Earlier this year, I decided to write another science-fiction romance series, my first being the Resurrected trilogy. I wanted to do something different than Resurrected, with a bit more classic science-fiction elements yet still do something unique and experimental since that’s what I do or at least attempt to do – use fiction to provoke questions about our world, the way it operates, and why.
For The Cambria Code, I decided to challenge some bothersome trends I’ve noticed in popular fiction, namely that of the “alpha male” whose domineering personality could easily be construed as abusive in a real-world setting. I wondered if readers would tolerate some of those same behaviors from a woman, which is part of the impetus for the development of Zoe’s often abrasive personality.
But there is another, and perhaps more important, reason I wrote Zoe as such a difficult heroine. Truthfully, I think she reflects a lot of the characteristics many people naturally have, and we’ve grown so accustomed to unrealistic, idealized, and completely fictionalized, expectations of femininity in literature that when a heroine is written with so many flaws, as all humans possess, she comes across as hateful and spiteful, and that’s not who Zoe is at all.
Zoe is human and has to make some bad decisions in order for her character to develop throughout the trilogy, but she is also aware of her shortcomings, and that’s one of her greatest strengths. She wants to be a better person, and to learn from her mistakes, and to me, that makes her an extraordinary woman. Zoe, like Peyton and the Cambrians, has also experienced an unimaginable tragedy, and her depression and anxiety haunt her throughout the trilogy.
Peyton is hardly perfect either; he essentially stalks Zoe in Peyton’s Myth until she relents and agrees to go out with him, he lies to her, he continually pushes her away and breaks her heart, and yet, he has received little criticism. On the contrary, Peyton tends to garner sympathy from readers!
The Cambria Code and reader reactions to it have certainly been a fascinating exploration of gender roles in our culture. At times, the series was challenging to write because like all writers, I get attached to my characters and I don’t want readers to hate Zoe, but her mistakes and impetuousness are integral to the storyline. But if readers stick with her throughout the trilogy, I think most readers will find that even people we think can be labeled as one-dimensional characters are far more complex and nuanced than we are able to discern from first glance.
I hope you will journey with Zoe to both new and old worlds and discover what makes her such a complicated character. She’s waiting for you.
S.M. Schmitz has an M.A. in modern European history and is a former world history instructor. Her novels are infused with the same humorous sarcasm that she employed frequently in the classroom. As a native of Louisiana, she sets many of her scenes here, and like Dietrich in Resurrected, she is also convinced Louisiana has been cursed with mosquitoes much like Biblical Egypt with its locusts.
You can find out more about S. M. here:
I very much enjoyed reading S. M.’s story behind the story and hope that you did, too. So readers, do you find yourself judging the hero and heroine differently? What makes you “buy” into an alpha hero (and what makes him not a jerk?).
I love comments so much that I pick a favorite to receive my monthly AnaBanana gift basket ($25 value). (And don’t forget that once a quarter I’ll be tossing in something fun from the Perilously Fun Shop!) Recipient is announced the first blog post of the new month.