Amber Fallon: Just As Vicious As The Boys

Amber Fallon has edited a new all-women-author anthology, and here she talks about the impetus for where it comes from: 

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Gather round, humans and nonhuman entities. For I want to tell you all a tale. A tale of how much it can suck sometimes to be a woman, especially one trying to make a name for herself in a male dominated arena.

While my humble beginnings are a bit, shall we say murky? I’ve been writing professionally (meaning, getting paid in exchange for my words) for about five years or so. That is both an eternity and a drop in the bucket… but it’s also more than enough time to grapple with some serious sexism in the industry. And so begins our story:

I was tabling at one of my very first conventions. It may have been *the* first, I don’t recall, I’ve done so many… but it was early enough on in my career that I didn’t say anything to anyone when this whole thing went down. At that point, I was too nervous, too worried about making waves or ruffling feathers, or any other euphemisms for pissing people off, so I did nothing. If something like this happens to you, I highly advise you to go speak with the organizers or event staff ASAP. I wish I had.

If you’ve never been to a convention before, or if you’ve only gone as an attendee, allow me to set the pre-con scene for you: Big old mostly empty building with row upon row of tables. Celebrities, guests, and vendors who had purchased table space, like myself, are allowed in early on the first day of the show to set up. It’s nice, in a weird ghost town kind of way, all echoey and quiet… it’s also a great time to network. After you’ve set your own table up, go around and introduce yourself. See if anyone else needs a hand with their frustrating banners, or maybe some extra tape or a cheap plastic bowl to hold candy. I’m always prepared with that kind of thing and being helpful is just sort of in my nature.

So, me being me, I set up my own table with a bunch of fun Halloween decorations and a few homemade banners, and then I went to say hi to new faces and see who I could help out.

There were two young guys at the table next to me. I didn’t recognize either of them, so I went and said hello, noticing that their table was bare save for the con-provided black tablecloths.

“Do you need any help setting up?” I asked politely.

“Nah, we can handle it,” the taller one said. I smiled and offered candy or tape if they needed it. Then I went and took pictures of my table for social media.

Right before the floor opened to the attendees, I looked over and noticed that all my neighbors had done was stack some books on their otherwise bare table. Huh. Was I overdoing it? Was this a newbie mistake? I looked back at my table and wondered, doubting myself.

But I didn’t have time to change anything. People started streaming in and I was determined to get my face out there and sell some books.

Was I a bit overzealous? Maybe. But I hardly spent any time behind the table. Instead, I stood out in front of it, handing out candy and bookmarks in the shape of toe tags with my name on them. I forced myself out of my comfort zone and talked to as many people as I could, about anything. If they had a shirt on from a property I recognized, I commented on it. If they were in costume, I appreciated it, if they bought books elsewhere, I talked up the authors I knew. I was doing my best to get face time.

I had a lot of people coming up to me. Most of them didn’t buy books, but that was OK. They chatted and took bookmarks and candy.

A few times during the morning, I glanced over at those two guys sitting next to me. Their table was still bare. Their books sat untouched. They were, from what I observed, mostly playing with their phones behind the table. Shrug. Not my problem. Until it was.

About halfway through the first day of the convention, I guess my neighbors noticed how many people I had at my table. I don’t think they liked that, and I don’t think they thought about the fact that I had put in the work. I decorated my table. I left my phone in the car. I was up and actively engaging congoers. They weren’t.

So they took matters into their own hands and came over.

“You don’t want to read her stuff,” one of them told a gentleman in a Metallica shirt in line for candy at my table, “she doesn’t write real horror.”

Had I really just heard what I thought I heard? Maybe I was just imagining things. Maybe the Metallica fan was my vendor neighbor’s friend or something and they were joking around.

No. They pulled that act multiple times. Again and again they told people at or near my table not to bother with me, that I was “just a girl” and that I “couldn’t write anything scary”.

Again, I was pretty new at the time, so it was HIGHLY unlikely that either of them knew me. They just saw a woman and made an assumption.

And it’s an assumption that a surprising amount of people make. Regularly.

In addition to this travesty of human interaction, I once had an agent, a supposed professional, tell me that he loved my pitch and the sample chapter I’d sent him, and that he’d love to represent me if only I could “improve the marketability of my image,” something he assured me I could do by losing some weight and dressing more provocatively.

I had a dude at a convention loudly and emphatically arguing with me that I didn’t write horror, it was “paranormal romance, sweetheart!” Funny, seeing as how there is next to no romance in anything I’ve ever written.

I attended an event with my husband and had some rando insist that it wasn’t me that wrote my stuff, it was actually my husband, who for some reason just allowed me to put my name on it.

Fairly recently, I was chased off social media after posting my displeasure about an all male TOC in a non gender specific, big name anthology. In this day and age, I just don’t think that’s acceptable. If the book is looking for specific contributors (say, single fathers for instance) sure. But just a regular old anthology? No. That’s where I draw the line.

So I posted about it. I wanted to dispel the undying zombie myths that women writers just aren’t good enough, or they don’t submit enough, or any other bullshit excuse for sexism in the industry. As a result, I was attacked, harassed, and threatened until just the buzzing of notifications on my phone sent me into a panic.

I’ve been told that I’m a fad, that the only reason I’ve seen any success at all is because of “diversity,” that if “If I were a man, I’d never have been published at all!” and I’ve heard rumors that I’ve exchanged sexual favors for publication.

All of this, while not okay by a LONG stretch, is completely fucking normal. Go ahead, ask a woman author. I’ll wait.

Yeah, see? We ALL have these stories. Because despite progress, despite 2018, despite awareness… sexism is like a vast stinking river that only gets deeper and wider the more you try to stem the flow.

So what can we do about it?

I edited Fright into Flight, an anthology of all women authors, eagerly putting my money (so to speak) where my mouth is in an effort to show the world we can write fiction just as dark, brutal, biting, and vicious as the boys.

You?

You can read books and stories by female authors. Share the ones you love. Talk about them. And if you hear someone spreading that “women can’t write anything truly horrific” garbage? Set them straight. And it’s not just horror, either. Women writers I’ve talked to from other genres also experience this kind of garbage all the time. We can be better. We can read better.

Need some suggestions? There are lots and lots of talented women writing these days, so this list is by no means inclusive… but here are a few of my favorites. Google them or look up their stuff on Amazon and enjoy:

Delilah S. Dawson

Alyssa Wong

Chesya Burke

Somer Canon

Jessica McHugh

Hillary Monahan

Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason (writing as The Sisters of Slaughter)

Mary SanGiovanni

Kelli Owen

Kristi DeMeester

Livia Llewellyn

Gemma Files

Molly Tanzer

Seanan McGuire

Christine Morgan

Tiffany Scandal

The list goes on and on.

Go forth and read. Share. Spread the message. More diverse readers will help pave the way for more diverse writers, and that benefits everyone!

I hope you’ll consider picking up Fright into Flight, from Word Horde, or some other fiction by or including women. We have such sights to show you.

Fright Into Flight: Amazon | B&N | WordHorde