Angry Heroines Get Stuff Done
By F.C. Yee
THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO was definitely not the first book I’d ever written. Back when it only existed as a single chapter and some ideas about the characters, I was trying to get a completed middle grade book off the ground. I attended a writer’s workshop with a group critique session, hoping to get the insight I needed to finally make my MG work viable.
Once I arrived at the conference, however, I was told I’d been sorted into a YA critique group. This kind of thing tends to happen when your last name is at the end of the alphabet. Everyone gets sectioned off into the teams/groups/classes that are available in A to Z order, and as someone who arbitrarily fails to make the cutoff, you get to fill whatever’s left open.
So I pulled an audible. Instead of reading from my middle grade book, I read the opening pages of GENIE LO, which were pretty much unchanged from the published version, if you’ve seen those already. And to my surprise, the group liked it! They told me it was funny and attention-grabbing, which was exactly what I’d hoped for.
Then they asked me how the story and characters would develop. “What’s Genie like?” someone asked. “What’s her dominant emotion?”
“She’s angry,” I said.
The room kind of turned when I said that. I could see the hesitation in the group.
“Angry against injustice?” someone offered, trying to add a helpful qualifier to my description. Well that too, I remember thinking.
I could have been reading too much into that moment. And I certainly am not denigrating critique groups at writers’ conferences; the very same people at the session helped me flesh out what THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO would eventually become. I owe them a great deal. But I do remember that one little hitch in time where it took a bit of mental effort for them to reconcile an angry protagonist with a sympathetic one.
Genie is overtly frustrated with what can be a dehumanizing process for many at her age- college applications. The idea that you can be denied opportunity and self-actualization by a gatekeeper who won’t even spend that much time judging you is maddening. I saw a fictional parallel where other creators have before, in Sun Wukong’s struggle to gain acceptance among the gods. But I also saw a personal one in the post-college career difficulties I was having at the time. The fight to be accepted as worthy never really ends. Or at least that’s how I felt about it.
Further complicating matters is when life doesn’t even let you focus on your own fight, and demands that you do some heavy lifting for others. In Genie’s case, she has to protect her town from an invasion of demons who won’t let well enough alone, simply because she happens to be the strongest one around. Important tasks often fall to the people who are already working the hardest, not to those with the most time and resources on their hands. I wanted to write about this in a way I hoped people would recognize, visible under the action and comedy and romance.
Anyway, if you want to see what happened when I doubled down on Genie being angry rather than back away from the characterization, you can check out THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO when it comes out on August 8th.
F. C. Yee grew up in New Jersey and went to school in New England, but has called the San Francisco Bay Area home ever since he beat a friend at a board game and shouted “That’s how we do it in NorCal, baby!” Outside of writing, he practices capoeira, a Brazilian form of martial arts, and has a day job mostly involving spreadsheets.
*This post originally appeared at Diversity in YA, and has been
brought to you thanks to our partner, Cindy Pon!*
Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. Her most recent novel, Serpentine (Month9Books, 2015), is a Junior Library Guild Selection and received starred reviews from School Library Journal and VOYA. The sequel, Sacrifice, releases this September. WANT, a near-future thriller set in Taipei, will be published by Simon Pulse in summer 2017. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Learn more about her books and art http://cindypon.com.