For What It's Worth

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Chasing Shadows Blog Tour! Guest post: Making Heroines with author Swati Avasthi

I’m so thrilled to be on the Chasing Shadows Blog Tour. Avasthi’s debut novel, Split, about domestic violence from the perspective of a teenage boy, was brilliant and still holds a special place in my heart.

I just received Chasing Shadows for review and I can’t wait to dive into it because for one the cover is absolutely stunning in person and the addition of graphic illustrations by Craig Phillips adds yet another layer.

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Before: Corey, Holly, and Savitri are one unit—fast, strong, inseparable. Together they turn Chicago concrete and asphalt into a freerunner’s jungle gym, ricocheting off walls, scaling buildings, leaping from rooftops to rooftop.

But acting like a superhero doesn’t make you bulletproof…

After: Holly and Savitri are coming unglued. Holly says she’s chasing Corey’s killer, chasing revenge. Savitri fears Holly’s just running wild—and leaving her behind. Friends should stand by each other in times of crisis. But can you hold on too tight? Too long?

In this intense novel, Swati Avasthi creates a gripping portrait of two girls teetering on the edge of grief and insanity. Two girls who will find out just how many ways there are to lose a friend…and how many ways to be lost. ~ Goodreads | Amazon | B&N

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Making Heroines

When I started CHASING SHADOWS, a novel that is told in part prose and part graphics, I had no idea I would end up created a female superhero, the Leopardess.  After all, I knew almost nothing about superheroes.  I didn’t grow up reading comics, though I watched the Justice League on Saturday mornings. But even then, I didn’t love those heroes, wasn’t going to get into a fight about who was better – Batman or Superman – didn’t really have a favorite.  And why?  I just couldn’t relate to them.

Recently, at The Loft’s Second Story Reading series, a friend’s four-year-old daughter was talking about Halloween. She was planning to be Batman (with her baby sister as Robin in their super-cool bat-mo-stroller).  Last year, her mother told me, she was Spiderman!  I love it.  I love the fact that girls are able and encouraged to read themselves into strong male characters, that they are capable of stretching beyond the confines of their gender and into a universal place.

But I’m equally disturbed that to find a strong, passionate superhero, she had to go to SpiderMAN and BatMAN.  It reminded me too much of my childhood and why I didn’t connect with the Justice League, too much of how female superheroes have been portrayed historically, from Batwoman’s compact blush and stockings as weapons to Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth.  With less than cool powers, derivative names, and weak backstories, women superheroes have always gotten a short shrift.
 
In my view the thing that comics does the best are the antagonists – Two-face, the Joker, Lex Luther, and Magneto.  They are interesting with strong backstories of their own. It is through the antagonist and through there world that heroes are created.  By fighting back, they define themselves.  But where are the antagonists for the heroines?

I came to superhero comics as an adult. I came to comics for CHASING SHADOWS. My protagonist, Holly, loved comics and so I followed her interest and started reading some myself. I couldn’t really find the hero I was looking for, one I would want to give my daughter, then 7 or 8.  I remember going into a comic book store with her and asking for comics that woud be suited for her – Wonder Woman, maybe. The Phoenix perhaps? Batgirl?  No, none were right for her age, the store owner told me.  The material was “too mature.” When I looked at the comics, I understood why.  All the superheroes women today are hypersexualized with what artist Lindsay Hinckley calls “bubble boobs” and “bubble butts”.  Take a look at almost any comic and if you find a woman in it she will be: 1) beautiful 2) hypersexualized 3) in some contorted body position and 4) using her sexual prowess as a weapon against her male counterparts – not exactly what I wanted for my daughter, not exactly who I wanted my character to love.

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I wanted a comic hero that wasn’t about reflecting men’s desires, but about reflecting women’s strengths. So I invented the Leopardess – a woman who remains clothed, who fights to protect the world from another sicko, whose backstory defines her heroism. And when my editor and I went to find an artist, it was really important to us that we found someone who didn’t objectify women, who could draw a woman with a full personality through the lines and posture, through the attitude and expressions – not through the tightness of her costume and the size of breasts.

And so my editor found Craig Phillips. Together we created the Leopardess:

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The kind of hero I wanted on Saturday morning cartoons, the kind that wouldn’t make me read strength across gender but would show me how strong women can be, the kind that wasn’t derivative (There is no Leopard, only The Leopardess).

And, because heroes are defined by their villians, I wanted a great antagonist. In CHASING SHADOWS, Holly fights Kortha – a snake-God who drags Corey in the Shadowlands, across a gunpowder desert.

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An antagonist who is undefeatable. Because how do you conquer death?

Well, to do that, I needed more than one kind of hero. Beyond the crime fighting, tough woman who protects the world from death… another kind.

I found myself steering away from Western comics and toward the ones I grew up with: stories from the Mahabartha and the Ramayan, told in comics from an Indian publisher, Amar Chitra Katha. In those comics, I found the women I was looking for – intelligent, kind, loyal. In the original version of Savitri, Savitri saves her husband from death, rescues the man, through her devotion to him and her intelligence.

Because if we really want superheroes for our girls, we need to create more than a token single hero. We need a multitude so that girls can find themselves in their heroes, whoever they are. We need as many types of female superheroes as we can get.

I hope someday I’ll find comics with a multitude female heroes. In the meantime, I’ll content myself by showing my daughter episodes of the TV series Avatar, the Last Air Bender, Moribito, and Kim Possible, and hope that someday soon, we’ll have a whole host of female superhero costumes that girls will clamor for. And maybe, some boys will too.


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swati_400Swati Avasthi has been writing fiction since she read Little House in the Big Woods at age five. Emily Bronte, Harper Lee, and others furthered her addiction. She institutionalized her habit at the University of Chicago, where she received her B.A., and at the University of Minnesota, where received her M.F.A. Her writing has received numerous honors including a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship, the Thomas H. Shevlin Fellowship, Loft's Mentor Series Award, and a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. She is a creative writing professor at Hamline University and lives in the Twin Cities with her two large-ish dogs, two small-ish kids, and one husband (though he is worth two).
Website | Goodreads | Twitter

14 comments:

  1. I do hate that the female superheroes are so hypersexualized! And where are their movies/TV shows? I read that the Wonder Woman reboot was scratched in favor of another Spiderman (I think...either way, it was for a male superhero). I LOVED Wonder Woman when I was a kid -- I had a blankie that I wore as a cape and I'd spin and spin then use my lasso of truth on my brother. While I love that little girls adore superheroes, why do they have to be guys?

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    1. I loved Wonder Woman and Isis ;-)

      It seems that even when there are woman superheroes they must be uber hot with no real backstory like the guys get.

      I remember when BtVS and Alias came out years ago. There were flawed and smart, kick butt examples for girls which was awesome and I was hopeful but all that happened is now they have to be hot - buff - smart - AND kick ass. *sigh*

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    2. THIS! I am on the same page. Even in the Avengers and woman-empowering Joss Whedon only managed to put 2 in the there (if you count Colby Summers character)! There needs to be more women superheroes and they don't all have to look like Maxim models. I get that they are fit because of what they do but they don't all have to have "d" boobs and perfect hair.

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  2. I find it interesting that all the examples of awesome women in TV seems to be coming from the Eastern half of the world. Granted, there are lots of problems too but I can't even find examples in Western TV

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  3. I do love that she wears clothes cos honestly...le sigh, some of the super heroines

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    1. I know! And how could they run in those impossibly high heels??

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  4. I agree with your assessment. I think that is why I tended to gravitate toward catwoman. Loved her ambiguous nature.

    And what is with the boobs??? Seriously, did these men not get enough milk as a child? No way could wonderwoman fight anything but gravity with those in that outfit!

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    1. Bahaha! There's nothing wrong with being a good looking woman but the outfits are impractical and the characters are so one dimensional.

      Female superheroes (& even villains) seem to be more of a male fantasy as Swati pointed out.

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  5. OMG, Melissa, you are too funny! I gravitated toward catwoman too! but she was a villain (though she rarely seemed that way to me) and so sexualized.

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  6. I've seen Swati's books around, but haven't picked one up yet. This sounds great though. Superwomen for super women!

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    1. I hope you read both Split and Chasing Shadows. I started the CS last night and it's very good.

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  7. Oh, I want to read this one! I love that it's a blend between narrative and graphic. Very cool. And great guest post too. I completely agree that there should be more female heroes that are awesome without being sexualized.

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  8. I have heard amazing things about Split and really want to read both that and Chasing Shadows!

    And yes, I never understood why male superheroes get a full length suit while poor Wonder Woman is falling out of her tiny outfit….

    Jen @ YA Romantics

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