There’s been a lot of discussion lately about women writing science fiction and fantasy, and how they can sometimes be treated like interlopers. Over the past few weeks, I’ve read story after story of dismissive, sexist, misogynistic and abusive behavior at conventions, books signings, and online forums. It’s been pretty depressing.
Scratch that: It’s been infuriating.
If you want to see what I’m talking about, you could start with this piece in the Guardian, which links to many of the relevant articles. You might also check out this post by SF author Ann Aguirre detailing her experiences at genre conventions and on panels. In that post, there’s a comment by Jaye Wells describing similar treatment. And if you’ve already read it, check back and read Ms. Aguirre’s update, in which she shares some of the hate mail (yes, hate mail) she received for speaking out. Then, if your blood pressure isn’t dangerously high, you could check out this post by our own Suzanne Johnson describing her experience with a sexist bookstore owner.
I’m glad these posts were written, because it’s important to talk about these things, to shove them into the light.
This isn’t going to be one of those posts.
It could be. Goodness knows I’ve got material. But today, I thought it might be…let’s say… soothing… to discuss the ways women have helped each other out, lifted each other up, and generally persevered despite the staggering amount of difficult, belittling bullshit we encounter.
Dear readers, I don’t want to minimize the bad stuff. Not at all. But today, let’s talk about some of the good stuff. Today’s “Conversations” post is a conversation with all of you. I invite you to share in the comments a story of how you were helped along the way by a brave mentor. Maybe it’s as simple as someone observing a sexist attack and calling it out (please, I need to hear about this one). Maybe someone took you under her wing, guided your writing, helped you find readers, helped you find a job. Let’s celebrate the ways we can be strong together.
This isn’t an earth-shattering anecdote, but it meant a lot to me at the time, and it still means a lot to me. About three years ago, I went to my very first RWA meeting in an attempt to break out of my shell and find critique partners. I was terrified. I’d never told another soul (except The Enabler, who was and still is 100% supportive) that I was writing novels, much less novels with sex (!) in them, and I was afraid I’d be ridiculed.
When I got there, I was welcomed. Everyone wanted to know what I was writing, everyone wanted to cheer me on. One established author in particular (a very talented woman who writes contemporary romance) went out of her way to make me feel welcome and comfortable. I went to her book signing a few nights later, and she personally took me around and introduced me to her writer friends. She was gracious, generous, and kind, and she did it with no expectation of anything in return.
This writer is now one of my most trusted critique partners. She has helped me take my work to the next level on every single book. I try hard to pay this kind of thing forward, because I know how much it means.
What about you? Have you had a phenomenal female mentor who’s helped you out in ways large or small? A male mentor who’s been an ally against sexism? Tell me all about it. I want to know.
Yay for you! I still believe there’s way more good in the writing community than bad–WAY more. I’m not sure I had a single mentor (unless it’s my fabulous agent or my enabling BFF), but I have been embraced and welcomed into so many places, from local writing groups to my local RWA Southern Magic chapter (love these women!) to bookstores to online support from other authors and from readers. So the negatives I’ve encountered, and there have been a few, are vastly outnumbered by the positives. We don’t talk enough about the positives!
I think we need to share the negative stuff–it’s crucial that we don’t hide those things! But with all of the happy news this week, it seems like a good time to celebrate the positives. 🙂
Yay for remembering the positive, too. Sometimes it gets lost. My experience wasn’t really a mentor, but my favorite author, Kelley Armstrong. My best friend met Ms. Armstrong halway across the country, and this resulted in an offer to look at the first few pages of my manuscript and a few tips of advice, like what conferences, groups to at least check out (I was over the moon!). A few months later at my first RWA conference, I approached her at a signing just to say thanks, and she invited me to coffee! She gave me some great advice that prepared me for my first pitch session, and her kindness and time were the highlight of my conference. I hope someday I’ll be able to return the favor and pass on the same kindness.
SC, this is such a heartwarming, awesome story. And it demonstrates that small things can mean a lot. Writing is tough, publishing is hard, but I love hearing about folks who have made it big and still find the time to reach out. Thank you so much for sharing this story!
And it’s also why (besides being an awesome writer), she’ll always be my favorite. Writers’ Karma is real, I swear! 🙂
A.J. This is a great post!
I just sent off the acknowledgements for my upcoming release and one of things I said was that I feel like I can’t write a book alone, I depend so much on others for help, and most of those others are writers who take the time to read and comment on my work, or who encourage me when I hit a wall.
I have a similar experience to yours with joining RWA. I felt welcome right away, I was inspired and encouraged by the other authors. Of course, I met you at our local San Francisco Area chapter meeting, which was fabulous. And one of the things I like about our chapter is that it took me quite a long time to learn who was a best-seller, and who was unpublished, because everyone was helpful, informative, and just “part of the gang.”
Thanks for asking the question this way, because it makes me realized I’ve had so much good and very little bad on my writing journey, and I like to keep myself focused on that!
Aw, thanks, Amber! It was awesome meeting you, too, and I *adore* that aspect of our chapter. It’s one of the reasons I love RWA in general–I’ve meet so many people at all stages who are supportive and generous and kind.
Great post, AJ. I admit that I was stunned when I stepped outside of the romance realm and tried to attend my first fan-con, and whether it was the fact that I write romance or my gender or some other reason, the person I contacted about attending made it clear that I wasn’t welcome as a professional/speaker, which had never happened to me before. I’ve spoken on panels at every romance con I’ve attended so I was very taken aback. Perhaps if I wrote sf/f this would be something I run into more often. I really do hope that we can begin to see positive change in the community. I’ve been lucky enough to encounter SO many authors in the business who have given me advice, offered me help, and given me an ear or a nudge of support when I was in need. I am really blessed, I truly would not be where I am today without the help of so many people. I do my best to pay it forward when I am able. Like so many other debates, it would be nice if we could just throw them out the window and focus on simply being kind to one another.
I’ve always thought the romance community is especially supportive. Maybe because romance readers are so wonderfully voracious, we know that a “rising tide lifts all boats,” and we don’t feel as threatened by new writers. It could be the prejudice against romance writers has something to do with our solidarity. There are still many people who don’t respect our work, but we know better! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Amber and AJ, I’m going to echo your positive reports on our local RWA chapter. Amber befriended me on email and took me to my first meeting. Grateful for our community of writers.
We’re so lucky to have such a welcoming group!
I am glad you all have positive experiences ladies. I have been to two small conventions in Berlin, Germany, and I have noticed that all the authors present, are good friends. Both the German ones, and the international authors. So perhaps I will see some of you there next year (hope, hope).
It sounds like those small conventions were great environments! Oh, how I would love to take a trip to Germany for a writing conference… I don’t suppose you’re making the trip to Atlanta in a few weeks for RWA 2013? 🙂
No, coming to America is totally out of my budget. I live in Holland, and this was a 7 hour drive for me and my best friend. Perhaps you could ask one of the American authors for their experience? Tina Folsom, Maya Banks, Lara Adrian, Pamela Palmer, Erin McCarthy, Cherry Adair, Lisa Marie Rice, Shannon McKenna, and some others have attended one or both years.