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March 2017

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writing companion to wolves _ truepenny

close reading 101: or, "I meant to do that."

...because I am tired of answering these questions in email, one reader at a time, and I bet truepenny is too:

There are only very slight spoilers in this. *g* And hopefully, it's at least halfway funny...


Why is it that there aren't any major female characters in A Companion to Wolves?

There aren't?

Okay. Why is it that there aren't any major human female characters in A Companion to Wolves.

You know, that's an excellent question. Especially since the authors are a pair of avowed and vocal feminists. Do you have a theory?

Because the authors wanted to write m/m smut?

...nice try. ;-) Okay. Try this on for size:

The action takes place almost entirely in homosocial, male-dominated venues--the equivalent of army camps. They male characters, like tribes of males everywhere, tend to other the women, who are largely relegated to support roles due to the military nature of the group, and the nature of homosocial bonding.

In other words, if you've ever wondered what the women were off doing during
Le Mort de Arthur or Beowulf, you got it in one.

(Actually, we did wonder what the women were off doing during
Beowulf, and I think if you read between the lines of ACtW, there are some clues as to just what those things might be.)

But women can fight. Why aren't there any female wolfcarls?

Biology.

Because this story takes place in a society in which the replacement rate is barely keeping pace with the attrition rate, and any such society that sends fertile women out to fight is not going to last three generations. That's eating your seed corn, man. Yes, women can fight. But for them to fight on the front lines on a regular basis is a luxury for an affluent society.


Also, may I point out that you're talking about a job that kills fit, healthy men in their twenties like rats at a terrier run. I firmly believe that a woman can do any job she can physically handle. I don't, honestly, think a lot of women could physically handle that job. Even if she wasn't freaking pregnant nine months out of every two years, lugging toddlers around, and at risk of death from a pregnancy or birth gone bad.

But why don't the wolfcarls even think about recruiting women?

Ethnocentrism. Or, to put it another way, you're feeling a bit peckish. Why don't you think about eating a nice skewer of roasted witchetty grubs? I hear they're delicious--

You don't think about it because it's not part of your culture. (Unless you are a native Australian, in which case, please substitute "a nice bowl of clam chowder" for the above.)

Also, as a secondary reason, because making the protagonist male, and putting him into a role that is usually reserved in fantasy for female characters (The Forced Marriage, as it were) we hoped to point out some of the ways that that's a highly problematic role.

Or, to put it a third way, if he's female, we've just rewritten
Dragonflight, haven't we? ;-)

So much more comfortable for everybody when it's female characters being disempowered...

Why are the wolfcarls overcome by wolf rut, when they're not overwhelmed by their other biological urges, such as eating or taking a crap?

1) Remember that genre we're deconstructing? Ask them.

2) Ever been around a bitch in heat? A dog who can
smell a bitch in heat? No? Any kind of animal in its mating period?

Come back and ask that question when you have, if you still need to. 

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It is funny, and it's also given me a burning need to read this book, right now.

Oh rats, it's after 5, the bookshop is closed... *weeps*
"it's after 5, the bookshop is closed..."

But at least there's a chance it'll be there in the shop tomorrow! After I couldn't find it anywhere in town I ordered it from Amazon. Two weeks later and the delivery date is 'maybe next week' (of course, the delivery date for the other book I ordered at the same time is 'tomorrow, if you're lucky', and I got that one on Saturday, so who knows how these things work?).
Hoowee! This just bumped ACTW up to the top spot on my to-be-read list.
We're bad authors. And we never saw a trope we didn't want to deconstruct.
;-)

I got tired of retyping it....
There's only one problem wiht ACTW in my opinion -- there isn't a sequel yet, darnitall! I really really really want to read what happens to Isolfr down the road as it were, and see what his accomodations to his, ah, situation (both in his "marriage" and to what happens with the trolls) end up being. I have faith that they'll be not quite what I think they might be.
*g* there might be a sequel someday, but-- not this week.

What's wrong with stand-alone novels, anyway???
That explanation is a lot more logical and satisfying than "9th century Vikings didn't do that/think that way". Thank you!

Here's another question I've been pondering in relation to the book, if you're willing to take a crack at it. I'm hoping I can formulate it in a way that doesn't give offense, because I really enjoy your work and truepenny's:

Who did you write this book for? Yourselves, to see what you could do with the genre conventions? The general fantasy readership, and if so, what were you hoping they'd take away from it? Because at the end of the book, even though it had likable characters, thorough worldbuilding, a decent plot and all that, I felt sort of like I'd been "baited and switched". Part of that may have been due to the romance-style cover art as well, which I realize authors often have little control over. I generally go to fantasy for escapism and I think I'm not alone in that, and ACTW, in the end, left me squicked. Fwiw, Dragonflight also squicked me, back in the day. So to sum up, what were you hoping your readership left with, or did you just write it as a satisfying exercise for yourselves and put it out there hoping someone else would get something from it as well?
I wrote it because a bunch of the tropes of companion animal fantasy bug the everloving bajeesus out of me, and I wanted to take them apart.

And I mean, if the book doesn't make a few readers rethink some basic assumptions, and possibly a little uncomfortable, then it's not doing its job.

Also? Writers have the antithesis of say over their cover art.
Because this story takes place in a society in which the replacement rate is barely keeping pace with the attrition rate, and any such society that sends fertile women out to fight is not going to last three generations. That's eating your seed corn, man. Yes, women can fight. But for them to fight on the front lines on a regular basis is a luxury for an affluent society.

Holy....thank you. THANK YOU. I have a similar issue in my work-in-progress, and was trying to explain to my own tired brain why these families wouldn't have lots of females doing what the males are doing.
Diane Duane has a very clever hack of that where essentially, her characters are required to reproduce, and THEN they can do whatever they want with their lives.
Oh, excellent post! Yes, it is funny! I am on tenterhooks waiting for my copy to arrive, and I know I'll love the genre deconstructing! Perhaps the people who ask you such silly questions haven't read enough fantasy? I mean, I know some people who think 'Eragon' is original!
I think it's more likely just their own ethnocentrism talking. "Women do these things in our society. Why don't they do them here?!"
Or, to put it a third way, if he's female, we've just rewritten Dragonflight, haven't we? ;-)

now I have to bump it up on the reading list, and if this is true, I need to send Anne a copy with that comment, she would get a charge out of it.
I'm not sure she would, actually. Both Sarah and I have a lot of political problems with the Pern novels, and that's all kind of in this book.
*loff*

You are bad, bad, girls, and I mean that in the sense of your post from last week.

When I can read fiction again, ACtW is high on the list.
It's like a drinking game. What fantasy trope are Bear and Mole going to lose their lunch all over this week?
Loved this book. Spent most of the time I was reading it going "Why hasn't anyone done this before?" At the end I wondered if a possible future in which they do change the prevailing view of women might not bring the whole cultural house of cards tumbling down.
Isolfr, I must say, is likely to be a Force For Change....
:: ...because making the protagonist male, and putting him into a role that is usually reserved in fantasy for female characters... ::

And yay, but that was effective. I call myself a feminist, but I've internalized more of the it-hurts-less-for-women tripe than I knew. Thank you. :-)


:: ...a society in which the replacement rate is barely keeping pace with the attrition rate... ::

It bothered me that the bitches weren't kept back from the fighting more often than they were, since they seemed to be having the same attrition/relpacement problem. Was the limiting reproductive unit the pack, and not the bitches? One litter per time unit per pack?


:: Remember that genre we're deconstructing? Ask them. ::

Hahahahaha! My frustration in recommending ACtW as widely as I would like is that so much of its joy comes from having done the assigned reading. I have friends who would adore the send-up, if only they knew what it was a send-up of. And yet, in good conscience, I can't send them off to read a bunch of McCaffrey and Lackey. Damn my ethics!
Are *you* going to stop a female trellwolf from doing whatever she thinks she should?

The humans have no freaking control over that, man.
I think the source of some of the questions may be wanting a better understanding of what the thought process of creating the world and the rules thereof was, rather than taking it at a straightforward "it's this way because the Authors Sez So and all their wolfcarls are belong to them" basis. Or not... :)
Every book of yours (and truepenny's) is already on my "Please buy me at presents time" list, but genre deconstruction? Hot damn! This one just got moved up a few steps...
I've been pondering getting this one as a gift for my mom - she devoured The Chains That You Refuse and absconded with my copy of Blood & Iron at Thanksgiving, but she's also been talking for years about how much she adores the Pern books. I think it's a coin toss whether she'd find this kind of deconstruction eye-opening and cool or just heartbreaking.

(I suppose it's a discomforting tell of where my limits are in being a subversive boundary-pusher when I'm reluctant to smash the idols of my sentimental hippie parents, but there you are.)
Yeah. There's no point in being an asshole, really.
We're companionable like that.
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