Today on Mother/Gamer/Writer we’re pleased to have author Elizabeth Bear talking with us about “women’s friendships in fiction, and why it seems sometimes as if they’re the last untrammeled frontier”. Elizabeth’s latest novel, Karen Memory, is about a young prostitute working in a high-class “parlor house” in a made-up city in the Pacific Northwest and her misadventures, and as part of today’s special feature, we’re giving away one copy! So, please enjoy the guest post and make sure you enter the giveaway!
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Published by: Tor on 2/3/2015
Genres: Adult, Historical, Science Fiction, Steampunk
View on: Goodreads
Grab it: Buy on Amazon
About the Book:
“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I'm one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It's French, so Beatrice tells me.”
Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, beggin sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.
Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the old west with a light touch in Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.
Hi. I’m Elizabeth Bear. I have a new book out this week. It’s called Karen Memory, and it’s a Weird West thriller with steampunk and alternate history elements. The protagonist is a young prostitute working in a high-class “parlor house” in a made-up city in the Pacific Northwest. She has a tendency to run towards the sound of gunfire, as the saying goes, and the book is largely concerned with an adventure that this character flaw gets her and her frail sisters embroiled in.
A lot of the fun, for me, in writing this book, was in dealing with those relationships—those friendships, and the ways in which the women’s lives intersect. There are a lot of stories about traditionally-male homosocial spaces—war stories, cop stories, and the like—but it’s much rarer to find stories about female homosocial spaces.
I mention this because it’s a useful segue to what I want to talk about today, which is the topic of women’s friendships in fiction, and why it seems sometimes as if they’re the last untrammeled frontier.
Real women, at least most real women I personally know, exist in a network of relationships. (Real men do, too, but there’s generally less unexamined expectation that the social work of maintaining those relationships will devolve upon men.) But women in fiction are often presented with the female equivalent of the Man Alone trope—which generally winds up being either a direct translation of it, or a variety known as the Smurfette Principle. (There’s only one Julia Roberts or Helen Mirren in this movie otherwise full of dudes.)
The prevalence of the first of these—the lone hero, whether male or female—has a lot to do with the ease of writing it. It’s easier to get an isolated character into trouble, and easier to increase the risk and threat when they have no relationships to fall back on for support. Conflict provides itself! You were only going to have to kill off the protagonist’s friends and family at the end of the first act anyway. Why not start with them out of the way?
In the second case, though, a more problematic thing winds up happening. If there’s only one woman in a story full of men, then she becomes de facto representative of all women. She’s singular and exceptionalized. There’s a lot of guys! There can be the fat guy, and the smart guy, and the clumsy guy, and the black guy (probably only one, and so in many ways everything I’m saying here applies to him, too), and the angry guy, and the zen master guy… and then there’s the guy whose marked state is “female.”
Well, there’s a whole body of criticism on that topic, and what I’m more interested in right now is this side effect of having one (1) designated female character in any given book. Which is to say… she never winds up having any female friends. All her relationships are with men, because there are only men in the story other than her.
See, the thing is, we navigate the world we live in through narrative. Stories are how we make sense of stuff. And more than that, writing about women’s friendships—reading about women’s friendships—is just as much fun as stories about men’s friendships. I mean, I’m pretty confident that the entire Ocean’s 11 franchise could be replaced with footage of Brad Pitt and George Clooney sitting on a couch watching the Ocean’s 11 movies and commenting on them in character, with no real reduction of entertainment value. The entire buddy film genre is a celebration of male friendships—and they’re delightful.
It’s a lot of fun to watch people banter and have adventures! And I don’t see why I can’t write something in which it’s women as well as men bantering and having adventures and being friends.
And I especially don’t see why men, as well as women, can’t enjoy that as much as I enjoy, say, The Blues Brothers.
1 Winner Will Win a Copy of Karen Memory
Open to US and Canadian Readers
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