I met Marie Bilodeau more or less by accident in Ottawa when Tyche Books was having a launch for their recent anthology MASKED MOSAIC: CANADIAN SUPER STORIES. Not only was Marie one of the contributors to the anthology, but she was also the MC of the event. I struck up a conversation with her, and I started following her blog. After reading a post or two, I invited her to Nine Day Wonder to have a chat about Ottawa and the cultural phenomenon known as Geek Girls.
Marie is definitely one to watch, having been shortlisted for the Aurora Award in 2013.
Have a read!
PF: I’m moving shortly to Ottawa from Montreal. I love Montreal for its arts culture, and I’m a little intimidated by the move. In terms of literary events and places to shop, what would you recommend in Ottawa?
Marie Bilodeau: It’s a great time to move to Ottawa in terms of SFF events. Over the past few years, the community has been coming out of the woodwork to put some great stuff on! Here are just a few of my favourites:
· CAN-CON, our local literary SFF con. It’s from October 4-6 this year, and we’re hosting the Aurora Awards. It’s great fun – make sure not to miss the airplane contest!
· The new Ottawa volume of the reading series, ChiSeries, hosted by Matt Moore.
· For shopping, I love Perfect Books on Elgin Street. It’s small so it doesn’t have a huge SFF selection, but it’s got some awesome stuff. Right beside it, Mags and Fags has pretty much anything you’d be looking for in magazines. The Comic Book Shoppe is definitely the place to go for anything “geek,” and there are two locations in town (Central and West).
· The Ottawa Geek Market, which took place last year in October, is fun to visit. It’s like a giant geek garage sale.
PF: In terms of being a literary and/or artistic community, what do you think of Montreal versus Ottawa?
MB: I think they’re really different, although I imagine that I don’t know the Montreal flavour as well as I do the Ottawa one. The one thing you will probably find strange here is that it’s a government town, so most people call it an early night. Aside from that, I’d say that Ottawa is really growing right now. We have our own publisher now, Bundoran Press, headed by Hayden Trenholm, and Mirror Comics is doing some great stuff, too. So it’s a good time to come and see Ottawa’s SFF community grow!
PF: You were recently featured in the Globe and Mail. Congratulations! But in a blog post later on, you mentioned that there were a few bizarre, trollish comments posted on the G&M website in reaction to the article. What were some of the comments you saw?
MB: Oh, I hate to say it, but nothing unexpected. “Women can’t write SF.” And stuff like that. But what I thought was worth noting was that that the community stepped up and really showed their support. When I say “community,” I mean the people who go to cons, and who make of SF more than an evening TV show. It’s where they find friendship and how they plan their vacation schedule. Cons are the events we all gather together at as a community.
PF: In your opinion, how can you tell the difference between a troll (saying stupid or hurtful things for “enjoyment”) from those who are genuinely speaking their mind?
MB: I think there’s a tone that doesn’t invite conversation in trolls. For example: “Women can’t write SF, and their book covers are ugly so why would I read that?” Vs. “I’ve never read a great book by a woman SF writer. Maybe I’m not reading the right stuff? Help me out with recommendations.” Definitely a tone thing. Plus, trolls tend to attack weird things that aren’t directly related with the topic (for example, women generally get attacked on their looks, no matter the topic: “She’s too pretty to be smart,” or “she’s fat, what good could she have to say?”) Makes me wanna hit people. What does that say about me?
PF: You also use the term geek girl. Who are these geek girls, and am I one of them? Do you think “geek girl culture” is on the rise? And is it a good thing, or is it just another label?
MB: I’m all about self-identifying, so call yourself a geek girl if you want to! Honestly, I refer to myself as a geek primarily. Geek girl is a term I use when it’s more of an affirmation that we’re here. I was chatting with my Roomy about this (she’s a self-identified geek girl, too), and about how it bugged me that I felt sexist using the term. Part of the challenge is that “geeks” are seen as males à la Big Bang Theory (which shows geeks in general are stereotyped against. But show me a group that isn’t, and I’ll give you a candy). So saying geek girl is affirming that yes, there are girls in this community. Roomy, who is an avid Hockey fan, pointed out that it’s a bit like sports commentators about ten years ago, when one of the first women started taking up that role (at least on the stuff she watched). Then it was a big deal, and she was called the “girl commentator.” But, nowadays, there are more of them, so there’s no need to say the gender. In a few years, I’m hoping Geek Girl won’t be a term we use, no more than we use Geek Boy. Because it’ll be understood and accepted everywhere that there are both genders at the gaming table.
PF: Do you think there a genuine backlash against “geek girls”?
MB: I think yes and no. Again, it’s growing pains for a community that has traditionally been mostly white males (with some notable exceptions, of course). Not only that, but a lot of different fandoms are colliding at cons, now. From what I’ve seen and read, the cosplayers are the ones who get a lot of flack, especially the women who wear costumes of heroines who well, probably had their costumes designed by horny teenage boys. There are a lot of champions in the community who are working at making it a safe and welcoming place by talking about it and standing up for them. I hope people will learn, as the majority seems to have, to just admire their amazing skills at making costumes, because that’s what they’re showcasing. And it’s awesome.
PF: I read a recent article where female authors in general are reviewed less than their male counterparts. Do you think it’s the same for women in science fiction and fantasy?
MB: I haven’t had that experience, but I’m also smaller peanuts. My publishers (Dragon Moon Press and Edge Science-Fiction and Fantasy) are small to medium-sized outfits, so it’s more of a “grass roots” movement. For me, I’d say I’ve been lucky in my representation. More women have reviewed my Heirs of a Broken Land series, but more men have reviewed Destiny. That being said, when I look at stats, I’ve been turned down by a heck of a lot more men. But my books also look “girly.” (So I’ve been told.) …That’s as much as I can say on my stuff, which is hardly a global argument. When it does come to the statistics showing male vs. female reviewers, I hope the magazines have the decency to be embarrassed and start implementing change. Embarrassment is often the most effective motivator for social change.
And one more thing on that – female writers are still encouraged to “hide” their gender by using pen names or just initials. I’d love to see if women who chose to do that are more reviewed than their fully named peers. I made a conscious decision to use my full name even though I was told it might impact sales. A few extra dollars couldn’t justify hiding behind initials (for me, at least, and I respect anyone who decides otherwise). Part of why I started writing is because as a teenager, I craved strong female characters and found them difficult to come by, especially ones who didn’t need a white knight. It’s wussy to write about strong female characters without standing up for your own female name. Besides, my initials are “MSLS.” Don’t you think that sounds like a disease or a shipping company? (Definitely sounds like Measles to me! :D)
PF: You recently helped to launch Tyche Book’s anthology, Masked Mosaic, in which you’re one of the contributing writers. You also have a couple of books in print, launched in 2012. So what can we look forward to next from Marie Bilodeau?
MB: I love Masked Mosaic! Fun times.
The third book of the Destiny series is coming out this fall, and will more than likely be launched at CAN-CON. In this book, I really had a chance to delve deeper into the mythos of the Three Fates and the ether races, and I blow up stuff on a cosmic level. Gives me chills just thinking about it – I think it’s the best book yet! The second book, Destiny’s Fall, and my short story Happily Ever After (When the Villain Comes Home) are both up for an Aurora Award this year. I can’t thank my readers enough for stepping up and showing their support!
Marie Bilodeau’s space fantasy series, Destiny, (Destiny’s Blood and Destiny’s Fall,) was a two-time finalist in the Aurora Awards and won the Bronze Medal for Science-Fiction in the Foreword Book Awards. She is also the author of the Heirs of a Broken Land, a fantasy trilogy described as “fresh and exciting” by Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo award-winning author of WAKE. Her short stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies and have also been nominated twice for the Aurora Awards. Marie is a professional storyteller, telling adaptations of fairy tales and myths, as well as original stories of her own creation. Find out more at www.mariebilodeau.com.