Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Friday, November 11, 2011

Feminist Fiction Friday

I'm not much for labels. Defining a person by religious beliefs, political affiliation, sexual orientation or age has always seemed much too simplistic for me. One of the most liberating things about writing for the internet is that you can define yourself, circumventing any artificial limitations that might be placed on you in real life. Which brings me to gender.
I've occasionally written fiction under a male pseudonym, not to hide my gender in specific but to cloak my identity in general. I did it on the Dark Valentine site, for example, so that it didn't look like I was writing every other story in one of our flash fiction challenges.  I never really gave it that much thought, frankly. My writing is pretty gender-neutral and I write equal-opportunity criminals and victims.
Laurell K. Hamilton
Lately, though, I've been thinking about gender a lot. I think about it every time I read a script that refers to a flight attendant as a "stewardess" or worse, as a "stew," and every time a female college student is described as a "coed."
I think about it every time someone says "male nurse," as if the job description is gender-exclusive, like "mommy." I think about it when a woman refers--without irony--to her gender as the "fair sex." And I think about it every time I read a story that's set in a future where women apparently don't exist and if they do, it's in a role that has been outdated for at least 60 years. I think about gender when I see news stories about couples about to spawn their 20th child; stories about celebutants famous for their sex tapes; stories about a movement to outlaw abortion for any reason--including rape and incest. (I can't help but think of the famous feminist quote by Ti-Grace Atkinson--"If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.")
I know this is a cranky-pants rant but bear with me...I'm getting to the point.
Yesterday Sandra Seamans posted a link to a blog entry by Kat Howard about the invisibility of female  heroines in speculative fiction. (Read it here.) I commented on it and Sandra commented back and the next thing I knew, I was scribbling lists of women writers whose books are driven by female protagonists. And I decided that today was a good day to kick off Feminist Fiction Fridays--mini-celebrations of women who write women.

First up, Laurell K. Hamilton. I was thrilled when I stumbled upon Guilty Pleasures, the first of her Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. I loved that the story took place in a real-world setting (St.Louis) and featured a sexy, kick-ass heroine. I loved her relationship with the vampire known as "the Master of the City" but I also loved that Hamilton created a world that held all different kinds of supernatural creatures--trolls and fairies and zombies and werewolves. Anita's relationship with the paranormal people in her life was complex and adult, and I loved Hamilton's writing style. I devoured her next eight or nine books like they were fine chocolates, reveling in the action and enjoying the romance and generally absorbing the whole urban fantasy vibe, which was so new it wasn't even a genre yet.
The covers of those first books were really cheesy. I remember my little brother making fun of me when he saw the cover of Guilty Pleasures which looked like someone had scribbled some vampire fangs on a not-very good illustration of a dark and brooding guy.  Later, the whole series would get a cover revamp with a series-specific design that was both elegant and subtle.  The new edition of Guilty Pleasures came with a neat cover blurb from Jayne Ann Krentz.
I eventually stopped reading the series because I got bored with Anita's angst over being torn between her vampire and werewolf lovers. (This was a woman who raised zombies and faced off with trolls and she got icked out watching her werewolf suitor feeding?  I didn't buy it.) It reminded me a bit too much of the way Janet Evanovich has spun out the tension in her triangle of Stephanie Plum, Joe Morelli, and Ranger.  (I discovered the series around the same time.) I haven't dipped into Hamilton's fae series about Meredith Gentry (love that the character has the last name of Hamilton's grandmother), but several of the books are on my TBR pile.
A lot of the newer writers in UF  owe a debt to Laurell K. Hamilton, and if you like the genre and have never read one of her books, pick up Guilty Pleasures to start from the beginning.
And meanwhile, you can follow Kat Howard @KatWithSword on Twitter. You can read her blog Strange Ink hereHere's an interview with Kat.
Sandra Seamans has a story in the new issue of Pulp Modern. See Chris Rhatigan's review of the issue here.
As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "It's better to light one small candle than curse the darkness." Consider Feminist Fiction Friday my little light.

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