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There have been some books discussed this year that sound amazing, and my wishlist has grown by leaps and bounds because of it! Like last year, I wanted to discuss some books by women that I’ve enjoyed. Last year’s book recommendation post was great books I hadn’t seen talked about during last year’s series. After some consideration about how to narrow down the books to talk about this year, I was inspired to write about some of the earlier science fiction and fantasy books I read that played a role in making me into a fan after reading what Janice and Angie wrote this year. My experience with discovering SFF was a lot different from theirs since I didn’t really become a science fiction and fantasy reader until college (even though I loved fairy tales, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wind in the Door, and A Wrinkle in Time as a child).

At first, I wasn’t sure how many books I’d have to write about since I did realize very few of the books I heard about and read because of recommendations were written by women a few years ago. Looking back, I think I actually read more books by women during my college years (though not as many as books written by men) and fewer once I got most of my recommendations online. I realized there were a few books I read by women when first discovering fantasy and science fiction that contributed to making me want to keep reading SFF, and those are the books I’d like to discuss today.

Beggars In Spain by Nancy Kress Beggars and Choosers by Nancy Kress Beggar's Ride by Nancy Kress

The Sleepless Trilogy by Nancy Kress

My husband is the person who started giving me science fiction and fantasy books to read, and these books are among his favorites. He’s read them and reread them, and one day he gave me Beggars In Spain to read, telling me it contained fascinating social and economic ideas. At this time, I was still rather skeptical about reading science fiction, but I found this book really easy to be interested in since it hooked me with “What if?” At this point, I was mostly reading classics and had not read many books that explored “What if?” scenarios at all so I found it interesting to consider what might happen if genetics ever advanced to the point where humans could be created without the need to sleep. Already intelligent, these genetically advanced people could become even more knowledgeable since they could use those hours other people spend sleeping. It explored the consequences of the development of the Sleepless both for society and for the Sleepless main character and her sister, who was not one of the Sleepless. I found the first book the most compelling of the trilogy, but I did read the rest and enjoyed the third book nearly as much.

Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones

Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones is one of my husband’s favorite authors, and he would often point them out to me in the bookstore and say I should read them. Of course, when he pointed them out to me, I noticed their placement in the children’s section and thought he was insane for suggesting I, an adult, should read them. I had quit reading those children’s books long ago! He kept telling me that some of the best stories were young adult, and eventually he gave me his copy of Dogsbody and convinced me to read it. And I’m glad he did since I enjoyed this charming story about Sirius, the dog star, condemned for a crime to live life on Earth in a dog’s body until he can complete a mission. This is probably the first book I read that qualifies as contemporary fantasy and I enjoyed the mixture of myth and the world I know. The relationship between Sirius and the young girl who takes him in is also quite heartwarming, and it’s just an overall good story.

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb Fool's Errand by Robin Hobb

The Farseer/Liveship Traders/Tawny Man Trilogies by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb is the only female author whose books I picked up because I did see them recommended all over the place, and her books were some of the most influential in making me a fan of epic fantasy. I picked up Assassin’s Apprentice one day and was immediately sucked in by the story of Fitz, a royal bastard with some special abilities who becomes an assassin-in-training. I was quite invested in the main character and his animal companion. I was a little hesitant about reading the middle trilogy, Liveship Traders, since it had different main characters but once I got past the slow start, I loved those as well. The Tawny Man trilogy returns to Fitz’s story and I remember being so impatient for the final volume that I paid more for the UK version since it came out before the US version.

Beauty by Robin McKinley The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley Beauty by Robin McKinley

Beauty, The Hero and the Crown, Spindle’s End, and Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley is the only fantasy author I can remember reading during my tween years. I picked up a copy of Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast at the library and loved it. It became the book I measured all Beauty and the Beast tales by, including the Disney movie. I never forgot this book, but since it was a book I picked up randomly from the library, I never remembered the title or author. Once I started reading more fantasy, I started thinking about this fairy tale retelling some more and asked around until I figured out what it was. I read it again and was just as enchanted by the tale of a Beauty who was not in fact supposed to be beautiful, but got her nickname because her father tried to describe the meaning of her name, Honour, to her when she was young—her response to this was that she’d rather be called Beauty. Even reading it years later, I loved the enchanted castle and the way her relationship with the Beast slowly evolved. After rediscovering this book, I went on to devour The Hero and the Crown, Spindle’s End, and Rose Daughter by McKinley. Beauty remains my favorite, but The Hero and the Crown is also quite good!

Transformation by Carol Berg Revelation by Carol Berg Restoration by Carol Berg

The Rai-kirah Trilogy by Carol Berg

Transformation, the first book in this trilogy, is one of a very few books I picked up only because it was an Amazon recommendation based on other books I’d enjoyed. No one recommended it to me other than a computer algorithm, but I’m very glad I picked it up since Transformation is a favorite. From page one, I was absorbed by the plight of the slave Seyonne, a Warden who fought demons, and I just loved reading the development of his friendship with the arrogant Prince Aleksander. The next two books were really good thematically and delved more deeply into the world, but I loved the story in the first one the most. I’ve read a few more of Berg’s novels since then, and I have enjoyed them all.

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Today’s guest is fantasy and science fiction author Kate Elliott! She has written several books, including those in the Crown of Stars, Jaran, Crossroads, and Spiritwalker series. The first two books in the latter, her most recent series, are the only ones I’ve read so far, but they have made me a die-hard fan. Cold Magic and Cold Fire (Spiritwalker 1 and 2) feature a fascinating world brimming with history and culture, an endearing heroine with an engaging narrative voice, adventure, well-drawn character relationships, excellent dialogue, an entertaining story, and even laugh-out-loud moments. I love them wholeheartedly and can hardly wait for the conclusion, Cold Steel, to be released in June.

That’s why I am so happy to have the opportunity to give away the books in this fantastic series today—and I’m absolutely thrilled that Kate Elliott is also joining us today, especially since I can’t think of a better way to end this series of posts than her examination of review coverage for women in SFF and concluding thoughts!

King's Dragon by Kate Elliott Jaran by Kate Elliott Cold Steel by Kate Elliott

Fantasy Book Cafe’s month-long series of posts by and about women in sff is a delight this year as it was last year. When Kristen asked me if I would write a post (as I did last year) I said “yes” at once. Yet for some reason this year I struggle with having anything to say that I feel hasn’t already been said.

Recent posts by Lady Business and Strange Horizons discuss review statistics in the field, broken down by gender.

Strange Horizons observes:


“As in previous years, in the majority of the SF review venues surveyed, disproportionately few books by women were reviewed, and disproportionately few reviews by women were published.”

Lady Business includes a sub section titled “Observations on Claims of Progressive Reading Choices.”


“[In] our study last year, some claimed that gender blindness or related, completely imaginary skills freed them from any and all social, cultural, or internalized tendency to devalue or ignore women’s contributions, and therefore, freed them from needing to critically analyze their reading choices. And of course, if they are exempt from examining reading choices, they’re also exempt from examining reviewing choices.”

Lady Business then follows up with a further post about reactions to the post:


“[W]hat I think we need to start realising is that the literary world is an eco-system, where each different part of the industry contributes to the promotion of diversity. If one link in the chain doesn’t help out we are all lost. If someone reviews 100 book in a year and only 10 of those are by women, when there are 50 books available by women, that person is part of the reason why female authors aren’t as visible as male authors on SFF blogs. That person may not care if they are part of the problem. They may not have realised there was a problem before. They may even think the problem is unimportant. That doesn’t change the fact that the data shows their blog is part of a scene which does not represent women.”

A lively discussion of Strange Horizon’s post popped up on io9.

The comments include a link to an article about how literary journal Tin House examined and rectified its gender imbalance:


“Our staff is 50/50 male-female, and we thought we were gender blind. However, the numbers didn’t bear this out.”

So what can any one make of all this? Doesn’t it seem like this conversation is being had over and over again, with the same explanations and calls for action and the same protests and denials?

Last year coffeeandink offered a cogent comment on the issue:


“Again, I’m not trying to suggest that the men involved are deliberately excluding women writers. I am saying that when they do not think about it, they privilege criteria which cause them to select and promote male writers rather than female writers.”

Privileging criteria is a subtle and pervasive bias. It doesn’t mean overt sexism, although that can be present. It can be as simple as a show like Justified (whose 2nd season I enjoyed) highlighting the violence of men in repeated scenes that can be seen as tense and exciting (viewing by one criterion) and repetitive and predictable (viewing by another criterion). The verbal and physical dueling of men on opposite sides of crime and the law is valued (in the USA cultural mainstream) as dramatically interesting, even as entire episodes go by with women and people of color relegated to secondary roles mostly or solely defined by their relationships to (white) men. As long as criteria like this are privileged and its writing and plotting are not seen as flawed or problematic (in the sense that Justified has been renewed for a 5th season), then pervasive internalized privilege propagates in which stories about (usually white Western) men doing certain kinds of things in certain kinds of ways are deemed important as well as suitable for all viewers because they are seen to represent a universal drama whereas stories about other people(s) are seen as less universal and thus suitable for only a particularized audience.

But you already know this. What I’ve written above is just one aspect of a very complicated situation. How people read, how they review, how they approach any given work, comes with internalized biases and unexamined assumptions. I’m only noting the tip of the iceberg.

I have no answer. Talking, signal boosting, pushing back: It matters.
For example, check out the worthwhile Women to Read project by Kari Sperring.
And this blog’s Women in SFF Month.

It gets awfully tiring though. It’s like doing laundry; you just keep having to wash the same clothes over and over and over again.

But I do not want to end on a note of frustration, however frustrated I often feel. Certain forms of frustration can lead to bitterness, which brings me to a conversation I had the other day via Twitter with Australian novelist Alison Croggon.

We were talking about trying to avoid bitterness, about how corrosive bitterness can be.

She said, “Bitterness is the soul shriveling up. I guess it’s just the ungenerousness of it. Anger can be generous, make you larger.”

Maybe that’s one answer:
Be generously angry.
Seek to become larger by listening for the voices that are too often ignored.
Speak the story that only you can tell.

The Spiritwalker Trilogy

Courtesy of Orbit, I have a copy of the entire Spritwalker trilogy (Cold Magic, Cold Fire, and Cold Steel) to give away! (The giveaway is open to those with US and Canadian mailing addresses.)

Since the final book in this trilogy will not be released until June, these books will not be sent out immediately. For that reason, I’m going to let this giveaway run for longer than usual.

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 “Spiritwalker Giveaway.” One entry per person and one 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 Saturday, May 25. 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 books).

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!

(Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.)

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is interfiction writer Kiini Ibura Salaam! Her short story collection Ancient, Ancient was one of the two winners of the 2012 James Tiptree, Jr. Award, an annual award for science fiction and fantasy literature that explores gender. While I have yet to read this collection, I was intrigued by her prose after reading some samples of her speculative fiction writing. I’m excited she is here today to discuss The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara and the profound influence it had on her as a writer whose work spans genres!

Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam

The Salt Eaters and Me

When I was younger, my mother’s bookshelf was my library. It was home to many novels that are central to Black woman’s literature. I could grasp plots that featured grown-up experiences, but much of the subtext and external references escaped me. This didn’t stop me from voraciously consuming everything I could get my hands on for I was too young to know the limits of my comprehension. There was one novel, though, that even the obtuseness of youth failed to carry me through.

There was not much of Toni Cade Bambara’s impenetrable novel The Salt Eaters that I could comprehend. After I graduated from my mother’s bookshelf, I went to Spelman College, where I was assigned other books central to Black woman’s literature. The Salt Eaters was referenced in my classes, but never assigned. Years later, Bambara’s American Book Award-winning work was selected for my book club. I was threatened by the mere mention of it, but deep down, I relished the idea of grappling with this enigmatic and illusive narrative.

When I started to read, I recognized the book’s merits: intriguing and engaging language; colorful, humorous, and perceptive characterization; a widely ranging fountain of references, which romp through Afrosyncretic religions, scientific concepts, Greek gods, activist culture, Southern life, and more, leaving no stone unturned. But within twenty pages, I was reacquainted with The Salt Eaters’ challenges.

The story structure is completely nontraditional. It is a whirlwind of memory, stream of consciousness, internal reflections, flashbacks and social commentary. The front story is supremely simple: over the course of the novel’s entire arc, a woman who has tried to commit suicide sits on a stool in an infirmary while a nontraditional healer tries to heal her. From there the narrative accepts no limits. We journey through the main character’s life (both past and present). Through the healer’s internal conversation, we meet a spirit woman who resides in the healer’s head. The main character’s husband gives us new perspective on the main character and introduces us to a local arts center along with its characters and coalitions. We bounce along with the thoughts and reflections of travellers, pausing to jump into their bus driver’s head where the spirit of his dead friend resides. The point of view is omnivorous, featuring many, many more characters than can be absorbed with ease.

Here is a novel that demonstrates complete disdain for the temporal. This is not due to an inability on Bambara’s part to frame a narrative—none of her other works follow this nontraditional structure. She insists on communicating one of the core tenants of the novel—that everything is linked to the larger whole and nothing exists without everything else—through the reader’s experience. There is no time or space that enjoys primacy; there is no privileging of the “now.” In the world of The Salt Eaters, nothing and no one can be understood without unraveling several strands of history and memory—strands that, when touched, further unravel, splicing into numerous directions so that you are left scrambling to keep pace with the vastly diverging and multiplying points of view that emerge from the fleet imaginings of Bambara’s pen.

Due to my advance knowledge that The Salt Eaters would be a challenging read, I started reading three weeks before book club (I usually devour a book in a week with time to spare). Initially, I felt as if I were doing more wrestling than reading. The spiraling thoughts and references are—quite frankly—exhausting. However somewhere around page 100, I developed a strategy for engagement. Whenever the plot strands were too splintered or we dove too deep into one character’s effusive point of view, I jumped ahead. When I found a plot point to pull me back down to the ground, I returned to the passage that had disoriented me. Whenever a new character was introduced, I bestowed imaginary space before the point-of-view shift, thereby treating each character’s vignette as a stand-alone story rather than part of a novel.

Once I was over the hurdles, there was plenty to fascinate in The Salt Eaters. When I am indulging myself as a writer, I love to play with point-of-view, visceral images and spirituality—and I recognized that impulse in Bambara’s work. There were a slew of quotable passages that I unearthed and shared with others. I found her bravura stimulating—the guts to write an entire novel in your own language with dizzying references and a spare narrative structure stunned me.

Bambara’s daring to write what came through her exactly the way she wanted to did not just intrigue me as a reader, it energized me as a writer. The Salt Eaters does not situate itself in any specific genre. It’s not quite mainstream fiction, nor is it quite speculative; while it’s experimental in structure, it is not experimental in content. There is a tension between her wide-ranging intellectual references, her avant guarde approach, and her unapologetic concern with people of the earth—the salt eaters. Reading it was like downing a bracing double shot of something homegrown and bathtub-brewed. “Do what you want to!” it flashed at me in bright letters.

Writers need difficult books on their shelves—we need writers who throw tantrums, who disregard conventions, who make unwieldy works, not so that we can pattern ourselves after them, but so that we can dive headlong into our own version of inconsistent, indignant, messy creativity. For me, it’s not the content that I want to emulate, but Bambara’s bold decision to go her own way. I have spent too much time standing between genres, frozen like a rigid pillar of salt. I fear that my speculative readers will not read my mainstream works, but the truth is, I am not either/or. I have always operated in erotica, speculative fiction, and mainstream fiction at once. I am interstitial—I am a writer of speculative stories who is writing a conventional novel. I don’t know what that will mean for my career and my identity in the public eye, but I do know that a paradoxical novel like The Salt Eaters frees me to birth stories that range from the “normal” to the weird, and to claim them all unapologetically as my own.

Kiini Ibura Salaam

KIINI IBURA SALAAM is a writer, painter, and traveler from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work is rooted in eroticism, speculative events, women’s perspectives, and artistic freedom. She has been widely published and anthologized in such publications as the Dark Matter, Mojo: Conjure Stories, and Colonize This! anthologies, as well as Essence, Utne Reader, and Ms. magazines. Her short story collection Ancient, Ancientwinner of the 2013 James Tiptree, Jr. award—contains sensual tales of the fantastic, the dark, and the magical. Her micro-essays on writing can be found at www.kiiniibura.com.

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Today’s guest is fantasy author Juliet E. McKenna! She has written the books in the following series: The Tales of Einarinn, The Aldabreshin Compass, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, and The Hadrumal Crisis. While I haven’t yet read any of her books, I have recently been convinced I should read The Thief’s Gamble, the first book in the Tales of Einarinn, by Elizabeth from DarkCargo. Earlier this month, she discussed some of her favorite heroines in science fiction and fantasy and cited Livak, a thief from The Tales of Einarinn, as one of them and made her sound like a very fun character to read about. I’m thrilled that Juliet E. McKenna is here today discussing the visibility of women writing science fiction and fantasy—and what we can do to help make them more visible!

(Note: unlike most posts on this site, this one was long enough that the whole thing isn’t on the main page. Either click on the title of the post or the ‘more…’ link at the bottom to get the whole thing.)

The Thief's Gamble by Juliet E. McKenna Southern Fire by Juliet E. McKenna Dangerous Waters by Juliet E. McKenna

Inequality of Visibility for Women Writers.
What does it mean and what can we do about it?

In January 1999 I had the wonderful experience of going into my local Ottakar’s bookshop and seeing my debut novel The Thief’s Gamble on display as the SF&Fantasy Book of the Month and piled high right at the front of the store. That wasn’t all; a tempting discount sticker, still a novelty in those days, encouraged potential readers to yield to their curiosity and give this new author a try. Enough book buyers did just that to ensure that my second novel got the same level of promotion. After that my successive releases got their month of helpfully noticeable display on the New Releases fixture just inside the door. Meantime my backlist books could all be found on the SF&Fantasy shelves for browsing fans to find when they’d read the latest releases from their favourites and they were looking for something new. Not because I was getting any particular special treatment but because that’s how books were sold back then.

Fast forward fourteen years and how many new books are granted that level of visibility? How often are any debut novels outside the mainstream flagged up to potentially interested readers by Waterstones, the only remaining national bookselling chain on UK high streets? SF&F newcomers may still be shelved in the relevant section but the odds are increasingly stacked against them attracting enough attention to launch a sustained writing career these days. Readers simply don’t browse bookshops in the way they used to. Why pay full price to take a risk on an unknown author when perfectly good reads are on offer at the front of the shops and cheaper? Once such a useful promotional tool, discounting now cuts the retailer’s own throat.


Women in SF&F Month Banner

Thanks to last week’s guests, it was another great week of articles and recommendations! There are only three guests left, although this month’s event won’t officially be over right at the end of April. I’ll be writing one or two more related posts, plus we will be releasing the final list of favorite fantasy and science fiction books by women that Renay from Lady Business is working on. (You can add your favorites here if you have not already!)

Before announcing the final guests, here’s what happened last week in case you missed any of these guest posts.

Week In Review

Here are the discussions that took place over the last week:

Upcoming Guests: Final 3 Days

Although I’m sad to see the month come to a close, I’m very happy about the final 3 guests! Here’s the schedule for the last days of April, starting a little later today:

Women in SF&F Week 5

April 28: Juliet E. McKenna (The Tales of Einarinn, The Aldabreshin Compass)
April 29: Kiini Ibura Salaam (Ancient, Ancient)
April 30: Kate Elliott (Spiritwalker, Jaran, Crossroads, Crown of Stars)

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is Sarah from one of my must-read blogs, Bookworm Blues! Sarah reads and reviews a lot of fantasy and science fiction books, and she has an enthusiasm for reading that shines through her great, well-written reviews. Last year, she also hosted an amazing series on her blog in which she gathered some guest posts by authors and bloggers to discuss disabilities in science fiction and fantasy, and she is planning to do the same this year. Right now, she’s discussing sexism—and claims of sexism—in genre fiction!

Bookworm Blues

If someone asked me who my favorite female author was, I wouldn’t hesitate to say Elizabeth Bear and I’d have no problems discussing why she is such an important author. I could go on and on about her creativity, unique worlds, excellent cultures, well-rounded characters, stunning prose, and the list goes on. In fact, passion for the genre and the authors in it is the thing that fuels my website and keeps my reviews flowing.

Recently I got into a discussion with an author about sexism in fantasy. This was interesting because it’s not something I’ve really thought about before. There will always be discussions about how female authors are different from male authors, and those discussions will always aggravate me. While I’m sure sexism does exist in literature, I don’t actually think much of what people consider to be sexist is actually sexist.

Let me elaborate. I love Elizabeth Bear as an author. She’s in my top five and I get all fangirl excited every time she retweets something I said on Twitter. I read everything she writes and I tend to enjoy her books so much that I can’t actually review them. I just foam at the mouth about how wonderful she is and put that on my website. I’m that big of an Elizabeth Bear fan.

I have never really analyzed my enjoyment of Elizabeth Bear in terms of the fact that she’s a female author. I have never sat back and thought, “Well, since she’s a woman, her writing is different than a man’s because (insert reasons here).” That’s why I had such a hard time thinking of something to write for this event. I don’t think of authors as male and female in more than an observational way. The gender of an author doesn’t matter to me in the least. It has zero impact on the quality of their writing. Monet was a man who painted more water lilies than any other human being who has ever lived. Being a man had absolutely no impact on his ability to paint them.

After I had the discussion about sexism in SFF with that author, I became a lot more aware of people accusing authors of being sexist, or saying an author couldn’t write some character properly because the author was of the opposite gender. It actually shocked me how much of that sort of dialogue is floating around that I’ve never really been aware of before. Then I got aggravated and I’ve spent a while silently simmering in my aggravation and trying to figure out a way to put it into a blog post.

I think people are a little mixed up. That’s the crux of it. It seems to be a common belief that women are more emotional and character driven than men and men are more obsessed with action and adventure. Then there is a common belief that because an author is male/female they can’t properly write a character of the opposite gender because they aren’t of that gender and thus, just don’t get it.

Perhaps that is all true, or maybe it’s not (I tend to fall into the second camp). What bothers me about these conversations is that they seem to divide people more than unite them. When we focus on how genders affect an author’s ability to write, we highlight differences more than similarities, and we help cement old, often unnoticed habits of categorizing authors based on the kind of underwear they wear. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever cared what gender an author is, or noticed if being a male/female makes their writing more emotional or whatever. However, after this discussion about sexism, I spent days thinking about all the books I’ve read recently, and wondering if the female authored books were more emotional and character driven than the male authored books.

And the thing about it is that thought patterns like that are so incredibly subtle. They just sneak in on a whisper and a prayer and before you know it, you’re thinking about the female authored books in a different way than you think about the male authored books. For a few days, every time I picked up a male authored book, I focused more on the action and adventure more than anything else, and I hadn’t even realized it. In reality, some of the most emotionally raw books I’ve ever read have been written by men, and some of the most active and gory have been written by women. Then you can throw in the mysterious fish like K.J. Parker, who is whatever gender you want him/her to be and what do you have? A mess. You can insinuate anything about anyone, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.

And that’s where I get aggravated. I think there’s a lot less sexism in literature there than people think. Just because authors write different ways, and their books all have different tones, doesn’t mean anything. We are all different people. We think differently, live differently, love differently, read differently and write differently. There’s strength in that. It causes a lot of diversity and differentiation. It’s the reason why libraries and bookstores are filled full of books that are all so incredibly unique. I asked Stina Leicht a question in an interview that is applicable here:

Q: A lot of reviewers and readers think that authors have a hard time writing realistic characters of the opposite sex. Your character Liam is (obviously) male, and he is incredibly realistic, well rounded and beautifully created. Was it hard for you to write a male protagonist? Do you have any tips for individuals writing opposite sex protagonists?

A: It’s a genre writer’s job to write about Other, if you ask me. Monsters, aliens, fantasy creatures… they’re a huge part of what makes Science Fiction and Fantasy Science Fiction and Fantasy. If writing about the opposite sex is too overwhelming for you — a large group of people who are easily accessible — then I don’t know how you’ll ever make a believable alien. Always start with the mundane and then move into the unreal. People are people. Men do have unique characteristics that are different from women, but it’s really not that hard to find out what they are. Talk to men. Talk to women. Be observant. Above all, listen don’t talk.

If an author portrays a female character as physically weaker than their male counterpart, they aren’t being sexist; they are probably being realistic. I will use myself as an example. I can’t lift more than twenty pounds on a good day. That doesn’t make me weak, nor does it mean that I’m weak because I’m a woman. I’m weak because I have a joint disorder that has forced me through six surgeries and will force me through a lot more before I journey into the great beyond. If an author were writing me into a book, they’d have to accurately portray my strengths and weaknesses. I’m physically weak but I’m strong in many other ways and the fact that I’m a woman has nothing to do with it. There are plenty of men out there with the same disorder I have, and they are just as physically limited as I am. Portraying a character with certain limitations and other strengths doesn’t make an author sexist, as so many are fond of exclaiming. It makes them realistic.

I can round out this incredibly long diatribe by saying that just because people (characters and authors) are different, doesn’t mean that sexism is everywhere. Nor does it mean that an author’s gender is impacting their writing in any huge way. Yeah, I’m sure gender does play some role in things, but so does the fact that the writer woke up in a bad mood and drank really crappy coffee the morning before he/she wrote (insert scene here). By picking out genders and focusing so much on them, we are attributing differences to writing styles and books that just aren’t there, or aren’t that important. When we strip away the genders we really see what the author is capable of, and what the book is offering us. Sure, I’ve read some books with some sexist characters and scenarios in them, but that doesn’t mean the author is a sexist. The fact that Elizabeth Bear is one of my all time favorite authors doesn’t mean that I prefer swoony, emotion filled, character driven fantasy. It means I enjoy a damn good story and I like it when an author can sit down and tell a damn good story perfectly.

Sexism? Yeah, it exists, but I think the way to truly overcome any gender bias is to get rid of these gender-focused discussions. We need to focus on quality, rather than plumbing.