Sarah Connor and the Strong Female Character

Terminator (1984)

Terminator (1984)

I had the opportunity to rewatch the original Terminator (1984) with my son last night on Netflix. He’s getting to that age where he’s mature enough and patient enough to sit through “classic” grown-up films that I enjoyed and form part of my pop culture DNA.

The point of my post, was not so much my son’s reaction to the movie (which was interesting in itself), but rather my own thoughts about  Sarah Connor and the role of the strong female character.

OLD MAN ALERT: I first saw Terminator in probably the summer of 1985 or 86 when I was a teenager. It was a year or two after it had been in theatres when it showed up on a FREE preview weekend of The First Choice movie network on pay-TV in Canada. I sat mesmerized watching it late one night, riveted by the action and Brad Fidel’s score. Since then I have probably watched it a dozen or more times and have probably owned it on everything except LaserDisc and Betamax(Yes it was released on both those formats.)

We’ve all come to view Sarah Connor in general, and Linda Hamilton’s version in particular as the definition of a strong female lead. There is no denying that she’s all that, but oddly I think that when you ask most people about Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor they picture this:

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

And not this version below:

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator (1984)

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator (1984)

Obviously the first one looks more “badass” than the other, but the second one is no less strong a female lead than the other.

In the original film, Sarah is a young waitress working a thankless job at a local family diner and sharing an apartment with her friend Ginger. Just a girl in her 20s trying to figure out her place in life. She’s caught up in this unbelievable and traumatic experience  as she targeted by the Terminator that will stop at nothing to kill her. (Spoiler Alert!) Sure she triumphs in the end , but through it all she reacts as many of us might; with disbelief, shock, tears, fear, and anger. You know normal human emotions given the circumstances.

Sadly, it’s not just Sarah’s reaction in the circumstances that makes her a “strong” female character, but rather our own low expectations of female characters in similar circumstances. The fact that she perseveres and goads on a critically injured Kyle Reese in the final battle is due to the fact that the director and writer Cameron has allowed her character to go through those events and survive.

Having all the answers and being tough as nails is one way to have a “strong character”. Another more realistic way is to allow them to be human, show emotion, and have weaknesses, and STILL triumph. This applies to both male and female characters.

Not to steal away from Sarah’s character, but take a moment to contrast the two male lease, the Terminator and Kyle Reese. While the Terminator can rely on his virtually indestructible nature to survive, emphasized by Arnold’s hyper-masculine body builder physique,  Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) and his “average” male physique by contrast  must rely on the strength of his wit and loyalty to John Connor to survive. Even though human and weaker physically, Reese is a stronger and well rounded character as we learn what motivates him and his passion to save Sarah.

Cameron has been held up as one of those pioneering writer/directors in Hollywood that instead of trying to turn women into male action heroes, wrote women characters that were true to themselves and their femininity and still saved the day. Thankfully we’ve had more creative people, both male and female come up through the ranks in the last 30 or so years that also believe in creating believable female characters that carry the story on their own.

In Equality Now speech, May 15, 2006 Joss Whedon related a story where he was asked “So, why do you write these strong female characters?” again and again by reporters during press junkets.  His variety of responses were thoughtful and revealing, but he ended the story in frustration and his final response was “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

I try to write strong characters in my own stories regardless of whether they’re male or female. In my story “Second Harvest”, Charlotte is young nurse serving with the Canadian Army in World War I and has seen a lot of horrible things. Not just the horrors of war, but also what the doctors and scientists have done with the bodies of the dead in the name of science and winning the war. She’s basically had a mental breakdown and has been discharged and returns home, where she has to confront her role in the war. I think through it all her humanity is what carries her forward. She has a compassion for those that have suffered at the hands of others during the war and eventually wants to balance the injustice.

Maybe, it was seeing characters such as Sarah Connor as an impressionable teen that helped shaped my views in some small way. I just hope I can continue to carry the torch forward in my own writing when it comes to writing believable and strong female characters.

I leave you with a quote from J.J. Abrams another director/writer from my generation that sums up what I’m trying to say.

I don’t try and write strong female characters or strong male characters, I just try and write, hopefully, strong characters and sometimes they happen to be female.

J. J. Abrams

Canada’s Prix Aurora Awards

In case you didn’t know Canada has it’s own Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards called the Auroras. The Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA) administers the awards which are awarded in a number of categories including Best Novel, Best YA Novel, Best Short Fiction, Best Graphic Novel, Best Poem/Song, Best Related Work, and Best Artist, as well as a number of Fan related categories.

Canadians who have produced work in those categories are eligible to be nominated each year for work produced in the previous year. Nominations are made by members of the CSFFA and once nominations have been closed online voting takes place for several months by the members again to decide on winners.

The reason I am telling you all this is because I only just recently learned that my short story Second Harvest that was published in May 2014 by Fictionvale is eligible to be nominated for the Short Fiction award.

The problem is I just found out that nominations close on April 25th, 2015 for this years awards. That’s this Saturday at midnight!

Now I realize that Fictionvale may not have the readership of other more traditional publications and the fact that even fewer of the readers of the magazine are probably Canadian and eligible to vote in the Aurora Awards, so that’s why I am putting this post together and letting you know.

If you’ve read my story and enjoyed it and would like to support it by nominating it for the Short Fiction award, I would be very grateful. There is a lot of great short fiction being produced by Canadians right now and it would be an honour just to be nominated amongst them.

If you’re interested in nominating my story or someone else’s work head on over to Aurora Awards site (Link: – http://www.prixaurorawards.ca/) and click on Join/Nominate/Vote button on the top menu. There’s one catch and that you have to become a member of the CSFFA to be able to nominate and vote, but its a simple process and only costs $10 for the year. Yes, I realize $10 is a princely sum when you’ve got better things to be spending it on, but by becoming a member you are eligible to receive FREE copies of nominated stories/novels to vote on as part of the voters package. So don’t think of it as a membership fee, think of it as a donation for all the free reading material you are about to receive once nominations close.

Voting begins June 1st and closes Oct 17th, 2015. Plenty of time to read through the nominations and vote on your favourites.

The Aurora awards will be present during SFContario 6 / Canvention 35 on the weekend of November 20-22, 2015 in Toronto.

Thanks for your time and consideration and please take a moment to support Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy. I know I will be nominating/voting for some of the favourites I’ve read this year.

 

Welcome 2015

Chalk up another successful spin around the sun. No earth destroying asteroids. Check. No, global nuclear annihilation. Check. No zombie hordes. (Looks around carefully) Check. So here I sit with the shiny opportunity of another 365 days ahead of me. (Less the 22 1/2 hours eaten up already out of today).

Before I get to plans for 2015, a little retrospective of 2014 is in order. Besides avoiding those world altering catastrophes mentioned above, I did have some highlights worth mentioning.

  • Last Stop PosterIn January 2014 I finished my Playwrights’ Junction Workshop with a public reading of a scene from my WIP by professional actors. You can read more about my experience here: Last Stop with the Playwrights’ Junction
  • IMG_2439In May 2014 I attended a writing workshop with the fabulous Chuck Wendig that was hosted by the Toronto Romance Writers  where Chuck discussed at length his own journey as a writer and helped walk us through some of the things he learned along the way. Great teacher, funny guy, and actually doesn’t swear as much as you would think based on his blog posts at Terribleminds.com. (Fanboy aside: It wasn’t the first time I met Chuck in person, but I did get a great Selfie with him and got to go out to dinner with him and some of the writers from the Toronto Romance Writers so it was an extra special workshop for me.)
  • Fiction Vale - Episode 3 Cover RevealIn May 2014 my short story Second Harvest was published in Fictionvale.com’s Episode 3: A Different Outcome. It’s my first professional sale and a story I’m very proud of. You can get a copy of it here: Fictionvale Store

 

While I’m proud of all I accomplished this past year, I have to admit two of those things – the Playwrights’ Workshop and the publication of my short story – were set in motion in 2013. Not that the lead time diminished the accomplishments, just highlighting the fact that some accomplishments are not finite acts that fit nicely in a calendar year.

So where does that leave us heading into 2015. Well for starters you’ll notice there was no mention of my current novel that I am working on. Let’s just say 2014 may not have seen my best effort on that front. I made some fits and starts on it, but to borrow a phrase Chuck Wendig used during his workshop I kind of felt like I was an old man at the mall, not sure what I had come for when I was working on it this year.

So for 2015 in lieu of specific line item resolutions I am going to pledge one thing to myself:

To Do Better. In All Things.

This includes my writing, relationships with family and friends, health and fitness, my reading habits, and pretty much anything else I can think of. I will strive to do better than last year and not get hung up on what I did or didn’t do previously.

I have big plans for 2015 more of which I hope I can share with you as the year progresses.

I hope 2015 is a good and productive year for all the writers I know out there and whatever your passion is don’t let this precious time slip by. You never know when that next asteroid/zombie horde is due.

 

 

Countdown to “Second Harvest” Release

In just three days my short story Second Harvest will finally see the light of day. To quote Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead – “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

As my first publication, it’s a memorable occasion. My first draft for Second Harvest was completed back in the summer of 2010 and after a few critiquing sessions it was ready for submission. It took eight rejections over the course of nearly 3 years and lots of polishing in between before it found a home with fledgling magazine Fictionvale. Initially submitted for their inaugural issue, that was published in November 2013, I was asked if I would consider waiting until Spring 2014 and their 3rd episode for it to be published. They felt it would be a good fit with their alternate history / far future theme they had planned for the episode and I agreed.

Second Harvest is one of those stories that doesn’t fit in a tidy little box. It’s got horror elements, historical elements, and yes – elements of alternate history. Traditional alternate history often concerns its self with critical turning points in history and focusing on the “what if” things had turned out differently. My story takes place in a world where some elements of World War I are playing out differently than we know to be historical true but it also includes some “fantastical” elements. All of which is played out on a rural farm in Northern Ontario far from the world stage.

Having read the first two episodes released from Fictionvale, I’m confident it will be a good fit with the rich variety of stories they publish. There is definitely something for everyone in each episode.

I want to thank Fictionvale editor Vennesa G. for helping make my story the best it can be. The time and care she has taken to help me polish the story one more time before it reaches your hands was a rewarding and humbling experience. I truly believe its the best thing I’ve written to date, but have been trying hard to repeat the feat.

I hope you will join me this Thursday May 15th in buying and reading the 3rd Episode of Fictionvale and celebrating my story and that of the other 9 authors that appear in the issue. You can check out the Fictionvale store by clicking here. By supporting the magazine you make it possible for Fictionvale to continue to publish stories of new and established authors.

The cover art for episode 3 was designed by AngstyG and I think it does an amazing job of capturing the theme of alternate history and far future.

Fiction Vale - Episode 3 Cover Reveal

Fiction Vale – Episode 3 Cover Reveal