Early Exposure to SF/F

I read a comment on a Fantasy Faction article earlier today that made me sad. In an article about how women are systematically under-represented and under-marketed in the SF/F genres, some dudebro felt the need to comment asking, and I quote, “Honestly, who really cares if there aren’t as many female authors as male authors…?” Apart from the obvious answer — the person who wrote the article, the many female authors, their fans, and anyone else with two brain cells to rub together — he then somehow managed to top his own ignorant, entitled self by explicating that fantasy is male dominated because things like adventure, exploration, self-realization, and wanting to protect and provide for a family are experiences that are particular to the male gender.

Yeah.

This attitude is both depressing and offensive. It’s almost bewildering to me that people can still actually think that in 2014 — but, then again, it’s not, because I’m all too familiar with just how little so many people think of women. Being politically active will dispel you of any illusions to the contrary real quick, as will just, y’know, being a woman in public.

But it still baffles me that this attitude can be sustained in the world we live in now. The blinkers that someone has to put on not to see women for what they are must just be astonishingly large. To so wholly fail to understand that half of the species has hopes and dreams and desires just like your half… I understand that many men (and some women) can do this. I just don’t comprehend how they manage it.

And it got me thinking about my very first experience with the fantasy genre and how that may have shaped my own outlook.

I'm readyMy earliest experience with fantasy, at least that I can remember, wasn’t Disney. It wasn’t the cherished book of fairy tales I had, whose illustrations are still what pop into my mind first when anyone mentions Rapunzel, the Snow Queen, or the Princess and the Pea. It wasn’t My Little Pony. It was The Last Unicorn. The film, not the book — but when I later discovered the book at age 12, I thought it was one of the most brilliant things that had ever happened to me. I know I wasn’t any older than 3 when I first saw the movie, though, and it had a profound impact on me. I wanted to watch it over and over again. I memorized all my favorite lines. I had my cousins playing “free the unicorns” with me in the crashing waves of the Outer Banks. Over the next few years, the games got more complex. I have vivid memories of, age 5 or so, essentially role-playing a sequel to the book in my grandmother’s backyard. Schmendrick had gotten kidnapped by an evil sorcerer, and we plucky band of young girls had to go save him. There was much climbing of trees and scraping of knees.

These memories are important to me for a lot of reasons. It one-thousand-percent discredits the notion that fantasy is a boys-only genre, that little girls don’t like adventuring, that women fundamentally lack those relationships. And it discredits the idea that little girls can only see themselves as damsels in distress. It never even occurred to me. Probably because the women in that story, my first exposure to the genre, were anything but helpless maidens waiting for a rescue. Molly and Amalthea smash that trope all over the place. It may have been written by a male author, but it’s definitely a female-centric story. Molly is a cantankerous mature woman, far from virginal and innocent, who up and decides that, yes, she is joining this adventure. Just shows up and says, “I’m ready.” She works hard, isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty, and says what she thinks. For her, the reclamation of herself comes later in life than the stereotypical coming-of-age, but it’s no less important for that. (Indeed, as I close in on 30 myself, I think it may be even moreso). Amalthea is, as a unicorn, proud and standoffish, yet somewhat reluctant to embrace her destiny as the last of her kind. When she gets turned into a woman, she spends a while looking like the stereotypical damsel in distress, maybe even wanting to be — but it doesn’t fit. Her destiny — her birthright, which that commenter believes only male characters are endowed with — catches up with her. She has to stand up to evil. She has to drive the Red Bull into the sea and free her people. She has to avenge Prince Lir. No one, least of all the ladies themselves, suggests that their female bodies preclude them from these experiences.

Would my outlook have been much altered if this hadn’t been my first experience in the genre? I doubt it. I grew up with such supportive parents who were equally happy to buy me dolls or dinosaurs, to take me to dance classes or to teach me to rappel, that I developed an immunity to a lot of the gender-coding that affects kids. (Which is certainly not to say I never internalized any misogyny, just that it wasn’t of that particular girls’ toys/stories vs boys’ toys/stories type). But I’m still glad that The Last Unicorn was my first introduction to the genre. It meant I never had to doubt if there was a place for me in it.

Two Years Ago Today…

Two years ago today, I was pitching an earlier version of Aven at Ascendio, at the Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando, FL.

It was pretty awesome.

The Things You Must Not Do (Or: You Can’t Please Everyone, So You Got to Please Yourself)

I generally don’t mind editing. In fact I often quite like the challenge of it, but there are times when revisions can make me a little panicky. And it gets worse if, in the process of scrolling through Tumblr and Twitter, it suddenly feels like I’m seeing an inundation of posts and articles titled things like, “10 Things a Writer Should Never Ever Do” or “How to Write a Marketable Book” or “Common Mistakes That Will Torpedo Your Chances”. They seem to crop up so much more when I’m revising than the rest of the time, as though the gods of the dashboard know when I’m most vulnerable to their whisperings.SomersetMaugham

It’s the don’ts, more than the musts, that tend to burrow into my head and make themselves parasitic little nests there — perhaps because it seems so hard to guarantee success, yet tremendously simple to guarantee failure. So when I read these things, I can find myself in a horrible, self-loathing twist.

Because I did the thing. I used an adverb. Or a thought-verb. Or I used said too many times. Or I used an emotive synonym instead of said. I glossed over some point of backstory rather than showing a character feeling it viscerally. I used too many words. I didn’t use enough words. (Just kidding, that last one is almost never my problem). And if I did the thing, doesn’t it mean I’m not good enough? That I still have too much left to learn, and not enough time in which to learn it? That my manuscript is too deeply flawed for any publisher to consider?

And then I remember:

Every good writer, every writer I admire, has Done The Thing at some point in time. Whatever the Thing is that they Must Not Do, they’ve done it. Maybe it got caught and expunged in editing. Maybe it didn’t. Certainly there are plenty of books in print, bestsellers, even, that contain at least a few instances of Things You Must Not Do. Sometimes done well and to a pointed purpose, but sometimes just… there.

All writers have tics, too. Everyone’s got something they ought to CTRL+F for — favorite vocabulary words, an over-reliance on prepositional phrases or helping verbs, descriptive habits. Some of my worst ones are harder to catch because they tend to be rhetorical, not vocabulary-based. But if you’re aware of it, you can hunt it down, and hopefully you’ve also got a good support team to help you when you’ve missed them. Whatever the flaws my writing might have, they are neither unique nor unforgivable, and I have an agent who believes in my manuscript and that I have the skills it’ll take for success.

And — writers get better throughout their careers. I can look at all of my favorite authors and know that that’s true. Pratchett, Gaiman, Rowling, Quinn, Carriger, Lackey, Valente, P&C — I can compare early work to late and see how they change. Hell, there are ways in which Stone of Your Choice and Deathly Hallows barely feel like they were written by the same author, Rowling grew so much over those years. I think there’s a scary mindset these days that, if you’re not perfect out of the gate, you’re absolutely screwed. The industry sort of encourages that sort of thinking, because, while publishing has long been a commercial and thus competitive enterprise, it seems to have intensified in that regard in the past decade or so. Be 100% captivating, amazing, and flawless, or you will never get a second chance.

It isn’t about following every rule — not least because a number of them contradict. Like the Pirate Code, they’re more like guidelines. Be aware of them. Follow them when you can. Break them when you must. My job isn’t to please everyone on the internet, nor to adhere to every arbitrary rule they set down. My job is to tell the best story I can in the best way I can.

That is what I have to remember.