"Fix it or Feature It" – Mary Robinette Kowal talks puppets, fantasy and safer spaces

Mary Robinette Kowal © 2012 Rod Searcey

Mary Robinette Kowal is a Hugo award-winning science fiction and fantasy author with a history of fighting harassment in the science fiction and fantasy (SF&F) community. Mary is donating 10 signed hardcovers of the most recent novel in her Glamourist Histories series to the Ada Initiative, “Valour and Vanity” – as well a signed manuscript of the upcoming fifth novel in the series, “Of Noble Family, scheduled to be published April 2015, along with signed hardcovers of the entire series. Signed copies of “Valour and Vanity” are thank-you gifts for donations of $256, and the signed manuscript and series for donations of $1024. It will be hard, but we promise not to read the manuscript before sending it to you!

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“I come from a theater background and there is a mantra, ‘Fix it or Feature It,'” Mary Robinette Kowal says, speaking about her day job as a professional puppeteer. The idea is that if something goes wrong during a performance and you can’t fix it, find a way to turn it into a positive for the performance. This concept has proved important in her role as a writer and public figure as well. Kowal remembers well a classic online forum incident that was a turning point for her.

Smiling woman sitting cross-legged holding a wooden puppet

2010 Annaliese Moyer

“A guy in an online fantasy writing forum […] said a bunch of insulting things about me, including that I couldn’t possibly be a feminist,” she remembers. Initially, Kowal decided to ignore him, since he was speaking to an audience of no more than forty people. Then someone posted links to the discussion on Tumblr and the “audience” grew much bigger. Kowal decided that it was time to “feature it.” She wrote about the experience on her blog, he ended up apologizing to her, and many people learned a lot more about the harassment women experience in SF&F.

“In these cases, there is a larger narrative that you are part of […] When things go wrong online one of the things I am looking at is: ‘How can I use this to make the world a better place?’ I used myself as an example to talk about the larger issues of harassment and misogyny, and tried to bring attention to them.”

Kowal brings her sense of justice and truth-speaking to her writing as whole – one of the many reasons we love it so much! Her Glamourist Histories delves into the complexities of gender, race and class, and her heroines don’t shy away from the difficult. As a sought-after speaker and panelist, she is a big supporter of the Ada Initiative’s work on anti-harassment policies. She is also grateful for the many resources regarding harassment on the site, and the light that this work brings to the issue.

Valour and Vanity  bookcover

Donate $256 or more for a signed hardcover

“It is so important to talk about it,” she says, “and to have clear resources and guidelines. All of the conversations that the Ada Initiative sponsors and encourages are so important to shape what the world will be like for the next generation.

Kowal follows her own advice and uses an anti-harassment policy in both of her writing workshops, “Writing the Other” and “Writing Excuses.” She feels that it is particularly important in the more personal environment of a workshop.

“It is the kind of environment where people say ‘Oh, you don’t need one.’ We give a speech up front about the harassment policy and make sure the students know that it is taken seriously. A number of students have blogged and mentioned that it makes them feel safer.”

We are so grateful to Mary for her support, her writing, her activism and her courage. And that’s just the beginning of the list!

Donate now, and you may be the lucky recipient of a signed copy “Valour and Vanity,” as well as our new feminist sticker, “Not afraid to say the F-word: Feminism!” Don’t wait – these 10 copies will be gone in flash!

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Black and white sticker with text reading "Not afraid to say the F-WORD adainitiative.org"

Our latest feminist sticker, yours for a donation of $128 or more!