Monday, January 27, 2014

The Start of a Revolution

It is my honor and privilege to welcome aspiring author, Jenny Gordon to Heroines of Fantasy this week. Over the course of years, Jenny and I have been following one another's personal blogs. When I saw this on hers one day, I asked if she would share it with us here on this page, and she graciously agreed...if squeeing and hopping about at the office qualifies as "graciously." This is a discussion we at Hadley Rille Books have quite often; it is the crux of the press as a whole. So, without further yammering from me, I give you Jenny...

On perusing the adult Fantasy shelves in my local bookshop, it seems to me that - depressingly - the market is still dominated by two things:

1. male authors (writing male characters), and
2. epic fantasy (either "the invaders are coming; to war, to war!" or, "the invaders have been and now everything's gone to hell, to hell!")

Now, while there are certainly some fine writers amongst those books, neither of these things particularly appeals to me, which is why I've generally read around the fringes of fantasy, rather that in its heartland.

(NOTE: I'm excluding the Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance subgenres here, where female writers and female protagonists are much more common).

As a girl, it's desperately frustrating for me that the heartland of fantasy is still dominated by men writing about war in some form or another. For a start, it only bolsters the cliched stereotype of fantasy fiction, and for seconds, there are so many more story tropes to explore in Fantasyland.

For instance, I hear that Mark Charan Newton's new series will be Holmesian detective fiction set in a Roman-type fantasy world. And then there's Patricia McKillip's work, which is sometiems referered to as "domestic fantasy", because she tells stories on a much more intimate scale. That's not to say she doesn't include "epic" aspects. In 'Song for the Basilisk', for example, the protagonist ends up bringing down a tyrant. The difference is, there aren't any great battles, because it's the protagonist's personal quest to right the wrongs done to his family, and he's a musician, not a warrior.

This brings me to my second thought, which is that in the Young Adult market, fantasy fiction is dominated by female writers, female protagonists, and intimate rather than epic stories. (Again, I'm excluding Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy here, and concentrating on "otherworld fantasy").

Once again, "epic" is present in novels such as Kristin Cashore's 'Fire', which concerns nations at war; in Leigh Bardugo's 'Shadow and Bone', which is in the "light vs dark" vein, and in many others. Yet without exception, these stories are more concerned with their character's path and growth as a result of the wider warring, as opposed to the warring itself.

Undoubtedly, a lot of this difference between YA and Adult Fantasy is due to their target audiences, but my question is this: If female readers are being won over to fantasy in their teenage years, surely supporters of the fantasy genre want to keep them reading fantasy once they move over to the adult shelves. But where are the kinds of fantasy novels they've come to love amongst the male-orientated epic quests? Where too are the female writers of adult fantasy?

Alright, alright, I know there are female fantasy writers out there, and some have even emerged from the shadows of their male counterparts. I also know that books with male protagonists can be perfectly rewarding for a girl to read. My issue is the on-going skew in the market. For every one female author, there are a dozen hairy blokes!

It seems to me that a pretty large trick is being missed here.

Which is why I've decided to start a revolution!

Let's get more girls writing the kind of fantasy fiction that appeals to girls (of all ages). Let's hold on to the female audience who fell in love with the YA fantasy novels of Kristin Cashore, Shannon Hale, Rachel Hartman, Megan Whalen Turner and SJ Maas, and give them books to love on the adult fantasy shelves. Let's throw wide the doors of Fantasyland and show the boys how much more there is to explore!

Who's with me?

35 comments:

Terri-Lynne said...

I'm with you, Jenny!

I look close to home for examples, because it is, after all a Hadley Rille Books blog. Just taking the fantasy authors who regularly contribute to this page: me, Mark Nelson, Karin Gastreich, and Kim Vandervort, we represent all pieces to this equation:
Me: the more domestic sort of fantasy, being that there are no great battles but the more intimate, internal ones. Both male and female characters.
Karin: There are big battles! But they are largely fought by the women-folk. (Just WAIT until you read High Maga.)
Mark: Here we have the political intrigue and male characters, but in Poets, instead of mighty sword battles, they battle with words.
Kim: Female protag, court intrigue, battles on a smaller scale.

Whe mash it up! But what all our novels have are the kinds of characters I too wish there were more of out in the "bigger" world of publishing. Small press is going to force the bigger venues to really see what's missing, and that there are loads and loads of potential readers missing it.

J.A. Campbell said...

Hmm, maybe I'll have to tackle some adult fantasy in the future :) I write YA.

I love the Hadley Rille books :) They are all excellent.

Julie

Asakiyume said...

I definitely think Terri's books qualify--she's definitely part of your revolution. And Sherwood Smith's Banner of the Damned is a *huge* epic, and while there are battles in it, the most wrenching battles are intimate, emotional.

Terri-Lynne said...

Thanks Julie and Francesca! (waving!)

jennygordon said...

Terri - no surprise whatsoever that you're already a part of the revolution, along with the other splendid folk over at Hadley Rille.

It often seems to be in the small press where the chances are taken and boundaries pushed, and truly wonderful books find a home. And thank heavens for that!

Coincidentally, I've just embarked on re-reading 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' (as it's known here in the UK). When Bloomsbury took Rowling on back in the '90s, they were a small publisher. Now look at both author and publishing house!

It's so heartening that small press like Hadley has provided a home for writers like you, Karin, Mark and Kim who are exploring more interesting - to my mind - corners of and takes on Fantasyland.

JA Campbell - I write YA too, though I've written adult as well. Part of what drew me to the YA market in the first place was the far wider range of Fantasyland to be found on the shelves than on the generic adult fantasy shelves. I guess the YA market is still flexing its muscles and finding its voice, which is why so much variety, and so many wild mash-ups are so readily available.

Welcome to the revolution!

Terri-Lynne said...

(Posting for Mark)
Jenny,

I think it is too easy to decry what the big houses dictate what the
brick and mortar book stores arrange on their shelves. Lin Carter,
when he was assembling those early anthologies of The Year's Best
Fantasy, mentioned in the introductions the increasing appearance of
women writers and interesting female characters. I recall references
to LeGuin, McKillip, Cherryh, McKinley, as well as the homage to
Norton, Brackett, Moore among others.

Now, when I peruse the lists on ebooks, especially free ebooks, I tend
to see the pastiche about which you'd like to foment your revolution:
lots of derivative stuff; most of it male written, male character
driven drivel with the occasional gem appearing.

Sad, really. And yet your point seems salient to me in that you hit
upon one of my abiding concerns as I explore the publishing world: too
many stories are written FOR an audience rather than being written in
hopes of FINDING an audience. As I see it, the best tales we have are
those that had to be written. They surface as the organic
expression--that tooth that had to come out. I hardly think Tolkien
had sales and reader demographics in mind when he wrote "in a hole in
the ground there lived a hobbit" on the back of that fated examination
paper. (Segue: I've often wondered just how vacuous must have been the
writing in that exam that would prompt the professor to turn it over
and doodle. Perhaps we owe that unfortunate student a debt of thanks...)

Increasingly, the big houses weigh profit before story, audience
before characters, lowest common denominator selling points over other
concerns like uniqueness, intimacy, focus, language, and balance. With
our genre, sadly, it seems like it has to explode with the epic male
metaphors that dominate gaming and film and t.v. programming. Perhaps
that is why I can list you a half dozen female writers but cannot even
begin to list the other side of the equation because there are too
many, and the writing seems to take on the tone and quality of
sameness. I served as part of the writer's workshop activity last year
at Norwescon in Seattle, and all three of the manuscripts I reviewed
possessed qualities you mention--even the one written by the lone
female writer in the group.

And THAT is why I agree with Terri that the small presses, as they
perpetuate and proliferate, will be the ones to give shape and
substance to your revolution. The small press may be the last haven
for the organic expression of story. They keep alive at least the idea
of diversity.

Long live the small press!

Mark

jennygordon said...

Asakiyume - Hmmm, now Sherwood Smith is a name I've come across lots over the years, but haven't ever checked out. I'll definitely keep an eye out - thanks :O)

Terri-Lynne said...

Mark-hear-hear! :)

I must say that when I see names cited as examples of women in the genre, those you cite are the ones I always see. And that, I think, is as wonderful as it is disheartening, because for every one of those women, I could name dozens of men. Those are the ones familiar to most, and they've earned their spots. Still, it doesn't matter how many amazing writers there are in the field; when the ratio is so out of whack, there is something wrong.

Terri-Lynne said...

Jenny--Sherwood is amazing.

jennygordon said...

Mark - You know, I have a weighty collection of Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow's 'The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror' anthologies, and they tick all the boxes you mention when referring to Lin Carter. In those volumes work by women and men writing stories that push the boundaries and ignore the cliches abound.

Indeed, Terri Windling made a career of supporting and publishing writers who were exploring other avenues of fantasy fiction - Charles de Lint, Emma Bull, Will Shetterly ... And she was working largely for Tor at the time, so there's at least one big press who were supporting the 'different' under Windling's aegis.

re. your point about books being written FOR an audience, as opposed to in the hopes of FINDING an audience. This is one of my well worn complaints about publishing in general. I know it's ultimately about the bottom line, of course it is, but so many wonderful authors never find their audience because they can't guarantee a publisher a good sales return. Which seems tragic to me, because I'm sure there would be an audience to be found for many of them if only they had a chance.

I grew up reading and adoring the books of Storm Constantine and Tanith Lee, who were both exploring weird and wonderful, and truly unique corners of fantasy, yet once the boomtime of the '80s passed, both struggled to find a publisher and ultimately turned to small press (Immanion Press in the UK), after unhappy careers with larger publishing houses.

And Tanith Lee is a World Fantasy Award winning author!

Long live the small press indeed (as well as caps off to that vacuous student of Tolkien's lol!)

jennygordon said...

Terri - I'll shoot over to Amazon tomorrow morning to check her out. It's 7.30pm here in the UK, so I'll be checking out for the day soon. But I'll be back again tomorrow :O)

jennygordon said...

Terri and Mark - to put the cat among the pigeons, do you think there are significantly fewer women actually writing fantasy? Does this explain the skew, at least in part.

I'd like to say I don't believe that's the case in the slightest, but I don't know ... You guys see oodles of manuscripts. What's the proportional representation at submission stage would you say?

Terri-Lynne said...

Jenny, this: "I know it's ultimately about the bottom line"

Very sad, but very true. And one can't even blame the big houses for this. It is survival to them. They cannot absorb too many chances taken that don't pan out.

And once again--small press, mid-press, even self-published novels CAN. Thank goodness they DO.

Terri-Lynne said...

To put a cat among the pigeons...I love that! Ha!

Anyway, I can tell you that the bulk of fantasy I see coming to HRB is written by women. We get men (like Mark) but for every one manuscript I get written by a man, I'll get five written by a woman.

THAT, I believe, is indicative of the fact that many female writers are turning to smaller presses who are looking to publish outside the box.

As far as scifi goes, I do believe we get more male writers, but that's Eric's department, so I can't say for certain.

Terri-Lynne said...

And because many who walk these pages know me as an editor as well, I must correct my grammar: We get men (like Mark) but for every one manuscript I get written by a man, I'll get five written by a woman.

I don't get five manuscripts written by a single woman. D'oh.

I'll get five written by women.

(Yes, I am this anal.)

jennygordon said...

Terri - and thank heavens for the digital and electronic revolution that has made self publishing and independent press so much easier. Only a handful of years ago, it wouldn't have been nearly the market it is now.

Is 'to put the cat among the pigeons' a Britishism?

Oh hurrah, I'm thrilled and so relieved to hear that the bulk of what you see at HR is written by ladies. Wow, that's just great! It makes me feel so much better.

Lol! Anal is good ;O)

jennygordon said...

I've just realised that, in my free-bouncing excitement, I've completely forgotten to thank Terri for having me here on HoF today. I'm everso terribly rude. Thanks Terri, it's an honour to be here!

I'm checking out for the night now, as it's heading towards bedtime here in the UK. I'll be back tomorrow though, so I hope you all enjoy chatting until then.

Terri-Lynne said...

You are welcome, Jenny!

Eric T Reynolds said...

We're continuing the tradition of the revolution at Hadley Rille into 2014. Many of our fantasies are about the people we know around us: our sisters, our friends, our mothers, daughters, and spouses.

As Terri already mentioned, in High Maga by Karin Rita Gastreich, the "women folk" are fighting the battles. And Terri is editing Harriet Goodchild's upcoming fantasy After the Ruin and she can speak to that.

The YA fantasy by Shauna Roberts, Ice Magic, Fire Magic features a woman who becomes servant of the people and her battles are both internal and with those around her, but she is the one to prevail.

Vanessa MacLellan's fantasy novel will have an everyday woman protagonist who falls into Vanessa's amazing fantasy world of ancient Egypt where animal deities walk among the people.

And we're also continuing the revolution with an new anthology where all protagonists will be archaeologists and will be women of color.

It's an exciting year ahead...

--Eric

jennygordon said...

Exciting indeed!

I love how Patricia McKillip's novels are sometimes referred to as 'domestic fantasy'. To me, that chimes with your description of Hadley Rille's fantasies often being about our sisters, friends, mothers, daughters and spouses. It's fantasy on an intimate scale, and that really interests me.

As I write, it occurs to me that McKillip's fantasies share much in common with fairytales, which is self-evident, I know. But perhaps it's that fairytale slant which means they're intimate, not epic (Riddlemaster trilogy aside!)

Which takes me back to the stable of authors originally cultivated by Terri Winding (see my reply to Mark above). She is very much a fairytale and folklore scholar, and the authors she supported in her publishing days reflect her interests. Maybe fantasy authors can be broadly split into two groups: those rooted in the Tolkien tradition, and those rooted in the fairytale tradition?

What do you think?

jennygordon said...

Terri, Asakiyume et al - I've just been checking out Sherwood Smith's work, and am befuddled by the sheer mass of it. Where would you recommend as a good place to start?

Terri-Lynne said...

Jenny--the Inda books
http://www.sherwoodsmith.net/SD/Inda.html

From the lady herself. :)

Terri-Lynne said...

I do believe there are sub-categories within the genre that go beyond epic and urban etc. If you want to get REALLY technical, there is a difference between folklore and fairy tale, and again more difference when it comes to myth. They FEEL the same, but they are not the same. ie: Hercules is a myth, the scope is grand. Little Red Riding Hood is a fairy tale, it's scale more intimate and close.

And the difference between fairy tale and folklore is as subtle, the former being the written account of the latter in many cases. Where myth and folklore diverge, myth and fairy tale overlap, and all other combinations in kind.

Where am I going with this? I'll tell you--the subtle differences that separate the different forms of fantasy are as subtle as those binding them all together into a cohesive, DIVERSE whole. It's there, in big, small, mid, self-pubbed press novels. Big press will publish those few among the rest of the sameness. Small, mid and self-pubbed press gets to scoop up all those great books that still need homes.

Terri-Lynne said...

Harriet* Goodchild's novel, After the Ruin, has a balanced cast of male/female characters that, while their struggles are intimate and closely held, there are epic things going on as well. While it feels "domestic," it also feels quite "epic." (And I use quotes because those are words that only kind of say what I mean.)It has to be read to truly get the amazing skill that gave both in the same novel.

I would say I'm biased, having found Harriet's novel quite by chance, and then given the true privilege of being her editor, but it doesn't matter. Biased or not, this is an exceptional novel.




*one of our new reviewers!

jennygordon said...

Terri - Hmmm, Harriet's novel does sound intriguing.

I enjoyed your thoughts about myth/folklore/fairytale, and agree with your breakdown. I was a HUGE fan of Charles de Lint's work back in the 90s. I loved what he was doing with folklore tropes. And I also loved the anthologies of retold fairytales Windling and Datlow put together. Myth, fairytale and folklore were big influences on me when I started writing 'seriously'. I'd still love to do something with the story of Medea. One day ...

Diversity is one of the huge strengths of the fantasy genre in general (across all kinds of publishing outlets), and the current unprejudiced and open-all-commers approach of YA publishing to fantasy novels of all kinds is one of the many reasons I'm now writing for that age range. Long may publishers of YA fiction keep the open-mindedness that welcomes all kinds of mash-ups and cross-overs. Maybe publishers of adult fantasy may take note somewhere along the way.

But I'm looping back to my original argument here ...

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Jenny, thanks so much for your very thought provoking post. I'm so happy we were able to get you on Heroines of Fantasy.

Terri had a similar thought to mine, in that I think the secret to truly spectacular fantasy is a successful blend of "domestic/fairytale/folklore" with "epic". I'll be bold enough to say that this is what Tolkien achieved, and part of what makes his work so immortal. (Though I suspect some of our resident Tolkien experts may jump on me for that one...)

Personally, I don't have any problem with epic fantasy that focuses on war, as I find war an interesting topic and a subject worth writing about. What I don't like so much are the stories that portray war as a means for conquering evil, and/or as a mechanism for achieving peace. (Though I am, of course, more than willing to forgive Tolkien on both counts.)

In my own narratives, war begets more war, and even engenders evil.

The human face of war, the suffering and destitution it brings, sometimes gets lost in the traditional hero's journey, where war is often portrayed as the path to triumph and glory.

To add to the list of authors in this discussion, I want to mention, as I did last week, the marvelous work of N.K. Jemisin, who in just half a book has become my next favorite author. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is an inspired novel, and a very artful blend of "domestic" and "epic".

Terri-Lynne said...

Karin, it is interesting to me that you're loving Nora's book so much, because others I know have tried to get into it several times and can't. I loved the book COVER, and bought it before I knew who NK Jemison was, then never got to it. I will have to give it a read, finally.

David Hunter said...

A small digression:

I don't think evil was conquered through war in Tolkien, nor indeed peace achieved thereby (except maybe and temporarily via the Battle of Five Armies and the previous routing of Sauron from Dol Guldur, though whether military force played much part in the latter is debateable). I suppose you could argue the odd battle was won from time to time, but more were lost -- generally badly lost -- and even Aragorn's army would have been overwhelmed at the Gates of Mordor had Frodo not claimed the ring and Gollum then not seized and inadvertently destroyed it and himself. Not a big fan of war really, Tolkien -- even when the good guys win a battle there's almost always heavy loss, and often no good comes from it (eg Isildur taking the ring after the first overthrow of Sauron which was by military might).

And of course the actual War of the Ring is a occupies only a fraction of the whole of LotR, the military aspects (not just battles, mustering and movement of armies too) occupying perhaps a fifth of the book, most of which is actually travel, flight or escape with the odd fight (though I grant that several of the chapters dealing with the war itself are amongst the best and stick in the mind longest). In fact the 'domestic' chapters occupy more space than the war (albeit they are lumped largely at the start), the war doesn't begin until nearly half way through and then is virtually abandoned for 12 chapters.

I do think you're right about the mixing of fairy tale and epic though and Terri was also right on the mark when she said Tolkien did not write with an eye to the market, indeed he long feared LotR would be unpublishable because of its subject matter (traditional heroic romance not really being very much in vogue in the mid-C20).

Terri-Lynne said...

David, I wish I could take credit for that bit of wisdom, but it was Mark. I was just posting for him because he was at school and under a watchful eye. ;)

I know you are not a fan of the movies, and here is one of the (many) reasons I agree--they make the whole story SO battle-heavy. Yes, there are battles. EPIC battles, but they don't make up the bulk of the books. In the movies, they do. Skirmishes with orcs or goblins turn into fifteen minute sequences meant to titilate those video-game minded. It's a shame, really.

That being said, I DID enjoy the movies as MOVIES, as long as I don't THINK about it too much.

David Hunter said...

In fact the military bits of the LotR don't even fully occupy the 8 chapters they do play a part in, their impact and possibly positioning just makes them seem a greater part. And domesticity intrudes even on some of the less domestic sections (eg Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbits, Flotsam and Jetsam).

And yes, yet again, the films probably didn't help in any way whatsoever.

Anyway, go back to being revolting . . .

jennygordon said...

Karin - thanks so much. Glad you enjoyed my ramblings.

I agree with you and Terri about Tolkien. For me, it's the folklore - inspired by and rooted in ancient European folklore - that grounds the bigger quest tale and makes it feel so much like it really COULD happen/have happened somewhere, somewhen.

Oo, and NK Jemisin! I discovered her last year. Isn't she wonderful?! I adore 100K Kingdoms, and it's on my To Re-Read pile as I type! Her 'Shadowed Sun' duology are worth checking out too. Very different from The Inheritance trilogy, but just as wildly imaginative.

As an aside, I don't have a problem with war in fantasy either. My gripe was with the fact that the shelves in bookshops seem so completely dominated by it in fantasy novels, when there are so many other story types and approaches out there.

Or at least war told from an unusual perspective. One of my favourite fantasy trilogies, for example, is Jacqueline Carey's original 'Kushiel' trilogy. In the first, 'Kushiel's Dart', there's an epic war being seeded and then commencing, but it's all seen and experienced through an unusual heroine's eyes. Like you, Carey is very interested in the effects of war, rather than war per se.

jennygordon said...

Terri - I'm with Karin on NK Jemisin. I adored her 'Inheritance' trilogy, although the 'Shadowed Sun' duology are harder to get into, I confess.

jennygordon said...

David - interesting thoughts on LOTR. I'm inclined to agree, as I always experienced the story as a more personal quest against the backdrop of coming and then actual war, rather than a story about the war itself.

The 'domestic' sections are what always held my attention far more than the battles.

Terri - re the movies. I guess big battles make for exciting viewing when it comes to movie audiences with a short attention span ... maybe ... I think Peter Jackson is also big into the bloody and gory stuff, lol!

hmgoodchild said...

What an interesting discussion. (Full disclosure, I'm here because Terri, who is otherwise the wisest of editors, spoke earlier of my book; Psst, Terri: the cheque's in the post ;-)).

Now, as to writing 'epic' versus 'domestic', I reckon one must have both to properly reflect the world. Or, I suppose, rereading what I'd written, one may have the domestic without the epic but not vice versa. I cut my fantasy teeth on Ursula le Guin and Diana Wynne Jones.Each is what I'd call a quiet writer, one can easily miss that in two out of the original three Earthsea books, the stakes are on an epic scale because the focus is so closely on the individual journeys; likewise with Wynne Jones' 'Chrestomanci' books. However, considering the epic, Homer's 'Iliad' covers 'epic' and 'domestic' (ie the full range of human experience) and does so far more successfully, I'd argue, than Tolkien. Its subject is war but it does not think to confine itself to battles despite the length, and scale, and number, and sheer raw brutality of those battles. All the glory and tragedy of war is there, in the person of Achilles who achieves self-knowledge too late for it to be of any use to him, in the person of Astyanax, who cowers before his father's helm, in the person of Andromache, who must live on and face the ruin made inevitable by Hector's death, in the person of Agamemnon, master of men but not of himself. In order for the epic to matter there must be the domestic: the little things that are worth fighting for: a lover's pride, a wife's embrace, the chance for a boy to grow to manhood. Were it not so who would care if the battle were lost or won? And as for Achilles, so too Gilgamesh or Beowulf. Now, you may say that I'm comparing apples with oranges, say that the 'Iliad', or 'Beowulf' or the legend of Gilgamesh are not fantasy novels. But to do so is to say epic fantasy is set apart from other literature rather than of it. Also, importantly, epic fantasy such as 'The Lord of the Rings' is attempting to synthesise (imitation is a part of it, but not the whole) for modern readers the experience of those ancient epics, and at its best, extend it by drawing in the wealth of literature, history and accumulated experience since those epic poems were conceived.

One last point, building a little on something Terri said earlier, the 'Iliad' or 'Beowulf' or the legend of Gilgamesh share with most folklore and folk tales is the expectation that the fantastical exists alongside and within the world, not separate from it. In the 'Iliad' what is important is not that the gods fight aside men at Troy but how they do so. It is the god's deeds that make up the story, not the god. Likewise, in old tales from the islands and highlands, the story is not that a seal takes off its skin and becomes a woman - that is entirely part of the natural order of the world - it is what she does upon the land that is worth telling. As soon as we make fantasy something other than this, when we start goggling at the fact there is a vampire, or a warrior queen, or an invading army, and not at what they do and why it matters what they do, we have lost something important, something which lies at the very heart of storytelling: that the world is not the story, it is people (or hobbits, or rabbits, or Dalmatians) which are the story.

Terri-Lynne said...

Harriet--cheque? I wanted cash! ;)

"As soon as we make fantasy something other than this, when we start goggling at the fact there is a vampire, or a warrior queen, or an invading army, and not at what they do and why it matters what they do, we have lost something important..."

This, this, a million times this. Not because I love your work so much, but this is the essence of your stories, and why I love them so much.