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Gender Roles and Speculative Settings: 3 Qs for Ronlyn Domingue

Helllooooo fellow blogmates!  I know, I know, it's been awhile!  I am thrilled to bring to you novelist Ronlyn Domingue, whose first novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, I fell in love with so much I just had to meet her and interview her about it.   Ronlyn's new novel, The Mapmaker's War, accounts the life of an exiled mapmaker who must come to terms with the home and children she was forced to leave behind.  Ronlyn was gracious enough to take the time to talk with us only a couple of days before she comes here to Houston to read at Blue Willow bookshop.  As usual, her answers were thought provoking and meaty--so much so, in fact, that I decided to break this interview in two parts.  In this one, she tells us how she deals with gender roles in all of her book-length work so far, and in part two, she discusses the novel's journey from the germ of its initial conception over 10 years ago to the final product that she will be reading from Thursday night.

BtO: Both The Mapmaker's War and your first novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, feature a strong female protagonist who rebels against the gender constraints of her world. Is this a theme in all of your work? How different was it casting this theme in a speculative setting versus an historical one?

I deal with gender issues in all of my book-length work so far. It’s not limited to women, though. Men are just as shaped and confined by their gender as women, but the benefit of privilege takes the edge off a bit, or so I assume.

It wasn’t especially difficult to contend with gender in a speculative setting. The Mercy of Thin Air was grounded in periods I could objectively research, the 1920s and recent contemporary times, while The Mapmaker’s War takes place in an era that feels like the Dark Ages. Regardless, I’m still dealing with characters out of step with their sociopolitical environments. On some level, I make the assumption that women have questioned their roles in families and society since our earliest human beginnings. I guess that there were women who secretly felt they were capable of more, wanted to do more, than what they were allowed because of their gender or class. Few ever found a way to break from those roles or to redefine them. Only within the last 100 years or so have we seen a dramatic shift in women’s opportunities in some parts of the world, and there are billions of women waiting to experience the same thing—education, freedom of choice in marriage and childbearing, employment, property rights.

That leads me to Aoife (pronounced ee-fah), the narrator of The Mapmaker’s War. She’s born into a noble family, which would allow her more leisure than labor throughout her life. But she wants more. She has a deep inner sense of her capabilities as well as clarity about what she doesn’t want for herself. As driven as she is, there’s a point in her life in which she realizes her accomplishments aren’t due to her own talents. She writes, “You were not so different from other women. Your life depended on the favor of men. Your freedom was an illusion that you dared to dream.” This is relevant in our time, here and now, especially when we consider who holds political power and what can be done with the passage of a few laws.

Tomorrow, I'll post part two of this interview, where Ronlyn will discuss the story behind The Mapmaker's War as well as how she is handling life "in interesting times" as one of the authors with a novel caught in the contract dispute between Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster


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