Today I am so pleased to welcome Jordan L. Hawk to Joyfully Jay. Jordan has come to talk to us about writing awesome female characters in m/m romance (and shout outs to my favorite girl crush, Dr. Christine Putnam!) Please join me in giving Jordan a big welcome!
Writing Kick-Ass Women in M/M Romance
When I was initially planning Widdershins, one of my first thoughts was “okay, how do I keep this from being a total sausage fest?”
Which is often a question in gay romance anyway. The two main characters identify as male already, and even though they would logically have female-identifying family members, friends, and co-workers, by default the focus is already on two dudes. Compound that with setting a book in the late nineteenth century and…well, I had a quandary.
Ladies worked outside the home quite a bit by then, of course—in mills and factories, in laundries, behind department store counters, running telephone exchanges, and a dozen other occupations. The Pinkerton Detective Agency had a division of female detectives. But in the museum setting of Widdershins, there were few jobs other than secretary available to women, and I really felt like Whyborne should have a female friend who was also a colleague.
Enter Dr. Christine Putnam.
If you’d like to read a bit about the many female pioneers of science who helped inspire Christine, Trowelblazers.com is an excellent starting point. But a lot of what informed Christine’s character actually came from an anecdote my husband related. In one of his engineering classes in college, a professor began the first day of class by ordering all the women to leave. Women couldn’t be engineers, you see, and this very self-important man wasn’t going to waste his time teaching them.
This was in the 1980s. Imagine what it was like in the 1880s.
So just to get where she is, Christine would have to be loud, opinionated, sure of herself, and absolutely determined not to back down. And honestly those traits made her the perfect foil for Whyborne, who is something of a doormat at the beginning, so I wove her into the story with no little amount of glee.
Since then, “strong female characters” seems to have become something I’m known for, or that at least is mentioned quite a bit in reviews.* Christine, Heliabel, Daphne, Fiona, and Persephone (Whyborne & Griffin); Jo and Lizzie (Spirits); Tiffany and Indira Kaniyar (SPECTR); Beatrice and Taryn (Hainted).
I sometimes get the feeling that people think there’s a trick to it, but if there is, it’s the same trick as to writing any secondary character. It’s simply conveying the feeling they have their own lives, and don’t function merely as props to either get the two guys together or provide conflict to keep them apart. These ladies are too busy digging up ancient mummies, or keeping malevolent ghosts from killing everyone, or saving the world from demons, thanks. Sure, they might offer a word of advice or encouragement to one of the MCs, because that’s what friends do. But they have more presence in the story than just those scenes.
And “strong” doesn’t mean they can kick ass or take names. Given I write action adventure stories, there is a lot of ass kicking. But Heliabel—who arguably has one of the most badass moments in the entire series—is a house bound invalid who never threw a punch in her life. Jo and Lizzie are very competent at what they do, but again, not going to deliver a beat down (to be fair, neither are the two male MCs in Spirits).
Sure gay romance by its very nature is focused on the dudes. But I say there’s still plenty of room for interesting ladies—mothers, friends, sisters, and more—and that their presence will add, not detract, from the genre.
*Full disclosure: I have also had reviews citing Christine as evidence I can’t write women at all and shouldn’t even try. So YMMV.
Sorcerer Percival Endicott Whyborne and his husband Griffin Flaherty have enjoyed an unprecedented stretch of peace and quiet. Unfortunately, the calm is shattered by the arrival of a package from Griffin’s brother Jack, who has uncovered a strange artifact while digging for gold in Alaska. The discovery of a previously unknown civilization could revive the career of their friend Dr. Christine Putnam—or it might kill them all, if the hints of dark sorcery surrounding the find are true.
With Christine and her fiancé Iskander, Whyborne and Griffin must journey to the farthest reaches of the arctic to stop an ancient evil from claiming the life of Griffin’s brother. But in the rough mining camp of Hoarfrost, secrets fly as thickly as the snow, and Whyborne isn’t the only sorcerer drawn by the rumors of magic. Amidst a wilderness of ice and stone, Griffin must either face his greatest fear—or lose everyone he loves.
Jordan L. Hawk grew up in North Carolina and forgot to ever leave. Childhood tales of mountain ghosts and mysterious creatures gave her a life-long love of things that go bump in the night. When she isn’t writing, she brews her own beer and tries to keep her cats from destroying the house. Her best-selling Whyborne & Griffin series (beginning with Widdershins) can be found in print, ebook, and audiobook at Amazon and other online retailers.