By Ninja Paap-Luijten
Our readers would love to know a bit more about you. Can you start by telling us who you are and what kind of work you write?
I’m Korean-American-Dutch and have been living in the Netherlands for quite some time now. It goes way too fast! My husband is Dutch, and we have two children, both of high school age. Life in the Netherlands is good; I doubt I’ll go back to the States.
I write science fiction and fantasy, mainly novels, but I enjoy writing a short story now and then as a creative break. Lately I’ve been writing more feminist or inclusive fiction, if you will, including nonbinary characters, but still in the science fiction & fantasy genres. I have a YA science fiction novel published, Offworlder: The Boy From Cell Town, which was translated from English to Dutch and available in English as an ebook. A few of my short stories have been published in anthologies. If you’d like to learn more, check out my author website.
Fantasize contacted you because of our current theme: the role of women in science fiction and fantasy. You are working on a trilogy that is set in a matriarchal society. Can you tell us a little bit about this trilogy and why you chose this particular system of society?
I love your theme! With society’s focus on being ‘woke’, I believe it’s getting better and better every day for women in our genre. People may scoff over the need for inclusivity, but then they are usually privileged types. I’ve been ‘different’ my entire life, both personal and professional, so I’m glad that unheard voices are coming to light more than ever. We still have a long way to go, but it’s a good start.
As for my work-in-progress trilogy—working title, FISH—it began as a reflection of societal aspects that unnerved me, one being the patriarchal system that dominates much of the world. I remember having read about the Mosuo women of China, a small ethnic group sometimes referred to as the ‘Kingdom of Women’. The interviewer asked a Mosuo matriarch about why their men are not in positions of leadership. She scoffed and explained that men are simply too emotional to lead. Sure, it’s gender bias too.
It got me thinking about what living amongst the Mosuo would be like, and this set in motion the world for FISH with a matriarchal society where everyone believes men are too delicate and emotional to do much of anything except take care of the house and raise the kids. Hah. Yeah, that’s right, a laugh. Because people always laugh when they hear about this set-up in FISH, only proving the point of how bias towards women is embedded in our brains.
A matriarchal society isn’t something that you find in many novels. Do you know of any other works that use this concept?
I’ll be honest, I had a hard time coming up with books off the top of my head that has a matriarchal society. So, I Googled and discovered some lists that had some books I’ve read. As for the books that I have not read, I’ve added them to my wish list. A few I’ve enjoyed include: N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy (awesome series!), Sheri S. Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country, Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite (on my ‘to read’ list, actually), and Anne Bishop’s The Black Jewels series, and Dune by Frank Herbert.
What is the core subject of your trilogy, and why is this important for you to write about?
I have a few themes running around in FISH. One is clearly about gender bias. With FISH being set in a matriarchal society, I enjoyed swapping the typical gender of roles in our society, thus creating my own rendition of the Mosuo, and, well, exaggerating it a bit. The women are outright biased towards men and subordinate to their matriarchs. Some of the factions in FISH are more progressive, allowing men more independence and legal rights. I had a lot of fun with this.
Other themes include climate change, fundamentalist religious beliefs, and discovering one’s purpose in life. Through her adventures, Moyale, the main character, carves out her place as matriarch of a multi-cultural/multi-species society. And I have merpeople, but not anywhere near the types you find in a Disney film.
I’m a writer and I read a lot. I have been looking for books like mine, but I haven’t run across any. If anyone finds one, let me know!
What do you think about the way women are depicted in science fiction, fantasy and horror novels? Is there work to be done for writers to make a change?
In line with the ‘woke’ movement, I believe the fiction landscape is changing. Strong female protagonists have become quite the rage even, and I very much like this development.
Over the past few years, I’ve been mainly reading books by female authors or books with female protagonists. They are often about women in patriarchal, even misogynistic societies, and about how they overcame the odds. I love underdog misfits who don’t fit the norm and overcome bias that keeps trying to beat them down. Right now, I’m enjoying the Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer about Jacky Faber who is an excellent sailor and leader (of men) in the eighteenth century. Another series is Protector of the Small by Tamora Pierce. Both these series of books are bit older, but they are incredibly fun to read and they are both about women achieving great things in a man’s world.
We need to keep reading books that support female authors and read books with strong female protagonists. I would love to see more in the film industry too. Let’s keep the movement going!
What makes, in your opinion, a women’s character in a book a strong one?
I’d say a female character would be considered strong when, despite the odds, they go the extra mile and refuse to give up. They get frustrated, angry, even cry, but they keep going because they have guts, conviction, and believe in themselves. This would apply to any character actually!
Do you have any advice for writers on how to depict women in their writing?
Other writers have said this and I agree: writing female characters isn’t special, because they are simply people. In many cases, it doesn’t matter if they are women or men or nonbinary or whatever. It’s about understanding your character’s feelings, wants, and needs. Having said that, the way a female character may react depends on the world they live in. In FISH, women are the boss and believe themselves superior to the men. So, the ‘woke’ women of FISH, will recognize men as being their equals. Context makes a big difference. Figure out your character’s backstory, understand the world they live in, and go from there.
I often tell writers: the way you portray a society or a character, is important. Writing about an empowered woman tells a different story than writing about the ‘damsel in distress’. How do you feel about this – do you think your writing can influence the way people think?
Yes, I believe writers can influence people through their stories, because a reader is along for the ride. The reader is right there learning and developing as the protagonist overcomes obstacle after obstacle. So, if you think about it, if a woman were to start off as a ‘damsel in distress’ and evolves into a bad-ass hero, that could be an even more exciting and potentially bigger character arc than a woman who already was in control.
Another angle is that when readers see women portrayed in a certain way, they may develop a similar view on women. I, for one, am tired of the female leader who ends up being awful at her job and then everyone thinks she wasn’t up for the job because of her gender. You see this a lot in real life when a woman screws up in a leadership role. When a man in a leadership role screws up, I doubt you’d hear people say it was because he was a man.
Fantasize is a platform where both writers and readers can find a lot of information, stories and articles. I have asked you if you have any advice for writers, but I’d like to take this opportunity to also ask about advice for readers. If someone who isn’t very familiar with science fiction, horror and fantasy novels, would want to read books portraying strong, real-life women, what books would you recommend?
My favorite genre is better described as feminist fantasy & science fiction. I love stories where women are independent thinkers and ambitious, whether the story takes place in a patriarchal society or not. These women fight their way past societal norms to prove themselves and earn the respect of women and men through their actions and, often, empathy. True leaders by example. With that in mind, here are a few below in addition to the ones I’ve mentioned earlier.
• Camelot Rising and The Conqueror series by Kiersten White
• Crown of Shards series by Jennifer Estep
• Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton
• Circe by Madeline Miller
• The Nevernight Chronicles series by Jay Kristoff
• Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers
• The Poppy War series by R.F. Kuang
• The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
• Goddess by Kelly Gardiner (historical fiction actually, but since it’s set in the 17th century it feels like fantasy)
• Valor’s Choice by Tanya Huff
• Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey
• Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
• Uprooted and Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
• Pretty much anything by Tamora Pierce
Is there anything I forgot to ask that you would like to add?
Let’s keep writing about amazing women in science fiction & fantasy and keep reading those books with female protagonists!
Thanks, I enjoyed the interview.
© The pictures are taken from Chang’s website with her permission.
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