Or the tale of the story that didn’t win.
During a summer that ranged from awful to “when’s that winter coming, already?” it was a wonderful surprise to receive news that my story, “Vengeance Sewn with Fey Cord” was a finalist for the WSFA Award. My initial reaction upon receiving the email was a profound and eloquent “Lolwut?” I’m glad I controlled my fingers long enough to type a more appropriate answer.
The story didn’t win. And how could it, with such formidable talent lined up beside it? It’s still an honor losing to the amazing story that is Usrsula Vernon’s “The Tomato Thief.”
Still, I’m very happy that my story went this far. Vengeance is a very personal story for me, because it deals with what it means to lead a life as the underdog and be underestimated, because of having been born with the “wrong” gender. As this post’s title indicates, it is largely inspired by that quote from “Earthsea.” Substitute “Magic” with lots of other things, like “potential” or “intelligence” or “endurance” or whatever, and it can be applied to a world I, like many other women, have had to live in.
And my years so far have taught me that ‘weak” is another word people of privilege use for “different.” So I went on to explore this, in my story: what if women’s magic wasn’t weak, just different? What if the everyday “female” tasks like cooking and cleaning and sewing can be employed to another purpose? And what if that purpose isn’t what much of the world associates femininity with: healing, and nurturing and all that. There’s also vengeance. Women are very much capable of a gory bloodbath and are in the same danger as men to become the monsters they set out to hunt.
In the end, the journeys of heroes and heroines are very much alike. Some reach their Ithaca by the might of their weapons, and others with the skill of their knitting needles. And—who knows? Perhaps the journey would have been easier, if a certain cyclops had been presented with a warm woolen scarf for the cold winter nights that having his eye plucked out.
And one last thing, and this is me sticking my tongue out like an eight-year-old. During this story’s journey to publication, it amassed, as is usually expected, its fair share of rejections. This is no problem in itself, because in a genuine feline way if the story doesn’t fit it doesn’t sit (with an editor). However, one particular rejection slip stung more that others of its kind do, because it was totally unfair after having the story shortlisted: the editor called the protagonist a Mary Sue.
Yes, the editor was a guy. Couldn’t you tell? For some people (and some editors) a female protagonist is too easily labeled Mary Sue. If the same protagonist was male, then you’d have Batman. Or Superman. Or Conan. I’m not going to analyze how much prejudice lies behind such a characterization of female protagonists because others have done a better job in this than I could ever do. I’ll just sit here, enjoy the recognition of my story, and go “neener, neener,” like the mature adult that I am.