In celebration of International Women’s Day, I just want to gush about my favorite female authors and how they’ve absolutely inspired me to write, as well as opened my eyes to new writing styles and helped shape my own. And naturally, a few of my favorite literary female characters these authors created, the ones that filled me with pride, conviction, and just generally fired me up at how damn awesome it is to be a girl.
K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series lit a fire under me as a young reader. That series is still one of my all time favorites, and even though it’s written for preteens, I’m in my late 20’s and it is still one of the most gripping, emotionally moving young adult series I’ve ever come across. There’s 54 books in the series, and I consistently kept up with it for about four years, stopping around book 30-ish for reasons I can’t remember. I went through a period last year where I rediscovered my love for it, and since the books are out of print, I rummaged through used and independent bookstores in the Chicago area to collect all the books I hadn’t read. K.A. Applegate created characters that were flesh and blood to me, kids who were my age at the time I was reading it that had been thrust in an intergalactic war and a terrifying hidden invasion of their planet, their families – and they could tell no one. They were all alone, with only the gift to acquire and shift into different animals to hide their identity to use against horrifically violating aliens that could be hiding in anyone and they wouldn’t know it. I loved all of Applegate’s characters, but her two main female characters made the series for me. I strongly identified with Cassie at the time, because the way she handled the situation thrust upon her felt like the way I might have handled it, had it been me. She struggled with it, since she was such a pacifist, and even threw in the towel at one point because it was too much for her, but in the end persevered and tried to remain true to herself through a war that demanded every shred of innocence those kids possessed. Cassie gets a lot of flack for doing precisely that – trying to maintain her moral compass while other members of the team made the harder choices, the ones you can’t come back from – but to me it just made her a real girl, flawed, young, who made mistakes and crushed on the leader of the Animorphs (girl, I feel you. I heart Jake), and hated lying to her parents and just wanted her normal life back. She got awesome every time she reminded the reader she had survival skills born out of growing up tending to sick and wounded animals; pilfering a dead T-Rex for food and hide to make sandals out of, anyone?
And Rachel. Rachel, Rachel. I adore everything about this character. I loved that this girl was allowed to be a shopaholic, could enjoy being feminine, and be the biggest badass in the entire series, to the point that she scared everyone with her intensity. She struggled with maintaining her sense of self, of the girl she was before the war, as it consumed her and fed the bloodthirsty warrior that had been lying in wait for just such an occasion inside her. She cared and loved deeply, and she was absolutely ruthless in order to achieve the end goal of stopping the invasion and saving her family. I wanted to be Rachel, I wanted to steal a shred of that confidence and strength, and I grieved for her when the war took its irreparable toll on her. I am still in awe of the impact Rachel has made on not just me, but throughout the Animorphs fandom.
Francesca Lia Block
Where Applegate showed me how to write real, amazing female characters, Francesca Lia Block showed me how I wanted to write anything. When I bought I Was a Teenage Fairy back in high school, it opened me up to a whole new writing style. Block’s writing is a cornucopia of visual imagery. She made me hunger for foods I’d never heard of, despair over the struggles and pain in her characters’ lives, and painted pictures with her words in a grand display of show, don’t tell. You wanted to live the characters’ lives, but at the same their troubles and excess were frightening, beyond anything you know, but the pull was there all the same. She encapsulated how my brain worked as a teenager and, well, pretty much now, too. A few short sentences by her pack such a vivid punch of sound, color, smell, and taste, and I wanted to write like that. I wanted to deliver a message with words that revved the imagination, too, spun like poetry that made people feel something. Ruby held such a devastating display of child abuse that you practically lived it with the main character, ached for her. The Rose and the Beast is filled with some of the coolest fairy tale retellings, and some of my favorite passages are in them, especially this one that describes everything amazing and difficult about being a writer, because you can’t be anything else (it still gives me chills reading it):
‘I have heard the stories you tell. You are the one who transforms, who creates. You can go out into the world and show others. They will feel less alone because of you, they will feel understood, unburdened by you, awakened by you, freed of guilt and shame and sorrow. But to share with them you must wear shoes you must go out you must not hide you must dance and it will be harder you must face jealousy and sometimes rage and desire and love which can hurt most of all because of what can then be taken away. So make that astral dress to fit your own body this time. And here are glass shoes made from your words, the stories you have told like a blower with her torch forming the thinnest, most translucent sheets of light out of what was once sand. But be careful; sand is already broken but glass breaks. The shoes are for dancing, not running away.’ – Glass, The Rose and the Beast
I just flat out love the crap out of her poetry. I can quote entire poems by her, because they resonate so deeply with me. I started reading her poetry in high school, but I didn’t really delve into it until my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, and I started reading her poetry when I would spend evenings in the hospital with my grandmother. During that really difficult time, I took a lot of comfort from Dickinson’s poetry, the rhythm of them, the soothing visuals I got, and even when it wasn’t so soothing, when she spoke of death and mortality and grief, since it was staring me in the face every day until my grandmother passed away. The very first poem that introduced her to me was in the infamous ‘Hope is the thing with feathers,’ which I love dearly. Every time I read her, I’m just filled with warmth, a little sadness, and suspended in a kind of timeless, whimsical state that removes me from any given situation. I find that powerful.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Frankenstein was a summer reading assignment right before my senior year in high school, and I remember being floored by it, and it fueled my love of the horror genre. I admired the fact that a woman in the early to mid 1800’s freely wrote about horror – well, I consider it to be, even though it’s technically a gothic melodrama. I was fascinated with her as a person, as well, the tumultuous life she led, and how passionate she was about her craft. And I can’t mention Mary Shelley without spreading the love to her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, for writing A Vindication on the Rights of Woman. Probably the best piece of writing I took out of my British Lit class.
I have many, many favorite female authors, but the four here are the ones that most directly influenced various aspects of my life and my writing. Honorable mentions of current favorites are Frances Hodgson Burnett, Suzanne Collins (Katniss is such a beast, I just can’t even), Jodi Picoult, Jane Green (she is hysterical, I love the voices of her characters), Janet Fitch, Tabitha Suzuma, Nora Roberts, J.R. Ward (yes, ok, I am freely admitting that the BDB series is a huge guilty pleasure), Holly Black, and Alice Sebold.
One last thing: I am extremely proud to be working for a women run small publishing company. We have amazing, funny, and talented women writers (as well as men, but this post is for the laydeez), and I deeply enjoy what I’m able to do for Weaving Dreams Publishing. I love being in this business, I love learning about it, interacting with other writers, and I love being a writer. So here’s to all the women writers out there whose words inspire and enrich the lives of girls and women throughout the world. Thank you.