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Today’s guest is Mary McMyne. Her upcoming novel, The Book of Gothel, out July 26, 2022 in the U.S. and July 28, 2022 in the U.K., is described as a “lush, historical reimagining of the Rapunzel folktale from the perspective of the witch” for “fans of Wicked, Spinning Silver, and Hild.” You can connect with Mary on Twitter and Instagram, and learn more about her books on her website.

Cover of The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne

Why are fairy tales told the way they are told? What secrets do they hide? 

I’ve been obsessed with folktales—with once upon a time, with long ago and far away—since I was little, when my mother told spooky bedtime stories about goblins and fairies that changed the very shapes of the shadows in my room. I used to look forward to bedtime, when she would recite folk poetry from memory and tell stories about Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Snow White. But as I grew older, I began to question the versions of the folktales she told us, many of which featured passive heroines whose goals were fulfilled only because of the intervention of a passing woodsman or prince.

Folktales are by definition dynamic stories, which are passed down orally. From parents to children at bedtime, between weavers at the loom or tired workers resting their bones beside the fire. We all know that stories are changed by each telling, that every storyteller puts their own spin on a tale. The versions of European folktales that we know exist in those forms because of who recorded them, where, and when. The Brothers Grimm. Giambattista Basile. Charles Perrault. Apart from a few exceptions like Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, Western European folklore was largely recorded by men.

Given the number of passive heroines in classic stories, I’m a huge fan of feminist retellings. As a reader, I’ve always been obsessed with point of view, the way that stories can become utterly changed when told from a new perspective. I love it when an author takes a story that once seemed simple and complicates it by breathing life into a neglected character, turning the story kaleidoscopic, complex, like a clear prism held up to the light that flashes a rainbow.

One of my favorite retellings as a teenager was Wicked, because of the way Gregory Maguire completely re-envisions (goody-two-shoes) Dorothy and Glinda from the perspective of the (certainly cynical, but not quite wicked) witch, Elphaba. In my twenties, I loved Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, which reimagines (philandering, absent) Odysseus from the perspective of (long-suffering) Penelope and her poor hanged maids. I could go on with recommendations here: Circe by Madeleine Miller, Ash by Malindo Lo, The Lost Queen by Signe Pike, “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado, Grendel by John Gardner, Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. I love a retelling that turns the source material on its head, that turns a vilified, overlooked, or flat character into a complex person, asking questions about why the story was told the way it was, revealing secrets that aren’t in the original.

There are two fantasy retellings coming out this year that I’m especially excited about because they promise to do exactly that. I can’t wait to read Vaishnavi Patel’s Kaikeyi, out April 26, which Publisher’s Weekly says turns the Indian epic the Ramayana on its head by shining “a brilliant light on the vilified queen” and her ancient magic, illuminating the complexities of her character that are omitted from the classic version. And I’m excited to read Olesya Salnikova Gilmore’s The Witch and the Tsar, out in September, which promises to shed new light on the maligned and legendary witch Baba Yaga.

When I first set out to write THE BOOK OF GOTHEL, I wanted to write a retelling that speculated about the historical roots of the Rapunzel folktale in medieval Europe. I wanted to breathe life into the female characters who were neglected in the Brothers Grimm’s version. The mother, who craves the herb and births the child, but then is never referred to again. (That poor woman! Where is she when Rapunzel gets her happily ever after with her twins and the prince? What happens to her?) The witch, whose motivations for kidnapping Rapunzel go unexplored. (Yes, she’s mad that the baby’s father stole an herb from her garden, but why in the world does she want the infant as payment? How evil is she?)

There’s a long and terrible history in Europe of women being persecuted for witchcraft, especially women who lived on the margins or didn’t fit into the conventional roles prescribed for them by the Church. Most of these women, we now know, were maligned because of factors outside of their control. Widows were especially vulnerable, for example, as were women living in poverty. As a storyteller, I wanted to turn the stories we tell about witches on their heads, to ask whether the witches of the Brothers Grimm were really as evil as they were made out to be. THE BOOK OF GOTHEL is my attempt to ask how the witch would represent herself.

A manuscript found buried in an ancient Black Forest cellar, GOTHEL is the medieval memoir of Haelewise, daughter-of-Hedda—the peasant woman who would become known as the witch who stole away Rapunzel—written in ink on parchment in her own words. Born to a midwife and fisherman in 12th century Germany, Haelewise is a young midwife’s apprentice who has fainting spells and the ability to sense the movement of souls. When her mother dies, Haelewise, shunned by her village, escapes into the Black Forest to seek shelter in the legendary Tower of Gothel. But the wise woman who lives there isn’t what she seems, and soon, Haelewise must choose between safety at Gothel and entry into a dangerous circle of sorceresses and wise women who practice forbidden magic.

The magic these women practice is inspired by herbcraft, medieval folk beliefs, and stories of ancient gods and goddesses, not the diabolical witchcraft the Church claims it is. And the sorceresses and seers who teach it to her—a young woman named Rika with ties to the local Jewish community, a pregnant princess, and historical characters like Beatrice of Burgundy and Hildegard of Bingen—are different from the way they have been presented by historians and scribes.

From its magic system to its portraits of historical figures, GOTHEL is my attempt to interrogate history and fable, to ask why stories are told the way they’re told. Why did Hildegard invent her lingua ignota, the secret language she taught her nuns? What did Christian scribes leave out of their records? What artifacts did medieval clergy destroy? What happened to Rapunzel’s mother after the witch stole her baby? Did she and the witch know each other beforehand? And why did the witch want to kidnap Rapunzel and lock her in her tower?

I wrote GOTHEL so she could tell us herself.

Photo of Mary McMyne Mary McMyne’s poems and stories have appeared in magazines like Gulf Coast, Redivider, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, and the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Her fairy tale poetry chapbook, Wolf Skin (2014), won the Elgin Chapbook Award. Originally from south Louisiana, she earned her MFA in fiction from New York University. She is hopelessly obsessed with illuminated manuscripts and grimoires.

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The eleventh annual Women in SF&F Month is now officially underway—thank you so much to all of last week’s guests!

More guest posts are coming up Monday–Friday of this week, too. But before announcing the schedule, here are last week’s essays in case you missed any of them.

All of the guest posts from April 2022 can be found here, and last week’s guest posts were:

And there will be more guest posts throughout the week, starting tomorrow! This week’s guest posts are by:

Women in SF&F Month 2022 Week 2 Schedule Graphic

April 11: Mary McMyne (The Book of Gothel, Wolf Skin)
April 12: Tanvi Berwah (Monsters Born and Made, “Escape“)
April 13: Rachel Gillig (One Dark Window)
April 14: Saara El-Arifi (The Final Strife)
April 16: Kimberly Unger (The Extractionist, Nucleation)

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Today’s Women in SF&F month guest is horror author S. A. Barnes! She’s also YA and romance writer Stacey Kade, whose work includes the science fiction series Project Paper Doll and the paranormal trilogy The Ghost and the Goth. Her latest book, Dead Silence, is a science fiction horror novel “in which a woman and her crew board a decades-lost luxury cruiser and find the wreckage of a nightmare that hasn’t yet ended.”

Cover of Dead Silence by S. A. Barnes

Give Me Messy Heroines

I’m a child of the 80s. I was lucky to grow up in a time with iconic characters like Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter) showing us that women not only had a place in science fiction but an important role to play.

Like every other child that age, I pretended to be Princess Leia escaping Jabba with nothing but guts, sheer force of will, and the very chain holding her captive. I was Wonder Woman lassoing the bad guys, deflecting bullets with her bracelets. I even had the appropriate outfits, thanks to my two sets of Underoos. (Anyone else remember those?)

I loved those characters as a little girl, and I still do. As far as role models go, it’s hard to think of better ones for truth, courage, and determination.

But as an adult, I realized that those are pretty high standards to live up to. In truth, those characters and the ideals they represent are fantasies. It’s who we hope to be on our best day. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But sometimes, I want a story about someone who is more like me on a regular day. The person who is ambitious, occasionally short-tempered, deeply full of self-doubt, and struggling with feeling that I’m drowning under the weight of my choices, responsibilities, and a persistent anxiety disorder.

A few years ago, I was working on a draft of a SF thriller (currently on hold). This was an Earth-based story about a disgraced journalist who was chasing a lead on a missing person, a nothing story that looked like it might turn out to be the story to end all stories—confirmed contact with extraterrestrials in the 1800s and a literal blood-drinking cult that had sprung up around it in this small Texas town.

My main character was deeply damaged by her past as the secret child of a man who tried to keep his second family hidden, just one town over from his “real” family. She had, unsurprisingly, complicated relationships with men, including her married boss. She also made up a source, breaking journalistic code, to try to save a family caught in corporate misdeeds that resulted in a cancer cluster and children dying.

So, yes, she was definitely flawed, but on a journey to getting her head on straight. However, people had trouble connecting with her. And to be fair, it could well be that I was not expressing her character/arc clearly enough.

But as I struggled with figuring out how to remedy this, someone pointed out that my main character in this story more strongly resembled a thriller heroine versus a science fiction one. (Ah, the dangers of trying to write a hybrid story!) Basically, the idea was that, in the context of genre expectations, science fiction readers are perhaps more comfortable with protagonists they admire—even if they don’t always like them. It should be a character they can imagine being or wanting to be on this adventure. In thrillers, because we’re expecting the character’s flaws to play a role in their ability to solve the mystery or stay alive, we’re more accepting of someone behaving in a less-than-heroic manner sometimes.

That makes sense. But it occurred to me later to wonder if that’s a standard across the board.

It’s no secret, regardless of genre or medium, that readers and viewers alike sometimes struggle to relate to flawed female characters, casting judgment in a way that I’m not sure they do when it’s a guy.

She’s selfish.
She’s greedy.
She’s ambitious.
She’s weak.
She’s emotional.

Well, yeah. Aren’t we all sometimes?

Hence, the whole ongoing debate of what it means to be a “strong female character.” Strong shouldn’t mean just one thing, one archetype. (And it definitely shouldn’t mean “strong” in the same way we expect a stereotypical “strong male character” to behave.)

In my space horror novel Dead Silence, Claire Kovalik is a messy heroine. She’s in charge of her team, mainly because it was her only option to stay in space and do the work she loves. She is facing the end of her career, what she sees as the end of her life, essentially. And only the jeopardy her crew would be in, by attempting to rescue her, keeps her from ending her life by simply unhooking herself from the final beacon she’s supposed to repair.

She has no desire for heroics. She cares about her people, yes. But she’s not looking to take down evil corporations or governments. She’s just trying to get by, making the best decisions she can, battling her own weaknesses and inner demons (figuratively and literally, at times).

I relate to that. That’s why I wrote it. Would it have been more admirable for her to aim to take down the bad guys? For her to be selfless and committed to doing the right thing even if it meant more misery? Sure. But that’s not who she is. That’s not who I am, who most of us are, on an average day.

I’m not suggesting we glamorize our flaws or that they’re even something to be celebrated. But I think fiction is at its most powerful when it’s a mirror for reality, and that mirror should reflect everyone in their truest form.

I think most everyone agrees—women deserve to be the center of the story sometimes, to be more than the love interest, the political pawn who needs rescuing, the naïve one reminding our more jaded counterparts of the good in the ‘verse, the lesson the hero needs to learn by our death. And we’ve made progress on that front. But beyond that, women deserve to be seen as we are. We aren’t always beyond-reproach iconic characters. We are messy, flawed, and just doing our best, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

(Please note: I’m using the terms female and women to include all those who identify as such.)

Photo of S. A. Barnes S.A. Barnes is the author of Dead Silence (Tor Nightfire, February 2022). She works in a high school library by day, recommending reads, talking with students, and removing the occasional forgotten cheese stick as bookmark. She lives in Illinois with more dogs and books than is advisable and a very patient husband.

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Tara Sim! She’s the author of Scavenge the Stars, a gender-swapped fantasy retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, and its sequel, Ravage the Dark, as well as the books in the Timekeeper trilogy, steampunk fantasy set in an alternate Victorian world. The City of Dusk, her latest release and first published novel for adults, begins The Dark Gods trilogy and is described as “dark epic fantasy [that] follows the heirs of four noble houses—each gifted with a divine power—as they form a tenuous alliance to keep their kingdom from descending into a realm-shattering war.”

Cover of The City of Dusk by Tara Sim

Cover Design by Lisa Marie Pompilio
Cover Artwork by Ben Zweifel

When I was eight years old, a random family member—my uncle’s wife’s mother—came over on Christmas day to celebrate with us. She had gotten me a present, which I remember unwrapping to discover, to my delight, a book. At this point I was already pretty firmly in the “yay, reading” camp, but this was a kind of book I hadn’t really encountered before. On the cover was an illustration of a girl with a sword, glowing purple with magic.

A fantasy novel. One that starred a girl with—I cannot stress this enough—a sword. My interest piqued, I dove in almost immediately. Being eight and filled with innovation, I set up a nest of blankets and pillows on the kitchen table, where I spread out and devoured a story full of magic, mistaken identity, and of course, swordfights.

That book was Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce, and it changed my life. Even though I enjoyed stories, I still struggled a bit with reading because I found a lot of things boring. But this…This was not boring. At all. I needed more.

And so began my passion for fantasy. At twelve, right around when the movies were coming out, I read The Lord of the Rings and that too changed my life, but in a slightly different way. Because while Alanna sparked in me a desire to read fantasy stories, The Lord of the Rings sparked in me a desire to create them. While I’d always had some fascination with writing, it wasn’t until my deep dive (see: obsession) with LotR that I realized I wanted to make up whole new worlds. I wanted to make the rules, the creatures, the magic. I wanted elaborate stages in which to place my characters.

I wanted to instill in other people what these stories instilled within me.


When I was younger, I didn’t have the wide range of young adult fantasy we have today, let alone the scope of diversity we’re seeing now (and still need far more of). So I turned to adult fantasy to fulfill the need for fantasy stories. Even though there were plenty I enjoyed, such as The Wheel of Time, I eventually noticed that the majority of them were written by men. At the time, it didn’t bother me that much, or at least I told myself it didn’t. Because as I look back on that period, I see a seed of something defiant and stubborn being planted.

That seed was steadily watered until it grew into a shoot, spreading through me and taking hold, turning me into a cluttered house choked with bitter ivy. I still loved many of these stories, but they began to change for me. I noticed the lack of women, or how they were written in grating ways that made me hate them (until I later unpacked internal misogyny and understood the lack of care that went into their creation was largely to blame). I noticed the blatant SA, the objectification, the fridging.

What had happened to my initial spark? What had happened to the promise of more girls/women with swords?


When I was fifteen, I wrote my first book. It was affectionately titled Ember, and was the first in an epic fantasy trilogy. It was very long, and very bad, but I loved it and the process of writing it so much that I knew this was what I wanted to do forever. All that conviction at fifteen probably had my parents worried, but I was sure that I was going to be an author when I grew up. I was going to write books like The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time.

But over the years, the bitter seed grew. It didn’t change my conviction or my desire to write epic fantasy—it just changed how I perceived the genre, and what I wanted to contribute to it. With more clarity into my identity I understood the types of characters I wanted to write. I understood what sorts of worlds I had been craving.

I was still in college when I first came up with the idea for The City of Dusk. All I had was something along the lines of: noble houses all descended from the monarchy, contending for the throne. I gave it the codename Lastrider, the last name of who I perceived would be the main character, or at least one of them. It wasn’t until later that I began to seriously plan it, bringing in vengeful gods, multiple realms and magic systems, and demons.

Still, it was simply called Lastrider for ten years. For a decade I held on to that name and wondered who exactly it belonged to. From the beginning I knew it would be a girl, but what kind of girl?

I think reading Alanna at such an impressionable age steered me into the answer.

It would, of course, be a girl with a sword. A girl who has so many deep flaws but nonetheless perseveres until she gets what she wants, or thinks she wants. A girl who fights first and thinks later. A girl who loves her family and hates the system she was born into. A girl with muscles and shadow magic and a crass sense of humor.

A girl I was desperate to read about when I was younger.

And now here she is, sword in hand, ready to break everything apart in order to fix it.


Breaking the SFF mold is a dream I share with so many other authors of marginalized backgrounds—authors who stormed the SFF space with incredible stories, tenacity, and stubbornness to make sure our shelves are overflowing with talent and diversity. Authors like N.K. Jemisin, V.E. Schwab, R.F. Kuang, and Tamsyn Muir are completely reinventing what it means to write SFF, and I am so honored to include myself among them.

The City of Dusk is a love letter to them, to myself, and to all the things I wanted from books growing up. Sure, it has necromancy and demons and shadow familiars, but it also has marginalized women kicking ass and soft men who grieve. It has beauty and darkness and horror. It has monsters in the shape of both beasts and men.

And, at the end of the day, I wrote it because stories shaped and saved me, and I want to try and help others the same way. I want to give readers wonder, sadness, happiness. A chance to escape to another place.

Because that in itself is a type of magic.

Photo of Tara Sim Tara Sim is the author of The City of Dusk (Orbit), as well as the Scavenge the Stars duology (Little, Brown) and the Timekeeper trilogy (Sky Pony Press). She can often be found in the wilds of the Bay Area, California. When she’s not writing about magic, murder, and mayhem, Tara spends her time drinking tea, wrangling cats, and lurking in bookstores.

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Today’s guest is Judy I. Lin! Her debut novel and the start of The Book of Tea duology, A Magic Steeped in Poison, features a tea-making competition, as making tea is a magical art in the world of this young adult fantasy series. Although the first of these two books was just published last week, the second half of the story will be out soon—A Venom Dark and Sweet is scheduled for release on August 23!

Cover of A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin Cover of A Venom Dark and Sweet by Judy I. Lin

On Developing a Non-Combat Focused Magic System and Addressing Issues of Inequality Through Storytelling

One of my favorite genres of movies to watch while I was growing up was the wuxia genre. I enjoyed these movies from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China because they usually featured fierce women and girls who are martial artists. They fought with swords and daggers and their bare hands, and oftentimes they had secret identities — where they had to travel through the world disguised as a man in order to not draw attention to themselves.

But when it came time to write my own stories, I knew I did not want to write about a swordswoman. Someone who was physically confident, who moved through the world with grace. Or even an assassin who was able to sneak around and use poison needles and relied on stealth rather than physical prowess. Even though I liked stories that interpreted what women warriors looked like in medieval Europe or ancient China, it wasn’t what I personally related to.

I grew up with astigmatism and near-sightedness, never played a sport, and my hand eye coordination was terrible. That was why I was drawn to the idea of a magic system based around tea. I was intrigued by the idea of a magic system that was not involved directly in combat, but had other uses in the day to day — healing, fortune telling, etc. In Taiwanese culture, tea is such an integral part of our daily lives. It involves a certain type of ceremony, and I was interested in exploring that type of ritual. What would the limitations of a magic that is tied intimately to ritual look like? What if a practitioner of such magic is found without her tools and ingredients, what would she do then?

The story in A Magic Steeped in Poison examines those challenges. I was still able to pay homage to the wuxia genre I love so much by incorporating Traditional Chinese Medicine into the magic system. Just like in many wuxia books and films, I played around with those familiar ingredients and gave them magical properties. I expanded upon the ritual that is present in the tea ceremony, and was able to include folklore inspired by the stories that I heard while I was growing up in Taiwan. I enjoyed exploring how utilization of supportive and healing magic is a different type of strength, and it can be advantageous for those who know how to use it as much as the ability to use a sword. I also wanted to tell a story where battles are conducted through cunning and knowledge — in navigating court intrigue, sparring with words, and solving puzzles in a magical competition.

Ning, the main character in A Magic Steeped in Poison, is an apprentice to this type of tea magic, but I wanted to make sure that she was surrounded by women who had different types of strength as well. I didn’t want to portray a narrow path of how a girl is supposed to achieve success in the world, because a world where women are only capable swordswomen or a world where women are all magical healers isn’t of interest to me either. Even though Ning does solve the puzzles that she encounters in the rounds of the magic competition, it was important to me that she does not do it alone. She meets people along the way who provide assistance through difficult times, many of them women in power.

Another element I wanted to make sure that I addressed in the book are issues of inequality that is not only related to misogyny and the expectations of women in this society, but issues of class and wealth distribution too. Ning experiences conflicts in the capital because of her commoner status. She is immediately an outsider because of the way she speaks. She is also looked down upon for her lack of knowledge in the way she is expected to behave, as someone who grew up outside of the capital. The competition reveals very quickly that certain competitors, due to their background, are given important advantages that allows them to advance through the rounds without challenges. Ning has to overcome her disadvantage in order to succeed, but without losing sight of why she is there in the first place.

Throughout the process of writing A Magic Steeped in Poison, I enjoyed the worldbuilding aspect the most. In reimagining the stories and traditions from my culture, I was able to connect with my heritage in new ways. I loved being able to tell stories about women with unique strengths and abilities existing in this realm, overcoming their personal challenges despite society’s expectations. I’m grateful I was able to tell a story that is deeply personal, even though it’s set in a world very different from our own.

Photo of Judy I. Lin
Photo Credit: Aaron Perkins
Judy I. Lin was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Canada with her family at a young age. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now works as an occupational therapist, and still spends her nights dreaming up imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughter. A Magic Steeped in Poison is her debut novel.

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is young adult author Deborah Falaye, whose debut novel was just published last month! Blood Scion, which is inspired by Yoruba-Nigerian mythology and research on child soldiers, follows a fifteen-year-old girl descended from gods who is forced to become a soldier by the people who colonized her own. You can read or listen to a sample on the publisher’s website, and you can find Deborah on Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok.

Blood Scion by Deborah Falaye - Book Cover


The first time I heard the term “morally gray” was on Absolute Write. I was a new writer back then, still in the middle of completing my very first manuscript. After a few recommendations from friends, I took the plunge and joined the online community to learn more about writing and all things publishing. One of the first forums I visited was already deep in a discussion about whether or not morally gray characters had a place in YA. I had no idea what morally gray meant at the time, but apparently this was such a hot topic. So safe to say I was intrigued.

I lingered on that forum for a while, rummaging through everyone’s responses until I had a clear understanding of what it meant for a character to be morally gray. To simply define it, these are characters whose morals are ambiguous, characters who are neither good nor bad, who aren’t quite the hero or the villain of the story, but rather, they straddle that gray line in-between. And this is where the divide in the forum came into play. Some loved these types of characters because they saw them as being far more complex, which made them feel more realistic. Others, however, argued that there should be a clear line drawn between the hero and the villain of a story, and the main character (who also happens to be the hero) shouldn’t have questionable morals. I disagreed heavily with this, especially when I started to notice the common thread in those responses: the main characters being critiqued were, more often than not, female.

“She (insert morally gray female character here) was too unlikeable for a main character.”
“She was too self-centered, too selfish, too cruel.”
“I tried, but I just couldn’t relate to her. I couldn’t sympathize with her.”
Her, her, her.

In fiction, we’ve witnessed the long-standing tradition where female characters (unsurprisingly written by men) were often depicted as nothing more than damsels in distress, weaklings who needed saving by the heroic men around them. These types of female characters weren’t allowed to have agency, couldn’t affect the world in a meaningful way. They were contrived caricatures, prettified props placed in a man-made box to be either good or bad. The good ones would be saved; the bad ones would be used and discarded. They were there, just there, for the glory of the heroic male. So what happens when you introduce a female character in fiction, and you not only hand her all of that well-deserved power, but you also give her agency, ambition, drive, a well-rounded backstory? A female character who has her own needs and desires, wants more than what the world tells her she can have? One who doesn’t exist within the constraints of your box, but outside of it? One who isn’t the “good girl” because she makes choices, both morally good and bad? A female character who is complex, so, so complex?

Well, you get criticisms. Especially at a time when morally gray girls didn’t really exist in YA. You get unsolicited opinions from those who think they know and understand the full complexities of what it means to be female. Yes, we can be both vulnerable and badass. We can have morals and still engage in some very questionable shit. We can most definitely be cruel and angry and vengeful. It’s called range, honey.

Sloane, the main character of my fantasy novel BLOOD SCION, is a fifteen-year-old child soldier who is fighting to reclaim everything the colonizers have stolen from her and her people. She is a deeply flawed character, and as you follow her journey, you see her make some really terrible decisions for the sake of survival. I’ve heard some readers call her one of the most morally gray girls in YA, and that pleases me because I intentionally wrote her to be just that. She’s a character whose lived experiences have shaped the way she navigates the world around her. She’s suffered some devastating horrors and unleashed a few of her own. She is angry and vengeful and wants nothing more than to burn down the world and build a new one from its ashes. And yet, like some of my beloved morally gray girls in YA (i.e., Adelina Amouteru, Jude Duarte, Karina Alahari, to name a few), I would argue all of that only makes her more real, more human.

And I think that is why I’m more drawn to these types of female characters, because they exist as a mirror of our own reality, of the gray spaces that we, as humans, often tread. We are all a little morally gray, and that’s okay.

Photo of Deborah Falaye by John Bregar
Photo Credit: John Bregar
Deborah Falaye is a Nigerian-Canadian young adult author. She grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, where she spent her time devouring African literature, pestering her grandma for folktales, and tricking her grandfather into watching Passions every night. When she’s not writing about fierce Black girls with badass magic, she can be found obsessing over all things reality TV. Deborah currently lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and their partner-in-crime yorkie, Major.