How are you planning to celebrate International Women’s Day?
I’m so looking forward to March 8th! I’ll be speaking to a local women’s group called Beta Sigma Phi, a sorority that meets monthly to promote sisterhood, raise money for local charities, and help with community projects. It’s perfect because my mom is a member of the organization, so I’ll get to spend the evening with my mom and her friends.
On a side note, when I called my mom to tell her that Frostblood had hit the New York Times bestseller list, she happened to be at a Beta Sigma Phi meeting. When she told her “sisters” the news, they all cheered in the background. It was a good moment!
Was there a woman who helped you get to where you are today?
So many! First of all, my mom, Nancy, is a voracious reader. She read to me as a child, and she shared her passion for books and words. My dad once said, “Your mother reads like a vacuum.” Her nose was always buried in a book. As a kid, it annoyed me that I had to practically yell in her ear to get her attention when she was reading. (Of course, I’m the same way now.) She has been a huge supporter every step of the journey toward publication.
I also got my first gig as a paid writer through my mom. She works as a publication assistant at a local business magazine, and the editor/owner, Nadia Shousher, happened to be looking for a reporter. I wrote a sample article and Nadia liked it, so I ended up writing for Windsor Business magazine for a few years before I dedicated my time to writing fiction. Nadia taught me about editorial integrity, paring the words down to essentials, and deadlines – all of which come in handy as a fiction writer.
When I think about it, there are far too many people to mention. There are a number of women who have been vital to my publication journey, from the time I joined Toronto Romance Writers in 2011 until today. Authors Morgan Rhodes and Eve Silver mentored me and encouraged me. My first critique partner, Nicki Pau Preto, urged me to start writing Frostblood and helped me along the way. And my agent Suzie Townsend sold the book to Deirdre Jones at Little Brown Books for Young Readers in the US, and Emily Kitchin at Hodder & Stoughton in the UK. I also have a group of women writer friends who support and help me on a daily basis.
What are your thoughts on the role of the media in shaping young female minds? As a creator, how do you combat some of these reductive and negative stereotypes that can lead to low self-esteem, or body negativity?
Right, the media absolutely plays a role in shaping our perceptions of ourselves. We absorb the values on the screen or in books, whether we realize it or not. If the message we receive from the media is that a woman’s value is in her looks, or that women should be less outspoken than men, we can’t help but absorb that to a degree, unfortunately. I would love to help in some small way to tear those biases apart.
As far as combatting stereotypes, I just write from the place inside me that feels authentic. In some ways, I write about who I wish I could be. My dad came from a rather male-dominated culture, and whether it was intentional or not, I grew up in a family where speaking up wasn’t encouraged. It’s something that makes it hard for me to engage in confrontation. So maybe I live vicariously through my heroines, who seem to have no problem finding their voices. My female characters are feisty and always will be.
Ruby, the main character in Frostblood, stands up for herself, to the point that some of my early rejections on the book were that Ruby was “unlikable.” The “unlikable heroine” is a common writing rejection, and often crops up simply when a heroine has a lot of self-confidence and challenges authority. However, there are many examples of female characters with powerful personalities in fiction. Katniss from The Hunger Games is of course the most well-known example, but there are many, many other books with strong heroines. I think our thirst for strong women in fiction is growing.
Tell us about your newest book.
Right now, I’m working on finishing up edits on Fireblood, the second book in the Frostblood Saga. The story begins a few weeks after the final scene in Frostblood.
Fireblood is essentially about identity. In addition to facing a host of new dangers, Ruby gains knowledge of her past, which shakes up her perceptions of herself and stirs up a hornet’s nest of internal conflict. Ultimately, she has to accept who she is, and decide who she wants to become.
Do you share any traits with any of your characters? Are there any of your characters that you admire or deplore?
Like Ruby, I can have a bit of a hot temper, though most people who know me haven’t seen that side. It is there, if provoked. I’m not nearly as frightening as she is, though. :)
I also identify with Brother Gamut, the healer monk, whose special tea relieves pain. If there’s one gift I wish I had, it would be to have the ability to ease suffering.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I think I’d tell my younger self that she is worthwhile and capable. I’d tell her not to be so afraid to fail, because mistakes and failure are just necessary steps on the way to success. There’s no shame in falling on your face once in a while. It’s better to try and fail than not to try at all. We learn so much from our mistakes.
What book do you go back to again and again for inspiration?
It’s very rare for me to re-read books. However, I do plan on re-reading all of Jane Austen’s books in the near future. I’ve also been reading some old favourites aloud to my kids, such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter.
How do you define feminism? What do you say to people who claim they aren’t feminists?
I know there’s a diversity of opinion on this, and some much more nuanced ideas, but I define feminism very broadly: as the belief that women deserve equal rights and opportunities. I think it’s surprising when some women say they’re not feminists. I feel like asking if they want to return to a time when women were considered property and were “civilly dead” under the law once they married. I doubt very much we’d find many women who would say they want that.
Also, I dislike the mistaken perception that feminism somehow means man-hating. I have a wonderful husband and three sons, and I have faith in the goodness of so many men. I think we have to look at some of the parenting practices that shame boys for expressing emotion, for crying or for needing comfort and hugs. Learning empathy starts at birth, and I hope movements toward attachment parenting and more compassionate parenting styles leads to healthier adults of both sexes.
What would you say to a young woman questioning her worth, value, or place in the world?
If there is any young woman who feels her self-worth is in question, I’m mentally embracing you right now! I’ve always been highly sensitive, which also means I get overwhelmed easily. I’ve spent much of my life feeling as if I would never fit in, and that the world was not designed for someone like me. If you ever feel that way, that there’s no place for you, or that you have no value, please know those are false beliefs. That is your brain lying to you. You are absolutely worthy and valuable beyond measure. You are precious, and the world needs you. Even the parts of you that you don’t like or can’t accept. It’s all part of the complex, amazing package that makes you unique and wonderful. Only you can decide who you are, and who you want to be in the future!
In the spirit of the ever-popular Instagram hashtag #WCW (Woman Crush Wednesday) – who’s your #1 woman crush right now? And why?
I have too many to stick with just one! As a teen and young adult, I had so much admiration for Oprah Winfrey because of her way of talking about taboo issues openly. I learned so much from watching her show. And of course, I also appreciate everything she has done for books and literacy.
I really admire Joanne Liu, who became the international president of Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) six months before the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. She was a passionate and outspoken leader who handled that crisis decisively. And she faced discrimination as an Asian-Canadian in Quebec in the 1970s, but went on to specialize in pediatric emergency care. Today, she ranks alongside Margaret Chan (also Canadian!), the head of the World Health Organization, as one of most influential voices in international aid.
In entertainment, I appreciate how Tina Fey, through her comedy and writing, has subverted some of the expectations of ladylike behavior. I love Mindy Kaling for similar reasons. Her show, The Mindy Project, is constantly chipping away at expectations of women. I swear she never misses an opportunity to make a fart joke, and I laugh every time. Oh, and since we’re talking comediennes, I adore Melissa McCarthy’s recent portrayals of Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live. She makes me want to stand up and cheer.
I was also really excited to read about Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space!
And finally, I have huge admiration for Jamie Clayton, the actress who plays Nomi Marks, a transgender political blogger and hacker on the Netflix show Sense8. She just does a phenomenal job with that character. Very layered and authentic. There are some moving scenes where Nomi recalls some horrible incidents from her past when she was bullied as a child. It’s a joy to watch a character embracing his or her identity, despite opposition and prejudice.