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Today’s guests are Ana and Thea from The Book Smugglers, a long-time favorite of mine! These two constantly impress me with both the quantity and quality of their reviews, as well as their insightful commentary and discussions. Their enthusiasm for books and reading just enhances all their wonderful content, which isn’t just limited to their site—they also have a monthly newsletter and write a weekly science fiction and fantasy column at Kirkus. Ana and Thea review a lot of books, both new and old, and they recently started an Old School Wednesday feature dedicated to books at least 5 years old. They’ve just begun a monthly read-a-long for some of these older titles, and they will be hosting a discussion of Terrier by Tamora Pierce on April 24th.

During last year’s event, they wrote about agency in fiction and offered recommendations for science fiction and fantasy books featuring female characters with agency. This year, they are engaging in their specialty—making me add books to my wish list in mass quantities—with recommendations for amazing young adult and middle grade SF&F stories written by women!

The Book Smugglers

Female SFF Authors Writing MG & YA

First, let us start this post by saying how thrilled and honored we are to participate in Fantasy Cafe’s annual Women in SF&F Month for the second year in a row!

When Kristen invited us to contribute an article this year, we ran through (and discarded) a number of possible topics until we alighted on one that is very close to our hearts. Often times, you’ll hear the dreaded “c” word regarding books under the speculative fiction umbrella: crossover.

How many lists have you seen espousing the wonderful, many merits of adult science fiction or fantasy books with “crossover appeal” for younger readers? How many times have you seen articles and posts that cherry pick titles that adults deem are appropriate for younger audiences?

We’ve seen plenty. And we want to flip that notion on its head.

Today, we present you with our list of female SFF authors who write explicitly for the Middle Grade and Young Adult readers, but whose books transcend age categorization. Simply put, these are awesome authors who create amazing works of speculative fiction.

We shouldn’t discount or separate MG and YA from the genre overall when we are talking about great works of speculative fiction. This becomes even more important in the larger context of great SFF and female authorship – because when we talk about women writers in the genre, we are also talking about visibility and recognition. We simply CANNOT ignore the fact that there is a vast (and growing) number of female authors writing SFF for young readers. Also, we should not ignore these titles because, hey, there is so much AWESOME being written in these categories.

We’re calling attention to some of our favorites, but you can see our goodreads shelf full of SFF Female Authors and their wonderful MG and YA books HERE.

All books on this shelf have a rating of at least 3 stars (or in Book Smugglerish, 6/10), and is meant as a resource for anyone new to SFF written explicitly for young readers. And, because everyone knows about Suzanne Collins and J.K. Rowling and Cat Valente and Kristin Cashore and Tamora Pierce, we’re limiting our list below to lesser-known female authors.

Life as we Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer Susan Beth Pfeffer
Notable Books: Life as We Knew ItThe Dead and the Gone
These apocalyptic science fiction books are among Thea’s favorites of ALL TIME. Epistolary novels from the perspective of two very different teens in very different parts of the country (one in the isolated countryside, one in the bustle of New York City), these books examine what happens to the world when a catastrophic astronomical event changes the orbit of the moon.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth Carrie Ryan
Notable Books: The Forest of Hands and TeethThe Dark and Hollow Places
Besides having amazingly evocative titles, Ryan’s books are haunting tales of a future world ravaged by the undead. Horrific but surprisingly beautiful at the same time.
Bleeding Violet Dia Reeves
Notable Books: Bleeding VioletSlice of Cherry
Bleeding Violet is one of Ana’s favorite books, and Slice of Cherry is one of Thea’s. Both take place in the nightmarish world of Portero, Texas and feature disturbing heroines who are more at home with blood and madness than anything else. Trust us – read the books.
The City in the Lake Rachel Neumeier
Notable Books: The City in the LakeThe Floating Islands
Rachel Neumeier is a noted author of adult fantasy, but we adore her YA books even more – The City in the Lake is a darkly romantic fantasy yarn reminiscent of Juliet Marillier and Sharon Shinn, and The Floating Islands features complex protagonists and political machinations on a grand scale (and dragons, too).
Kat, Incorrigible Stephanie Burgis
Notable Books: Kat, IncorrigibleRenegade Magic
These delightful, Regency era fantasy books are told from the perspective of one incorrigible twelve-year old named Kat Stephenson. Not only does she have a skill for magic, but she is charged with the tiresome task of saving her older sisters from their own nonsense. We dare you to read these books and not be charmed and amazed. We DARE you.
The Darkangel Meredith Ann Pierce
Notable Books: The DarkangelA Gathering of GargoylesThe Pearl at the Soul of the World
Meredith Ann Pierce is an old school fantasy author, whose work bridges the realms of magical fantasy and science fiction. Her Darkangel trilogy is elegiac and ethereal – while we haven’t this prolific author’s other work, we plan on running through her extensive backlist very soon.
The Boneshaker Kate Milford
Notable Books: The BoneshakerThe Broken Lands
We’re going to come out and say it: Kate Milford is one of the most criminally under-read and under-rated authors currently writing books today. Both of her Arcana books are jaw-on-the-floor AMAZING and we vow to do everything in our power to make sure people discover this exceptionally talented author. Don’t know what to read next? READ THE BONESHAKER. Please. DO IT.
Ultraviolet R.J. Anderson
Notable Books: UltravioletQuicksilver
Another criminally under-read author (at least in the United States), R.J. Anderson is an author of both traditional fantasy and science fiction. Her recent books, Ultraviolet and the newly released Quicksilver are psychological thrillers with a distinctive science fiction twist.
Vessel Sarah Beth Durst
Notable Books: Vessel
Set in a desert world where gods take over the bodies of willing teenage vessels, Vessel is one of those keeper books about coming of age, identity, and choice.
A Long Long Sleep Anna Sheehan
Notable Books: A Long Long Sleep
This is one of those sleeper books that flew under the radar in 2011 – but it’s one of the best science fiction books Thea’s read in a very long time. What happens when you retell Sleeping Beauty, but add a horrific, science fictional twist? You get some approximation of this masterful book, that’s what.
The Chaos Nalo Hopkinson
Notable Books: The Chaos
A wonderfully surrealist Fantasy tale of self-identity and discovery that mixes stories from the Caribbean and from Russia. It’s quite unlike anything we have ever read in YA (or anywhere).
The Thief Megan Whalen Turner
Notable Books: The Queen’s Thief series starting with The Thief
A brilliant series that gets better and better with each book. Playing with narrative formats in really smart ways and featuring a plethora of unforgettable characters in a Fantasy setting that examines politics and religion, this is one of Ana’s all-time favourite series.
A Wish After Midnight Zetta Eliott
Notable Books: A Wish After MidnightShip of Souls
Beautifully written Speculative Fiction with a Historical bend and exploring Brooklyn’s incredible, poignant history both now and in the Civil War era, Elliott’s books are always a pleasure to read.
Ash Malinda Lo
Notable Books: AshAdaptation
Fairytale retellings, Fantasy and Science Fiction: Lo has been writing a bit of everything and always featuring LGBT main characters.
A Face Like Glass Frances Hardinge
Notable Books: her entire back list but most notably A Face Like Glass and Fly By Night
Frances Hardinge is another criminally under-read author who everybody with even a remote interest in great Fantasy should be reading right now. Her books are mind-blowing, creative, incredibly thought-provoking and downright fun.

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Today’s guest is prolific author Sherwood Smith! She’s written a great number and variety of stories, including both adult and young adult fantasy as well as science fiction. Her plentiful backlist was very welcome news to me after discovering her writing last year when I read her recently published book Banner of the Damned, an impressive, richly detailed fantasy novel focused on cultures and the lives of the characters. I loved it, and the experience of reading it made me want to go back and read everything she’s ever written—and the same sentiment applies to her fascinating guest post about women in fandom. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

(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. Sherwood Smith doesn’t just deliver the awesome, she delivers a lot of awesome!)

Sherwood Smith at a con
Sherwood Smith at a con

The Fan Effect

Captain Harville: “But let me observe that all histories are against
you, all stories, prose and verse… Songs and proverbs, all talk of
woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by
Anne Elliot: “Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in
books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story.
Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in
their hands.”
–Jane Austen, Persuasion

“The nature of reason must be the same in all.”
–Mary Wollstonecroft, A
Vindication of the Rights of

When a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world it can cause a hurricane in another part of the world.
Author Unknown (quoted by Edward Lorenz in his paper on the “Butterfly effect,” 1972)

The Fan in Fandom

Last month I read that longtime fan Judy Gerjuoy had died. I knew of her as the organizer of the long-running Darkovercon, dedicated to the works of Marion Zimmer Bradley, and including works by authors similar in spirit. Judy was barely 21 when she organized the first, in 1979.

That got me to thinking about the largely unnoticed, but profoundly influential effect women have had on fandom, on the SF and F genre, and on my particular culture—English-speaking, mostly USAn, as that’s what I’ve had most access to.

So many of us female writers began as fans.

I recollect at the Equicon 1972, which turned out to be at least as big as a Worldcon, if not bigger, a thirty-something male fan said with a pleased face, “I don’t know what it is, but suddenly fandom is full of girls!” (He married one not long after—they are still happily married.) The cons went in a few years from hundreds of attendees to thousands. I remember seas of women my age at those cons, we Boomers born roughly 1948-1955. The media took no notice, yet I suspect if thousands of young men had taken to foregathering, there would have been alarums and excursions across all the media.

In my own experience, fandom grew exponentially after the mid-60s, when women discovered Star Trek and Lord of the Rings, and to a smaller extent science fiction like Dune and Stranger in a Strange Land—exciting stories, both, but the last line of the former was “History will call us wives,” as if that was the epitome of female ambition, and the sexual climate of the latter was firmly fixed in the male gaze. As for LOTR, there were barely any women in it, and they most definitely on the sidelines, and Trek’s women were, at best, sidekicks, in their short little skirts that forced them to mince carefully for the cameras.

We were used to that, and other elements of these storylines had powerful appeal. We were young then, and the way we interacted with the material in a social setting not only consisted of dressing in costumes, and doing some early cosplaying at masquerades and picnics, but in writing, both fanfic and original. It’s not that men didn’t write stories or zines. They did. But at least in my experience, it was the women who caused the flourishing of fanfic, and thence, the arrival of women in the publishing world.

In those early days, terrific zines, like Ruth Berman’s T-Negative, were all published on purple mimeo. Within a few years the Xerox had been invented, but many of the serious zineds and writers went directly to offset printing.

Freed of what was perceived as publishing constraints, these women were not writing to please male readers, they were writing to please themselves. Even with male main characters, the stories were written with a distinctively female gaze.

And there were male characters. This surprised me, when reading those zines during the 70s, how many of them had males as the central characters. This is probably why I did not get into much fanfiction writing. I really wanted more female action figures, and it was easier to envision their adventures in my own universe. But I appreciated how fanfiction writers were taking those male-centric shows and refashioning them for the female gaze in various ways.

I sat in a hotel room late at night at a con sometime in the early eighties, listening to some fanwriters talk about universes, characters, and storylines. Re the type of story that puts the male character through the wringer, a woman who had penned some particularly graphic hurt/comfort stories (very popular they were, too) smiled sweetly and said, “When I take my toys out, I always put them back to bed again, as pretty as they were before, ready for next time I want to play.”

Before a subset of fandom discovered Alexander the Great and Hephaiston’s passion through Mary Renault, and Francis Crawford of Lymond through Dorothy Dunnett’s historical novels, it was all Frodo, Aragorn, Captain Kirk, and especially Spock. And hoo boy did they suffer!

I think it was in 1974 when “August Moon” came out, in which Spock went into Pon Farr with Kirk, that an deeper itch got scratched. Others have delved into why that storyline works so powerfully for female fans. All I’m here to say is that fanfiction really took off, and I watched it happen. And eventually some of these writing women filed the serial numbers off their stories and went on to highly successful careers.

Tangential to the stories were letter zines like “Marzipan and Kisses”, dedicated to Dorothy Dunnett, in which case participants discussed and analyzed the novels. I remember two super popular threads: determining Kuzum’s father, and did Lymond or didn’t he sleep with Dragut Rais. People were coming out of the closet right and left, and it showed in the zines. IDIC was one of the most important concepts showing up, over and over, in fanfiction. By being able to talk about these issues with other women, in an atmosphere of tolerance and support, the fans could go out into the world and try to live the ideal.

Fans in History

Maybe it’s too much of a stretch to use the word ‘fan.’ This word seems so bound to the present day. And yet when I delve into the history of literature for what the women were doing, I see evidence of fannish behavior: reading, writing about one’s reading, writing stories of one’s own, then going out and trying to live the ideal. Were women doing fandom?

Sure they were. History, as written by men, just didn’t pay any attention.


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A couple of days into this year’s Women in SF&F Month and, judging by the Twitter response and other social traffic, it looks like people are well into the swing of it!  I’m so very happy about the response from the community and can only say that we’ve just scratched the surface of the great posts that people have contributed.

We’re continuing today with science fiction and fantasy author Karin Lowachee! She’s best known for her books set in the Warchild universe, a place that is not filled with rainbows and fluffy bunnies. Though I have yet to read these books myself, I’ve heard nothing but praise for them from those who have read them. During last year’s event, Shara from Calico Reaction shared that Warchild was easily her favorite science fiction novel EVER, and Janice from Specfic Romantic said she enjoyed Karin Lowachee’s Warchild books because “the voices of her protagonists are always so distinctive and so compelling.”

After hearing those recommendations and more for these books, I was excited when Karin Lowachee accepted my invitation to participate in this year’s series. She is going to talk about the common assumption that people have upon hearing that she’s an author: she either writes children’s books or romances.

Karin Lowachee

“You Mean You Don’t Write Children’s Books?”

Let’s talk about when people ask you about your writing, you a female – perhaps you’ve even published – but they don’t know anything else. Maybe they’re friends of the family but not particularly your friends; maybe just acquaintances; maybe people you meet for the first time at a random (non-writerly) event, and the conversation goes as most do in casual situations: So what do you do? I’m a writer. Oh that’s cool! What do you write – children’s books? No, actually. Romances? No, actually—books about war.

If I had a dollar for every time…as they say.

For some reason the go-to assumption when I tell random people that I write is that I write children’s books. Let me put it out there that I’m not the kind of girl who has a burning desire to hold babies or be around kids, so I don’t really know why they’d assume that association; of course a stranger or casual acquaintance might not know that. Okay, so what about the fact I look sort of young? Is the assumption then that I write romance novels? I have nothing against romance writers or romance books, even if it’s not my thing. But over the years it’s become a point of great amusement that both men and women I’ve casually met seem to find it shocking that I, a multiracial kind-of-young-looking woman, would write about war.

Not only war, but children in perilous situations, real-world not-pretty topics that occur in our day and age, only – even more shocking! – set in space. Science fiction is surely for teenaged boys or Trekkies, right? Or, as the case may be with my fantasy, war set in a second world Victorian Wild West. Oh let’s just toss the Western genre in there too, because that’s also unusual for women to be into…right? In a matter of seconds I can practically hear their thoughts, and I have no actual irritation or animosity about the assumption. It’s a constant source of curiosity that here we are in the 21st century, where women have gone into space, driven in the Indy 500, and directed movies – but you, as a woman, meet random people who hear that you’re a writer and they automatically assume it’s for romance or children’s books. (By the way, when it’s another woman in the conversation, there might follow the admission that they’ve always wanted to write a children’s book, and when I tell them that they are actually rather difficult to write, they look like they don’t believe me. Surely something that’s only 1000 words can’t be that hard? I just let it go.) Maybe it’s just me…I’d be interested to know if any of my fellow female writers have met up with this.

These encounters stand in stark contrast to conventions or reading series or book launches we might all go to where it’s not unusual to hear women talk about future weaponry in fiction, ancient warriors, or astrophysics. It dawned on me early that we, as female genre writers – while sometimes (or rarely) we do encounter a certain amount of gender inequality in the field – are ultimately moving around in an environment where people readily accept that you write anything you damn well please. And it’s not surprising; there are no such assumptions that your protagonist must fall in love, or it’s somehow unusual that you know Alexander the Great’s military strategy as well as most PBS specials. “What do you write?” as a question amongst other genre writers is one without many preconceived notions. “Books about faeries” is just as likely to come out of a woman’s mouth as “Military space opera.” Nobody bats an eye.

And that’s as it should be.

Ladies, own what you write. Don’t give in to the temptation to downplay your interests just because they might be unusual to the general (uninitiated) public. Once in awhile you might even change someone’s perspective when it comes to such assumptions, or open up a conversation about things that person may have never considered because their general reading interests are relegated to Oprah’s Book Club (not that all of her choices are bad…I love The Road. Which, incidentally, is obviously post-apoc science fiction, though I’m sure her demographic didn’t really think about that or admit it.)

By the way, I do want to write a children’s book. I have an idea and an outline. It’s just on the list after the few novels and short stories – and yes, at least one is post-apoc – that I need to finish. Whatever you write, and especially if you’re a writer who has very little to no outside support in your passion, be determined to write what you love. In the end that matters more than the casual opinion or assumption of others.

About Karin Lowachee:
Karin was born in South America, grew up in Canada, and worked in the Arctic. Her first novel WARCHILD won the 2001 Warner Aspect First Novel Contest. Both WARCHILD (2002) and her third novel CAGEBIRD (2005) were finalists for the Philip K. Dick Award. CAGEBIRD won the Prix Aurora Award in 2006 for Best Long-Form Work in English and the Spectrum Award also in 2006. Her second novel BURNDIVE debuted at #7 on the Locus Bestseller List. Her books have been translated into French, Hebrew, and Japanese, and her short stories have appeared in anthologies edited by Julie Czerneda, Nalo Hopkinson, and John Joseph Adams. Her fantasy novel, THE GASLIGHT DOGS, was published through Orbit Books USA. Follow her on Twitter @karinlow or on Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/107732.Karin_Lowachee.

Warchild by Karin Lowachee Burndive by Karin Lowachee Cagebird by Karin Lowachee

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Today’s guest is renowned fantasy author Jacqueline Carey! She’s probably best-known for her epic fantasy series, Kushiel’s Legacy, but she’s also written several other books, some of which fall under other speculative fiction subgenres. I love her books and think she does a fantastic job writing characters with a diverse range of abilities and personalities, particularly her unique and wonderful leading ladies. Today, though, she’s here to talk about epic fantasy and why it seems to be the last bastion of male-dominated sales and authors. Since she is one of the women who has managed to storm that particular castle, I was thrilled that she decided to contribute this month and couldn’t wait to read what she has to say. I was not disappointed!

Jacqueline Carey

When I was invited to write a guest post on women in fantasy, one issue leaped to mind. Across the multifaceted map of fantasy literature, from Hogwarts to Forks to Panem, female writers have been kicking butt and racking up massive sales almost everywhere in the genre for the past decade.


There’s one bastion that remains a stronghold of male authors. When it comes to epic fantasy aimed at an adult readership, the top echelon remains exclusively male; at least according to my highly unscientific analysis. To be sure, there are women who’ve enjoyed considerable success writing epic fantasy—I’m fortunate enough to count myself among them—but there are none who have found the staggeringly large audiences of, say, George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan.

As of this writing, Martin, Jordan, and the granddaddy of them all, J.R.R. Tolkien, top the list of Amazon.com’s fantasy author rankings. A glance at the first fifty listings on the Popular Epic Fantasy bookshelf on GoodReads.com reveals forty-seven titles by thirteen male authors, ranging from long-established Big Names to more recent arrivals like Brent Weeks and Patrick Rothfuss. Exactly three books by female authors made the list: The first two titles in Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy and my own Kushiel’s Dart.

Obviously, a wildly successful movie franchise and a hit series on HBO factor into a couple instances—but what gives with the overall disparity? Is it simply a matter of statistics? It does appear that there are more men than women writing epic fantasy. (Sidebar: Like I said, highly unscientific analysis. Feel free to conduct your own more rigorous research!) Is it that the audience is disproportionately male and suffers from a lingering fear of girl cooties? Or is it that publishers target a male readership? And why would that be a desirable marketing ploy when surveys have found that across the board, women read more than men in all categories except history and biography?

Or is it—gulp!—that by and large, men write epic fantasy better than women?

I don’t think so, but I do think there are some unconscious biases at work. When I polled my readers on Facebook—Yes! Another highly unscientific technique!—many cited a perception that male writers are more focused on plot and action, while female writers focus on character development and interpersonal dynamics. Call me crazy, but as a reader, I think the best books contain a balance of both.

A female interviewer recently asked me if I considered Kushiel’s Legacy to be fantasy with romantic elements or romance with fantastic elements. It surprised me. Sure, there are strong threads of romance woven throughout the books, but it seemed obvious to me that in terms of genre, they fall into epic fantasy. There are vast, sweeping plots; quests to unravel webs of intrigue, to save a nation from conquest, to thwart treachery, to undo curses, to find the Name of God, to avenge the death of a loved one, to save a missing heir—all the stuff of epic fantasy, or so I thought. And I couldn’t help but wonder, was my point of view too subjective, or would her perception have been different if I were a dude?

By the same token, a male reader once told me that when he recommends the Kushiel books to male friends, he assures them that I “give good war.” Good to know! Except that it’s unfortunate that such assurances are necessary. When I think about the most realistic depiction of medieval warfare I can remember reading in the genre, Mary Gentle’s Book of Ash series gets my vote.

If male epic fantasy aficionados have an unconscious tendency to gravitate toward authors they believe will deliver the goods they crave, I’d hazard a guess that’s not equally true of female fans of the genre. That’s not to say there aren’t millions of female readers jonesing for strong female characters—there are, I hear it all the time—but they don’t have as many options to choose from, not in epic fantasy. If you’re a voracious female reader and you want to get your epic on and hole up with a sprawling, satisfying multivolume saga, you might have to overlook the fact that it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test:

1) It has to have at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man.

Correct me if I’m wrong (after all, that’s what comments are for), but I’m pretty sure The Lord of the Rings doesn’t pass, and I can think of a few more recent books in the genre, too.

Then, too, what about cover art? If we’re talking about unconscious bias, what role does cover art play? Tom Doherty, the founder of Tor Books, once said that while a cover doesn’t have to offer an accurate literal depiction of its contents (and dozens of authors sighed softly in dismay), it functions as a billboard to advertise the kind of experience readers can expect. Are the covers of male writers designed to appeal to male readers? It’s a subjective matter, but at a glance, I’d say yeah, kinda. Is the reverse true of female writers? At a glance, I’d call it a mixed bag.

Or maybe, just maybe, us women writers are just too damned efficient! Have any of us kept our readers twisting in the wind as long as George R.R. Martin and the late Robert Jordan? No. No, we have not. Instead of generating the buzz created by thousands upon thousands of fans clamoring for the next installment, we wrap up our plots and finish our series in a timely fashion, so fans can thank us and go back to clamoring for more from those who’ve left them hanging.

It’s probably our own damn fault. Though I’m not ruling out girl cooties.

About Jacqueline Carey:
New York Times bestseller Jacqueline Carey is the author of the Kushiel’s Legacy series of historical fantasy novels, The Sundering epic fantasy duology, postmodern fables Santa Olivia and Saints Astray.  Her most recent release, Dark Currents, is the first volume in the Agent of Hel contemporary fantasy series.  Jacqueline enjoys doing research on a wide variety of arcane topics, and an affinity for travel has taken her from Finland to China to date.  She currently lives in west Michigan.

Further information is available at www.jacquelinecarey.com.  Join her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jacquelinecarey.author or follow her on Twitter at @JCareyAuthor.

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey Banewreaker by Jacqueline Carey Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey

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The first guest of this month’s event is Renay from Lady Business! Lady Business is a collaborative blog with two other contributors, Ana from Things Mean a Lot and Jodie from Book Gazing. They write book reviews and commentary, discuss links around the Internet, and write all-around interesting and thoughtful posts.

Lady Business actually came to my attention shortly before last year’s Women in SF&F Month after Renay published some statistics on review coverage of books by women on SFF blogs in 2011. She also compiled some more statistics for coverage of books by women on SFF blogs in 2012, and I was glad to see she did this again since I think it’s important to keep the conversation going about coverage of books written by women. Since discovering this project, I’ve also come to enjoy reading her in-depth reviews.

Please welcome Renay today as she shares some of her experiences with discovering science fiction and fantasy and invites us all to contribute to a new project!

Lady Business Header

Gatekeeping is the process through which information is filtered for dissemination, whether for publication, broadcasting, the Internet, or some other mode of communication. […] Gatekeeping occurs at all levels of the media structure — from a reporter deciding which sources are chosen to include in a story to editors deciding which stories are printed or covered, and includes media outlet owners and even advertisers. Individuals can also act as gatekeepers, deciding what information to include in an email or in a blog, for example. (source)

I can’t say I started reading massive amounts of science fiction and fantasy early. I spent quite a bit of my young adulthood bouncing back and forth between genre television/film and romance literature. I couldn’t find a medium between the two I liked. I grew up watching Labyrinth, The Secret World of Alex Mack, and Sliders. I missed The X-Files, Buffy, and most of the various Star Trek shows for reruns of The Outer Limits, Ghostwriter, and Monsters. I had an unhealthy obsession with the Child’s Play films, Enemy Mine, Care Bears and Rainbow Brite movies until my early (okay, fine, late) teens and still regret nothing. Seriously, Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer was AWESOME science fiction! I loved a scratchy, likely bootleg, video rental copy of The Last Unicorn and checked it out weekend after weekend from the video store inside the laundromat without ever realizing it was also a book. I found a longtime home in Sailor Moon anime, magical-girl fantasy and story about friendship, and eventually Final Fantasy, a gaming fandom I’m still a part of today.

Books were harder to come by; I lived in an extremely small town. Both my school library and public library catered to more mainstream work. My public library, about the size of a one bedroom apartment, had every Stephen King, Dean Koontz, V.C. Andrews, and Nora Roberts book in print. My school library mostly had multiple copies of classical literature that teachers would spend years trying to get me to care about. Outside genre, I read a lot of romance because that’s what was marketed to young girls, so that’s what people got me. I liked and followed the series where the main characters were girls and where they interacted with a wide range of people and had boys who were friends and partners in crime. On my own, I read Sweet Valley, Babysitters Club, and tons of series about girls with horses. The choices were vast, serialized, and looking back, not very challenging. I didn’t often find books that spoke to me or that I would reread. Inside SF/F, the pickings for my age group at both libraries amounted to a ton of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike and related knockoff series by people cashing in on that craze. It never got much wider. My options as I grew were limited.

When I was younger, the first piece of fantasy literature I can remember reading, if we’re going to discount talking hens who refused to share bread if you didn’t help them plant or harvest the grain, is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I loved this book. It was a favorite; I checked it out so much that the librarian once told me that I couldn’t have it, because other people wanted a chance to read it. I was fascinated by everything in it (although to be fair, the religious bits went over my burgeoning atheist head). I eventually bought a copy with birthday money, and that’s when I learned about its sequel, A Wind in the Door, a book that surpassed my love for the story before it and which shaped me up until my twenties. I met my partner through a shared love of the Time Quartet (yay ten years in July 2013!); these books did a great job at setting me on the current path of my life. Of course, around the same time I was missing out on other fantastic genre work due to my lack of guidance; I avoided The Giver because of the old man on the cover (I didn’t want to read about old men as I was full up on them in my real life, thanks) and probably tons of other genre books that were fantastic that weren’t packaged that way.

The one time I asked the librarian for books like A Wrinkle in Time she recommended C.S. Lewis and Roald Dahl. She did recommend some women but they were mostly historical novels. I remember trying The Witch of Blackbird Pond and being endlessly disappointed. Even in adulthood, I prefer actual history to fictional, especially in the case of American history. Therefore, L’Engle’s books would be the only pieces of genre fiction I would discover through my public education access, written by a woman, until I graduated high school.

My courses in middle school loved classic authors as defined by a public school system that at the time was focused on the problem of functional illiteracy. That meant everyone had to read more, even kids like me who weren’t struggling. This gave me a lot of opportunity to read, but most things we read were stories about (white) people filled with life lessons we had to answer perplexing questions about afterward. However, we also read an array of genre short stories. I remember two of the authors vividly, because I’ve become unable to escape them since: Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. The first one we read was “Rain, Rain, Go Away” and I’ll never forget it because the teacher treated us to homemade cotton candy beforehand (devious). We read as many short stories as these men had available in the mid-to-late 90s. Fahrenheit 451 was a potential book for a book report that same semester in a different class; it was the only genre novel available and I skipped it, choosing instead to read Wuthering Heights to my eternal woe and regret (sorry, Brontë). We read Flowers for Algernon and listened to The War of the Worlds. T.H. White’s Once and Future King made tons of reading lists for book reports; it’s the one I saw most often. It bored me to tears, much like all Arthurian legend fiction has except for Susan Cooper, who I wouldn’t discover until 2006.

When I entered high school, there was more variety as we moved away from the short story. But I remember examining a shelf in my high school library on a rainy Wednesday, desperately looking for an interesting book to read during the required reading period our school had created. That day I didn’t choose Bradbury, Huxley, Anthony, Orwell, Heinlein, King, Clarke, Beagle, and Brooks. Instead, I would, as a young girl, pick up a copy of Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card on that random, stormy Wednesday, and fall in love again, hard, with Ender and Jane. I would plow through it during the required reading, and then continue reading on the sly through the rest of my classes. I would, like a terrible book thief, keep the book for two years, and continue on to reread Speaker every year for six years, until I finally got access to Ender’s Game — probably too late for it to matter to me as much.

This experience made me wonder: how many other titles would I have fallen in love with like that if my access to science fiction and fantasy had been more robust? How often did I get derailed from genre when so often faced with male authors whose books just sounded boring because I wasn’t yet at that reading level, and had no one to introduce me to easier or more accessible work aligned with my interests? I had no other genre fans around me to direct me to female authors. At this point in my life they could have been my gateway into genre because I trusted women writers more due to all the romance I read. My high school library didn’t contain Bujold or McCaffrey or Le Guin, and it certainly didn’t contain Butler — I’m not sure I read any black authors in fiction until college. Forget about me finding Andre Norton and James Tiptree, Jr. — I thought these women were men up until at the latest 2002, far past when I should have known better. I kept running into the same problems: Bradbury, Huxley, Orwell, Heinlein, King, Clarke, Card, Beagle, and Brooks. Now it was with additional bonus Gibson, Goodkind, Stephenson, Pullman, Burroughs, Niven, Robinson, Dick, Vinge, Wolfe, Pratchett, Gaiman, Tolkien, Martin, Haldeman, and Herbert. The Internet was so young in comparison to now (life without Google and Wikipedia?), and it wasn’t always easy to find diverse recommendation lists. I would discover William Goldman’s The Princess Bride and find out that the movie I adored was based on a book and that S. Morgenstern didn’t exist (shocking to the younger me who felt stupid and ashamed for not getting it). I would read Snow Crash and be mostly confused because I was skipping so much context (sorry, cyberpunk, I was really too young and not political enough yet). I would discover that Orson Scott Card didn’t deserve my unreserved respect and love, especially as a young girl questioning her heterosexuality (ugh). I would be recommended Robin Hobb but would almost immediately be unable to separate the artist from her vicious indictment of my fannish identity and community, which had taught me so much about storytelling and myself. I would run up against walls of unavailability for Bujold and McCaffrey given the scope of their work. I would struggle with availability of women writing genre in general in all the libraries I had access to as a young woman in the rural American South.

I did eventually find lists with tons of recommendations as the Internet aged, but with a recurring theme: men were more valued, as writers and as heroes. There were always more men. The same handful of women were always present and often unavailable to me. I didn’t realize it at that time, but I would see this theme repeat over and over and over in SF/F culture.

As a baby genre literature fan I had nothing to guide me but what librarians and educators shared with me. I had more access once the internet came around for me in 1994, but even then finding things was difficult and being able to purchase them was often beyond me. I was limited to what adults around me felt were the most important, relevant titles — and so often, those titles were by men. They were the award winners, the notable works. But for the most part, women in genre literature were absent in my life until the mid-aughts, when I had disposable income, discovered book blogging and book culture online, and it started to get really organized. They were absent until I realized just how heavy my to-read list was with men when I compared it to my fannish community, where the majority of us were women writers writing genre fanfiction. It was stark, and ultimately, depressing, and it was at this point I started looking past what was offered on the surface of the adult SF/F community, the major awards, and began following more women writing about genre wherever I could.

This is why I now make it a point to talk about the genre fiction by women I love. We’re never going to go back to the 1990s where the Internet is an AOL log in screen and limited access; where animated backgrounds are all the rage and mailing lists are centralized and popular places of discourse which are hard to find and interface with for people new to the medium. There’s never going to be a kid exactly like me, raised by a father and later herself, surrounded by that father’s male friends and aching for voices like hers who cared about feelings and relationships that weren’t made of the strife she witnessed in the relationships around her. There’s never going to be a kid like me cut off from what genre has to offer by lack of options, only given access to lists likely made by men and featuring men, a shelf full of books by men their only choice. At the very least, genre YA is powerful and wonderful now and prevents that from happening to kids. But keeping in mind what gets passed the gate and beyond to populate culture still matters, especially: best of lists, featured lists, lists for librarians and professors and booksellers, recommendation lists, nomination lists, finalist lists.

To that end, and to complement this month-long adventure Kristen has invited us to, I have asked and received permission to help us build our own list full of our favorite women writers. Although it’s possible to find plenty of lists now, for me there’s always a certain thrill in asking people what their favorite books are. Perhaps because I grew up unable to do it or maybe it’s because if something sounds awesome I can go get it immediately. Building recommendation lists like this feels like a way my adult self is carving out a space for the baby genre fan that she could have been had she only had the resources; it’s a statement and a reclamation. Maybe the list will be for that baby genre fan in our lives who wants to know which way to go and isn’t sure; for the curious friend who wants to learn more; or as a resource to let us know what genre fiction by women is celebrated and loved at this moment in time.

To contribute, simply fill out this form or leave a comment with your ten favorite science fiction and fantasy books by women writers. At the beginning of May, we’ll release the final list, curated and organized, as a resource for everyone here at Fantasy Cafe. 😀

Women in SF&F Month Banner

The second annual Women in SF&F Month starts tomorrow! The entire month of April will be dedicated to highlighting the contributions of women to speculative fiction. There will be guest posts by women who write speculative fiction and women who share their love for the genre with others on their blogs throughout the month. Like last year’s series, some guests will be discussing the subject of women writing speculative fiction, but not necessarily, since the goal is to get some interesting people, thoughts, and books all in one place—and perhaps find some new books or blogs to read! (I have already madly been adding books to my wish list from reading the guests posts that will be going up this month.)

I’m very excited about this year’s guests, and I hope that everyone enjoys it! The guests for the first week are:

Women in SFF week1 2013

April 1: Renay from Lady Business
April 2: Jacqueline Carey (Kushiel’s Legacy; The Sundering; Santa Olivia)
April 3: Karin Lowachee (Warchild; Burndive; Cagebird; The Gaslight Dogs)
April 4: Sherwood Smith (Crown Duel; A Stranger to Command; Inda)
April 5: Ana and Thea from The Book Smugglers
April 6: Lane Robins, aka Lyn Benedict (Maledicte; Shadows Inquiries)