Last summer I shared some of my favorite summer reads: novels taking place on the islands along America’s Eastern Seaboard. Those are still the kinds of stories I like to read during the summer, but this summer as I worked toward a serious writing deadline (there was an editor involved; that’s how serious), I had much less time to read.
Still I did read and I am reading, and I like to tell you about those two books.
Ribbons of Scarlet
I picked up RIBBONS OF SCARLET, A Novel of the French Revolution’s Women off of a Freebie table on the last day of the HNS Conference in 2019. At over 500 pages, It’s definitely novel length, and it is written by six historical fiction heavyweights—Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, and E. Knight.
TWO YEARS LATER when I was going through my bookshelves hoping to find something to donate to the Little Free Library down the block, I came across the book and decided to give it a chance.
WOW! I am so glad that I did, because RIBBONS OF SCARLET is my second favorite book of 2021 (the first being Mari Anne Christie’s BLIND TRIBUTE).
The novel is told in chronological order through the viewpoint of at least seven individual women of the Revolution, each of them presented by their calling, such as The Philosopher, The Revolutionary, or The Assassin. Every woman’s story is so well told and together these stories show us how the French Revolution impacted (although ravaged, ignored, damaged, or screwed might be better verbs) women from all social classes.
From the first few pages (written Stephanie Dray), I realized that if I didn’t already write historical fiction, I would be inspired to write it now. This is historical fiction at its’ best and I highly recommend RIBBONS OF SCARLET.
The Heroine’s Journey
Here’s another book that’s been on my shelves for a while, specifically on my “books about writing” shelf.
I’m a big fan of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series and I’m also a big sucker for understanding (and not being ruled by) story structure (like the beats in Save the Cat). When Gail shared that she’d written THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY, I swooped it up. (I’m guessing that you, like me, swoop up books, putting them aside for when you finally have time to read them?)
Since I handed over my WIP to my editor this week I officially have TIME TO READ, and since since I’m crafting Book 2 of my series, I thought it was time to read THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY.
I’m very familiar with—as many fiction writers will be—the hero’s journey myth pattern and story structure, which I learned about from Chris Vogel’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY. Although I’m just a few chapters into THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY, it looks like this is a companion structure—or perhaps “way of looking at”—the stories that we tell. It’ll take too long to explain the hero and the heroine’s journey except to say that women’s journeys are different and more companionable than men’s journeys. Women like to work with people; men like to be loners. Women succeed as a group; men succeed as individuals.
Neither journey is better than the other (at least that’s what we should say, right?), but the mythic journeys undertaken by men-who-become-heroines and women-who-become-heroines are substantially different.
And the whole reason for writers to learn about these mythic structures is because readers like them, are used to them, and look for them as they read. On the other hand, any story that wanders too far from the accepted mythic structure might find—argh!—the dreaded reader resistance.
I should try to draw some parallels or comparisons between RIBBONS OF SCARLET (a novel featuring many female characters) and THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY (a how-to book about portraying the female journey).
And I can’t, because I’m still reading THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY. But I can share a big hint about both of those books: the heroine’s journey is not limited to women only, and the hero’s journey is not limited to men only.
And since the French Revolution was a revolution—rife with secret societies, slaughter in the streets, betrayals, trials, imprisonment, and executions—it’s more likely that many woman took a lonely hero’s journey than the filled-with-camaraderie heroine’s journey.
Does it matter whether your heroine or hero takes the heroine’s journey or the hero’s journey? Probably not. Probably all that matters is that they cross that threshold and start any journey.
Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans. Her upcoming October 17 2023 release is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, a Viola Vermillion Vaudeville mystery set in 1919 San Francisco.