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Today’s guest is RITA Award–winning writer Ann Aguirre! Her Sirantha Jax books, beginning with the romantic space opera Grimspace, are addictive reads that wonderfully balance plot and action with character development and relationships—and due to that combination, it was a series that made me realize that I could love science fiction every bit as much as fantasy! She’s also the author of many more books, including but not limited to the Corine Solomon series (urban fantasy), the Dred Chronicles (romantic science fiction set in the same world as Sirantha Jax), and the Razorland series (YA dystopia). Her two newest novels were both released during the previous couple of months: Honor Among Thieves, the first book in a new YA science fiction series co-written with Rachel Caine, and The Wolf Lord, the third book in the paranormal romance series Ars Numina.

The Wolf Lord by Ann Aguirre Honor Among Thieves by Ann Aguirre and Rachel Caine

I first sold to New York in 2007, over eleven years ago. That book was Grimspace, a story I wrote largely to please myself because it was hard for me to find the sort of science fiction that I wanted to read. I love space opera, but in the past, I found that movies and television delivered more of the stories I enjoyed. At the time, I was super excited to be published in science fiction and fantasy.

My first professional appearance was scheduled at a small con in Alabama. I was so excited for that, so fresh and full of hope. Let’s just say that my dreams were dashed quite spectacularly. I was sexually harassed by multiple colleagues and the men I encountered seemed to think I existed to serve them. To say that my work wasn’t taken seriously is an understatement. That was only reinforced when I made my first appearance at SDCC (San Diego Comic Con) six months later.

There, the moderator called me the ‘token female’, mispronounced my last name without checking with me first (she checked with the male author seated next to me), and the male panelists spoke over me, interrupted me at will, and gave me very little chance to speak. I remember quite clearly how humiliated I was, while also hoping that it wasn’t noticeable to the audience.

Dear Reader, it was very noticeable. Afterward, David Brin, who was in the audience, came up to me with a sympathetic look and he made a point of shaking my hand. He said, “Well, I was very interested in what you had to say.” With a pointed stress on the word “I.”

This was pretty crushing for me as a baby writer. It sucked to discover that my work didn’t carry the same weight as my peers. I struggled with it for quite a while, attended other cons and tried to figure out why I constantly felt like I didn’t fit. After a while, though, I started comparing notes with other writers, like Ilona Andrews. She’s had similar experiences at SFF cons and like me, she tried negotiating those waters politely at first.

With limited success. So I stepped away from SFF for quite a while. Now, I’m taking stock, figuring out what progress has been made in the last ten years. Is it better for women? Since I’m on the periphery these days, to me, it seems like it might be opening up a bit. I’m glad to see more women being nominated for important awards, but I think there’s probably more work to do yet. Not only for women but for non-binary writers as well. The fact is, it’s still easiest to gain recognition if you’re a white cis male SFF writer.

I asked a few of my colleagues for their thoughts, and Ilona Andrews writes, “What can we do better to even the scales in SFF? If you are a female and especially if you’re a WOC, grow some shark teeth. Stop demurring. Stop undercharging. Stop avoiding conflict.  Stop taking less than a man for the same amount of work. Support other women. Call out haters when they sneer. That’s all I’ve got.”

I’m happy to report that there is light at the end of the tunnel, as reported by Piper J. Drake: “My experience in SFF has been overall positive even though the majority of my books are not SFF at this time. I started as an SFR / PNR and steampunk author. I still love SFF and UF and plan to write in those genres again eventually.” However, she offers a caveat: “But my experience has been limited and focused. I’ve been a guest host an @WritingExcuses podcast – which has a predominately Fantasy and Science Fiction audience. I’m staff/instructor on the Writing Excuses annual workshop and retreat.”

Which means that we need to keep pushing for those seats at the table. The community won’t change unless we agitate for it. I don’t have any easy answers, but I am glad to see some progress.

Ms. Drake also adds, “I’ve volunteered my time to the Nebula Conference programming committee. Both times I’ve attended the Nebula Conference, my experience has been mostly positive. I’ve been respected or at least never treated with disrespect. I’ve been genuinely welcomed by many.”

So that’s good news for me, Ilona Andrews, Rachel Caine, and Kate Elliott, who has seen more changes in the community than I could articulate. One thing’s certain, however. We need to build a community where everyone feels welcome, and I’m open to ideas on how to best achieve that.

Thanks for having me on the blog!

Ann Aguirre Ann Aguirre is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author with a degree in English Literature; before she began writing full time, she was a clown, a clerk, a voice actress, and a savior of stray kittens, not necessarily in that order. She grew up in a yellow house across from a cornfield, but now she lives in sunny Mexico with her husband, children, and various pets. She likes books, emo music, and action movies. She writes all kinds of genre fiction for adults and teens.

AnnAguirre.com | @MsAnnAguirre