Tuesday, February 11, 2014

So you think not many women write epic fantasy/sword & sorcery?

I've been busy busy busy with revisions on The Labyrinth of Flame (now approaching the 50K revised mark!), a big day job project, and yes, more than a little skiing.  Yet amid all that, I haven't been ignoring the internet entirely.  So when Teresa Frohock posted on her blog about the challenges she's faced as a female author of SFF, and then Mark Lawrence ran a poll asking his readers whether their decision to buy his book would've been different if it'd said Mary Lawrence on the cover, not Mark, and then on Reddit's r/Fantasy forum a huge discussion sprang up about Mark's poll...I followed the conversation.  And after I saw about the fifth instance of someone saying, "Well, but not many women write epic fantasy..."  I couldn't take it anymore. 

I marched over to my bookshelves and scribbled down 40 books written by 40 different female authors that could be categorized as either epic fantasy or sword and sorcery, and posted the list in a thread on Reddit.  (Note: since people on Reddit appeared to be using a fairly broad definition of  "epic fantasy," so did I.  I included alternate histories with significant magical elements, though I did NOT include sword-and-planet SF, or dark/mythic fantasy, or YA fantasy). 

I was delighted at the response!  Hundreds of commenters added more names and said how excited they were to have new books to try.  I know it's a drop in the bucket of this weird invisibility that female-authored novels seem to have in online fandom, but it's a drop that makes me happy and renews my hope that things are changing. 

And speaking of reviews and visibility, my absolute favorite kind of reviews are long, detailed, thoughtful ones.  Like this one Tainted City recently got from Renay of Lady Business.  (The hilarious GIFs are just the icing on the cake!  Also, I am totally using the pull quote "Courtney Schafer is THE WORST." :D) The best part of all is that the comments continued the discussion.  It is surreal but also 100% awesome to see people analyzing my characters and story and discussing their reactions, no matter whether those reactions are positive or negative.)

And now, back to radio silence and revisions...



 

13 comments:

  1. I didn't participate in the Reddit thread, but perhaps should have. A lot of counter examples were bandied about.

    I dunno--is it perception, only? Is it boxing authors by gender?

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  2. I think it's a complicated situation with a lot of interdependent factors, but perception is a big one. I often see people (both male and female) say they've become leery of picking up female-authored fantasy novels (or at least that they give the book way more scrutiny before buying) because they're afraid the book will be paranormal romance, which isn't to their taste. This isn't helped by publishers, sometimes. Look at the covers Roc gave Carol Berg's Collegia Magica novels, particularly the 2nd one (The Soul Mirror). You'd think it was a historical romance, not a political epic fantasy chock full of magic and intrigue, and no more romance than is found in most male-authored epic fantasies. But the publisher didn't give that cover because they were thinking, "Let's be sexist!" They gave that cover because they were hoping to suck in some of the massive influx of romance readers that have made urban fantasy sell so well, and didn't mind alienating traditional epic fantasy readers if it meant they could sell more books. So, yeah. It's complicated, and there's no easy fix. I figure all I can do is talk about the books I love in hopes more people will read them.

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  3. I agree the covers to Collegia Magica did not match the story. However, I wouldn't blame it all on covers. There were plenty of people on that thread who tried one or two books authored by a woman and decided "I don't like books written by women." What if I read, say, Thomas Covenant and Sword of Truth and decided I didn't like men authors?

    Or they make sweeping statements such as, "books written by women ..." If there was a thread about "books written by men" it would seem crazy. Books written by men? Well, THOSE are just books! But books written by women are this way or that way ... grouped together under a single banner. I find it frustrating.

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  4. You know, I actually have seen women say they don't read fantasy by men because it's all boring battles. (Though yes, it does seem far more male SFF fans make generalizations about female-authored books than the other way around, sigh.) Either way, generalizations suck, and the people making them miss out on a lot of terrific books.

    Speaking of, let me be clear about my own feelings about romance: I don't consider it a lesser genre. But I also don't think there's anything wrong with preferring one genre over the other. I like romantic relationships in SFF just fine, but I do prefer for the main plot to be focused on something beyond the romance. (To paraphrase another Redditor, I prefer to read about people happening to fall in love while killing a dragon, rather than happening to kill a dragon while they fall in love.) I think fantasy is wide enough as a genre that we can all have what we want, whether that's fantasy-flavored romance or even fantasy without any romance at all.

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  5. I agree with all your points. I used to pick women authors over men authors myself because I mistakenly believed women wrote better characters. But when I did a rational comparison of my favorite characters in fiction I realized it was dead even. I guess that is one reason I feel so strongly about this: I am convinced that anyone who is thinking in these general terms is missing out on some good stories.

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    1. Women favor books by women. Men favor books by men. I think that's fairly natural. It's why you favor women authors.

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  6. I'd suggest browsing the SF/F section at Barnes and Noble. I think you'll find that women by far write more (Epic) Fantasy books. I just can't understand otherwise.
    I do think men favor books by men; women favor books by women. Nothing wrong with that in itself.

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    1. I believe in epic fantasy (as opposed to urban fantasy) there are a majority (though not a huge one) of male writers being published; but you're exactly right, there are plenty of women on the shelves as well. That's why it confuses me so much that both male AND female SFF fans alike have this misconception that "women don't write epic fantasy." Because plenty do, and it's not that hard to find the female-authored books in B&N if you look.

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  7. Thank you so much for posting this to raise awareness about the number of women who really DO write kick-ass fantasy novels. (Yourself included!)

    P.S.- I'm coming to the RMFW Conference this year! Finally earned my place on the First-Sale Panel.. Woohoo! Let's hang! :)

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    1. Yay!!! I'll be there cheering you on at the first sale panel, and yes, let's hang! :)

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  8. I'm sure I would've bought your first novel if it'd been written by Kurt E. Schafer. I just would've scratched my head about the author photo. : p

    Really, it makes no difference to me. What I look for most is authenticity - that the author knows what they're talking about. And whether that's Janny Wurts with horses, Jack London with sled dogs, or you with mountaineering, that's who I'll go with.

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    1. Funny thing is I was named for my father. (Courtney is his middle name! I guess it's one of those names that used to be male and slowly shifted to female over the years, in the US at least. I think in England there are still a fair number of male Courtneys. Haha, I even had one publisher send a response to my agent for "Courtenay" and refer to me as 'he.")

      I guess the real question is, would you have bought the book if my publisher had saddled me with a cover that made it look like a historical romance (as Carol Berg's publisher did with her)? :P

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    2. Probably not. Simply because the cover doesn't show a scene I'd like to spend time in.

      What drew me to Whitefire was the review at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, which started with the summary, which included words like smuggler, guide, caravans, mountains, and climbers. The cover got my attention, the summary backed it up, and then his review, which said, "you can expect various mountaineering scenes in basically every chapter," sealed the deal.

      Well, actually it was the PDF of the opening chapters on your website that finally sold me on getting it, but it took all the above to get me there.

      So if the lady on the cover were in mountain climbing gear, and there were a mountain in the background, then yeah, that would've worked, too. But as it is, it looks too much like a conventional historical romance for me (not big on romance), and the review would've had a lot more work to do to get me to check it out.

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