Today’s guest is Stephanie Burgis, author of a variety of speculative fiction short stories and the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy. Her first historical fantasy novel for adults, Masks and Shadows, will be published next week (and is one of this year’s book releases I’m most excited about—it sounds fantastic!). It will shortly be followed by her second historical fantasy novel for adults, Congress of Secrets, which also sounds wonderful and is scheduled for release later this year!
For Fantasy Café’s “Women in SF&F” month, I wanted to write a very important thank you note to the women who first showed me the way into this field.
Because here’s the thing: it never once occurred to me, as a teenaged girl, that I might not be able to write f/sf because of my gender. That would have sounded bizarre to me. I would have laughed if anyone had even suggested it.
But I’ve come to understand, as an adult, just how lucky that made me. Women in earlier generations didn’t have all those established examples to follow, and several of them have talked movingly in recent years about just how hard it felt to push forward with their dreams when every other name on the shelf seemed to be male–when there were no obvious examples to follow.
Representation matters to all of us. It matters hugely.
I grew up loving fantasy more than anything else, and yes, my first introduction to the genre came with J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (which I still love) and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books…but by the time I was a teenager, male fantasy authors weren’t actually making up the bulk of my reading anymore. No, I was devouring Robin McKinley’s Beauty, Patricia McKillip’s The Changeling Sea, and every other book those two authors had written…and I still remember the moment when I discovered Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks, as a freshman in high school, and realized: Ohhhh. That’s what I want to write. I want to be a fantasy author!
And why wouldn’t I be? My favorite authors were all writing fantasy, after all…and at that point in my life, my favorite authors all happened to be women. When I discovered Judith Tarr’s historical fantasy novels a year later, I even found wonderful examples of exactly the kind of fantasy I most wanted to write.
So it’s been interesting, during these last few years, to be witness to a lot of serious, important conversations behind the scenes among women fantasy authors, debating whether or not we ought to let our gender be guessed by our author names and the pronouns we use in our author bios.
The truth is, there are so many good reasons why it would be smarter and more sensible for women authors to disguise our gender with initials, even now. I’ve heard horror stories about long-time fantasy fans who won’t even pick up a book if they know that a woman wrote it. In terms of sales (which–let’s face it–means in terms of professional survival), a neutral gender–or a fake male name–is a smart decision for any woman author in this field. So I fully support every woman who chooses to make that decision. Solidarity!
But every time I hear another iteration of this debate, I can’t help remembering that feeling of being a teenaged girl, devouring all those female-authored fantasy books just when I was first deciding what to aim for as a writer…and I imagine how differently that would have gone, if so many of my favorite books hadn’t had female names on their covers and female pronouns in their author bios.
I imagine the extra emotional hurdles I would have had to jump, if those women hadn’t taken the risk before me of letting the world know their gender when they published their books.
So: thank you, Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip, Emma Bull, and Judith Tarr. I loved your books then, I love them now, and I’m so grateful that you took that risk for me and every other fantasy-loving girl reader/writer out there.
|Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Wales with her husband and two sons, surrounded by mountains, castles and coffee shops. She has published over thirty short stories for adults and teens, as well as an MG Regency fantasy trilogy. Her first two historical fantasy novels for adults, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets, will be published by Pyr Books in April and November 2016. To find out more, please visit her website: www.stephanieburgis.com|