Marianne is one of my longest serving friends and mentors in the publishing industry – I have learned so much from her over the years, and she is still one of the first people I go to when I have a career dilemma.
It’s been so exciting to see her own career rise over the last decade and a half, through cyberpunk, space opera and vampire YA to her current western-inspired science fiction novel Peacemaker, with a protagonist who first saw the light of day in the Australian small presses.
When Marianne asked to contribute something to my blog as part of her tour for Peacemaker, the topic I asked for seemed obvious, as it’s one close to both of our hearts.
It’s hard to know where to start on this, but I guess the beginning is a good a place as any. Some of you may know that I grew up on a diet of boys own adventure stories – Tom Swift and the like. At the same time, I was devouring Westerns and inhaling James Bond. So it would be right to say, that my desire to create female heroes, stemmed simply from me wanting to do all the good stuff that the boy heroes got to do. It never, ever occurred to me that I couldn’t or shouldn’t. My first novel attempt at age ten was modelled on the Famous Five but featured a resourceful girl who caught a bunch of sheep stealers. Danger, action, intrigue, and female heroes existed in my stories right away.
Life happened. I grew up, had my share of encounters being marginalised because of my gender and had my eyes opened to the world. By the time I began write with true purpose, in my thirties, the desire to present female heroes through the novel form had grown even stronger. Now, however, the desire was tempered with the knowledge that I did not want to simply swap genitalia i.e. write an ostensibly male hero and just give him a female name and appearance, but that I truly was in love with the idea that women could be as competent, heroic, charismatic and flawed as their male hero counterparts.
Before my first novel, Nylon Angel, was published, I was urged to send the raw manuscript to a male colleague who had a sterling reputation for knowing what was what about science fiction. Indeed, he was an author as well. His (paraphrased here) response was to tell me that my female hero was a “vulva-swaggering, cardboard cut-out” without any redeeming qualities.
As an emerging author and emerging feminist, this was a shattering blow to my writing dream. Where could I go now? What could I do? These were the kind of women I wanted to write about. My life was over.
Dramatic, I know.
I cried for a bit. A week at least. Back then, I had no toughened critiquing skin to shelter beneath. Eventually though, I got back to writing, where I limped along for a while until time help the wound heal, and I began to gather writing momentum again.
On reflection, cruel as it felt at the time, that harsh critique was quite a defining moment for me. It didn’t stop me. I marched forward despite the warning that female heroes like mine were worthless. But I definitely kept a weather eye on them, to make sure that they retained their individuality. Personality, not gender, is what I focussed on. You could argue that personality is defined by gender, and you would be right to an extent. But it’s in the space left over that we truly know who are characters are.
That is where I dwell now, and the only limits to what my female heroes do, are the ones that they place on themselves.
Peacemaker by Marianne De Pierres will be published by Angry Robot Books later this month. You can check out the other posts, interviews and podcasts in Marianne’s Peacemaker blog tour over at her website.