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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Child stargazers, and mammas who raise them right

Author and USA Today HEA columnist Veronica Scott recently started a thread in a sci-fi romance Facebook group on what books first got folks interested in the genre. Having done blog tours for all of my SFR titles, I have probably answered that question a dozen times, and possibly in as many ways. It can be tricky gazing back, oh, 40 years, and retrieving data with any kind of accuracy.


The seed for me was definitely L'Engle's A WRINKLE IN TIME, my favorite book as an elementary schooler (a dozen reads, no lie). This book only had the hints of a romance, but with less than a decade under my belt, that was plenty for me. I read it around the same time as the release of the original STAR WARS film, which, as it did for so many, made a huge impact on me.

I also credit the first adult sci-fi novel I read, a Star Wars world book, which came out around the same time: SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE, by Alan Dean Foster. MIND'S EYE featured a touch of romance between Luke and Leia, which clearly was a head-scratcher for me later, when RETURN OF THE JEDI was released. I've most likely discussed this book on this blog before, and certainly have on others, but one thing I don't think I ever mentioned was how the book came to my attention.

As I was responding to Veronica's thread, some old memories came back to me. When I was in fifth grade, I had a male friend. While I don't remember a lot of stuff from that time, I know that we must have been good friends, because I do remember going to his home for a playdate. (Back then we weren't quite so official about things. I think it was probably more like, "I go right by your house on my walk home from school so let's hang out.")

The other reason I know we were good friends is because I brought one of the stories I had written to school, so he could read it. Perhaps up to this point there's nothing too surprising here. But in this era of extreme misogynistic behavior in sci-fi communities (which, if unfamiliar to you, you can read about here and here, if you have the stomach for it) as well as in hookup culture, my memory of what happened next really got me thinking: He told me he thought my story was good (if memory serves, he actually said something like "you have a talent for this"), and he told me that if I liked sci-fi and STAR WARS, he thought I'd really like MIND'S EYE. (And I did—I read it three times.)

The memory of this strikingly respectful, emotionally intelligent, and inclusive response from a fifth-grade boy momentarily stunned me. And my sudden sense that I had experienced something rare was immediately reinforced by another author, who replied to my comment, saying that in her youth a male classmate had become physically violent with her when she took an interest in a book about dinosaurs, because those weren't for girls.

I myself had experienced bullying in this same time period—another boy in my class had very angrily told me one day out of the blue that I was ugly. Nearly 40 years later, I still remember the look on his face when he said it, the fear the verbal attack inspired, and how I had internalized his criticism, part of me continuing to believe it for many years. (Unfortunately it approximately corresponded with the time my well-meaning mother had managed to give me the single worst haircut of my life,)

After these memories resurfaced, I became intensely curious about what had happened to my friend, and I did what we all do from time-to-time in this day and age—I looked for him on Facebook. It didn't take long to find him, because he doesn't look a whole lot different from how he did then. Also he was friends with a couple of other alumni from my high school. When we were children he had a strong interest in music and drums in particular, and I saw from his photos that he'd continue to pursue those interests.

I probably don't need to point out how fraught this sort of thing can be. People become curious about old connections for many reasons, and the reasons we most often hear about involve marital dissatisfaction. Not only that, you don't need me to tell you that we're living in a very hot political climate, and plenty of this comes out in Facebook. So my dilemma was, do I risk contacting this guy—who might be nothing like he was as a child, who might in some way be offended by me, or who might reasonably think I'm crazy—to say thanks for being a good friend all those years ago?

Two things decided me. I have a daughter in fifth grade, and therefore this kind of behavior by a fifth-grade boy is doubly not taken for granted (does that grammar even work? not sure, but you get my drift). And second, my husband—a very kind and sensitive male in his own right—encouraged me. That settled it: My motives were pure, good deeds should be rewarded, and my husband had sanity-checked me.

Over the weekend I messaged my friend, deciding that was less invasive than friending. I know from personal experience that many people fail to notice FB Messenger notifications (um, guilty), and some people just don't use Messenger at all. That meant he might never see the message, but it also meant that if he was uncomfortable answering, he could ignore it without me thinking much of it.

To cut to the chase, I did indeed hear back from him. It was not at all awkward, and he remembered our friendship as fondly as I had. The kind and respectful boy grew into a kind and respectful man, and it's been fun to catch up on each other's lives. I imagine these nostalgic moments will be coming to me faster as I get older and those formative moments and meaningful exchanges become easier to recognize. There appears to be a strong connection between such revelations and my daughter's stages of development, which is perhaps not surprising.

I told my daughter this story. I told her I know boys can seem rowdy, strange, and sometimes awful (which made her laugh), but that I hoped she'd be lucky enough to have a friend like mine. I fear for her in the current climate of backlash against feminism. She's always been taught that she's smart enough and strong enough to do whatever she wants in life, but she's old enough now that she's beginning to see not everyone feels that way, and that for many girls and women, it's a hard and even perilous road.

Though it's not a child's film, I sat down with her and my stepdaughter, who is seven, and watched HIDDEN FIGURES. I had to give them a little history and cultural lesson first, and I was called upon to explain some science that is admittedly over my head, but my girls LOVED the movie. I was so proud to see their dawning understanding of what an accomplishment it was for these women to do what they did. The adversity they faced and the obstacles they had to overcome. (My girls had somewhat of a foundation, as we'd also recently watched THE EAGLE HUNTRESS, and the eldest is reading GOODNIGHT STORIES FOR REBEL GIRLS.)

I was also grateful to the film's creators (and I presume, the author of the book before that), for showing us men who, though they might have struggled at first to accept and understand women behaving in such nontraditional ways, recognized their value not just as women, but as human beings and full members of society, and provided the support they needed to do that awe-inspiring work.

Three cheers for boys whose mammas (and daddies) raised them right! Tell me about one you know in the comments . . .


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17 comments:

  1. Oh, what a lovely outcome from our discussion over on FB in the SFR Group! I'm so glad you shared all of this with us...really neat.

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    1. I enjoyed sharing! It's so easy to get pulled down by fear and negative experience these days. I love little reminders of how good we have the capacity to be to each other. Thank you for starting the thread!

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  2. That really is a lovely memory! Thanks for sharing it! I loved that movie because for me, it was a message about overcoming setbacks and not letting people stop you--something good for everyone to learn!

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    1. I agree. Those women were expected to jump through mind-blowing hoops and do ridiculous things. They hardly blinked, let alone giving up.

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  3. A beautiful memory and current day follow-up! Thank you for sharing it.

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    1. You're welcome! It takes two to share so thank YOU for reading about it!

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  4. So many great memories revolve around books. :)

    I loved Hidden Figures too, both for the forgotten history and for the message about overcoming obstacles. Writers, in particular, can relate. Also love that it was an author who uncovered the remarkable story. :)

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    1. I was *blown away* by the fact all of that happened without me ever having a clue. I didn't know that about the author, that's awesome.

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  5. What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing. And five stars on parenting.

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    1. Ha ha, thanks Greta! My husband is always saying what a great mom I am, and I always respond by cringing and thinking about the last time I snapped at them. But I do get a few things right!

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  6. How very lovely! I also read Splinter of a Mind's Eye and Han Solo at Stars End and had similar wha? reactions when the movie sequels came out. :) Part of me wants to follow the links you provided about the perils of being a female writing spec fic... and the rest of me will go have a glass of wine and hope that my daughters will live in a better world.

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    1. :) I was always on team Luke and admit I felt a little bit betrayed when Jedi came out! As for the links, go with the wine. It's stuff I'd be surprised if you didn't know about already anyway.

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  7. My two best friends at secondary school were both guys because they were willing to talk Star Wars and Doctor Who with me whereas the girls only wanted to talk hair, lipstick and the latest boy band crush. One of them later tracked me down on Friends Reunited, then Facebook, and has stayed in touch, supported my books, even commissioned some fan art for my debut and sent it to me, and we were able to meet up briefly last year - he now lives in New Zealand. The other I also reconnected with on FB but he now lives in the US. One of the very first friends I made on FB that I didn't know in real life was a musician also writing SF. We've been able to meet up and talk books, music and Star Wars and he's been an inspiration to me in many ways. TBH, my childhood with these guys left me astonished at the attitude on the internet toward female SF fans and authors, which was shocking and sad as I'd never encountered the bias before. But those early friendships had already given me the confidence and the 'up yours attitude' toward any haters. I was also lucky that my dad didn't see gender as an excuse or reason not to do things or like things (both my parents were SF fans). My kids don't understand the bias and my daughter has encountered the Dark Side but won't be put down by anyone because of her gender. Fortunately she has found friends and allies.
    Me, I was always a Luke girl (my first crush). I also read Splinter but frankly I was GLAD about the reveal in Jedi - I wanted Luke for myself, lol!

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    1. LOL, love it! I wanted Luke vicariously through Princess Leia, until that turned out to be all weird. But as a tween I daydreamed about Luke showing up at my door to tell me the force was strong with me and he wanted me to go back with him for Jedi training. Which of course I did, immediately, without even saying goodbye to my parents. :)

      Good for you for teaching those girls to ignore that crap. I was a bit of a sensitive flower as a child, I have to confess. But I will never forget the time I told my mom I wanted to be a nurse, and she said, "why not be a doctor"? She was a computer programmer in the 80s - no mean feat for a mom of two at that time. Thanks for sharing your own FB connection stories!

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    2. Another Luke groupie here, too. I liked Han Solo too, but, well...he just wasn't Luke.

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  8. What a wonderful story! <3 I was fortunate enough to have one or two other "geeky girls" growing up who loved reading (all the books) as much as I did. We discovered Anne McCaffrey and Robert A. Heinlein through one of the girls' older brother's sci-fi collection (reading "Friday" when we were probably not old enough, LOL).

    And my 11 year old daughter was first out the door when we went to see Hidden Figures on release weekend (which we almost never do, but she was so excited). We bought the movie the minute it came out for streaming and she's watched it five times. It's the new favorite to show whenever she has a friend sleep over (if anyone tells you representation doesn't matter, I have a case study in this little girl who wants *every single friend of hers* to know about the amazing women who put people into space).

    As for me, my friends in SF and Fantasy from college are still friends--we are still in each other's lives, even though we may be far apart distance-wise, because of our shared love for Thinking Bigger the way sci-fi does.

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    1. Good for your daughter, that's awesome! It's so cool to see them so pleased and proud of (and inspired by) other women's accomplishments.

      I have lost track of most of the folks I shared those interests with, over the years. It's wonderful you still have them in your life! But I AM Facebook friends now with my childhood best friend, with whom I used to play Star Wars. :)

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