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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!

Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis

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 writtenand 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!

Beauty by Robin McKinley The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip War for the Oaks by Emma Bull Lord of the Two Lands by Judith Tarr

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.

Thank you.

Stephanie Burgis 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

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Today’s guest is science fiction and fantasy author Fonda Lee! Her recently released debut novel Zeroboxer, a young adult science fiction book whose main protagonist is a zero gravity fighter, is a 2015 Andre Norton Award nominee and a Junior Library Guild selection for 2015. It will be joined by her second book (also science fiction!) in 2017.

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

Yes, I Write “Boy Books.” No, I Don’t Have a Male Pen Name.

Let me begin by saying that I hold a special fury in my heart for the unrelenting gender assigning of books, media, and toys. In a myriad of insidious ways, young people are told that only certain types of characters and stories are for boys and others are for girls.

I resented it as a child, when I was that little girl who wanted Transformers and Ninja Turtles toys that society and my classmates told me in no kind terms were “for boys.” I resent it now, as a mother, when my daughter’s birthday present haul consists of half a dozen variations on “make your own jewelry” kits even though she loves science and Star Wars. And I resent it as an author, hearing about authors like Shannon Hale, who has had school visits in which only girls were allowed to come hear her talk about her books, which are “for girls.”

I write books that I’m told are “for boys.” Science fiction and fantasy with loads of fighting. Stories about prizefighters, soldiers, gangsters. Magic and weapons and martial arts. Romance is usually there as a sub plot, but come on, no one reads my books to get their romance kick. My novels published so far have had male protagonists. Zeroboxer featured combat sports in space. My next YA novel is about bio-enhanced soldiers fighting terrorists on an Earth governed by aliens. I worship prose that’s straightforward and crisp and delivers smart, propulsive action. If you were to open my creative brain, you’d see one continuous film festival playing movies like The Matrix and Minority Report and Mad Mad: Fury Road and Kill Bill. So yeah. “Boy books.”

Except that I’m not a boy. Never been one neither. I’m a grown woman, a mom, and a minority at that. And I’ve faced more than a few occasions when I’ve been questioned by others, or have secretly wondered myself, if I’ll be “allowed” to succeed in writing what I love to write.

The first questions came before my debut novel was published, when well meaning friends and a few fellow authors asked, “So are you going to use a male pen name?”

I hadn’t thought to use a male or gender neutral pen name. In all my dreams of becoming a published author, I’d always envisioned my own name on the cover of my books. They were my books, dammit. They’d have my name on the spine. But doubt crept in.

“JK Rowling used a gender neutral pseudonym,” people reminded me. Her publisher thought that boys would be less likely to want to read a book written by a woman. Here I was, writing young adult novels meant to appeal to teenage boys. (Not only them, of course, but they were a core demographic.) Would some of my target readers pick up my book, go, “Cool, futuristic zero gravity prizefighting,” but then think, perhaps unconsciously, “Yeah, but it’s written by a chick. Probably full of fluff and romance. No thanks,” and put it back down?

The idea nagged at me. Infuriated me. Boys tend to read books about boys, written by men—that’s what statistics told me was true. But was the societal prejudice so strong that I was shooting myself in the foot by not hiding my gender from my readers? Did boys read books written by male authors simply because more male authors tended to write the types of action adventure stories that appealed to them? (The exact same sorts of stories that I wanted to write?) Did they not believe a woman could write convincingly from a male point of view? Had the idea been so strongly engrained that women wrote for girls, and men for boys, that seeing a female author’s name or photo on a book automatically led to snap judgments at the point of purchase about the sort of stories and characters one could expect to find within the covers?

Should I try to change that perception, or give into it?

“You’re going to have a challenge,” a film producer told me at a writing conference. He’d read Zeroboxer. “You have a very masculine writing style. This’ll do great with teenage boys. But it’s published as YA. Boys don’t read YA.” I was told that more than once. Boys don’t read YA because YA is filled with female writers who write about female protagonists.

I didn’t know which assumption to be more discouraged by: the idea that boys aren’t interested in reading female writers or protagonists, or the idea that girls wouldn’t like a book about punching people in space just as much as boys would.

I didn’t take a male pen name.

Maybe I’m underestimating the force of gender prejudice. Maybe I’m losing sales. Who knows. Everyone knows JK Rowling is a woman and it hasn’t hurt the appeal of Harry Potter to people of all genders and ages. SE Hinton, who wrote the The Outsiders in 1967, probably wouldn’t have seen as much success if “Susan Hinton” was blazed across one of the most quintessential YA male coming of age novels of all time. Maybe we’re past that time now. Maybe we’re not.

In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to obscure my gender. I like the idea of teenage boys reading and enjoying my books and realizing that a woman can write “boy books”–whatever that means. And I like the idea of girls who are drawn to the sorts of things I was drawn to as a girl (killer robots! ninjas! superheroes! spaceships! more freaking ninjas!) to see me standing up in author presentations and know that they can love and write whatever the hell they want to.

And they’re my books, dammit. My name.

Fonda Lee Fonda Lee is the author of the Andre Norton nominated novel Zeroboxer (Flux/Llewellyn, April 2015). Her second book will be released by Scholastic in spring 2017. A recovering corporate strategist, when she is not writing, she can be found training in kung fu or searching out tasty breakfasts. Born and raised in Canada, Fonda now lives in Portland, Oregon. You can find Fonda at www.fondalee.com and on Twitter @fondajlee.

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Just as Women in SF&F Month has become an annual tradition, so has beginning the month of guest posts with one written by Renay! She’s one of several editors of the excellent site Lady Business, which I highly recommend visiting if you’re interested in discussion of speculative fiction in a variety of forms (including books, television, movies, games, and fanwork). Renay also writes articles for Strange Horizons, co-hosts Fangirl Happy Hour, and co-edited Speculative Fiction 2014: The Year’s Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary—and she came up with the idea for the ongoing Favorite SF&F Books by Women Project that you’ve perhaps seen linked in the sidebar of this site!

Lady Business

Welcome back to Women in Science Fiction & Fantasy Month! Once again Kristen is taking time out of her schedule to run this event and bring us some great essay writing, cool giveaways, and lots of recommendations. Thanks again, Kristen! ♥ As always, I’m extremely excited for this year’s event, because it involves one of my favorite pastimes: making lists! But we’ll come back to that in a moment.

The genre community I knew when Kristen started this project has changed dramatically. Sometimes I look around and see the conversations about gender, gender identity, gender bias, and more, breaking the binary all over the place and go, “We’ve come so far. Wow. WOW.” Because I can’t imagine back in 2013 having a frank discussion about genderqueer or trans issues I see now in some of the spaces I do without it sinking like a stone or it becoming a sentient Don’t Read the Comments monster. So I’m proud of us because undoing decades of cultural biases is hard, slow, and constant work. We still have a long way to go, but we’re carving a new groove for ourselves and that’s excellent. Good work, team!

As the community matured in how we discuss gender, other issues have cropped up, too. The problem with focusing on women in genre is that it can entrench the idea of a binary: a genre often historically defined by men becomes defined by women (often white women). And then we lose our ability to see marginalized genders and they become silenced and erased, which is the opposite of what we want to accomplish as we boost women’s voices.

This all came to me in a big rush earlier this month when I sat down to plan what I was going to say during this opening post. This year I launched my most intense reading challenge yet. I was going to read 100 unique women writers who I had never read before, as long as the work was longer than 7500 words or collected in a trade comic/graphic novel. One week in, someone happened to ask me if I was only reading cisgender women, or if trans women counted and it brought me up short. I hadn’t really thought about it and in not thinking about it I had created a situation of accidental erasure. It brought up other questions about if people didn’t identify as women or men and then I went down a rabbit hole of gender that tangled me up for a few days.

I decided that as long as I was aware of what I was doing I would read women writers who identified as women as part of my challenge. I would be very careful to not misgender anyone and include them by mistake, to ask questions when I was confused instead of assuming, and to respect boundaries if authors didn’t wish to disclose on their social media or to me personally if I happened to ask. I decided to be mindful of chances I had to read other marginalized genders, even if they didn’t count toward the challenge. It became a bit like an unofficial sub-challenge and it’s been working out great so far. Now that I’m aware of the issue, I’m more likely to check and see if someone of a marginalized gender has work that looks up my alley because it’s on my mind. A little awareness goes a long way and it’s not that much work at all to fold them into my inclusive reading practices that already exist.

I came away from the examination of my project confident that women-only events are still worthwhile, especially in a noisy genre environment that can still and often does erase us. It’s okay to carve our space and time and energy for those of us who identify as women, love women writers, and are women writers. Focusing on our interests doesn’t necessarily mean having to accept a gender binary. Instead it gives us the opportunity to think about women and beyond, to challenge ourselves and our biases still caught up in binary thinking about gender, and to stay aware of the voices and perspectives we’re reading.

What I’ve learned from the communities of women I’ve grown up inside and surrounded myself with is that we’re good at celebrating ourselves, but we also have hella skills in celebrating each other. Which brings me back to my favorite pastime: lists! I love a good list. “She loved recommendation lists. A LOT.” — my tombstone, probably. For several years now Kristen and I have been asking readers to step up and recommend 10 SFF novels by women writers you love and this year is no different, with some slight adjustments and a challenge!

All the recommendations submitted last year are live on the 2015 List with the authors and books and the number of recommendations they received1. It’s a great list and we’re grateful to everyone who took the time to submit recs. To change the game up a bit, though, this year we’d like you to think back over the past year or so and the books by women writers you read. Choose the ten you loved best and submit those books specifically. They can be old or new. If you’re a busy or slow reader, it’s okay to go back a little further if you need to, but the more recent, the better. You can submit them at this link, with our thanks! And don’t worry if they’re already there; the fun of the project is watching the numbers grow year to year! 🙂

And as for the challenge: after you recommend the books you’ve loved recently by women writers, think about looking up some SFF by marginalized genders. Google for some rec lists, or if you know of authors, leave their names in the comments with some of their work (but don’t out anyone who isn’t ready!) so other readers can find them. There’s a quote that I see go around Twitter sometimes. It’s always unattributed but as far as I can tell it comes from Mary Church Terrell, and the version I see says, “Lift as you climb.” As women carve out a place in genre spaces formerly occupied and dominated by men to celebrate ourselves, I’m convinced we have to make this concept something we center as we move forward in order to clear a path to inclusiveness for all, along as many intersections as possible. Celebrate women and celebrate the marginalized genders who often are left out of projects where the binary could be engaged and the gender spectrum left behind, even in a positive way.

Lift as you climb. It’s a pretty cool concept.

So go forth and recommend the women writers who have most recently written amazing science fiction and fantasy flavored things that you loved! And be sure to discover new perspectives and new writers along the gender spectrum, too! It’s a big, literary world out there. Have fun making your list and enjoy all the amazing content about and from women writers that you’ll see over the next month!

1 Like previous years, we removed obvious duplicates, books by cisgender men, and other non-SFF titles from the received submissions before we uploaded the final list. Since we are tracking entries by IP address, there were some rare cases in which entries were removed due to brigade voting. As always, if you see errors, or if we’ve misgendered someone, feel free to let us know and we’ll fix it. 🙂

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Women in SF&F Month guest posts begin tomorrow, and I’m very excited about it! Without further ado, here is the schedule for the first full week of the month:

Women in SF&F Week 1

April 4: Renay (Lady Business)
April 5: Fonda Lee (Zeroboxer)
April 6: Stephanie Burgis (Masks and Shadows; Kat, Incorrigible Series)
April 7: Charlie Jane Anders (All the Birds in the Sky, “Six Months, Three Days”)
April 8: Beth Cato (Breath of Earth, Clockwork Dagger Series)
April 9: Book Giveaway

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The first book being given away this month is my favorite I’ve read so far this year: The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip (who wrote a Women in SF&F guest post in 2013). This short stand alone fantasy, a Mythopoeic Award nominee first published in 1988, is wonderful and I can’t recommend it highly enough! Here’s the final paragraph from my review:

The Changeling Sea is a rare gem: a book that I loved from beginning to end. It’s deceptively simple on the surface but has depth, and that’s part of what makes it so memorable—along with the lovely writing, Peri herself, and its themes of love, loss, and humanity wrapped in a legendary tale. I don’t feel that anything I say can do this magical book justice, but it’s a new favorite book and yet another reason to read more written by Patricia McKillip.

This giveaway is open internationally—anyone from a country qualifying for free shipping from The Book Depository is eligible. More details on the book and giveaway are below.

The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

ABOUT THE CHANGELING SEA:

Since the day her father’s fishing boat returned without him, Peri and her mother have mourned his loss. Her mother sinks into a deep depression and spends her days gazing out at the sea. Unable to control her anger and sadness any longer, Peri uses the small magic she knows to hex the sea. And suddenly into her drab life come the King’s sons—changelings with strange ties to the underwater kingdom—a young magician, and, finally, love.

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 “Changeling Sea Giveaway.” One entry per household and one winner will be randomly selected. Those from a country qualifying for free shipping from the Book Depository are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Friday, April 8. 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.

Good luck!

Update: Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.

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It’s April again—meaning it’s time for Women in SF&F Month! This is the fifth annual blog series focusing on women in science fiction and fantasy here at Fantasy Cafe, and as always, I’m very excited about it! Guest posts will be starting on April 4 (Monday), but there will also be a couple of posts over the weekend. Tomorrow there will be an international giveaway of my favorite book read this year (so far), and I’ll be announcing next week’s guests on Sunday!

In case this is the first time you’ve heard of it, here’s the summary I wrote about the Women in SF&F Month series last year:

For the last few years, I’ve set aside reviews and other book coverage during the month of April and instead held a month-long series of guest posts highlighting some of the women doing amazing work in speculative fiction. Throughout the month, guests will discuss a variety of topics—many of which will be related to women in science fiction and fantasy but not necessarily all since the goal is simply to gather a group of women invested in the genre in one place for a month and showcase the wonderful work they are doing. Past contributions have ranged from women discussing their own work and process to what they find best about the works of other women to issues of representation and equity in fandom.

Before the first Women in SF&F Month, I had been making an effort to read and review a lot of speculative fiction books by women on this blog—but it wasn’t always that way. After I started reading fantasy and seeking more book recommendations online, I found that very few of the books I heard about the most were written by women. I didn’t actually notice this for quite awhile since I just read the books that were supposed to be good without giving much thought to who wrote them beyond whether or not I considered them an author worth reading.

It wasn’t until I saw an online discussion about women writing science fiction and fantasy that I realized I found it a lot easier to name men writing books in these genres than women. After that, I started paying more attention to women’s names when they were mentioned (which was usually here and there instead of everywhere like a lot of well-known fantasy and science fiction authors). I discovered there were all kinds of women writing speculative fiction that I’d missed out on since I read a lot of the (mostly male) authors praised all over the Internet. While many of these recommended authors do write books I enjoy, there are also many women who deserve to be read and lauded just as often.

Once I realized women’s books did not seem to be discussed as much, I turned to reading and reviewing more books by women to try to make my small corner of the Internet a place where some of these books were featured. Then, in 2012, there were a couple of discussions on the Internet about both review coverage of books by women and the lack of blogs by women suggested for Hugo Awards in the fan categories. After these discussions and some of the responses to them (one of which was that women weren’t being reviewed or mentioned because they weren’t writing and reviewing science fiction and fantasy), I wanted to show that there were lots of women writing, reviewing, and discussing speculative fiction whose work should be recognized. I decided to see if I could pull together enough guest posts to spend about a month highlighting women in science fiction and fantasy. At the time this decision was made, it seemed most reasonable to aim for an April event—and that’s how April became Women in SF&F Month on Fantasy Cafe!