Adult Fairytale Retellings, Romantasy, and Why It Matters that We Shelve it Fantasy

Trigger and Content Warnings: This post will delve into my past so contains references to trauma/domestic abuse/childhood abuse. Also contains gaslighting/verbal abuse from a domestic partner. Very brief reference to potential infertility struggles (one sentence, vague reference).

Author’s Note: This is sort of a companion piece to This One where I talk about expanding the options available to readers of Adult SFF but focuses more on the YA/Adult Fantasy differences, why Adult Fairytale Retellings and Romantasy are perfect for a certain target market, and why we should not exclude these from Fantasy shelves.

Disclaimer: I am writing this post at 1:15 a.m. after not having slept more than 2-3 hours a night for 12 consecutive days. I will edit it prior to posting; however, please understand that any references to “Millennials” should not be construed as an attempt to encompass the entirety of this huge and diverse group of people but is being anecdotally genericized for purposes of this post based on trends I’ve noticed, things I’ve watched over the years, being part of this group myself, and having many conversations on this topic with other Millennials. Similarly, the “Target Market” has been roughly defined but is not meant to contain every member of the group stated or exclude any group not specifically stated. Where there are references to fairytale retellings or mythos, I have attempted to acknowledge and honor non-western mythos and tales as well as western mythos, but the reader should understand I write western fairytale retellings from a western lens (even that word, “western” is loaded because it really means American and European, doesn’t it? A specific kind of European, even). There are nuances that go into all kinds of ways of storytelling that cannot be encapsulated well here, but which are all valid, and I believe deserve recognition and seats at the table. Finally, I have attempted to be sensitive of the current discourse regarding this conversation and want to acknowledge the ace and aro perspectives. I have done my best to avoid aro/ace erasure in this regard but acknowledge I am not perfect and welcome input if anyone feels erased or harmed by this post.

Once upon a time, there lived a lonely little girl. She lived a lonely little life in a small house made smaller by violence and noise. With no brothers or sisters to play with, and parents who declared loudly they did not want her and beat her when they saw her (if they could be bothered to stop beating one another), she spent most of her days hidden away with nothing but books and animals for friends.

The little girl grew up, as little girls so often do. Her house got bigger. Her world did not. Violence and noise followed her wherever she went. Like moths to a flame, people like her parents were drawn to her. She let them in. One by one by one. They came, they destroyed, they abandoned. Until she was a ghost of a thing.

Always, though, she had her books.

Black and white photograph of a waterfall over concrete with a white girl (me) in a long black skirt sitting on a pile of rocks and debris in front.
Me, circa senior year of high school.

Among her favorites were fairytales. Not because they had happily ever afters, because many do not, but because they had rules. They followed a pattern. At the end was a lesson explaining what was right and what was wrong. If you trust blindly, you will be eaten. If you open that door you’re told you shouldn’t, you’ll be murdered. If you work hard, you’ll be rewarded. If you abuse your children, your eyes will be pecked out (all right, maybe she liked that one for its ending).

Justice. Order. Black and white. Right and wrong. In all the chaos, fairytales soothed something inside her. They gave her peace and fortitude. The strength to continue to flit and flirt and smile and laugh while the moths gathered and ate up her insides chunk by chunk.

Until one day, one of the moths who she loved more than all the others said he was done with her, too. It was a pattern she should have recognized, because she was so very good at recognizing patterns. But she wasn’t ready to let go. So she did something she hardly ever did. She fought. With words and tears and fisted hands, she screamed and raged and begged like a wild thing caged. The world was big around her but inside her head it was so very small. She thrashed against it. Begging to be freed.

The moth looked upon her with disgust, this caged creature he only now realized was more beast than girl, and he said, “That’s the problem with you. You think life is a fucking fairytale. It’s not. Grow up.” He flickered away.

That day, the girl who was a beast became a woman.

She stopped believing in fairytales.

Sort of.

Now you know my origin story. You know my anecdote and perhaps one reason why I believe there is true power behind fairytales. But there are practical reasons I write fairytales beyond spiting that asshole who told me life isn’t one (which, obviously). Specific reasons I write Adult Fairytale Retellings despite that being the harder path for an author who writes both Young Adult Fantasy (where fairytale retellings exist and are popular) and Adult Fantasy (where they are not). Why do I choose to make things so much harder for myself? Well, I’m so glad you asked.

But First! An Announcement!

This post is about traditional publishing. Specifically, Big Five traditional publishing (and their imprints). I can’t encompass the whole of everything going on in fantasy, this is already too long, but it is important to note that what is trending in the self-publishing space and the indie publishing space (i.e. smaller, independent presses producing primarily digital only or digital first editions of books) is not always the same as what is trending in Big Five traditional publishing. I would argue that is the case in fantasy right now. With the rise of BookTok, this nuance seems to have been lost. For readers who perhaps don’t know or care where their books are coming from (which is awesome, I am highly supportive of self-publishing and indie presses getting more attention), the distinction might not seem to matter, but for authors it does. This disconnect should not be ignored.

Are my posts long? Yes. But this is precisely why. There is so much nuance it’s impossible to capture it all even in a blog, let alone a Twitter thread. Still, when we speak let us try to be clear. When I speak, I will do my best to be so. Self-publishing and indie publishing are not the same as Big Five traditional publishing. What is trending on BookTok does not necessarily represent the whole of traditional publishing (it might not even be traditionally published). For example, Adult Fantasy Romance is killing it in the self-published space right now (thanks in good part to BookTok) and has been for several years. In traditional publishing this is not the case. Do readers know that when they expect certain things from traditionally published adult fantasy authors who are facing different struggles in their markets (which are not Romance, by the way, a point I’ll talk about in a minute)? Perhaps not. Should they care? Also maybe not. But the authors certainly do, and I am about to argue that traditional publishers (specifically the Big Five presses and imprints thereof) should, too.

All right, back to fairytales, and why I tell them for adults…

I Write Adult Fantasy for Millennials

For my Adult Fantasy, my target market is primarily adult women aged 27-42 (aka today’s Millennials). Birth years for this age group range from about 1981-1996. This will be important for the timeline I’m about to set up.

Millennials and Young Adult Literature – A Brief History Source of some of the below, some gathered from life experience

While young adult literature has arguably existed since S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (1967), most of the popular young adult literature of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s was contemporary, with the first “Golden Age of YA” occurring in the 1970s ushered in by books such as Go Ask Alice, Beatrice Sparks; The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier; Forever, Judy Blume; and Flowers in the Attic, V.C. Andrews.

In the early 2000s, (when our Millennial age group was aged between 4-19) YA experienced the second Golden Age of YA. This new resurgence in popularity of young adult titles was led by speculative fiction. Since then, fantasy has largely dominated young adult fiction with only recent shifts toward contemporary preferences. Meaning that for a majority of Millennial readers, speculative fiction was the Thing to Read during their formative years with such titles as Harry Potter, JK Rowling (technically shelved as Middle Grade in some instances but crossover as it ages up); Twilight, Stephanie Meyer; City of Bones, Cassandra Clare; and The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins appearing in the 2000s (and their subsequent books coming out far beyond).

Continuing this trend, in the next decade (when our Millennial age group was aged between 14-29) came the YA powerhouses most of us will know best today: A Court of Thorn and Roses, Sarah J. Maas; Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo; Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir; The Young Elites, Marie Lu; Scythe, Neal Schusterman; Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi; The Cruel Prince, Holly Black; The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater; and many, many more.

Less than halfway through this decade, however, by 2014 in fact, our Millennials had “aged out” of YA if you use the technical definition of YA as being for readers between the ages of 12-18.

It was time for them to move upward and onward into greener pastures.

Adult Fantasy, here we…


Image of a white clay figure with no face holding a hand up in front of a red stop sign.
OMG, look! It’s a vague, faceless, white guy telling me not to go hang out in Adult Fantasy. I wonder why? Let’s go find out! Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Adult Fantasy v. Young Adult Fantasy

Until recently (within the last couple years), I would argue that Adult Fantasy made no meaningful attempts to appeal to a big chunk of Millennials. That chunk being primarily women and marginalized voices. By “Adult Fantasy” I mean traditional publishers, not authors. There were for sure people trying to get things published. But gatekeepers going to gatekeep.

Meanwhile, YA Fantasy continued to offer things that appealed to those people. Like what? Well, like this list I’m about to caveat. Caveat: this list is not intended to be exhaustive, or to represent every point of view from every marginalized group (clearly), nor is it intended to absolve YA of anything that hasn’t happened, hasn’t happened fast enough, or got messy along the way.

The List of Cool Things YA Fantasy has that appeal to Millennials even though we’re now Certifiably Old:

  • Targeted efforts to diversify the stories told (both through movements to push for the publication of more diverse authors and via non-marginalized authors paying more attention to how they depict marginalized people in their works)
  • Faster-paced books
  • Character-focused fantasy that gets deeper into human interiority
  • Shorter books (+ more standalones and duologies as options versus trilogies and beyond)
  • SUBGENRES: High Fantasy; Contemporary Fantasy; Urban Fantasy; Fairytale Retellings (from western and non-western origins); Steampunk; Paranormal Romance; Dystopian (which arguably falls under the Sci-Fi umbrella but in YA, fantasy seems to own it); Portal Fantasies; and Romantic Fantasies (aka Romantasies)
  • Second world fantasy with lighter, more grounded world building and less complex magic systems

While YA has been doing this, Adult Fantasy has largely stayed sort of exactly the same. It’s still primarily dominated by white, cis, male authors writing massive tomes that are grimdark, epic, and/or sword or sorcery. Are there exceptions? Absolutely. Are they hard to find. Fucking yes. And even where the authors themselves are not meeting the classic fantasy author archetype, much of the work still is. Long. Political. Dark. Violent. In short, the age group hasn’t evolved in step with its YA counterpart.

Photo of a white person in a black hoodie holding a black crystal ball to their face. Behind them is a snow covered forest.
Oh hey, maybe this person can scry me up an Adult Fantasy that isn’t more depressing than the year 2020. Photo by petr sidorov on Unsplash

Why This Matters

I’ll be real. I’ve been trying to age myself into Adult Fantasy since YA authors started talking about how creepy it is for grown ass women to be shipping teenage characters. Which I think was the YA Twitter tea of like… 2017. So it’s been a minute.

I’ve tried to embrace Adult Fantasy. I’ve listened to YA readers (who I write for as well) and done my best to remove myself from their space. I hear MG and YA authors (and teachers and librarians and booksellers) now in 2023 begging for YA for younger teens. Wishing for a ramp from MG to YA. Especially for boys. YA Fantasy has become so oversaturated with a particular kind of book (the one appealing to my referenced target market, in fact) that there’s no room for other books actual teens not only want but need. We (authors but also sort of society) are losing readers. This is an actual issue. I hear you. And I agree 100%.

But because there are no books for people like me in Adult Fantasy as it currently exists, we keep reading YA. Because we want to read something. And no, we can’t all just get a BookTok and a Kindle and read self-published authors, nor do we all want to. Plus, many people simply don’t know about BookTok or Kindle Unlimited, because they’re regular people not plugged into the online book communities. They get their books from what’s trending on Amazon, or what they see on the end cap at Barnes & Noble, or what’s recommended by a friend or local bookseller or librarian, and all that marketing force is still dominated primarily by traditional publishing.

So, because publishing is a business that operates on the good old fashioned principles of supply and demand and the facts are that 35 year old women have more buying power than 14 year old boys, publishing keeps feeding the demand. They also keep pushing “YA” further and further up in age. I read a YA book not too long ago that featured characters who were in their early twenties, one of whom was happily married and contentedly pregnant. Listen, I know fantasy is not contemporary, but please point me in the direction of a teen who can relate to the experience of being happily married and contentedly pregnant. I mean I’m sure they exist, there’s an exception to every “rule” of life, but that’s certainly not the teenage norm. Teen pregnancy is absolutely a subject to be covered in YA, but that was not the take I was expecting. Because it’s an adult take gussied up as YA, because YA authors know their real readership is 35 year old ladies who probably are (or perhaps want to be) happily married and contentedly pregnant. (Not this reader, but that’s personal preference).

Basically, for YA Fantasy to be able to grow beyond its current state and embrace even more voices and bring in even more readers, Adult Fantasy has to do the same thing. Which makes sense. Not really sure why it didn’t happen 10 years ago when Millennials were all aging into adult but who am I?

Adult Fairytale Retellings – The Millennial Net

Back to Adult Fairytale Retellings (aka back to me). So, we’ve now learned that my target market is into a Type. The type is short, whimsical, fast-paced, character driven, diverse, with light worldbuilding, and yes, romance (not to be confused with Romance—the genre—which has a set of conventions not at play here, also not to be confused with Fantasy Romance, a subgenre of the Romance genre also not at play).

Adult Fairytale Retellings are perfectly suited for this kind of story for all the reasons I loved them as a child. They’re ordered, meaning there’s something to be reordered. Deconstructed. Genderbent. Twisted. Fractured. Examined from a new perspective. BUT they’re still familiar (if you’re writing from a western lens to a western audience, this can be different if you’re writing from a different mythos, but I would argue that’s still appealing to the target market) so the worldbuilding required isn’t from the ground up. They often don’t require as much exposition or info dumping, which helps the author jump right into the action and the characters’ heads. This quickens pacing and increases interiority (as well as reduces length). Check, check, check. And, they’re very well-suited to romance. But because we’re retelling them, we can make the romance better.

In short, the Adult Fairytale Retelling is the perfect ramp for adults who want to move from YA to Adult Fantasy. BONUS, there are loads of points of views in even western fairytales not yet explored because they are “older” characters not suitable to YA. Which gives fun, fresh, and relevant to the Millennial life stories to tell.

Photo of a blue cake with a glass slipper on top, a bookmark reading "You're never too old for faerytales" and a pink rose in a glass case all sitting atop a white fuzzy blanket.
Millennials: Please tell me you’re not interested in stories about magic folks hating their jobs, juggling kids and their work as a dragon tamer, getting divorced and having to split the castle, figuring out if they’re too old to go back to sorcery school, and other modern day Millennial tales. I’ll wait. Copyright mine.

Romantasy – Yes, it is Fantasy

Similar to Adult Fairytale Retellings (and sometimes one in the same), Romantasy (Romantic Fantasy) is another fantastic way to ensnare the target market and lure them away from YA Fantasy and into Adult Fantasy.

To clarify, Fantasy Romance is different. It’s a subgenre of Romance. The central plot of a Fantasy Romance is the romance. A Fantasy Romance follows the genre conventions of Romance (from the meet cute to the dark moment to the happily ever after). I’m not talking about Fantasy Romance. Not because it doesn’t matter or isn’t great or I don’t have Thoughts (because DO I EVER DON’T GET ME STARTED ON THE POLITICS BEHIND EMOTIONAL WOUNDS), but because it isn’t the same natural pathway from YA Fantasy to Adult Fantasy because it is, again, shelved under Romance not Fantasy.

Romantasy or Romantic Fantasy is what most people mean when they say “there’s a ton of romance in YA Fantasy these days” (or some less polite variation). The primary plot is the external fantasy conflict (curse, heist, palace intrigue, revenge, overthrow the government, save the world, whatever), and the secondary (but often very similarly weighted) plot is the romance. You can extract the romance from a Romantasy and still have a story structure. It might be less meaty with less conflict and not as interesting, but a story would still exist. You cannot extract the romance from a Fantasy Romance and still have a story structure (in theory, I’m sure there are some who would love to argue that with me).

OMG are you still talking? If yes, please tell me why people can’t just read Fantasy Romance and leave Adult Fantasy alone?

The devil is in the details, I suppose. First of all, Fantasy Romance is also sorely lacking in material in traditional publishing. Most of what is available is digital only through indie presses and self-published authors. Not that these aren’t viable options, they’re just not always the easiest to find for the reasons I mentioned above. Or screen. Especially where self-publishing is concerned. There is some… problematic stuff out there and going back to that target market I’m harping on, problematic content isn’t going to hit right with many marginalized groups for somewhat obvious reasons. Does that mean traditional publishing doesn’t also publish problematic content? Nope. But you sure as shit hear about it if you’re plugged in. Versus self-published works there’s so much of it, flagging problematic content is much more challenging. As a person with multiple marginalizations who self-published NA Romantic Fantasy and is hugely supportive of self-published authors and has read a lot of Fantasy Romance, I can assure you I have been burned enough times now I read only trusted self-published recommendations or traditionally published works. It’s just too much to be hit with otherwise.

Further, many people who grew up reading YA Fantasy in the Second Golden Age of YA, while they might want romance, don’t necessarily want only romance. They still love fantasy. They want Katniss to overthrow the Capitol (and fall in love with Peeta), and Kaz Brekker and company to pull off that impossible heist (while falling all over each other along the way), and Laia to save her brother from the clutches of the Empire (while Elias tries to save her from the Commandant). It seems a silly distinction, perhaps, but it is an important one that Fantasy Romance does not often meet.

A Love Story has a right to exist in Fantasy – and in fact makes a statement by doing so

I’ve touched on this before and this post is already massive, so I won’t do it again. The TL;DR version is that despite what it might seem, there’s not actually a lot of Romantasy on Adult Fantasy shelves in Barnes & Noble right now, and excluding a book from the fantasy shelf because it has romance in it is elitist at best, misogynistic at worst.

Fantasy is a genre about imagination being pushed to its fullest potential. Why wouldn’t its arms be opened to the full gambit of potential human experience? Why would anything be excluded?

Opening the shelf to these books not only gives room BACK to YA Fantasy to create more readers while also satisfying a known market demand in Adult Fantasy (so is therefore good business), but it makes a statement about Adult Fantasy and where it wants to go. Which is hopefully forward.



Photo of a white woman (me) in a white sweater bending over to kiss a German shepherd's nose.
I’m just a modern day Millennial making out with my dog. Because I am childfree by choice. Another GREAT topic to talk about in Adult Fantasy!

Broken Girl Cured by Love: On Tropes and the Lies They Tell

Author’s Note: For the past few days I’ve been in Tennessee at a workshop hosted by Madcap Retreats about writing cross culturally. It was an incredible, eye-opening experience, and I’m only sharing a snippet of what I learned there, so I highly recommend you participate in one of their workshops if you ever get the chance to. 

There are ways to create narratives of hope that don’t feel like a lie.

~ Leigh Bardugo

To fully understand this post, you’ll need to watch this video (there’s also a transcript, but if you can watch I recommend doing that).

The idea of a single story is (obviously), not mine, but over the weekend, it was one of the concepts that hit nearest my heart. There are single stories for every marginalized group of people. In the video, you’ll hear some of them. During my workshop, I heard others. I’m not going to talk about the stories of others, because you should listen to their voices for that. What I am going to talk about is what the single story for me has been, why it’s hurtful, and why that matters to your writing (and mine).

For those who might not follow this blog regularly, I’ll start by telling you that I’m a twenty-nine year old, cisgender, female. I was raised outside of Philadelphia. I’m privileged. Most people would not think of me as part of a marginalized group. Mostly, I don’t think of myself that way.

I do, however, suffer from complex post traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, touch aversion, and agoraphobia. I have an invisible marginalization which I can usually hide, but it affects every aspect of my life.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional or physical trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape. (Source). PTSD and CPTSD are slightly different in that PTSD can result from single events, or short-term exposure to extreme stress or trauma whereas CPTSD is generally associated with long-term trauma. That said, most people don’t know what CPTSD is, so I typically tell people I have PTSD.

When I do “out” myself, the most typical question that follows is, “What war?”

This is the single story in action. (If you haven’t watched the Chimamanda Adichie video or read the transcript yet, go ahead and do it now. Here’s another link. Seriously, it’s that important.)

PTSD is most often associated with veterans. That’s the single story literature, television, and film have created for us. And because of that single story, my experience somehow seems less valid. When I don’t play into people’s perceptions or expectations, my experience is diminished. Surely, I must be faking it. Surely, I must be overly sensitive. Surely, nothing can be as traumatizing as war. Surely, my experience doesn’t matter.

For years, I resisted fighting against this narrative because it felt like fighting against veterans who have PTSD. The single story of PTSD made me feel like I had no right to voice my own experience because by telling my story I was challenging their story. This is not, however, the case. I’m not challenging the narrative at all. There are veterans who have PTSD. But there are people who are not veterans who have PTSD as well, and their stories deserve to be told too. We can tell multiple stories without threatening others. We, as people, deserve more than a single story. We deserve more than two or three or ten stories. Every story gives us a fuller life experience.

The above example is contemporary, but the single story concept extends beyond as well. It permeates every facet of literature. In fantasy, especially young adult fantasy, there is another single story narrative pertinent to PTSD that’s repeated over and over, and it is this: Broken Girl meets The One and is fixed through the curative power of Love.

This narrative hurts me. It is a dangerous lie.

Growing up, I often escaped to fantasy worlds to help me cope with what was unraveling around me. I still do. But especially as a young reader, I internalized much of what I read. And this narrative, the “Broken Girl Cured by Love” narrative, buried itself deep. So deep I didn’t realize how much it had shaped my behavior until this weekend, and to be honest, I’m still trying to untangle a lot of it.

What I have realized, however, is that I truly believed I could be cured by love. In fact, up until recently, one of my primary criterion for a partner was that I could spend a night with them and not suffer nightmares. I was sure that somewhere out there someone existed who would save me from my nightmares. This internalized narrative that I picked up from fantasy books is harmful to me in real, tangible ways.

One of the ways my PTSD manifests itself is through touch aversion. When I’m touched (especially by a stranger), I experience physical symptoms. My heart rate rises, my breathing shallows, I become dizzy, I grind my teeth, I sweat, my pulse hammers in my ears so I can’t hear properly. Often, I freeze, completely debilitated by terror. Sometimes, I lash out, verbally or physically. This is not a comfortable feeling.

Yet, because of the Broken Girl Cured by Love narrative, I’ve put myself in this position time and time again. I’ve retraumatized myself  while I search for The One To Defeat The Nightmares. I’ve spent nights with people I was revolted by hoping this time I’ll find The One. This time, the Magical Cure Love will save me from my PTSD. I’ve numbed myself with drugs and alcohol while I try to find The One Who Wields the Cure Love, hoping that when I do I’ll be able to be touched without the need for chemical alteration.

It has not and will not ever happen. Love is not a cure for PTSD. That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope; it simply means this narrative is not the “hope” people like me need. The lie of this single story has damaged me, and I don’t think it takes much extrapolation to understand it could damage other people, or to see the damage done could be more extreme than it has been in my case.

One of the main takeaways from my weekend workshop is that words are powerful, more powerful than we might realize. As writers, we have a responsibility to our readers and that is to tell the Truth as best we can. It’s not easy, and it’s not always pretty, but it is our duty to try, to put in the work, and to hopefully do no harm.

There is no such thing as a single story of the human experience, and it’s far past time we stopped trying to tell one. As Daniel José Older told me over the weekend, “It doesn’t have to be sexy.” I suppose the Truth hardly ever is.


International Women’s Day and the Gender Gap in Literature

Author’s Note: Today is International Women’s Day and here in the States it’s also A Day Without A Woman. That means today I’ve decided to both wear red and tackle a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot recently—gender inequality in literature. As a side note, I’ve been thinking about inequality in literature in all forms recently, but this post will focus only on gender. That said, if you were to break the data I’m about to use down to non-gender minorities, things become even more bleak in terms of diversity (or lack thereof). Okay, here we go.

Gender Inequality in Literary Fiction

The Pulitzer Prize is arguably the highest honor a writer can achieve in their lifetime. The Pulitzer is the award we all salivate over. It’s the award that when you hear someone has won it, makes you sit a little straighter and take notice. It’s the biggest of big deals in the writing world.

Want to know something interesting about the Pulitzer?

Between 2000 and 2014, not a single book written by a woman about women was awarded the Pulitzer. Zero. In the same time period, books written by a man about men were awarded 8 Pulitzers. EIGHT. More than half for those of you keeping track. Three more were awarded to women authors who wrote about men. The other four were awarded to women who wrote about both women and men and the last described as “unsure.” You can see the data here.

In a world where women read more fiction than men, and women are writing bestselling novels with the same regularity as men (15 of the 2016 New York Times bestselling fiction authors were men, 13 were women), there appears to be a problem. Now, let me go ahead and nip this argument in the bud before it even begins.

If you’re sitting there saying, “But Aimee, it’s not about gender, it’s about the best book winning,” then I would challenge you to take a deep breath and contemplate the data. Now, do I think we should have some system where we say, “Okay, a woman won this year, next year it will be a man.”? No. Absolutely the best book should win, and I understand literature is subjective. Boy, do I understand that. However, I think it’s more than a coincidence that in 15 years not a single book written by a woman about women was considered “the best book.” I’m just not buying it. Things would be different if there were simply more men publishing (that would be and in some opinions, is, a separate problem), but that isn’t what’s going on here.

The Pulitzer problem isn’t even precisely a female author problem. It’s a female story problem. Six Pulitzers in the time period described above were, in fact, awarded to women. But NONE of the Pulitzer prize winning stories were stories about women.

What is it about our stories that seems less worthy of a prize?

My first thought was, “Okay, I know literary fiction is this way. I have always known it. It’s shocking to see it all laid out like that, but my genre is dominated by women and women’s stories.” Right about there is when I fell down the rabbit hole and started to do some research of my own.

Gender Inequality in Fantasy

I’m going to bring the powerhouses of my genre in now, because those are the stories I’m most familiar with. When I type “epic fantasy” into Goodreads, I get the following list of authors:

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. George R.R. Martin
  3. Diana Gabaldon
  4. Patrick Rothfuss
  5. Stephen King
  6. Brandon Sanderson
  7. Robert Jordan
  8. Phillip Pullman
  9. Christopher Paolini
  10. Susanna Clarke

Are we seeing some issues with this list? Besides the fact that it’s 80% male I’ll also point out it’s 90% white.

As Exhibit B, I’d like to present to you the list as it looks when I search “Popular Young Adult Fantasy” (“young adult epic fantasy” yields no results, interesting all by itself).

  1. J.K. Rowling
  2. Sarah J. Maas
  3. Cassandra Clare
  4. Kristin Cashore
  5. Leigh Bardugo
  6. Laini Taylor
  7. Stephanie Meyer
  8. Christopher Paolini
  9. Rick Riordan
  10. Suzanne Collins

This list is a complete reversal in terms of gender (80% female)  but even more dismal in terms of diversity at 100% white (seriously, we need to be better, YA fantasy). This brings to light two points I have regarding the stories we tell and who writes them.

Women write YA stories and those stories aren’t seen as “serious”

For those of you familiar with fantasy, take a moment to breathe these lists in. Think about how you view the authors on each and the books they write. Because before I even compiled these lists, I made similar ones in my head. When I thought: “Who writes fantasy that would be considered literature” I came up with:

  1. Tolkien
  2. Martin
  3. Jordan
  4. Pullman
  5. C.S. Lewis
  6. Neil Gaiman

When I thought: “Who writes popular fantasy” I came up with:

  1. Rowling
  2. Maas
  3. Clare
  4. Meyer
  5. Bardugo
  6. Victoria Aveyard

My OWN list was biased. Why is that? If Pullman and Paolini and C.S. Lewis can write for a young adult audience or even children and be considered “epic” and “serious” why can’t Taylor or Bardugo or Maas?

Romance is a crucial element in women’s writing and that’s not “serious”

Many of the authors on the second list have romance at the center of their narratives. How you feel about the way they handle romance is not the point of discussion here (they all handle it very differently). Most of these authors have a fandom that “ships” these romances (or even fanfiction offshoots of these relationships). These are the authors who hold the keys to the OTP (One True Pairing). Whether it’s Maas’ Rhys/Feyre, Clare’s Clary/Jace, Bardugo’s Kaz/Inej or Meyer’s “Team Jacob v. Team Edward” you have true “fangirling” happening with these authors.

If you’re picturing adoring, teenage fans screaming over Justin Bieber, you’re not alone. It just doesn’t seem serious, right?

But here’s my question—why not? Romance is serious. Sex is serious. Marriage is serious. Childbearing is serious. And all of these things start with a crush. Humanity starts with a crush.

Furthermore, romance is a part of the stories of the authors on the first list as well. It’s a different kind of romance in most cases, but it’s still there. Rand al’Thor in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series has three wives. Tolkien’s Arawen and Aragorn have a romance to conquer kingdoms and even get a happily ever after. Phillip Pullman’s Lyra and Will were the first fictional characters to make my heart skip a beat. So I ask again, why is a man’s depiction of romance more valuable than a woman’s?

Happy International Women’s Day everyone! Go read a female author!

P.s. If you want a suggestion for your reading that is by a female, about a female, and by a woman of color, I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It deserves every bit of recognition and hype it’s receiving and then some.

This one just keeps being appropriate.