“Who’s Afraid” Author Maria Lewis On Werewolves, Feminism & Strong Female Characters


Feminism, werewolves and Strong Female Characters, oh my!

We’ve talked a lot about the need for Hollywood to step up its game to allow more female-driven films helmed by female directors, producers and writers. While we are seeing the slow fruition of this movement, buoyed in large part by women all over the industry speaking up, creating opportunities for themselves and pushing the studios to stop making excuses for the lack of gender equality, there is another industry where female-driven plot lines and the female gaze is thriving.

It is pretty easy to see how women are dominating the Young Adult literature genre. Names like J.K Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer and Veronica Roth are as common as names like Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Watson, Kristen Stewart and Shailene Woodley (see what we did there?).

And with these authors’ books being turned into some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster films over the past 15 years (the first ‘Harry Potter’ film was released in 2001), perhaps we should be paying attention to the growing movement of female authors that dominating the Young Adult genre.

Now if you were wondering about that opening sentence, in a nutshell that’s how we would sum up author Maria Lewis’ ‘Who’s Afraid’ book and its forthcoming sequel ‘Who’s Afraid Too’. The New Zealand-born, Australian-based multi-colored hair badass is exploding onto the international scene with her feminist-driven story line.


Maria, who is a journalist by background, came to the literature world in a rather unconventional way. When she was 22 she suffered a mini-stroke which baffled doctors since she had no prior health problems and neither did her family. Despite this scary situation, after a long recovery process, Maria channeled her energy into writing and by the age of 25 landed herself a publishing deal and also became an ambassador for the National Stroke Foundation to raise awareness.

In an interview with Australian media, Maria explained how creating the story of lead character Tommi Grayson in ‘Who’s Afraid’ became the start of her new direction in life, when UK publisher Little Brown Books snapped her up for her first book and the second. The story follows Tommi, a girl who discovers she is a werewolf, and after the death of her mother, travels from Scotland to New Zealand to track down her father. It is there that she discovers she is a descendant of an ancient Maori werewolf clan, and has to use her powers to solve a murder mystery.

The second book looks set to be released in January 2017, and Maria has been touring around doing book signings and talking about her strong female characters – an aspect of storytelling that is important to her.

“Strong female characters don’t need to be defined by their physical strength and we don’t need to justify them by their masculine traits. A female character can be strong because of their intelligence – like [The X-Files’ Dana] Scully or [Scandal’s] Olivia Pope – or they can be tough because of their compassion, loyalty and ingenuity – like [Batman’s] Barbara Gordon or [True Blood’s] Sookie Stackhouse or the cast of ‘Orange Is The New Black’,” she told the audience at an event held in Brisbane, Australia.


Maria is also speaking out against the false stereotype that being a strong female character means you have to wear full leather gear and not a dress, for examples. She believes there is a backsliding of female characters in pop culture to the trope where they need men to save them. This has been a point of contention in the greater movement, to elevate the status and visibility of female characters who don’t depend on men for the crucial decisions in their on-screen journey.

“For every genre author who gives us a progressive heroine that breaks through a metaphorical glass ceiling there’s another where the heroine is defined by her romantic relationship with a man and whose entire character development arc can be best defined as a wet towel,” Maria boldly declared about this situation.

At a recent film industry panel event we attended in Los Angeles, Oscar-nominated writer Phyllis Nagy talked about how it took her almost a decade to get the film ‘Carol’ made because it featured 2 female leads, who happened to be lovers, and whose story arcs did not depend on men in any substantial way. This has become part of the backlash toward the increase in female characters in Hollywood, Phyllis explained, where agents of male actors are now complaining when their clients don’t have enough lines. Now they understand the struggle women have faced since the beginning!

Maria says this is more common than we think, despite the uptick in feminist content breaking through the mainstream.


“Romance novels tend to get a bad wrap because a large portion of their heroines go loopy and sacrifice a huge part of themselves in the quest for a conventional heterosexual relationship – then you get something like Brisbane author Kirsty Eagar’s ‘Summer Skin’ where the protagonist is a borderline riot girl tying men to chairs and leading a girl gang,” she explained.

Maria says her own discovery and affinity for feminism has played a huge role in shaping the characters she writes. Recognizing the movement is at its core about equality, she wants to see less “boys club bulls**t” and more equal opportunities for women in all industries as well as a greater acknowledgement of intersectionality.

“I mean recognizing women of color, queer women and trans women have it even tougher, and offering your sisters a hand up as often as you can. I mean equal roles in the parenting equation, equal safety when it comes to walking home alone at night or feeling comfortable just existing in the world and I mean more than equal rights to control your own body, she said.

While reproductive rights isn’t necessarily part of the Tommi Grayson story, this issue definitely factors into Maria’s perspective on feminism, echoing a Gloria Steinem-esque view that if men could get pregnant, contraception would be available at the local 7/11.


“I have a vagina, and I should have the most say in what I do with it: not this pantheon of greying white men who want to tell women that tampons are luxury items or abortion is a sin or the pill is too cheap,” she said.

She understands that there is a lot of push back against feminist right now but is adamant those in favor need to speak up and dispel the myths.

“Primarily I think the reason there’s a debate around feminism is because a large amount of people don’t understand what it means. It doesn’t mean casting spells on men and sacrificing the opposite sex to pagan Gods on a Tuesday night beneath the full moon, it means loving men but also loving the idea that we’re on par with them – no exceptions,” she explained.

If Maria Lewis is the type of author we are going to see more of in literature, in arguably the most popular genre given it’s string of successful Hollywood film crossovers, we are excited to see more from her. And with the news that she has found a celebrity fan in director Quentin Tarantino, we’re certainly keeping our fingers crossed for a big screen version of ‘Who’s Afraid’ at some point in the future!


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