So Cormorant is out, and I can talk about something I’ve wanted to for a while.
Some readers are upset because Svin isn’t Jill or Dante. She’s more like the name-shifting narrator of She Wolf–dedicated, and all right with murder if it gets the job done. One isn’t meant to get inside Svin’s head very far, and if she was a male protagonist, she probably would be called an antihero.
Since she’s most definitely not male, she’s called cold and distant.
This is very much like the reader fury over Jill and Saul’s relationship. Much of that fury dissipated when I noted publicly that if their genders were reversed, nobody would blink. It would, in fact, slot that romance neatly into the gumshoe/classy dame noir space. Funny, right?
I laugh, until I don’t.
Even Cormorant’s editors had difficulty with Svin. She isn’t likable, or approachable. She has her own agenda, and the reader isn’t allowed to take over her body. Nobody is allowed to do that, which is not normal for female characters in our culture. There’s also deliberate craft decisions I made, like no self-talk in italics–a hallmark of my style, one could say. It forced me to write differently, especially when Svin’s interacting with Barko or Vetch.
I knew readers would be expecting Svin to be more like Jill, or Dante, or even Selene or Emma Bannon or or or. But femininity is not a one-stop “strong woman” shop. Svin is just as feminine as any of them; she is part of the full range of female expression. It irks me that if I’d written her as a man (and/or under a male nom de guerre et plume) there probably would have been an avalanche of “ooooh, smexy brooding antihero!” Or, in the latter case, cookies and head-pats.
We have a long way to go. Sometimes the way gets goddamn rocky, and I get tired. Since I’ve written (and continue to write) chicks-in-leather and romance, I’m clearly not a Serious Writer of Science Fiction, right? I should have made my female protagonist in my love letter to Soviet sci-fi more “likable”, catered to different expectations, right?
Fuck that noise. Always and ever, fuck that goddamn noise.
I like writing romance. I like writing urban fantasy. I like writing fantasy. I like writing sci-fi. I like writing steampunk alt-history. Ad infinitum. I like telling a variety of stories, and that’s not going to change. I do not write by committee, I write what the story wants, and I’m pretty sure that’s what readers keep coming around for.
There’s always the chance that I just didn’t pull off my vision clearly enough, of course. (No doubt plenty of “objective” assholes will chalk it up that way.) But I did what I set out to do, and I didn’t truckle. I’m a hack, sure, but a prideful one.
And Svin is an unabashedly female character. If she doesn’t fit someone’s idea of what a woman should be, that’s not her problem.