UPDATE 11/1/08:
When Women Were Warriors is now on sale at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers. You can read more about the book and find links to order the books at www.whenwomenwerewarriors.com.

When Women Were Warriors is the book I’ve always wanted to read. The first stories my mother told me were the Greek myths, and I have loved folklore, mythology, and fairy tales ever since. I love stories with archetypal themes. I love hero’s journey stories, because to me, life is a quest, and the most fulfilling way to live it is to embark on our own personal quest, the purpose of which is to grow in knowledge, in power, and in love.

In almost all of the hero’s journey stories I’ve read, the protagonist is a young man, but of course there’s no reason why the hero can’t be female, and the hero of When Women Were Warriors is a young woman.

Writing a hero’s journey story with a young woman protagonist isn’t simply a matter of role-reversal, of taking the classic hero story and substituting a young woman for the young male hero. Women are different from men, and the story of a woman’s journey will be different in many ways from the story of a man’s journey, although it will be similar in others. While writing this book, I’ve learned a great deal about those differences and similarities, and many of them came as a surprise to me.

It is difficult to write a story about a woman’s heroic quest when she lives in a society in which women lack the freedoms that men take for granted. The story of a woman who is confined to the kitchen and the nursery will be mostly about how she manages to overcome those limitations and grow in spite of them into a whole person. There are many of these stories, and they’re important stories, but my story is about what a woman’s story would be like if she were the social equal of the men in her society, because I hope we are rapidly approaching a time when that will be true.

I didn’t want to set my story in an alternate timeline or a fantasy universe, because to do so implies that women can be the equals of men only in a world that doesn’t really exist. Therefore I’ve taken out a poetic license to create a society that is, if not historically verifiable, at least historically plausible.

During the Neolithic age, in northern Europe and probably elsewhere, there may well have been matrifocal societies, in which women were the owners of the land, the heads of households, and the leaders of their communities. There is certainly documented evidence from Roman times of female warriors among the Celtic tribes, and the tradition of inheritance through the female line was practiced by both the Celts and the Picts and persisted well into the historical period.

That there were once woman-centered societies doesn’t seem to me to be all that far-fetched. More than likely it was women who invented agriculture. In most prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies, the men hunted and the women gathered. Therefore it would have been the women who discovered the secrets of plants, including how to grow them intentionally. If this was the case, it also makes sense that women would have been the owners of the land they cultivated and would have passed it down to their daughters.

I have set my story in the early Bronze Age, which may be a bit late historically for a matrifocal society, but so many of our archetypal symbols come from post-Stone Age technology that I was unwilling to give them up. Swords, for instance, resonate with most of us in a way that stone axes do not.

Unlike many stories about woman-centered societies, my story does not assume that if women ran the world, everything would be wonderful. There has been an unfortunate tendency on the part of some women to blame everything deplorable about human society on men and to ascribe to women only the best parts of human nature. In my opinion, such a view does as great a disservice to women as it does to men.

That said, the things that matter most to women are often different from the things that matter most to men. Hero’s journey stories with male protagonists tend to deal with physical challenges, with conflict and violence, with wars and jousts and swordplay, with heroic trials and noble deeds. My story, while certainly not ignoring those things, deals primarily with relationships. Relationships are, for women, the arena in which we find our own heroic trials, and much too little has been written about what is woman’s greatest strength—her capacity for love.

When Women Were Warriors is the story of Tamras, a young woman who sets out to become a warrior, which is what her society expects of her. As is traditional for young women of the warrior class, she goes to be fostered in the household of her mother’s closest friend. There she expects to find a mentor who will teach her the skills she will need to take her place in her community.

As often happens with heroes, Tamras’s path diverges from the path her elders intended her to take. She follows her heart, regardless of what anyone else thinks about her choices. She chooses for her friend a young woman who was once a slave, a woman without family or position, and she chooses for her mentor a woman of another tribe, whom everyone distrusts because they consider her to be not one of them—a stranger.

Because of her unconventional choices, Tamras’s life is not what it would have been had she done what was expected of her, but every human life is unique, and the hero’s journey is the story of a person finding her own unique path through life. The hero doesn’t blindly follow where others lead. She doesn’t accept without question the opinions and the values of others, but seeks her own truth. By doing so, she encourages us all to live our own unique lives as fully as we can.

But just like the rest of us, Tamras pays a price for going her own way, and one of the things that make her a hero is her ability and her willingness to pay that price.

More than anything, When Women Were Warriors is about love. It is as much about the demands of love as it is about the fulfillment we find in love. And it is about love in all its forms, not only romantic and sexual love, but also the love between friends, between mother and child, between comrades in arms, and even between enemies.

If you are still reading this, you may be interested in reading the novel. You can find more information about it on the Shield Maiden Press website.