GUEST POST | When in doubt, call in a woman – Jaime Lee Moyer

Jaime Lee Moyer is a rising star in the genre. She has just recently released the second book in her Delia Martin series, A Barricade in Hell, was released on June 3rd. Moyer charmed me with her first book, Delia’s Shadow, which is completely against my nature with all things bookish. That’s a testament to her skill as an author. I’m very excited to see where she goes next, as I’m sure her successful career is only starting. I’m even more thrilled that she decided to grace my dusty corner of the internet with this truly fantastic post.

Side note: Whoever is doing the cover art for her books needs some sort of recognition. These covers slay me. So beautiful.

About the Author

Jaime Lee Moyer lives in San Antonio, land of cowboys, cactus, and rhinestones. She writes books about murder, betrayal, friendship, magic, and kissing, an activity her cats approve of (even the kissing).

Her first novel, Delia’s Shadow, was published by Tor Books September 17, 2013. The second book in the series, A Barricade In Hell, comes out June 3, 2014, and the third book, Against ABrightening Sky, in 2015.

Jaime’s short fiction has appeared in  Lone Star StoriesDaily Science Fiction, and the Triangulations: End of the Rainbow, and Triangulations: Last Contact anthologies. She was poetry editor for Ideomancer Speculative Fiction for five years and edited the 2010 Rhysling Award Anthology for the Science Fiction Poetry Association. A poet in her own right, she’s sold more than her share of poetry.

She writes a lot. She reads as much as she can.

You can find out more about her on her website, or connect with her on Twitter.

When in doubt, call in a woman

by Jaime Lee Moyer

Women characters—as heroines and villains—and the different ways women are strong is an ongoing topic among both writers and readers. My personal opinion is that women can be strong in all the ways anyone is strong: physically, emotionally, displaying courage in the face of danger, protecting a child—anyway at all. If a woman character has status and agency, how she chooses to display that self-determination is usually fine with me.

I also know that in the real world there are novels where women have as much status and agency and personality as a lamp on the hall table. Those books are out there. They exist and people read them.

I think about these things a lot.  First, because almost all the books I read and end up loving have well rounded characters that just happen to be women. I do concede that I probably self-select for that, both in what I choose to read and the authors that are my favorites. Tell me a book has great women characters and I’m there.

Second, because as a writer women characters of all kinds, in all roles, are often my default. That was certainly the case for Delia’s Shadow and A Barricade In Hell. I never think that what I do is exceptional.  We are all the heroes of our own story, after all, and to ourselves, what we do is never unusual.

Then someone points out that such and such book doesn’t have any women, or that this other novel only had one woman in a walk-on minor role. And I think Why is this so hard? The world is made up of more than men.

Deep down, I know all this stuff, but it still pulls me up short. The choices I’ve made as a writer aren’t the choices other writers make. (Yes, I am Captain Obvious today.) Out in the big, bad real world, I’m not certain how those choices will fare long-term.

Delia’s Shadow has five major women characters: Delia, Isadora, Sadie, Esther and Annie. Six if you count the ghost, which I should.  That was a deliberate choice, one I made before I started writing. While that seems perfectly normal to me, for some readers? Not so much. The second book in the series, A Barricade In Hell, has three major women characters…and a female ghost.  Not as many as book one, but there are valid story reasons for that. The third book (out in 2015) is back up to five women, a little girl, and a young woman haunting Delia.

Another deliberate choice I made was to paint all these women as products of their time. They are smart and oh so strong, independent, resourceful and brave, but they are not 21st century women.

Dora smokes and delights in wearing fur coats, and dares anyone to question her lifestyle choices. Sadie is content with motherhood in A Barricade In Hell, but at the same time, she’s a stanch suffragette. Delia is Gabe’s partner in life, and Dora’s partner in dealing with the occult aspects of Gabe’s cases, but she also deeply mourns the loss of their first child. She wants what Sadie has and she wants other things too. Dora wants what Delia has, but on her own terms. She’s not willing to give up herself to have it.

Well rounded, strong women characters are complex, human. Their strength can be—should be—shown by how they support each other and the people they care about, in how they cope with loss and go on, in growing into their chosen role and facing fear, or nurturing their child.

Women have always been strong. Writers shouldn’t be afraid to show all sides of that strength.

And women characters can also be evil, greedy and do a great deal of harm. They can be true believers and worthy opponents. Nuanced is the word I’m going for here.

I understand why readers make a point of commenting on well-written women more than a micron deep, or making a point of pointing out books and stories with strong women. I do it myself. I can’t wait for the day that’s no longer true.

That reaction is a type of rejoicing, an instant recognition that yes, here are people I recognize, empathize with. Here is a character like me, my sister or mother, my best friend.

And it’s an emotional reaction, at least for me, because seeing women portrayed with all their different strengths, their ways of coping and surviving tells readers that women matter.

That shouldn’t be such a rare thing. Really and truly.

4 Responses

  • Indeed…it would be a happy day when a strong woman character, or subset of the cast of a book or tv show or movie *wasn’t* a call for celebration–because it would be expected and natural.

    Reply
  • There was a trend a few years ago with “strong female characters” that were primarily physically strong. ass-kicking in the most literal sense. Urban fantasy heroines, military scifi assassins, swiftly punching the badguys in the throat. Not very nuanced, and frankly, kind of boring and predictable.

    Reply
  1. Links: 06/13/14 — The Radish.  June 13, 2014

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    […] Bookworm Blues, Jamie Lee Moyer writes about women characters in her own work and how depressing it is that one stil…. Indeed, “there are no women in this” is pretty much an instant dealbreaker for me in […]

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