K.C. Alexander: Publishing While Female (Or, “Why I Stopped Internalizing Your Shit”)

Okay, so, let’s just get this out of the way — Necrotech is a fucking blast. (If you’re a fan of my Miriam Black books, I posit you might like the hard-heeled throat-kick that this book provides. It’s edgy, don’t-give-a-shit fiction, which is probably my favorite non-genre genre.) Anyway, K.C. Alexander, who is a delight, is here to flip the script on you.

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So, NECROTECH is out. Awesome. I’m pretty well excited for this one. Granted, it helps that it’s been three years in the making, and a lifetime in the learning, so I think my patience is as stretched as it’s going to get. It’s already snapped once.

But then, that snap heard ‘round my world is probably the reason I find myself in the position that I am: with a new agent, in a new genre, writing under a new name, divorced, in the studio apartment of my dreams (well, almost, needs more Hawaii), and working with a publisher who gives two flying douchenuggets and a bleached shitstain whether or not I’m “aggressive.”

You see, being aggressive is a compliment when you’re a guy. Writing a balls-out, kick-ass female character with little interest in redemption, a mouth foul enough to make a sailor flinch, and a propensity for blood and death is a bonus when you’re a man—or have the right sort of public manly support.

But when you’re female-presenting? Being “aggressive” is the same as being a bitch. Now you and I both know that bitches get shit done, but you know what they also do? Piss off fragile egos. Primarily male, but there’s plenty of room in the Big Book of People Aggressive Women Piss Off for a wide array of samples. Women are expected to be nice. Period.

One of the first compliments I received on NECROTECH was for Riko: “She reminds me of a cyberpunk Miriam Black.” Yaaaaassssssss. Given I’d set out to write an unapologetic thug of a woman with all the sexual and behavioral agency of a man, I took that as an immensely on point compliment. Riko is not a woman who cares what you think about her—so long as she’s got your attention. Love her, hate her, fuck her, fight her; as long as it’s her, she’s good.

Redemption is a word that belongs on a tattoo. Probably with, like, bloody hearts or roses or something.

With this wholehearted, bleeding wreck of a badass woman in hand, I sent my manuscript out to publishers. I did so under my previous author name—an obviously female romance author, a steampunk urban fantasy author, often accused in both of not having enough romance in my works. Or being too hard. Or too gritty. An easy transition, I figured.

So off the book went, after revisions my agent at the time asked for (revisions I’d realize much later felt like selling out to me). It wasn’t sent to romance lines—save one or two, who were dabbling in more SF/F at the time. But it was, as it turned out, sent to editors who were not ready to deal with… well, me.

The responses I’m about to list out are real, but paraphrased because, you know, I’m not trying to be an ass. Just reporting the rejections I had to wade through.

“There’s too much romance in this book.” This one makes me laugh. Once you read Necrotech, you will absolutely understand why, but for those of you may not want to, here’s the short version: Riko gets less onscreen ass than most male SF/F heroes whose goal is to “save the girl,” but she has all the sexual agency of any man ever. She likes people. Sex is a thing. So she comments on it. Blatantly. That’s romance, now? …Has anybody warned the SF/F writers with sexual material in their books?

Otherwise, all I’m left to consider is that my name, linked to past romance books, told them I’d sneak romance in—somehow magically under all the words on the pages they were (or were not) reading?

“I don’t know what Karina’s intentions are, but this is absolutely the wrong direction for her to take.” This one pissed me off. Can you guess why? Another short version: because an editor decided that my leaving romance, my writing “like a man,” was the wrong decision. That because I was a) a woman, b) a romance author, or c) me, that I could not be encouraged to take a path—that anecdotally, historically, statistically is reserved for men.

“It’s just too hard and unrelenting for the direction of this line.” Fine, fine, that’s absolutely fair enough! … Of course, the other editor then signed an equally as hard, if not harder and more unrelenting, author a few weeks later. We could chalk this up to “that’s the biz, yo.” I mean, luck and who you pitch to and all that is so very much a thing. And maybe it was exactly that. But it was also shitty timing.

I’d also like to note that most of the rejections came in with praise—brilliant pacing, very well written, the character just leaps off the page. But…

Too hard. Too aggressive. Too much romance. Too much focus on physical description. (Given this is an incredibly diverse cast of characters, that’s a whole other post on a whole other day—I don’t have the spoons right now to unpack that one. Subtext is a bastard.)

Two years ago, when I got my last rejection decrying my efforts to write a bold, badass woman in the vein of what I dare to call “man-SF/F” firmly tongue in cheek, I shelved the book and returned to writing what everyone said I did best—woman books, romance books, redemption books, hero books. Safely ensconced in the genre that the industry had decided I belonged.

And then something changed.

One day, I cracked open Riko again. I stripped out all the edits that pulled her punches, removed all the requested softening that made her “likable”. I sharpened her edges and bloodied her wake and as I lifted layers and layers of “be nice” and “be likable” and “be considerate and respectful and submissive,” I realized how much of that bullshit I’d internalized. How much of the gendered expectations of women authors in any genre are encouraged to absorb. “Be glamorous, ask instead of declaring, soften your questions, pitch your voice high, defer to industry standards that have been around for a hundred years.”

Never let them see you struggle.

My life has been a struggle since the moment I was born. My marriage was a struggle. My career a struggle. My finances are a struggle, my depression is a struggle, my desire to stop kissing ass and start kicking it is a struggle that feels like it never ends. The gendered expectations around me are a struggle.

Sometime over the next year, I scrubbed Riko free of the stain of those expectations and as I did, I scrubbed them off me, too.

It was hard fucking work.

The first thing I had to lose was my name. My name, you see, is incredibly feminine—so feminine that I have never really liked it (sorry, mom and dad). When you see the name “Karina,” you cannot help but thing “girl.” Girl. (Or Karina Smirnoff, and rowrrrrr, but definitely womanly.) Karina is a girl’s name. It’s a romance author’s name. It’s the name of a girl who grew up internalizing the expectations levied upon a girl, a woman, a female author, a romance author.

It declared loudly on the cover, “This sci-fi was written by a girl!”

Not that anyone pays attention to the gender of the name on a book, amirite? That’s okay. I just made it easy to ignore entirely. That’s why I chose the name I did. It’s me and not me but it’s way more me than Karina Cooper was allowed to be.

My perseverance landed a new agent who will swing hard and fight smart for me and my work, who is patient and supportive and doesn’t expect anything of me but what I want to write. I landed a publisher who read Necrotech and immediately loved her aggression, her swagger, and my words. “Go harder,” they said. “Go edgy and bloody and raw.”

Somewhere between that last rejection and this book launch, three years in the making, I stopped sitting down when told to. I started to stray from my lane—and when I realized how much hate I got for doing it, I also realized people do not like it when a woman is anything other but what a woman should be.

Well, I am a pansexual nonbinary fierce motherfucker and I will write what I know. Keep up.

As Necrotech launches, I’m daring you—yes, you—to read Riko’s story without any gendered expectations at all. To get to know Riko from page one and take her as she is. To love her, hate her, want to fuck her, want to fight her; whatever it is she makes you feel, I dare you to feel it without mentally adding “like a man” or “like a woman.”

And then when you deal with me, online or in person, I dare you to do the same. You can call me Kace when you do.

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K.C. Alexander is the author of Necrotech, an aggressive transhumanist sci-fi with attitude. She has contributed SF/F stories to Geeky Giving and Fireside Fiction, obsesses over art journals and washi tape, and will not tolerate your shit. Visit at kcalexander.com.

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