My mother was a librarian, so I grew up surrounded by books. I used to like to accompany her to each new library to which she was assigned. Once she showed me where the science fiction shelf was, I’d sit down and work my way through it.
It didn’t take long for me to notice all the writers (in those misty, far off days) were men. Even the few women wrote under male names: Andre Norton, C.J. Cherryh, James Tiptree Jr., and the ambiguously gendered (to me) Leigh Brackett and Marion Zimmer Bradley.
The message I took from this was that women were welcome in small numbers, as long as they passed socially as men. It was a message I had already internalized. I never felt like my given name fit me. From an early age, I called myself George – long before I knew that was the nickname of Nancy Drew’s female friend.
I could dress up with the other girls, put on lipstick and curl my hair, but it always felt like a costume, a show of femininity. I never felt male, really. I just never felt traditionally female, either.
I chose my new name before I applied to Clarion. Loren summed me up. It was a masculine form of a name when written, but when heard, the gender was ambiguous. People could guess which gender fit, according to their preferences, but when they met me, they needed to reconcile the gender of the name with the obvious gender of my body.
I understood that science fiction was, at that time, written about men. So I wrote about the men I knew, my gay friends from high school.
The story that got me into Clarion was about a transgender prostitute named Tolly. Thomas Disch, one of my Clarion instructors, was extremely disappointed when he met me and my gender didn’t match his expectations, based on the spelling of my name and the subject of my story. The same story, when written by a woman, meant something completely different to him.
I read that story for Wily Writers last month, if you want to check it out: https://lorenrhoads.com/2021/06/23/with-you-by-my-side-it-should-be-fine/
Thirty years after Clarion, when my space opera trilogy sold to Night Shade Books, I had to look at the gendered name problem from another direction. My publishers asked if I would consider using a more feminine pen name. It could be an open secret, like Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant. They just wanted readers to be able to look at the front of the book and know it was written by a woman.
I got out of that by pointing out I would need to begin my social media connections from scratch under the new name.
It made me wonder, though: how much are we still influenced – as book shoppers – by the unfamiliar name on a book cover? Does gender trump cover art or blurb or back cover description?
My novel The Dangerous Type was first of a trilogy called In the Wake of the Templars. All three books were published by Night Shade Books in 2015. Here’s the description of the first one:
Enslaved, trained as a killer, betrayed, entombed, and abandoned: you can see why Raena Zacari might have a chip on her shoulder. In the grimdark universe of Rhoads’s propulsive, action-heavy debut, the universe’s deadliest assassin sets off on a mission of vengeance into a galaxy destabilized by genocidal warfare. Her target, the despotic warlord Thallian, is on the run for war crimes but determined to reclaim what he believes is his by right. The stage is set for a revenge tale constructed from a web of complex, strained relationships made messier by two decades of forced separation.
I put together a whole booklet of behind-the-scenes essays about the Templar books and their influences — along with the first chapter of The Dangerous Type, a prequel story about Raena and Ariel, and a whole lot of other juicy stuff — which you can download for free at Bookfunnel. Here’s the link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/wuagew2m0f
The novels are available at Amazon, Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble, or directly from me: https://lorenrhoads.com/product-category/space-opera/