TFOB Part II – Kick Ass Ladies & Tough Guys

Okay, so in the last installment, I talked about the first panel I sat on, Writing Heroes of Diversity.  It was a good launching pad for the first day of the Festival.  I spent some time strolling around, talking to some authors and attendees, including a half-clown, half-cowboy pimping Bernie Sanders for the upcoming Arizona primary.  As I said in my tweet at the time, it takes all sorts….

Later in the afternoon, I took in a pair of interesting panels, titled, “Kick Ass Women of Science Fiction,” and “Tough Guys of Science Fiction.”

I went to these actively seeking a different perspective from the panelists.  I’m one of those folks who doesn’t believe that the differences between guys and gals is 100% societal conditioning and that we – gasp – have some inherent differences.

(Muse:  You’re just asking to get pilloried, aren’t you?)

Quiet, you.

The first panel featured Yvonne Navarro, Beth Cato, Jeffe Kennedy, and Judith Tarr.  They answered some general-interest questions on genre lines and best advice they had ever received, most of which was straightforward (“Write every day,” “Persistence is key,” etc.)  Judith Tarr had a great point about staying on top of the business and writing world, which I am terrible at doing.  It was a good reminder that I need to be better about this.

The best question came from the a guy in the audience, who asked for advice on how to write the best kick-ass female character possible.  This earned a semi-snarky response from the moderator, who told him to buy the panelists’ books to see how it was done.

Beth Cato stepped up, though, and said the best way to do it was to give the protagonist agency – you know, make her the character that takes decisive action to drive the plot, not the object swept along by everything going on around her.  I agree, though I think this should apply to your protagonist regardless of gender.

Jeffe Kennedy echoed this and gave me my favorite quote of the whole weekend, which was, “Don’t concentrate on writing a kick-ass female, but rather a kick-ass character.”  Perfect answer.  Besides, anyone who wears broad-brimmed hats so well can’t be wrong.

When that one let out, I hustled across the festival to the other one, the “Tough Guys of Sci-Fi”, featuring Jonathan Maberry, Weston Ochse, Jon Proudstar, and Sam Sykes.

This one was good right from the beginning.  The first question was, “What makes a tough guy tough?”  They all kind of agreed that this was a character trait, not a matter of body count or muscle size.  Sam Sykes noted that modern media has conflated the notion of a tough guy with that of an action hero, and though the two may overlap, they aren’t the same thing.  Weston Ochse postulated that a tough guy was a good man who could be moved to extreme violence (physical or emotional) under the right – or wrong – circumstances.

When asked about their personal tough guys heroes, Weston Ochse named a guy I had never thought of:  Ernest Hemingway.  He’s right, of course, Papa being the quintessential man’s man.  Sam Sykes nominated Cersei Lannister from Song of Fire and Ice, by virtue of her fighting be accepted in a man’s world and her sheer ruthlessness.  I found that one odd, since even though she was hard and feared very little, Cersei wasn’t all that bright and very blind to her own weaknesses.

When asked if tough guys stand outside society, Jonathan Maberry gave an interesting answer.  He said that war and violence are uncivilized and by their very nature, break societal taboos.  That breaking has a cost on the soul of the tough guy and that cost separates them from the very society they often protect.  When one thinks of the kids that come back from war to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, the wisdom in this thought is clear.  He also notes that vulnerability is critical for a tough guy, since the contrast between tough and vulnerable gives the character depth.

So….  Kick-ass ladies and tough guys.  Another installment on the Fetsival coming, if I can get myself roused to do it.



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