Today’s guest is SFF writer and podcast producer Mur Lafferty! She was recently nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, making this her second nomination for this particular award. Today she is talking about four women who wrote science fiction and fantasy and played a role in inspiring her to become a writer herself—and there’s also an opportunity to enter a giveaway for her next book, The Shambling Guide to New York City, at the end of this post!
People keep mentioning that SFF is a boy’s field, or they look at the last few years of awards ballots and say, well, it used to be. [Note, I wrote this before the recent Clarke Award final ballot was revealed.] And while I can see the “boy’s club” happening from time to time, it was the women writers who got me into this whole deal in the first place.
People often ask writers who their inspirations are. It was embarrassing, frankly, when I realized that I usually list my inspirations as an adult: the three big authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, and Connie Willis. But while their stories make me want to be a better writer, I have to remember that there are many other authors who, when I was a child, made me realize that I could be a writer in the first place. They also made me want to fight dragons and get on space ships and be a hero.
Robin McKinley was my first big eye-opener. I was the kid who wondered why the stupid princesses danced around and sang songs and waited for their prince to come. I wanted a horse and a sword and a dragon to stick it in. (The sword, I mean. Not the horse. They’re too blunt.) And when I picked up The Hero and the Crown, it gave me everything I wanted. The young princess Aerin who prefers retraining her father’s war horse and learning swordplay to the more gentle pursuits, decides to take up dragon slaying. It has everything, adventure, romance, despair, dragons, horses, and more! It gave me a girl hero to look up to. Later I would read The Blue Sword and find it a bit weaker (not knowing that it was published first), but still loving it. Then I read Sunshine and can only tell you McKinley is getting better and better. Pegasus is on my TBR list.
From there, I went on to Anne McCaffrey. I fell in love with Pern and the dragons, Lessa, and all the other characters. I fell a little too in love with the characters, and her newer books initially annoyed me when the plots would take the story hundreds of years in the past, or to a completely different character during the Lessa’s time, but she never let me down. As a teen girl, I did get rather uncomfortable with her frequent depictions of first sexual encounters between lovers being rapey. I know it was probably written to be like bodice-ripper sex scenes, with the flavor of “oh John, no, don’t, not here, not before we’re married, no!… ooohhhhJohn….” but it still made me uncomfortable. (Sexual aside: She carried this through many of her works, including the Freedom series and the non-genre novel The Lady. On another, related topic, I wondered about the homosexual implications of green dragon sex that was all but ignored. And yes, I know she has updated information about dragonrider sex partners and you can find her explanations online, but it felt like a retcon, with facts completely ignored in the original trilogy.) However, sexual issues aside, I loved Pern. The harpers, the dragonriders, the whole thing.
I found Ursula K. Le Guin not by Earthsea, but by the Left Hand of Darkness, and then the Lathe of Heaven. And this was the first time I felt the incredibly humbled feeling of, “I am holding something created by a mind so much greater than mine will ever be.” While the protagonists of these books were male, they still dealt with gender issues (of course in The Left Hand of Darkness and to a lesser extent Lathe of Heaven. The latter with more racial questions than gender.) and she wrote her women as people within the world, not simply love interests or mothers.
If memory serves, Madeline L’Engle was the biggest influence, though. She brought me the A Wrinkle in Time series, which frankly blew my mind. You had a girl who was nerdy and awkward (talk about being able to identify with a protagonist!) and a sort of single scientist mom who was just about to lose her shit. You had an adventure through time and space. You had battles against incredibly intelligent beings, and an unfortunate teleportation to a two dimensional world. I always remember that Meg’s heart made a sideways, knifelike movement in her chest. Then after reading A Wind in the Door, I was so entranced with her cellular world, I wrote her a letter, and she wrote back!!!11! Kiddies, this is back in the day when you had to bust your butt to figure out how to get in touch with a writer, and often the best way would be to send a letter to the publisher’s mailing address in the front of the book and hope they would forward it. It took months. My dad was cleaning in his house recently and he came across her letter and brought it to me. It was typed on the back of a sort of advertising pamphlet that gave information about her books, family trees, etc. It was the coolest thing I had ever received. I admit that I never quite understood A Swiftly Tilting Planet – I think time travel was too much for my young mind at the time, but I did enjoy Many Waters and the few Austins books I read.
(Right now I am distracted, wondering where I put Ms. L’Engle’s letter. I thought I hung it on my desk, but it’s not there. Grump.)
While I know I’ll never write something as brilliant as LeGuinn’s work, and epics such as the Pern series are something I can only aspire to, and McKinley’s ability to inject emotion into her reader, and the sensawunda that L’Engle gave her readers, there is no secret that these women all were huge influences on me, as when I read their books, I saw what was possible. They were the first authors to make me think, “THAT is what I want to do. Women obviously write all sorts of SFF, and that is going to be ME some day.”
So I guess as the pub date of The Shambling Guide to New York City nears, I would like to thank Robin McKinley, Madeline L’Engle, Ursula Le Guin, and Anne McCaffrey for giving the young Mur the books that entranced me, excited me, and yes, even made me uncomfortable because it made me think, “How would *I* have done this to make it better? Or does this discomfort have a place in the book? Can/should discomfort be a part of fiction?” (Of course, the answer is yes.) They made me think, gave me confidence, and showed me that the fallopian tubes are not something that hinder your ability to write the fantastic.
Mur Lafferty is a writer, podcast producer, gamer, geek, and martial artist. Her books include Playing For Keeps, Nanovor: Hacked!, Marco and the Red Granny, and The Afterlife Series. Her podcasts are many, currently she’s the editor of Escape Pod magazine, the host of I Should Be Writing, and the host of the Angry Robot Books Podcast.
Personally, she loves to run, practice kung fu (Northern Shaolin five animals style), play World of Warcraft and Dragon Age, hang out with her fabulous geeky husband and their eight year old daughter. Her website is http://www.murverse.com/.
Courtesy of Orbit, I have one copy of The Shambling Guide to New York City to give away! (The giveaway is open to those with US and Canadian mailing addresses.)
About The Shambling Guide to New York City:
A travel writer takes a job with a shady publishing company in New York, only to find that she must write a guide to the city – for the undead!
Because of the disaster that was her last job, Zoe is searching for a fresh start as a travel book editor in the tourist-centric New York City. After stumbling across a seemingly perfect position though, Zoe is blocked at every turn because of the one thing she can’t take off her resume — human.
Not to be put off by anything — especially not her blood drinking boss or death goddess coworker — Zoe delves deep into the monster world. But her job turns deadly when the careful balance between human and monsters starts to crumble — with Zoe right in the middle.
Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “Shambling Guide Giveaway.” One entry per person and a winner will be randomly selected. Only those with a mailing address in the US or Canada are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Wednesday, April 24. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).
Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.
(Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.)