A few years ago–2003, if I’m remembering correctly, which my husband says I am–he, our friend George, our Princess, and I went to DragonCon in Atlanta. Yes, that’s right. Where once I’d made the 12-hour drive from Ft. Lauderdale to Hotlanta in order to see the mighty Supersuckers play live (and they fucking rocked, baby), now I was doing it to see a bunch of grown men dressed like Mr. Spock (and a lot of grown women dressed as Drusilla, complete with creepy baby doll, too.)
Anyway, having just completed the shiny new manuscript for my very first novel, a piece of shit whose details I will not shame myself into admitting but which I still have a secret fondness for, especially since I still believe it contained three very good scenes. Unfortunately, as it ended up tipping the wordy scales at about 114k, those three scenes did not do much to redeem the book itself.
I actually agreed to go to DragonCon not just because my hubby and George like to go to comic book conventions, not just because I was dying to buy myself some cheap Buffy-inspired jewelry. Not even because in the almost ten years the hubs and I have been together, I’ve developed a fondness for comics and the attendant geekiness that go with them. No, I was going to DragonCon because Luke Perry was going to be there.
Oh yessss. I was gonna meet Dylan McKay if I had to beat someone over the head with my then-20-month-old’s very heavy diaper bag to do it.
(Okay, I am one of the hugest 90210 fans ever, really. And I have this creepy ability to recognize a 90210 alum, no matter how bit the part, at 20 paces. “Look!” I’ll say, as a face flashes across the screen while some bad Sci-Fi channel film is playing. “It’s Steve’s crazy girfriend, the one who tried to kill herself because Brenda got the part in the play and she didn’t!” Or maybe, “Look! It’s the guy Kelly had a crush on who turned out to be gay so they were just good friends instead!” Or even, “Look OUT-it’s Donna’s stalker, Garret Slan!” Unfortunately, I have never seen Brandon’s Bigoted Girlfriend ever again, which is a shame, because she was really funny.)
Anyway, so I agreed to go to DragonCon to bask in the glow of Mr. Perry. And, let’s face it, probably to attempt to touch him inappropriately. And as part of the information they give when you you arrive at DragonCon and get your roadie-esque plastic badge, you get a booklet that lists all of the panels and groups and plastic toy-making workshops and Special Effects on Your Home Computer for Guys Who Will Never, Ever Get Laid if They Don’t Manage to Build A Computer Woman A La Wierd Science workshops.
In the booklet is a fiction panel discussion. Women in Fiction. Hey, I didn’t have much else to do but wait for Mr. McKay–I mean, Mr. Perry–to show up to discuss his Showtime show Jeremiah (Or so he thought, ha ha ha. I planned to spend the entire hour finding out if Shannon Doherty was really as bitchy and evil as Brenda Walsh), so why not?
So upon my hour, I trotted to the Marriot Annex basement room B or whatever, some dingy cell in the warren of similar cells, far away form the action, to sit in on this panel discussion. I’d already seen Richard Kiehl and Lou Ferrigno, so there wasn’t much point in standing around.
Among the panelists were Betty Ballantine and Sherrilyn Kenyon. Now, Sherrilyn Kenyon meant nothing to me, but I realized as soon as they introduced the panelists to the whole twenty of us girls in the room that Sherrilyn Kenyon was also Kinley MacGregor, whose book Born in Sin I had just finished the day before we left for Atlanta. Yay! (Okay, stick with me. There really is a point. I promise.)
Ms. Kenyon’s appearance at the con had not been publicized at all. There were only a few other people in the room, I think, who knew who she was.
Most of the women on the panel were sci-fi/fantasy writers. This was DragonCon, after all. I wish I could remember their names but honestly I can’t. I only remember Betty and Sherrilyn/Kinley, who was perhaps not quite as young as in her photos but was still a very sweet, pretty lady.
One of the audience members asked a question, about what had drawn the panelists to fantasy in particular. Why did they write SF/F? What did they like best about it?
One by one, the panelists answered. “The heroines”. “The strong heroines.” “The tough heroines.” And so on. They each explained how much it meant to them to read those books, because they hadn’t realized women could be strong and capable or whatever and apparently each and every one of them had been raised in some cuddly pink gyno-world where no one ever let them see any movies or TV more strident or interesting than The Sound of Music, or read any books aside from Barbie Buys New Clothes. Seriously. I mean no disrespect but I have a hard time buying that “Nobody told me women could be interesting or smart or strong in real life” stuff from any woman born after about 1950, and even that’s stretching it. You guys had Katherine Hepburn movies, FFS.
Until it got to Kinilyn (which is what I will call her because I am tired of typing out Sherrilyn/Kinley). She looked a little embarassed, a little shocked, as she explained that she frankly couldn’t disagree with them all more, that she liked the tough manly heroes who got to fight with swords and beat people up, and that the female characters were basically uninteresting to her as long as there was an alpha male in the story.
The other women were horrified. How could Kinilyn say the girls weren’t important? Werent’s SF/F books all about–should be all about–
The Kick Ass Heroines?
They rather visibly shunned Kinilyn for the rest of the discussion. They weren’t overtly rude, but you could see them dismiss her. She writes romance. She’s not smart and brave like us. I doubt any of them consciously thought it, or deliberately tried to shut her out. They were just less interested in her after that.
When the panel was over, I had the chance to go talk to Kinilyn, and proceeded to act like a complete and total idiot. Eagerly, I explained that I’d just finished her book and how I loved it. So far so good. Now, in my defense, there was a very rude, very large woman in a wheelchair trying to cut into the conversation the whole time, even though I was there first and there were only three people in line. I stood aside and let them go, but by that point the room was essentially empty and I felt stupid. So when I had a chance, and I am still horrified by this, I explained to Kinilyn that I was a writer too, I’d just finished my first book, and wouldn’t it be neat if I ended up with her publisher, too! Like we could be Publisher Pals or something.
I would have eased into it if I hadn’t felt so pressured, but I did. I said it really fast and shy, with my face flaming.
I still cringe. I still bless Kinilyn, who must have thought I was a total and utter moron, and who I swear hid her pity well.
I don’t remember exactly what she said, because by then my sanity had returned and I wanted to beat myself over the head with the hardcover copy of Born in Sin propped on the table, so I scuttled away as fast as I could.
The point of this? The point is, kick-ass heroines have their time and their place, and it ain’t in frigging romance novels!
Expect Part 2, babies. I’m only getting warmed up.
Oh, and would you believe, Luke Perry cancelled at the last minute?