the list above).

It would be great to compile a list of SF&F books whose protagonists are older women and/or moms. Unless someone already has...? I'll have to look around.

There's Ista, the main character in Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold. She's a mother and middle-aged woman, and the protagonist of the story. Cordelia Naismith could also count if we're going with the 'older than 30' definition - she stars in two of the Vorkosigan books, Shards of Honor and Barrayar, and is in her 30s at that time. She becomes a mother in the second book.

Edited at 2014-08-08 03:56 pm (UTC)

Ista in Paladin of Souls is wonderful.

In Elizabeth Moon's Paladin's Legacy series (begins with Oath of Fealty) at least two of the viewpoint characters are middle-aged women, Dorrin from the very beginning and Arian a little later in the series.

Maskelle has long been one of my favorites, and I liked Ravenna, too. (The readers who pictured her as ugly were, perhaps, bringing too much of themselves and their own expectations to the work. I never thought of her that way.)

There's Taveth in Jo Walton's Lifelode, although that's more a "domestic fantasy" than a woman over 30 out having adventures. The adventures come to her, for better or worse.

Morwen in Patricia C Wrede's Searching for Dragons is not young, but is remarkably brisk and capable. Secondary character, though.

This was one of the things that was appealing to me about the Incredibles movie a few years ago. Look, they got married and had kids and didn't disappear off the face of the planet.

It's not just sf/f where middle-aged women are rare. I have a cozy mystery protagonist who's 45, and I'm getting a lot of feedback on her age. It's generally positive, but it's made me try to think of other female middle-aged protagonists in the mystery genre, and I'm not coming up with any except Agatha Raisin (by MC Beaton), who I think is in her 50s. It seems there are lots of under-40, and then the Miss Marple age group, but no one in the middle.

There's Clare Fergusson in Julia Spencer-Fleming's series, but I think she's in her late 30s rather than over 40.

You know what else I loved about Maskelle? She's older than Rian. The reverse is common enough, I think - the older warrior or mage who earns the love of a younger woman over the course of the story line. (Oddly enough, the first example that leaps to mind is Gil Patterson and Inglold Inglorian from Barbara Hambly's Darwath books, which I think is a very different character dynamic -- that is, the older man/younger woman pairing is there, but I think it's the result of a very different sort of fantasy in that case.) In Wheel of the Infinite, though, Maskelle and Rian fall for each other pretty hard, and neither of them really thinks much of the difference in their ages. Sure, Maskelle smothers a few early misgivings, but those seem to be at least as much of a concern about intimacy and trust in general than about their relative ages, and probably more so. Rian, for his part, is happy to have finally found a woman worth following -- which is both eminently believable, coming from him, and very much NOT a typical Male Fantasy Warrior response. She's older and rather more powerful than he is? As far as he's concerned, that's great -- and as far as I'm concerned, that's AWESOME. Rian comes off as someone who's comfortable enough in who he is and what he can do that he isn't threatened by a woman with Maskelle's kind of power.

Also, how the heck do you read The Element Of Fire and come out picturing Ravenna as anything less than beautiful?

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