This is an awesome day on my blog because Rhiannon Frater is here with a guest post about strong female characters in her epic zombie series. I can't gush about this series enough: it's incredible and all zombie fans need to read it. Her new book Siege, the final in her As the World Dies series, comes out in mere days on the 24th.
Women, Society and the Zombocalypse
I honestly didn’t set out to write a feminist take on the zombocalypse when I started writing AS THE WORLD DIES as an online serial. I just wrote about the sort of people I that exist in my everyday life. The characters all evolved naturally as I wrote, as did their complicated relationships and sometimes disastrous choices. It was only later that I fully began to understand how ground-breaking having two female leads in the genre actually was.
Admittedly, Jenni and Katie were born out of my desire to read a zombie story that was from a woman’s perspective. AS THE WORLD DIES was born as online serial in 2005. At that time zombie fiction was inundated with the lone gunman wandering across the zombie-infested lands. Women, children, and men who weren’t Rambo in disguise were merely zombie fodder. The women played the roles of the love interest (who often died), the victims, and the zombies. It became demoralizing to read over and over again stereotypes who bore no real resemblance to any of the women in my life. So when the characters of Jenni and Katie invaded my mind one day at work, I wanted to write their story and share it with others.
When I started the serial, I wanted to write about real men and women with flaws and strengths struggling to rebuild society in the zombie wastelands. If history has shown us one thing, it’s that humans survive in communities. I didn’t want to create a world of alpha males and subservient women, or vice versa. I wanted to write about real people dealing with real life issues while facing the undead hordes. I didn’t want to shy away from the difficulties of creating a new community. Differences of opinion, religion, culture, etc. were definitely going to cause problems at some point. Little did I realize that the issues my characters tackled in the online serial (which ran from 2005-2007) would become hotbed issues in 2012. Religion, gay rights, and gender equality are all topics the people in the fort are forced to deal with while still dealing with bandits and zombies.
STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS
Oddly enough, I never thought about any of the females in my story as being “strong” or unusual. The positive reaction to the characters was definitely a reaction to all the stereotypical women in these kinds of books. People were genuinely surprised to reach such positive portrayals. The readers weren’t surprised that the women were strong and competent; they were surprised to see an accurate portrayal of themselves, their wives, their girlfriends, mothers, and sisters. Quite a few male friends have told me that they loved how certain female characters reminded them strongly of the women they love. Female fans have also shared how refreshing it was to see women doing the types of things they would do in the zombocalypse—like killing zombies.
Jenni and Katie aren’t wonder women or superhuman like Alice in the Resident Evil films. They aren’t perfect either. Each has to deal with the aftermath of the destruction of their lives and they always make the right choices. But they aren’t afraid to fight for their own lives and those they love. They step up and take part in the planning of the new community and fight for the survival of everyone.
THE REGULAR GUYS
Though I get a lot of kudos for my female characters, I don’t feel that any of my male characters suffer from standing alongside competent women. I didn’t want to resort to the alpha male stereotype with my male characters, but I also didn’t want to weaken them. Travis and Juan (and in SIEGE, Kevin) all play vital roles in the story and are just regular men facing horrible circumstances. They understand that to survive everyone has to work together and have their own strengths and weaknesses. One of my greatest compliments was when someone told me that he could totally see himself hanging out with my male characters because they were just “dudes.”
There are, of course, men that don’t like the women playing such a strong role. One of them, Shane, becomes a dangerous foe to Katie when she has to kill his brother after he becomes infected. It’s in Shane and his cohort that we see a more dismissive attitude toward women and other people in general. Shane and Phillip are great at entering the zombie-infested towns and salvaging for supplies and serve the community well, but their attitudes toward women, especially bisexual Katie, creates serious problems for the burgeoning society. Shane and Phillip challenge the rules of the new society with their behavior. One particularly upsetting scene between Shane and Katie immediately causes a rift among the people in the fort as people take sides in a “he said, she said” battle.
Animosity also arises against the few LGBT members of the society, with lines being drawn along religious lines in SIEGE. A contingent of the survivors is convinced the zombocalypse is God’s judgment on the earth and believe the LGBT members of the fort should be evicted. During the heated discussion, many different viewpoints are expressed by various characters. I remember one reader, who is a lesbian, being hurt by the words of Peggy, a character she loved. That particular scene was probably one of the hardest I wrote, but I felt it was something that could occur and couldn’t get ignored.
Now in the heated political climate that exists today, the argument is terrifyingly timely.
One of the things that’s often missing in fiction, especially post-apocalyptic fiction, is the strong friendship bonds that exist among people. Often the survivors are not really friends, but people just thrown together that barely get along. In AS THE WORLD DIES, I enjoyed portraying various types of friendship bonds. There are best buddies, Juan and Travis, BFFs Ken and Lenore, and Jenni and Katie’s strong, sisterly friendship.
Though people comment on all three friendships as being refreshing and similar to ones they share in their real lives, the one that stands out the most is the friendship between Jenni and Katie. Women are not often portrayed as being friends in fiction. In fact, a lot of heroines are often the only women in the book. Jenni and Katie’s friendship was one of the things my editor at Tor really enjoyed. It’s so rare to see female best friends who love and support each other. Usually women are portrayed as rivals. Since I have close female friends in my life it felt only natural to have Jenni and Katie be close.
In closing…I am very happy that readers embrace the characters and feel they are an honest, realistic version of people they have in their own lives. I am also pleased that readers have enjoyed the dynamics of the new and growing society in the middle of the zombocalypse.
Rhiannon Frater is the award-winning author of the AS THE WORLD DIES zombie trilogy and the author of several other books: the vampire novels PRETTY WHEN SHE DIES and THE TALE OF THE VAMPIRE BRIDE and the young-adult zombie novel The Living Dead Boy and the Zombie Hunters. The first two books in her zombie trilogy, THE FIRST DAYS and FIGHTING TO SURVIVE, are available now in bookstores. SIEGE will be in bookstores on April 24, 2012.
Website: rhiannonfrater.com & astheworlddies.com
If you are like me and can't wait to get your hands on Siege, head over to Addicted to Heroines to enter to win it!!!