Sunday, July 21, 2013

Type M for Murder: A Call to (Proper) Arms

Type M for Murder: A Call to (Proper) Arms

Jumping genres to support our SF/F sisters

Call it dueling futures. Because the battle for the soul of the science fiction and fantasy community is about nothing less, and even if we in the mystery community never considered the impact of a chainmail bikini, you may want to sharpen your broadsword.
The fight began at a trade publication, but its implications reach far beyond. Specifically, the brouhaha came to a head last month with the publication of issue #202 of the quarterly bulletin of the SFWA, a professional organization for science fiction and fantasy writers that claims 1,800 members. But the ill will in the SF/F community, as it usually abbreviates itself, had been brewing far longer. Last winter, for example, numerous bloggers complained about issue #200, which featured on the cover a male fantasy figure (female warrior with large breasts, barely concealed in the dated – and clearly ineffective – chainmail two-piece mentioned above). More to the point, the issue contained a history by longtime contributors Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg of women in the genre, which referred to “lady editors” and “lady publishers,” occasionally citing their “knockout” looks.  The next issue, #201, had a piece by a different male writer, CJ Henderson, praising Barbie – yes, the doll – for maintaining her “quiet dignity the way a woman should” (not to mention that she has “quite the pair of sweater-fillers”). Then, in June, issue #202 came out with another adolescent fantasy cover, a well-intentioned discussion of objectification – and Resnick and Malzberg’s rebuttal to the “liberal fascists,” “thought police,” etc., who didn’t like their previous column. All hell broke loose. Did I mention that this is a professional bulletin? Could you imagine this in The Third Degree?

This squabble follows hard on the heels of closely related explosion of bad boy behavior. SF/F conventions, or “Cons,” are where authors and readers meet and literary prizes are awarded. Because of the highly interactive nature of SF/F, there’s also a huge overlap with gamers, online forums, films, etc., and big deals – real money – are made. It’s become an open secret that many cons are unsafe for women, with groping, stalkers, and inappropriate behavior as rife as, well, those damned bikinis.
Increasingly, women in the genre – dues-paying, book-writing, comics-illustrating humans – are speaking out. But when they do, they have been viciously attacked with language that would appall the Texas legislature. “If the bitches don’t like it they can leave,” reads one comment on the blog Gorgonmilk, referring to the SFWA fight. “We Y-chromosome boys were in this hobby before it became cool and the vaginas started joining.” And that’s some of the more printable language. Rape and death threats are not uncommon.

Nor is the hatred aimed simply at women. There’s the open homophobia of SF author Orson Scott Card, for example, which has resulted in a call for a boycott of the upcoming film of his book Ender’s Game.  For women of color – hell, for SF/F professionals of any gender of color – the issues multiply.
But the tide may be turning: Author Genevieve Valentine blogged about being harassed last summer at ReaderCon, a Massachusetts-based con, which she attended as a nominee for the prestigious Shirley Jackson award. After much back and forth, the offender was banned for life and the entire board resigned. In May, author Elise Matthesen formally reported an editor – an editor – for sexual harassment at WisCon, in Madison, and as of July 7, he is no longer with his publishing house. 

Meanwhile, the (female) editor of the SFWA bulletin, Jean Rabe, hasresigned, and the publication is on hiatus while the board reviews its policies. And though recent SFWA president John Scalzi, whose three-year term ended July 1, has declared a policy of not speaking about the controversy for at least one year, he did apologize to the membership. He has also, and more importantly, spearheaded a campaign to boycott any conventions that do not have a stated anti-harassment policy. 
But it is exhausting to have to continually re-fight this battle. In a professional arena, we want to be treated professionally. That means nobody has the the right to comment on our looks, our sexuality, or our apparent level or lack of sexual activity. (And, believe me, if the tables were turned, so many of these trolls would understand: fat, balding, and effectively impotent as so many may be.)

And this isn’t simply a tempest in a teapot, not even a futuristic one. Because while in the public imagination, SF/F may summon images of socially inept males, the field has always been more than nerd boys tugging one off to rocket-fueled fantasies. Despite the bikinis, SF/F has also always been the home of progressive thought. Back in 1969, Ursula K. LeGuin wrote of gender-fluid characters in a bisexual world in her brilliant The Left Hand of Darkness, which won virtually all the genre’s top awards. Since then, writers like Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisen, Ellen Kushner, and others have explored class and race as well as gender. In general, says the marvelously outspoken author/blogger Foz Meadows, this is a community “actively concerned with questions of representation and diversity.” 

That’s because, at heart, SF/F is populated by dreamers. That is the nature of fantasy. And while some fantasy is “forward-looking technologically and backward-looking socially,” in the words of Kushner(whose 1987 breakthrough, Swordspoint, featured a gay male couple), not all of it is.  “When you’re dealing with SF, you’re dealing with possibilities and possible futures,” she says. “Until you can envision it, you can’t start trying to create it.”

Which is why the women of SF/F are taking up the sword, and why we in the crime fiction community should support them. If only to win better armor.

This blog first appeared in Type M for Murder: A Call to (Proper) Arms

 Clea Simon, author of 13 mysteries, knows that good books defy genre. She may be reached at

Monday, May 20, 2013

PW gives "GREY DAWN" a star and a rave!

So happy!





Issue: 20TH MAY 2013

★ Grey Dawn: A Dulcie Schwartz, Feline Mystery, Clea Simon. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8261-5

With the lightheartedness and strong themes that characterize a cozy series with
staying power, Simon delivers her winning combination of academic rivalries, student relationship drama, and kitty wisdom in the sixth Dulcie Schwartz mystery (after 2012’s True Grey). A student who closely resembles Dulcie is discovered, alive but with multiple throat wounds, in the same area of the Harvard campus where Dulcie heard howling and saw her harried thesis adviser, Martin Thorpe, looking strangely wild the night before. The gothic romance The Ravages of Umbria—a dark, cryptic novel that Dulcie is studying in hopes of attributing it to the anonymous author who is the subject of her thesis—frightens her even more, as do warning messages from her ghostly cat adviser Mr. Grey, as Dulcie tries to determine whether Martin is actually a dangerous werewolf. Excerpts from Dulcie’s melodramatic research project offer a delightful homage to 18th-century
gothic fiction that also binds this whodunit to its historical predecessors.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Malice Domestic: Celebrating 25 years of traditional mysteries

Must be my journalism roots. I can't resist reporting... and I'm just leaving the three-day cozy fest known as Malice Domestic. There, I attended panels on "mysteries around the world" and "social issues in traditional mysteries" and I was invited to speak on a panel about paranormal mysteries, called "Me and My Dead Friend." And while I didn't take notes about everything, I did jot down some of the funnier and pithier bits, which I share with you now.

Guest of Honor Laurie R. King was interviewed by Hank Phillippi Ryan and was both funny and modest. She said her goal was "to keep the mirrors flashing enough so....they're blinded to the machinery." (She also added, since she doesn't outline, that "an outline is something you force out to gjve to your publisher so you can get an advance.")

Receiving her award as honored guest, Carolyn Hart noted that we were 500 strong at the Malice banquet and "I know you are good and kind because you read the traditional mystery and you believe in goodness." Whereas Aaron Elkin receiving a lifetime achievement award joshed "Your royal highness, distinguished members of the Swedish community..." (A bon mot he then credited to Ed McBain.)

Hart also noted that, when she started writing, "As far as NY was concerned the only books [worth publishing] were hardboiled thrillers written by men or mysteries by dead English ladies." But, she added, "Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, and Margaret Marron changed all that."

Speaking of historical mysteries, the Agatha award nominees talked about the importance of detail. As eventual Agatha winner Catriona McPherson put it: "I want to see where the scullery maids lived because that's what I would have been."

Rhys Bowen was quite eloquent about the importance of historicals, saying, "History is written by men, historical novels, written by around the back and give you the social history." She then added: "the fascinating thing about the British upperclass is that they really do believe God created them and then he rested." And, most tellingly: "you have to write with no 1930s England, Hitler was 'that funny little man.'"

Speaking of the difference in mysteries set outside the US, the panelists pinpointed some important fact. "In the UK, guns are illegal," noted Peter Robinson. "But CCTV is everywhere and everyone knows that so you have to work around that."

Toastmaster Laura Lippman closed the festivities with some encouraging words.

"So many times you solve a particularly troublesome plot problem when you're not trying to solve it," she said, explaining that (like me) she gets some of her best ideas on the treadmill.

"You have to get lucky in this field but to get lucky you have to do the work." She related this to a story of her agent giving one of her books to a film producer... the agent meeting the producer was luck. But the book? That was the work Laura had already done. "you've got to own your dreams," she also said. "You've got to admit what you want. And when you get it, dream bigger.

And finally, she gave us a haiku: ""what a swell party/you don't have to go home/but you can't stay here."

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Didn't you love that photo of Melon the cat? Well, his person - a librarian - weighs in on the book here.

"If," she writes, "you like multiple stoylines, an academic sleuth who is less practical than she likes to imagine, and some slightly otherworldly felines, then Grey Dawn is a definite winner." [read more here]

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An indie bookseller on PARROTS PROVE DEADLY

From the Kingdom Books blog

Clea Simon's companion feline is named Musetta -- and there's a photo on Simon's blog of this canny cat, staring into the computer screen. Whether Musetta can guide Simon in plotting, who knows? But the years of companionship show up wonderfully in Simon's newest mystery, PARROTS PROVE DEADLY. [click to read more]

Quite the tail!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Me and Alan Furst

Oh, don't I wish!

But I was thrilled to see two new reviews this morning. The first informed me that the BBC adaptation of Furst's "The Spies of Warsaw" begins tonight, and I've set the DVR (9 p.m. Eastern). Love his books - so moody, so intense.

The second was even more personal: Beth Kanell of Kingdom Books reviewed my new (out yesterday!) "Parrots Prove Deadly," the third Pru Marlowe pet noir. In addition to many other lovely things, she said: "In Simon's quick-paced narrative, there's plenty of suspense and a very real sense of struggle to translate what's important in the "speech" of companion animals into something Pru can make sense of." Which is too long for Twitter, but just makes me so happy. Thank you, Beth!

Beth's review of "Parrots Prove Deadly":

Times review of "Spies of Warsaw""

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Zelda as the muse

What is it about a madwoman? From the Maenads to Edie Sedgwick, such heedless spirits have long inspired our stories. When they don’t exist in real life, we invent them. Just ask Heathcliffe what was pushing him so hard, and he’ll come back with some tale about a first wife in an attic. ...

Me on Therese Anne Fowler's Z in Dame Magazine.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Historical friction...

And here's my piece on why you're all reading the wrong Hilary Mantel novel, also for DAME.

That's why the feminist is a Dame....

It occurs to me, I should link to the book pieces I write for DAME magazine. So here's my take on why, 50 years after its publication, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique still matters. It's not what you'd think...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Thank you, Publishers Weekly

"Clever... pithy dialozuge and distinctive characterizations..." These are some of the early words from Publishers Weekly for my April pet noir, Parrots Prove Deadly.
Parrots Prove Deadly: A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir
Clea Simon. Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (278p) ISBN 978-1-4642-0104-2

A parrot proves a key murder witness in Simon’s clever third mystery featuring Pru Marlowe, a latter-day Doctor Dolittle, who practices in the Berkshire town of Beauville (after 2012’s Cats Can’t Shoot). When 84-year-old Polly Larkin, who lives in a room with her parrot, Randolph Jones, in a retirement complex, dies abruptly, Pru investigates. Pru determines that someone attempted to poison Randolph Jones, presumably to cover his or her tracks. Suspects include Polly’s two grown children; resident gerontologist Dr. Wachtell; Polly’s blind friend, Rose Danziger; and Rose’s aide, Genie. Pru meticulously pieces the clues together with psychic advice from a fuzzy crew of confidantes: her tabby, Wallis; Rose’s seeing-eye dog, Buster; Frank the ferret; and the neighbor’s bichon, Growler. Det. Jim Creighton, her on-again, off-again boyfriend, lends human assistance. Simon’s pithy dialogue and distinctive characterizations more than compensate for the predictable plot. (Apr.)
Reviewed on 02/22/2013 |

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Somerville gets its own Cat Fest!

Call us copy cats! In the wake of the hugely successful Cat Video Festival at the Walker Center in Minneapolis, our little city that could – Somerville – is hosting its own "Copy Cat Fest." The event, to be held Sunday, Feb. 17, 4-7, will be smaller in scope, but will have videos, readings (yes, I'm reading), celebrity cat guests... you name it! I am so psyched. Thank you, Arts Council!

Here's the link.