As part of The Pixel Project’s Read For Pixels campaign, we interview authors from genres as diverse as Science Fiction and Fantasy to Romance to Thrillers about why they support the movement to end violence against women and girls.
Today we welcome New York Times bestselling author Faith Hunter who writes three series: the Jane Yellowrock series, dark urban fantasy novels featuring Jane, a Cherokee Skinwalker; the Rogue Mage novels, a dark, urban fantasy/post apocalyptic series and role playing game featuring Thorn St. Croix; and the Soulwood series featuring Nell Nicholson Ingram. Faith was to take part in a live Read For Pixels Google Hangout but due to unexpected technical issues with Google Hangout, Faith has very kindly agreed to do this exclusive interview instead.
Faith is also taking part in the 4th annual International Women’s Day Edition of the Read For Pixels campaign fundraiser by generously donating a very special perk to help raise funds for The Pixel Project – she has assembled an exclusive goodie bundle featuring personalised and signed books (including the ARC of the upcoming Jane Yellowrock novel DARK QUEEN), an exclusive micro story that only the donor has access to for 12 months in advance of everyone else (Faith will be printing it out and signing it!), and Yellowrock swag galore. This is available for one (1) generous donor only so hurry over to the Read For Pixels IWD 2018 fundraising page to donate to get it before someone else does!
(UPDATE: Faith’s goodie bundle has been picked up by a fan who pounced on it the moment it was posted! However, there are plenty more goodies available from authors including Aliette de Bodard, Ann Aguirre, Genevieve Valentine, Kimberly Derting, Lauren Oliver, Leigh Bardugo, Lynn Flewelling, Molly Harper, and more.)
If you’d like to have a chance to participate in live Q&As online with other award-winning bestselling authors who will be having live Read For Pixels Google Hangouts over the rest of March 2018, check out the schedule here.
And now, over to Faith…
Picture courtesy of Faith Hunter and book covers courtesy of Penguin Random House.
1. Welcome to The Pixel Project‘s Read For Pixels campaign, Ms Hunter! Thank you so much for your support for the anti-violence against women work that we do. Let’s start by talking about your signature female protagonist Jane Yellowrock and newcomer Nell Ingram who is fast becoming a fan favourite. We absolutely love both of them! Who and what were your inspiration for Jane and Nell?
That’s a hard one seriously! As a commercial writer, ideas and characters are always floating around in my head. It isn’t inspiration that I need to find new characters, it’s the time and work and willingness create something new.
In Jane Yellowrock’s case, I was having tea with Kim Harrison (yes, that Kim Harrison) when the idea for a Cherokee skinwalker character began to grow. She had been banging around in my brain for a while (Jane, not Kim) but sitting and sipping allowed the character to germinate, along with an idea for a plot and conflict that would allow her to develop. Not a vampire main character, which was the most common type of Urban Fantasy character at the time, but a monster hunter, a vampire hunter with all the skills and abilities and tools to get the job done.
Nell came from my garden. The knowledge that plants can think and react and alter their environments to make them more habitable has been around for a long time. So why not a paranormal character who might be something like a dryad? Nell is a gardener, a plant whisperer who empathises with plants on a much deeper level than a regular human, and who also solves paranormal crimes on the side!
2. Neither Jane nor Nell are typical urban fantasy heroines – they have learning curves, they make mistakes, and they often get frustrated by men trying to control, thwart, or manipulate them. In other words, their experiences very much mirror the experiences of many women and girls worldwide. Was it a conscious decision on your part to portray them like this or did they evolve organically to be this way?
Yes and no. There is manipulation in all less-than-brutally-honest personal relationships. In the case of the world in which Jane Yellowrock and Nell Ingram live, there are also the paranormal creatures, apex predators, who, because of the cultures and times they came from, are master manipulators, selfish creatures who are as likely to use force to get their way as gamesmanship. They are beings and creatures who fight and influence and maneuver their way through what passes for relationships in their world, seeking control and power
All that said, I grew up in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, which were times of shifting gender roles and sudden sexual and personal freedoms, as well as the advent of the US civil rights movement. All those changes are hardwired into me, part of the reality I lived and still live, and part of my creative processes too. We have come so far and yet have so very, very, very far to go. So… the answer to the question is yes, my main characters evolved organically. And no, they are a product of my imagination and my personal and cultural history.
3. You have tackled the issue of violence against women (including domestic violence, rape, and forced marriage) head on in the SOULWOOD series and handled it extremely well through the eyes and voice of Nell Ingram. Why did you decide to make violence against women a major theme in SOULWOOD and what were the particular challenges that you faced when writing about the issue through the story?
Working her way into the normal world, after growing up in a polygamous cult, Nell sees the dangers to women and children from both the inside, as a victim, and from the outside, as a recovering victim. Violence against women is not the purpose of the series, but that violence is what Nell sees, what she is attuned to, and what she is most capable of dealing with. It is also what she is most likely to take on. She has sisters still in the cult and from the beginning she refused to cut and run and leave them behind. Protecting her sisters, being there as a safe haven, is what makes her tick. Because violence against women and children is a major part of the character’s background, it permeates the series.
Yet, the biggest challenge as the writer has been to keep all that in the background, to make it less than front and center, more organic rather than in your face. To show without telling.
4. Both the JANE YELLOWROCK and SOULWOOD series also go straight to the heart of the roots of violence against women – patriarchy, misogyny, and toxic masculinity. We see this in SOULWOOD where Nell’s former church is poisoned by the misogyny of the church male elders’. We also see this is Rick LaFleur’s story arc and Leo Pellissier’s actions. What’s striking is that unlike many Fantasy novels that normalise or even romanticise toxic masculine behaviour, your stories make it crystal clear that these masculine norms and behaviours are absolutely unacceptable. How have your own fans responded to your repudiation of toxic masculinity? Do you think that this kind of writing is able to engender discussion of and change the conversation around misogyny and toxic masculinity in the genre and fandom?
Thematic issues in books and series are and should be secondary to the storytelling. If the themes come before the plot and conflict and character development, the writing gets tired fast. So, while the underlying theme in the books is women who can stand on their own two feet and who don’t put up with bullshit, that is the unspoken truth, not the purpose of the story.
My characters are women who don’t need others to make them whole. Characters, and for that matter, real people, who feel incomplete without others, who feel weak without others, who feel empty and frightened unless they are part of a herd, have a mentality will never let them be true heroes. My characters, despite being flawed and having real weaknesses, are not herd creatures. They stand alone and they stand and fight for what’s right. And that means taking on the big bad uglies of society.
My fans seem to love it! As to whether my characters engender discussion and change the conversation about misogyny, I have no idea. I hope so. But that is thematic. I just tell stories.
5. On the flipside, we also see excellent examples of positive masculinity as embodied by Eli and Alex Younger (JANE YELLOWROCK) and Occam (SOULWOOD) who all demonstrate that masculinity is not dependent on dominating and oppressing women and that treating women as equal human beings should be a given. Was this a deliberate choice to not only break stereotypes but also address toxic masculinity and the violence, pain and havoc it brings (including violence against women)?
I like heroes. Heroes lift others up, put others first. Heroes are not made smaller when others are made larger. Heroes know who they are and want the best for others. They are loyal and self-defining. They are strong enough to be soft. My male heroes and my female heroes fit this definition.
6. Sexual consent is sometimes a blurry area in many urban fantasy and paranormal romance books but as we can see from Jane’s relationship with Bruiser and Nell’s relationship with Occam, it is possible to have a healthy relationship with enthusiastic consent and not lose an ounce of romance or sexual tension. Do you think this blurred line is an issue that writers in the genre are now actively addressing and what tips can you give to less experienced writers who want to ensure that consent is part of the relationship equation for their characters?
Yes! I see writers, male and female both, addressing the concept of consent and it makes me leap for joy! I see us addressing Stockholm syndrome, and the way predators often groom their victims. I see us changing the way romantic courtship takes place, showing a way into sexual and romantic relationships that do not include prey/predator roles. I’ve been talking about thematic nuances and thematic underpinnings, and consent, for me, is not part of the thematic underlayment of a book or series. For me, mature sexuality is part of character development and character development is a device that is conscious, part of the in-your-face storytelling. Consent is part of the way people and characters show respect for each other.
As a writer, I have to be aware that immature people and immature relationships almost always follow toxic formulas. It’s easy to write an immature character and a lot harder to write a full bodied mature character. I try to take the hard road. Always. The hard road means a better book.
Advice for less experienced writers? Don’t take the easy way out. Don’t write what is easy. Write what is difficult. Write the thing that makes you sweat and weep and push through to make your book and your characters work.
7. Over the years, a number of authors who have participated in the Read For Pixels campaign said in one way or another that authors can help stop violence against women by telling the right stories. In your opinion and experience, how can authors strike a balance in their storytelling between raising awareness about sexism and violence against women and telling an engaging story without being pedantic or preachy or falling back on toxic tropes?
The pen is mightier than the sword, right? My job isn’t to teach or preach or show toxicity. My job isn’t to change the world. Not that I’m stepping away from responsibility or opportunity. But “showing a better way” and “preaching a new concept” has to be secondary to writing a good story. THAT is my job. The conflict resolution and character development have to come first. If people see a lesson in the thematic underpinnings of a story, well that is great and I am honoured. But ripping the blinders off of society is a tough job. Telling a great story is what they pay me for. And the times I can do both? That is icing on the cake!
8. Geek culture in general (including Science Fiction and Fantasy) has had its share of critics saying that it’s still too male-dominated despite a rising number of prominent, well-respected, and well-known female authors such as yourself. What do you think needs to be done to make Geek culture as a whole whether it’s comics or gaming or books – more welcoming for women and girls?
Honestly, I think a lot of men – not just geek men — have no idea how to have healthy relationships with women. Maybe instituting “How To” classes in high school? Teaching roles in conversation, so guys can have discussions with women instead of stalking them? Teaching men how to tell when they’ve have reached a final line and need to turn away? Giving demonstration in what stalking is? Teaching women how to say “No,” with a lot more finality? Teaching women that it’s okay to be firm and direct and even pointedly mean (if necessary) when we say no? Teaching women that we don’t have to be polite and sweet in the face of harassing persistence. Basic stuff needs to be taught in adolescence.
And if it’s the adult men we want to teach, then panels in ComicCons, titled “How to Attract a Woman and NOT Be A Dick”? I know that sounds silly but, it needs to be taught somehow somewhere. I’d love to sit on a panel with that topic!
9. Publishing has started having its own #MeToo reckoning with survivors coming forward to name a number of male authors and editors as having a history of behaving extremely inappropriately towards female colleagues (including workplace bullying and sexual harassment and assault at cons). What do you think the publishing industry can and/or should do to address this issue?
Fire the publishers and editors who have more than one accuser. I say “more than one accuser,” because one woman might use the #MeToo movement as way to get revenge on a man for other things. But where there is a lot of smoke, fire the men (and the women) accused. And then do their parts by buying books for publication that depict healthy adult relationships. Publishers and editors should make it a point to recognise toxic attitudes in the books they buy and help writers to take a step in the right direction of depicting healthier relationships.
For me personally, I have refused to blurb any book that uses toxic predator/prey methodologies, Stockholm syndrome, or other toxic tropes in the romantic angle. I have no idea what the editors think when I tell them no, that I won’t blurb a book that depicts toxic elements as a norm, but I am very frank in my replies about the problems. We all have a responsibility, and this is where I take my stand. I say no. A lot.
10. You have been so very incredibly supportive of our “Read For Pixels” campaign and our anti-Violence Against Women work as a whole. Why do you support ending violence against women and what do you think authors can do to help end the violence?
I worked in a hospital lab for 40 years. I was part of the evidence collection for rape victims. It was horrible. Utterly horrible, what victims have to go through, even after an assault. Throughout my entire life, I’ve seen abusive relationships, and not just abusive men, but abusive women too. It’s a human problem, a victim problem, not just a women’s problem.
That said, I have female writer friends who have suffered abuse and who have been dragged through the dirt, vilified, threatened, and abused again when they speak up against their accusers in the publishing arena. It’s my job as a human being to stand with them when they name names and call the guilty accountable. It’s all our jobs. We have to get off our asses and fight to be human. Together.