Today, Rose B. Fischer is with us to talk about her Foxes of Synn universe. The Summer Serial Event include the following installments: Fox. Hunting, Giving Best, Doubling Back Part I and Doubling Back Part II.
NG: You have many female characters occupying advantageous positions. Yet, the society is very organic and doesn’t have a matriarchal vibe. What inspired you?
ROSE: Well, I didn’t do it on purpose. I’ve been worldbuilding and doing various kinds of preliminary work in Synn for about three and half years. I noticed as I went along that there seemed to be a lot more women in general compared to the number of men. I also noticed that the world’s history has a lot of motifs and elements that were drawn from the classic fairytales that I enjoyed as a child. Hansel and Gretel; Snow White and Rose Red; Sleeping Beauty; the more popular Snow White that everyone knows; Rumpelstiltskin. Baba Yaga, but that’s actually a folk tale, I think, and I didn’t hear of her until I was older.
All of them have female protagonists and most of them have women in positions of power or authority. Witches, Queens, Princesses, powerful fairies, common women who become queens. I especially liked Rumpelstiltskin because the story didn’t end when the Miller’s daughter became queen. I also just love the idea of a Witch Queen, because it’s a concentration of political and magical power through a feminine lens. So, I can say Rumpelstiltskin and Snow White are huge inspirations for Synn.
Fairytales have a really bad reputation right now in popular feminism because all we’re looking at is the fact that certain stories have a girl who’s made to be a servant and a prince shows up to help her. We’re really down on “princesses,” in general, as if there’s something inherently wrong with a girl wanting to be one or somehow “fairytale princess” means “incapable of doing anything herself.” That’s not what happened in the fairytales I read growing up, so I’m a little tired of that rap. In my mind it’s like, “Okay, so just because this character happens to be wearing a pretty dress and has fancy stuff IN ONE SCENE at the end of the story, she can’t have anything of value to express about life?”
I think fairytales have a lot to lend to a story that focuses on female characters and expressions of what it might mean to be a woman in a culture where there’s no such concept as “patriarchy.” My characters generally don’t have love interests showing up to rescue them, but I have no problem with the idea of male and female characters helping one another out of bad situations.
There are other influences too though. I have to point to Dune, which is the first place that I ever saw a constellation of powerful female characters working to advance a storyline. A lot of the female power in Dune is exercised indirectly, and Muad’Dib is the central figure. Still, it’s the first story I read that had five well drawn, complex female characters in positions of power. It may be the only one, even now. There’s also Anne McCaffrey’s body of work, including both the early Pern novels and the Talents series that inform Synn in various ways.
NG: Your female characters have compelling interactions but they also have strong bonds with their fathers or other male characters (I am especially thinking of talking horses and Jimmy). How important for you was it to weave these together so it would seem balanced?
ROSE: I think this goes back to what I was saying before about patriarchy. One of the things that makes speculative fiction important to me is the way it can be used to question certain norms and societal assumptions. The spec fic I remember the best is always the stuff that makes me think and question my assumptions, so that’s what I try to facilitate when I write it. And I don’t know what the answers are to most of the questions my stories ask. I just like posing them and letting my readers make up their own minds.
I’ve seen some cool stories about matriarchal cultures in science fiction and fantasy, and I’m not knocking them. I have a matriarchal culture in another storyworld. I felt like I didn’t have anything to add to that conversation, and there’s a lot more to explore in societal expectations around women than just reversing the stereotypical gender roles every time. What I want to see in real life is a world where categories like gender don’t determine a person’s value or their ability to earn money or anything like that. So, what I wanted in this case was a world where relationships mattered more than who had a penis and who had a vagina.
NG: You make references to both Earth and Synn in your stories. Does the female empowerment aspect of your universe come more from Synn than Earth civilization?
ROSE: Synn has a 4:1 ratio of women to men, and Earth in this multiverse is present-day or slightly in the future, so the development of Earth’s cultures is a pretty close parallel to the real world.
NG: Did any archetype inspire you when bringing Diana, Aldra, Cleo, Willa, Imani and Sorrell to life?
ROSE: Again, not consciously or on purpose. After the fact, I’ve noticed that all of those characters are aspects of the Wise Woman, though each of them have other archetypes that contribute. It doesn’t really surprise me, since I find that I’m usually interested in the types of characters who get cast “secondarily” to a hero in a traditional story. The main thing is that it was really important to me, even with the ones who tend to be more physical and comfortable using force, that none of these characters will be able to solve their problems with their fists or weapons.
NG: Are there aspects of the feminine your characters represent that you think may often lack in other stories?
ROSE: Possibly. I want readers to interpret that sort of thing for themselves. I will say that I think the way we approach female characters in storytelling is both very limited and very limiting. I mean we talk about “strong female characters,” but most of the time we’re viewing female characters through a male lens. Most of the female characters I’ve seen in my life are designed around male-centered gender-assumptions or gender stereotypes. We specifically design them nowadays to defy gender stereotypes and be able to compete with men. If they want things, their desires usually have to do with something men are allowed to have but they aren’t.
Now, I want to be clear here. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using fiction to address inequality, and doing that can be helpful if it’s done in a meaningful way. Most of the time though, it seems like authors just assume that everything a female character wants should revolve around men (either because she wants one or because she wants to compete in a male world.) So basically we’re just trading one set of stereotypes for another. There’s so much more to my experience of being a woman than whether or not I can “be just as good as a man.”
It seems to me that the women who get props for being “strong female characters” are most often the characters who defy codified gender stereotypes. I feel like there’s a checklist.
- Can she use a cool weapon? Can she beat people up?
- Does she gripe about not wanting to get married or make a huge point of how much she doesn’t need a man?
- Can she read in a culture where women aren’t “supposed” to?
- Can she do something else that women just aren’t supposed to do in her culture?
- Does she have a job in a typically male field? Make sure the arc is all about her about being the only woman.
- Does she act aggressively and walk around with a chip on her shoulder?
- Extra points if she’s emotionally stunted. Make sure to put the emotionally stunted ones in awkward situations with kids.
- Super bonus points if she’s comically bad at cooking, cleaning or anything else that’s stereotypically supposed to be feminine.
- Oh, and take LOTS of points off if she ever remotely implies that it might be okay to have casual sex or use her body to get what she wants.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with having some these characteristics in a female character. The problem comes when the whole character is a constructed of these stereotypes. So, when I put Synn’s cast of women together, I wanted to make sure that they all made proactive choices rather than reactive ones based on my culture’s stereotypes. I didn’t want to tailor them to someone else’s expectations or worry about whether or they would be popular or perceived as “strong.”
I don’t want to give spoilers, but they all have arcs that include explorations of their own womanhood. They all make choices that are sometimes at odds with popular feminism. I’ve got one character who gives up a career to become a stay-at-home mother because that’s what she wants to do.
There’s one who really has to struggle with the way her job sometimes demands that she be aggressive (even violent) because that’s not in her nature. She tries anyway because she believes in the job. Usually with that kind of character, there would be a miracle moment where the secretly kick-ass woman hiding inside her comes out and she’s Princess Leia from then onward. That doesn’t happen, but she does find her own way to do what she needs to do and come to terms with it.
Another one moves in high society circles and has a lot of tools at her disposal for dealing with court intrigue and other kinds of politics. One of the tools she uses is her body, and she never apologizes for that or feels ashamed. I don’t think she should. Her body belongs to her. She can do whatever she wants with it, as long as she really is doing what she wants rather than being forced into something because of her society.
I’m sure I’ll get some flack for the way I approach femininity in the series, but I don’t mind. If one of these characters can reach somebody and help them question an assumption or inspire them to make a decision they want to make instead of the one society tells them to make, then I’m doing my job. That’s part of what being a writer is to me, and it’s also what being a feminist is — empowering women to choose the things they really want, no matter what anyone else thinks.
[Minor Spoiler alert]
NG: I perceive Aldra as grey romantic/demi-sexual. How early in her development did it appear?
ROSE: You read some stuff that I haven’t released to the public yet, but I guess since I’ve blogged about this before, it’s not really a secret. I’m not sure what label I would give Aldra, if any as far as her sexual and romantic orientations. She’s certainly a bit atypical and doesn’t have binary orientations at all. I think it’s been there all along, but it did take me a while to realize why she was struggling so much with friendships and felt so deeply lonely/left out.
[End of Minor Spoiler alert]
NG: Will we see more of Diana, Sorrell, Zinnia and Willa in future stories?
ROSE: I definitely feel like Willa and Zinnia need to have some more closure. Diana has a cool arc coming that will let folks in on some of the more complex aspects of her character that Fox. Hunting doesn’t get into.
This first short season with the Foxes was a indie publishing experiment for me. I wanted to see how it would work before I committed to a long run. I wanted to choose three episodes that could stand on their own to give readers a view of the protagonists. So, I guess it’s a little bit like a TV show pilot, except it’s extended to three episodes. The Fox. Hunting and Giving Best are rather short and small in scope. Doubling Back is longer and will hopefully give readers a deeper taste of this universe and what to expect.
Next season, what I’m going to do is back up a little bit and pick up again with Fox. Hunting, fill in some of the time between that episode and Giving Best. You’ll be meeting some new characters, learning more about Diana, and hopefully having a lot of fun. Then I’ll take a short break and go from Giving Best to Doubling Back. After that, I’ll see what my audience is most interested in for Season 3. I love the aspect of being able to interact with my audience and let them offer feedback that traditional publishing wouldn’t allow, so I’m pretty excited about where this project is headed!
Rose B. Fischer is speculative fiction author and creative entrepreneur. Her current project is The Foxes of Synn, a low-tech science fantasy serial. Click here for more information. She is a survivor of domestic violence who lives with multiple disabilities. In the early 2000s, she became homeless after leaving her abusive spouse. She later entered a transitional housing program while attending college. These experiences inspired her to begin writing non-fiction, and have had lasting impacts on her approach to fiction writing. She publishes science fiction, science fantasy, horror, and biographical essays. On her website, she writes about the intersection of storytelling, social responsibility, art, and pop culture in the internet age. She also offers custom designs and templates for indie authors, musicians, and other muse-herders. Her website, rosebfischer.com, features a growing collection of free and pay to use stock art, as well as tutorials and many other features for writers, artists, readers, and viewers.