When I graduated law school in 2000 (this relates to fiction, I promise), law school classes had only recently reached the point where roughly half the students were women and half men.
For a lot of reasons, though, in actual practice men dominated certain areas.
This was true in my area of practice, civil litigation.
I’d been a lawyer for about a year when I had a case where the young lawyer on the other side also was a woman. When we went to court, often we were the only two women lawyers in the courtroom.
We got to talking about that. After the case was over, we stayed in touch and became good friends, often sharing our experiences working for male partners.
Real Life Women Mentors v. Women in Fiction
Later in my career I explored starting my own practice (which I did about a year later). Women solo lawyers generously shared their time and advice on everything from how much I should pay to rent an office to how long it took them to get their practices into the black to how to find clients and learn new areas of law when needed.
Many men also served as mentors, but I mention the women because when I read novels and particularly when I watched movies I didn’t see my experience reflected. This was especially so in the genres of thriller, suspense, and horror.
When I did see a woman character, she was typically surrounded by men. If there were other women, they were presented as rivals either for men’s affection or for professional advancement.
The other thing that bothered me was how rarely women of different ages were depicted.
Again, this was most obvious in movies where there were few roles for women who looked to be older than late 30s. But I also noticed it in books where “middle-aged” seemed to serve as a shorthand for dumpy, frumpy, and/or dissatisfied or boring.
Age and Women in Fiction
Note: Minor spoilers ahead for Book 1 in the series.
When I wrote The Awakening, most important to me was telling a good story. I also wanted to reflect the variety of female friendships and mentors that exist in the real world, but seem invisible to many writers and directors.
My protagonist, Tara, is a college student. Nanor Kerkorian is old enough to be her grandmother.
After a short period of distrust on both sides, Nanor gives Tara information, advice, and guidance. The two don’t always agree, but they develop a relationship of mutual respect.
Tara finds great value in Nanor's many decades of experience and accumulated wisdom.
Nanor tries to persuade Tara to adopt her views on Tara’s mystical pregnancy, but she respects Tara’s intelligence and determination even when she thinks it is wrongheaded.
Nanor’s granddaughter Kali, who is younger than Tara, also serves as a guide for Tara. She is the one who first connects Tara and Nanor, risking Nanor’s disapproval in doing so.
Former nun and professor of religious studies Sophia Gaddini also serves as a mentor to Tara. Sophia is in her mid-30s, so she is about 10 or 12 years older than Tara.
In the very first draft of The Awakening, Sophia had the thankless job of conveying historical information about the origins of religion and Christianity and about female deities. Basically, she got to speak all the research I did. I eventually cut almost all of that to keep the pace of the book fast.
What's left of Sophia’s information, though, is what draws the most questions from readers who want to know how accurate it is. (Very, other than my embellishments of Andrew of Crete and creation of the Brotherhood of Andrew.)
What I love most about Tara’s and Sophia’s relationship is how it grows and develops.
Sophia is the first stranger to keep an open mind when Tara tells her about her virgin pregnancy. Initially, Tara relies on Sophia for practical help and emotional support. But as the books go along, the two women develop a more mutual friendship.
I loved writing a series of thrillers that featured varied and dynamic women characters who both conflict with and cooperate with one another, as happens in real life. Though The Awakening Series is now completed, I'm sure I'll revisit that theme in future books.
That’s all for today. See you again next Wednesday when I’ll talk more about how Tara's friends and family members react to her supernatural pregnancy.
P.S. If you'd like bonus materials about The Awakening Series, including deleted scenes, join my Reader's Group.