Break the Bechdel with Strong Female Characters Syndicate discussion

Tantalus Depths
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Tantalus Depths

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Evan Graham | 5 comments The recent controversy for our pick of the month has got me to thinking of my own book, Tantalus Depths, and whether it's truly worthy of our group's name. I've done a great deal of thinking about it over the past couple days, and I've come to the conclusion that...yeah, I do think it is.
But I also don't think anyone should just take my word for it, so I'd like to take this opportunity to say why I think it's a good fit for our group's ideals.
Tantalus Depths saw its origins as a short story assignment in a creative writing class, where the assignment was to write about a character with a perspective different from your own. I chose to write from the perspective of a woman, and that short story evolved over time into the novel-length story it is now. So right from its inception, the goal of writing Tantalus Depths was to tell a story from a woman's perspective, being as truthful and respectful as I possibly can be. I set out with the specific intention to create a female character with layers of complexity and a complex arc, who achieves great things against impossible odds completely by her own determination.
There is no love story in Tantalus Depths. She is married, but her husband doesn't even feature in it. In fact, she is present in this story specifically because she needed some time away from him. She has male colleagues, who she treats as either co-workers or friends.
The book easily passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. In fact, I went through again and checked: there's only one time when Mary and the other female character, Becky, mention a male character, and that's because Mary is wondering where he is. Their longest conversation is about geology: Becky's professional field. That discussion is included in the chapter I have posted on Inkshares, so you can read it yourself if you like.
It's true there are only two female characters, but there are also only seven human characters total. The gender imbalance is intentional, as it's important to Mary's personal issues with feelings of isolation. She is not the leader of the group, but their male mission commander is shown several times to lack strong leadership or problem-solving skills, and there are several occasions where Mary has to take it upon herself to protect both ship and crew directly against her orders.
Mary is clever and insightful. She's the first one to realize their AI SCARAB can't be trusted. She's also the one who successfully catches it in a lie, and manages to figure out a way to tell the crew about the danger without alerting SCARAB to her concerns. She's the first one to clue into the other dangers of Tantalus 13. She uses her wits and ingenuity to survive when others can't. She matches wits with a super-advanced AI and beats it. She unites and leads the crew when things fall apart, through quick thinking and level-headedness.
Not only that, but she kicks butt in a physical sense as well. When SCARAB's schemes fall apart and it resorts to outright violence, she fights its drones one-on one. She makes use of improvised weapons. She even fights drones with her bare hands. She accomplishes other amazing feats that I definitely can't talk about without heavy spoilers, but suffice it to say, by the end of the story she is a hero in every sense of the word. She is physically strong, intellectually competent, and, most importantly, she feels like a real person.
I don't really expect to see Tantalus Depths win the nomination at this point: the only vote it's seen so far is mine. But I figured if anyone was personally interested at all, or if it should see nomination again next month, I figured I could at least make this pitch for it.


message 2: by Carol (new)

Carol D. Marsh (caroldmarsh) | 4 comments Thank you for taking the time to explain both the origins of the novel's story and your take on your strong female character, Evan. It's good for us to hear your perspective, and I say this as one who would advocate for women writers getting my support. Your words have given me a new perspective on that, and will make me weigh my vote more carefully in the future.

I don't want to be misleading, though. I will weigh my vote more carefully, yet I will still be more on the side of the woman writer than not. There are several reasons for this. In most areas of my life I look to support women-owned businesses, women entrepreneurs, etc. Also, there is a very strong bias in the publishing world for male writers and against female ones, and I want to help break down that bias.

Finally, and this may sound inconsistent, I really do appreciate that you, a man, have been so thoughtful and insightful about the woman in your novel. I don't want to paint with too broad a brush here, but a lot of men would not want or be able to do that.

So all this is probably as helpful as a bucket of cold water in the face, but there it is. It's a complicated issue, and one on which I'm glad you chose to engage us.


Evan Graham | 5 comments It is a complicated issue, and I definitely understand. There is a need for more women writers in the industry, and that's something I'd like to see more of. It's just something I can't personally do much about, since I'm not a publisher or a literary agent.
I think that still does come with a qualifier, though: there is a need for more women writers willing to "break the Bechdel." When I think about some of the worst written female characters out there, I usually go to books like Twilight or 50 Shades of Gray. Women authors really can be just as bad at portraying strong female characters as men. It baffles me, but it's true, and for that reason I don't know that it's always best in the long run to support a female author over a male author. If a given male author treats his female characters seriously and a given female author follows all the standard tropes, I think the male author would be more worthy of the support.
Granted, this is all coming from the perspective of a male author, which is why this issue can be hard to talk about. Nobody's 100% objective here; the best anyone can do is try. I do try really hard, but I won't be arrogant enough to assume that I succeed flawlessly.


message 4: by Carol (new)

Carol D. Marsh (caroldmarsh) | 4 comments Evan - well, you can personally do something about the lack of female writers: buy female-written books and review them on Amazon and Goodreads.

And yes, I agree there are some women writers - famous or not - who do not write all that well in some people's opinion. But that is not an argument against supporting and reading good women writers, and does not relate to the scope of my comment.

I did not say it's "always" best to support a female author over a male author. Read my first comment again.

I agree that no one is 100% objective. I do appreciate your trying - the conversation is difficult to engage. At the same time I work to point out other perspectives (mine) and ask you to give my comments a close reading.


Evan Graham | 5 comments Oh, I did give you a close reading, and I agree with basically everything you said. I should have said as much.
And I do definitely support women writers, gladly. In fact, the character of Becky Traviss in my book is named after Karen Traviss, one of my favorite authors of Star Wars books. I'm more than happy to show support of good women authors out there. I only meant I have no more direct way to do it than that. Ideally, female authors who write well and get good book sales should be able to be just as successful as male authors who do the same, but this industry isn't as meritocratic as it should be. I think that's one of the reasons we're all on inkshares instead of more traditional publishing firms. Ideally, no matter who or what you are, and no matter what your book is about, if it's good, it should succeed on inkshares.
Should, that is. It's still not a perfect system, it just seems better than most.


message 6: by Carol (new)

Carol D. Marsh (caroldmarsh) | 4 comments OK, it's clear. And I am so with you about Inkshares.


message 7: by Amanda (last edited Jun 12, 2016 10:21AM) (new)

Amanda Orneck (amandaorneck) Hey Evan,

Just a heads up that this syndicate will no longer accept self-nominations. Here's Janna's post on this: https://www.goodreads.com/poll/show/1...


Evan Graham | 5 comments Yeah, I saw that. I didn't really intend for this to be a self-nomination, since it'd already been nominated anyway. I meant it more as an elaboration. After the controversy recently, I kind of felt like if I couldn't make a good case for why my book should be considered, it shouldn't be considered.


Evan Graham | 5 comments Plus I thought it might be nice to have some general discussion about the books we support or contribute ourselves. This group has a strong purpose and consists of intelligent, opinionated, well-read people. I think it'd be nice for us to make use of this forum for more than just voting.


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