Jordanna Max Brodsky: The Heroine We Deserve, the Sidekick She Needs

Jordanna Max Brodsky
photo: Ben Arons

I’m actually a bit jealous of the folks at Orbit who got to publish The Immortals, the debut novel by Jordanna Max Brodsky. I was lucky enough to read this story, which places the classical Greek pantheon into the modern suspense thriller, when it was making the rounds, and I was immediately impressed by the strength of Brodsky’s voice—it’s not just that the premise is cool, but that she fleshes it out with great characterizations, too. In this guest essay, she pulls back the curtain and explains some of the work that went into making her divine and human characters equally compelling. What she reveals makes perfect sense in retrospect, but she’s done it so well that it wouldn’t occur to you—or at least it didn’t to me—to think about the mechanics involved while you’re engrossed in the story.

I consider myself an unrepentant nerd. Academic over-achiever, Star Wars aficionado, player of board games, avoider of all things athletic. The heroine of The Immortals, on the other hand, is Selene DiSilva, a bow-wielding, ass-kicking, hard-as-nails vigilante who also just happens to be the Greek goddess Artemis living in modern day Manhattan. So my nerdophilic proclivities wound up centered squarely on the male protagonist of the book instead: Theodore Schultz, classics professor. Selene is stronger than he is, far more violent, and less emotionally vulnerable. In my mind, they make a perfect opposites-attract couple.

Most of my female friends agreed with my perspective when I asked them to read a draft. Theo is just the kind of guy they want around—a talker, a listener, and all around brilliant thinker. Then I let some male friends give me feedback and… boom! My blithe reversal of gender stereotypes ran smack dab into a brick wall of testosterone.

“Why is Theo a wimp?” they demanded. (He’s not a wimp, I’d reply, he’s just not into violence.) “Why is he such a nerd?” they asked. (He’s a classicist! Did you expect him to be the cool kid in school?)

Cue the throwing up of hands, the rolling of eyes, the “Why don’t you just make him a detective? Make him cool and calm and tough.” Then my equally frustrated reply: “Because Selene is all those things! She used to be a cop! She’s the Huntress, for goodness sake. She certainly doesn’t need a man to teach her how to track a killer or use a bow.”

My first instinct was to ignore their comments entirely. (They don’t get it. They’re secretly sexist.) But these readers are men I respect. I had to ask myself whether my desire to create a feminist icon had led me to create an exaggeratedly weak male protagonist. Was that any better than stories where the man has all the power and the woman always needs saving? (Well, yeah, a little better, but I’ll leave that argument for another day.)

Whenever I receive negative feedback, I go through a process of acceptance. First utter rejection, then crippling self-doubt, then a reasoned examination of the issue, sometimes resulting in incorporation of the critique, sometimes not. In the case of poor, nerdy Theo, I came to a compromise.

I accepted the idea that a goddess would never want to hang out with a man who wasn’t worth her time. So I became especially vigilant about making sure my professor always brought something to the table. I also figured there was no reason to make him a physical weakling—let him throw a decent punch in self-defense, and he’ll still never overshadow my goddess heroine. Most importantly, I gave him a sense of humor. We need only look at the cast list of a Judd Apatow comedy to know that we forgive all sorts of flaws when a man is funny.

In the end, Theo emerged a fuller, stronger character, able to hold his own with his immortal companion, despite never challenging her physical superiority. But at heart, Theo remains a geek. He still loves science fiction, avoids physical conflicts, has a gentle soul, and believes firmly in doing the right thing. He’s the hero to Selene’s anti-heroine. The fallible mortal to her icy, divine perfection. I happen to think there are plenty of men out there who can identify with him, and plenty of women who want someone like him in their lives.

And as for those readers who long for a tough, masculine hero… well, they still have the vast majority of the bookstore to sate their appetites and most television shows and movies to boot. For me, I’ll stick with the nerds.

18 April 2016 | guest authors |