Drop the ‘Strong and Independent Female’ Label

Progressives, social justice warriors and feminists love gushing over strong, independent females in fiction. It’s an affirmation of their beliefs and ideas, a reflection of their worldview in popular culture. Critics constantly highlight the presence of such strong, independent females everywhere they appear: books, games, films, everywhere. What is truly remarkable about this phenomenon is that the phrase ‘strong, independent female character’ means nothing at all.

Let’s break it down. We have ‘strong’, ‘independent’ and ‘female character’. The last is self-explanatory. The former two, in the context of fiction, make little sense.

Let’s look at ‘strong’. When pertaining to people, the Merriam-Webster dictionary says:

1:  having or marked by great physical power

2:  having moral or intellectual power

3:  having great resources (as of wealth or talent)

6:forceful, cogent<strong evidence><strong talk>

10:ardent, zealous<a strong supporter>

11a:  not easily injured or disturbed :solid

11b:  not easily subdued or taken <a strong fort>

13:  not easily upset or nauseated <a strong stomach>

While ‘strong’ makes for a convenient shorthand, the word carries so many connotations that as a descriptor it is vague to the point of meaninglessness.

A female character may have an IQ in the 99th percentile, but if she can’t even lift a 20kg barbell, can she be called ‘strong’? A female character may be an Amazonian, but if she runs away at the first sign of conflict, can she be called ‘strong’? If a female character is a billionaire with a talented staff of hundreds, yet squanders her wealth and time chasing frivolities, can she be called ‘strong’?

The word ‘strong’ requires context for a complete understanding of the character. Why not simply use more specific words?

What about ‘independent’? Merriam-Webster says:

:  not dependent: as

a(1):  not subject to control by others :self-governing

(2):  not affiliated with a larger controlling unit <an independent bookstore>

b(1):  not requiring or relying on something else :  not contingent <an independent conclusion>

(2):  not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct (3):  not bound by or committed to a political party

c(1):  not requiring or relying on others (as for care or livelihood) <independent of her parents>(2):  being enough to free one from the necessity of working for a living <a person of independent means>

d:  showing a desire for freedom <an independent manner>

The character doesn’t need other people to make decisions for her. She is capable of making her own choices and driving the plot through her actions. By being self-reliant, she stands out from the other characters, and her will sometimes clashes with theirs, creating the drama that feeds fiction.

In other words, she is a major character.

‘Strong and independent’ basically means ‘plausible major character’. There’s no point in celebrating main characters just because they happen to be female; all it means is that you’re only concerned about appearances. The label of ‘strong and independent’ will not make female characters stand out. The term has been used so many times, semantic satiation has set in, rendering the label little more than fluff.

In the realm of fiction, words are currency. If you are a writer, marketer, reviewer or otherwise involved in the industry describing a female character, seek superior words to more accurately reflect the character and make her stand out from the crowd.

Is she a sharpshooter and a martial arts expert? That makes her a human weapon. Is she capable of defending her dignity and achieving her goals in the face of widespread prejudice? That makes her assertive. Does she have an IQ of 180 and regularly invents world-shaking inventions? She is a genius. Has she survived major trauma and bounced back? She is resilient. Can she turn her enemies against each other? Then she is manipulative.

In other words, describe her as though she were a man.

Male characters aren’t described as ‘strong and independent’; they are described by skills, history and worldview, making them stand apart from each other. When freed of fluffy shorthand labels, they all become unique.

By contrast, female characters who labelled ‘strong’ and ‘independent’ are reduced to three words: strong, independent and female, signifying nothing of import. Their identities are erased, and they are all damned by faint praise.

This post isn’t about sexual differences or sexual politics. It is simply about crafting a brand for major characters through the use of powerful descriptors.

Don’t settle for the ‘strong and independent’ label for females and males. Seek more accurate and impactful words, and make the characters shine.

Inducing Flow Through Mindful Writing

You have finite time and energy. The world has infinite distractions. How, then, can a writer stay true to his calling?

I began writing my first novel when I was 13. Every day, I sat at my beat-up second-hand laptop and wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote until I was done. Then I went to bed, got up and did it all over again. When I wasn’t doing homework, studying or tending to other activities, I was writing. A year later, I had a 300-page manuscript.

The year after that, I completed a shorter novel in nine months. This year, I wrote the equivalent of three full-length novels, each over 120,000 words long.

I strive to be mindful in my writing, to develop and maintain moment-by-moment awareness throughout the act of writing. When I write, I write with the union of mind, body and soul, racing to the moment when consciousness implodes into a singularity of being, where the story and I are one and the same.

This is a state of flow. It is energised focus and total involvement, enjoyment and wonderment that goes bone-deep, a thousand seeds blossoming into ideas and characters and actions and turns of phrase. It is the hand of the muse and the voice of God working through you.

The best stories come from the place of eternal stillness within. It is the throne of the muse and the palace of the soul. It is where your subconscious processes and integrates every idea floating in your head, spinning threads of pure gold. In that place there is no room for distraction or excess motion, only the truth of your vision and the truth of the world. From this stillness comes flow, and from flow comes mastery.

To reach that place of stillness, you must emulate it.

Approach writing as a ritual, with all the sacredness that entails. Block out a time and place for writing, when you are sure you will not be disturbed and have the time and energy to write. This may be early in the morning, during lunch, late at night, or whenever it pleases you. Set yourself a writing goal, be it to write for a set period of time or a set number of words, and get to it.

Once you begin writing, do not blaspheme this region of spacetime with the noise of the world. Brook no distractions. No chatting with people, no switching to YouTube at whim, no wandering down Wikipedia articles, no people coming in and disturbing you. There should be nothing in the background; every additional stimulus saps attention, energy and time from your work. Sink yourself fully into your work. Where attention goes, energy goes; where energy goes, mastery goes; where mastery goes, success goes.

The exception to the rule is if that stimulus helps you write better. Some authors work best at a standing desk or on a treadmill. Some find inspiration in music, others in the chatter of a lively cafe around them. If such background stimuli engages your brain and helps produce better work, then seek out and create these conditions. As for myself, the sight of words appearing on the screen, the texture of the keyboard and the clacking of keys is more than adequate simulation to propel my fingers along.

You may find yourself distracted while working. That is fine. The fact that you are aware of yourself being distracted means that you are being mindful. Simply redirect your attention to your work carry on. Do not let your thoughts linger on self-recrimination; the emotional energy is more profitably spent on your work.

You may not always meet your writing goals. You may occasionally exceed them. Neither event should leave much of an emotional impact on you. Allow yourself to feel regret or jubilation as appropriate, then reconcile yourself with the fact that the time has slipped away and there will be more opportunities to write in the future. Approach these sessions as lessons: if you have failed to meet your goal, think about how you can improve; if you have exceeded your goal, see what you did right and do better. No matter what happens, the computer, the desk, and the page will still be waiting the following day. There is always a story waiting to be written.

When you are done, walk away. Return to your mundane life, absorb fresh ideas from the world, and re-energise yourself. Energy is wealth and energy is limited; if you do not recover, you cannot create.

Mindfulness leads to flow, flow leads to productivity, productivity leads to success. Cultivate mindfulness, create and sustain the conditions for flow, and produce the best work you can.

The Truth of Your Vision, The Truth of the World

Fiction writing is about truth. The truth of your vision and the truth of the world. The best stories marry these truths into a seamless, dazzling, inspiring whole.

The truth of your vision is at once simple and complicated. It is the story you want to tell. It is the aesthetics of the story world, the technologies, characters, worldviews, setting, everything that composes a story. At the meta level, it is the mood, tone, outlook, themes, the overall energy of the piece. It is your interpretation and execution of the writer’s art.

The truth of vision is simple because you are the originator. You get to decide what the story is about. If you want to write a grimdark steampunk fantasy story with a heavy, broody atmosphere populated by antiheroes and tyrants, that is your vision. If you want to write a light-hearted children’s story about a kid detective solving everyday crimes in the modern day, that is your vision. If you want to write an adrenaline-soaked thriller featuring a superspy travelling the world and fighting terrorists and criminals, that is your vision.

The truth of vision is complicated because you cannot cut any corners. All things must serve the story. Everything inside the story must be an organic development of the paradigms, technologies, ethical frameworks, geography, aesthetics, tone and themes of the story. These are the fundamentals of every story, the field upon which the story grows. If the field is conducive to a certain kind of story, then inserting irrelevant elements corrupts the truth of your vision. They are weeds in your garden, crops planted out of season, and distasteful to the reader. Having a kid detective solve a brutal murder and violently confront a vicious killer does not lend to a light-hearted children’s story, nor is there much room for portrayals of calm, everyday life in grimdark fantasy.

Your truth must be pure and holistic. A reader must understand the story, characters, themes, technologies and settings and see how they all fit together. There is no room for careless dissonance or extraneous elements. Side stories must contribute to the big picture, not lead down a dead end. Actions must fit characters, technologies must make sense, worldviews must sound reasonable to the characters who hold them. Every element of the story feeds into everything else, reinforcing every seam and pillar of the text.

This is not to say dissonance is unwanted. Deliberate dissonance, a planned juxtaposition of seemingly incompatible elements, is a useful tool. But like all tools, there is a time and place for it, and it must contribute to the story. John Ringo’s black humor adds significantly to his stories, as they provide insight into the characters, give the reader breathing room, and highlight the absurdity or intensity of the situations his characters find themselves in. This dissonance must be both obvious and planned, to throw into sharp focus, else it appears to be a mistake.

The truth of the world is a reflection of reality. Different genres reflect different facets of the grand tapestry of life. Romance looks at love, thrillers focus on human evil and conflict, science fiction examines the relation between humanity and technology, and fantasy seeks timeless truths. Stories drill deep into reality and show the reader a deeper truth, be it about crime, politics or human nature. In a masterwork of fiction, the reader sees the writer, a fragment of the world, and a reflection himself.

The temptation here is to conflate the world with yourself. It is easy to see the world in a single light, to interpret human nature and events by your biases, and to ignore everything that doesn’t fit your personal beliefs. Thus, it sounds reasonable to proclaim in your stories the death of capitalism, the self-contradictory nature of patriarchy, the evils of the far left, the joys of communion with God, the self-destructive nature of violence, the aggression of Russia and China, or whatever your own point of view may be. To readers with a more expert understanding of this facet of the world, stories like this come across as shallow, facile, and little more than intellectual masturbation.

If you do not want to write for a narrow audience by appealing to their biases, if your goal is to reach as wide an audience as you can, then you must write beyond yourself. Study the ideas, history and cultural values that drive the characters, factions, nations and other groups in your stories. Stories are about drama, and drama comes from clashing perspectives and the struggle for dominance. Doing this effectively requires research, an unflinching examination of how your own ideas influence your work, and the willingness to give all parties a fair showing.

And if the truth of the world decisively contradicts the truth of your vision, the former will always trump the latter. At best your story will be no different from midmarket works, consumed once and quickly forgotten; at worst, your story is mocked and condemned to the bottom of the pile.

It is not wrong to advocate a point of view in your stories. But the reader is looking for a story, not a screed. It is tempting to hammer your point into the reader’s brain on every page through character ‘dialogue’ or ham-fisted events. A far better way is to place the story first, make all events and actions organic to the characters and plot, and lead your reader to your conclusions.

Like yin and yang, writers have to blend these two truths into an integral whole. Allowing the truth of your vision to overwhelm the truth of the world leads to ideological screeds. It becomes boring message fic, the kind of fic good only for virtue signalling and left-wing SFF awards. Letting the truth of the world overpower the truth of your vision creates stories heavy on exposition and infodumps and light on characters and action; the great classics have cornered that market now and forever, so you might as well just write non-fiction.

Balancing both truths is the writer’s high art, and the great background struggle that dominates the creative process. Done properly, your story will become a glittering diamond, every facet reflecting a dazzling truth.

Still Skeptical about Ghost in the Shell

The first official trailer for Ghost in the Shell is out…and, if anything, I’m even more skeptical about the movie.

In an earlier post, I made it clear that I’m not enthusiastic about the movie. After watching the trailer, I’m almost certain my fears will be realised.

To be fair, this movie is visually stunning. The art direction is top-notch, and it captures the cyberpunk aesthetic of futuristic cities with broken rain-slick streets. However, it seems that the producers focused on amazing visuals instead of faithfully adapting the characters, story and tone.

Major Kusanagi Motoko drives the franchise. In the manga, she is an exuberant, cheerfully destructive woman with a juvenile sense of humour. In the anime, both movie and series, she morphs into a cold, ruthless operator hyper-focused on the mission. In this incarnation, the ‘Major’ (no name given) is a brooding cyborg who feels alienated from society. In the trailer, she says, “Everybody feels connected to something I’m not.”

This is a major departure from established canon: the Kusanagis of the anime and the manga have made peace with the fact that they aren’t part of ‘regular’ society. They don’t brood about it. In the manga, Kusanagi pursues relationships; in the anime, she just doesn’t care.

In the real world, special operators are chosen for their ability to be decisive and adaptable; there are very few navel gazers and moody brooders in their hallowed ranks. Going by the trailer, that makes the anime and manga Kusanagi more believable in my eyes.

Furthermore, Kusanagi is a team leader. She may be the central character, but she knows how to her team to achieve her goals. The opening scene of the movie pays homage to the first episode of the anime series, with one key difference: in the anime, every member of Section 9 deploys, utilising their strengths to efficiently take out the terrorists.

Part of the appeal of the Japanese Ghost in the Shell franchise is its attention to detail, including tactics. The creator, Masamune Shirow, and the anime production team at least tried to incorporate tactics and teamwork. Kusanagi may be a superpowered cyborg, but in the world of GitS, her enemies may be just as deadly as she — and oftentimes, deadlier. Section 9 has to work together to succeed. Indeed, when the enemy catches Section 9 members working solo, Bad Things usually happen — to Section 9. This approach increases the verisimilitude of the series, and reinforces both its hard sci fi aesthetic and its gritty tone.

In the movie, we see Major Nameless soloing a room full of bad guys. Yes, this shows she is a Superpowered Female Character…but it also betrays Hollywood’s elevation of the visual. Instead of going for the gritty realism that defined GitS, the Hollywood version emphasises gee-whiz action and shallow sleekness.

We see this visual sophistry again at 1:32, when Major Nameless uppercuts a person. He promptly goes flying and spins round and round. This is painfully obvious wirework. It’s meant to highlight just how powerful she is — in the mind of a Hollywood writer — but to the eyes of a person who studied martial arts, it’s utterly impossible. Physics simply does not work that way.

Most important of all, the anime and manga were not about Kusanagi. She may be the protagonist, but she is not the focus of the story. Those stories explored how rapid technological progress changes people and society, and what it means to have a soul when your body, vital organs, and brain, can be designed and mass-manufactured. Kusanagi’s missions place her at the cutting edge of technology, forcing her, and the viewer, to grapple with the concepts of individual consciousness and emergent group gestalts. Indeed, the ‘ghost’ in the title is an in-universe term characters use when referencing their soul or consciousness, while ‘shell’ indicates their cyborg bodies. The philosophical underpinnings elevated the franchise from mere excellent to timeless.

In the trailer, we hear lines like ‘You know I have a past. I’ll find out who I was’, ‘Everything they told you was a lie’, and ‘They did not save your life. They stole it.’ This suggests that the story is about the Major seeking the truth of her past, and implies false or erased memories, and that she is an unknowing pawn of ‘them’.

Not that this is a bad story, but it is not Ghost in the Shell.

Hollywood GitS is classic cyberpunk: alienated character seeking the truth and fighting a powerful enemy to pursue personal goals. The original GitS is one of the earliest examples of post-cyberpunk: a government agent who uses morally gray methods in the service of civilisation. Cyberpunk is an arrow against the system; post-cyberpunk upholds society. And I don’t think the live action movie recognises that.

The Hollywood movie might still turn out to be a decent flick. But going by the trailer, I’m skeptical if it can live up to the original.

 

Guest Post: 4 Tips to Win NaNoWriMo

I don’t do National Novel Writing Month. For some reason, every November I find myself mostly editing stories instead of writing them, and this year is no different. But I do have respect to those who take up the challenge, and even more for those who succeed.

One of my closest writer colleagues is Steven Hildreth Jr. He’s completed NaNo five times, and is well on course for a sixth. That puts him in the elite of all NaNo winners, easily in the top ten percent or even one percent of all participants. I reached out to him to pen a guest post for this blog about how to succeed at NaNo, and he graciously obliged.

Without further ado, here are his thoughts.

(Yes, there is rough language; no, I’m not editing it out. This is how he speaks and I’m not going to alter his voice.)

NaNoWriMo.

If you’ve tried it before, or if you run in writer’s circles, you see that acronym and know exactly what I’m talking about.

If you’re not a writer, or if you’re new to writing, you may be looking at me as if I have a horn growing out of my forehead.

NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth was founded in 1999 with the goal of teaching writers not to try and be perfectionists on their first draft. The goal was just to WRITE, and write as fast and as furiously as one could. 1,667 words per day for a total of 50,010 words. It originally was set in July, but was shifted to November.

Thirty days of non-stop writing.

NaNo is a dedication to art. In 2009, 167,150 people started NaNo, and only 32,178 completed it. That makes for a roughly 81% attrition rate. If NaNo were a special operations selection course, it would be on par with BUD/S (Navy SEALs), and tougher than RASP (75th Ranger Regiment) and INDOC (Marine Force Reconnaissance).

NaNo is not easy.

Sufficiently intimidated?

Good. Because now we can move forward and build your confidence up a bit.

It’s daunting…but it IS doable. My first time doing NaNo was in 2010. I won my first time. I then completed it another four times. I know what it’s like to win. For a while, I got cocky. I took it for granted. I even looked at people who couldn’t complete it, shrugged, and went, “Well, it’s not for everybody,” without sympathy.

I needed to be knocked down a few pegs and taught a lesson in humility…and that is exactly what happened in 2014 and 2015. I failed TWICE in a row.

The first year, I was taking college courses and working nearly full time. I simply did not have the energy or time management skills to keep up. I washed out around the 22,000 word mark.

The second year, I was in the same scenario. Didn’t even make it to 20,000 words that year.

I was crushed. I questioned if I should even be writing novels, even though I had published two by the 2015 NaNo.

This year, I’m two days ahead of schedule. I’m 5,000 words away from the halfway point. I’ve got a strong plot and I am confident that I can complete it this year for a shot at redemption (I say that with a bit of apprehension, as I do not like counting my chickens before they’ve hatched).

 

So, what does it take to complete NaNoWriMo?

 

Here are a few pointers:

1) KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES. Some people can just pull a complete novel out of their ass with very little planning (pantsers, in NaNoLingo). Others need a very meticulous outline before they get started (planners). And some, like me, need a rigid direction to take the novel, but need a little room for spontaneity (plantsers).

 

The years I failed, I had no rigid plot outline. I hadn’t done the requisite research necessary to start a novel. I set myself up for failure.

 

I know this now, and I started NaNo 2016 with a strong plotline. I started writing it before November 1st (but don’t worry, I’m only counting the words I’ve written after November 1st as nobody likes a cheater) and had my momentum going into it. If that’s what it takes, do it!

 

But, you have to know your strengths and your weaknesses. If you go into it blind, you’ll learn real quick. If that means you fail, then come back next year, equipped with the knowledge from the previous year, and put boots to asses.

 

2) WRITE. You have to carve out time to write. You have to sit down and actually put the words to paper, digital or real. If you don’t carve that time out, you’re not going to get there. Pretty self-explanatory.

 

3) DON’T EDIT A DAMN THING. This is the hardest for most. I know this is hard for me. I break this rule every so often, but I won’t do any in-depth edits. The only thing I edit for is continuity. The less you edit, the better. Don’t worry about grammatical mistakes. Don’t worry about rephrasing things. Just get the thing on paper. It’s easier to smooth out a rough, completed manuscript than it is to write the perfect first draft (news flash: there is no such thing as a perfect first draft).

 

4) IF YOU FAIL, IT IS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD. It doesn’t mean you’re a horrible writer who should quit. People have lives. They have school. They have jobs. They have families. They have issues with which to deal. Writing is often a constant battle against life, and sometimes, life is going to win out. Accept it. It is better to write something than nothing at all.

 

Set a smaller goal for yourself if you find yourself in that situation and build up from there. Can’t make 50,000 in a month? Write 25,000. Write 10,000. Just write.

 

One of my closest friends and colleagues, Stephen England, throws a jamboree if he hits 1,000 words in a day. In comparison, I’ve cranked out 10,000 words in a single day to complete a novel.

 

England’s got four full-length novels and seven short stories available on Amazon. I’m still working on my third novel.

 

Maybe the NaNo speed isn’t for you, and that’s fine, too. As long as you are writing, and as long as you are completing, then you’re accomplishing the overall goal of NaNoWriMo, even if you can’t complete 50,000 words in 30 days. Remember, coffee’s for closers, only.

 

NaNo taught me how to complete a novel. Without NaNo, I would not be the writer, the published author, that I am today. I definitely would encourage all aspiring writers to give it a shot. Even if you’re not declared a “winner,” you will learn valuable things about yourself as a writer, lessons that you can apply to your craft and enhance your writing.

 

Now, stop listening to me ramble and put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard already, goddamn it.

__

Steven Hildreth’s stories can be found here. They are action-packed thrillers in the vein of Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Andy McNab and Mark Greaney. Likewise, Stephen England’s thrillers have been extremely well-received, and the full list can be found here.

Lyonesse is Coming!

A new paradigm is coming to the field of science fiction and fantasy short fiction. Traditionally, SFF magazines publish a few stories every issue. In exchange for a subscription fee, print mags deliver them to your doorstep, while webzines send them to your inbox. Other short fiction ‘zines also compile themed anthologies for your viewing pleasure. Issues are usually delivered monthly or quarterly, with anthologies appearing annually or on special occasions.

Lyonesse by Silver Empire aims to change that.

Lyonesse is a short fiction subscription service. Instead of a few stories every month or so, Lyonesse delivers one story every week, straight to the reader’s inbox. Bonus stories will be published throughout the year as well. Instead of paying a flat fee to contributors, 60% of revenue will go to the authors in the form of royalties.

In other words, where traditional ‘zines deliver a bunch of stories in one shot, Lyonesse prefers a steady, regular drip, with the odd bonus story. Through the royalty model, authors could stand to make more money than flat payments (if Lyonesse takes off, of course).

I’m excited about Lyonesse. Eighty years ago, during the Golden Age of Science Fiction, writers could make a decent living by selling short stories to magazines. Today, costs of living have escalated, but pay rates have remained flat.

The digital subscription model significantly reduces the cost to the subscriber without cheapening the entire catalog of stories, making subscription affordable to a wide audience. The digital format also reduces the cost of advertising and marketing while making it easier to reach a wider audience. And as 60% of the revenue goes to the authors, they get to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Many authors have signed up for Lyonesse, myself included. I understand that Lyonesse has attracted a significant concentration of talented writers and excellent stories. As for my own contribution, Russel Newquist, the editor of Silver Empire, has this to say:

“His submission for Lyonesse simply blew me away”

And:

“Can confirm: it is RADICALLY different from his previous works… and it is AMAZINGLY GOOD.”

Far be it from me to boast about my own work, so I shall simply say that I hope you will enjoy it as much as I had writing it.

Silver Empire will be launching a Kickstarter for Lyonesse on December 1st. The introductory subscription rate is just USD $6.99 for an entire year. Stay tuned on Silver Empire’s website and Mr Newquist’s site for more details.

 

 

Women writers have never been more advantaged

(Image c/o Flavorwire)

This article by TODAY newspaper on female writers is heavy on human interest and light on facts. In fact, the lede flies in the face of reality.

The literary scene has long been dominated by men. Despite notable female authors such as J K Rowling and, closer to home, Catherine Lim, the consensus is that women writers remain disadvantaged in a male-dominated literary world.

It is fashionable to claim that there is a ‘consensus’ that women writers are disadvantaged. But what is the ground truth?

The 5 genres that make the most money in the industry are romance/erotica, crime/mystery thrillers, religion/inspirational, science fiction and fantasy, and horror. Of these genres, women dominate romance and SFF. 2 out of 5 may seem proof of male domination, but this is not so.

The romance genre outstrips every other genre. In 2014, sales of romance books were estimated at $1.44 billion, nearly twice that of thrillers. In 2015, romance books account for 40% of all Amazon Kindle sales. The overwhelming majority of romance books are written by women, for women. This means that women have the biggest slice of the publishing pie, and tend to earn more money than their male counterparts in other genres.

As for SFF, women have a stranglehold in three distinct subgenres: children and Young Adult, urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Going beyond the veterans — JK Rowling, Nalini Singh, Lilith Saintcrow, Faith Hunter — many newcomers in these fields are women. Some publishers, such as Tor and Math Paper Press, commit themselves to diversity by welcoming or seeking submissions from women and minorities; other publishers publish women and minorities exclusively. As for SFF, especially Western SFF, courtesy of the long and bitter culture war, female writers are almost always given preference over male ones to ‘fight’ the invented narrative.

Now consider: historically, have there ever been mainstream publishing houses that openly favour women? Especially in an age when major bookstores are forced to close and traditional publishers are losing profits?

In addition, the Internet favours female writers. Go to your search engine of choice and look up variations of the following in your favourite genres: ‘best female writers’, ‘top female writers’ and ‘recommendations for female writers’. Now switch ‘female’ for ‘male’.

Notice something? If you search for female writers, you get female writers almost exclusively. Search for male writers, and you get female writers and mixed-sex lists of writers. Unlike women, you have to go out of your way to search for male authors in specific fields before you can get male-only lists of writers.

Women also dominate publishing houses: 78% of staff in publishing houses are cis  women. Throw in other sexual minorities and the number will be higher. Men are not keeping women out of the field. If there’s anyone preventing women from being published, chances are high that they are female.

Female writers who choose the self-publishing route also enjoy similar advantages to their trad-published sisters. As these lists demonstrate, the majority of popular indie authors are women who write in the fields of romance, erotica, young adult, children, paranormal romance and urban fantasy.

The situation is more complex than the narrative wants you to believe.The narrative ignores demographic preferences. Women flock to romance, female-driven fantasies and stories with a heavy focus on relationships, while men prefer thrillers, uplifting works, and stories that emphasise action. The majority of female authors understand the female mind best, while the majority of male authors are familiar with the inner workings of the male mind. It’s a matter of different strokes for different folks.

I do not bregrudge women writers for finding literary success. I think the more stories and writers there are out there, the richer the world will be. That I live in an age where I have to make such a clarifying statement is telling as is. I am, however, allergic to nonsense, and the facts simply do not support the narrative.

In the literary history of mankind, women have never been more advantaged.