Bad-Ass Women

Late August through early October 2021 has proven to be a busy convention season for me. Most of the conventions have still been virtual, but I have cautiously returned to attending some in-person events. The first virtual convention I attended during this period was Bubonicon 52 Take 2 on August 20-21. Even if you missed it, they posted all of their panels on their YouTube channel in a playlist at: https://youtu.be/eIJoVSjxmlI.

Two weeks later on Labor Day weekend, I gave a science presentation and spoke on seven panels at the virtual CoKoCon. Sessions were held on Discord and Zoom. Unfortunately, these panels don’t seem to have been posted for later viewing, but the discussions were fun and lively. We discussed such topics as writing weird western fiction, keeping classic monsters fresh and new, and the differences between publishing in the small press and larger presses.

At both conventions, I was on a panel with a similar name. At CoKoCon, the panel was called “Bad-Ass Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy.” In that panel, the emphasis was largely on our favorite characters in the genres. At Bubonicon, the title was “Writing Bad-Ass Women” and the panel focused more on the process of writing strong women. The latter panel is available to watch here:

Most of us agreed that there haven’t been enough bad-ass women in science fiction and family, but that the situation is improving. As you can see, there were more men on the Bubonicon panel than women. Still, we all agreed that the process largely involves channeling those bad-ass women we have known in our lives and the ones we do admire in fiction and adapting those traits to our characters. At CoKoCon, I was the only man on the panel. Some of the favorite characters mentioned included Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek, Ellen Ripley in the Alien movies, and Dr. Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan’s Contact.

I think it should be clear from the list that bad-ass doesn’t always mean “kick-ass.” These women aren’t all characters who emphasize physical prowess. They’re smart characters who think through solutions. An interesting favorite character mentioned at CoKoCon was Tank Girl from the comics and movie of the same name. Although I knew of the character, I didn’t know much about her. I’ve since read some of the comics and watched the movie and may discuss her further in a future post, but among her striking characteristics were her fearlessness and irreverence.

One of the reasons I volunteered for these panels is that I believe in writing bad-ass women into my stories. Whether it’s Marcella and Jane in the Scarlet Order Vampire series, Fatemeh Karimi and Larissa Crimson in the Clockwork Legion series, or Suki Mori and her daughter Suki Firebrandt Ellis in the Space Pirates’ Legacy series, I endeavor to model these characters on the many bad-ass women I’ve known and admired in real life. One area that was mentioned in both panels were the lack of older women mentor figures. A few were named and again, this is an area where improvement is beginning to happen. One of my favorite strong women leaders from my own fiction is Admiral Ayumba Mukombe in Firebrandt’s Legacy. After being on these panels, I’m certainly tempted to tell more of her story. You can learn more about Admiral Mukombe and the other characters from my fiction at http://davidleesummers.com/

Guest Post: Gender Swapping Characters

Today, I’d like to welcome author Deby Fredericks to my blog. I’ve had the honor of editing her novels The Grimhold Wolf and Seven Exalted Orders. I enjoy her writing and she has a new book out called The Tower in the Mist. In it, she presents a group of non-traditional warriors. Presenting characters in non-traditional gender roles is something I have done as well, and I thought it would be interesting to hear Deby’s take on this subject. Without further ado, I’ll turn it over to Deby.


When I began writing The Tower in the Mist, I did not plan to include a group of Amazonian warrior-women. A woman mage had been captured by warriors who served an evil wizard. But the more I worked on that setting, in the Land of Skaythe, the more I realized that the minions of an evil wizard were also going to be evil. And what will a group of evil men do after capturing a female prisoner?

I did not like where this was leading me.

As an author, each one of us has to choose what “content” we include. How much bloodshed, how much moralizing, whatever. We all balance what our audience is looking for against what we are comfortable writing. Every story is personal to its author. No one can tell us that we “have to” put in anything we don’t want to.

Personally, I did not want to put myself into the mind of a woman being raped as violently as these evil warriors would do. But even more than that, I believe that we as a society have a real problem with violence against women. A big part of the problem is how media, including literary arts, seem so okay with that violence. For most writers, the rape of a woman prisoner would be no big deal. It shows how bad those guys are, and anyway, the audience loves sex. Even the most disgusting, ugly sex there is. Writers “have to” give them what they want.

No. We don’t. Call me squeamish if you want. The Tower in the Mist is still my story. Go get your sick thrill on someone else’s pages.

ANYWAY! I didn’t like where my story was going. As the author, I can change whatever I need to, in order for the rape not to happen. What I did was to swap everyone’s gender. Instead of a woman captured by men, a man was captured by women.

Immediately, the characters sprang to life. Skaythe is a land of dark sorcery, where might makes right and mages rule because of their mystic power. The prisoner, Keilos, had dedicated himself to non-violence. He was defying every expectation of masculine behavior. That’s much more interesting than rape. Meanwhile, the warriors, who had been very cardboard characters, became this group of misfits who were just trying to survive an evil system that used them as cannon-fodder. Their leader, Zathi, was a tough warrior who had fought many battles, both physical and political, to regain control over her own life. Again, much more interesting than it had been before.

I would not advocate that every author should swap the genders of their characters. I didn’t do it to make people laugh, or solely to make a political point. The swap was what my story needed to become amazing. And it worked! The Tower in the Mist is a much richer and more poignant tale because of it.


The Tower in the Mist

Zathi’s job is to capture renegade mages, but Keilos isn’t like any other mage she’s dealt with. Her drive to bring him in only leads them deeper into a cursed forest. Together, warrior and mage will face deadly beasts and grapple with decisions that compromise every principle. Until they stumble upon a place of ancient, forgotten magic. Zathi must choose — allow Keilos to claim it, or kill him once and for all.

Pre-order Links

Kindle format: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QL476BJ

Other formats: https://books2read.com/u/3nK1Mo


Deby Fredericks has been a writer all her life, but thought of it as just a fun hobby until the late 1990s. She made her first sale, a children’s poem, in 2000. 

Fredericks has six fantasy novels out through two small presses. The latest is The Grimhold Wolf, released by Sky Warrior in 2015. Her children’s stories and poems have appeared in magazines such as Boys’ Life, Babybug, Ladybug, and a few anthologies. In the past, she served as Regional Advisor for the Inland Northwest Region of the Society of  Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, International  (SCBWI).