As Tides' October 31 launch nears, I'm taking a spoiler-lite look back at where we left our beloved heroes. (Don't forget to join the celebration! There's great ways to join--and win prizes.)

Rona is voiceless for most of Mud

Without giving too much away for those with Mud on the to-be-read list, once she is finally given an opportunity to speak, what she says changes everything.

Let's just say ... it wasn't an exception.

Rona's stay in the Underworld timeless, so for her, now that she's back, her past traumas might as well have just happened. On top of that, she is struggling with the new trauma of her return to life. If that's not bad enough, her past might not be done with her yet.

But Rona's more interested in looking ahead. A war is on the horizon, and she's determined to help end the destruction she feels she had a hand in starting. Even if it means she's stuck wroking with Jordan and Adem to do it.

Rona has a lot of anger in her--but she isn't hung up on it. She's saving it to channel into something productive. Along the way, she ends up taking on a lot more than she signed up for.

The most powerful thing about Rona is, she's willing to shoulder what others can't or won't, even if it means winging it. When everyone else starts to crumble around her, Rona is at her strongest.

Or at least, that's what she's telling herself.

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As my new novel Tides approaches release day, I am hosting some giveaways to celebrate! This week, I'm sharing about the "why" behind the selections in my three hand-picked novel collections that make up the top prizes. 

Check out the SFF Classics Collection and the SFF Strong (& Unusual) Female Protagonists Collection, too!

No question, the sci-fi/fantasy genre needs a whole lot more STPs--strong female protagonists.

But there are traditional STPs (think Lara Croft, Wonderwoman, Castle's Kate Beckett) and then there are ... well, more complex female characters, ones that refuse to fill the mold of any archetype.

As you know, I adore a solid antihero, and this plays heavily into my writing. Rona, the protagonist of Tides, is no exception to that. (I can't wait to hear what you make of her.)

So for this final giveaway book collection, which you can win by spreading the good news about Tides's release during the launch, I chose my absolutely favorite female oddballs and misfits of speculative fiction.

These three leading ladies are so unique, so complex, so willfully deviant from protagonist expectations, you may not always be sure if you're following the hero or the villain. But I promise--you'll always be riveted.

Blackbirds

You'll love Miriam Black or you'll hate her. Honestly, she wouldn't care either way. This sharp and tough rebel embraces her rough edges. Considering any time she touches someone she sees how they'll die in graphic detail, and can't seem to do anything to stop it, it's easy to understand how she got that way.

But then she meets Louis Darling. When she discovers he dies because he meets her, and that she's the next victim, she has to break all her rules.

Miriam may have the blackest heart you'll ever encounter, and the foul mouth to back it up. But she's still easy to love thanks to her intelligence, wit and creative thinking.

Library of Mount Char

This is an extremely hard one to describe, because both the protagonist and plot defy what we typically expect from a novel. A year after reading it I'm still not sure what to make of it, but it's stuck with me.

Carolyn was a normal child once. But that was before her parents died and she was taken in by God-like figure who she and several other orphans call Father. The Library holds the secrets to his power, and each of the orphans has been tasked to master an area of his abilities. These formidable tasks are pushed onto them with ruthless and punishing measures.

But then, Father goes missing. And Carolyn has a plan. Only trouble is, this calculating, stoic, and love-starved girl keeps it to herself until the very end.

Her Fearful Symmetry

This is a lesser-known work from the author of The Time Traveler's Wife, and one I much prefer over the bestseller. Two American twins on the verge of adulthood spend a summer in their recently deceased aunt's London flat.

As the twins explore London and their aunt's neurotic neighbors, they also start to observe a presence within the house.

I won't spoil the end for you, but you won't believe the strange bonds and tensions that keep these twins in constant friction throughout the novel, or how far they are willing to go in pursuit of a spirit.

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As my new novel Tides approaches release day, I am hosting some giveaways to celebrate! This week, I'm sharing about the "why" behind the selections in my three hand-picked novel collections that make up the top prizes. 

Check out the SFF Classics Collection and the SFF Strong (& Unusual) Female Protagonists Collection, too!

I love a great story in just about any form, but comics strike me in a way no other medium can.

I was first drawn to comics for hte traditional superheroes ... but I've unwilling to comit ot the massive entangled Marvel or DC  universes (okay, and a little intimidated), and thus I soon picked up other titles.

My favorite thing about comics storytelling is the way they commit to full-on weirdness, and these favorites from my pulls deliver it in spades. Along with well rounded, complicated heroines.

You're gonna love them.

Saga

Stunning imagination goes into the creation of every alien creature in this world--illustrator Fiona Staples is a genius. Even the dark and monstrous things in Saga hold a certain elegance.

This comic took the shell of Romeo and Juliet--star-crossed lovers on different sides of a war--and turned it into a complex space opera world with rich diversity and representation that enriches the world--including a number of badass women.

Paper Girls

This show captures the same '80s throwback nostalgia as modern sci-fi classics like Stranger Things and Super 8, with a crew of preteen girls you would never wnat to mess with at the center. They're pioneers, after all--the very first female paper delivery people in the town of Stony Stream.

I was hooked from the opening sequence, where Christa McAuliffe of the Challenger makes a guest appearance as a wrathful astronaut-angel. Also featured: time travel.

Bitch Planet

The social commentary in this comic is laid on thick, and in a really great way. And are you seeing this cover? This artwork is gorgeous.

From one of my personal creative heroes, Kelly Sue Deconnick, this series takes place in a future world where noncompliant women are branded and deported to a prison planet for punishment.

I could go on, but just you wait. You, too, will soon be lining up for your NC brand at your local tattoo shop.

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So that instantly infamous James Cameron profile released in The Guardian on Friday.

This is the one wherein Cameron spouted about his newfound ability to be nice on set, even though it doesn't come naturally to him, even though he's actually really nice in person.

And the one where he confessed the terrible catch-22 of being attracted to strong women, because they don't need him enough for the relationship to work, and that's why he's on his fifth marriage.

And the one where he had an odd outburst in response to the very pressing question, "Why didn't Jack just get on the board with Rose?" (BUT REALLY. WHY.)

But despite all this, the greatest contention of the article was Cameron's statement about Wonder Woman, deeming her unfit as a strong female protagonist:

“All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided. She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards. Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon. She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit. And to me, [the benefit of characters like Sarah] is so obvious. I mean, half the audience is female!”

Patty Jenkins, direct of Wonder Woman, spoke out in response on Twitter, and I pledged my allegiance to her for the umpteenth time:

“If women have to always be hard, tough and troubled to be strong, and we aren’t free to be multidimensional or celebrate an icon of women everywhere because she is attractive and loving, then we haven’t come very far have we.”

Hammer, meet nail's head.

As a female creator who creates female characters, this is a topic I think about a lot, so I wanted to lend my own two cents to this ongoing conversation too.

The idea that every female character needs to be a Sarah Connor is ridiculous, taking women out of one box simply to put us in a new one. It's so ridiculous, it feels more like a self-promotion move to me than a genuine criticism. Or, maybe jealousy.

If we extend this logic, is Rose not a strong female protagonist because she posed for Jack to draw?

Or the true question at the heart of all this, really, is: What is a strong female protagonist?

There are so many answers to this question, which has been asked for decades now, that it's been rendered meaningless.

I no longer care about "strong."

I think there are two crucial things women characters need instead of this.

The first has been talked about a ton: Female characters need agency. Ironically, the best discussion I've read of what this means comes from white male author Chuck Wendig, so go check him out to explore this further if you want.

The second thing women characters need is just more of them.

As long as any female character carries the burden of representing all women, we're not going to get anywhere. It's too much for any single character to represent, and the more generic you make a charact, to make her all-encompassing, the less compelling she becomes as an actual character ... because really, she's not one anymore. She's just the shell of an avatar.

So give me female characters who are loud. Give me female characters who are quiet. I want them tall and short, big and small, old and young. I want them grim and bitter, I want them bubbly and warm. I want them black and Asian and Latina and every part of the LGBTQ spectrum. I want lab geeks and soldiers, ballerinas and mothers. I want them beautiful, awkward, troubled, savvy, broken, wild.

In short I want a lot of them, and I want them to come alive with every shade of humanity. Give. Them. All. To. Me.

We need more stories about women, and we need more women in our stories. 

As an author, I will keep on trying to do my part.

In fact, I first started thinking about my responsibility in this battle about two-thirds through writing the first draft of my first novel, Mud. I realized that for some odd reason, most of my key players were male, and I was mid-arc of a traditional, patriarchal guy-saves-the-girl story. And that was not okay. I wrestled with it a lot as I finished my plotting, and a lot more as I revied, breaking the book back down and rebuilding in into something truer.

If you've read Mud, it probably doesn't take a lot of connecting the dots to see where the inspiration for some of those late-plot twists came from. And I thnk those twists are the best thing about that novel.

These questions and challenges stayed with me as I wrote RainIs Nia a "strong female protagonist"? Wow, even I am not sure how to answer that--it would depend on the definition of "strong" you were using. But she damn sure owns her own story.

I took all this glorious, important baggage with me again into Tides, and I feel it helped make Rona into a truly incredible character. She's not going to be easy to content with, and she's not going to make it easy to come to terms with her.

I can't wait to find out what you make of her in October. Because one thing Rona won't be is ignored, so I don't expect many will feel neutral toward her.

But I made these characters difficult on purpose. I don't want them to be easy to box away.

Because the one thing I never want female characters to be? Pigeonholed. 

The more different variations on female-ness our stories offer, the more complex they are, the more wrestling and consideration they demand of readers, the better it is for all the rest of us, both on and off the page.

 

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Wonder Woman releases today!

As the raving reviews start pouring in, a wave of supplementary reading has released across the web too

To celebrate, I’ve rounded up some of my favorites.

Enjoy! And be sure to go see Wonder Woman this weekend!

Everything You Need to Know About Wonder Woman Before Seeing the Film

75 Years of World-Saving: Everything You Need to Know About Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman's Unwinnable War

With Wonder Woman, DC Comics Finally Gets It Right

Wonder Woman Saves the Day, Crushes Stereotypes

Reading Pathways to Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman Saves the Day, Crushes Stereotypes

Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot and Chris Pine Role Reversal

Remember That Time When Wonder Woman Was A U.N. Ambassador?

Before Gal and After Lynda: All the Stars Who've Played Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman Day on Saturday Means Big Deals and Freebies!

Share your own favorite Wonder Woman article in the comments 🙂

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Our new President has continually behaved like a bully, and said horribly ignorant, sexist, racist things. As others follow his lead, our world is becoming increasingly hateful and scary.

It is time like this that I cling to my books and my writing the tightest—not just as comfort, but as a weapon.

In my latest Book Riot post, I list five graphic novels that would broaden Trump's understanding and empathy on key issues he struggles with. Check it out!

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[SPOILERS AHEAD. SHAMELESS, FULL-BODIED SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.]

You've probably heard by now, the movie Passengers held onto a secret in its promo trailers. And viewers are not responding well to it.

And this push back is for a good reason, as this plot secret makes one of the characters--Aurora, played by Jennifer Lawrence--follow a plot arc that seems designed for the convenience of the other character--Jim, played by Chris Pratt.

From a writing standpoint, this is just bad storytelling. Every character should have full agency. No character is a prop. Nothing should ever happen just because that’s how the writer wants the story to end.

But from a societal standpoint, there is an even more serious issue at hand. The issue of female characters being present for the convenience of the male characters. This is a widespread problem that fuels a mentality that women are present for the convenience of men in real life.

Ugh. It's just gross.

The truly grating part of this is that I am able to think of two very easy ways to solve this problem for the film.

I think this is worth talking about, because exploring how we create stories can help us create better stories. And science fiction and fantasy—movies in general—are in need of better stories these days.

So let’s talk solutions. And be warned--I’m not holding back at all here. If you have not seen the movie yet, severe spoilers ahead.

A Big Fat Spoiler

Before we dive into solutions, let's all start on what the big problem is.

So here is the secret in Passengers: Only one of them, Jim, wakes up by accident, as implied in the trailers. Aurora wakes up because Jim gets so desperate and lonely by himself after a year that he falls in love with her in her hibernation tube, digitally stalks her via the ship's digital records of its passengers, and then becomes so obsessed and so lonely that he finally decides to wake her up.

The loneliness in itself is understandable, in that it is so deeply human in its desperation.

The kicker is, of course, that in waking Aurora up, he dooms her to the same fate as himself--living out the rest of their life alone, with no one else, on the ship, never to see the planet they set out to reach, or reach any of the other plans they set out for themselves.

When Aurora finally finds out (due to a misunderstanding between Jim and an android ... just go with it), she is rightfully furious.

So what's the trouble? The plot bends so that she becomes okay with what has happened, and the conclusion of the film is that they have had this incredible private world all to themselves on the ship, and lived this epic love story, all by themselves.

I don't know a single love story that starts with one partner stealing the other's future. You?

Okay. So let's talk ways this plot could have been fixed.

Solution 1: Let Jim Die

There is a point in Passengers when Jim must go outside the ship and manually hold a guard door open while Aurora releases severe heat and flames into the atmosphere. You know, to keep the ship from exploding.

And for a moment, we think he really died. Because severe heat is not a thing humans do well. When he miraculously survives, this is the great turning point moment when Aurora forgives him for waking her up from hibernation and stealing her future from her.

He should have died. Scientifically, and also for the story’s best plot.

Prior to this moment, Aurora had been rightfully furious with Jim for waking her up from her hibernation, which robbed her of the life she had planned for herself.

But as Jim prepares for his heroic space walk, Aurora suddenly flips, realizing what it would mean to be left alone on this ship without him—total isolation for the rest of her life. The movie uses this moment to bring Aurora around to forgive Jim, putting her briefly in his shoes before he woke her up.

I really wish they had put her all the way in his shoes. Just kill Jim. Leave Aurora alone on the ship, angry and self-righteous, and see how long she makes it before she starts eyeing another hibernating passenger.

This is a darker ending, sure. But it says an awful lot about human nature, our need to connect, and how far we’ll go for our own survival.

Also, it’s just so Twilight Zone-y I can hardly handle it.

Solution 2: Gender Swap

Another way Passengers could have dodged the issue (at least the gender issue) is to simply switch the two characters’ genders.

First off, I’d love to see a mechanically adept, lower class woman save the ship, while a male, upper class writer does whatever she instructs him to as an assistant.

Given the gender politics in play, this turning of the tables does a number of good things for the plot all at once. It challenges gender stereotypes, empowers a female character, and turns the tables by making a male character victim of a female gaze.

Or hell, just switch one of their genders. Nothing wrong with that. Two female characters on screen in a movie with almost no other characters? Heck yes. Hollywood sorely needs to expand its definition of a romantic couple to include LGBT. Even a two-male cast would have been refreshing.

The one thing this solution does not do, is resolve the plotting issue of one character’s arc bending to serve the other’s. So this would be a less perfect solution than the first, but if you want to insist on a happy ending, it is still a hugely better way to tell the story.

Storytellers, Stop Taking the Easy Way

The solutions to these problems are often not so hard to come by. It just takes a bit of thinking.

And ya know, this thinking is really important. Movie creators need to be doing it. Authors need to be doing it. All creatives.

And all consumers of that art.

I can’t condemn Passengers the way some have. I’ll be honest, I really enjoyed the movie. I love the concept of being abandoned in space, and I love what Passengers did with it. I love that they are in an enclosed world that is supposed to offer technological solutions for essentially everything, and yet these solutions just keep failing them over and over. I even love the two characters (in part because I am a total sucker for both Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt).

But bending characters to serve a plot is like, I don't know, buying a pair of shoes, and then constructing your entire wardrobe around that pair of shoes. It’s just upside down. Create full, living characters. Then, listen to them. Let them tell you where the plot needs to go ... don't prescribe an ending and then force the pieces into the place!

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arrival

Last weekend I watched Arrival. (It's lovely and amazing, go see it.) Throughout the film, 12 alien spaceships hover over the Earth. Inside them, aliens wait behind protective glass for humans to come to them.

This in itself sends humanity into a terrified frenzy, exposing a variety of cracks and fractures within the goodness we like to believe is at humanity's core. Politics, secrets, and fear fuel a range of negative responses from the world's people and governments, while the the aliens wait patiently.

The worst monsters are the ones hiding inside us and the people around us. 

 

It's a message that hits hard right now, because I see its truth everywhere I look. I have tried to keep politics away from my author-ing this election year, and I don't want to break that now. So I'm going to skirt the politics itself and just say this: A big and very serious consequence of this election has been a normalization and emboldening of racism, sexism and bigotry. This frightens me to no end--and most of it is not even directed at me, because, white privilege.

This is a blog about monsters and speculative fiction. But if there is one thing that this genre tells us over and over again, it's that the worst monsters are not dragons, they are not AI, they are not hydras or demons or demogorgons. It's us.

The trouble with monsters within ourselves is, they are particularly difficult to fight. 

They cling deep into us with bias and determination. Often, we become so comfortable with them inside us, we do not even realize they are there.

How does one fight such a thing, in ourselves or in the people around us?

I actually found a pretty great answer in this Vox article, and I consider it the most important article I've read all month.

The article delves into a research study that used the issue of transgender rights to see if a simple conversation that calls on empathy could make a difference.

The canvassers, who could be trans or not, asked the voters to simply put themselves in the shoes of trans people — to understand their problems — through a 10-minute, nonconfrontational conversation. The hope was that the brief discussion could lead people to reevaluate their biases.

It worked. The trial found not only that voters’ anti-trans attitudes declined but that they remained lower three months later, showing an enduring result. And those voters’ support for laws that protect trans people from discrimination increased, even when they were presented with counterarguments for such laws.

The article goes on to say:

This is the direct opposite of the kind of culture the internet has fostered — typically focused on calling out racists and shaming them in public. This doesn’t work. And as much as it might seem like a lost cause to understand the perspectives of people who may qualify as racist, understanding where they come from is a needed step to being able to speak to them in a way that will help reduce the racial biases they hold.

I strongly encourage you to read the full article for yourself.

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