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Martha Wells

My Flying Lizard Circus

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Post for International Women's Week

I wrote this post for International Women's Week at E. Kristin Anderson's blog: Guest Post from Martha Wells: Rewriting My Childhood

It's basically about looking for books with female characters when I was growing up in the 70s, why I wrote the Emilie books, and lack of representation.
So all this is basically why I wanted to write the Emilie books. We know now that representation of women, of POC, and LGBT characters in MG and YA books is important. But I don’t think we’ll ever really understand the real long term effect of not seeing people like you in the books that you live your life through, that give you the strength to go on, that form the only mental bulwark against a cold angry reality for so many kids. I know I was basically raised to see myself as a secondary character in my own life, and what that did to me. I have no idea how much worse it must be to see yourself as completely absent.


* If you missed it earlier this week, I had a book come out: Emilie and the Sky World

* If you're in town and are interested, I'm doing a presentation for the SCBWI: on writing SF/F for kids and teens

* I'm also going to be a guest at LeoCon on March 29, in Commerce, Texas at TAMU-Commerce.

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The more of these kinds of essays I read, the more I am utterly grateful that one of my first fantasy authors was Robin McKinley (And that she was not especially alone at any point). I NEVER had the question whether women could be protagonists, or writers, for that matter. I never had to cope with the background radiation of girls being the sidekicks at best.

And the more I read about peoples' othering experiences with not seeing themselves, the more I feel just how important that really was for me. And still is for everyone.

It's funny, I don't remember missing girls in the adventure things I read (and I loved Danny Dunn!). Maybe it's because one of my first SFF books was an Andre Norton, and I came early to A Wrinkle in Time also, so I had at least some of that from the beginning.

One of my favorites was Knee-Deep in Thunder by Sheila Moon. Now I can recognize it as ahead of the curve both for its female protagonist and for its non-Western-European mythological roots (Navajo) but at the time I just knew I loved it.

I think that may be one of the reasons I became somewhat fixated on Catwoman as a child, and always wanted to play superhero games with my friends where I got to be her (even though she was technically a villain) - because she was one of very, very few powerful, in-control female characters I'd found.

I'm slightly older than you and while I can look back at what I was reading and see the lack of good female characters, I don't remember ever noticing that the characters in the books I read growing up were mostly boys rather than girls. I'm not sure why. The two possibilities I can come up with are that no one around me tried to tell me that girls couldn't do what boys could and that maybe I found the boys in the books to be more like me than the girls I went to school with. I certainly didn't have much in common with the girls at school.

Characters in the 70's

Well, the books I recall most clearly from elementary were "Harriet the Spy" and "Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth". Both had girls as the protagonists (and 'Jennifer...' featured a black girl in a large supporting role, which was a big deal at the time.)

But I can also remember casting myself in the role of the protagonist no matter what their sex was - I identified with Frodo, with the protagonist of "Black and Blue Magic" (a favorite from third grade), with Sherlock Holmes (oh, how I identified with Holmes - to the point of dressing as him when I had a part as a detective in a 6th grade play) - I never saw myself as 'supporting cast'. I suppose that says a lot about my ego ::laugh::. Honestly, though - I assumed everyone cast themself in the lead when they read a book.

Of course, I look back now, and I find myself horrified at some of the stuff I adored (like Edward Eager's books, which are FULL of sexism that I don't recall noticing in the slightest when I was a child. I read them out-loud to my youngest, but heavily edit them.)

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