Celebrating female characters

It’s International Women’s Day, so I thought I should say a few words about my female characters and how much I love them. I read a nice essay recently, Kate Elliott’s Writing Women Characters as Human Beings, which… basically tells people they should do that (I mean, it has a bunch of good advice about how it should be done, as well), and I thought, boy it’s sad that this has to be said. Still. But it continues to be assumed by a lot of readers and writers that while female authors should make it their business to write male characters well (and we won’t get into what “well” means, since that would be a whole other post appropriate to International Men’s Day, which is *checks calendar* oh right, every day), it is not necessary for male authors (or anybody) to be able to create female characters that resemble humans, or populate books with more than a token handful of them. And if you happen to shove in more than the token number, you are being Politically Correct or something, as opposed to just… accurate. (Assuming you’re not writing about the Horrible Sex-Selective Disaster that killed most of a planet’s female population, or setting your novel in a male-only prison. Et cetera.) But I don’t really want to write about that today. I just want to say thanks to the women who have made themselves real via my brain and fingers, or however that works. So thank you:

  • Olivia, through whose eyes a lot of the action has been seen: intellectual, introverted, intrepid, in pain. I am not of the opinion that a “strong female character” requires the ability to beat people up, but it’s fun to watch one discover the capacity for selective violence, along with getting in touch with her emotions in other ways. Tougher and more creative than people give her credit for, she’s also more damaged than most people notice, and I love writing her.
  • Beatrice, who quickly became the moral center of the series, and doesn’t think she deserves to be. If I was able to pick a favorite character, it might be her. I love her ability to surprise; to be both religious and rebellious, sensible and sensual; to pull time travel equations out of her pocket and make jokes about Schrödinger’s Jesus; to meet every new situation with dry humor and the maternal gentleness of someone who’s never given birth.
  • Janet, whom readers will see more of in Not Time’s Fool. She has far too much sense to get involved in these adventures, and does it anyway; if she suffers fools gladly, it’s only so she can figure out what makes them tick. She’s smart and analytical and bisexual and intensely private; she swears only in languages not English. I had a great time getting to know her.
  • Rose, excuse me: President Rose Franklin. She grew up in the business of politics; she’s reached its highest pinnacle; she isn’t satisfied yet. When she wants something, she goes after it – and gets it. Vulnerabilities are not in display in the Oval Office – but she never said she didn’t have them.
  • Simone, who isn’t ashamed of liking money and power, but also wants to be appreciated for her ability to conjure plots and plan menus. Like nearly all my villains, she really isn’t one, but she wouldn’t object to the characterization, as long as no one tells her she isn’t doing a good job at villainy.

And there are so many others I’ve enjoyed fitting in to the story: Maria, one of the few literal “kick-ass” women I’ve written, and also a protective mother; her daughter Marisol, whose only mistake was falling for George; Janet’s friend Anke; Lena, businesswoman, huisvrouw, guide and penitent; all the characters encountered in the past, like Camilla, Catharina, Génie, Margriet, Marit, and many more (special nod to Mother Pauline, who you haven’t met yet, and another young lady whose presence is a spoiler). Thanks, all of you. There will be more ladies coming up! I’m embarking on a book that (I think) will use only male POV (the last one used only female), which comes nowhere near to meaning that women won’t play a big part in it. It’s just what I do; I don’t really understand how any writers don’t. Women are fascinating – in ways that are different from men and ways that are the same. (And I am not leaving out transgender and nonbinary people here; I should be writing them too, and will find ways to make that happen.) Let’s all try to write as many interesting women as possible, and let’s make them smart and stupid, strong and weak, brash and retiring, careful and foolhardy, sly and forthright. Maybe all at once. Because women are multifaceted, and women are awesome.


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