For a long time I would not write a female character, other than as a love interest or as a secondary character. There were two primary reasons for this, which I’ll talk about below.
1). I didn’t feel competent to do so. I knew women but certainly did not feel like I understood them. I realize today that I still don’t understand them. But then, I don’t really understand men either. I don’t understand humanity very well in general, I fear. Humans are complicated organisms. Most don’t even understand themselves. But I realized somewhere in the 1990s that if I wrote about female characters, I might begin to understand them better. I’ve always learned through writing about things.
2). I was afraid I’d get it wrong and would be thrashed over it. I had seen men write female characters and be taken to task for creating a male-fantasy version of a female character. Many times I felt the criticisms were correct. But not always. Then I had an enlightening experience. I shared an idea about a female character with my writing group and the three women in the group were absolute adamant that a woman would not do what I was going to have my character do. I was rather depressed over that, so I asked a couple of other women, not writers but work colleagues, what they thought. They both said, absolutely, a woman might do that. In fact, that’s what “they” would do in that situation. Probably I should have already known it, but I had an epiphany: “not all women are alike.”
By the way, these are the same reasons I haven’t written much about characters who aren’t ethnically white. I didn’t grow up African American, or Native American. Although I can generally envision some of the experiences such folks might have, I can’t literally “feel” the experiences the way they would. This makes me cautious in writing non-white characters because I don’t want to get it wrong. I want to treat all my characters with respect in the sense that I don’t want them to be cardboard cutouts or caricatures. But I particularly want to make sure to do this for women and non-white characters because they have too often been treated as stereotypes. At the same time, I don’t want to limit my characters either. I don’t want to avoid making an African American or a woman into a villain simply out of fear that some folks might disapprove.
Under the Ember Star was my first long work with a female lead. Ginn Hollis was not a consciously constructed character in the sense that I didn’t sit down to build a female character and then put her into the work fully formed. Instead, I tried to write her as naturally as I could, not so much writing a “woman,” as writing a human being who is also a woman. I think that’s probably the only way I can do it. In the reviews I’ve gotten for the book, most have said specifically that they liked the character of Ginn, so I feel pretty good about that. However, so far, I haven’t gotten any reviews from female readers. That makes me a bit curious about how women feel about Ginn. Well, maybe one day one of them will tell me.