Today, I am very excited to host Brooke Johnson, author of the Chroniker City series, to Bookwraiths. The second book in her steampunk saga (The Guild Conspiracy) just hit the shelves here in the United States on August 9, 2016, and I was fortunate enough for Brooke to take time out of her busy schedule to write a guest post. So enjoy!
Writing a STEM Girl Protagonist, and Why That Matters
When I first got the idea to write the Chroniker City series, I knew I wanted a girl protagonist to head the story because a lone girl fighting against the established patriarchy for her right to be an engineer made for good conflict. But as I started writing the story and developed the character further, I realized why I was drawn to her in the first place. This smart, capable, daring young woman was the character I never had as a young reader.
As a kid, I was heavily interested in science—physics and machines especially—but where I grew up, no one really encouraged girls to go into science, and for a long time I thought that there just wasn’t a future in it for me. Boys made fun of me for being interested in it, and my teachers and advisers discouraged me from pursuing that path because it might be too hard and I should pursue my other interests, like art and writing (despite the fact that I was a straight-A student and was deeply interested in taking every physics class my school offered). In the face of all that push-back, I gave up on a future career in science, decided to pursue writing because that’s what I was good at, and as I moved onto college, I wistfully looked at physics and engineering classes from afar, never voicing my desire to take that path. It wasn’t for me, they said. It would be too hard, they said. Part of me believed them.
Years later, when I sat down to write a steampunk novel, that repressed love of mechanical technology and physics—those blissful memories of the hours I would spend in my grandfather’s workshop, amidst the smell of gasoline and grease and metal, building things and breaking things and discovering something new—that all came back to me in the form of Petra, a young girl who wanted to be an engineer but was told that she couldn’t.
She was there all along, waiting to emerge, ready to prove herself and take a chance.
So Petra is the girl I wanted to be when I was younger… intelligent, confident, persistent… a girl who refuses to give up on her dreams despite the odds against her.
If only I had known her then.
Part of me wonders if she had existed in the books I was reading, if I might have had the courage to take a more difficult path and pursue my interests in physics and engineering, instead of acquiescing to the social expectations of everyone around me. Instead of reading about a girl going through the same struggle, fighting to follow her dreams and defy all expectations, I read about boys on adventures—boy scientists, boy engineers, boy explorers—and there was no room for girls anywhere in the pages of those books. Thankfully, a lot of that has changed, and my daughter—though still a toddler now—will grow up with books like Interstellar Cinderella and Violet the Pilot and Rosie Revere, Engineer, books to encourage an interest in science and engineering… the books I never had. And she’ll have Petra, too, if she needs her.
I may not have had Petra to look up to when I was younger, showing me how to stand up for myself and follow my dreams, but she’s out there now, for other girls who might be interested in math and science and engineering. And when they need her, she’ll be there waiting for them.
BROOKE JOHNSON is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving writer. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she journeys through life with her husband, daughter, and dog. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas but hopes to one day live somewhere more mountainous.