Thoughts on female protagonists in YA fantasy

The other day, may daughter finally bought an ereader. It’s a bit sad that my kids wanted to read “real” books long after I’d gone digital, but the physical size of a particular book that she wanted to read on public transport finally won her over.

Anyway, having read said book, I was sitting with her in the Berkelouw second hand book cafe on the bridge thingie in Westfield Hornsby today (if you know this place, it’s very nice), and we were talking about books. The book in question was a sequel, and she said about it: but it’s about a different main character who is a relative of the character in book 1, because at the end of book 1, that character gets married.

And I thought: that just about says it all. When a girl gets married, her story is finished and no longer worth telling.

Which fantasy do you know where female protagonists get married early in the series, and continue to play an important role in the story? So much of this fantasy, especially in YA, is driven by the romance, and once this is resolved, there doesn’t seem to be a story left to tell. Or the author doesn’t think it’s worth telling. Skipping to another character for the next book is very common.

Often these are female authors,many of whom would be married and would be mothers. Do they think that mothers of small children lead such sheltered lives that nothing can happen to them (that doesn’t involve the children, but impacts on the entire family?) Married women and mothers are pretty invisible in real life. They’re pretty invisible in speculative fiction.

Thoughts on female protagonists in YA fantasy was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

The Idiot King – snippet

ForQueenAndCountry3The book is almost ready to go to the editor! Here is a random snippet:

Heart thudding, she looked into the old and haughty faces of the two men opposite her. They appeared quite civilised, but especially with nobles, appearances never told the entire story.
“Why don’t you ask the king what he wants.”
Johan Delacoeur scoffed. “He’s not in a state to–”
“He is not dumb if that’s what you were going to say.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
Yes, that was exactly what he was going to say. “Roald?”
He sat bent over his book, but his eyes weren’t moving. He held his hands clamped between his knees, and a muscle in his forearm kept alternately tensing up and relaxing.
“Roald?” She put an arm over his shoulder. Drops of sweat pearled on his forehead. He smelled sweaty, too.
“I was rude to them,” he said.
Fleuris LaFontaine snorted. “He was, too. I don’t know where a prince learns that kind of language.”
“They were rude to my women,” Roald said. “The maid and the witch. No one is rude to my women.”
“I know. It’s all right.” She spoke very softly, hoping that the men couldn’t hear her well enough to understand.
“You’re mine. Nellie is mine. They can’t be rude to you.”
“It’s all right, really. Calm down, please.”
“Your Highness,” said Fleuris LaFontaine.
“Tell them to leave,” Roald said.
“They won’t listen to me. You’re the king. Tell them.”
“I can’t talk to them. They’re rude. Father says I can’t talk to rude people.”
Johan Delacoeur cleared his throat. “Your Highness…”
Johanna turned around. Why couldn’t he see that she was busy? “The king will talk to you if he wants. Right now, he asks me to tell you to leave.”
Johan ignored her. “Please do tell us, Your Highness, if you would prefer to wed a woman of your status–”
Roald got up from the table so suddenly that Johanna had no chance to stop him. He faced the two men.
“They are my women! You can’t take them away from me I forbid you to take them away from me. I’m the king, you have to listen to me and do what I say. I want you to leave. This is my room for me and my women.”
“Roald, it’s all right. Calm down.”
“No, it’s not all right. They are here to take you away. I don’t want you to go. You’re mine. I love you.” His cheeks had gone red.
He turned back to the men, whose eyes were wide. Johan Delacoeur’s mouth hung open.
“You hear that? I love her. Now, you leave. Get out of here. This is my ship. Go, go, go.” He more or less pushed them up the stairs, Johan Delacoeur first and then his colleague.
Fleuris LaFontaine stammered, “Your Highness, I’m sorry to have caused offense. It was not my intention–”
“Go, go, go!” Roald was almost shrieking now.
“Come, my friend,” Johan said from the top of the stairs. “We know we’re not wanted.” He met Johanna’s eyes. “I can only say, young lady, that this is a very bad move–”
“Go, go, go! Stop talking. Stop making noise. Yap, yap, yap, yap. Get out of here.”
Fleuris LaFontaine had reached the top of the stairs, his face red from exertion. Men of his standing did apparently not run up narrow and steep stairs, infinitely more comfortable than the previous ladder they were.
They pushed the cover shut, and Johanna was left alone with Roald.
They looked at each other.
Johanna stifled a snort of laughter.
“You think that’s funny?”
“I think you were brilliant.” There would be consequences, but the sight of those two portly men scrambling up the steps was not one she’d forget quickly.
“You liked it.” He said that in a tone as if he could barely believe it.
“Yes, I did.”
He started laughing, too. “Did you see how scared they were? How I chased them up the stairs?”
Johanna laughed out loud. She put on an arrogant voice. “Your Highness, wouldn’t you prefer to wed a woman of your status?”
Roald giggled and snorted.
“They could hardly be more crass about what they wanted. And you know what the funny thing is? Ha, ha, ha. They don’t even have any daughters.”
Roald squealed with laughter.

The Idiot King – snippet was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

I’m sorry

ForQueenAndCountry3I’m sorry to my readers. The Idiot King is late. I was supposed to have handed it in to the editor by the end of August, but I still haven’t finished the manuscript.

I did finish it, of sorts, but then I decided that I hated it, and I threw out the entire last half of the book. All those chapters needed to be re-written into a story that I’m happy to publish. I’ve got 2-3 chapters to do and then a final read-through.

I guess this is a good thing about self-publishing and soft deadlines: I don’t get to deliver “that will do” type of work because of time pressure. If I don’t think a book works, then I simply move the deadline.

Re-writing was not very fast because I also needed to paint the entire bottom floor of the house, and, having turned over everything in our living area twice, we can’t find anything, and it’s all very frustrating. As it was, re-varnishing the bedrooms (where we had stored everything during the renovation) was more disruptive than the renovation itself. I didn’t really enjoy having to sleep in the office amongst cardboard boxes for a week.

I’m sorry was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

What is your biggest fear?

jumping-spider-300444_640In many books or movies, the main character has an irrational fear of something, and during the story, ends up facing that fear.

I’m always up for finding interesting fears to pester my characters with. I’ve never really understood the fear of spiders and snakes, because if you leave them alone, spiders and snakes will leave you alone, too.

Leeches, on the other hand, won’t. *shudders*

In Ambassador, the Coldi people come from a world where there is a lot of desert, and many are afraid of large bodies of water. There are also few vertebrate animals, so they’d be uncomfortable with them, too. Not so much for worms, snails and slugs, which are a large part of their diet.

This brings up interesting conflicts for when they interact with Earth humans.

Cory is also not too great with heights.

In other books, I’ve done fear of medical procedures and the fear of small spaces.

What fears have you used in books, or what things creep you out?

What is your biggest fear? was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

I am not a feminist (thought of the day)

So, OK, this is going to be one of those times that people say “I am not…” and then proves the person to be exactly what they said they were not.

The other day, I was looking through various categories of books on Amazon, and I happened across a bunch of semi-erotic paranormal stuff with titles like “Claimed by the Alpha” (sorry if this is your actual book title. I’m not talking about any book in particular), written by women, where the female characters appeared to have little interest other than sucking up to some dominant male in the hope of getting smexytimes.

And I couldn’t help thinking: I am not a feminist, but did our mothers and grandmothers fight for women’s rights just so that women could publish submissive [expletive] like this? Handing the man the reins with which he can whip us and keep us at a short leash.

There was lots of it, so obviously someone is lapping this stuff up. I remembered the outrage about the “passiveness” of the main character in Twilight. And then I remembered that I wasn’t in particular bothered by it (yes, I read all four books). Because I also have a little trouble with the “must have strong female character” mantra. Characters should be like people: they come in all types. Monotony is good for nothing and no one.

So then I tried to disambiguate my feminist-flavoured outrage about submissive werewolf smexytimes, and I decided that I was probably missing several points:

I don’t like submissive smexytimes, but who cares what I don’t like? I was confusing my opinion with some sort of moralistic standpoint about what a liberated woman should read or write.

Writers tend to like the sound of their own voice, and as typical writer, I let this sentence ramble for too long. It should have gone like this:

Did our mothers and grandmothers fight for women’s rights just so that women could publish submissive [expletive] like this?

And yes, they certainly did. Because let’s not forget that in the past, and in many countries in the world, women don’t have a voice at all. Whether they should or should not use that voice to write submissive smexytimes is really not up to me, and I have no right to tell other women how to be a feminist, or, for that matter, how or when to be outraged. This goes both ways.

*peace, sisters*

*goes back to hating submissive smexytimes*


I am not a feminist (thought of the day) was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Rant of the day: hover to expand ads


My internet is boobytrapped!

Is yours, too?

(There will be some sweariness in this post.)

Advertisers have discovers a new evil: the “hover to expand” ad.

I have often explained why I am not in favour of adblockers.

(Reason: many sites provide content for free and/or are run by volunteers. Advertising is their way to raise revenue. Unless I am prepared to pay for site access, which often I am  not, the onus is on me to put with advertising.)

I have NO trouble with ads.

That is, ads that hang around in their appropriate places: the side bars and top and bottom of the screen. Ads that are static and that do NOT play a video or music.

Enter the ultimate fucktard of ads: the “hover to expand” ad.

With one of these buggers on the screen, you need to careful where you move your mouse. Because as soon as it hits the fucking ad, a fucking pop-up appears on the screen, playing fucking music that I haven’t asked for.

This is a problem if your internet connection is slow and if a site hasn’t specified image sizes (the screen will often “jump around” until the page has fully loaded), causing you to hover over the fucking ad by mistake.

This is a problem if your mouse has sub-optimal function (in other words, if you need a new mouse but haven’t been arsed to go and buy one yet).

This is a problem if you’re on a tablet or other small screen and parts of the screen are out of view (in fact, on my tablet I find I’m always accidentally moving over these fucking ads)

Seriously, whose stupid idea was this?

Rant of the day: hover to expand ads was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Because you like pretty pictures and random news

I haven’t been out to take photographs for a while, because on the last few Mondays, any of these things, or a combination, applied: 1. the weather was shit, 2. My husband wasn’t going on the 6am bus to Canberra, 3. We had floor sanders turn up early.

Meanwhile, I received this cool review for Ambassador

And I redesigned my author website.

And I experienced a massive fail in trying to get The Idiot King finished, because of the above-mentioned floor sanders (which required us to move all the furniture from where it had been stored during renovations to everywhere it had NOT been stored during renovations), painting the entire house, and also because I finished the manuscript and then didn’t like it. I’m changing a few things around

Also, I had wanted to put out my short stories for a while, but there are not (yet) enough for another anthology, so when Amazon came along with the Kindle Unlimited library, I decided to park them in there for a while. Of course this meant putting together some more covers. Two are below. These are for stories in the process of being uploaded or updated.  See the other stories here.

Party with echoes Where the plains

Because you like pretty pictures and random news was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

By pattyjansen Posted in art, news

Twitter for Authors

I love Twitter. I love Twitter a lot more than Facebook, because the latter likes to make decisions without my consent. Also, if you have an author page, Facebook doesn’t show your updates to all people who have agreed to see it. No, they only do that if you pay! What utter bullshit.

So I hang out on Twitter much more than Facebook. Everyone and anyone can see your posts. You can see everyone’s.

As author, I’ve found Twitter very useful in a number of ways:

1. Twitter is the most important and foremost source of raw, up-to-date news. I’ve seen pictures of things happening live that were only ever covered in retrospect by the major news services. I’ve seen scandals unfold. I’ve seen original tweets that were later deleted. I have a column called “News” and a bunch of news services go in there: A couple of science-related people, ABC news, Al Jazeera (the single best source of varied international news), the Rural Fire Brigade, traffic updates, a gossip columnist (gossip, however much it doesn’t interest me, is a GREAT source for characterisation). As author, news is the stuff you thrive on, and the more uncensored and pre-chewed, the better.

2. Twitter is great for asking questions. You know when you’re writing and all of a sudden, you can’t remember the word for that thing that goes in the thing that people do that thing with? Ask on Twitter. You’ll have your reply within five minutes.

3. Twitter is awesome for background information, too. People post links to blog posts. You discover a lot of interesting stuff.

4. Twitter is the go-to place for cat pictures. Or any other source of levity and goofing off. Sometimes you just need a laugh.

Noticed how I haven’t actually mentioned selling books yet? That’s because you don’t sell books on Twitter. If you want to descend to marketing-speak, what Twitter helps you do is “establish your brand”, and this is marketing BS for letting people know who you are and what makes you tick.

Those people might then follow your blog, because they like chatting with you. If you occasionally mention that you’re a writer, they may sign up for your newsletter. They may buy new books or specials. But that’s a secondary effect. Twitter does not sell books.

How do I know?

I tried. Two titles of mine have been part of tweet-bombs twice. Since you have to try everything at least once, I signed up for a Twitter campaign once, and once my book got picked up without me submitting it.

Both times, a couple of tweets with a  book link were tweeted and re-tweeted every couple of hours by various accounts. Copies sold as a result? Negligible.

It’s kinda fascinating to see a tweet bomb unfold. All these accounts retweeting the same thing. It’s amazing where these tweets go and who retweets them, and also, how long before the echoes of it die completely. I’m presuming that there are a number of authors using sites like TweetAdder to automatically spit out and pre-program hundreds of author promo tweets.

And why? Ye gods, why? It does not work. It clutters up my news feed. It annoys the shit out of everyone. It. DOES. NOT. WORK.

When you’re on Twitter, the “product” you’re “selling” is yourself. Be interesting. Be a real person. Please kill the auto-retweet feed.


Twitter for Authors was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

The Great Wall of Bleh

This week, I’ve been banging my head against this manuscript, and not getting anywhere much with it.

Sadly, it is a familiar feeling. Some people call it “horrible middle”, and it has hit me in almost every book I’ve written with very few exceptions.

It’s a “everyone will hate this” kind of bleh.

Or a “I’m sick of this” kind of bleh.

Or a “Can I go and write something else now?” kind of bleh.

Or a “I have no idea what I’m doing” kind of bleh.

It usually occurs just before a few pieces of the story fall into place. Often, I didn’t know the character motivations quite as well as I thought I did.

Re-reading the manuscript usually helps. So does making a diagram with who is related to whom and what their relationship is and what they want out of that relationship. The world of For Queen And Country has become a lot more complicated in three books. I don’t “do” simplistic worldbuilding. Within a country, not everyone belongs to the same church. Within the same church, not everyone takes all the teachings equally seriously. Within the group of people who do take it seriously, not everyone interprets teachings in the same way. Each of those people have different motives for believing and acting as they do. Throw into this mix a couple of different nationalities, a couple of ghosts and magic and a lack of communication (no internet in the 1600′s, people!) and you have a big mess. I like my worlds messy. I like there to be some stuff that makes no sense, things that people do just because they have always done them in the same way.

So,while I keep hammering at this manuscript, note that both Ambassador and Shifting Reality are at $2.99 or something close to that amount at most outlets.

The Great Wall of Bleh was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

By pattyjansen Posted in writing

Why I write: a major revelation

The question of why I write is one I have always struggled to answer. Usually, when writers are asked that question, they go into long-winded explanations of having to express their art and satisfy their inner gecko and other artsy-fartsy stuff like that. And that is just SO not me. As a consequence, I’ve always avoided answering that question.

(there are a few swears in this post)

Why I write? Because I want to.

But today, in the season where sales are shit and it is natural that you start to ponder the question “Why the hell am I doing this anyway?” I had a major revelation.

You see, a couple of years ago, an anonymous reviewer from Harper Collins told me publicly on Authonomy that my book Ambassador, known as Seeing Red was “well-written and well-plotted, but no one will publish this”. Seriously. That’s what he said. OK, I don’t know it was a he, but I’ve always assumed so. Certainly, this person had never read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles series, and maybe this person had the idea that science fiction needs to be literary and about ideas (I’d argue Ambassador is about ideas, but they’re not in your face, and they’re not the kind of ideas he would have liked anyway).

Anyway, this morning, I logged on to find that someone had reviewed Ambassador and has been tweeting it all over the internet.

OK, so we come to another old chestnut of the “why I write” canon: because I want to be read.

Yeah, what absolute brilliant fucking genius. Everyone wants to be read. But being read is a result of writing. If you don’t write, you’ll never be read (I’ll probably receive a Nobel Prize for this statement). Why write in the first place?

Why write hard science fiction and space opera when you go to the bestseller lists in both genres to see that 95% of authors in the genre are male? Why persist?

Why persist in using Australian idiom and spelling, when you know ignoramuses will come around and say “this book is so full or errors”. Why do it?

Why persisting to write hard SF when an industry person tells me not to bother submitting because I’m a woman?

Why self-publish and do all that hard work without the marketing nous of a publisher?

Why do all of this?

Because all those questions, thrown-together as they seem, are connected.

Because I am not going to let anyone, any company, any literary reviewer, any public opinion, any tyranny of majority, tell me what to do. And I don’t believe any of you should, either.

I hate mindless actions. I hate the tyranny of fashion (in the clothes variety or in wider meaning). I fucking hate hype. I hate the tendency of people to be lemmings and follow each other off a cliff.

“Because xyz says so,” is never, EVER, a good reason to do something without further research.

When self-publishing wasn’t a thing, I often used to complain about hideous response times and writers being dicked about by publishers and agents. Often, fellow writers were trying to shush me up, saying stuff like “That’s how it is in the industry”, and “You’ll get used to it”. Well, yes to both accounts, and I did submit, and did get used to it,but I NEVER considered it acceptable, and never let an opportunity pass to tell the industry at large that as far as business relationships with their providers was concerned, they were a big fucking FAIL.

Just because something happens and people get used to it is not a reason to consider it acceptable.

Sure, you can go all huffy and not submit at all, or you can take part in the process and remind the industry at times that “Hey, maybe it’s time you pulled up your socks on this issue.” I’m someone of the latter variety. And much pulling up of socks has already happened (not that I think I had much influence, but it’s the big picture that counts).

And that, people, is why I write.

Because I believe that people should wake up, cut through the hype and bullshit, and use their fucking brains to make their own fucking decisions. If people spoke out about shit (being asked to sign crap contracts, workplace bullying, racism, being underpaid and overworked, the list goes on), a lot of it would happen less often.

I believe that this needs to be done within the frameworks of the environment you are trying to change (as opposed to from the outside, which is a much more antagonistic position).

Because “someone says so” is never a good reason to do or not to do something

This is a theme that, in some form, can be found in virtually all my fiction. It is why in Ambassador, Cory stands up to both President Danziger and Ezhya Palayi. It is why he antagonises one and befriends the other. It is why in Trader’s Honour, Mikandra stands up to her abusive father. It is why the book is called Trader’s Honour and not Trader’s Honor, because I fucking hate being told to spell American. It is why I’ll have the latest computers but don’t care about the latest phones. Because I’ve thought about it, and it’s MY decision.

It is why I exist, and why I write.

Why I write: a major revelation was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants