Ottawa-based storyteller and author Marie Bilodeau‘s work has been described as “fresh and exciting” by Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo award-winning author of Wake. She attended Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, and served two terms as President of the school’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Club, an honor that she will never live down. (Not that she cares to.) Her novel Destiny’s Blood was nominated for the 2011 Aurora Awards and won the Bronze Medal for Science-Fiction in the Foreword Book Awards. The final novel in that trilogy, Destiny’s War comes out January 31st, 2014.
To learn more, visit her official website at MarieBilodeau.com.
by Marie Bilodeau
We all grow up on narratives, and few in the SF community aren’t lovers of stories and narratives in general, whether they consume them through literature, movies, long-running TV and/or video games. The character arcs swing us around, climaxes make us tingle and we love us a good trickster.
We do love them, and I don’t even mean the evil Loki trickster (regardless of how hot teen girls think his Marvel movie incarnation is). We also love, even more so, the Good Trickster. The one who tricks others for the ultimate good and not just to have a few laughs or to conquer realms. Superman tricked Lois Lane for how many comic books to “keep her safe” with his “secret identity.” (I put quotation marks to indicate my awareness of the potentially endless debate that sentence alone could conjure.) Doctor Who‘s title character started his career by being a trickster and stealing his ride, and he continues on his journey by tricking his beloved companions into a future he believes safer. Mulan saved her father by riding into battle under the guise of being a man.
When the good tricksters are found out, there’s usually rejoicing or vindication. The tricks and lies are vindicated because of the outcome. Well of course they had to be a trickster – it was the only way to do good! The only way to change what would happen!
The only way to secure a favourable future.
And that’s the difference between the Good Trickster and the Bad Trickster: the Good Trickster is usually doing it to protect those they love or to change their world for the better (in their eyes).
I grew up on those stories and I tell them as a professional storyteller (kind of like a bard) and author. Part of my fascination with narratives is how they subtly affect us and our daily decisions. The stories we hear and love or hate influence us more than we sometimes realize.
So, what of the trickster narratives affecting the SF community? Well, let’s focus on Mulan’s story for a moment. It’s the story of a woman who couldn’t achieve her goals unless she was perceived as a man. The same story as that of the women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the civil war. The story of Shakespeare’s Twelth Night.
The story of George Eliot. And of the Brontë sisters, who were first published under a man’s name. The story of J.K. Rowling, who chose initials first and then a man’s name when she switched genres. It’s the narrative we continue to forge while seeking to secure that favourable future.
For female writers to continue hiding behind initials to prove sales are better for men or to pretend they lay claim to a bigger market in assuming a male pseudonym is doing more than just becoming a trickster character. It’s holding back the narrative for all of us, by pretending the trickster can still pull off this trick, even though everyone is aware of it by now. Even though it has accomplished what positive change it could and that narrative line is now stunted into repetition.
I thought about becoming a trickster – had even selected a pseudonym: Simon Lars (pretty cool, eh?) My writing is dark and action-packed, and I could totally tackle some sort of space zombie story. It was going to be an experiment, to see if my sales would be better this way.
But things kept nagging at me. First off, the comparables weren’t equal. Simon’s theoretically published novel might have broken out for my female self, too. What if it was a waste of time and didn’t go anywhere at all? Would I just be wasting my precious writing time with a thought experiment? One that many women have already undertaken, are still undertaking and still plan on undertaking?
And then, the clincher: I love Layela Delamores. She’s the main character in my Destiny series. She’s headstrong and a little bit rash at times. She makes the tough decisions because they’re the ones that have to be made. She gave up her own daughter because it was the right thing to do. Oh, and she pretty much destroyed her homeworld. Oops. But she believed she could make the universe a better place, one decision at a time. (Doesn’t always work out for her, gotta say.)
How can I write strong characters of any gender if I can’t even trust my own narrative? If I let the Good Trickster stories fool me into believing I was doing it for any other reason than a perhaps non-existent or non-representative spike in sales? So many female authors use initials in their own names like it’s some sort of shield against judgement. It might be, to some degree, but it’s also holding back our own narrative as a community, the narrative of more women proudly flaunting their SF stories. The story of readers becoming so used to the Nancy Kresses and Jean Johnsons of this world that they don’t even flinch when they see female names on book covers.
Changing communal narratives takes time and courage. And yes, it sucks that it needs to be changed at all. For those still considering a trickster narrative, then please consider this: the greatest way to defeat a Good Trickster character is usually to know and utter their name. That simple. (Or to make Doctor Who fans angry all over the Twitterverse when the very rumour of the Doctor’s name being revealed pops up.) It’s the greatest power over them because it’s usually their greatest secret. Why would you not want to claim that power for yourself by simply sharing it from the get-go?
Each of our narratives feeds into the greater community narrative. Think about what your part will be. I personally believe it’s time to put the trickster to rest.