One of the first names on my list of authors to be part of the Author Spotlight feature was that of Ripley Patton, whose PSS Chronicles is a series to look out for a couple of reasons. The first has to do with the way she has been financing so many steps of the way through Kickstarter campaigns (the latest one is here). It’s not easy running a successful Kickstarter campaign, and yet this woman has done it three times. The second has to do with the writing itself; the text flows smoothly; the characters come to life and their conversations are absorbing.
But third and most important is that she managed to put together a story that is both entertaining and inspiring. At its heart (pun a little intended) is the fact that her main character, Olivia Black, is both terribly human in her flaws and her vulnerabilities, and yet very empowered with regards to taking matters into her own hands (pun very intended). In short, despite the fictional condition she has, Olivia is an inspiring character I would love the young women in my life to get to know.
How did she pull it off? I recently approached Ripley with a request for her thoughts on female empowerment in young adult fiction, and this is what she had to say.
Female Empowerment in Young Adult Fiction, by Ripley Patton
When I set out to write The PSS Chronicles, I didn’t know what an empowering experience it would be. I just wanted to tell a story I’d like to read. I wanted to entertain myself, my teen kids, and anyone else who might stumble upon my books. But sometimes our intentions transform into something deeper and more meaningful along the way. Sometimes the stories we tell change us.
As the lone girl growing up in a house full of boys back in the 80s, I didn’t always feel strong or empowered. Frequently, I was minimalized or sidelined because of my gender, and that became even more frequent when my mother, the one advocate for femininity in my home, died when I was only thirteen. After her death, I was assigned the mothering role in the family by default, because I was a girl. I quickly became responsible for all the cooking, cleaning, and housekeeping for my entire family, some of them completely capable grown men. But I was the girl. My job was to take care of others, to take care of the men by going the mundane chores that no one notices or appreciates unless they aren’t done. That message was clear. At least in real life it was.
But in the books I loved to read and devour, I found something completely different.
In a book, teenager Meg Murry travels by tesseract across time and space to rescue her father. Tenar the “Eaten One”, a fifteen year old goddess in her own right, traps the powerful wizard Ged in The Tombs of Atuan. Alanna, the Lioness, becomes a knight out of sheer determination in a world where only men are allowed to be knights. In books, I saw girls and women empowered. There they controlled their own fate and oh, how I wanted that for myself. Little did I know back then I would find that ability, not just in the reading of books, but in the writing of them.
Flash forward many years, and I decide to become a writer. I decide to give myself that gift, risking the regular career and income I already have from taking care of others. But what kind of books should I write? What stories should I tell?
I know I must write YA because that is what I love to read. Those are the stories that rescued me from the dark pit of grief when my mother passed. And I must have a female protagonist because that is who I am, what I am at my core. A girl with a challenge to face.
So, I begin to create Olivia Black, a character made up of the girl I wish I’d been brave enough to be as a teen, combined with the amazing empowered teen I’ve helped raise, my daughter Valerie. Olivia doesn’t need a boy or a man to help her, though she’ll occasionally allow it. She is smart AND attractive, but realistically so. She isn’t hard, but she isn’t soft. She isn’t perfect, but she is flawed beautifully. She doesn’t hate herself or think of herself as ugly, though she does feel different and has moments of insecurity. She stands up for herself and others and her right to be heard and equalized. She has relationships with other females, real relationships not centered on males. She cusses and she cries. She makes choices and they mean something. She does more than care for others. She lives for herself, is full of self. Not selfish, but self-full.
And as I have written Olivia in and out of trouble through three books now, something magical has happened.
I have become more like her.
I have become the empowered woman I’ve always wanted to be. I do what I love as a career. I make things up in my head that inspire and move people. I publish my own books from cover design, to formatting, to marketing. I am sought after as a speaker and presenter on writing and fiction. Other writers, both male and female, respect and admire me. Fans and readers write me, and thank me, and ask when the next book is coming out. I cuss and I cry. I live for myself. I do the thing that fulfills me most.
And it isn’t selfish. Not at all.
It is simply what every human being is meant to do.
Find their passion and be empowered to take hold of it.
First published on Sahar’s Blog in November 2014.