For my first post here on Across the Board, I thought I would highlight a great cause and a great author rather than talk about myself. (Trust me, there will be plenty of time for that later.) So at the suggestion of fellow ATB contributor Kimberly G. Giarratano, today I'll be interviewing Mary Fan, editor of the upcoming BRAVE NEW GIRLS charity anthology. Let's dive right in, shall we?
InterviewSK: Hello, Ms. Fan, welcome to Across the Board. I think this is the first time I've actually interviewed you, though we've known each other for a while now. Would you say that's because you're completely unapproachable, especially to your fans?
MF: Of course not, Steve. Have you seen me at conventions? I'm a total attention hog! I'm the vendor who flags down anyone who looks my way and assaults them with my pitch, then delves into any marginally related topic the prospective reader wants to talk about. Why, I once spent half an hour listening to a buyer talk about his gaming AI!
Now, I didn't want to hurt your feelings, but because you asked, the reason you've never interviewed me before now is because I have a strict do-not-engage policy when it comes to trolls, and while you don't fall under the narrowest definition of the category, much of your online behavior comes close enough to be highly suspect.
But I broke the policy today because I do enjoy trolling the trolls once in a while.
SK: Troll. Hmm. Well, we're here today to talk about BRAVE NEW GIRLS, a really great charity anthology you're curating along with Paige Daniels that encourages women to work in STEM. First, what is STEM and do you have any personal experience in the field?
MF: STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. These careers can range from marine biology to computer programming to mechanical engineering and more. These are some of the fastest growing career fields, especially because of the rise of computer-based technology, and yet women make up only 26% of the workforce. And it's not just a matter of a generation catching up on the education front – the numbers of college women majoring in STEM fields are pretty low (only 0.4% of incoming freshman women indicated they would major in computer science, even though programming jobs are some of the most lucrative ones out there).
I must confess that I'm adding to the sad statistics, since I'm actually an engineering dropout. I was a total nerd all throughout grade school (Science Olympiad was my sport) and entered university on the engineering track, but switched into the liberal arts program after a year because my artsy side overruled my nerdy side (I ended up a music major). But you'd be surprised how handy a basic STEM education can be even if you don't wind up working in one of those industries. Especially for a sci-fi writer. And a lazy person who would rather rig Excel to populate the data for me than copy-paste it all myself.
SK: I assume the title comes from the track Brave New Girl from Britney Spears's 2003 album In the Zone. Can you explain why you chose to name the collection after a pop song, admittedly a catchy one?
MF: Now, now, Steve. You should know better than that! After reading BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS, I thought for sure that you were familiar with Huxley's dystopian classic, BRAVE NEW WORLD. Which in turn got its title from a verse in Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST.
But alas, it appears I gave you too much credit for being well-read, since clearly you are more familiar with washed up pop stars than literature's Grand Masters.
SK: Washed up?!?!?!? You're dead to me now. But the show must go on.
So, you've shared a lot of stark statistics about the state of women in STEM on Twitter, Tumblr, and elsewhere. SPOILER ALERT: the numbers are pretty wretched. From more of a philosophical, big-picture perspective, why do you suppose girls generally speaking are unwilling or perhaps are discouraged from working in STEM?
MF: I believe the lack of girls in STEM is due to lingering cultural stereotypes about what women should and should not be. And it starts very young. Traditionally, boys are given engineering-type toys to play with—robots, building toys, microscopes—while girls are given princess dolls, sparkly hair accessories, and frilly dresses. Girls are praised for being nice and pretty, rather than for exploring and trying new things (especially if it involves making a mess).
And then the stereotypes continue into the teen years, when nerdy activities are seen as being for the socially awkward. Any girl who wants a shot at popularity knows that spending her afternoons building robots will make everyone view her as a geek. In the immortal words of Mean Girls, STEM-related extracurricular activities are "social suicide".
So by the time they reach college and are choosing a career, many young women have it ingrained in their heads that STEM fields aren't for them. And the attitude prevails even in the workforce. Women in tech are treated as oddities in male-dominated offices, which can be quite discouraging (especially when their male coworkers objectify them—"Whoa, you're a programmer? You're cute for a coder!")
MF: Totally. It's not like we worked with a professional art team to create it from scratch or anything. Or asked them specifically to avoid the hypersexuality many illustrated sci-fi and graphic novel covers sport.
Oh wait, we did. Kudos to Streetlight Graphics for an awesome bit of art, even though some people can't tell the difference between a painting and an emoji.
SK: Well, thanks for being with us today, Mary, and for helping me through my inaugural blogpost here on Across the Board. Any parting shots for your fans?
MF: Just want to let everyone know that we're on track for a Summer 2015 release of BRAVE NEW GIRLS. We're in the process of collecting submissions for the anthology (deadline is November 15) and will announce our final author lineup late December.
About BRAVE NEW GIRLS:
BRAVE NEW GIRLS is a forthcoming young adult science fiction anthology edited by sci-fi authors Paige Daniels and Mary Fan. The collection will feature tales of teen girls with a knack for science and technology - hackers, mechanics, engineers... the possibilities are unlimited! The book will be published summer 2015 in both e-book and paperback formats, and it will feature illustrations from various artists. All proceeds will be donated quarterly to a scholarship fund for girls through the Society of Women Engineers.
About Mary Fan:
Mary has a B.A. in Music, specializing in composition, from Princeton University and enjoys writing songs as much as writing stories. She also enjoys kickboxing, opera singing, and exploring new things--she'll try almost anything once.
You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, her blog, or her website.