This is going to sound ludicrously arrogant, given that I’m white, cisgendered, more or less able-bodied, and from a First World country: but when I look back at why I’ve started writing books, most of the time it’s because I’ve been irritated that the books that were already out there weren’t reflecting me.
No, I don’t mean that I expect any book I spend my money on to feature an untidy, myopic woman with two cats and a serious Sims habit. I mean that I kept seeing books misrepresenting me or my experiences or the people I was closest to. I kept having to make the choice of either trying to twist my head around into the mindset of the reader who was expected, or reading against the grain and hoping that if I loved any given character enough, it would make up for the author not giving them the attention they deserved: that this time it would come right, that the disabled character wouldn’t turn out to be ‘twisted in mind as well as in body’, that the fat character wouldn’t be a figure of disgust, that the gay character wouldn’t die. And again, I know that compared to what some people have had to face in the way of seeing themselves and the world around them represented in books, I’ve had it easy. I’m just explaining how I got here.
I started writing the stalled Big Ol’ Fantasy Novel because I was sick and tired of reading about heroines who have ‘strong bones’ and ‘interesting faces’ and are skinny and coltish and long-legged, and, if they’d shown up in the real world, could make a living on a catwalk with no problem whatsoever. I wouldn’t have minded, except that these characters invariably had a snotty, manipulative foil with a big bust.
You know, I was a teenager with a big bust. I hung out with the other early developer in my year a lot, because while we didn’t have a lot else in common (she was graceful, socially savvy, and had been interested in long-distance running until puberty struck, and I, er, was none of those things) we both had to deal with the same stupid crap, from taunts shouted across the playground to the bizarre, targeted nastiness of the P.E teacher, who I think may have had some issues of her own.
And neither of us thought that the way to deal with this was to devote our lives to the downfall of those in our year who had hit the ‘built like a model’ jackpot, particularly as they had their own problems, mostly in the area of trying to buy large shoes. I absolutely don’t mean to say that tall, thin teenagers have it easier. I’m not even sure they have it that different, given that being a teenager is a minefield for everybody. But the way they were represented in the books I read was different, and that annoyed me.
So, I was reading yet another novel where the heroine’s ability to dress up as a boy was more or less written up in neon lights as a sign of her virtue (I can’t think why, but I suspect the writer had never read a life of Lady Caroline Lamb) and I thought ‘Enough with this’. And started writing a book about a short, curvy mage with a problem with fire elementals and a tendency, when locked in a room with nothing in the way of a possible disguise but her unpleasant fiancé’s breeches, to think ‘Well, that‘s never going to work, because those wouldn’t have gone round my hips when I was eleven’.
And I would have finished it too, if it had only had any plot.
Fast forward a few more years, and I got diagnosed with anxiety panic disorder, which was in a lot of ways a relief, as previous to that I’d thought I was going to die every time I started hyperventilating. And that’s where Tzenni came from.
I was tired of brave heroes and fearless, kickass, quipping heroines: I was going to write a book about someone who was scared of stuff to the extent that I was or possibly a little more, and they were going to be the heroine and get stuff done, damn it. And if they could, I could too. (I’m managing the anxiety with the help of my GP, so please don’t leave suggestions in the comments: thank you for the kindly thought, but whatever it is you think would help, the likelihood is good that I’ve already heard of it)
I don’t have Tzenni’s fear of stairs (though possibly I should, considering that I have fallen down stairs and broken the same ankle twice: the stairs clearly have it in for me, possibly due to having diagnosed me as Always Chaotic Evil on account of my bust): I just thought ‘What’s the most inconvenient thing I could have my protagonist be scared of, in a mostly vertical city-state?’ and the answer popped back, stairs.
So I had a heroine who hated stairs, and a… well, antagonist, at least to start with, who lived at the top of a staircase. And the rest of the book grew from that. She rescues her prince, she has a damn good go at brokering several different peace deals between radically different factions, and at the end of it she’s a bit less scared of stairs, even though she’s never going to like them. And I felt brave enough to put the book up on Lulu. And here we are.
Because when some medical person gives me the stink-eye and says ‘It’s just anxiety’ as if I’m wilfully wasting her time, I wish I had Innes Liang at my back. And I bet I’m not the only one.