Kick Ass Heroines Rock!

Toonopolis: Gemini by Jeremy Rodden

Welcome to our weekly guest post on what makes a kick ass heroine in science fiction and fantasy. This week’s author Jeremy Rodden shares about the kick ass heroine featured in his upcoming book, Toonopolis: Zephyr, third in his Toonopolis Files series. I love what he says! Girl heroes can be smart and kick butt! I look forward to reading his book!


I am a guy and I love strong female characters.  Maybe it is because an amazing single mother raised me.  Maybe that is why I married a super-focused medical student (now an emergency physician).  Regardless, I love to see strong, confident women in books, movies, cartoons, etc.

I can’t stand the romance novels (young adult or adult) that suggest a woman doesn’t have an identity until she has a man at her hip. Why on Earth would you sit around longing for the handsome millionaire to sweep you up when you are more than capable of becoming the millionaire yourself?

As a writer of young adult fantasy (albeit humorous, cartoon-world fantasy), I try to bear in mind my own feelings when creating a female character.  My debut novel, Toonopolis: Gemini, follows a teenage boy, but the third book in my Toonopolis Files (Toonopolis: Zephyr, due out Spring/Summer ‘12) will have a female main character, Zephyr the Pirate Queen.

Zephyr encompasses all the strengths that I want to instill in any daughters I may have in the future (I have two boys currently). She is clever, strong, confident, and self-reliant.  She had a tragic past, losing her parents at a young age, but still grew up to take over the title of Pirate Queen from her late father, Boreas the Pirate King. This is a title that must be earned and is not hereditary.  Her story is a quest to uncover the identity of her mother, who disappeared shortly after Zephyr was born.

One of the trickiest parts of writing a strong, pirate woman comes in the way of an age-old double standard. A male pirate is easy to write: he lies, cheats, steals, looks out only for himself, and kisses every woman he sees. Reverse that and put “she” instead of “he” and you don’t picture Jack Sparrow–you picture a thieving harlot. Is this fair? Absolutely not.  Is this how Zephyr will come across if I write her as a female Jack Sparrow? Yes.

In history, there are few examples of female pirates who still remained fully feminine. Ann Bonny and Mary Read dressed as men during their Caribbean pirate days. Grace O’Malley, famed “Pirate Queen” of Ireland, was really more of a rebel leader than a morally gray pirate. She is an amazing figure to study, but not quite the embodiment of pirates as we see them in popular culture today.

Therefore, in order to capture the elements of pirate-lifestyle without losing the core of who I want Zephyr to be, I need to look for other role models that may be similar. It is not easy to do. I pull one major influence from the world of anime.

Lina Inverse is the main character of the manga/anime Slayers and is a great example of a strong female who walks a bit of a gray line of morality at times. Lina is a powerful sorceress who defeats bandits only to steal their treasure, inflicts violence upon anyone who insults her small bust, and is just as deadly with a sword as she is with her magic. The last is important to me because often in fantasy worlds, women can be strong magic-users or healers but not strong hand-to-hand fighters.  Lina is both.

All in all, I strive to create a character that a teenage girl can look to and say, “I can be like that.” Sure, Zephyr still may have her dubious qualities–she is a pirate after all–but as she grows as a person, her strong qualities will definitely overshadow her less desirable ones.  I also want to create a character that teenage boys look to and say, “Why can’t I meet a girl like that?” Being both strong and feminine is a reality and a darn good one if I say so myself.

My children are growing up in a household where their mother is a doctor and their father is the homemaker. They need more examples of strong women out there in popular culture. We need more Hermione Grangers and Ginny Weasleys and fewer Bella Swans.  I’m doing my part… are you?


Jeremy Rodden is a stay-at-home dad and author of the Toonopolis Files series of cartoon novels.  He considers C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll his biggest influences as a writer and hopes to create a lasting, fun world that all ages can enjoy.  You can follow him on Twitter (@toonopolis), Facebook (, or his cartoon review/author blog (

Toonopolis: Gemini buy links.

8 thoughts on “Kick Ass Heroines Rock!”

  1. Great post, Jeremy, and I definitely agree. I love writing strong female characters, whether I’m writing Queen Yven from my “Tales of Dominhydor” fantasy series or Harlow Haddix from “The Sky: The World”. They are just two examples of kickass female characters, but they are really different from each other. I really despise when we end up with Mary Sues for the “kids” today to idolize when there are not only so many strong fictional role models but so many different types of strong fictional role models. The problem is that there are no real Bella Swans. Not only is it a weak character, it’s a two-dimensional one. I’d rather have a character that is over-the-top than someone that can’t even reach the summit.

    1. I’ve read about why romance novels sell so well with these two-dimensional female leads. The lack of a face allows women to put themselves into that role. I can’t find the source article right now, but it really nailed a description of why it sells. Regrettably, too many women (predominantly middle age) still accept that they aren’t able to identify as a person without being Mrs. John Smith instead of who they really are.

      Hopefully we can ensure that the younger generation doesn’t fall into those trappings as they become young women and adults.

      1. I’d like to think that the reason paranormal/mystery/romances are getting so popular is because most of the time they have a kickass female lead who ends up in a relationship, but starts off resisting because they don’t need a damn relationship, thankyouverymuch, because they have other crap that has to get done and only they can do it. At least, that’s how the good ones work out.

        I’m hoping that the younger generation maybe starts with Twilight, but as they research into other books they’ll hopefully come across the better novels and realize how pathetic Bella is and how controlling and stalkery Edward is.

  2. “Lina Inverse is the main character of the manga/anime Slayers and is a great example of a strong female who walks a bit of a gray line of morality at times.”

    At times? Hahaha, try most of the time. On one hand, she can’t tolerate bandits and thieves and monsters and anyone else hurting innocent people. On the other hand, a lot of the time she doesn’t return the loot that bandits and thieves have stolen – she keeps that stuff for herself. And she also manages to forget about bystanders and often destroys buildings or entire villages to get rid of the monsters. =D

    However, I have to admit that I totally pictured Zephyr to be like Lina, only older so a bit wiser about when to go nuts on people.

    Also, do poke about at the Jacky Faber novels, at least the first one, before you go into Zephyr. (I haven’t read the others, no idea if they are just as awesome.) It’s totally removed from your story so you won’t feel like you’re stealing ideas, but I do think that you would appreciate how real Jacky feels as a character and it might inspire you. You just wrote a post about reading while writing, so I thought I’d throw that out there.

    1. I was trying to be nice and still leave Lina SOME redeeming qualities… hehe.

      But yeah, she is one of my models. I just picked up a biography of Granuaile (mentioned above in the post, known in modern language as Grace O’Malley) as well for further character research.

      I will certainly look into the Jacky Faber novel, Cal. You’ve never steered me wrong before!

  3. Jeremy, Thanks for your guest post on my blog. I just downloaded Toonopolis: Gemini and look forward to Zephyr! Fun! I love female pirates and have done research on Grace O’Malley for a futuristic cat burglar story that i may one day finish! I don’t know Lina so someone to get to know! Thanks again!

    1. Was happy to write it, Beth. It made me eager to complete my current novella and then Book 2 so I can get to Book 3. I just picked up a copy of Anne Chambers’s biography of Granuaile and look forward to further developing Zephyr to match my vision.

      Fortunately, the MC for Book 2 is already well defined so I can research for Zephyr while writing Chi Lin! 🙂

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