Living in a Fantasy World #KidLitWomen

So for #KidLitWomen month, I thought I’d talk about something near and dear to the part of my heart filled with the ever-burning rage-fire stoked by oh so many things, namely: how fantasy and romance (and also fantasy that includes romance) written by women for the young adult audience is often looked down the nose at by many snooty humans, some consciously doing it and some not and also why the snoot-noses are big wrongheads and why it matters.

If you can’t tell by how overwritten that paragraph is, I really miss blogging regularly. On with the show.

Recently, I was sitting at a conference talking with some writers about this particular huge hill I will die on of mine. How I was one of those teens that internalized romance as “not serious” or “embarrassing” for way too long, only to decide to actually read some so I’d know what I was talking about as an adult and then falling in love with the genre as a reader. (I had the same experience with urban fantasy, during the great smacktalking-about-it era in SFF.) Anyway, one of the authors in this conversation writes wonderful books for teens, hugely popular, which also happen to be romances and she told us how once at an event a man who was there to take care of her as an author said in passing, “Oh, I’d never allow your books in my house. I have a teenage daughter.” Who the books are for, by the way. This is never an isolated anecdote. Ask any woman you know who writes fantasy if she’s ever been treated dismissively on a panel or if a man has ever gotten up from the audience to tell her about the books by men he wishes there were more of and why aren’t people writing those now, or if they’ve followed her out into the hallway to tell her about the ways in which they thought her books sucked. (Ladies, feel free to come share in the comments. I know you’ve got some doozies.) Every romance or fantasy writer I know who is a woman has a story or twenty or a hundred like this, where it’s implied you write garbage right to your face — especially if it happens to also be popular.

Think about the offhand dismissal that’s STILL used to characterize the YA field in most mainstream articles about YA even though it was outdated ten years ago and is still outdated now. This is a bingo game you can always win. I go into every article looking for it; usually it’s in the first or second paragraph. Sometimes, if they’re being subtle, it’s phrased slightly differently two-thirds through. Sometimes it’s the subject of the entire article. Although, spoiler alert: A lot of the articles in question are highlighting male authors of YA. Good for the guys, and yet I hope they cringe when they see the inevitable phrase about standing out in “a sea of Twilight and The Hunger Games.” As if Twilight and The Hunger Games share anything in common except female authors and main characters (well, and vast success and audience overlap, more on that to come). Or the related but slightly different dismissal of the totally ridiculous plethora of teen girls saving the day in those utterly ridiculous fantasies or dystopians (meanwhile we cheer watching teens get closer on gun control than anyone else has so far; teen girls have always changed the world, oh self-self-deceived chumps who sell them short). Also, extra bingo spot if the books by women in this glancing mention are referenced only by title and any men’s books that do get included as a part of the “sea of YA” are also mentioned with their authors’ names.

The more successful a book by a man is, the more he’s treated as worthy of serious attention or at least serious treatment. The more successful a book by a woman is, the more likely it is to become the reference for a snarky aside in an article about how great X book by X dude is. Fact. But that’s not all that goes along with this behavior, not by a long shot. It affects invitations and review coverage in general and also time. If a man reaches a certain level, he’s pretty much guaranteed he can get some coverage and publisher support. If a woman reaches a certain level, she might get some coverage and publisher support but she will also be expected to do a ton of outreach to her fanbase and provide a jillion pieces of free content, et cetera.

There are so many issues surrounding all this, but for now I’m going to focus on one: how markers of traditional femininity are used to judge innate quality and why it is nonsense. The judgments discussed above have pretty well zero correlation to the works in question. The work — women’s work, specifically — is often not judged on the work itself at all, but on perceptions of it. See also: YA as an entire category, where those who supposedly “transcend” the genre are mostly men. Newsflash: The genre is transcendent all on its own; it contains multitudes.

Now, this is not news to anyone, and certainly not to women. No matter what kind of work women do, we get judged by perceptions — based on our appearance or how loud or quiet we are or or or or. And I know that there are plenty of women who write quote-unquote serious books who are frustrated that their work isn’t treated with the same seriousness of men’s serious books. I hear you.

We all judge by the cover, by appearance, by our own preconceptions, to an extent. That’s just part of how humans work. But if we want to be responsible members of the literary community (and, you know, combat these problems not add to them) we must know what our preconceptions are, where they come from, and, yes, when they are — pardon my not-French — bullshit.

An entire essay could and should be written about how race plays into all this, as well. Whatever white women like me experience, I have zero doubt it’s 10 times (or a hundred times) worse for women of color or other marginalized writers. Witness the recent round-up of several new books by women of color in the New York Times — the grouping itself is unfortunate unless it was going to treated in a much more prominent, important way, as in a lengthy cover review (which would be absolutely apropos, these are important books and it is an important time). But, as other people, particularly Ebony Elizabeth Thomas (@ebonyteach) and Malinda Lo (@malindalo) on twitter (follow them if you aren’t), pointed out, shoving them together in a round-up is a choice that innately marginalizes the books, which include some of the most significant titles of the season. The choice of a white reviewer is also unfortunate, and there are other issues with how the books are discussed as a result. Why I bring this up here, however, is the way in which Dhonielle Clayton’s stunning fantasy The Belles is discussed, because I think it has to do with this exact subject, albeit coupled with an extra layer of racism. In this book, Dhonielle Clayton has chosen to write about oppression and slavery, but it’s done in a way that immediately gets misperceived as somehow slighter. You can’t tell me this gorgeous cover isn’t also interpreted through the preconceptions of many people to read feminine, and thus, obviously, not deep, not expertly crafted, not important.

Except this book is all of those things.

What do we code as traditionally feminine? Love, romance, beauty, fashion, care-taking, the color pink. The list goes on. And on. This cover is great because it tells you there’s traditional femininity involved here but not just that, this is a larger femininity we’re seeing, a healthier, more complicated one. The tagline: “The Revolution Is Here” and that gaze directly at the reader is as important as the flowers and the dress in setting expectations.

But we see a review in one of our most important media outlets where instead this book is pitted against another brilliant book simply because both authors are women of color writing fantasy, and a conclusion is drawn that feels related to these larger issues. We treat fantasy seen as somehow “girly” (ugh, that should mean literally ANYTHING) as the less accomplished. This is a perfect example of something far too many of us bring with our preconceptions, even professional critics, when we open a book. Awareness of this is key. But there’s an even more sinister assumption at work here. When we continually imply that only tragedy and pain are roots for telling an important, honest story — particularly when we’re placing that limitation on writers of color — what we’re doing is deciding to create a world in which we force people to relive pain on our terms, not theirs, to tell the stories we expect, not the stories they need or want to tell. I mention this here because racism is a part of every single discussion we’re having this month (and always), in one way or another. We’ll only be successful at toppling the hierarchies we want to break down if those hierarchies topple for all writers, especially traditionally marginalized ones.

Likewise, in fantasy, women who present with traditionally masculine traits are often considered “strong.” Women who present as feminine — or gasp! on a spectrum that includes both! or none of the above! — are often considered “weak.” (Or worse.) This enlarges to treatment of books themselves. Fantasy worth taking seriously and considering not garbage is obviously dark, right? And romance, scrunch-face, well that’s just fluff (is there smoke coming out of my ears as I type this knowing people think this way? reader, there is). I believe grimdark makes the world less complicated than it is, not more. But I still see it as a valid aesthetic choice! What isn’t valid is acting is if it’s a more inherently noble or true or accomplished choice.

There’s the old saying a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, but that’s not apt here either — the problem is wanting to pretend the world doesn’t have any sugar in it, and that any writer who acts as if it does isn’t worthy of your time.

A world with love is a world with hope. When we see stories about love and hope and change coded as traditionally feminine and immediately dismiss them internally or in a review or wherever as corny or as not quite serious, as not worthy of appreciating for craft, we are failing. Take the work as the work. Read it and see past your preconceptions. Frankly, I can’t think of anything more serious or more challenging than using the themes I just mentioned both honestly and with light. And I would never and am not saying that stories that tackle these themes in heartbreaking, raw ways can’t be effective. What I will never understand is why we so often act like that’s the only effective way to tackle these themes. And it should certainly not be the only way in which we expect writers of color to tell stories.

And so, sure, people who do this are disrespecting the authors. But, more troublingly, they are disrespecting the audience — which is what this is all about, really. Every single thing I talk about here goes back to the fact that we’re discussing the work of women, writing for what is at least perceived as a largely female audience. No one in the world is more dismissed than teen girls (except those rare moments when we remember they change the world). What everyone is really doing when they engage in this behavior, pooh-poohing and dismissing work by women for girls and loved by girls is telling girls that the world will never take them seriously. Unless perhaps they agree to be miserable. And even then it’s a toss up…

I know I should have some rousing way to end here, but what I have to say is as short and sweet as that spoonful of sugar:

Just stop it. Read outside your comfort zones (and recommend the best of what you read! especially if! you’re! a! man! on! a! panel!). Examine your preconceptions, and don’t generalize based on them about books you know nothing about. Respect women and their work. Respect girls and what they love.*

*And don’t you ever let me hear you comparing our president to a teenage girl. Ever.

Change Starts Now (And It Has, aka The Final Letter) #metoo #ustoo

Hi there, everybody! What I feared would be largely unnoticed effort to apply direct pressure to festivals and conferences and publishers to stop harassment in response to Anne Ursu’s survey has now grown — in less than two weeks — to include more than 1400 people in the children’s and YA community, including authors, educators, librarians, representatives of organizations and events, readers, and other publishing industry professionals. I thank each of you for signing on and being part of this conversation and beyond. I believe we’re already seeing things change and that’s going to continue. We still have plenty of work to do, but I truly believe we’ve made a good start. I’m so heartened by the number of conferences, festivals, and organizations that have already put new policies in place or committed to doing so. I’m also heartened that we’ve seen agents and publishers begin to take action when the details of unacceptable behavior emerge.

If you’d like to see an online version of the list of signees, you can do so here — and a huge shoutout to Jeremiah Tolbert of Clockpunk Studios, who helped me out on extracting the signatures so I didn’t have to conscript Christopher into helping me enter the names by hand (Jeremy also built this website — I highly recommend working with Clockpunk!).

The final harassment letter is attached as a PDF and will begin going out tomorrow; please feel free to download and send it to anyone you work with as well or crib from it or anything I’ve posted here on the topic as need be. I tried to correct capitalization where it was wonky in the Official Version, and you should be included unless you only left a first name. The only alteration to the letter text I made was to clarify that a comprehensive harassment policy is broader than just sexual harassment and that’s what we want.

Here of a couple of other links that may be of interest — and if anyone knows something I left off here that I told you I intended to put on, please let me know and I’ll add it. It’s been a chaotic couple of weeks and I’m on deadline (two to be exact).

Thanks again! Let’s go out there and make our community the best, most welcoming place (for everyone except harassers) that it can be.

#metoo #ustoo Change Starts Now: Stand Against Harassment in the YA/Kidlit Community

Earlier this week brilliant, award-winning author Anne Ursu published an essay about the responses and conclusions from a survey on sexual harassment in the kidlit and YA field she recently conducted, spurred by the #metoo movement. If you haven’t read it yet, go do so immediately. I’ll wait.

Like many, I was not so much surprised by the findings that our community is no different than any other. And, like many, I’ve felt frustrated and angry and helpless. I don’t have all the answers, but last night I found myself asking where our Scalzi is on twitter — referencing my friend John Scalzi’s convention harassment policy pledge *five years ago* when similar issues were being highlighted in the science fiction and fantasy community. As Scalzi pointed out right away:


And then this morning, I realized that I’m not comfortable waiting for someone else to take point. I firmly believe that we need male authors and illustrators and publishing professionals to sign on to any effort to combat sexual harassment in our community, and that perhaps it would be taken more seriously if one of them led the charge. I hope they’ll show up, but to wait for that is unacceptable to me. Many people are asking “what can we do without names?” A lot it turns out. We can send a message and we can apply pressure to advocate for change.

No one should have to feel unsafe at an event in the children’s lit world. No one should feel like they can’t speak up or have someone to go to if they are harassed at an event. And no one should be able to get away with harassment, no matter how much of a big deal they’re considered to be.

First, I invite all of us to adopt the same pledge that Scalzi set out several years ago, which I’m stealing whole cloth here and encourage you to post about on your own sites.

1. That the convention has a harassment policy, and that the harassment policy is clear on what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go for help and action.

2. That the convention make this policy obvious by at least one and preferably more than one of the following: posting the policy on their Website, placing it in their written and electronic programs, putting up flyers in the common areas, discussing the policy at opening ceremonies or at other well-attended common events.

3. In cases when I am invited as a Guest of Honor, personal affirmation from the convention chair that a harassment policy exists, that it will be adequately publicized to conventiongoers, and that all harassment complaints will be dealt with promptly and fairly, with no excuses or rationalizations for delaying action when such becomes necessary.

I’d also like to send the letter below to YA and kidlit specific festivals and organizations and to the heads of publishing houses with as many names attached to it as possible. If you would like to sign on, please post your name in the comments below (which I must approve so there might be a slight delay). Here’s the letter, which I know is not perfect, but hopefully it’s a starting point.

Dear conference or festival organizer or publisher,

You may be aware that larger discussions of sexism and sexual harassment have now—finally—turned to the children’s and YA literary community. Recently author Anne Ursu conducted a survey that received ninety responses detailing the unacceptable behavior that far too many women in our sphere have been subjected to over the years. We know that the problem is far wider, and it’s one we all have a responsibility to act to end.

If you have a sexual harassment policy, we would encourage you to make sure it’s strong enough and well publicized enough at your events or work functions to be effective. If you do not have a sexual harassment policy, we encourage you to develop one immediately or you may find many authors will no longer attend your events. This policy should, to borrow from author John Scalzi’s pledge wording, spell out “what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go for help and action.” In keeping with that pledge, we also ask that you promote and publicize this policy as widely as possible: on your website, in your programs and conference materials, through flyers in the event space, and by talking about it at the beginning of conference events.

You may feel this isn’t necessary or will somehow “send the wrong message” about your event. But, in fact, the lack of these things does just that. The lack of a clear harassment policy tells predators they can get away with bad behavior and it tells women and other community members that they will have no one to go to if they experience harassment, they will just have to remain quiet and accept it. Publicizing a message that harassment will receive zero tolerance tells everyone, including our young readership, what behavior they should expect in a professional environment. You can find resources to assist with your policy development and wording at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website.

If you are a publisher, we encourage you to revisit your own harassment policies and to ensure they are observed at public events that you host. We would also ask that publishers communicate to their authors, illustrators, and staff that if harassment by them is reported in a professional setting it may lead to consequences related to employment or invitations to represent the publisher at events or on tour. Again, it may seem unnecessary or ineffective to take this step. But sending a message about what behavior will be tolerated and what will not is the only way change will come.

And this change must come. Time is up.


Gwenda Bond

and hopefully many, many of you

Edited to add: Thank you THANK YOU all for supporting this effort. If your comment signing doesn’t show up immediately and you don’t get an error message, don’t fret. I just have to approve it and your name will be added. If you do get an error message, just contact me via the contact page or any other format and I’ll note your name and add it manually when I compile the final letter. THANK YOU.

Edited to add again: Comments are open, though the letter is closed for sending. 

Patreon Pointer and a Puppy

Hey there! Long time, no post. I’m going to at least say I’m going to dust this thing off and try to be better about that this year. I’m DEFINITELY being better over at Patreon, where I just posted a dishy introduction to kick off what’s going to be each chapter of The Woken Gods posted weekly with annotation and commentary.* Which I can do because I own the rights! I’ll also be providing progress updates on (and perhaps snippets) from my current work and puppy pictures (and I’ve added some puppy photo tiers to the rewards, as you do, if you just can’t get enough Sally — because I actually DO take a zillion also adorable photos that I just horde each day in addition to the ones I post) and et cetera. So come check it out and throw a dollar or few my way if you’re so moved. It is always much appreciated!

In case you’re wondering, my noteworthy releases this year are the paperback of Supernormal Sleuthing Service #1: The Lost Legacy in early May, followed by SSS #2: The Sphinx’s Secret (yay!) in late May, with Mr. Rowe obviously, and an adult-but-YA-friendly mystery/thriller serial set right here in Kentucky that I can’t say more about JUST yet but SOON which’ll be releasing in the summer. Oh, and the paperback of Lois Lane: Triple Threat this spring. So this is, all-in-all, a quiet year for me release-wise.

So I’d better get back to work on my new YA novel, which I’m crunch crunching away on and having a lot of fun with. Hopefully you’ll have fun reading it in a year or two. (PUBLISHING IS SLOW.) Have a Sally in the meantime. 

*If you don’t know what Patreon is, it’s a way you can subscribe to special content and support your favorite artists and creators in the meantime. Secure payment system, you choose the pledge/reward level you pay each month, and I get a little money in my bank account at the beginning of the month. Kind of like a tip that helps your faves keep working. See aforementioned quiet-for-me year above and, yes, I’m definitely focusing on giving some more love to Patreon this year. Come hang out.

Decatur Book Festival Schedule!

Hello, friends! I didn’t mean to let so long go with zero updates here, but you know. It happens.

Anyway! This weekend Christopher and I are at the Decatur Book Festival in Georgia. I have pink/red/orange hair now, so if you see me feel free to say hi. If you want to not have to rely on chance, here’s my schedule all for…

Saturday, Sept. 2.

  • 10 a.m. – Teen Stage: I’ll be moderating the delightful Leigh Bardugo and Jason Reynolds on a topic near and dear to my cranky little heart, Superheroes Redefined.
  • 4 p.m. – Children’s Stage: Christopher and I will join the wonderful Kate Milford and Deron Hicks, along with moderator divine Anica Mrose Rissi, on It’s a mystery to me! Supernormal Sleuthing will be discussed.
  • 5 p.m. – Teen Stage: YA Truth or Dare, the myth, the legend continues! My dear pal Terra Elan McVoy and I will be eliciting the goods from the contestants as the leaders of Team Truth. Mwahaha!

And that’s it! I’m happy to sign after any of these things or just grab me with your books.

EW Interview (Fanciness! Eep!!) + Event

Just dropping in for ye olde blog followers to let you know there’s a new interview with yours truly about Triple Threat — and Lois and Clark in general — by the fabulous Nivea Sarrao at Entertainment Weekly. Definitely pinching myself and what a thrill. Go check it out. And if you haven’t picked up the book yet and missed it before, EW also has an excerpt of the beginning they posted earlier this spring.

And while I’m here, I’ll be in Louisville Thursday night, reading at Spalding’s Voice and Vision series at the 21C Museum Hotel. Come say hi!

Here, There, News!

Happy Friday, dearies! This is a quick update with some pointers to other things and a piece of NEWS. First up, Christopher and I have been on the internet writing the back-and-forth essays about the Supernormal Sleuthing Service: The Lost Legacy:

Buy links in case you still haven’t picked it up: Amazon * B&N * Indiebound

(It’s back in stock at Amazon and the ebook is now on Kindle for those of you who were waiting!)

And last but not least WHEEEE EEEEP I just discovered that Lois Lane: Double Down is a finalist for the Locus Awards in the YA category! This is my first awards shortlisting for this kind of thing and I am extremely honored and thanks so much to everyone who voted! It’s a great list filled with friends and heroes. Now to figure out whether I can swing the awards ceremony (not because I have any hope of winning, natch, but because finalist and awards party!).

Third Book and First Book!

Yes, it’s true, I have two books out this week. Hold me! I’ve been very good/bad!

I’m so excited about both of these (obviously!), for different reasons. So if you’ll indulge me.

Lois Lane: Triple Threat is probably the last book in the Lois Lane series (I say probably, because no more are currently planned but hey, you never know), and I’m very proud of the way all three books form a nice trilogy-shaped unit. I hope they take readers on a journey of happiness and hope with some nail-biting along the way, and say things about friendship and family and ambition and love and, of course, how to be a hero (and how to help other people be heroes too). Getting to write Lois and Clark and Perry and my gang and some great classic villains has been the gig of a lifetime, one I’m so very grateful for. And I hope you, faithful dear readers of this series, know that it would have only been one book without you. So a huge thanks to all the Lois Lane fans out there, and to my publisher/editors at Capstone/SwitchPress and Warner Bros/DC Comics for all their support.

If you haven’t read these (or know people who haven’t tell them to!), well, collect the whole set. The first two are in paperback and in Kindle Unlimited, if that’s something you do, and now you can read them all with no waiting! And please consider leaving reviews at Amazon, Goodreads or B&N, especially for Double Down and Triple Threat. I also created a spoiler thread for questions or discussion, so feel free to drop by there too.

If you’d like signed, personalized copies and aren’t sure you’ll catch me somewhere else this year, call up Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington. They’ll hook you up for a nominal shipping fee. The number is (859) 273-2911.

Get it: Amazon * B&N * Indiebound

And now for something different, but still fun! Today is also the debut for Supernormal Sleuthing Service #1: The Lost Legacy by me and Christopher Rowe, with charming and perfect illustrations by Glenn Thomas. I’m a little giddy about this one and it’s difficult to put into words how and why. This is, of course, the first time Christopher (my husband, for anyone who doesn’t know) and I are writing together. We had a blast creating this world — the hotel where monsters stay when they come to New York City — and all the characters who populate it. Think of it a bit like a Pixar movie — there are jokes for kids and for adults and we just hope it will be a delight for everyone. And we hope the next one will too!

Everyone tells me middle grade is a slow build and so I’m asking your help in recommending this one to your pals with kids or buying it for your own. We’ve already had such excited reactions from some of the early readers at the bookstore’s ARC program and booksellers whose taste we trust to the maximum extent allowable by law who are constitutionally incapable of faking enthusiasm (I’m looking at you, Amanda!). Joseph-Beth’s support for this book so far deserves a special mention, and it’s only a little because Christopher is a bookseller there. (No, really. WE LOVE YOU GUYS.)

A little more about the book!

Three kids. A hotel full of monsters. And a stolen magical artifact that could disrupt the balance between the humans and the supernatural. Welcome to life at Hotel Monster! The first book in the hilarious and spooky series that is Hotel Transylvania meets Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

Stephen’s dad decided to move them across the country to New York City, where his dad is taking over as head chef in an exclusive hotel. A hotel that has the most elite of clientele: monsters! Surprise! Or as they prefer to be called, supernormals. And an even bigger surprise? Stephen is part supernormal himself. When a magical artifact goes missing and Stephen is framed, he must work with two new friends to navigate this whole new world to clear his name. Consequences can be dire in the world of monsters. Spooky, funny, and full of monstrous hijinks, The Lost Legacy by Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe is an inventive and accessible mystery-adventure full of friendship, humor, and a monstrous cast of characters—perfect for fans of Pseudonymous Bosch and R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series.

 Need more convincing?
Booklist: “Spouses Bond and Rowe make their middle-grade debut in this series starter. The light mystery will charm readers with its secret magical society, unusual characters, caring father-son relationship, and enchanted hotel setting. Monstrous fun!”
SLJ: “First in a new series, this is a fun, character-driven supernatural mystery. The authors artfully meld the supernatural with the modern. Black-and-white, cartoon-style line drawings by Thomas establish just the right mood for the quirky setting and characterization. The story is fast-paced and full of action, with eccentric characters and a rewarding resolution.”

Many thanks to our wonderful editor Martha Mihalick at Greenwillow and her team! Also, we created a twitter account for the Elevator at the New Harmonia Hotel, which is a good place to follow or let your kids follow for news about the series or just your periodic dose of Elevator complaints.

Get it: Amazon * B&N * Indiebound

And we’ll be at Joseph-Beth in Lexington at 7 p.m. tonight, May 2, signing and discussing both these books. Christopher will do voices! You can also order signed Supernormal from Jo-B, by the by. Back tomorrow with a Contest Announcement for Teachers and Librarians!

A side note for authors: This is actually, I just realized, my first book with one of the “big five” — I’ve been very lucky to work with great independent/smaller publishers who I adore, and so if you’re an author who thinks you can’t build a career that way, well, you can.