Urban Fantasy vs. Fantasy or Girls vs. Boys Phoenix Comicon panels part duex #writingtips #rogues

Welcome to part deux of my ventures into Phoenix Comicon writing panels. I saved the best for last. The panel was titled “Writing Rogues” and man, the panelists fit that description to a ‘T’.  Recognize these names: Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files), Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles), Patrick Rothfuss (Kingkiller Chronicles), Pierce Brown aka Pretty Boy (Red Rising Trilogy), Sam Sykes (The Aeons’ Gate series), and Scott Lynch (Gentleman Bastards series). If you read fantasy, you know at least one of these. And yes, it did not escape my notice there were no females present (but more of that later).

This workshop focused on the role of the rogue in fantasy series.  You know the ones: Han Solo from Star Wars, Lynch’s Locke, Harry of Jim Butcher fame, Atticus from Kevin’s series, these male characters know how to work that line between bad boy attitude and hero.

They started off with what makes a rogue–flaws, moral grayness (morally transgressive), never sure if they’ll side with you or leave you hanging in the wind, ambivalent, never committed to any cause, unless it’s themselves. They’re the characters you aren’t sure will show up, and when they do, you still aren’t sure what they’re going to do. They break the boundaries of their worlds, have to fight themselves before they fight their antagonist.  Want more examples? Think Snake Eyes from GI Joe, Stryder from LoTR, Cpt. Kirk of USS Enterprise–each one of these is what is described as a “chaotic neutral”.

The panel was an hour long and these guys are high caliber smart asses, witty without trying, and awesome to listen to. Then one of the audience members got up and asked a question.

“Why aren’t there any female rogues in fantasy?”

Silence descends for a moment, then Patrick dares to address the 15 minute rambling that I managed to get down to 8 words.  Because part of that rambling question were comments, such as “why does a female rogue have to be attractive, but a male one doesn’t?”, and “why are female rogues considered $itches”, and “how come its an all male panel?”, and so forth.

It was a big room with lots of people. My heart went out to the panelists. This is a minefield question. The questioner was on the younger side (no offense meant, but it may give insight into the whys behind the questions).

I won’t go into the debate that broke out, but I will boil some of it down:

1. In Fantasy, the world settings tend to model on medieval, which then extends to your world’s attitudes on genders. Patrick posed an interesting question, “If a fantasy author wrote a book where the lead was a mother, who decided to leave her hubby and kiddos, to undertake a heroine’s journey, would the readers be sympathetic?”  My answer as a reader–not me. First, I’m a mom and a wife, and somehow leaving behind the important peeps in my life to undertake some journey to find a magical object, would require serious incentive. Patrick pushed it further. “So say this mom does leave it all behind to do this journey, and say the sexual mores of this world were less puritan than ours, so she can now hook up with males through out her journey without worry of negatively impacting her family behind, would it still work for you?”  Again, me as a reader–um, yuck.

My take away from this one:  Fantasy is based on historical mores/values/cultures, and women, unfortunately did not play dominant roles in those, which is then reflected in high fantasy.

2. Many, many, MANY (did I say many?) times, each of the authors on the panel brought up woman writers who have kick-ass female rogues: Carrie Vaughan, Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, Laurell Hamilton, Elizabeth Hand, etc.

After much back and forth, guess what I wanted to yell at the minor demon of debate castigating the panel: Yo, honey, you want rogue females? Then PICK UP A DAMN URBAN FANTASY BOOK!  Rogue female characters work in UF because it’s fantasy set in contemporary times, where moral trangsgressiveness is gender blind. You want to know what happen to rogue female leads, yeah they’re kicking ass a few hundred of years after the bad boys of fantasy.

Besides, you tell me, don’t Granuaile from Hearne’s novels, or Karen in Jim’s novels, nail the female rogues roles?

So I refrained from violence, barely, but I still had to vent a bit on this.

Tell me, as I haven’t read the newer High Fantasy lately, are there women rogues in lead roles? Ones that aren’t portrayed as hardened $itches?

5 thoughts on “Urban Fantasy vs. Fantasy or Girls vs. Boys Phoenix Comicon panels part duex #writingtips #rogues

  1. Honestly, I think that response is a cop out. Whenever these issues of gender or race come up, folks seem to fall back on the party line of “high fantasy is based on a society molded by patriarchal values (and, apparently, Eurocentric perspectives).” So you’re (the collective you) telling me you can stretch your mind to imagine dragons, uruk-hai, wizards, and elves and all manner of creature and being whom I’m pretty sure did not exist in medieval times but somehow it’s impossible to create a likable female rogue?

    Sorry, I’m really not buying it; not even for a second. It would have been better just to admit that they are uncertain about how to write such characters well (which is fair), rather than to try convince that it’s near impossible for them to exist. Honestly, no offense to the panelist, that response smacks of the sort of paternalistic perspective that makes an all male panel on high fantasy unquestionable.

    As to female rogues in recent high fantasy, I read N. K. Jeminsin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms a couple of months ago, and I think there are several characters that might fit the bill, including the heroine, Yeine. Is it a factor that Jeminsin, herself, is a woman of color writing high fantasy: absolutely. I believe that she deliberately chose to represent all of the possibilities of our experience and those possibilities exist(ed) in both the contemporary moment and throughout history. Had the panel included a woman author, she might have spoken to the fact that there lo and behold, authors do have a choice in the matter. They are not completely at the mercy of their genre conventions.

    tl;dr Bottom line: don’t believe the hype. Transgressive women have existed throughout history (Joan of Arc comes immediately to mind) and these archetypes have compelling and likable stories too, which can and should be represented by those with the courage and the skill to buck the trend.

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  2. Female rogue/lead in high fantasy? You bet! I’m the author of the Imago Chronicles series that features a female warrior. Her fighting style is based on the style of martial arts I teach. But here’s the real kicker! Imago Chronicles: Book One A Warrior’s Tale is heading into pre-production with a two-time Oscar winning producer at the creative helm! The first 3 novels in this 10-novel series have been optioned for a major motion picture trilogy for worldwide theatrical release slated for late 2015/early 2016! Based on the reviews I’ve been getting, it looks like male & female readers are embracing this character and her heroine’s journey!

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  3. Huge congrats, Lorna, that’s fantastic!
    And big thank you to LM Davis for such an insightful comment. If I thought I could do a high fantasy series justice, I do it with a kick ass heroine just to prove a point, it’s not a male’s world out there, it belongs to whoever can write it right.

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  4. Maybe I’m reading the guidelines wrong, but it seems to me quite a few of George R.R. Martin’s female characters fit this persona. Arya, for example, in the latter parts of his A Song of Ice and Fire series…ambivalent, not particularly bound by a narrow sense of morals, committed to a self-centered cause, and my favorite, NOT buxom, sweet, and ultimately a Robin to some guy’s Batman.

    To boil it down, Martin doesn’t pigeonhole his female characters into the done-to-death hooker, housewife, or holy heroine. He treats them like they’re people…it CAN be done.

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