Mailbag: Male Subversion

Another mailbag moment, Action Force:
I finished your book A Nameless Witch yesterday, and while reading and afterwords as I thought about it, I found I loved your characterization of the nameless witch.   There are so many authors that fail so miserably when making a character of the opposite sex seem real and complex that it was frankly quite refreshing reading this book.   Then about an hour ago I realized I had been had.   You made the woman quite complex but Wyst, the male character, though not completely flat was an uncomplicated what you would expect knight.  You switched the gender bias…which was cool.

I was reading reviews on good reads and no one seemed to point this out.   Was this switched gender bias intentionally done or was it just that the witch was the main focus and it just fell out that way?

The short answer is that no, there is no intended bias.  While I’m very glad you liked the book, I must admit some disappointment that you found Wyst to be uncomplicated.  But since you brought it up, let’s go ahead and talk about it.

First of all, I never strive to write strong female characters.  Or strong male characters.  Or strong sexually neutral characters (which I have created one or two of).  I strive to create worthy characters, and some of those characters are women.  Some are men.  At least one is both depending on what she / he feels like doing that day.

I have never believed that writing a protagonist of the opposite sex should be as hard as people seem to think.  Maybe it’s because I write about a lot of weird stuff, and after I write about robots and space squids, writing a human female is relatively easier to grasp.  It’s not that it’s easy.  Writing good characters is never easy, but it isn’t the extra level of difficulty that many seem to believe.  Or at least it shouldn’t be.

I won’t deny that the witch of A Nameless Witch is the more fleshed out character of the story.  She is its protagonist and its narrator.  It is clearly intended to be her story.  Wyst is important, but the story is from her perspective, and it is her journey, first and foremost.  Still, I try very hard to instill all my supporting characters with enough vitality and personality to make them worth knowing.

In any case, I would never attempt to subvert gender bias by reversing it.  Such attempts ring hollow to me more often than not.  Also, Wyst isn’t meant to just be a romantic object, but a character who could just as easily be the protagonist of his own story.  Whether or not this works for you is always up for debate, but no subversion was attempted.

Thanks for the question.

As always, if you have any questions or comment reach me at: @aleemartinez, on Facebook, or even through good ol’ e-mail,

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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One Comment

  1. Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Hooray, I finally caught up on your blog! I keep forgetting to bookmark it. So, sorry for the avalanche of comments.

    I would agree that it’s best not to think of your characters in stereotypical gender roles, though I think we’re in the minority on that which is why there are no plans for a Wonder Woman movie or Supergirl, Batgirl, or any other major female heroes while just about every male hero (even talking trees and raccoons) gets a movie.

    I’ve explored this subject in my books “Chance of a Lifetime” and more recently “Girl Power” where I do a little gender-swapping. The latter I had a little fun poking at the sexism in superhero costume design where female costumes almost always show off tons of cleavage and they have to wear stiletto heels and whatnot.

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