Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Writing Wibbles

This has been an interesting week. Maybe it was synchronicity, or maybe it was the universe sending a message. Anyway, let’s start with a summary of the logline and blurb voting from last week’s wibble.

MenWomenTotal
LoglineA112
B1.523.5
C4.537.5
Blurb1112
2134
332.55.5

I arbitrarily assigned a half-vote where voters suggested that either of two were good, or picked “this one, but I liked that one as well.” That’s why the totals don’t equal out. (I included votes received on Twitter, and on a community blog of sorts that I frequent.) Here’s how I interpreted the results:
  • Logline C is the clear winner.
  • I was a little surprised that the men preferred C at least as much as the women. I thought it might be too romance-y for the guys.
  • Blurb 1 is the one that +Angela Kulig rejected. The voting confirms her opinion, which I expected.
  • Women liked Blurb 2 far better than the men.
  • Voting on blurbs 2 and 3 was close enough that I’d be comfortable using either one (with modifications as described below).
I got some back-channel feedback about the word “exotic” in the blurbs. I wasn’t aware that it’s a red-flag word for some women. Ironic that the person described as such, comes from a matriarchal society! Now one could argue that exotic simply means “foreign,” and it’s a fool’s errand to avoid all offense, but why offend the very people I hope to have as supporters? (duh) I found and struck the one use of the word in the text. Fortunately, it was easy to remove.

What’s interesting is how this all ties into last week’s big ugly blowup at the SFWA, over unintentional(?) sexism in their quarterly bulletin. A woman in a chainmail bikini on the cover, along with authors Mike Resnick and Barry Malzburg discussing the physical attributes of women editors, led to some protests. Resnick and Malzburg threw gasoline on the fire by claiming censorship, using language more appropriate for teabaggers than authors in a supposedly forward-looking genre.

Don’t take my word for it. E. Catherine Tobler’s public SFWA resignation did a fine job of covering the details, and described some of the blowback that she and others got. Lest you think this was just an isolated incident, Anna Guirre’s experience(s) suggest that sexism is endemic to not only the SFWA, but cons and especially the panels that claim to represent the genre and its writers. And she also received some nasty blowback.

The SFWA leadership was caught flat-footed, but (to their credit) got it together and acted. First off, outgoing SFWA President John Scalzi issued an apology, saying (in part), “when all is said and done, I personally am responsible for the Bulletin and what is published between its covers.” Shortly after, the SFWA formed a task force to see “how the publication needs to proceed… to be a valuable [member resource].” This is a good start. However, the task force is four men and three women, which doesn’t exactly give me the warm fuzzies. I don’t think it’s the intent—but given how women are marginalized at panels and the like, this could easily turn out to be a pinkwash.

And now… it’s rant time.

I find this head-desking incredible. I’m a middle-aged whitebread dude, and I have my issues, but I fracking try to do better. And yes, common tropes in Fantasy include putting a woman in a chainmail bikini. Or making her the damsel in need of rescue. Or part of an embarrassing sexual encounter with the hero. “Judas Priest, what the hell is this?!” as my Mom might say.

We know better, and should strive to do better. There have been examples of “better” since the 70s, now-classics by Anne McCaffrey, CJ Cherryh, and Ursula K. LeGuin. Yes, as writers, it can be work. When I first started writing, the characters were all guys all the time. I had to make a conscious effort to create female characters, then give them more than a few lines, then put them on an equal footing, then cast women as the main characters. But dammit, I did the work, because I knew it had to be done if I was going to be a decent writer. It wasn’t all that hard.

Fortunately, this is a problem that time is about to solve. Looking at my Writers list on Twitter, the vast majority of them are women. Bowker also tells us that women are 62% of the book buyers. As writers and authors, we have to appeal to women if we’re going to have any chance of success. That doesn’t mean everything has to be steamy romance—although erotica has (ahem) thrust its way to the top of the charts—but authors (especially new authors) have to understand what the market looks like these days. I’m not saying we should do nothing now, but in the long run, we’ll win. The old boys’ club is dying of old age.

I wanted to wrap this up with a survey of gender roles throughout Termag’s history, but this has run long enough. Maybe next week.

4 comments:

  1. Wow. What an incredibly awesome post.

    I loved especially your line about romance, because I'm a woman who, as a rule, hates romance. And I know there are a lot of women who skip the women's section at the bookstore entirely.

    It feels a bit weird to have to demand to be marketed to.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well said. Like you, I'm also a white, middle-aged, straight dude, and I also try to do better. It's a pity the troglodytes don't.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hiya Larry,

    Excellent rant! Not being a SF writer but loving SF, I was surprised that I didn't know what the SFWA was. Had to look it up. I agree with you that the old boys’ club is dying of old age. As with all good things though it will take time.

    Have a good one and take care.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think it is important to have lead woman characters. I made my first fantasy fiction book Jumping At Shadows have a heroin with a another girl as her side kick, just to ring the change from always reading this genre with the lead character as a boy.

    It's time for writers and readers to recognise that both sexes have major roles to play in writing I think.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are welcome, and they don't have to be complimentary. I delete spam on sight, but that's pretty much it for moderation. Long off-topic rants or unconstructive flamage are also candidates for deletion but I haven’t seen any of that so far.

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