Tags: women writers

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Collateral damage

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who has commented, and is still commenting, on my piece yesterday about sfnal futures and women. I'm reading. I'm nodding and thinking. I'm finding it hard to reply, but I am listening.

A number of people have asked what has been going on with me, that I wrote this (and my long twitter rant, which you can find storified here: https://storify.com/KariSperring/calling-out-the-men-who)
It's this. Lately, I've been feeling like all I am is collateral damage. I seem to have been fighting to be allowed to exist, to be a person and not just a thing, almost my entire life. It's exhausting and draining and endless and I never seem to make any lasting gains. Indeed, as I age, the amount of space I'm permitted to occupy gets smaller and smaller and my sense of existence is shrinking.

And it's not just me. On all sides I see other people facing the same thing. I see brilliant women writers like dancinghorse (Judith Tarr) and scifiwritir (Carole McDonnell) dismissed from the narrative of fantasy and sf because they're older, or because their books have fallen out of print, or some variation and combination of those, because genre history continues to belong to men. I see the same thing happening to QUILTBAG writers and writers of colour and writers with disabilities. On all sides there are wonderful initiatives like the Geekfest Nine Worlds, anthologies and projects promoting the work of writers who are not white westerners, anthologies of queer fiction, blog series on ableism and othering in sf. I love all of this. It's a step forward.

But what I'm also seeing is that in almost all of these, there's a group that's consistently left behind. I'm seeing collateral damage.
I'm seeing older women -- whether women of colour or white women, lesbian, bi or straight, trans or cis forgotten, or only considered relevant once they're dead or long out of print and the limelight (if they ever had any share of the latter to begin with). I'm seeing women writers who debut later -- and women writers, along with writers of colour and writers with disabilities often face additional challenges which mean that they are more likely to debut later -- being written off with no or few reviews, dismissed unread as predictable.
It's the pattern we seem unable to see when we fight for change. It's the pattern we just reproduce without thinking -- and then excuse, usually on the grounds that we -- that insidious, apparently collective sff 'we' which masquerades as all of us but all too often means only those with more privilege -- that we need to attract more new blood, more 'young fans'.
I have never once heard or seen anyone suggest that 'young fans' won't want to see established older male writers. Every single convention, including 9 Worlds, has its roster of established male pros over 40. Whenever I hear this line about attracting the young, my heart sinks. Not because I don't want to see new people in fandom -- of course I do.
Because the people who are asked to stand aside, the people whose work is deemed of little or no interest, are almost entirely older women. The older men go sailing merrily on.
Now, older men of colour are also victims in this: I would never deny that. It infuriates me that our genre is still talking about Robert E Howard but never mentions Charles Saunders, who wrote and is still writing some of the best swords-and-sorcery out there.

What it comes to is this: most women who are now over about 40 have been told their whole lives to be good, to keep their heads down, to keep on working away quietly and to wait their turn. And now, within sff, at the point when their male contemporaries are celebrated, these same women are being told, No, it's too late for you, you don't matter enough; that space is needed. Get out of the way.

We're collateral damage. If we debut later, we may well find ourselves declared over, irrelevant, not worth reading even before the print is dry on our 1st book. If we've been in the industry for years, we find ourselves forgotten or dismissed and our innovations and talents and insights attributed to others (all too often male others).
I've been making a rough list of writers who were big names in the 80s, male and female, and looking at where they are now. The biggest women writers of that period, in my memory, anyway, were Barbara Hambly, R A McAvoy, C J Cherryh, Katherine Kurtz, Judith Tarr, Julian May, Mary Gentle, Lois MacMaster Bujold, Tanith Lee, and Connie Willis.
Only three of those women are still being published regularly by major publishers (and one of those -- Cherryh -- is largely ignored). Most of the others are still writing, but in other genres, for small presses, or via kickstarter.
The big name men, though. Guy Gavriel Kay, David Brin, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Greg Bear, Larry Niven, Michael Swanwick, George R R Martin, Samuel R Delany, Charles de Lint....
They're pretty much all still there. They're famous, their books get inches of review space, they're talked about and promoted and cited as influences.
Now, I'm not saying there aren't male writers who have fallen out of contract or seem to be being unjustly neglected. Gary Kilworth springs to mind, along with Graham Dunstan Martin (whose work I love) and the great, great Walter Jon Williams, who does not get the recognition he deserves.
On every side, I see people telling most of those women I listed to step aside. (The exceptions are Bujold and Willis.) I see their books go unreviewed. I see their influence marginalised. Those are some wonderful, wonderful writers, writers you should be reading. There are more established women writers than LeGuin (great though she is). They deserve to be celebrated, too. They deserve their place in genre. So does Charles Saunders.
They deserve better than to be pushed aside while their male peers sail merrily on.

Women over 40, whatever our colour, our sexuality, our ability should not just be Collateral damage.

I call foul.

Edited to add: this isn't about expecting younger women to step aside, either. It suits our patriarchal culture to try and play the dis-privileged off against each other and to pretend that there's only enough space for a few. This isn't about women gaining at the expense of other women. This is about a system that builds in barriers for everyone who doesn't conform to that straight, white, able-bodied, male norm.

Women writers: Nancy Springer

I don't remember exactly how old I was when I first encountered the writing of Nancy Springer, but I must have been in my mid-teens. Back then, I was on the mailing list of the wonderful, lamented sf bookshop, Andromeda, and they sent out a regular catalogue. From the description in the catalogue, I picked out a book called The White Hart because it sounded interesting -- a bit like Tolkien. At that age, I wanted as much as possible like Tolkien. It arrived a day or two later, a slim US import with the most beautiful cover ( here). I started reading, and didn't stop until I'd finished it (in about a delicious, excited hour), and then I found the catalogue, begged a loan from my mother (who was always supportive of me buying books) and ordered the next two.
I'd never read anything quite like it. There were things that I sort-of recognised -- the sense of mythic resonance, the sense of destiny, the recognition that there are things in life, sometimes, that are more important than the wants and desires of the individual, and which requite sacrifice and resolution to achieve. I met these in other books - in re-tellings of myths and legends, in The Silmarillion, in Louisa Alcott and the Brontes, in Mary Renault (sorry, marina_bonomi), Keith Roberts and Geoff Ryman. It's a theme and a skill that I honour and admire, because it is almost the power to *create* myth and archetype. It's certainly the power to tap into them. And it's something Springer possesses in vast quantities.
I've been reading her ever since, and I am awed by her range: she's written YA, sf and mystery as well as fantasy -- and her fantasies spread across several genre sub-categories. The Tiptree Award winning Larque on the Wing might be classified as urban fantasy -- but it's also an exploration of gender, a feminist critique and a careful, detailed study of a marriage. Apocalypse looks like horror, but once again it's deeply feminist, it's a bildungsroman, and it's a thriller. The novella Damnbanna is about teenage exclusion, about social breakdown, about prejudice and cruelty and love and magic. All of them are wonderful reads.
My very favourite of her books is the Seaking series (Madbond, Mindbond, Godbond) which is... Well, a big part of me thinks they're true. That they are a myth that somehow got lost or elided from the record. They're about sacred kinship and friendship, about fate and fear, responsibility and sacrifice and need and betrayal and so many important things. All written in Springer's graceful prose and with those wonderful, breathing characters. They still break my heart, those books.
With Tanith Lee and Judith Tarr and Sheila Gilluly and Rumer Godden, Springer has been a huge influence on me as a writer. I aspire to her clarity and deep and above all to her gift to create and write and give texture to myth. She's extraordinary.
When The Grass King's Concubine came out, someone paid me an enormous compliment, by saying that it read as if I'd got in touch with something very old and deep.
Mythic resonance.
Like Nancy Springer.
If I ever get to be a quarter the writer she is, I'll be grateful. She's a true creator of Story. Thank you so much, Ms Springer. You've taught me so much and shown me worlds I could never have imagined.

Skirt of the day: blue batik


Last Friday, I had a mild hissy fit on twitter. I'd seen one too many tweets about Exciting! New! Books! by! Men!. I'd read one too many reviews in which a male writer was praised for something that a woman had done in an earlier, ignored book, or that a woman writer had been upbraided for. I'd seen one too many reports about girl cooties.
I started a hash tag -- women in sf -- and asked for names and recommendations. I hoped for some responses from friends or friends of friends. What I got... It ran all weekend and involved people from all over. It was fabulous. I've archived the tweets on Storify: you can find them here: http://storify.com/KariSperring/women-in-sf

And here, kindly compiled by the fabulous gillpolack are the Collapse )
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Signal boost: Judith Tarr Kickstarter

If I had to put my hand on my heart and name just one fantasy author who changed how I view the genre, how I write; one author who made me feel that there was space for someone who writes the sort of things I write, who has the background I do, it would be Judith Tarr, dancinghorse. A new Tarr novel has been an event for me since the very first day I picked up her first novel (The Isle of Glass). I have every one of her books. She's ranged from historical fantasy to subtle sf to really strong historical novels to young adult to wonderful genre-bending crossover. I love them all. Meeting Judy on lj -- and being allowed to call her Judy -- was a thrill and a gift and a treasure.
She;s running a kickstarter, to fund another of her complex, nuanced, elegant, mind-bending novels. You can read about the project here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/834883724/living-in-threes
GOo read, fund. It will be worth it. Because in Judy's case every thing she does really is magic.