Thursday, June 24, 2010

Revisions and Feminism

Just revised and re-submitted my story "Westernmost Throne" to Daverana Enterprises for inclusion in a possible eBook/print collection.  It's now twice as long (2,181 words vs. 1,004 words) and features a stronger female protagonist.

The story was first titled "He Who Sits on the Westernmost Throne" and told the tale of a campaign secretary who discovers her boss--a senator named Richard Sanchez who is on the verge of being elected president--is really 3,000 years old and has made a covenant with some kind of evil supernatural entity in exchange for immortality and supernatural powers.  The following prophecy is made by the evil power...

“He who wields the Amulet of Fire and sits in the westernmost throne shall rule the wide world forever. I will live in him and he will live in Me."

The story was originally written for a "political horror" contest the Athens alternative paper Flagpole was putting on around the time of the 2004 election.  Therefore, I had a strict word count of 1,000 words.  The original story ended with the senator announcing to the secretary that she would be his queen when he took over the world and leaning in to kiss her.  She screams when she sees his tongue is forked...

Thing is, the stories in my collection are very male-dominated.  There aren't many female characters and a significant number of them are damsel-in-distress types (some English girls abducted by Vikings, a woman attacked by an evil immortal hoping to corrupt her boyfriend, and a teenage noblewoman kidnapped by an oceanic snake-prince who hopes to marry her).  The latter I deliberately wrote as a subversion of that trope (I have her throwing the protagonist a dart when he is being beaten by the villain, enabling him to turn the tables, and then she quizzes him to make sure he's whom he claims he is), but that's one story out of around 10.

(Part of this has to do with the fact I hold men who abuse women in special disdain and writing them as villains enables me to kill them in various creative ways, but this could be interpreted as me thinking women weak and in need of saving, which is both insulting and commercially-unviable.  This isn't the 30s with its brass-brassiered heroines menaced by tentacled beasties anymore.)

In the revised story, protagonist Karen Hutchinson physically resists Sanchez's advances and a brawl breaks out.  She tears away the Amulet of Fire and then smashes it, causing Sanchez to age 3,000 years in a few seconds and die.  She then realizes that if Sanchez is found dead, she will be a suspect in his death and by telling the police that he was 3,000 years old, had made deals with demons, attempted to rape her, and then was going to take over the world would make her look like an insane murderess.

Then the evil power starts to speak to her.  Tempted by her desire to avoid jail (and to be free of the fear of violent men many women have and possibly implement Sanchez's political agenda, which she agreed with), she takes up the ruby from the amulet and becomes the evil power's new agent.

I suspect someone will say that she's not really a strong woman because she gives into temptation rather than doing the right thing, regardless of the consequences, but at the same time, she is much less passive (saving herself rather than waiting for someone else to save her) and becomes much more physically powerful.  Assuming she becomes like Sanchez, this means living for thousands of years, being able to teleport, greatly augmented physical strength, etc.  Female empowerment, literally.

In You Suck: A Love Story, the female protagonist (who was transformed into a vampire in the previous book, Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story) wanders the streets in a bad part of town at night and, when cat-called by some gang members, talks trash right back.  She ponders how before, as a woman, she was always afraid of being robbed, raped, etc., but thanks to her transformation, she doesn't need to worry about that anymore.

(In the prior book, three street criminals attack her at a laundry at 3 AM and she proceeds to tear two of them apart and seriously wound a third.  You go, girl.)

My protagonist undergoes a similar transformation--although not a vampire, she doesn't need to fear odious men anymore.  I pity any D.C. hooligan who tries to bother her on her way home at night.

I also upgraded her job.  Originally, Karen was a secretary of some indeterminate sort, a stereotypically female job.  In the new version, she's Sanchez's press secretary (or at least one of them), a very powerful position.  Furthermore, she is described as having gotten the position rather young, indicating talent on her part.  Hopefully this will make her a stronger female character.

Also, my friend Rob sent me an article about how fantasy is becoming more successful than science fiction because it is more inclusive of women and strong female roles, while SF is becoming increasingly male-dominated and militaristic.  Having a heroine who kills a would-be rapist and takes his place as a powerful supernatural being strikes me as something many women would appreciate more than damsel-in-distress roles and hopefully this will increase my sales.

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