|Photo from http://www.alexandervance.com/|
Alexander Vance, our celebrity sponsor and author of The Heartbreak Messenger, is back today to answer some questions about girl characters in middle grade fiction. Fun fact: he said that his boys at home took this challenge as well!
1. What are some of your favorite (middle grade) girl characters. If you were sitting at a lunch table, which characters would you like to include in your group?
I always enjoy girl characters with a lot of pluck—perhaps even a streak of mischievousness. The stock character dating back to fairy tales or Alice in Wonderland or Dorothy and Oz is a girl that is strictly reactionary. Instead of taking matters into her own hands, she mostly just reacts to events in the story. And even though we’ve had plenty of spirited girl characters over the years, I think a lot of readers still start a book with that stereotype in mind until the character proves herself otherwise. So the more pluck, the better.
At my lunch table I would invite Lyra Belacqua, Vesper Holly, Stargirl, and Luna Lovegood. Talk about a table full of pluck. We’d have peanut butter and banana sandwiches and Luna would instruct us on the finer points of the Rotfang Conspiracy. Vesper Holly would tell us about a swashbuckling adventure in the Middle East (did you know she can swear in seven languages?) and Stargirl would laugh. She has such an amazing laugh. Then Lyra would lead us all out of the lunch room in a rollicking rendition of war against the river kids.
2. Even though it's 2014, many authors stick to traditional stereotypes when it comes to gender roles. In The Heartbreak Messenger, the mother does auto repair, and there's a girl soccer player who punches Quentin in the nose. Did these characters just pop into your mind, or was there a conscious decision to get away from the same kind of female characters authors still use?
A little of both. The plot needed both of those characters to be who they are, and their unique characteristics are memorable and a lot of fun. Authors use stereotypes—sometimes without even knowing it—as a shortcut to the rest of the story. It’s an easy way to insert something familiar into the story that the reader will recognize in as few words as possible. But it detracts from the depth of the story because the people we interact with every day aren’t stereotypes. They each have their own unique freckles and phrasings and wishes, and we want the characters we read about to be just as unique. Besides, one of the questions this book explores is, Should I follow the crowd? Is something right for me just because everyone else is doing it? With thematic material like that, I couldn’t very well fall back on stereotypes, right?
3. One of the girls Quentin breaks up with for her boyfriend says "Someday when you break up with a girl of your own, you're going to want to use flower and chocolates. Flowers at least say 'Thanks for the memories.' And chocolate, well, you don't want to leave a girl completely alone." It's good advice, but how did you come across it?
I read it once in a fortune cookie. Or was it a Cracker Jack box? Maybe Luna whispered it to me at the lunch table. It is good advice, isn’t it? Russell Stover should use it in their next Valentine’s Day chocolates advert.
4. Do you have any personal anecdotes about your own middle school romances that you would like to share?
My middle school romances? Ha. Ha ha. Just saying that out loud is funny. My middle school romances were all very one-sided. In middle school I always—at any given time—had a crush on a girl. The particular girl would change every few months, but there was always somebody’s name I was doodling in my notebook or spelling out in my alphabet soup. But I was far too shy to do anything about it besides steal glances from across the classroom. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did get up the nerve once to create a homemade Valentine for Girl X. I left it unsigned, of course. I intended to slip it into her locker during the day—through the little vents in front. I must have walked by her locker twenty times that day trying to get the guts to deliver that (anonymous!) Valentine. I think I finally took it home and gave it to my sister. Maybe I would have been better at delivering break up messages for high-schoolers…