manifesta: (Saving the World)
A quick thank you to all those who posted some love on [personal profile] petra's Be Excellent to Each Other meme. I really appreciated all your comments about my work here at [personal profile] manifesta, especially considering how burnt out I've been feeling lately. <3 I'm hoping to join in with some more love of my own soon, too.

There's been some discussion recently regarding the presence of women fantasy writers over at [ profile] xicanti's journal. Apparently the general consensus seems to be that female authors are not nearly as prevelant in secondary world/epic fantasy as much as contemporary, urban, or romantic fantasy. I find this interesting, because my bookcases are filled with female fantasy writers.

Some examples include Anne Bishop, Melanie Rawn (who, to me, defines the term 'epic fantasy'), Holly Lisle, Mindy L. Klasky, Trudi Canavan, Jacqueline Carey, Amanda Downum, Violette Malan (currently reading), Sara Douglass, Elizabeth Haydon, Sherwood Smith, Tamora Pierce, and more. Women have been incredibly influential in the evolution of the genre. Margaret Weis and Laura Hickman were two out of the three leading authors of Dragonlance. And what about Mercedes Lackey? So to quote [ profile] xicanti: "It’s not that women are producing little in the way of quality fantasy--it’s just that they get less press."

Indeed. I do think that there is an underrepresentation of women in epic fantasy in comparison to male authors, but female fantasy authors are not unicorns.
manifesta: (Default)
Just FYI, I'm pushing the contest entry date back to Friday the 14th (instead of the 13th) to give myself more time to write a fourth book analysis. That post will remain open for entries until 11:59PM PST on Monday the 17th and I'll draw 2 random winners ASAP after that.

I'll be out of town (on a wonderfully remote island without any internet connection) this weekend so after Friday I won't be able to answer questions until late Sunday at the very earliest. Please look over the rules and ask any questions before Friday, if possible.

A quick recap: I'm giving away 2 books for three-weeks-for-dw [community profile] three_weeks_for_dw (aka 3W4D). 2 winning participants will get to choose from a selection of books that I'll be analyzing over the course of the 3 weeks. Chosen books will range from romance to fantasy to YA. Here is the introductory post and giveaway rules, and all giveaway-related posts will be filed under the book giveaway and three weeks for dreamwidth tags.

I really love this one: Hawkspar by Holly Lisle.

Genre: Epic fantasy
Release: June 2008

So, as irrelevant but nonethless interesting background information, I remember back when Holly Lisle was still writing Hawkspar. She endured quite a bit in her struggle publish it in a way that did the book justice, and so to see it in its 600-page glory is cheering. Hawkspar a pseudo-standalone, pseudo-sequel to her other book set in the same world, Talyn (which is also very good). I've always been a huge fan of Lisle's worldbuilding abilities, but her novels prior to Talyn fell a little flat. They were okay. Not amazing, but decent. I feel like Talyn and especially Hawkspar are the height of Lisle's writing ability, the two books that went above and beyond all her previous works.

Hawkspar is a slave in a religious cult. Her eyes are replaced with the stones that goes by her name, and thus she becomes the new goddess of war, one of several goddesses whose eye are likewise replaced. She can no longer see what's in front of her, but she can slip into the streams of time and see the past, present, and future. The book is split into two POVs--Hawkspar's and Aaran's--but because Hawkspar's is written in first person, the reader is intimately connected with her every thought, and I think this may be why Lisle was so successful in writing about a character that is blind.

Humans are very visual creatures, and we depend on sight more than any other sense. A lot of the narrative in any book consists of visual descriptions of people, places, things. Because Hawkspar couldn't describe any of these things, Lisle was forced to focus on Hawkspar's thoughts, feelings. Her actions, others' actions. Lisle wrote this so fluidly that I was almost to the end of the book before I realized that, in the majority of Hawkspar's scenes, nothing visual had been described. She relied on other senses to describe the tangible: sounds, smells, texture. Hawkspar's sensory perception enhanced the overal feel of and my connection with the story.

There is at least one gritty scene that made me go, "It's not gonna go there. It wouldn't go there. ...holy cheesecake IT JUST WENT THERE." It was one of those moments where I knew that things would have to work out, because the story was no where near over, but I couldn't figure out how they could.

Hawkspar herself is calm and collected, but vengeful. She has insecurities, and feels incompetent at times, but she remains strong in times of crisis. I liked her a lot, if that says anything. She uses her Eyes to her advantage, but being able to see the future is only useful if the seer is able to make the appropriate decisions that would turn at least one possibility to her advantage. Hawkspar does just that, and plays a mental chess game with opponents that don't even recognize there's a gameboard.


spoiler alert: discussion of Hawkspar's status as disabled )

Warnings: Trigger warning for mentions of sexual assault against tertiary characters. There's also a decent amount of violence, but oddly enough a lot of it's off-screen.

Want to win Hawkspar? Hang around until Friday, May 14th when I open a post for contest entries!
manifesta: (River)

I should really cease in promising which post will come next, because invariably that's the post I get stuck on, which then puts me off of writing any new content until I become unstuck.

I've been working on a proposal for Sirens Conference in between classes, salsa practice, and running pilot tests for experiment #1. 

"Inspired by the daring adventures of women characters and compelled by the brilliant works by women authors, Sirens is dedicated to women in fantasy literature. Our conference, part scholarly examination and part networking retreat, welcomes academics, authors, professionals, and readers—and encourages all attendees to provide their perspectives on fantasy books by women, female characters in fantasy works, the market for fantasy by and about women, and how to support women in fantasy literature."
The guests of honor this year are Holly Black, Marie Brennan, and Terri Windling. Anyone can propose a topic for a presentation and there are multiple mediums (papers, workshops, discussions, etc.) availiable. I think it's a great concept, but I wish it wasn't in Vail. 90 minutes from the nearest airport in Denver. At an expensive spa resort. I see the costs stacking up there, and while I recognize that the location was chosen specifically to create a private, welcoming atmosphere, it makes me question its accessibility for people who can't afford to drop several hundred dollars on a single con.


Recent book acquisitions include His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik, Carnal Innocence by Nora Roberts, Auralia's Choice by Jeffrey Overstreet, Elantris by Brandon Sanderson, and Vision in White by Nora Roberts. 3 fantasy, 2 romance. I've already finished Vision in White; while I found some of the characterization to be overdone and annoying, it was a charming story.

I reread Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small quartet over Spring Break (Tamora Pierce has become my paragon of feminist high fantasy that I go running to, sometimes screaming, when the rest of the world seems to have gone utterly batshit) and it occurred to me how much more in-depth Pierce went/was allowed to go with Keladry in comparison to Alanna from her earlier books. Alanna certainly had her share of struggles, but because she was forced to pass as a boy, others treated her like a boy, and so she was not bombarded with others' judgments of her as incapable every day. Alanna's successes enabled her to believe in herself, because when she succeeded, others also saw her succeed; with Kel, when she succeeded, others saw her fail. Kel's successes weren't considered legitimate in the eyes of the men (and some women) who wanted her to fail, and so the rugged determination borne from success in Alanna's case actually had to come from somewhere deeper for Kel. While Alanna's story will probably always be my favorite of Tamora Pierce's, Keladry's contains a more nuanced look at gender relations, particularly at the emotional level, and illustrates Tamora Pierce's growth as a writer.
manifesta: (Black Jeweled Queen)

Because it's somewhat necessary in understanding what I mean when I discuss urban fantasy, I'll briefly outline my distinction between what I consider to be two very different forms of UF. For the record, I've only found one source that draws similar (but not the same) lines as do, so these are terms I've created to delineate my metanalysis and are certainly not the industry standard.

Urban fantasy, from an overarching view, is a subset of fantasy that features an urban setting regardless of the universe (but if it's not in a city yet still in the real world, it's either contemporary or historical fantasy, depending on the time period).

Traditional urban fantasy (TUF). Originated in the 80s with authors such as Charles de Lint and Emma Bull. Modern-day comparisons might include Neil Gaiman and Catherynne M. Valente's Pailmpsest. They have a lilting, literary feel that cleanly incorporates fantastical elements in an urbane setting. The connections between the characters is emphasized, and there might be sex and/or love, or there might not.

Modern urban fantasy (MUF). Originated in the 90s with authors such as Laurell K. Hamilton [and I can't remember who else--anyone know?]* and extending into the 2000s with others like Kelley Armstrong, Patricia Briggs, Rachel Vincent, Carrie Vaughn, etc. Usually MUFs feature a reportedly badass lead heroine (though not always: Jim Butcher and Rob Thurman) and contain romantic elements (perhaps even a romantic subplot) but does not necessarily end with a HEA. There may be sex, there might not. If there is sex, it may or may not be with more than one character (a freedom not exhibited in MUF's often-confused-with cousin, paranormal romance). Unlike with paranormal romance, the conjugal couple is not as firmly established. The farther into the 2000s MUF books go, the more they're written with an edgy, action-oriented style. They feature an array of paranormal species, including but not limited to vampires, werewolves/shifters, and faeries.

Now on to Philip Palmer's Is Urban Fantasy Really All About Sex?

First I'd like to clarify that when Palmer discusses urban fantasy, he's not discussing urban fantasy in general, but rather modern urban fantasy, and in particular modern urban fantasy with vampires. It is his mistake that he generalizes modern-UF-with-vamps with UF-as-a-complete-genre. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I have conflicted feelings regarding modern urban fantasy, and I am neither pro nor con.

Palmer's analogy goes like this: )

*I consider Charlaine Harris contemporary fantasy, not urban, because as far as I know her series is set in the middle of a swamp, not a city. Feel free to correct me on this.

manifesta: (Alex/Izzy)
Congratulations to Sarah J. Maas on her book deal with Bloomsbury for her novel, QUEEN OF GLASS! Sarah has been on submissions for many months now, and it will be wonderful to finally see QoG on the shelves in 2011/2012.

Also, welcome to new subscribers! If you're here because I added you, it's probably because I found you via the non-fandom friending meme. I usually try to introduce myself/comment relatively soon before or after adding someone, so if I haven't yet, I will soon! A general overview of what this journal's about can be found here.

Although I only post on DW, in support of Three Weeks for Dreamwidth I'm planning a series of original content posts that will go live during the three week celebration. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to comment or PM me.


Loving the Unlikeable Heroine from Dear Author:
"I often find their heroism in the lack of compromise to their characters, their lack of subservience to the traditional fairy tale model of Cinderella, the ultimate “cinder girl,” who humbly accepts social ostracism and the abusive attentions of the “wicked stepmother” (aka the Bad Mother). And it’s not just that I want to see these heroines “rewarded” with love. In fact, I appreciate that the genre can celebrate these women without changing them overmuch, even as I wonder sometimes if I am in the minority for liking them so much."
DA's definition of the what the "unlikeable" heroine is leans toward a woman who exhibits (and DA acknowledges this) traditionally male traits--rudeness, impatience, and arrogance, for starters. Call me crazy, but an unlikeable heroine for me is one who is utterly unable to stand up for herself or others or is so compromising that she constantly, and to her own detriment, puts others--particularly the lead male character--before herself. The bright side is that if the book can convince me to hang in there long enough, I can respect those characters if they eventually grow into their strength. One example would be Meiglan from Melanie Rawn's Dragon Star trilogy, who wasn't strong in the way that the majority of the otherwise fierce female cast were, but was able, in the end, to be strong in her own way. Of course, Rawn had an entire epic fantasy trilogy to develop Meiglan's character, meanwhile surrounding her with a very independent and diverse cast that carried the book. Nor was she a main character. A romance novel doesn't have these advantages, which may be why I'm less tolerant of what can be fatal flaws.

First Girl Ever by Marie Brennan at SF Novelists:
"What is fresh is the stuff that follows the First Girl Ever, the stuff that doesn’t get talked about nearly as much. And this is where I reveal why Pierce is my touchstone, because she didn’t just write a FGE story; she went on from there, too. The first two books of the Alanna quartet are about the heroine disguising herself as a boy and winning her shield; the second two are about what happens after. Because her problems don’t end there. She’s the first Tortallan lady knight in centuries, but not everybody likes that idea, and so it takes legendary deeds on Alanna’s part — and the rise to power of a younger generation, the guys who grew up with her and acknowledge her worth — before she’s anything like accepted at home."
Tamora Pierce was my introduction to fantasy, and especially my introduction to fantasy written by and for women/girls. I agree that we tend to take the First Girl Ever stories for granted, because girls doing something for the first time isn't considered all that revolutionary anymore, and there's this assumption in the air that women are engaged in this unstoppable forward momentum and it's only a matter of time before we're, y'know, Totally Equal. I think this is an accurate perception in and of itself, but danger lies in forgetting that we are still a long way from equality, or that there aren't any more FGE stories to tell. I also really appreciate Brennan's point that there's even more of a story in the details of what happens after the original story is told, and that a movement is not propelled by a single individual. If there's momentum, it's because a lot of people are moving forward, often in the face of immense opposition.


Up next, for the curious:
-my distinction between traditional and modern urban fantasy & a (long over-due) commentary on Philip Palmer's "Is Urban Fantasy Really All About Sex?"
-a discussion of the first three Bloody Jack novels by L.A. Meyer from a feminist perspective
manifesta: (Kahlan)

Tamora Pierce speaks out on sexual harassment and rape in the military:

"Representative Jane Harman of California visited a Veterans' Administration hospital, where she was told by doctors that 41 percent of the women veterans seen there were victims of sexual assault during their time of active duty. Harman went on to say, "We have an epidemic here ... Women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq."

[...] And it's not just a woman's issue--it's a GLBT issue, and a man's issue. Why has the military been allowed to get away with encouraging this behavior, even if it's only to turn a blind eye? Why are they not educating about this problem at the boot camp level, and the officer training level? Are they, and no one is mentioning it? "It's getting better" isn't good enough; we shouldn't have "friendly rape" as part of the issues leading to PTSD (as compared to "friendly fire," when one of our people is killed by our own troops or artillery)."
One of the many reasons why I love Tamora Pierce.

Related: a post on the reality of women in the military:
"11% of women have experienced rape. 1.2% of men have experienced rape. These are only reported numbers. The Veterans service exit polls show that 28% of all female service members were raped during their time in service. Reports must be made to chaplains, predominantly male chaplains, and in order for an investigation to be launched against the attacker the victim must make a public statement. Yet while the investigation goes on the victim must remain at their post, interacting every day with their attacker, who may be their superior in their job, and his "buddies". The military's answer to this problem is to create a method for women to report rape and get help anonymously, but there can still be no investigation without a public statement."
manifesta: (Dangerous)

Catherynne M. Valente on the intersection of politics and books:

"My story is political.

"I can write from the heart--and seriously, where else would I be writing from? I'm such a commercial sellout with my popcorn novels and my stacks of cash that I have to dig down to my Grinchy literary heart with both hands and even then I might not find anything but hot sparkly vampires? I'm all heart, baby. But I can write from my ventricles and still be political, because I am a woman and a feminist and queer and there is no telling my story, no matter how cloaked in fiction, without bringing all my uncomfortable politics in. That is telling my story. It means I worry about colonial issues, it means I worry about portrayals of gay sex, it means I consider the race and gender balance of a cast of characters, it means I think long and hard before committing narrative. Because my politics are the politics of thinking long and hard about things."
This is the reason why I dedicate a large part of this journal to the intersectionality of books, publishing, and social justice. When I criticize specific romance novels for ignoring the laws of consent or modern urban fantasy for only portraying women as strong when they're overly sexualized or the lack of strong female characters and woman writers in epic fantasy or the recent trend in YA promoting domestic violence as socially-acceptable and makes caricatures out of young women in comparison to their male paranormal counterparts-- THIS is why. Because books are the dark mirror to our reality and they reflect the subtle truths of our thoughts and beliefs and attitudes that the privilege inherent to belonging in an advantaged group disguises.
manifesta: (Dangerous)
Catherynne M. Valente on RoF's "all women-authors" issue to debut in August 2011:
"By definition, herding women authors into a single book or magazine and proclaiming it special for their appearance there is, well, segregation, and has an ugly implication that they won't be appearing in regular issues.
But brain, isn't this what we want? A high percentage of female authors in a table of contents? Well, 50% would be good. 40%, too. But creating Very Special Issues once in a 15 year run isn't the same as addressing the problem head on by understanding the psychology at play and changing the editorial paradigm. It's just a bone, thrown."
As always, bold emphasis mine.

On one hand, I can appreciate that women writers in a field still dominated by men are being recognized and showcased. An all-women's issue does benefit a disadvantaged group by placing and paying only women writers, whereas in a regular issue women writers would be lucky to get half the spots, if that. I particularly like their call for pieces that tackle, specifically, gender, feminism, and sexism:
"While being a woman submitting a fantasy piece to us is enough to get your manuscript considered for this issue, submissions dealing with gender, sexism, and other areas important to feminist speculative literature are particularly welcome."
On the other hand, in the same line of thought as Valente, I do wonder if this 'special' issue is not the celebration I perceive most women's mags to be, and more as a justification for present and future discrimination. It would be all to easy for RoF to put out this issue and then never again address gender within the context of sci/fi and publishing. A better system would be to ensure that more women writers are represented in every issue, not just one.

One commentor at the RoF blog said:
"I am totally for feminist articles and stories and art, but the idea of an all-woman issue is really distasteful and smacks of a stunt rather than inviting discourse on the issue of feminism and fantasy. It shows contempt for many male authors who write thoughtful female characters and it panders to a certain mindset that maintains that women authors are underrrepresented in fantasy. I don’t think that’s the case, and if you look at the fantasy bookshelves, women may be in the majority."
After reading RoF's guidelines, I'm not 100% in line with the notion that this is a stunt rather than an actual attempt at dissecting the intersectionality of gender and sci/fi--ask me again after I've read the stories chosen for the issue. I'm also disappointed with but not surprised at the oft-touted cry of "sexism!" any time a women-only space is established within a male-dominated sphere. Women authors are underrepresented in fantasy--though the number of women sci/fi authors is certainly growing, many of the books written by women that are shelved in the fantasy section are urban, historical, romantic fantasy or some derivative thereof. Epic, S&S, and high fantasies are still written primarily by men and/or feature male protagonists. And let's not pretend here that it's all about the authors; it's as much about the gender of the characters as anything. Publishing stories that are written by women but only feature male protagonists is effectively the same as a woman assuming a male pseudonym because they're less likely to get writing work otherwise. Women still operate in a male-dominated world, and sci/fi--both the process of publishing and the end product--reflect that.

Is the gap shrinking? Yes. Can the number of leading women protagonists in epic fantasy be summed up in a meager two pages worth of comments? Yes. Do we still see women in the refrigerator and Harry Potters instead of Harriets? Yes. Are women in sci/fi only visible when they're wearing leather, toting guns that they magically acquired out of thin air, and are reduced to their relationship(s) with other men? Yes. Have we made up for the past century's worth of fantasy works written by men for men that feature male protagonists? No. Hell no. And I'm tired of being told otherwise.

If this women-only issue knocks male supremacy down a notch, I'm all for it. If not, well, I'm willing to wait and see what happens before I pass too harsh a judgment.