Two Interesting Things Thursday

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.

Easy, right?

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?


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  1. Welcome to reality. In many fields, women are coming to dominate. A combination of factors has caused this situation in the field of writing (causing being in the past at this point). First is the increased number of college-educated women, which is more than college-educated men. Second, women generally do a better job of writing than men. Of course, there are great male writers, and great female writers, but on average, women are better with language than are most men. Lastly, there is the emphasis thing. Few men emphasize writing as a desirable thing, whereas for many women, it just seems to come naturally. I expect the shift to continue, for better or worse, and it does not appear as though it is going to reverse itself any time soon.

  2. Both totally cool, Ron – No I hadn’t seen this before – but I think publications like Clarkesworld are obvious to the reader as “female-friendly” just by reading them. I don’t know the other three publications mentioned so cannot comment. Certainly the Lightspeed Women Destroy SF! (and Fantasy and Horror) since they raised so much money will go a long way as well.

    But this is short fiction, which is essentially like Pro-Am golf. Nobody’s going to earn even close to a living or much better than 10 cents an hour on it when all is added up. And I’m not all that impressed by the quality of work I’m seeing in a lot of publications. That Clarkesworld figure is not going to include sci-fi as we know it. Many of the stories they publish are fantasy, or “slipstream” or somewhat experimental in nature.

    F & SF has a bit more work by women than I recall from the past, but again, that which I see is not sci-fi, it’s fantasy or horror. Any decent SF story with remotely good writing by a female author has a great chance, probably exclusively due to the gender imbalance. That’s just SF. I think the competition for fantasy and horror, which is written much more than science fiction regardless of the publication to which writer attempt to submit – is a lot more severe.

  3. Lonnie’s right in terms of education. As of 2012, female college graduates outnumbered male in most nations around the world (about 60%). Women are rapidly entering fields typically thought to be male, such as engineering and computer science.

    Science fiction – at least short SF – has been a lagging indicator for a long while.

    Women have in the past, absolutely encountered many more pitfalls than male authors in entering the field through the short SF route. The fact that a lot of people don’t know who I am is indicative of the issues at hand. I was very fortunate to find a good “home” for my work at F & SF. It was quite difficult for me to make my first professional sale. If I’d accepted what I was told, I’d still be writing “Amy stories” – because that’s how to write consistently for any certain publication, once you get started.

    And that’s not the way to grow creatively. If I’d understood what people were saying when they said my short science fiction was “off,” I’d be a lot farther along today.

    Of course I can work – I’ve always worked once I got started. I’ve filed a Schedule C for the past 16 years. I’ve written for McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and written two media tie-in books. I’ve fixed books for other people (i.e. finished manuscripts that the writer was unable to complete for various reasons). My work has been adopted in college literature and bioethics texts. I’ve published in every medium and every genre and if I count Policymic, I’ve had millions of readers.

    It’s not worth it to me to get 5,000 readers or fewer – whatever it would be for a publication like Clarkesworld, or, let’s face it – these days like F & SF. These are all things to consider. And many women just aren’t constituted to think that way. I think that will be rapidly changing as well, however.

    Because if you want to play ball, ya gotta get off the porch, put on the glove, and throw and hit as hard as you can, and run as fast as possible.

  4. Lonnie/Amy – No question that the female population of college students has been changing the working population, and will continue to do so. Not sure on the technology side, where last I was studying things, females seemed to be leveling out at about 18-20% of the college population (so when the whole of college is 60% female, what does that say about the non-technology oriented areas?).

    I’m also sure the short fiction market is not representative of the market as a whole. But, still, the data I’ve seen before strongly suggested females were under-represented in those fields also…and traditionally, the short market was certainly a feeder for broader markets.

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