Today I’m thrilled to welcome science fiction and fantasy author Cassandra Rose Clarke! Her latest novel, the space opera Star’s End, was just released late last month. She has also written The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, a Philip K. Dick Award finalist; Our Lady of the Ice, a RT Reviewer’s Choice Award finalist in the Science Fiction category; Magic of Blood and Sea, which contains both The Assassin’s Curse and The Pirate’s Wish; and more, including several short stories.
As a child, I was aggressively girlie. I went through a period when I refused to wear anything but dresses. My bedroom was painted pink at my insistence. I hoarded Lisa Frank school supplies. I turned my nose up at what I considered “boy things,” like sports. (That being said, plenty of my interests, like Lego and shark documentaries, would have been called “boy things” by lots of people. Frankly, I just classified them as “girl things” because I, the girliest girl you could imagine, liked them.)
I was also a voracious reader. As you might expect, I had little to no interest in “boy books” (except for the ones I did, such as My Side of the Mountain, but again, I would never have considered it a “boy book,” because there is no logic when it comes to gendering objects or interests). Instead, I sought out any book that featured a girl as its main character. I devoured Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley High, and Lurlene McDaniel books at a relentless speed, swapping out each cheap paperback I read with a new stack from the local used bookstore. As an adult, I recognize that many of my childhood favorites were pretty dubious in the feminist department—the Wakefield twins and their “perfect size six” (now four) bodies being a prime example—but as a kid most of it just washed over me. I wanted to read about girls. I didn’t care what they were doing. I just wanted girls. And here were books about girls.
I also loved horror. Horror writers like RL Stine, Christopher Pike, and, a little later, Stephen King are the writers I credit the most with sparking my interest in genre fiction. When I began tentatively writing out my own stories, they, without fail, ripped off one of two writers: Lurlene McDaniel if I was feeling weepy and RL Stine if I was not. I loved the weirdness of horror, the shivery feeling that someone’s watching you as you tear through the pages, the slow build of tension as you try to make it to the end. In elementary school, I didn’t read fantasy, and I rarely read science fiction. But I read a ton of horror.
Why? Well, the answer’s pretty obvious: girls. Horror books were just as likely to have girls as their main character as they were boys, something I didn’t realize at the time could be true of science fiction and fantasy. With horror, I could fill my craving for weird stuff with my love of reading about girls doing things, even if it was just running from a monster. Remember, I wasn’t picky about what my girl characters were up to. I just wanted to read about them. One of my absolute favorite books of this time period was a ghost story that’s also a close examination of the relationship between two sisters; I’m talking, of course, about Wait Till Helen Comes. I’m not sure there was ever a more perfect book for nine-year-old me to read.
In junior high, the kids in my seventh-grade GT classes all became obsessed with A Wrinkle in Time. It was one of those weird fads that sweeps through junior highs like a fast-moving plague. Two months earlier we’d all been whacking each other with slap bracelets; now we were tearing through Madeleine L’Engle. A Wrinkle in Time is the first book I remember reading that was both science fiction and about a girl. A girl who described herself as painfully ordinary and plain next to her mother, a girl who thought she didn’t have any true talents. What seventh grader, regardless of gender, doesn’t think that way about themself, deep down? I read through the entire series that year, marveling at the science fictional wonder of it all, and connecting deeply with Meg Murray as she grew from an awkward girl to a sophisticated, brilliant woman—giving me hope for myself.
Discovering A Wrinkle in Time threw open the floodgates. I began watching The X-Files religiously, utterly in awe of Dana Scully. I read through the Big Dystopias and discovered Margaret Atwood in high school; my life hasn’t been the same since. The Star Wars prequels were released and I fell in love with Padmé Amidala, a terribly written character who nonetheless spoke to me as a fifteen-year-old girl who had come to see Episode One with her high school’s Latin Club (seriously). Here was a girl my age in my beloved Star Wars, a girl who could rule an entire planet while wearing the GREATEST DRESSES OF ALL TIME. Even now, more than fifteen years later, Padmé remains one of my favorite science fiction characters—not so much the character as written, but the promise of what she could be, the aggressively girlie, fashion-conscious, Rebellion-founding politician who fights for democracy in the galaxy.
I feel like so many of the literacy narratives I’ve read about women and genre fiction move in a particular direction: reading about boys because the “girl books” weren’t interesting. But I came at it backwards, like I do most things. The “girl books” were most interesting to me because they were about girls. Science fiction and fantasy had to at least gesture at gender parity before they grabbed my interest. And once I found those lady-centered gems, I was hooked.
|Cassandra Rose Clarke grew up in south Texas and currently lives in a suburb of Houston, where she writes and teaches composition at a pair of local colleges. She holds an M.A. in creative writing from The University of Texas at Austin, and in 2010 she attended the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop in Seattle. Her work has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award, and YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Her latest novel is Star’s End, out now from Saga Press.|