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Today’s guest is speculative fiction author and editor Leona Wisoker! Her short fiction has been published in Cats in Space, Galactic Creatures, Sha’Daa: Inked, and other anthologies, and will soon be in Abyss & Apex as well. She is also the author of the stories and novels in Children of the Desert, a science fantasy series beginning with Secrets of the Sands. The last novel in the series, Servants of the Sands, was recently rereleased as two print volumes with a new chapter at the end.

Secrets of the Sands by Leona Wisoker - Book Cover Bells of the Kingdom by Leona Wisoker - Book Cover Servants of the Sands: Part I by Leona Wisoker - Book Cover

Of Being So Damn Tired

Grand and sweeping pronouncements about women’s roles, whether fictional or factual, feel stale these days. Examining our historic oppression, whether globally or individually, feels the same. So much has already been written about emerging writers, about convention mishaps, about political fights, about the shifting world we live in. These are all excellently worthy topics, but I’m just not up to discussing them right now.

And that’s the theme, right there, isn’t it? We’re tired. We’re all so very, very tired. It’s been a ridiculous year and so many ridiculous months and so many, many ridiculous days. How often, in fiction, are women allowed to just be tired? When is the heroine allowed to get properly exhausted and collapse for a few days instead of Heroically Forging Ahead?

One of my favorite authors is Tove Jansson, a Finnish author who wrote and illustrated children’s books (and did illustrations for a satirical, anti-fascist magazine as well). She was bisexual in a time and place that absolutely did not accept such things, and her books are heavily queer coded.

Her Moominvalley series follows the adventures of a family of woodland trolls. Early books are highly improbable and whimsical, focused on the children (Moomintroll and his friends Snufkin, Little My, and Sniff, among others) and the patriarch of the family (Moominpappa). They involve comets, floating houses, and magical hats. The later books are where Jansson really sinks her teeth into the complexity of the characters. The magic retreats, replaced with a finely drawn network of connections, and Moominmamma becomes the center of every story — even in Moominvalley in November, when she’s not directly in the story at all.

I find it fascinating that the shift in focus from Moominpappa to Moominmamma is when the stories lose their ridiculous edge and move into deeper waters. Throughout the series, Moominmamma is consistently the voice of calm and reason against her husband’s pompous recklessness and her children’s flighty adventures. She treats crisis with good humor and gets the family through Situation after Situation without showing the least bit of strain — until Moominpappa at Sea, the next to last book in the series.

As Sea opens, Moominvalley is under a summer heat wave and everyone is cranky and snapping at one another. A small fire starts in the back yard, and is quickly put out by the family; Moominpappa, napping on the veranda, is furious that he wasn’t called in to handle it himself. He stomps and sulks and stands guard over the tiny blackened area until he’s sure the family is properly sorry for their offense. Unfortunately, they all think he’s overreacting, and Moominmamma can’t find a way to smooth Pappa’s bad mood this time. She’s getting tired, you see. The kids don’t see Pappa as infallible any longer, and Pappa’s getting grouchier, and it’s just so hot.

So the entire family bundles up into a boat and sails to an obscure island, in hopes of restoring the balance: Pappa being in charge, everyone else — especially Moominmamma — relying on him. The shift to severe isolation in a desolate location, the demand that Pappa do all the work, and the inevitable reality that Pappa isn’t, actually, able to shoulder Mamma’s load — it’s all so exhausting for Moominmamma. She’s given up her beloved garden, her friends, her work, her home, and she has to constantly encourage her flaky husband as he tries to fill a role he is simply, incredibly unsuited for.

Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson - Book Cover

This is still a kid’s book. There’s still a lot of whimsy. There are sea-horses — literally, delicate horses that live in the sea and come up onto the shore to prance and laugh; there is a Groke, a terrifying, sad creature that kills the ground she walks on. There are hiding places and exciting discoveries and mysteries. But woven through as an increasingly strong thread is the simple fact that Moominmamma is so damn tired.

At one point, she breaks. She starts painting flowers on the inside walls, and gets angry when Moominpappa tries to get in on that: this is mine, she says, and refuses to let anyone else add to her artwork. For Moominmamma, this is the equivalent of a volcano exploding. She simply never draws that sort of boundary.

As she continues drawing, she finds that she can literally step into her art: she curls up behind her painted flowers, and the family comes and goes, searching for her throughout the day and getting upset when they can’t find her. She ignores them and sleeps on. Again, for Moominmamma, this choice to center herself, to rest, is absolutely epic. She hides more than once, until she comes to a healthy place within herself and is able to rejoin the family with refreshed spirit and take proper charge again. At that point, she finds herself unable to retreat into the paintings any longer; she doesn’t need to. She’s reclaimed herself.

I cannot overstate how much it means for me, as an adult looking back, to see that sort of quiet acknowledgement that sometimes our families are just too much and we have to step back, hide for a bit, and rest until we’re recharged. The acknowledgement that kids are kids, and they’re self absorbed, and they’re just not going to notice that we’re in pain. Those of us who are caretakers so often have to handle our own burdens as well as the pain of the people around us, while not showing a sign of struggling.

This past year, these past four years, have been so very, very exhausting. We’re all struggling. We’re all cranky and snapping at one another like the Moomins in a heat wave. Many of us are doing the equivalent of retreating to a remote island in an effort to force control over an uncontrollable situation.

Tove Jansson had a gift for poking fun at society, for shaking assumptions and overturning norms. Terry Pratchett, in fact, pointed to Jansson as one reason he became a writer, and indeed when you look at the two side by side there are definite echoes from one to the other.

Jansson wrote novels for adults as well as for children. She was an artist: she held multiple solo exhibitions, painted murals, illustrated a Swedish translation of The Hobbit, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and other books. She worked to bring her Moomin series to the stage, and as her time in theater went on, she fell in love, at age 42, with the woman who would become her lifelong partner.

Looking at the list of everything Jansson created and accomplished in her life, I can only imagine how exhausted she became on a regular basis. She certainly lived a rich and complex life, and showcased that in her stories. I really wish I’d had the chance to meet her. I could have made it happen — she passed in 2001, just as I was settling into a full-time job and a new marriage in Virginia. If I’d thought to look her up in earlier years, I could have at least contacted her to tell her how much her stories meant to me. It simply never occurred to me.

Part of the exhaustion over the past years, for me, has been a steadily growing realization of just such missed opportunities. A stark awareness that I’ve put my energy into so many things that just haven’t paid me back proportionately. A sense that I’m getting older, and I really just don’t have the interest in saving the world the way I used to. Smaller, simpler, more directly effective actions suit me far more than tilting at windmills, lately. And reading. I’m reading more and more in recent years, and I’m finding my interests changing.

I particularly want to read more stories in which the women get to reclaim themselves and solve the problem, not by charging the enemy or setting a clever trap for the bad guy, but by resting. I want to write those kinds of stories. And do you know what…I just might!

Leona R. Wisoker writes a variety of speculative fiction, from experimental to horror, from fantasy to science fiction. Her science-fantasy series, Children of the Desert, follows several characters through a world slowly coming apart as dangerous secrets are revealed and centuries-long plots move into their final stages. Shorter works, such as Silver and Iron in the Sha’Daa: PAWNS anthology and Dragon Child in the Galactic Creatures anthology, reflect her early love of stories that involve demons and elves.

Leona’s work is fueled by coffee, chocolate, and whisky. She often contemplates exercise, decides it’s too much time away from working on really important things, then returns to creating bizarrities, researching random subjects, or planning her next garden project.

Leona’s web site is leonawisoker.com. She can most often be found on Twitter (@leonawisoker), talking about politics, writing, food, cute pet pics, and gardening.

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Today’s guest is H. M. Long! Her recently released Viking-inspired epic fantasy debut novel, Hall of Smoke, follows a warrior-priestess who is trying to set things right after having failed her goddess—and discovers there’s far more to her world and its deities than she’d been taught. A standalone sequel, Temple of No God, is scheduled for release in January 2022.

Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long - Book Cover Temple of No God by H. M. Long - Book Cover

Creativity in Crisis
Hannah (H. M.) Long

It’s March 2020. I’m hip-deep in drafting my second book on contract and editing my first. They’ve both been challenging but are still on track, thanks to long days alone and lots of time to focus. For a die-hard pantser I’m managing this whole outline thing well, I think, and I’m looking forward to starting a new project in June.

Of course, then the pandemic hit. All the sudden my husband and I were in lockdown with my parents, brother and his girlfriend — six adults in one house during a Canadian winter that stuck around until mid-May. All the ingredients I felt that I need for creativity (solitude, quiet, my own schedule) were chucked into the snow. New stresses and challenges came at me — at all of us — at every turn. Sure, I still had a better situation than many others, but I hit my limit.

My creativity died. Poof. No more sudden inspirations, sending me scrambling for a notebook. No more beautiful sentences pulling together in the back of my mind. No more vivid characters leaping onto the page. I didn’t even have the will to sit down at my computer, and when I did, everything I wrote felt strained. Wooden. Flat.

I floundered around for a while, battling for focus, let alone creativity. I lamented with my artsy friends, and found them saying similar things. There was simply too much going on, too much worry and noise, to create — at least not joyfully, or freely.

This got me thinking a lot on the nature of my creativity. What is it, to me? What does it need to grow and flourish? How could I bottle that up and protect it, contain it in a world suddenly turned on its head?

This is what I came up with, the things that got me through that I’m still relying on today. These aren’t great breakthroughs or lofty scientific discoveries. They’re probably things everyone’s heard before. But it’s the simple reminders, I often find, that I need most.

Space and silence. For me, my subconscious needs space to cultivate creativity, and quiet to let it grow. By space I mean freedom from restrictions, schedule and obligations — which adulting really isn’t conducive to. This is that “inspiration in the shower” phenomenon, that moment when all you have around you is hot water and tile, you’re mechanically doing a routine you’ve done 10,000 times before, and your subconscious is free to run. Then, that shiny new idea suddenly makes itself known.

But how to recreate that? I found that small, simple steps made a world of difference. Whenever I could, I shut my phone off for a few hours in the morning. The rest of the time, I turned off notifications from everything but calls. I stopped watching the news. I’d take long walks in nature — without my phone. (Notice a trend?) I also got a proper schedule book and started to use it religiously, and when we got the chance, my husband and I decided to leave town and moved to a cabin in the bush. That last one isn’t a very accessible change, I know, nor an easy one. But my word, did it help. No longer was I soaking up the business and anxiety of pandemic town life. (Now, all I have to worry about are the bears and moose — but that’s another story.)

Structure and reliability. Quite opposite to freedom, sometimes creativity needs to be fenced in. It needs expectations and guidelines, boundaries it can run free inside. It needs to be sat down at a desk and given a blank document, whether or not it feels like working that day. It doesn’t always cooperate, but it can be trained like a muscle. And, like a muscle, it must actually be worked in order to grow. Sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike is romantic, but impractical, especially in an unpredictable world.

Those three hours in the morning where I shut my phone off? That was all the structure and reliability I could give myself, so I took it. And, little by little, creativity showed up. Sometimes I’d write 500 words. Sometimes 3000. Sometimes I’d delete chapters. Sometimes I’d just end up eating cookies and staring at the wall. But I showed up. I gave myself that time and space, and something happened.

I wrote two novels this year, and edited another. I’m proud of that, because I know I fought for each and every word. Yet I’m prouder of what I learned through it. Learning how to be creative in the midst of crisis is a skill I hope I’ll continue to refine throughout the next challenge, and the next. And though every person, creation, and situation differs, I hope something here has resounded with you, too.

Photo of H. M. Long H. M. Long is a Canadian fantasy writer, author of HALL OF SMOKE and TEMPLE OF NO GOD, who loves history, hiking, and exploring the world. She lives in Ontario, but can often be spotted snooping about European museums or wandering the Alps with her German husband. She tweets @hannah_m_long.

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Today’s guest is E. Lily Yu! She received the Astounding Award for Best New Writer in 2012, and her story “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards for Best Short Story that same year. Her short fiction has been published in numerous magazines, including Tor.com, Lightspeed, and Uncanny, and been selected for several “best of” anthologies. On Fragile Waves, her first novel, was released earlier this year.

On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu - Book Cover


Unlike the limp little infant in Perrault and Grimm, blitzed with all kinds of blessings she never asked for, the young reader and pupal writer can choose her fairy godmothers and the gifts to receive from each of them.

To celebrate women in fantasy, here are four of my fairy godmothers and the gifts their books gave me.

* * *

Tamora Pierce gave me the wrong dreams, by which I mean precisely the right dreams for a sensitive and imaginative child, beginning with the Song of the Lioness cycle.

One must always carry a dream of some sort in one’s pocket for direction, like a sailor sighting on a star. Even if the dream is infeasible, it may lead the dreamer toward courage, say, or endurance of suffering, or an encyclopedic knowledge of the various pieces of a suit of armor.

Long before I dreamed of becoming a Mars mission scientist, a physicist, or an English professor, I was determined to become a knight, sword and all. I told the author as much, when I finally met her at a signing.

“What are you doing instead?” she asked.

I’d become a writer, I said.

She laughed wickedly and steepled her fingers. “My master plan is working!” she said.

* * *

Patricia McKillip showed me the sorcery of language and syntax. Her sentences awed me with their elegance. Take this example from The Tower at Stony Wood, a list-making of images that leaps into the fateful arrival of a stranger, full of assonance, consonance, and slant rhymes (ornate mirror, hawk/water, scatter/blackbirds, bright sky):

“Beyond her, the images in her ornate mirror changed constantly: a hawk plunging out of the sky straight down into water to drag a fish out of the current, the pepper-scatter of blackbirds against the bright sky, the rider just coming into view down the road.”

Almost any sentence of McKillip’s would do.

What she accomplished with language was to me its own kind of magic, an incantation in text, impossible to reproduce in film. Before I studied rhetoric and Latin, her books taught me asyndeton, polysyndeton, other such devices, and a love of the precise use of semicolons. Long before I read Chaucer, the Pearl Poet, and the Breton lais, The Throme of the Erril of Sherril showed me the playfulness of antique English with a charming cnight in a norange orchard.

* * *

Diane Duane taught me the alchemy of real places and things.

I read The Book of Night with Moon before I ever visited New York City. As a result, the first time I went, I insisted on seeing the backwards constellations in the sea-green ceiling of Grand Central, and the computer catalogues at the New York Public Library with their CATNYP screensavers, neither of which are, as far as I know, ordinary tourist attractions, and both of which delighted my heart.

These anchors in reality, along with a papyrus fragment I saw in a book that I am certain the author saw also, illustrated with a cat cutting a serpent with a curved knife, made the world suddenly and wonderfully strange. For if Duane could describe what existed, what I could visit and see and confirm with my own eyes, in a beautiful and coherent vision of the world that included what couldn’t and didn’t exist, then much more was possible than I had ever thought—at the wise and worldly age of twelve.

* * *

A friend gave me A.S. Byatt‘s Possession for my seventeenth birthday, I think—my memory is inexact—and it immediately burned itself into my sky, as one of the stars that I navigated by.

Though Byatt writes short fantasies elsewhere, Possession, in spite of its cover painting of Merlin and Vivienne, does not break the rules of our ordinary world. And yet speech, characters, places, poetry, and detail, from a garden flat with forbidden garden to a rucked-up bedsheet, are charged with all the richness and mythical power of high fantasy. Until I read Possession, I did not know that this could be done, that a book could be an enchantment without magic, a bewitchment without witches, that prose alone could make this drab gray quotidian world seem deeper and more gorgeous for the length of a novel.

* * *

By some mystery of the universe, books often come to us when we need them, when we are ready; these writers’ books arrived when I could learn from them.

There are, of course, far more than four authors whose books have been gifts and teachers and keys to me. There are far too many of them to count. But these are some of the countries of mind I walked when young, that I might not be able to walk again if I tried now.

So it goes with the world.

My hope is that, by the same magic, my own books also find the readers who need them at the right time. If I’m lucky, in twenty years or so, I’ll meet a newly minted writer, shiny and nervous, handing one of those books back to me for a moment. Perhaps I’ll laugh as wickedly as the thirteenth fairy over the stories they must spin and the dreams they will dream.

Or perhaps everything that should be said will already be written.

E. Lily Yu is the author of the novel On Fragile Waves, published by Erewhon in 2021, as well as thirty-five short stories in venues from McSweeney’s to Tor.com. Her stories have been finalists for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Sturgeon, and World Fantasy Awards, and have appeared in twelve best-of-the-year anthologies.

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Women in SF&F Month 2021 is now underway; thank you so much to all of last week’s guests!

There will be more guest posts Monday–Friday, following the schedule at the end. But first, here’s what’s been posted so far this month in case you missed any of last week’s essays.

All of the guest posts from April 2021 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 2021 Weekly Schedule Graphic

April 12: E. Lily Yu (On Fragile Waves, “The Time Invariance of Snow“)
April 13: H. M. Long (Hall of Smoke, Temple of No God)
April 14: Leona Wisoker (Children of the Desert, “Dragon Child“)
April 15: Alexis Henderson (The Year of the Witching)
April 16: Diane Duane (Middle Kingdoms, Young Wizards)

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Today’s guest is science fiction writer and editor S.B. Divya! Her fiction has appeared on Tor.com, Uncanny, Apex Magazine, and many other publications, and it can also be read in her collection, Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse and Other Possible Situations. She is also the author of Runtime, a 2016 Nebula Award finalist for Best Novella, and a co-editor of Escape Pod, a 2020 Hugo Award finalist for Best Semiprozine. Her first novel, the near-future science fiction thriller Machinehood, was just released last month.

Machinehood by S.B. Divya - Book Cover

Through the Eyes of Women

As I was outlining my novel, Machinehood, I came up with three point of view (POV) characters — two protagonists and one antagonist. I figured out their story arcs, planned my main plot beats, and was set to start drafting when it occurred to me that all three of my main characters identified as women.

(Two asides here: first, I consider myself a nonbinary or gender nonconforming woman, depending on your definition. I made sure to include people of other genders, but they aren’t main characters in this story. Second, all three of the POV characters are also people of color, but that discussion belongs in an entirely different post.)

The lack of male protagonists made me pause and consider: should I include one? Would male readers, who are often the target audience for a techno-thriller, be put off by solely inhabiting the headspaces of women? Given that the story takes place in 2095 with no major male-eradicating disasters, there were plenty of men in the cast. It’s just that they were side characters, supporting the ones who drive the plot.

When it comes to my short fiction, I’ve told stories from the standpoints of a variety of genders, but predominantly, I tend to write about women. This has been true from the very first stories that I wrote in my teens. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t place myself, or people like me, as the main characters. I’ve been a fan of science fiction since the age of 10, and I found plenty of books early on that were written by women and featured female protagonists. I guess I got lucky because I’ve heard from others that they defaulted to writing male characters when they started out. That’s all they had read.

I have also heard that boys (and men) don’t like reading books about girls (or women) because they can’t relate. That’s what tripped me up when it came to writing my first novel. I wanted the book to have broad appeal. Would I turn off half my audience if I didn’t give them a viewpoint that resembled their own?

That’s when I checked myself.

How many science fiction novels had I read with multiple male POV characters with nary a woman’s view to be had? How many movies have no female protagonists? If people who aren’t men (more than half the world) can spend hours following male thoughts and feelings in narratives, then the converse should also be true, regardless of the genre.

That settled it. I decided that these three women’s stories were the ones I wanted to tell, so I forged ahead and wrote the book with only their viewpoints.

This might be where you expect me to say that male readers and editors couldn’t relate to the book or rejected it, but I’m happy to say quite the opposite has happened. Maybe because it’s 2021, but so far, the reception from men has been just as positive (or not) as that from people of other genders. Men seem to have no trouble relating to the tough-as-nails fighter Welga, nor to the more domestic and scientifically-minded character, Nithya.

I’m happy that my trepidation proved wrong, and my instincts right. I told the story the best way I could, and that should always be a writer’s most important consideration. I think my teenage writer-self would be proud.

Photo of S.B. Divya
Photo Credit: Sargeant Creative
S.B. Divya is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. She is the Hugo and Nebula nominated author of Machinehood (Saga), Runtime (tordotcom), and the short story collection, Contingency Plans For the Apocalypse and Other Possible Situations (Hachette India). Divya is the co-editor of the weekly science fiction podcast Escape Pod, with Mur Lafferty. She holds degrees in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing and worked for twenty years as an electrical engineer before becoming an author. Find her on Twitter @divyastweets or at www.sbdivya.com.

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is poet and fantasy author E. J. Beaton! Her debut novel, The Councillor, is often described as “Machiavellian fantasy” (for more about that classification, see her essay here). The Councillor was recently published in the US, Canada, and internationally and will also be available in Australia on May 18.

The Councillor by E. J. Beaton - Book Cover

The Imperfection of Clever Women
by E. J. Beaton

How clever are women allowed to be in novels?

That’s a question no one should need to ask. If women are equal to men, then surely, we must be allowed to be equally represented on the page in all our messy humanity – clever in some ways, unwise and naïve in other ways, and negotiating everything in between.

But there is often a prickliness in the reception of female characters. We judge female intelligence with a readiness to find women wanting. If a female character seems too clever, then she must be a Mary Sue, with everything too easy for her. If she seems not clever enough, she becomes a disappointment in the arena of logic. A character who is clever yet flawed will often receive these criticisms at the same time: she is too clever for some readers to like, and not clever enough for others.

These attitudes reflect the sexism we direct towards women in real life. We expect women to fit into certain boxes, and then we angrily claim that they have failed to do so.

But what if we approach female intelligence with a willingness to embrace women as full human beings, not to cut them down? How might we view intellectual women then?

Logic and emotional intelligence

If you’ve mixed in academic circles, you’ve probably noticed that it’s possible to be very clever about some things and lack knowledge of other areas – sometimes, enormous areas.

For example, someone can be a specialist in their particular field, yet be totally ignorant of other domains of knowledge. Or a person may be skilled in several academic disciplines, yet unable to apply their knowledge practically in a workplace or in everyday life. In other cases, they might have a laser-like focus on certain pieces of scholarship, yet gloss over sub-genres of knowledge that fail to pique their interest.

A similar gulf can occur between logic and emotional intelligence. It is interesting to explore the development of one kind of intelligence in a character who already possesses another. If a woman has spent her childhood immersed in study, it’s only natural that she may need to do a bit of learning when it comes to relationships. That journey towards social development can reveal something of the struggle to become a well-rounded person.

Friendships, working partnerships, romantic and sexual relationships… these things can all prove challenging for someone who hasn’t had much practice. We can make space in stories for women who are intellectual but need to work at their emotional intelligence. Importantly, this can mean allowing time for the interpersonal elements of the story. A clever woman need not only go around conducting experiments or practising deduction – she can also navigate her urges, struggle with her desires, and work out how to manage the chaos of her insecurity.

Clever VS infallible

Even a highly intelligent person is apt to make mistakes. This applies as much to women as it does to men, but often, we mete out a different judgment to women when they stumble. Clever female characters often bear the burden of strict expectations, and especially the expectation of consummate skill.

Yet women are complicated beings, just like men. When we unburden female characters of the need to be perfect all the time – when we allow them to be intelligent but also fallible – we reflect the real experience of being a woman. Female intellectuals who err can remind us of the times that women falter on the path to success in a tough job. They can illustrate the reality of trying and persisting, of learning and developing, and of wanting to smack oneself in frustration over an obvious mistake.

If we deny female characters the messiness of errors and slip-ups, we are asking them to be less human than men. I think women deserve the same breadth of psychology on the page.

Sex and the intellectual

Sexual desire can prove a double-edged sword for women. Sometimes, a sexual element is expected in women’s stories and discussions in order for them to appear “interesting” to the public – take the proliferation of female comedians focusing on sexual material, for example. Yet the same sexual element can be used to write off women’s work, to deride it as juvenile or immature.

The bare fact of the matter is that intelligence and sexual desire are not incompatible. Women can seek out sexual experiences and pursue a career; they can focus on logic at some times, and focus on desire at other times. Classifying sex as a distraction from the serious or the political means simplifying female subjectivity, in a way that infantilises women.

If we don’t call rape scenes juvenile, then why should we see female desire as immature? Is sex only permissible when it is violent or miserable? And are women not allowed to desire it – even when the female gaze is a disruptive force, pushing male aesthetics aside?

Layers, layers, layers…

The books I love most contain a compelling story arc, but they offer more than a bundle of plot twists – they include a rich writing style, emotional depth, and character development. These layers of a novel sit beneath the surface like the tiers of an opera cake. They might look easily arrayed, in their delicious confection, but they take hours of work to build, and in combination they make something that is beyond a single ingredient.

A complex female character is a layered creation, too. Triumphs and errors, logic and emotion, work and desire can all swirl together in a woman’s story. An intelligent female character can engage with all of these elements within one narrative.

How clever are women allowed to be on the page? Very clever, I’d hope.

They should also be allowed to err, to desire, and to feel. Just like the rest of us, off the page.

We are, after all, gloriously imperfect.

Photo of E. J. Beaton E. J. Beaton is the author of the fantasy novel THE COUNCILLOR, published in March 2021 by DAW Books, to be followed by a sequel. You can read an excerpt here.

To learn more about E. J. Beaton, visit her website where you can find blurbs and read her essays on bisexual visibility, Machiavellian fantasy, motivation, and more. You can also follow her on Twitter or on Instagram.