Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Heather Fowler - Blog Tour

Why Aren't There More Women Kicking Ass in Literary Fiction?

A few weeks ago I strolled along at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, meandering through a line of readers several hundred deep, cued up and waiting. Mother-daughter duos made up a large part of the crowd. Which literary superstar is this, I thought?

A literary superstar with a huge cult following—with beautiful young women and supportive older women standing together? Who could I imagine, in the literary realm, with this exact audience? I asked someone in my direct path, and my immediate first reaction was smacking my own forehead: Of course!

Divergent by Veronica Roth, the first book of a dystopic YA trilogy, has become wildly popular with the teenage set (and with parents in support of child readers), especially since the movie rights were sold. A rising theme I’ve seen often in the last ten years of pop-culture media is that women are hungry for books with female ass-kicking potential and realization.

The genre world has long been the place to find such superlative ass-kicking—but I notice that it has become more nuanced and woman-friendly of late, has grown up some in the last decade or two. Women in comics and film have changed from predominantly half-naked, male adolescent fantasy, visual bling used as sex objects--to intelligent women exhibiting strong and powerful roles in the new world or worlds where they live. Kudos to the publishers and producers.

The genre world has figured it out in the way the literary world hasn't: Give us more Katniss Everdeen, more Beatrice 'Tris' Prior is this country’s vibe at the moment, and the comics and movies and genre books are simply providing more product. The public responds to the stimulus. At that book festival, seeing the frenzy for Roth’s signature, I remembered that my own eleven-year-old daughter is currently fixated on The Hunger Games series, on Frozen, on everything she reads and sees that shows powerful women. But at that festival, seeing Roth’s line, a thought then echoed in my head that has reverberated there for years: I want to write books for her with real women exhibiting courage and leadership in the real world, where the society depicted doesn't have to be imaginary.

As the author of two short fiction collections of magical realism—not to mention a collection of dystopic fiction—I can see the lure of reading and writing strong women characters via fiction classified as genre. I’ve done that. Nonetheless, what I hear a lot from women readers who approach any selection of my work is that they like how my female protagonists are more confident, more active, more aggressive. My newest book Elegantly Naked also fits this bill—but it does so with realism.

It's an illustrated literary collection that includes collaborative graphic art illustrations. You won't have the pleasure of seeing any women with magical dresses or talking birds like you’ve seen in my past collections—but I’ll tell you one thing: You will see ass-kicking, real-world women in my literary fiction who are challenged yet entirely present, taking agency .

As an example, consider my story "Good Country. People.” This is a pair-piece with Flannery O'Connor's famous literary story "Good Country People." In O’Connor's story, a con man lures a country girl with a prosthetic leg up into the loft of a barn, steals her leg, and leaves her there. That girl
needed retribution for years—enter my invented character Treble Ann, a pugilist who lost a hand in a freak accident. When this same con man enters my story and tries to enact the same kind of theft with Treble's prosthetic hand—she beats him to death and boxes his ears afterward with the leg he lifted from the abandoned girl in O’Connor's piece. Why?

Because I decided more women in literature need to kick ass. More women readers need books where women are not just violated, but sometimes emerge the victors. I will not buy into a culture of accepted victimization.

This is why I write the way I do. I'm bringing the characters and ideas I want to see to the pages of my books. I think there's a readership for this strength and will—a huge community of readers who long to see less passive roles for women in serious fiction. Fantasy/dystopic civilization ass-kicking is great and all, but what about women assuming more power in real roles? If you agree, check out my newest release Elegantly Naked in My Sexy Mental Illness, available now for purchase.
Heather Fowler is the author of the story collections Elegantly Naked In My Sexy Mental Illness; This Time, While We're Awake; People with Holes; and Suspended Heart. Fowler’s work was named a 2012 finalist for Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short  Fiction. She received her M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University. Her stories and poems have appeared in: PANK, Night Train, storyglossia, Surreal South, Feminist Studies, The Nervous Breakdown, and others. 

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