Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Growing up, I was always a tomboy. I hated wearing dresses. I never played with dolls, preferring toy horses and blocks. My bicycle was a racehorse, my swing-set was various ships from the Star Wars movies, and I used spare beanpoles for tipi frames or broke them in half and pretended they were swords or lightsabers. I either wanted to go to West Point and become an Army officer like my big brother Jim, or else become the first woman jockey to win the Triple Crown. Even if I'd had more chances to ride, the latter would've been impossible, given that I'm a big-boned 5'7". As for the former, no regrets on that score. Someone with my authority issues is better off writing about soldiers than becoming one!

Back then I loved fiction with girls in traditionally male roles, whether as themselves or disguised as boys. Princess Leia gave me an early expectation that a woman should hold her own and not sit around waiting to be rescued. Much as I adored the Narnia books, I always got annoyed at CS Lewis for the "battles are ugly when women fight" line from TLTWATW, though he redeemed himself a bit with Lucy's presence with the archers in The Horse and His Boy and Jill in all her awesome Jillness.

I'm still fond of warrior women and tomboys. I recently introduced my four-year-old daughter to Jane and the Dragon, which I love because I get to simultaneously encourage her to love historical fantasy and warrior woman stories, while hopefully eventually weaning her off Dragon Tales, which is nails on a chalkboard to my ears, my eyes, and my storytelling sensibilities. Jane is a girl being raised to be a lady-in-waiting like her mother who dreams of becoming a knight, and of course gets to become a knight-apprentice when she rescues the prince from a dragon and befriends said dragon.

My daughter asked me what a lady-in-waiting was and why Jane didn't want to be one. I explained that it was a woman whose job was to help a queen or a princess, and that Jane just wanted to be a knight instead. And then it struck me as a bit ironic that the female lead of Book Two of my alternative history series is going to be lady-in-waiting to a queen, and think it's the best thing that ever happened to her. My Anna the lady-in-waiting is a bit of a tomboy, and the queen she serves is traveling with the insurgent army that's trying to restore her to her rightful throne, which makes Anna's role a bit more adventurous, but still.

So far I haven't put a warrior woman, a chick-in-pants, or a woman in a traditionally male career into any of my historical fiction, mostly because despite my love of the trope I think it's been overdone, and often done badly. It's so easy to make that kind of character a modern woman in historical dress, which is one of my biggest pet peeves in historical fiction. That said, I do have a story idea stewing on my mental back burner involving a 17-year-old girl in 1797 or so who dresses as a boy to run away from home (for good reasons), planning to resume her real identity as soon as she gets to the relative she trusts to protect her...only circumstances intervene and she has to live as a boy for the next five or six years. I'll have to get to it someday...

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