Zenn Scarlett Blog Tour: Guest post – Identity in SFF

As part of the Zenn Scarlett blog tour, I’m genuinely thrilled to have author Christian Schoon talking about Identity in SFF, given just how much I loved Zenn Scarlett and just how big a deal I’m hoping this YA science fiction adventure will be.  -Leo

First off, thanks to Leo for being part of the Zenn Scarlett blog tour and for giving me the chance to spend a little time here with his readers. Much appreciated!

ZennScarlettSo: identity in SFF and the role of the female protagonist. What a fascinating subject, not only in the worlds of speculative fiction, but across the entire spectrum of the current literary and entertainment environment. At one end of the YA SFF spectrum, we’ve got Twilight-style narratives (I’m talking about the first book here): the needy heroine, heavy inward-directed angst, magnetically drawn to the dreamy but distant, mysterious male interest. And at the other end, the Hunger Games girls, externally oriented, competent, focused, less interested in tortured, dewy-eyed boys than in living until the end of the book. And, of course, a range of titles spanning the extremes that combine characteristics of both. Disney’s Brave comes to mind, where Merida’s journey leads her to combining traits from both ends of the continuum by movie’s end. My own heroine, Zenn, falls well toward the Katness side of things, but with elements of Brave’s heroine in learning to take responsibility for her actions.

Invoking the name Disney, naturally, brings us to the much-discussed Princess/Tomboy divide in literature and film. And, as mentioned, there are plenty of books and films that tilt pretty convincingly to one or the other extreme of this dichotomy; in the Disney vein, think of the poles apart-ness of the protagonists in Snow White vs Snow White and the Huntsman.  But I’m glad to say that more and more, we’re seeing storylines that bridge this expanse. Hermione-OOTP-hermione-granger-1354673-428-285So, you can have a Hermione who’s brilliant, but not so Ivory Tower that Ron can’t aspire to meeting her down on level ground. Or, someone like Pullman’s Lyra, who is total tomboy and not above a bit of manipulation, but who still displays a sensitivity to the emotional aspects of her life.

As for Zenn, her past experiences have directed her down a path that emphasizes both the necessity and desirability of looking at the world with a decidedly analytic mind. She also grows up with a fearlessness regarding physical danger coupled with a deliberate, built-in reserve when it comes to emotional peril.  The people she’s counted on in her life are now absent. Her reaction to this isn’t to find a guy who can replace them, or someone comfort and protect her. Instead, she chooses to “cowboy up,” thicken her psychological armor and get on with pursuing the dream that drives and empowers her: to survive her novice year of training and continue on to become an exovet like her mother. In the novel, this manifests in a variety of ways. You don’t wear a slinky evening dress when making the rounds of the cloister’s pens and pastures to treat alien animal patients. And a sexy, midriff-baring look that shows off your tats isn’t going to cut it when you’re harnessed up and climbing onto the snout of an 80-foot whalehound to conduct a medical procedure. Zenn wears hand-me-down coveralls and spends less time worrying about her appearance than whether her veterinary backpack is stocked with the equipment and meds she’ll need to accomplish that day’s chores.When Liam Tucker, a local towner boy, expresses pretty obvious interest in her, Zenn’s first reaction isn’t to be instantly mesmerized and all “Gee, a guy likes ME! And he’s so cool and bad-but-in-a-good-way!” — instead it’s “This is odd and distracting and I don’t have the luxury of trying to figure out what this means right now because I have end-of-term tests to pass.”  In fairness, it needs to be mentioned that Zenn’s armor isn’t seamless; there are gaps in her mental sheathing and Liam, while no sparkly, archetypal dreamboat, is no fool. He understands how to get through to Zenn and will give it his best shot. Will it work? That’d be telling. But it’s safe to say it doesn’t turn out exactly how one might expect.

As for why the heroine of my book is reasonably-bad-ass but-in-my-humble-opinion-still-credibly female instead of male, it’s because that’s how Zenn presented herself to me when I had the first “ah ha!” moment of realizing I had a story to write. From that point on, this resourceful, no-fears, independent character was female in my mind. Plus, our own veterinarian, who became a good friend of ours here on the farm, is an amazing woman who is awesome and strong-willed and super-confident and wrestles giant pythons, so… there’s that.

In the final analysis, Zenn is simply the kind of protagonist that my story required, and she told me this in no uncertain terms right from the start of the writing process. And, I’m very pleased to note: powerful, skilled, self-sufficient female characters like Zenn are becoming increasingly common in the stories that inspire us, bind us together as a culture, and inform the identities that we construct for ourselves and see in others.

AUTHOR PIC AS SMALL JPG 1 INCHBorn in the American Midwest, Christian started his writing career in earnest as an in-house writer at the Walt Disney Company in Burbank, California. He then became a freelance writer working for various film, home video and animation studios in Los Angeles. After moving from LA to a farmstead in Iowa several years ago, he continues to freelance and also now helps re-hab wildlife and foster abused/neglected horses.  He acquired his amateur-vet knowledge, and much of his inspiration for the Zenn Scarlett series of novels, as he learned about – and received an education from – these remarkable animals.

You can find Christian on Goodreads, Twitter and over on his own site, as well as the Strange Chemistry siteZenn Scarlett releases today in the US and Canada in print, worldwide on eBook and in the UK on 2nd May (2013, unless you’re in a time-loop. If you are… good luck!)

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