Lynn Flewelling Guest Blog with Giveaway!

Posted: June 26, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Lynn Flewelling’s wonderful Nightrunner series and Tamir trilogy have been continuously in print and back (and back!) to press since their original publications.  She’s truly one of the masters (mistresses?) of high fantasy and one of my earliest clients.  We’ve been together ever since the beginning, and I couldn’t be more please to present Lynn Flewelling to you here, guest-blogging about The Female Character in High Fantasy in the 21st Century.  Comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of her latest Nightrunner novel, CASKET OF SOULS.  Go on, ask her some really pithy questions!  Here’s your chance.

The Female Character in High Fantasy in the 21st Century by Lynn Flewelling

We’ve come a long way, baby, from the days of the strapping berserkers and boobalicious barbarian babes of the pulp days, of reticent square-jawed sword swingers  and wilting princesses desperate for rescue. And yet high fantasy and all its permutations persist, reflecting, as fiction does, the time stamp of its conception.

Now we have female soldiers, powerful queens who aren’t evil, snarky urban fantasy detectives, and paranormal heroines with harems of men—living and otherwise. All to the good, I say. But what if a female character isn’t that, doesn’t fit the new heroic mold? Is there still room for women who aren’t in a position of power? To create a believable world, don’t we have to address the fact that there are were and are myriad permutations of what it means to be female?

My answer as a writer is yes we do. There is no such thing as a mono-level society, and probably never has been, outside of a few short lived utopias, and maybe not even there. If you want to write a realistic fantasy world—and that’s not an oxymoron—then you have to know how the real world works, then play with those toys. I do lot of research for my writing, and am fascinated by how the great anthills we call societies have functioned across the centuries. Women have very often gotten the short end of the stick, it’s true, but some women also had their own spheres of power: the home, as the mistress of a guild, craftspeople, artists, and even soldiers and pirates. Real world stuff.

To make a fantasy world believable, it has to have social stratification. Historically the poor are always with us, and the oligarchs, and the sinners, and the saints. In my work I do a lot with gender identity, and strong female figures, but you can’t populate the whole world with them. It’s not realistic, any more than making all the men powerful—or weak—is realistic. Worse yet, it would be boring. I have my downtrodden streetwalkers and homeless children, as well as the nobles and merchants and soldiers, etc, etc. I just don’t divide them by gender.

One of the advantages of writing fiction in general, and fantasy in particular, is that you can design the world to suit yourself. In the Nightrunner series I try for egalitarianism within each strata. So there are female guild leaders and soldiers, women of noble birth who own and manage their own property, wives and mothers who raise strong families by being strong women, not meek and subservient. But you have to have to have the weak and the negative, too, or your world building is flat, and worse yet, a soapbox.  But—and this is a major but—either way, weak or strong, you have to have a good reason, as a writer, for creating those particular characters, one your overarching societal construct  both needs and justifies. If you degrade a character, it must be for a logical reason that advances the story. Otherwise it’s gratuitous. If it’s your main character you degrade in some way, then chances are she overcomes that and triumphs in the end. But with secondary and background characters, that may not be the case. Your female hero may encounter women in desperate straits. What she does or doesn’t do about that is indicative of her nature. But you also have the desperate secondary character. Can they be saved? Do they want to be? Are they trapped by fear or a view that does not allow them to change? That may sound like a lot of work on a background character, but it builds your world by giving the reader insight into the types of things that can happen to people in your society.

In the Nightrunner Series, although the two heroes are male, they are surrounded by and often helped or even saved by strong women. In my Tamír Triad, however, I give the girl hero front and center, despite the fact that she spends a significant chunk of her childhood as a boy. Not dressed or disguised as a boy. As a boy. Or rather, in a boy’s body. Although she does not know it, she is still female in her essence and while that in no way precludes her from being a kickass fighter with a lion’s heart, she is plagued by moments of dysphoria when her female soul doesn’t quite match up with her male body. To some extent, she could be called a transgender character. What I really wanted to do was to explore the idea of identity and gender.

So, let’s say that you’ve created a female character who can master “male” skills, who is strong and confident, who is a leader. All good. Now, what does her being female have to do with that? How does she manifest her personality, her power, as a woman rather than, as we say, a “man with breasts”? As a writer, that’s something you have to look deeply into, because your own personal attitudes and beliefs are going to jump onto the page.  Her prowess and power must be firmly enmeshed with her personality. No, she’s not going to scream and drop her sword if she sees a spider. No, she’s not going to give up the adventuring life to settle down and have babies. Or maybe she does. You, as the creator, have to make that logical and fitting. And you have to know why she makes the decisions she makes. I’m not a psychologist or a social scientist. But I am a woman, and I have some things to say about what that can encompass. While I do write from inside that paradigm, however, I’m not Everywoman. No one is. And my characters aren’t me. They are ideas on legs, and that’s why I say you have to examine what ideas you put on the page very carefully. Your words have the power to illuminate, encourage, educate, inspire, and elucidate. You can change hearts and minds.

A final word on writing across gender: can men write believable women? Of course they can, if they’re good writers who are observant, do their research, and have a decent imagination. I write about men, after all, and the feedback makes me think that I am doing ok with that.  I may bring different insights to female characters, but it’s not a “girls only” sandbox.

____________________

Check out Lynn Flewelling’s latest novel CASKET OF SOULS or any of her fabulous fantasies, like her story in the TALES OF THE EMERALD SERPENT anthology.

Follow her on Twitter!

Comments
  1. Jen says:

    Lynn, did you do research on the trans experience or gender dysphoria when writing the Tamir trilogy? I really admire those books for exploring such a complex subject with sensitivity. Will we see more from Tamir and Ki? Or perhaps more from other previous rulers of Skala?

    • Hi Jen,

      Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I did some research, but also drew from personal experience of wrestling with what gender identity means, how it impacts a person’s life. Not sure if I’m going to write more in that world or not. Thanks for your questions!

  2. Layla says:

    I’m absolutely in love both the Nightrunner series and Tamir trilogy, one of the reasons I find them so captivating is because of the characters. When you’re coming up with your characters, how do you create them? Do you already have a clear idea in mind or do you just let them take shape as you write, or is it a little bit of both?

    • Hi Layla, and thanks! Character is almost always the first thing that comes to me. I’m very character-oriented. I start with a general idea: gender, appearance, some of the driving passions, and then they grow and take on greater dimension as I work with them. So I guess that’s a little bit of both!

  3. Patrick says:

    As I read the conclusion of “Casket” one question kept popping in my mind: given the social acceptance of same sex-couples in Rhiminee, is there any chance for Alec and Seregil to ever get married? Or is marriage in Scala a religious bond?
    Best wishes from Germany
    Patrick

    • I think actual marriage ceremonies are less important in my world. They’re certainly available, and probably used more when mutual property and children are involved. I suppose I could have had Seregil and Alec get married, but it never seemed to be necessary, and seemed a little hetero-normative, too. Not that I don’t support gay marriage; I absolutely do!

  4. Hello Lynn, I just wanted to say that I’ve been with you since Luck in the Shadows. Reading that book opened up a whole new world of high fantasy for me. I’ve worn out more than one copy rereading them. At least now I can have them on my Kindle so that isn’t a problem anymore (I still buy the paperback though!).

    It saddened me greatly when I heard that book seven would be the last in the series. I know better than to ask if you would ever reconsider, the future is not set.

    I had the pleasure of having lunch with you at your first Yaoi Con, and one of my biggest regrets was that I was unable to see you at your next appearance there. It was a great thrill and honor to be able to converse with my favorite author.

    Thanks so much for Night Runner universe, it’s given me hours upon hours of enjoyment. I look forward to book seven with excitement and dread and not a little bit of sorrow, for who hates to see something so wonderful end?

    Sincerely,
    Vonnie

    • There’s some grief work for me, too, around writing what may well be the last, at least for now. I’ve known those characters longer than I’ve known my own children! Thanks for sticking with the series for so long!

  5. Sheri Fredricks says:

    Thank you for introducing me to another interesting author! The books look great.

  6. Scott Briggs says:

    How did you come up with the concept for the character of Sergil? I love the NightRunner series. The Tamir series was good, but it was a little too dark for me.

    • Hi Scott,

      First I have to ask, are you from Sorrento, Maine? I suspect not, but that was the name of a good childhood friend of mine who I miss.

      Seregil just sort of showed up as I was considering the fact that there weren’t many gay hero main characters in the mid 80s. I wanted him to break some molds: he’s not brawny, he’s brilliant and lives by his wits, he’s no paladin, he’s gay, he’s broken in some way. It all came together in him!

  7. Paul Baughman says:

    Some interesting thoughts here. I’ll have to examine how I write my female (and male) characters. thanks.

    • Paul, you’re our winner of a signed copy of CASKET OF SOULS! Please e-mail me at Lucienne.Diver@ knightagency.net (without the space) with your contact details. I hope you enjoy!

      • Paul Baughman says:

        I won? Really?! Wow, I never win anything! Contact info on the way. Thanks for the contest and most especially for the insightful guest blogs.
        –Paul

  8. Suzanne says:

    Thanks for the blog entry. I always find it interesting to read how an author’s process. I do love fantasy and strong female leads. I am looking forward to reading your books.

  9. Marta Perez says:

    Are you ever going to write a short story or novella about what happened to Tamir while lost at sea?

  10. Jay Cooper says:

    Lynn Flewelling is such a wonderful author. I have read The Nightrunner Series several times and I still can’t put it down once I start it. In fact they make me so happy that I actually got the words Luck in the Shadows tattooed on my right foot. :)

  11. Moreen says:

    I really loved The Nightrunner series. I enjoyed the ambientation and the way charatcters develop throught the books.
    I came from a state where the publishing of these books has been stopped due to the LGBT themes approached in the plot (matter that saddens me a lot). Since then has been passed more than 10 years and I feel that during this period things has a bit developed in a more open-minded way. Do you think that will be again the possibility to publish your books in Italy?

  12. mauricio says:

    hi, i remember seregil saying to capitan rhal that he saw glimpses of his futures lives, that he allways had a sword in his hand… have you consider to write about his next life???

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