I had something of an epiphany while I was at my sister’s house, after the Writer’s Conference. At the conference, I learned that I need to interact with people in my genre more, but I didn’t want it to be just about me, you know? I was trying to figure out how to encourage more interactions with people who, like me, enjoy a good suspenseful read with a strong female lead. Then it hit me: I could start a Facebook group for and about Strong Women in Suspense.
It’s off to a pretty good start. We’re already up above 25 members (which was my 3 month goal) and having some lively discussions about what makes a strong woman, in life and in fiction. We’ve shared some inspiring stories of current and historical strong women. We’ve shared inspirational memes and held each other up to the light.
We’ve even shared a blog post from a man who is suggesting tips for dating strong women. After all, the group shouldn’t just be limited to women. There are men out there who encourage, support, and inspire strong women, and it was never my intention to be a hen party of women bashing men. (So by all means, if you know a man who wouldn’t be threatened by this group and would, in fact, contribute, invite him!)
I like to write my female characters as strong women. Maybe they won’t always start out as strong women, but by the end of their story arc, they will be. My stories may even have more strong women than weak, or I like the word undeveloped better.
In my latest novel, I had two beta readers (out of four) say the teenage girls didn’t react realistically to the situation they were in. Part of me rebelled. How was the story supposed to move forward if all they did was scream and huddle together? Then I realized I was having a knee-jerk reaction to the perceived suggestion that my females were too strong, and I took a step back to look at it objectively.
I knew my girls were strong, especially the heroine, so what the beta readers were really telling me was that I hadn’t convinced them by showing why and how they could be so strong. Which led me to consider the kinds of things that make us strong.
First and foremost, education. In my book, Kylie is the daughter of a veterinarian, and her (single) mother brought her along when she’d go to special trainings, like disaster preparedness. In a small town where there isn’t a big hospital and most of the emergency crews are volunteer, it made sense to me that a vet, who has a base of medical training anyway, would want to be ready in the event of a tornado or a wreck on the highway. Janie isn’t the sort to just let Kylie sit in the car and wait. She was exposed to these clinics, and learned alongside her mother how to handle a crisis.
Second, I think, would be a loving and supportive family. Kylie’s dad only recently came back on the scene, but her mother was always there for her, as were her grandparents. She always had someone to look up to and receive love from. They encouraged her to be her own person, and even let her make her mistakes, but they were always there to love her.
This third element isn’t something every woman has access to, but Kylie grew up around animals that were larger than her. She learned to respect that size, but also not to let her fear of it control her. She gained confidence through the knowledge that she could work with a creature who outweighed her by hundreds of pounds, and bend it to her will. She learned that to give in to fear was to get trampled, hurt, thrown, and broken, and she learned to control her fear—not to say she never felt it, she just never let it control her.
I guess that could break down to learning about fear in general. I had a friend once who told me there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who are afraid and shut down, and those who are afraid and do it anyway. She and I were in the latter category, and so is Kylie.
What do you think makes women—or anyone—strong? What experiences have made you strong?