23 June 2014 @ 08:54 am
The Invisible Women  
A few days back, Kari Sperring put up an excellent post about collateral damage, which got me to mulling a response. But today Judith Tarr pretty much said it for me here.

I will only add to those very popular, young and pretty authors who have rah-rahed to their followers about how those "old guard" ought to get out of the way/retire/drop dead, guess what. You will be old too, yet you will still feel you have something to say. I wonder if anyone will listen.
( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
Chiara Castelnuovo-McKenzie: young Chiaracmcmck on June 23rd, 2014 04:03 pm (UTC)

I was a young, hurting poet.

I'm now a middle aged less hurting poet and guess what? I still have things to say and I'll carry on saying them!

I'm not stopping anyone else of any age from saying them too.

Sherwood Smithsartorias on June 23rd, 2014 04:21 pm (UTC)
I don't see the stopping so much as being dismissed "because you're female and old" before the poem is even read.

It's a fair chop when someone reads something we wrote and doesn't like it. But to be passed over because we are not male, young, charismatic, or whatever-is-popular-today, I think it not only robs us of our voices, but also robs the world.
thistle in greythistleingrey on June 23rd, 2014 05:45 pm (UTC)
Yes. :(
Profiterole: Nightrunner - Seregil and Alec_profiterole_ on June 23rd, 2014 04:21 pm (UTC)
One thing that makes me sad is when women have to hide behind their initials so that people think they're male writers. Does that even still work? When I see initials, my first thought is that the book is written by a woman, because I know the trick, but maybe the first thought of men who don't know the trick is that it is written by a man?

The age thing makes even less sense to me. If there was to be a bias, shouldn't it be that older writers are more experienced with writing? Not that there aren't amazing young writers out there too.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on June 23rd, 2014 04:35 pm (UTC)
I, too, always assume that initials are female, and for that very reason.

Re bias, I guess it depends--like everything else in human nature. Young writers who seem to be saying something new are only new to their generation, not to older readers who have seen it all before; but on the other hand, young and brilliant writers can age themselves into a rut, especially if cushioned by success. It's so easy for anyone to curl up in their ivory tower and never poke their nose out. Many of us became writers because we were inclined to curl up to dream our stories, rather than striking out into the world to make stories.

Some young writers are born with the gift, some writers get better with age.

The thing that hurts those of us oldsters is when no one gives our work a second glance, not because of the worth of the work, but "Oh, that's written by a woman. She's been around for years. Has to be meh. (Where's some more like Rape of Thrones? Now that's literature!)"

Edited at 2014-06-23 04:36 pm (UTC)
Kalimac: puzzlekalimac on June 23rd, 2014 05:08 pm (UTC)
When I first read The Hobbit, and knew nothing about the author, I assumed that the author was female. This was not because of women authors hiding behind initials, a practice I was wholly unaware of at the time - in fact I knew that (other than that, at least) people using initials instead of first names are more often men. Nor did the fact that there are no female characters in The Hobbit affect me. It just seemed to me, at age eleven, as the kind of book a woman would be more likely to write. Probably some prejudicial assumptions there, although not unfavorable ones in this case.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on June 23rd, 2014 05:12 pm (UTC)
Maybe because so many kids' books were written by women?

I used to think so, too. In fact, I regularly bypassed it at the library because I was so certain that 'hobbits' were dressed up rabbits, and that the story would be really silly. It took a friend insisting that I try it to discover how very wrong I was.
Kalimac: puzzlekalimac on June 23rd, 2014 05:26 pm (UTC)
I never had the chance to bypass The Hobbit because, although I'd been reading other children's fantasy, I never heard of this book until my teacher pulled it out and began reading it to the class.
Profiterole_profiterole_ on June 23rd, 2014 05:15 pm (UTC)
IRL, I guess men use initials more often. I know men who do, while women with two-part first names usually shorten it to the first part (or in one case to the second part).
Kalimac: puzzlekalimac on June 23rd, 2014 05:30 pm (UTC)
Apparently, British middle-class men of Tolkien's generation were instructed in school to identify themselves by initials, and many of them just kept up the habit, especially if they went into academia. That accounts for the tremendous flood of them in literature (C.S. Lewis, A.A. Milne, P.G. Wodehouse, etc.). I'd like to know more about this custom.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on June 23rd, 2014 05:41 pm (UTC)
Oh, that's true. You see it in memoirs, and even in Wodehouse's school stories.
BritHistorianbrithistorian on June 23rd, 2014 05:56 pm (UTC)
When I was studying history at UNO (pretty much the entire decade of the 1990s), I was taught that use of initials was the standard in British academia. I don't know to what extent this remains true.

ETA: I just checked swisstone's academia.edu page, and he goes by his name rather than initials, so maybe things are changing.

Edited at 2014-06-23 05:57 pm (UTC)
Sherwood Smithsartorias on June 23rd, 2014 05:57 pm (UTC)
Oh, that's interesting. Maybe a holdover from the days when people simply did not use others' first names, but last names and titles only.
dancinghorsedancinghorse on June 23rd, 2014 06:07 pm (UTC)
When I was at Cambridge in the Seventies, it was everyone. We signed our tutorial papers and our exams with first and middle initial(s). I was "J.E. Tarr" over there.
Editrxeditrx on June 24th, 2014 05:23 am (UTC)
When in was in a very British influenced girls private school in DC in the 60s and 70s, we were all taught to always sign ourselves by our first and middle initials and last name.

Edited at 2014-06-24 05:23 am (UTC)
ethelmayethelmay on June 27th, 2014 04:39 pm (UTC)
I remember a discussion in a heavily British forum once where people said you shouldn't give siblings names with the same initials because their letters would always be mixed up. I don't think I've ever had mail addressed to me with initials-plus-surname in my life (at least not from a USian), but to them it was utterly the default.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on June 23rd, 2014 06:07 pm (UTC)
Yeah--many of the new historians whose books are on my shelves use both names. But older books certainly have initials, A.G.P Taylor, C.V. Wedgewood, etc.
Queen of the Skiesqueenoftheskies on June 23rd, 2014 04:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing the link. Brilliant post. As was Kari's.

As I posted in response to Kari, age and being a woman makes me wonder whether I should even bother to query at all. At some point in the process, they'll discover my age.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on June 23rd, 2014 04:55 pm (UTC)
Don't give up before you try. Hopefully they are smitten with the work before they delve for personal details!
asakiyume: feathers on the lineasakiyume on June 23rd, 2014 05:59 pm (UTC)
I often wish it were possible to submit and publish without revealing anything about oneself at all. I'd like my stories to succeed or fail without relation who I am. I know that's not possible, though….
(Anonymous) on June 23rd, 2014 06:08 pm (UTC)
I tried this years ago and was assured by editorial staff that the readers want to know Things about an author. I still have no idea whether that is true.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on June 23rd, 2014 06:11 pm (UTC)
Well, from what I recollect they wanted to know if there was something about you that would help sell books--you had escaped from a Gulag, you were a famous sky diver or pilot, you had invented something, you were related to the Kennedys.
serialbabbler on June 23rd, 2014 06:44 pm (UTC)
I imagine it depends on the reader. These days, I usually read a book first and then if I liked it, I might look up the author out of curiosity. Back in the pre-internet days, sometimes I would read the little "about the author" blurbs in the back of the book if I was especially bored and didn't have anything better to do.

Of course, I'm a "reader" rather than a "fan" and I'm pretty sure that's an entirely different demographic. :)

(That's specifically for fiction. With non-fiction I kind of like to know if I'm reading something written by an expert in the subject or a non-expert like a journalist. Don't much care about their personal lives, though, unless it becomes clear that their experience is resulting in major bias in the writing.)
Sherwood Smithsartorias on June 23rd, 2014 06:10 pm (UTC)
Not anymore. It was in the past. I know it never occurred to me to think about authors, because there wasn't anything to be found, until I got old enough to start researching the nonfiction side of the library in high school. I found a book that gave a paragraph about current authors--and I recollect I used to read these eagerly, hoping they were young only so they would write a lot more books. I remember my disappointment that Zenna Henderson was a retired teacher--she read so young, and I hoped she would live to be a hundred.
Rachel M Brownrachelmanija on June 23rd, 2014 07:35 pm (UTC)
You could use a pen name and a sock email. K. J. Parker's identity is completely secret, as far as I know.
asakiyume: highwaymanasakiyume on June 23rd, 2014 07:41 pm (UTC)
Cat's out of the bag for things I've already done, but yeah, I've thought of it.
Rose Foxrosefox on June 23rd, 2014 11:17 pm (UTC)
At least one of Parker's publishers knows Parker's identity, and I'm given to understand that Parker (or one of the people collectively known as Parker) has published quite a lot of books under another name. So that's really not a good example of "came out of nowhere and is now renowned even though no one knows anything about them", unfortunately.
Kalimac: puzzlekalimac on June 23rd, 2014 05:08 pm (UTC)
A useful maxim I sometimes employ, of somewhat broader application than this, is "Those who live by the cutting edge die by the cutting edge."
Sherwood Smithsartorias on June 23rd, 2014 05:11 pm (UTC)
That works.
klaetificat on June 24th, 2014 11:09 am (UTC)
I already see this happening to me and mine, even though we're all only in our early thirties. It's especially pronounced in my local industry. Sometimes I feel that when I go to networking events I could strip off my shirt and run around screaming about aliens coming down to kill us all and nobody would bat an eye.

I wasn't at Fourth Street this year, but someone I do know who went told me that the new authors panel was composed entirely of people under thirty (and that it wasn't a "new young authors" panel, but a "new authors in general" panel). Now, I have to think that there are more SF/F new authors who happen to be *over* thirty, but if a convention as good as Fourth Street has issues with finding them, everyone who would have died in Logan's Run is kind of screwed.

Now I wasn't there, so this is secondhand information, but there's the ring of truth there...
Sherwood Smithsartorias on June 24th, 2014 01:18 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it does have the ring of truth. Also, some older writers were kicked off the invitational list for Readercon. Agism was denied, but . . .
negothicknegothick on June 24th, 2014 07:55 pm (UTC)
The thought occurs to me that we old bats are still likely to outlive the current "Big Press/Mainstream" publishers.

Another thought: who buys the most books--even the most e-books? Hint: not the male 18-34 demographic so prized by sellers of cars, liquor, and electronics.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on June 24th, 2014 08:11 pm (UTC)
Yes. But you'd never know that, where these older white guys still control media.
( 33 comments — Leave a comment )