I continue in my quest to show that women have had a place in science fiction since the beginning of the genre. Just as with the previous guest blog, this one is from one of the field’s long-term editors. Ginjer Buchanan won the Hugo Award for Best Editor Long Form, and the award was long overdue. She started her career in the early 1970s as a social worker who freelanced as an editor. In 1984, she moved to editing full time, becoming an editor at Ace Books where she remained for the rest of her career. After many promotions, she held the title Editor in Chief when she retired in 2014.
Ginjer has worked with some of the major writers in the field, discovering many of them. Like many excellent editors, she’s a force behind the scenes, one that the casual science fiction fan never sees. The genre would not exist without women like Ginjer.
Her guest blog examines her relationship to science fiction, which began long before she started editing.
A long, long time ago in this galaxy, I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of blue-collar parents, neither of whom finished high school. Nonetheless, they were readers—my dad mostly of newspapers and Reader’s Digest; my mom of papers, magazines and mysteries; and my brother—six years older than me—of commix. We didn’t have a lot of extra money for books, but we did live in the city with the best free library system in the country (thanks to Andrew Carnegie’s guilty conscience). Thus, the second I was old enough, my mom got me a library card, and from then on, I checked out and read the maximum number of books allowed per week. There were mysteries aplenty around the house (three-in-ones from the Detective Book of the Month Club). So at the library, I gravitated toward books about the fantastical. CS Lewis. E.Nesbitt. P. L. Travers. Edward Eager (my favorite). And, since for an urban kid, fantasy included horse stories, Walter Farley. (did you know there is an Island Stallion book which is sf? I loooved it!)
This was in the fifties, and there was very little science fiction in the Children’s section (The Mushroom Planet books were about it) and YA simply didn’t exist as a category. The only sf from the older kid’s shelves that I remember reading was Door into Summer. I really liked it and wanted more of That Kind of Thing. The library didn’t have much, even in the Adult section, which I was allowed to borrow from earlier than the usual age. But there I did find Bradbury and Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson (another favorite author).
By the time I made my mid-life career change from social work to sf/f editing in 1984 (something I was able to do only because of the friends I had made through sf/f fandom), the sf/f book publishing world was already heavily female.
Then one day, probably in a spinning wire rack at the local soda fountain, I discovered pocket books (the generic term at the time for mass market paperbacks). Most specifically, Judith Merril’s Best of the Year anthology series, from which I discovered many new writers, whose individual work I tracked down.
Now, all this reading was going on while I was pursuing an academic career that would lead to college, since my parents were determined that both my brother and I would go on to higher education. Which I did. However, (third generation feminists, take note) my career choices were pretty much limited to nurse, librarian or teacher. Never was keen on blood, and while librarian might have been a viable option, my much beloved aunt was a teacher, so teacher it was. (How I wound up in the then fairly recently accredited also-female-dominated profession of social worker is another story)
Yet, while I didn’t get any career path from the reading and enjoyment of sf/f, what I did get was a much broader social life. Judy Merrill’s Year’s Best always included coverage of science fiction and fantasy fandom. From that, I knew cons and clubs existed. When I heard about a new club that had formed in Pittsburgh, centered at Carnegie Tech, I joined.
A truly well-timed life-changing decision, as it turned out. This was 1967. Prior to then, while there were a lot of important behind-the-scenes women in professional publishing (assistants really do run things, you know?) and a handful of women writers, fandom was pretty male dominated. But we “girls” were getting educated and reading more widely, and a little TV series called Star Trek had premiered, capturing the attention of a wide audience, of all genders. The sf club I’d joined was organized by three Carnegie Tech female students, with a membership that included a couple of very bright teenage girls (one of whom was in the first Yale class to admit women). The club was WOOPSFA (the Western Pennsylvania Science Fiction Association) and in 1968, when we came to a Washington DC regional convention en masse, we made quite a stir. And it wasn’t long before we were joined in the ranks of fandom by young women from all over the country, who had found, as their male counterparts had before them, a community of like-minded people who were interested in things fantastical, in one sense of the word or the other.
It was inevitable that this would translate from the fannish world to the pro publishing world. By the time I made my mid-life career change from social work to sf/f editing in 1984 (something I was able to do only because of the friends I had made through sf/f fandom) the sf/f book publishing world was already heavily female. Beth Meacham was the editor who suggested me as her replacement at Berkley/Ace when she joined TOR. Susan Allison who had succeeded Victoria Schochet at Berkley/Ace, was the editor who hired me. I worked with Susan for the entirety of my thirty-year career. In that time, we hired many an editorial assistant, only two of whom were men (one left the field, the other is still involved though not with books). What we found, as time went on, was that it became a lot easier to find viable candidates who were familiar with the genres. (Most were women, at least partly because, like all female-dominated professions, editing is low-paid. That’s a different essay, though…)
During those three decades, imprints have come and gone, companies have merged and merged again, and sf/f editors have changed employers and sometimes careers. (Lots of really good agents are former editors.) However, what has been marked is the number of female names who have played—and are still playing—important roles in the field. You’d expect Betsy Wollheim to be a force to reckon with—it’s in her genes. But her longtime colleague Sheila Gilbert ran the sf/f program at NAL before joining Betsy at DAW. (Before her, Ellen Asher was the NAL editor. She left for the Science Fiction Book Club where she was Editor-in-Chief for forty-five years. Arguably, that made her the most important editor in the field, until Amazon killed the book clubs.) Later. Laura Anne Gilman, along with Jennifer Heddle, built the by-then NAL ROC imprint into a powerful and successful showcase for mostly new voices. Anne Groell, who began as my Spousal John Douglas’s assistant at Avon, went to Bantam Spectra (now Del Rey) where she acquired and edited (and still does) an author you might have heard of named George RR Martin. Jennifer Brehl, who worked with Asimov when she was at Doubleday, heads Voyager US, where her authors include both Neil, Neal and the late Sir Terry Pratchett. Her colleague of many years, Diana Gill, editor to Kim Harrison and Richard Kadrey, recently left to –kinda—replace me at Ace/Roc when I retired. There she joins Anne Sowards, whose major writers are too many to mention (Jim Butcher being one) and Jessica Wade, who brought Django Wexler to Ace/Roc. (Anne and Jess are two of those shiny editorial assistants Susan and I hired.) Beth Meacham continues at TOR as does Liz Gorinsky, who has built a terrific, diverse author list. Toni Weisskopf, whose efforts helped her former husband establish Baen Books, has run it solo since his death. And Devi Pillai, who came up thru the ranks, as they say, is now Editorial Director at Orbit USA.
Indeed, in my almost-fifty years of involvement with the sf/f field as fan and pro, the landscape has changed markedly. (Forgive the cliché—it could have been worse–I could have said “we’ve come a long way, baby!”) No longer can the arrival of six or seven women all at once at a sf con cause jaws to drop. Nor is it necessary to hire a sf/f editor by asking the typing pool who knows anything about sf and promoting the one person—a guy—who raised a hand. (That actually happened.)
If I were that girl child with a taste for fantastical literature now, not only would I not be anomalous (how much more interesting to play Magic the Gathering than Old Maids! And how many more books to read!), I also might well envision a future that would allow me to turn that interest into a viable career. Lots of kids are doing it! In fact, one of them may well be my oldest grand-niece. Reads a lot (actual physical books, by preference), all genre, very interested in what Auntie Ginjer did for a living…
We smile. 🙂