When a panel has Fantastic Females in the title it’s expected it will be good. Really good. And it did not disappoint. MC’ed by Chris Marie Green (Only the Good Die Young) the stellar panel consisted of Deborah Harkness (The All Souls Trilogy), Marjorie Liu (Labyrinth of Stars), CJ Harper, who is made up of Samantha Sommersby and Jeanne C. Stein (Reckoning), Christina Lauren, who is made up of Lauren Billings and Christina Hobbs (Sublime), and Tonya Hurley (Blessed series).
The first question kicking off the panel asked what makes their female characters strong. Deb started everyone off with a chuckle when she said that hers is tenured. Marjorie said that she has tattoos peeling off to form an army, but the stories really are about moms and daughters, about strength inside and out, and about building complex relationships. Sam said that their main is one of three sirens kicked out of Mt. Olympus, and she works in the modern day to find missing women (and of course there’s a hunky werewolf). Jeanne added that there’s a big curse and lots of bad that happens to the guy. Lauren said that they switched it up from typical YA books with romance, and have the boy doing all he can to be with the girl, and she lets him. Christina got a laugh when she answered with a simple “Ditto!” Finally Tonya explained that her newer series is about ancient martyr tales, and that it’s lots of fun writing them.
The second question asked about tropes, and if there are any they like to avoid or use. Lauren jumped in, explaining that they found a lot of stories where the girl does anything to be noticed and she has the growth. But in this case she’s locked as a character and the boy is trying to figure it out. Marjorie said she’s so done with the love triangle. In the beginning it was fun and often done well, but she started to feel it was a distraction to the female’s journey. In the start of her series the character is in a relationship, and it was interesting writing. Deb said she’s totally over the “will or won’t they get together?” story plot. You know they will, why waste time, she reflected. But to make them stay together, that’s a different story. How as a writer do you make it last? That’s the challenge. Sam observed that there’s an expectation to use sexuality to get things with a siren as a main character. They turned that upside down: their main character has a glamor to hide that, and she can’t be discovered, so she can’t use sex. Jeanne added to this, saying that she’s also an old-fashioned heroin with old values. Tonya closed out the question talking about her main character, and how she handles love totally differently than what’s expected. It’s not about getting a guy to save you; you’ve got to save yourself.
The next question reflected on sexism: are there places you can’t go with a woman that heroes can go? Sam said it depends on the audience and the motivation of the writer/story. Chris added to this, saying that writers need to think about how comfy the reader is going to feel. Deb countered, saying that writers need to push that. Be consistent with character, but don’t think of the reader, it can get in the way. Sam added that you almost have to break the rules. Lauren also added the thought that you don’t have to completely relate to the character to do this. Tonya provided an example of this: Hannibal. “He’s charming, even though he eats brains. That’s writing!” Jeanne added Dexter as another anti-hero we root for.
The last question from Chris was about themes the authors spotlight. Christina said that most girls don’t know they’re strong, and that her character reminds her of her students in that sense. Tonya deals with belief in this new series. The idea came from a guy on the subway saying he’s Jesus. And she thought, “What if he is?” This led her to one of the questions of her series: would you believe you were an ancient martyr? Lauren actually had a conversation with a neuroscientist regarding nerve protection, which ties into a frozen lake in Sublime. They fictionalize the science in a way. Where does science and paranormal intersect? Sam said their series is similar, referencing things from the real world, things like addiction. Marjorie is drawn to stories of the outsider, internally and physically, and what the idea of home means. Do you have a home? How do you have friends when you feel alone? How do you break that cycle? These are all ideas she’s explored, and they deeply move her. Deb closes it out, saying for her it is power and the price of power. It always exacts a price: loneliness, isolation, etc. She likes to think this through.
There were some great audience questions at this point, including how not to repress dominant females (do a give and take, and follow the “don’t be a dick” rule), dealing with LGBT issues (the sex can’t define them), and sex in YA books (is it relevant to character growth? Conflict?)
This panel had a really cool mix of authors. There were a few I hadn’t heard before combined with some I had, and it was interesting to hear how all of these women represented women in their stories. I also have added a few series to the reading list, thanks to this panel. All in all this one was excellent, and I’m really glad I went.