Today I'm hosting fellow fantasy novelist RobRoy McCandless. Rob and I have been riding a very similar train...in that we both released books within days of each other, and it's been great getting to know him better. His book, Tears of Heaven, is an urban fantasy available now at Wild Child Publishing and Amazon.
I love this question. It says so much that is right (and wrong) with our society. Whedon’s answer is now bordering on the culturally axiomatic. It is so well known (at least in my circles) that it can be thrown out as casually as “sword of Damocles” or “Pyrrhic victory” and actually be used correctly.
Whedon's final resolution is: “Because you’re still asking me the question.”
I’ve been writing (hopefully) strong female characters for a couple of decades now. I didn’t set out to do so. There was no conscious effort to make my work specifically male or female. My very first, very immature story was about my group of friends. Because I was, have been and always will be interested in heroic fantasy, it was in a heroic fantasy setting. Everyone carried swords, everyone was heroic with their swords, and that was essentially that. It was a story meant for my friends, and I thought highly of all of them, regardless of their gender.
That was really all there was to it.
One of my favorite characters in that story (and perhaps this was because she was one of my favorite people in high school) was an average height/average weight girl who carried an extremely above-average sword great sword. There was nothing Freudian in this. I just liked the joke: Initially, in my un-realistic, fantasy way, she was just that strong. The sword/girl had no specific magic power making such an unwieldy weapon wieldy.
She was just that strong.
That character stuck with me, and as I met other, strong women in my life, and honored them (if you can call it that) with characters in my writing, I found more and more that I was telling their story (the female characters, not the real-life women). So much so that I wrote whole universes specifically for these characters, not to the exclusion of male characters, but simply with the traditional genre roles leveled out.
So, while I prefer Whedon’s response very much, agree with it, and wish I could have said it myself, my answer to the question is somewhat different.
Why do I write strong women characters? Because women are that strong. They are just that strong.
Excerpt from Tears of Heaven
The fight was not going well. Del should have brought Marrin. Ahadiel had told her to bring Marrin, but that only made certain that she wouldn’t.
Del gasped as the rogue landed a solid punch into her stomach and ribs. The air whooshed from her lungs. He followed with a stab of his fingers into her right arm. Cold-filled pain suffused her shoulder and caused it to spasm painfully. She spun away, awkwardly. Her right arm felt like it had been shattered, pulverized into pudding, useless as gelatin. The cold-forged iron spike she’d been holding dropped from useless fingers and clattered to the floor. The rogue looked at her with brutal menace in his eyes and flame licking around the lids.
It would have been a good trick.
If only it was a trick.
The flames were all too real.
Fortunately, Del didn’t suffer from the same fears that mortals contended with. A rogue divinity hissing heresy and spouting fire, literal fire, around his eyes would have left a mortal quivering in terror until the Last Judgment.
She’d seen it happen.
“Leave now, little half-breed,” the rogue said. His voice had a sibilance that surrounded her, whispering in both of her ears intimately. “Leave, and I will not kill you. Stay, and I will make your pain a torture. I will see you last for days upon days, and I promise you abuses you could not dream.”
Del said nothing.
People think they want to meet an angel, but they really don’t. The awful truth is that meeting an angel is the scariest, most life-altering moment of any mortal’s short existence. Angels have always had their voices raised in songs of praise and their wings dipped in rivers of blood. When the Throne needs a mortal slain, or an army felled, an angel is sent. When a city or nation needs to be leveled, and the ground sown with salt for a thousand years, an angel is the destroyer.
Flood, fire, famine, disease, pestilence and death are conjured through an angel.
Angels should be a human’s worst nightmare embodied.
Rogues were an order of magnitude worse. An angel was a messenger of destruction, operating under orders from the Throne. Rogues had no direction, no channel for their power. They sought only dominion through the most direct means possible.
“Go, little girl,” the rogue gestured with his right arm, the one where she’d managed to drive a spike through his wrist.
It would have been stupid to engage the rogue, or really any opponent, in conversation. Witty banter was for the movies. Errol Flynn and John Wayne could while away the hours as they faced a bad guy and spouted catchy one-liners.
In the really real world, Del knew better than to take time out of her busy schedule.
She still held a second cold-forged iron spike in her left hand. She wanted to drop it and reach for her last SIG Sauer .45 behind her back. Most melee weapons against a rogue were nearly useless. Unless it was the right weapon. She shifted her grip, stepped into the rogue with speed no mortal could, and stabbed with enough power to lift the rogue off its feet. Rogues might be strong, but the laws of physics were stronger. The foot-long spike punched into the rogue’s left shoulder and only her fist on the weapon stopped it.
The Host takes care of their own.
Even if they have to hire it done.
When the rogue landed, he immediately lashed out with inhuman strength, and this time Del was thrown off her feet. She held onto the spike caught in the rogue’s arm, and her own shoulder jerked painfully. Not for the first time, she wished she was even the lowest form of immortal.
A mere angel could shrug off the pain that now threatened to overwhelm her.
One of the higher choirs, a Principality or even a Grigori . . .
Pain washed over her vision and bright red sparks danced in front of her eyes. When she thought her shoulder would come clear of its socket, the rogue gave ground. It wasn’t much, and even in her current state, Del wasn’t certain it would be enough, but it would have to do. She clumsily seated her feet on the ground, uncertain of the positioning, gripped the spike firmly, and threw all her weight backward. She thought that she would bend in half before the rogue was thrown. His body slammed hard enough into the floor that ceramic tiles popped and shattered, cutting around them like shrapnel.
She didn’t waste the time she’d gained. Del dropped her knee down hard on the rogue’s chest and caved it in. The rogue’s eyes went from slightly stunned to pain-filled and angry. The Host may not have mastered, or had even an understanding, of most emotions, but anger, righteous or otherwise, was right up their alley.
Her right arm hung useless, but since her left was dominant, it didn’t matter. She jerked the cold-forged iron spike free of the rogue’s shoulder and slid forward on his chest, so that his head rested between her knees, while the balance of her weight rested on his shoulders and immobilized his arms. Her more than powerful thighs clamped down on his jaws and seized his head.
In any other context she would have thought they were doing a porn scene.
In this context, she almost wished she were doing a porn scene. It would have been less painful, except to her dignity.
There were things even Del wouldn’t do for money.
His arms flailed, powerful but useless. He tried to claw at her, to gash huge bloody rends in her legs. All he could manage was to tear the floor with ear-shrieking scratches. Now, desperation entered the mix in his eyes.
Desperation was something only a few divinities truly understood.
About one in three knew it intimately, and every one of them was a rogue.
“Omnia glorium Solii,” she spoke the words as she brought the cold-forged iron spike up above her head. She couldn’t help but say them. They were automatic, a natural force, like gravity. All for the glory of the Throne.
She brought the spike down, hard and fast, slamming it between her knees. It went into the rogue’s right eye, destroying the chakram, out through the back of his skull, through the ceramic floor and stopped two inches into the concrete. The rogue’s head was pinned to the house’s foundation.
Whoa, Del thought, and shuddered from the force she’d exerted.
“It is finished,” she intoned aloud, the words flowed out of her without conscious effort.
Power flowed out from the rogue’s body into the air and the earth, and partly into her. Power, like a strong wind danced all around her, grabbing at her clothing and her hair. She rolled off the rogue, and pushed herself away awkwardly with her feet, until her back met a wall. Then she stared, cradled her injured right arm, and gasped for breath.
There was no lightning show or gaping black hole in the floor with the cries of the damned reaching out of Hell itself. Those, Marrin often observed, were only mortal theatrics, a way to visually comprehend the inconceivable. Mortals always had a tough time with intangible concepts. Lust was often mistaken for love; visual beauty was equated with internal worth, and wealth with wisdom. Death was a skeleton wearing a robe and carrying a scythe.
What did a skeleton need with clothes?
The release of power abated. An almost peaceful silence, in a strange contrast to the titanic fight, replaced it. She glanced at the room, which might have been a kitchen. Holes the size and shape of flying bodies could be seen in almost every wall of the abandoned house. Del was amazed the building, condemned for some time now, still stood after the beating she and the rogue had dished out to each other. Perhaps, it was a testament to the builder who might have believed or hoped his work would stand and serve forever.
The Fallen proved that nothing does.
Thirty seconds had passed since she drove the spike into the rogue’s head and destroyed the necessary chakram. She’d destroyed some of the house’s foundation as well. In that time, the rogue changed from a fierce creature the size and shape of Andre the Giant to a representative of the Lollipop Guild.
Not one of the larger reps either.
The rogue’s body grew smaller and smaller, more compact, squat and less recognizable. Now, it was the size of a basketball, now, the size of a grapefruit, now, a walnut. Smaller and smaller, until Del could only make out a dust mote that contracted further still.
Then, with a pop no louder than Orville Redenbacher’s best, even that vanished.
The iron spike clattered to the ground and steamed slightly.