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Why I write girl heroes for the most part

edited to correct the impression I give in paragraph 9 that this is what I recommend for all teenaged boys. These are my recommendations for reluctant readers. I have entire booklists when I am asked for recommendations for books that will slow down good readers for a week or two.



A friend's link on Facebook took me to another link which took me to this: author Hannah Moskowitz's discussion of the need for boy characters for teens and her feeling that publishers and writers are fixated on girl books and girl characters. For the most part she is discussing contemporary books, though she did ask where science fiction is--one of her commenters pointed out the recent rise in science fiction publications.

I tried to post my answer several times, but either due to the length (and I did try to break it up into two posts) or due to the length of the comments in general, and after losing part of the post, I gave up trying to answer Ms. Moskowitz directly. I'm hoping that Google search will bring her here, or that a friend will, because I want to post my response.

I wrote this because in some ways I am part of Hannah Moskowitz's problem, the rise of female heroes, and I thought that she ought to know my side of it. I'm not trying to start a fight with her because I do respect what she wrote. I just figure I owe it to her to explain where I come from as a main proponent of the issues she discussed.

I have 26 novels of teen fantasy, all in print. All but one of them have a female hero. But. In one of my universes, two of my girls are knights and one is a cop. They train with boys and men; they work with boys and men; they fight with and against boys and men. (The cop has more women in her training/work pool than the knights.) In those books, in some ways, it's hard for me to get more women in as characters. Men are every bit as much a part of the story as my girls; the secondary hero is always a guy, and since I am writing primarily adventure stories, I have guy fans. My other two girl heroes are a mage and a spy, dealing with both sexes more or less equally. In my second universe, my four heroes include one boy; he is probably my most popular character, and there are boys and men among the students that the four mages discover as they grow older. I have no problems writing male characters at all.

I don't recognize Ms. Moskowitz's four boy stereotypes as she describes them completely in my books. Two of my bad boys do have things for two of my girl heroes; the first one also has a collection of ears from his first career, and the second was murdering his way to the top while she was caught up in a riot. As to the stereotypes Moskowitz describes, author Theodore Sturgeon said, "94% of everything is s**t." Harlan Ellison's corollary is, "Sturgeon is an optimist."

Why do I write so many strong female characters? When I was a kid, 7-8 books out of all books written for kids through teens had boy heroes. Those that had girl heroes showed them at "feminine" pursuits, or if they were a little feisty, a male hero had to bail them out by book's end. Only the historical novels had strong girls; most of them "settled down" by the end. I was reading "boy books": TREASURE ISLAND, TOM SAWYER, THE THREE MUSKETEERS, Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. When I encountered fantasy, I had the same problem: virtually no girl heroes. The ones I found, adult women all, settled down, hated other women, or died. I didn't understand why there were no girls (or those that existed were severely compromised) in the adventure books, so I began to write what I wanted to read: adventure books with girl heroes. As a published YA writer I came along at a time when that was what booksellers, parents, and librarians were looking for, and along with some other writers, I found my place in publishing.

These days, whether anyone believes it or not, 6-7 of the books published for kids through teens still have male heroes. Not much of a change, is it? A study done on picture books recently pointed out that the majority of human characters in those books were men, shown doing active work, while women were shown in domestic settings, doing nurturing tasks. Not operating steam shovels. Not jumping into skies full of clouds to find where they are made. Not trying to drive buses.

I'm glad someone gave Moskowitz a link to current SF, because otherwise I'd be inundating her with that information as well. But as to no boy authors on the teen shelves? Maybe she and I aren't looking in the same places, or in small stores, because I can think of: Gary Paulsen, Walter Dean Myers, Terry Trueman, Chris Crutcher, Robert Parker, Will Hobbs, Roland Smith, Dave Conifer, Brent Hartinger, David Levithan, Ned Vizzini, Dave Lubar, Gordon Korman, Paul Fleischman, Joseph Bruchac, David Klass, Gary Soto ... I'll stop now. There are more. There is also still the massive bulk of classics that remains on the shelves, books like WAR AND PEACE, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, HUCKLEBERRY FINN, SIDDHARTA, FIVE APRILS, MOBY-DICK, THE GREAT GATSBY, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, DAVID COPPERFIELD, THE SOUND AND THE FURY, 1984, ANIMAL FARM, BRAVE NEW WORLD, all written by and featuring men, most of them required reading in high schools.

The reason I know about who's writing for guys is because parents and librarians ask me what I recommend for teenaged boys who are reluctant readers. Everyone knows by now that I read far outside my field and I have ideas. What do I recommend for guys who have lost interest in reading? Magazines. Comics. (The ones they don't read already.) Short stories. Audio books. High impact books--lots of action, short length. Nonfiction. And knowing what interests to address. When I talk to disinterested guys about my books, I don't talk about the girl hero finding her strength of character or finding romance, if she does. I talk about the fight with the centaur, or the spy work necessary for a revolution. I talk about learning to joust and referring to it as "flying lessons." I talk about walking into a rich merchant's office and finding his head hung in the wrappings of his turban from the chandelier. I talk about stealing battles from the battle of Little Round Top in the American Civil War, or basing a character on the first recorded serial killer of children. If guys know they'll find good stuff in the book, they'll take off a cover they think is too "feminine."

Why do publishers appear to publish so many books for girls? Because girls buy books. That's it, clear and simple. Guys don't. They take books out of the library, or they borrow books from girls, but they don't buy. Not like girls do.

The person who commented on Moskowitz's blog who mentioned the need for sex in books for teen boys is right. We also need it in books for teen girls. Too many of our teens are going into the world uninformed--we writers of girl heroes can and do manage to do some good there.

But make no mistake about it: there are still more books for guys out there than there are for girls. It's fine that people write guy heroes. But please don't knock those of us who know that being a girl, and a woman, is a lifelong fight, on the shelves and off. This debate comes up every ten years or so in publishing circles, and that it's important not to work on the guys at the expense of the girls. Both need heroes, and both need books.

Comments

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lizziey
Jul. 30th, 2010 08:32 pm (UTC)
You make very very good points, as always!

I've found that the Tomorrow, When the War Began series is something I always have on hand that I can pass off to any visiting teenaged relative coming to visit, and it works well. Female and Male "heroes", as it were, lots of action, and even some sex.
patu_paiarehe
Jul. 30th, 2010 09:48 pm (UTC)
The Tomorrow series is great for everyone, agreed. I used to reread those books every yesr, until my little brother appropriated them all.
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mabfan
Jul. 30th, 2010 08:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this.
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delynfirebrand
Jul. 30th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC)
This was very well put.
I still buy teen/kids books far more often than my brothers, and there a quite a few series with male leads. Strong female leads are still hard to find.
Briar is a good character, and I adore reading about him, but in that world, my favorite is definitely Trisana. ^_^
wndrdr
Jul. 30th, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
my favies would be tris, briar, sandry and then daja, i wish though i had more of the 'foster mothers' lark and rosethorn.. those two fascinate me, would love to know more of their lives before winding circle and their lives within winding circle as well as 'together', their personal relationship..
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vampireanneke
Jul. 30th, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
Well said! I aggree 100%. I remember when I was young/teen-aged, there wasn't even much of a young adult market. You went from children books to adult books. As I think back I realize how lucky I was to have a mother who loved reading so much that she kept pushing stuff at me until something was found that I would read. But it wasn't until I was in college that I started to find the books I had been wanting to read all my life (Young Adult Light Fantasy with Female Heroines), and those were your books. Like you, I had already been writing my own stories for years because I couldn't find what I wanted (and heck I worked in a book store at one point).

Despite that Girls are the ones who buy books, the market is still geared towards men. Because the world economy is geered towards men. Just look at the covers of the majority of Adult Sci-fi and Fantasy books out and that are being released, they are geared towards men. Yes the Young Adult market is finally gearing towards woman, because they are realizing that's where and what their market is, and for once is ahead of things as opposed to the Adult market. But the Adult Market will change in time as well. Even just over the last 10 years you can see how covers of the same book have changed over to be more appealing to women.
tammy212
Jul. 31st, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC)
Just look at the covers of the majority of Adult Sci-fi and Fantasy books out and that are being released, they are geared towards men.

That's because traditionally sf & fantasy were a men's enclave. It's only really been in the last 20 years that women have gotten a firm foothold after the pioneers opened the way. Now the hard sf markets are graying, and publishers are discovering that they'd better start attracting non-traditional readers if they're going to survive. That means women and teenagers. More women are writing sf as well as reading it, and some of those women are drawing the biggest audiences, to boot.
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blackheisei
Jul. 30th, 2010 09:09 pm (UTC)
I have to say, I wasn't sure I agreed with you at first. But the more I think about it, the more I realize how right you are.

My family is full of male readers. Starting at my grandfather and down to my toddler nephew. But between them are two generations of men who became interested in reading because they started with comics. I also got my dad to read Protector of the Small because I was reading it aloud to my cousin in the car. He heard the siege warfare in Lady Knight and borrowed the first book.

I think part of the issue is that men are not encouraged to be interested in reading. Sports, yes. Action movies and rated M video games? very yes. But the guy in high school that spends his free time reading ANYTHING is probably the anti-social one in the corner, NOT one of the more popular kids. Sad but true.
tammy212
Jul. 31st, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
I think part of the issue is that men are not encouraged to be interested in reading.

You're absolutely right. There's definite social pressure against it for guys in middle and high school, which is where the geeks come into their own. Also, guys do a lot of reading that isn't considered reading or sanctioned by schools: on the internet. They can also get away with reading magazines--music, technology, cars--that is also frowned on by academics. But they aren't really encouraged to pick up books by their peers unless it's school required reading, and even then they're far more encouraged to use notes rather than read the actual book.
(Anonymous)
Jul. 30th, 2010 09:09 pm (UTC)
Guy here;

about the "boys like action"-thing, i would say, that i read your books because of the character development. i think the action scenes are important because they really push the characters. if i take Daine 4, one of the best parts is after the coma, when she has to accept her new family situation.
tammy212
Jul. 31st, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
about the "boys like action"-thing, i would say, that i read your books because of the character development.

Thanks, Guy! ;-D And I confess, I do use action as a way to show the character growing or show a way a character has grown, just as I use it also to shove a character into new awareness (Tris after the final pirate attack).

Thanks for the compliments, particularly since so few people mention Daine having to deal with her interesting new/revised family!
mg4h
Jul. 30th, 2010 09:26 pm (UTC)
Sad to say, I've seen this sentiment everywhere. It's used for almost any "oppressed" majority, who sees their total control slipping. And no, we shouldn't change over to just women - much as that would be amusing - because then we'd be marginalizing the men. But we still do NOT have parity, and until then accepting that there might be "too much" women protagonists is wrong.

And in the category of "Still Struggling," have you seen this website yet? It makes my blood boil, but I feel I have to read it to bear witness, and to make sure I don't accidentally let these sorts of things slide.
http://myfaultimfemale.wordpress.com/
tammy212
Jul. 31st, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC)
have you seen this website yet?

No. It's, um, educational.

I'm going to go put my head in a vise now.
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elfishscallywag
Jul. 30th, 2010 09:46 pm (UTC)
Tammy I just want to say I love you. I've never really commented though I've been watching your journal for over a year now (wow that sounds creepy) and been nodding in agreement so often but I just gotta say now- I love you. For everything. So this comment really isn't relevant but still.

It's not just because of this post, though I do agree with it completely but there have been posts I've been more passionate about but I'm a little emotional right now and fans don't often get the opportunity to talk to their idols and I kinda realized we're pretty damn lucky with someone as active and involed as you are and I just really wanted to say thank you.

For Alanna, for Daine, for Kel, for Aly, for Beka.

And for sharing those worlds with us. You changed my life. Not in a dramatic I'm-such-a-poor-shy-girl-and-you-helped-me-speak-out way because really I've always been rather sharp and social and loudmouthed but you still changed my world and I think that's a real accomplishment. So even if you read this and think I'm just a arrogant silly young woman (because I admit I am), thanks Tammy
tammy212
Jul. 31st, 2010 09:12 pm (UTC)
(wow that sounds creepy)

Nah. Sometimes other folks say what you have in mind to say. You spare yourself the typing.

I just gotta say now- I love you. For everything. So this comment really isn't relevant but still.

::intense blushing::

So even if you read this and think I'm just a arrogant silly young woman

Oh, please don't say such things. The world kicks us around enough--we don't have do do it ourselves.

Besides, I have cooler fans than anybody. I tell my handlers and the people doing my events that, and I can tell they think I'm sucking up. Then the event happens and they come back all wide-eyed and breathless and they say, "You really do have cooler fans than anybody!"

I do, and I know it, and I feel incredibly privileged to have fans like you, because I know all of you will remake your part of this crappy old world. And I'll keep writing my heroes to help fuel your passion, because this exchange really does go both ways. Helping to shape your world is a tremendous honor for me, and I hope I will always be worthy of your respect.
Tammy
(no subject) - elfishscallywag - Jul. 31st, 2010 10:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
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patu_paiarehe
Jul. 30th, 2010 09:47 pm (UTC)
Great post, Tammy! I read that a couple of days ago and it left me grinding my teeth in frustration at how much she missed. the. point. Thanks for putting a word in for the girls!
tammy212
Jul. 31st, 2010 09:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks for putting a word in for the girls!

My motivation was kinda selfish. I've built my entire life on writing girl heroes, and hearing that what I did was no longer valid grated my cheese. I just wanted to explain myself without popping a cork.
lbfmusic
Jul. 30th, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
Thank You
for posting this! Female main characters are very important. I believe that this world needs to have more main characters that are female. This is why I am an avid reader of yours. The fact that you have male and female characters (but more of the latter) is amazing! I hope that you continue writing about very exciting female characters.
tammy212
Jul. 31st, 2010 09:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank You
I hope that you continue writing about very exciting female characters.

Don't worry--I'm not considering a career change!
journalism2010
Jul. 30th, 2010 10:47 pm (UTC)
I don't think it's just about girl vs. boy main characters in your work
I think the amount of diversity and insight you have in your books is honestly unparalleled in most writers' careers. You feature people of all ages, skin colors, cultural backgrounds, genders (including a transwoman/genderqueer person in Bloodhound!), sexual orientation, hair colors, body types, temperament, levels of intelligence and strengths, and even careers. I know of no writer that goes into more depth than you in researching and truly understanding a subject and the characters before (and while, I'm sure) writing about it. In my opinion, ALL of these things are what is missing in most contemporary novels, and in general the way many popular authors approach material. They seem to stick to a style or subject and stay there. It's not just an issue of 'oh, that's more boy oriented' or 'oh that's more girl oriented'. It's on a whole other level.

So I thank you for being such an amazingly well-rounded and inclusive writer that I am 21, started reading your books when I was 11, and read every single one of them every summer, if not more during the year, on top of my classwork and job. You and your girls (and boy) heroes have gotten me through some tough times because I was able to connect to them as a human, not just a girl.

Thanks.
gfish
Jul. 31st, 2010 02:13 pm (UTC)
Re: I don't think it's just about girl vs. boy main characters in your work
Oh yes, it was just *wonderful* to run into the trans woman on Bloodhound, particularly one as directly handled (and seemlessly integrated into the world view!) as she was. That really made my day, and several other friends' days.
thegelf
Jul. 30th, 2010 10:48 pm (UTC)
I'm going to echo all of the above, and thank you for calling bulls**t on Ms. Moskowitz. I grew up reading all the wonderful sci fi and fantasy out there, male lead, female lead, robot lead, reading pretty much indiscriminately. Me, my little brother and my mom all shared the books around, completely insensitive to gender (at least as far as I remember, we're talking more than a decade ago now).

Now my dad, I couldn't convince him to read anything but Tolkien. It was the be-all and end-all of fiction for him. It's a shame, he's missing out on so much.

The one point I can quibble with in your response is the list of books which are read in most high schools. They're not contemporary, at all. Modern students (heck, even modern back when I was in high school) have trouble connecting to those books and their lead characters. There's a layer of analysis that has to happen while reading them, which doesn't have to happen in the sort of contemporary fiction Ms. Moskowitz was referring to. Boys (and girls) tended not to enjoy the reading for English class, no matter what it was. We had a mass revolt in 11th grade when Tale of Two Cities was assigned, and that was in the AP English class, the one full of students who were there because they wanted to be.
dharma_slut
Jul. 31st, 2010 04:26 pm (UTC)
(sidetracked here) Yes to this! Waaay back in the '60's I told my juiniot high AP lit teacher that I didn't care if I got a fail in that unit, I was not going to read yet another book about the injustices of the ruling party towards the downtrodden peasants.
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smoooom
Jul. 30th, 2010 11:01 pm (UTC)
I love that you write such strong females working along side men showing they can do the same thing. But I add this. I have and do recommend you do young men, My son was the first. We has a quiet polite argument over who was going to re-read Protector of the small a few months back. I won, by asking the last time he'd reread Moons Deed of Paksinerion and had he remembered there was a new book coming out soon. since Deed was in my hand waiting to be reshelved I figured it was a win win situation.

And When the next Becca book comes out there will be three of us waiting to read it. Me my oldest son and my daughter.
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