Tag Archives: women

Word Wars #1: Men and Women

This “Word Wars” series is a new thing I’m trying out. It’s hard to say out loud (Word Wars), but just roll with it for a minute.  Okay? Let’s go.

Challenge #1: Men and Women

Stop using the words “guys” and “males” and only use the word “men“. And stop using the words “girls” and “females” and only use the word “women“. (When referring to adults, of course.)

Where? In all things. Tweets, posts, emails, texting, comments, whatever. And perhaps most importantly, in your professional writing. Men and women only. Go!

Start now, and report back here in the comments on any changes you notice from doing this. Does it change how you think, how you write and speak, how people react to you? Whatever you think,  I want to know.

What is Word Wars?

Words are powerful things, right? Because not only are they the main way we communicate with each other, but they are the main tools we have for thinking our own thoughts. So these “Word Wars” posts are challenges to you, whoever you are, whatever you do, to change the way you use words and see how it affects you, either internally or outwardly. Anywhere you use words. In conversation, on Facebook, at work, personally, professionally, in your own head, whatever. It’s an experiment. Why? Because I’m curious.

 

Can men write good women characters?

This is a stupid question. Can men write good women characters? Obviously, the answer is no. Men are idiots. Wait. No, I meant to say the other thing. Yes, (some) men can write (fairly) good women characters (sometimes). No, the real question is this: why can’t all men write good women characters all the time?

Here’s the thing. I’m a man (you’ll just have to take my word on that). And I wrote Elf Saga: Doomsday, which has a primary cast of five women, and is written from the first-person perspectives of those women. Now, the vast majority of the reviews of Elf Saga are fantastic 4- and 5-star ratings, so clearly some humans think it’s a good book. But who are my fans and who are my critics? Men or women?

(And before we go any further, yes, I know that this post looks like I’m tooting my own horn, but just wait until the end, please, because I am trying to make a very serious point. Thanks!)

Now, let’s look at the numbers.

Currently, there are 47 reviews of Elf Saga on Amazon.com, with an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 (thank you for that!). So let’s check out what the people are saying about the characters in Elf Saga, broken down by gender:

Gender Unknown

(aka “People who use weird screen names on Amazon”)

  • 3 stars: “I did enjoy the way the characters interacted with each other”
  • 4 stars: “the cast of lead characters are a well-written group of female protagonists, something I haven’t encountered too often in works of fantasy”
  • 5 stars: “The characters were great”
  • 5 stars: ” I love the idea of a band of adventurers that are mostly women instead of the standard fare of women being support only”
  • 5 stars: “I always love a good story with smart strong women kicking butts all the way”
  • 5 stars: “The characters are great”

Assessment: People of unknown gender seem to be consistently positive about the women characters in Elf Saga.

Men

(aka “Bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling”)

  • 3 stars: “for a group of supposedly seasoned warriors they seemed entirely too silly. The lead characters, who are all female, don’t really act like women. They act like what a man thinks women act like”
  • 4 stars: “very competent female heroes”
  • 5 stars: “each of our protagonists have their own particular quirks and personality traits. These ‘traits’ bloom and expand as the story proceeds”
  • 5 stars: “Lewis has awesome characters with personalities that remind me of guys I served with in the Navy”

Assessment: Aha! Here we go! So, a couple guys like the women characters, but the one 3-star-man thinks the writer-man (me) failed to create decent women characters, because the characters “act like what a man thinks women act like”, which apparently is wrong, because… real women act in ways that men don’t think women do? Maybe? At any rate, it’s clear that this reviewer-man feels he knows how all women act (because women all act the same way, obviously) better than the writer-man knows how all women act. So there!

Women

(aka “Actual real live women”)

  • 1 star: “The characters are good and it’s quite funny in parts”
  • 4 stars: “I approached this book with a bit of trepidation after seeing that a male author was writing a story with an almost entire female cast. I was pleasantly surprised at the nice job he did with those characters. He did a great job of meshing the characters with all their bantering and bickering, and ultimately with their trust in and loyalty to each other.”
  • 4 stars: “I liked the very strong female characters”
  • 4 stars: “The characters are each unique and have distinct personalities that I would enjoy watching grow”
  • 4 stars: “I liked the feminine point of view”
  • 5 stars: “The characters were each fully fleshed with their own distinct backgrounds and I would love to read a book about each of them in turn if given the chance. I have never really read many books with a feminine point of view but I must admit I did truly enjoy this”
  • 5 stars: “the person who complained about the women being too masculine must remember that all warriors are pretty much the same. I applaud the writer on his ability to keep my interest in this book”
  • 5 stars: “The group of elf girls are hilarious”
  • 5 stars: “I was pleasantly surprised as I finished up the last paged. The characters had such varied personalities”
  • 5 stars: “As the story goes on you get to know the characters and cheer for them or agree with their choices”

Assessment: Real actual women think that the women characters in Elf Saga are good (hilarious! strong! unique!).

So there we have it. In addition to giving me an excuse to post all about my own positive reviews, this little exercise has shown that a man is capable of writing a popular, engaging story about a diverse cast of women who appeal to both men and women readers.

And this brings us to the real question, the real point, the very serious issue that I mentioned at the beginning of this ridiculous post:

If I, a man who admittedly has no idea what he is doing, can write good women characters, why the hell are so many other men failing to do the same?

Our daughters deserve more heroines, so here comes ELF SAGA!

Stories are wonderfully powerful things. They give us heroes to emulate, and inspire us to become astronauts, firefighters, doctors, and archaeologists with bullwhips and questionable professional ethics.

But not only do stories show us amazing people doing amazing things, they also show us that “people like us” can do “things like that”. Now, every little boy already knows this is true because he’s spent his whole life seeing men fight crime, men solve mysteries, men build wonders, and men explore the unknown.

And while we have been getting much better at creating these same sorts of stories for girls, we are still far, far behind where we need to be.

We need more diverse heroes.

A simple example would be the current trend of superhero movies. In the last decade alone, we’ve had a lot of male-lead live action flicks: Batman, Superman, Blade, Hellboy, Spider-man, Punisher, The Crow, Zorro, Ghost Rider, Iron Man, Constantine, Hulk, Hancock, Jumper, Jonah Hex, Kick-Ass, Green Hornet, Thor, Green Lantern, Captain America, Dredd, and Wolverine (many of which have had 2 or 3 sequels already!)

And that’s not including team movies, like Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-men, Watchmen, and Fantastic Four, which generally push the popularity of their male stars.

But in this same ten-year span, how many female-lead superhero movies have there been? Catwoman, Elektra, and… Lucy? Does Lucy count?

That’s maybe three. A cheap knock-off that looked nothing like Catwoman, a spin-off character from Daredevil, and… Lucy.

Where are Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel? and Wasp, Black Cat, Power Girl, Hawk Girl…

Heck, where are Batgirl, Supergirl, and Spider-woman? I mean, when you’ve got a proven franchise, why not spin out the female-lead characters in those?

Sometimes, critics say that heroic movies with female leads don’t sell tickets, but we all know that’s not true. Just look at Frozen, The Hunger Games, Kill Bill, Alien, Lara Croft, Brave, Gravity, and (of all things) Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. All made huge bank, both recently and decades ago, with both known and unknown female lead actresses.

So, clearly we have a problem. But since I don’t have a movie studio, I can’t do much on that front.

But I do write books.

Over the last four years, I’ve published a lot of fantasy books with women lead characters, from Africa, India, Europe, Mars, and even exotic Baltimore!

There are two reasons I do this:

  • First, I want to entertain people, I want to make people happy, and if I know there’s a segment of the reading world that could use more attention, then why not make those people happy? Happiness is a good thing.
  • Second, I want to inspire others. Partly I want to inspire girls (like my daughters) to be heroic and clever and funny and amazing, because they are, and they should be. And partly I want to inspire writers to do better than me, because I have to assume that even on my best day, my best-written woman character isn’t going to be the best woman character ever written. Because I’m a dude.

So, with that said, I want to talk about my next book:

ELF SAGA

Did that corny title get your attention? Good. That tingling sensation means it’s working.

For years I’ve been promising myself I would write an old-fashioned fantasy book about elves and dragons. But I could never think of a story I actually wanted to tell in that sort of world. I didn’t want to do something cliche. So I waited for an idea. And then I got one.

ELF SAGA is about a group of heroes out to save the world. Epic fantasy tropes in tact so far, but here’s where I go off-script.

All of our heroes are women. All are from different countries and cultures. So yes, there is a European elf, a West African elf, an Indian elf, a Japanese elf, and a Native American elf. Supporting characters include two Arabian elves, an Native Australian elf, and a ton more of all of the above.

Is that a bunch of forced multi-culturalism? Yep. And it’s awesome.

And each of our heroes gets to be the main character during her part of the story, so that first-person “I” changes to another member of the team every hundred pages or so.

Some are sweet, some are mean, some are clever, some are tough. Because they’re people.

Some are straight, some are gay, and some aren’t interested. Because sex is great, when and where it matters.

By the way, there’s no villain in this book, no Big Bad. There’s no Dark Lord, no Chosen One, no Evil Empire. Instead, our heroines have a lot of complicated problems to solve, which will conveniently force them all to return home at some point to confront the demons from their pasts.

So what else does ELF SAGA have? Huge dragons, vicious unicorns, annoying faeries, living ships, dashing pirates, creepy witches, monstrous ghosts, talking anteaters, waking nightmares, killer mermaids, superhuman samurai, and… well, that’s all I have so far. I’m kitchen-sinking this one, folks, and it is a ton of fun.

Oh, and swearing. There’s a lot of swearing.

Inspirations include Farscape, Archer, Rat Queens, Supernatural, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Hopefully, some of you will like it.

And with a little luck, it will be on sale this fall before Christmas.

Stay tuned for more news about ELF SAGA.

Fantasy, dragons, and old-fashioned sexism

I recently finished a great book called A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan. Describe it? Imagine that Jane Austen had written about a woman solving a crime while studying dragons in their natural habitat. It’s a well-written story and I hope to read more of the series in the future, but something about it bugged me.

This is a fantasy novel about dragons. Dragons that fly, dragons that fit in the palm of your hand, dragons as big as a house, lost civilizations that worshiped dragons, dragons that breath poison and ice, dragons that mourn their dead, and dragons that dissolve into dust when they die. So there’s a lot of imagination at work here.

But this is also a novel about a woman who spends her entire life overcoming social barriers that prevent women from reading certain books, conversing with men, pursuing a scientific career, and generally being treated as an equal to her male colleagues. So… there’s dismayingly little imagination at work here.

I don’t mean to criticize Ms Brennan. She wrote a great book with a lot of skill and talent. I would not be surprised if somewhere in her mind she set out to write Pride and Prejudice and Dragons, and fairly succeeded.

But it still feels to me that she fell prey to a common trope (or trap) in fantasy literature. Which is that the writer imagined a fantastical world full of fantastical creatures and settings, but she didn’t imagine a culture in which women were equals to men. Because a 19th-century world with dragons is reasonable, but a 19th-century world in which women wear pants and have jobs? Ridiculous!

Now, I know Ms Brennan is well aware of modern gender issues in fantasy. She’s blogged about lots of them. Yet it still bothers me that she chose to create a classical male-dominated English society for her heroine to wade through instead of crafting a more inspirational, aspirational, or egalitarian society.

After all, it seems to me that A Natural History of Dragons is mostly a story of adventure, mystery, and a bit of romance. It only offers social commentary when the story demands it, and not as a central theme. So why not create one (or more) cultures where women aren’t struggling to prove that they are as intelligent, courageous, and all-around interesting as men?

(Sorry, Marie, I didn’t mean to put you on the spot like that! I really did like the book!)

Why we need more stories with more women characters

When I was younger, a fantasy novel was about a guy. Or a bunch of guys. Or sometimes a bunch of guys and one really hot girl. Between the Conan-clones and the Lord of the Rings-ripoffs, it was easy to spend a lot of time reading about guys doing things. And that’s cool. Guys are cool. But we were obviously neglecting half the species, and today it’s nice to see the market evening itself out gender-wise.

But we now have a slightly different problem, which is that there are many books (or whole series) about a female lead surrounded by male characters, and usually she is competing with other women, or disparaging other women. We see this a lot in paranormal fantasy. The heroine is awesome, and all the other girls are awful. For reasons.

So I think it’s important that we work a little harder to tell stories with more women working together, which should include friends, relatives, partners, colleagues, and other positive relationships. One of the problems with our current culture is that it subtly (and not so subtly) encourages women to compete with each other for male attention. Which is stupid. There’s a lot more to life than men (like saving the world from Evil), and even when you’re in the market for a man, it seems to me that there is absolutely no shortage of male attention (according to every woman on OkCupid ever).

And that’s why I try to keep my fantasy novels populated with a variety of women who have more on their minds than just boys. Right now, my best examples of that might be Halcyon: The Burning Sky, Chimera: The Dragon and the Lotus, Mystwood, and Ultraviolet. Well, now that I think about it, maybe not Ultraviolet. Hm. Take a look. Let me know what you think.

Free this week: Zelda Pryce (The Arcane Trilogy)

For the next five days (October 9 to 13), you can get my urban fantasy trilogy Zelda Pryce free on Amazon Kindle. [ Get it now! ]

About the book:

Book 1 -The Razor’s EdgeBrilliant young inventor Zelda Pryce creates beautiful machines using the arcane sciences (don’t call them magic!), including her one-of-a-kind wings and cloaking device. But when she visits the British Museum in London, she stumbles on an international conspiracy to destroy all the arcane inventions in the world.

Book 2 – The Clockwork GirlZelda Pryce transforms her clients into world-class athletes, rock stars, and crime fighters with her gorgeous arcane prosthetic arms and legs. But strange events are threatening to destroy her business. Her inventions come to life at night, her clients are attacked in broad daylight, and her best friend is framed for a series of terrible crimes.

Book 3 – The Demon HuntWhen Zelda Pryce assembles a device that can predict the future, she is drawn into the mysterious world of arcane demons. Some want to help her and some want to be left alone, but one of them wants to change the world… and everyone in it. 

The series is fast and fun, and throws together all sorts of history, globe-trotting thrills, science, philosophy, superheroes, and smart young people, with a few laughs and a bit of romance, too.

Why are you still here? Go get the Zelda Pryce trilogy now!