I have this habit of finding a link I think is going to be interesting, clicking on it, and then leaving it on my open tabs to get to whenever I have the time. Today I want to talk about two of these. The problem with this process, though, is that I lose track of where I was when I came upon them, so unfortunately I can’t credit the folks where I found them. Sorry about that. (Thanks, whoever you were [grin]).
Interesting Thing #1
The first is a thing about another form of art–this time photography. Or, to be precise, old-time photography. Photography that looks like this remarkable image:
It’s a simple, elegant look back on an earlier time, isn’t it? Pristine in its own way. Except, of course, there’s more going on here than you might think at first. The truth, as you will see if you follow that link, is that this place never existed. That house is a model. The car is a toy. And, yet, there is a piece here that is very much real–that being the distant background. Let’s call it the worldview.
Read the page through the link. What Michael Paul Smith does by mixing a deep reality with his own imagining of the past is pretty damned cool. And it has me thinking about writing in its own way, as I’m inclined to do on occasion. Because, to me, writing speculative fiction (or any fiction, I suppose) is all about what Michael Paul Smith is doing in his medium. Writing great speculative fiction is about drawing the world around a reader in such firm strokes that that reader feels familiar with it, that we understand it and can even then fill in our own bits of context here and there–and then using that foundation to tell us a story that is completely made up, but that rings so true that we are changed in some foundational way.
Anyway, I loved these images.
Interesting Thing #2
Interesting thing #2 is more of a gender/cultural/business thing that caught my eye as I was reading along an article that Fantasy Faction published that described a panel that the Baltimore Science Fiction Society hosted recently that was about the State of Short Fiction. At this panel, several magazine and podcast editors and other insiders discussed the field of short fiction.
Ultimately, they were very upbeat about it, which is good news to me. But about halfway through this paragraph hit me upside the head.
Although none of the panelists said they explicitly look for diversity in the authors they publish, the editors have found that they seem to nevertheless publish a diverse selection of authors. Clarke said 30% of his submissions are by women and 30% are from outside the U.S. In 2013, women wrote 55-60 % of Clarkesworld’s stories. Landen reported similar numbers, saying women wrote over 50% of Daily Science Fiction’s stories and made up 30% of submissions. Sherman said women made up 30% of the submission pile at Escape Pod and Drabblecast, and of those women, he tended to accept something like 60-70%.
If you know me at all, or follow the site, you know that I am always fascinated by gender issues, and spent a considerable part of the last decade or so of my corporate life trying to understand cause and effect of them. Without going too deeply into all that again, let me say that these numbers figuratively slapped my upside the face.
I have absolutely no idea if actual numbers from these magazines and podcasts actually back that paragraph up, but this commentary goes completely against the grain of every other piece of data that I’ve seen regarding gender splits in the genre. I’m not saying these numbers are good, bad, indifferent, or anything of the like. Numbers are numbers. But I am saying that they go against the base story that’s been told for years, that they going against history, against other industries, and against the genre publishing industry’s “eyeball test.” If this data is true, then one has to wonder: is it suggesting there is a massive gender swing going on in the industry? Does it means that (at least for these markets) that the fundamental groundwork of the short fiction market has hit a decided flashpoint? That women are writing great fiction at a remarkably greater rate than men are? That selection criteria is changing? That the market is driving toward fiction written by females vs. males?
Obviously, I have no idea.
Data is so sparse it’s probably dangerous to give anything too much of a sway, but those numbers are quite intriguing–33% of the population is providing 66% of the published product. That’s a remarkable number, especially when the past has suggested that until very recently that 33% of the population was being dramatically under-represented (contributing 15% of published material? I don’t really recall the real numbers, but that’s probably a fiar number to throw around for pure conversational purposes).
Regardless, in this decidedly interesting period of the short story, it will be interesting to see where, if anywhere, this goes.
I would also say, though, that against this data I lay the experience of my last workshop in Oregon, where about 75% of the writers (who were mostly indie folks) were female. Coincidence?