Being A Woman Who Reads (and writes) Fantasy

A currently-exploding story is of a New York Times review of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” – specifically, the brou-ha-ha is focused upon the fifth and sixth paragraphs of the piece, which I copy out here (emph. mine):

The show has been elaborately made to the point that producers turned to a professional at something called the Language Creation Society to design a vocabulary for the savage Dothraki nomads who provide some of the more Playboy-TV-style plot points and who are forced to speak in subtitles. Like “The Tudors” and “The Borgias” on Showtime and the “Spartacus” series on Starz, “Game of Thrones,” is a costume-drama sexual hopscotch, even if it is more sophisticated than its predecessors. It says something about current American attitudes toward sex that with the exception of the lurid and awful “Californication,” nearly all eroticism on television is past tense. The imagined historical universe of “Game of Thrones” gives license for unhindered bed-jumping — here sibling intimacy is hardly confined to emotional exchange.

The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

I strongly encourage you to go read the entirety of the (8-paragraph) review for context in full, but the concern found in these paragraphs stands even following a full reading – Ms. Bellafante has made the unfortunate and grave assumption that (A) the sex is only thrown into the series to attract women and that (B) that no woman would be interested in watching a fantasy epic that didn’t involve some on-screen canoodling.

And yet she references The Hobbit, a Tolkein book from the same universe (and some of the same characters) as the famed Lord of the Rings series, which was made into a trilogy of films, and has just as rabid a fan following among women as men, both book and screen form. The Hobbit was, in fact, one of my first major grown-up epic fantasy novels, before I had even reads a double-digit age group.

In addition to the Hobbit, of course, my reading list has included a huge swath of Terry Pratchett (Discworld, especially), Neil Gaiman (Fantasy both modern, past, and otherworldly, in text AND graphic novel form), Jacqueline Carey (Fantastical reimagining of a european-based world with a different slant on religion where angelic creatures are still very much involve with the world, and also some hot sex amidst the political intrigue), The Dragonlance books, Piers Anthony (Xanth, Incarnations of Immortality, and others), Orson Scott Card (Ender series), Frank Herbert (Dune), David Eddings (Belgariad AND Mallorean, and others), Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, Lloyd Alexander (Chronicles of Prydain (AND played the video game of The Black Cauldron)), C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia), Anne McCaffrey (Dragonriders of Pern), R.A. Salvatore (Dark Elf Trilogy), not to mention J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter Heptalogy).

There are men and women alike in this list of authors – which I contend shows that not only do women like to read epic fantasy novels (regardless of sexual content), but they like to write it just as much as men do. I know that I am currently working on a novel-length epic fantasy project as well as a short story to go into an anthology, and many of the people that I know doing much the same are women. We write what we like to read.

I’d be quite indignant if I found myself somehow in a book club where nobody had read the Hobbit. I also find myself rather indignant at myself that I’ve not even heard of Lorrie Moore, let alone read her work, and think I shall put her on my To-Read list. But she’s below Roger Zelazny and S.M. Stirling.

And as for all the sex on TV being past tense… does she even watch Television? True Blood, Bones, Dexter, Battlestar Galactica – there’s sex out there, and it’s modern (or even futuristic), and it’s not just there for something illicit or prurient – often, ti’s there because it’s part of people’s lives, and affects and changes things sometimes. It’s a plot point just as much as any stealthy political intrigue.

Hello world!

On the one hand, I am somewhat irked that WordPress had the temerity to go and create a first post for me without so much as a by-your-leave… on they other hand, it was titled “hello world”, which appeals to my tiny little inner programming geek. Consider yourself forgiven, WordPress – but you’re still on notice.

I was pondering just how to begin; first forays into a new communication medium are always somewhat intimidating to me. I like to begin as I mean to go on: bold! Insightful! Meaningful! It’s a lot of pressure to put on myself, and sometimes ends up hamstringing me.

This is the problem often encountered, not just by myself, when sitting down to write anything new. I’m a notebook addict. cheapo spiral-bound jobbies, gorgeous tooled leather journals, handmade rough-edge items with the spines stitched together by my own hand, I have them all. But for a long time, I would buy them, and carry them around along with a pen, and they would more often than not serve simply as props. Some of them, it took me years to ever write anything in them beyond my name on the inside of the cover. But I’m a writer! So what the hell is the problem?

The curse of the blank page – or in our delightful modern age, the curse of the blank screen. The unmarked white paper gleams menacingly. The cursor blinks in mockery. It’s a problem that pretty much any writer I have spoken to has dealt with at some time, though I’m sure our reasons for it differ. For me, it was what that whitespace represented. It’s blank, and ostensibly therefore nothing, right?

Wrong.

There’s a line in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog, “Even in the darkness every color can be found.” It’s much the same idea: in the whiteness of that unmarked page, of that untyped screen, I see the potential for anything and everything. It has not been written, and therefore what could be written there could be anything. It could be a brain-tweaking poem, a sweeping space epic, a political intrigue, a sensual bildungsroman fit to make a sociopath weep in empathy.

Or… it could be crap. A waste of ink, a waste of paper, a waste of electricity, screen time, writing time, and of a reader’s time. The fear that it would be this latter was nigh unto paralyzing to me for a long time. Fear is the mind-killer, fear is the little-death – and not the sort of little death with which I like to concern myself.

It was a professor who taught me how to face and move beyond this fear, though he didn’t realize it at the time. I took a few creative writing classes with Dr. Leslie, and he talked as freely with us about some of the projects he had in the works as he expected us to do with him. At one point, he was writing a series of short stories that all began in the same way: “Let me tell you a story about my girl, Sue.” Every story went off in a different direction from there, but each one started the same.

The idea stuck in my head a while, and burst forth one year as I was setting myself to begin the NaNoWriMo challenge. That particular year, I began my writing every day with the same six words. “Once a month, I visit him.” Every day I wrote a new piece of the same developing story, and every time it started with those words. Six little words, but the difference they made in breaking into my own writing was invaluable. They were already there for me. I had something to start with. No matter what was on my plate to write up that day, I didn’t need to worry about how to begin. The words were written, the page was marked, and I could carry on without worrying about my inane fear of sullying the potential of the page that lay before me.

This isn’t to say that I don’t sometimes struggle, or hate what I write even as I’m typing it out – but I’m making something, which therefore can get edited and fixed after the fact. I am not being ruled by my fear. My notebooks are not props; they are tools.

Hello, world. Let me tell you a little story about my writing,

Bliss