Cthulu Monsters: Jessica Cluess on being a debut author, a spec writer, and a lady


Well, sort of a lady.

It all started with a lady spec writer, didn’t it? I know, I know, the “Mary Shelley founded sci fi” topic has been broached before by better nerds than I. And I’m not trying to draw a comparison between myself and Queen Mary. She was a tender nineteen-year-old girl when she dreamed up Frankenstein’s yellow-eyed creature and the terror of man’s quest for discovery. I was, er, not so young and not so tender when I came up with the idea of setting bargain basement Cthulu loose on not-Dickensian London.

Mary Shelley was a more original thinker than I am, if you can’t tell.

Also, Mary had cooler friends. As a teenager, I was studying for AP Lit and pretending to have a boyfriend to the other breathless dweebs in drama club. Meanwhile, adolescent Mary Shelley was taking opiates and partying with Lord Byron, the nineteenth century equivalent of Mick Jagger, who was the twentieth century equivalent of…no one. The line stopped there. No one is that cool any longer.

But I digress.

Is there something to it, being a lady and writing speculative fiction? I mean, is there some ephemeral quality to ladydom that indicates “one day I will write about magical swords and enchanted castles and monsters that want to eat your face?”

Maybe this is shooting my premise in the foot, but not really. At least, I don’t think so.

For starters, it takes us straight to that swooning image of ladies as these mystical receptacles of sensuality and irrationality. Like “Oh, the moon is in flux, and la, Maude is mad again! What vibrant and unsettling ideas float through that haze of emotion that she calls a mind?” And Maude is all “Hey man, I’m writing an alternate history about the lives of the Seelie court in Roman Britain, got an excel sheet and several books from the library and everything. This is well-researched and sober-minded as hell. Also, why is my name Maude?”

But I digress.

For me, really, the glory of being a lady spec fic writer—and a debut at that—comes down to the fact that the lady part really is irrelevant. Speculative fiction is the land and landscape of ideas, a blank canvas just waiting for possibility. Yeah, you will find jerks who want to put you down solely because of your gender or other superficial nonsense, because what kind of world would we have without those incandescent chuckleheads? But to be welcomed into a community alive with ideas, with fancy, with vision for the future and understanding for the past, it’s a beautiful thing. This year alone, I’ve encountered multiple tales from lady writers that are brimming with fantasy and possibility. I’ve met dashing sea pirates and brave girls with books (The Reader), glimpsed a Victorian London where clocks literally control time (Timekeeper), visited a world of Indian mythology so gorgeously written I could practically taste the colors, and sailed aboard a rickety ship across time and space (The Star-Touched Queen and The Girl from Everywhere, respectively.)

a shadow bright and burning jessica cluessThese stories are not good because the authors are ladies, although being ladies may or may not have contributed to their view of the world and the worlds they create. These stories are good because the authors are talented, and true, and funny, and imaginative as hell. And they just happen to be ladies.

Maybe that’s the inadvertent gift that Mary Shelley has given to us these two centuries on. She is the incontestable proof that madness, brilliance, fearsomeness and a wicked mind are as natural to ladies as to anyone else. Speculative fiction is the welcome realm of that brilliance and wickedness.

And also my bargain basement Cthulu monsters. I hope speculative fiction likes those, too.

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About Author

Jessica Cluess

Jessice Cluess is a writer, a graduate of Northwestern University, and an unapologetic nerd. After college, she moved to Los Angeles, where she served coffee to the rich and famous while working on her first novel. When she's not writing books, she's an instructor at Writopia Lab, helping kids and teens tell their own stories. Visit her at jessicacluess.com and follow her on Twitter at @JessCluess.