Women writers, international writers, marginalized writers

German writer Cora Buhlert has a post on Women writers, international writers, marginalized writers well-worth reading:

There are the subtle and not so subtle assumptions that your grasp of the English language will be flawed, because you are not a native speaker (Read what Juliette Wade has to say about that here). This must be even more painful if English actually is your first language, because you come from one of the many countries around the world where English is an official language due to the legacy of British imperialism. The assumption that you are a bad writer because you don’t adhere to random (American) taboos regarding the use of adjective, the passive voice, complicated syntax or anything else that is considered “bad writing” by the edict of Messrs Strunk and White. The assumption that your characters and setting will be either too exotic for Anglo-American audiences or conversely not exotic enough. The assumption that you are only supposed to write a certain kind of story, because that’s the sort of story expected from someone of your ethnic and national background (I would probably have no problems selling an urban fantasy about evil Nazi werewolves in Berlin – provided I would actually want to write one). The feeling that all the discussions about diversity within the SFF genre, while valuable and important, are still largely US-centric and don’t address your situation at all.

When I first started submitting, I was always very open about my nationality. In those days of postal submissions, I figured editors could tell where I was from anyway just by looking at the colourful stamps on the envelope. And besides, I naively thought “As long as the story is good, what does it matter where the writer is from?” In those days, a few of my stories were set in Germany (I never wrote very many German set stories, because Germany isn’t all that interesting to me). Others were set in Belgium or the Netherlands (I wrote urban fantasy set in Antwerp before I even knew the term “urban fantasy”). I wrote SF featuring Germans, Poles, Dutchmen, Finns, Danes, Greeks, Turks, etc… in space. And none of them sold.

Of course, it’s likely that those stories didn’t sell because they simply weren’t very good. In fact, it’s very likely. However, over time I also began to suspect that my nationality and the unconventional settings were an additional strike against me. Because why would anybody want to buy an urban fantasy set in the secret underground world of Antwerp or a fantasy about river spirits in the Ardennes, when some ninety percent of the readership wouldn’t even be able to locate those places on a map. Of course, as an international reader was always expected to be interested in urban fantasies set in Milwaukee or Cleveland – cities I can locate on a map but don’t know anything about otherwise. But the reverse obviously wasn’t true. – continue reading!

7 thoughts on “Women writers, international writers, marginalized writers

  1. It still amuses me that I had a sample chapter of a novel (written by a New Zealander and set in Australia) called BS by some anonymous critiquer because, “It’s clearly not written by an American!”

  2. The Antwerp story sounds fascinating, and I’m not that fond of UF. But yes, even this small part of the article strikes chords. Just recently over on Evil Editor I was reading a query for a novel with Arthurian and Scottish influences, and it’s set in…Baltimore. Perhaps Arthur travels in his sleep.

  3. I like this commentary because it is dealing with privilege in its many cultural guises: language, setting, gender, etc. And the corollary of whether or not to wear a label. As a reader who seeks out non-USian sf, it has struck me as odd that some writers don’t want that label: they see it as a limitation.

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