I Can’t Promise That No One Gets Killed

Rosalie Morales Kearns

Publisher’s note: This is the introduction I wrote for our short story anthology The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women (Shade Mountain Press, 2015).

There are so many stories behind these stories.

First, the anthology’s title phrase, with its multiple meanings that can’t be pinned down. The term “female complaint” evokes nineteenth-century patent medicines. It hints that femaleness itself is some kind of malady. It speaks to the patriarchal tendency to dismiss outspoken women as complainers.

Then there’s the story of why I chose this theme, which is connected to the story of why the pieces are all by women writers, and that’s connected to the story of why I started Shade Mountain Press. Some readers may remember a glorious wave of women’s anthologies in the 1980s and early ’90s, titles like Midnight Birds: Stories by Contemporary Black Women Writers; Dreams in a Minor Key: Tales of Magic Realism by Women; and What Did Miss Darrington See? An Anthology of Feminist Supernatural Fiction. I was in my twenties at the time, and I devoured these books; I was starved for them. The canon was skewed male; most of the work I was assigned or encouraged to read had been by male authors. Now it seemed that just over the horizon was an era when this exclusion of women would be a thing of the past.

Fast-forwarding to 2015, the literary landscape has not changed much. Celebrated male authors make disparaging statements about books written by women, their styles, subject matters, tones. According to systematic research by organizations like VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, the ratios of men to women in literary publishing are still horribly skewed. In many book review venues, 75 percent or more of the titles reviewed are by men. Literary journals and publishing companies have shown similar rates of acceptance of male authors: two-thirds, three-quarters, even nine-tenths. At some presses, a season’s entire list of new and forthcoming literary fiction consists of works by men.

Literature, it seems, is still a territory women need to claim. We’re being told it isn’t truly ours, that we have no full right to be there. That was my impetus for founding Shade Mountain Press, publishing literary fiction by women. Our first two titles appeared in 2014. As a publisher, I had a chance to compile an anthology like the feminist collections that had meant so much to me. I was tempted to put together something in the fabulist mode (or call it magic realist, slipstream, speculative), but rather than specify a genre, I decided to focus on a theme. And what better theme, for women transgressing onto hostile territory, than formidable, convention-defying women?

There are many ways to describe the women in these stories: feisty, unruly, indomitable. Above all, they take action. They make change. They stand up for themselves, for each other, for their beliefs. These are stories of solidarity, resistance, transformation, connection, joy. There is a lot of humor here, a bit of violence. I can’t promise that no one gets killed, but the death toll isn’t very high. The stories navigate that fine line between anger and laughter; they hint at visions of something better.