Yes, Virgil, Women Can Write Science Fiction

Sorry for the late posting today. Life, as usual, has its own agenda.

But in case you’ve missed all the brouhaha this month with a rather sexist cover of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of American Bulletin and the response to it, and the response to the response…what cave have you been in, Batman?

Mostly, though, I wanted to tip my hat to author Ann Aguirre, who is, as most of you know, an incredibly talented author who writes in several genres, one of which is science fiction (her Sirantha Jax series).

I don’t know Ms. Aguirre, but I’ve always kinda wanted to be her, you know? She writes multiple genres well, balances different writing personas, is incredibly prolific without sacrificing quality. All good, right?

She posted an amazing blog this week, talking about the treatment she’s received from the science fiction community as a woman writing SF. It is incredibly honest, and it isn’t pretty. What she said doesn’t surprise me for a nanosecond, sadly. And I suspect stories similar to hers could be told by any number of women trying to play in the boys’ SF/F sandbox and write as a woman and not a woman pretending to write like a guy.

If you haven’t read it, please do. And read the comments. It’s pretty eye-opening.

It’s not just women in science fiction that get this kind of treatment. Women writing urban fantasy and, God forbid, any spec fiction with a romantic element, encounter the same thing.

I remember after Royal Street came out, I was sitting at a bookstore that shall not be named, waiting to do a book-signing. The glow was still on the business for me–it was my first book. The reviews had been good overall. I felt lucky and happy.

The bookstore manager, who’d been treating me like an annoyance ever since I arrived, brought out some copies of Royal Street and dropped them on the table to sign. “You must not be very important,” he said. “(Insert male author name here) came to sign last week and his publisher sent him with a car and a publicist.” Well, okay. Whatever, dude. He later repeated that story to a friend who’d accompanied me to the signing.

I was polite. Played nice. Talked about the book. Greeted people. Then opened the floor to questions. The manager, who’d been sitting in the front row, said: “When is this fixation with books like yours going to be over? Aren’t the publishers getting sick of them?”

I blinked. “Which books would those be?” I asked.

“You know–these kind of fantasy books women are writing. Urban fantasy. Whatever you call it.”

I don’t remember exactly what I said. I was polite. I played nice. That’s how I was brought up, and it’s how I swing. It struck me that most of the people in the audience were women. Were any of them offended? I was, and swore that even if I became some bigshot NYT-bestselling author and that bookstore manager crawled to me begging to have a signing at his store, I’d stomp on him. That’s not likely to happen, but hey, everyone has to have a dream.

Unfortunately, it’s not the first time I’ve run into sexism in the spec fiction community. It won’t be the last. But it’s being talked about, at least, largely thanks to the SFWA Bulletin (which I don’t think was an intentional slam at women, by the way…but maybe it’s never intentional) and a brave author willing to speak out.

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

11 thoughts on “Yes, Virgil, Women Can Write Science Fiction

  1. Great post and I’m glad that this sort of thing is being talked about. People need to be aware and let everyone know this kind of behavior is not alright, geez it’s 2013 not 1913.

  2. I write hard SF (mongst other things). I was told point blank by a publisher that they were less interested in my work because I’m a woman. Just exactly how many more stories do I have to sell to Analog to be counted as good as a man?

  3. I admire you for not decking him, really. He deserved it, just a straight-up slug that would launch him right into the Feminist History and Politics section.

    But really, I think if I were you I’d be so stunned I’d be speechless. Oh I’d totally come up with a witty-yet-cutting comeback about two hours too late, but I think when these things happen there’s just no sense to answering. He’ll never get it, you’ll just get upset and it’ll get into a messy, impolite exchange that’ll just harm you more than him because he wouldn’t give a crap.

    Just know all us readers LOVE YOU and your writing:)) and we’re HIS clients so he’d better keep that in mind.

  4. I can only hope those out-dated opinions die out SOON! I read the post by Ms. Aguirre, and some of the comments directed to her, until I started foaming at the mouth.
    I don’t care the gender of the author, as long as it is a well written book, story, whatever. I guess I missed learning that you have to have a penis to write SF. Hmmm….

  5. I’ve read something similar on Jeaniene frost blog and i was so shocdked an blatant mysogyn could become the “chief” of book panel or magazin i mean so many women read and write how could they let it be done…
    after reading Ann post i understand a little more but i’m glad she is standing up because silence can be see as admittance and these behaviour can’t be tolerated

    I remember when you told us about this managager and i’m still thinking teh same: you will be famous and he will regret his attitude… not if that happen but when! it can be normal a new author has less fans making teh deplacement it doesn’t mean the book isn’t good just that he hasn’t been discovered yet and i’m sure he wouldn’t have expected you to have fan from everywxhere in teh world but you have so don’t give and yes make him regret when he will ask you

  6. Thanks for the comments, guys! This is an interesting subject, and I’m glad it’s being talked about. I went back today and got caught up on it. The SFWA Bulletin cover that set the whole thing in motion wasn’t one I paid particular attention to–it looked like a vintage fantasy cover to me so I didn’t interpret it as particular sexist except in the way that SF has traditionally been that way. But one of the published reactions to the complaints about the cover was dismissive and, well, yeah, sexist. I seriously doubt the conversation will have any long-lasting effects but at least for a few days, it’s brought the issue into the daylight.

  7. I have read Gini Koch’s response to this all, and it really makes me sad that men still think they are better than women in this day and age. Are not the majority or readers women? Don’t they spend the most on books? Even the small convention I went to in Berlin had only a hand full of men attending, and many hundreds of women.

    • All of the conventions I’ve been to were overwhelmingly women as well, but I haven’t been to one of the big cons devoted purely to epic fantasy or hard sci-fi. I think cons like World Fantasy Con and Dragon*Con attendees are largely male.

  8. Siiigh… these events make me wonder why I even try to venture out of my book lined cave. I love Anne’s books and it’s disheartening to hear how many roadblocks she encountered from the community. I shudder to think if that would have discouraged her enough to stop writing.