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Today I’m thrilled to welcome World Fantasy Award-nominated author Kat Howard! Her debut novel, Roses and Rot, is an immersive story involving art, dark fairy tales, and two sisters with a complex relationship—and was one of my favorite books published in 2016! I’m very much looking forward to the release of her second novel, An Unkindess of Magicians, in September 2017, as well as her short fiction collection, wonderfully titled A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, in 2018.

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

“Why are there so many women in your stories?”

I was at my colleague’s class to guest lecture, not to snark, and the guy asking the question seemed genuinely interested. So I bit back my automatic response, which was, “Why shouldn’t there be?” and explained.

I talked about things like seeing teams of heroes on the page or on the screen where there was only one woman in a group of five or seven people, and how that tricks us into thinking that small percentage is the normal amount of space women should take up in society. I talked about the issues around the women that do show up in media, only to be defined solely by their relationship to men—the characters who are nothing more than someone’s wife, someone’s daughter, someone’s mother. I explained how that was made worse when the female character was fridged—when that wife, daughter, mother existed in the story only to have something horrible happen to her, so that her pain and suffering resulted in a male character becoming a hero. And so part of what I wanted to do as a writer, I said, was to push back against these defaults—to make a point of including women in my stories, as both main characters and in minor roles, so that people would get used to seeing them on the page.

I don’t know how much of my answer got through.

At the end of the day, my most honest answer is still: “Why shouldn’t there be?”

I’ve always been a reader, and when I was a kid, I would play pretend games with my favorite books and stories. I would imagine that I was in those worlds. And, quite often, I would imagine that one of my favorite characters was actually a girl in disguise. I didn’t want to be a boy, you see, I just wanted to be in the story. I wanted to have a thing to do, other than wait around to be rescued. Pretty much the only time I didn’t gender flip my favorite was when I pretended to be Princess Leia (though, I did give her a lightsaber in my version. Lightsabers are cool.)

Even before I could articulate that there were books I loved that also frustrated me because I couldn’t see myself in them, that was what I felt. And look, I’m an able-bodied, cis, white woman, so I know that when it comes to representation on the page, I have it better than a lot of people.

Still. I have frustration.

There aren’t enough women on the page. There weren’t enough when I was growing up, and there aren’t now. How do I know?  Because we still notice them, when they do show up. I don’t mean that women should be invisible in stories—that’s pretty much the opposite of what I want to see. But I do mean that I want female characters—lead characters, antagonists, secondary characters, red shirts—to be so common that their presence is as unremarkable as that of the men. I want to read stories where women have adventures, and where they lead quiet lives. I want them to be portrayed as imperfect assholes, and as chosen heroes. I want them present in the same number, and having the same range of human experiences as the male characters.

And so because I’m a writer, when I write, I consciously choose to tell stories about women, to make them present. Because we exist, and our stories matter.

Because “Why shouldn’t there be?” is a sufficient answer, after all.

Kat Howard Kat Howard’s debut novel, Roses and Rot, was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best SFF books of Summer ’16. Her next novel, An Unkindness of Magicians, will be out in September ’17 from Saga Press. Saga is also publishing her short fiction collection, A Cathedral of Myth and Bone in early 2018. She’s written a novella, The End of the Sentence, with Maria Dahvana Headley, and a variety of short stories. She currently lives in New Hampshire and you can find her at: http://www.kathowardbooks.com/ and on twitter as @KatWithSword.