Last month I read the forthcoming Hard Case Crime novel MONEY SHOT by Christa Faust. This is a fine novel and a great addition to the excellent Hard Case Crime series. My review will posted on my website Mystery Dawg next week.

What I want to discuss is the apparent distinction that the publishing world uses in introducing authors and their work to market. Why is there a distinction made between a male author and a female author. Aren't they both authors? Does saying a book is written by a female mean its a special event? There are many wonderful authors who are female writing in the crime/mystery genre but I only see authors.

What about you? Do see a distinction between male and female authors?

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Generalities are dangerous, so, of course, I'll make one right away. It's not true all the time, but may explain some of the attitudes Dawg and Angela are discussing.

I think male writers are more likely to have their protagonist resolve the story through direct action than female writers do. (Sara Paretsky is a notable example.) I haven't read any Christa Faust or Megan Abbott yet (they're on my list), but female writers using female protagonists often, in my experience, have a more indirect solution, one that doesn't involve the protagonist beating the snot out of, or shooting, someone.

Each are equally valid when done well. (I am excluding the pure testosterone fests, as , I believe, is Angela.) It's just that different readers, of either gender, may be attracted to one or the other type solution. Based on what I've read on Crimespace, it looks like Megan and Christa are challenging that, which sound like a lot of fun to read. And, selfishly, a good way for a male writer to learn how to write strong, even dangerous, female characters.
You should read Christa, then. Grinning :-) Her protagonists are very likely to solve their problems through direct action, and not just in the conventional, female equalizing, method of picking up a weapon, either. Hoodtown was a great read and as soon as I recover from Christmas I'll be getting Moneyshot.

Actually, I think what you would learn would be how to write strong characters, regardless of gender--male or female. One of the most interesting aspects of Hoodtown's main character was her need to conceal her actual self, and that she was a part of a society in which the members considered concealing their true identities, facial characteristics, expressions, and feelings the norm and an act of survival. It was possible to be very strong and very vulnerable at the same time.
Or try Zoe Sharp who waits for no one to start kicking some ass. Literally.
What do people mean by 'strong' characters?
But why is this a good thing???
This does get to generalizations, but there are some differences in what the average man chooses to write about and what the average woman writes about. What I specifically note is that women write across a broader spectrum. You will find more women writing cozies, more women writing cat mysteries, probably more women writing amateur sleuth. And while there are women who write noir and hardboiled and action-driven books, the men dominate there.

The online crowd tends to also have more of an interest in darker works. And so it is the men who have something of prominence, if only by sheer numbers. It's perception. I noted this in the nomination process for the Spinetingler Awards - I worried I'd end up without a female candidate in every category. Since this was primarily promoted online, through places like 4MA, the blogs and a few other forums, it drew from the online crowd... and the online crowd emphasized dark books mostly written by men.

I've also thought about this when asked to consider who it would be good for me to get blurbs from for my work. With two books next year, I've gone from one blurb phase right to another. And what I could stop short and say was, I needed some blurbs from women who wrote darker stuff, more action-driven... but I had a hard time thinking of who those women were. I've never had problems getting blurbs from men, from Cussler to Hillerman to Bruen to Fate to Guthrie to Mofina, etc. etc. etc. But women... It's been harder for me there. Now, before people start throwing a list of names at me, there were a couple I thought of, a couple others eliminated because they're now "not blurbing".

And year in, year out, my best of lists continue to be male-dominated.

Does it make a difference to me when I go to pick up a book? Yes, because I like a certain type of book. While there are notable exceptions to every rule, if a cover emphasizes a feminine aspect - it's light in a cheery way, with flowers or cats, or seems to emphasize sex - it's a deterrant for me. I'd by lying if I said otherwise. And I just got sent an ARC that upon opening the package, I gagged. Happens sometimes when publicists start sending me stuff unsolicited and they don't even consider what I typically cover. I just finished James Reasoner's DUST DEVILS, which I loved, and am now reading a book by a popular female author and if it wasn't for the fact someone really wants to discuss it with me, i would have abandoned it last night. For two books that are supposed to fall in the hardboiled/noir spectrum, there's a world of difference between how this particular male author and the female author in question define and execute hardboiled/noir. I'll come back to this in a second.

Now, I don't want to speak for her, but I pay attention to Donna Moore's reading, because we have quite similar tastes., and I also notice her reading lists tend to be dominated by men. I'd love to see her take on this.

As to Faust's book, it's a book that really could only be written by a woman, and truly I found a bitch to review. There were things I wanted to say, things I felt would draw a larger female readership to the book because really, it's a book that has things women will be able to appreciate and identify with, but mentioning all of that runs the risk of deterring the male readers. And it shouldn't, because it's an action-packed story the guys should thoroughly enjoy.

Getting back to my note on the different interpretations of hardboiled/noir, I've got to say that for me, too many authors seem to think explicit sex makes something edgy. Pages and pages and pages of fucking doesn't make a book revolutionary or profound. A few books I've tried lately seem to think that the bedroom gymnastics compensate for the lack of a story. It doesn't, at least, not for me. And I'm sorry that those authors, most of the time, happen to be women. If I was interested in reading about sex I'd feel differently, I guess.
I don't like the distinction. It seems to me that good writing is good writing - and bad is bad - no matter what the gender, race, creed, etc. of the author, none of which I care about other than from idle curiosity. I can't recall if it's Borders or Barnes & Noble that has a special section for African American authors - something which I've always found rather offensive. Why not a separate section for women, or gay authors, or whatever? The books I like best are inevitably ones in which the personal details of the author are irrelevant to me. If I end up caring a lot about who the author is, or what their sex or race or anything else that isn't in the book itself is, then the book is obviously not holding my attention of its own accord, and in my mind, isn't a very good book. (Well, let's exclude memoirs from that.)

There may well be some inherent differences between the way in which men and women write, but so what? There's big differences between the way in which almost any two, accomplished, creative individuals write and perceive things. That doesn't mean that their work should be considered differently for critical purposes.

But then marketing rears its necessary head, and there, the distinctions seem to make a big difference. More women buy books than men, so that's something publishers are forced to take into consideration. On the surface, my books would seem to appeal more to male readers than to women - although in practice that doesn't seem to be the case - so because of that I deliberately seek out blurbs from women writers as a way of reassuring my female readers.
I don't think it's being split down to good writing vs bad writing. What it does come down to is taste in terms of content as much an anything else. A book written by a man that's page after page of sex will get tossed against the wall here just as fast as a book written by a woman with the same. There are some subject areas I have no real interest in reading about. For a very trusted author, I might take the gamble, but not otherwise. I had a harder time finding female authors I liked initially, not because they weren't good writers, but because I had a hard time finding ones who wrote within the areas I was interested in.

It's like trying to get someone who only reads cozies, doesn't like any blood or intense suspense, to get enthused about Mo Hayder or Allan Guthrie. Would we expect that? No. It could happen, but not likely. And I see no reason to expect it to happen.

I actually want to write a hardboiled book in the vein of what HCC puts out and asked someone in the industry if it would be impossible for me, as a woman, to sell it. The person, who is an editor with another publisher, who also focuses on hardboiled/noir, told me that the overwhelming percentage of submissions that come in are written by men. Over 90%. So my perception on the outside was as a woman, I couldn't sell this. It was an error in perception - it's really just that not many women are writing that type of book, so if that's your thing, you'll be reading more men. No better/worse nonsense about it - just taste.

I've worked with hundreds of kids over the years and came to one definite conclusion: the average boy and the average girl are wired differently. There's no crime in that, and it factors into what we want to write about and read about. Most guys I know have no interest in a mushy romance. Me either...
I'm with Eric in that I don't like the distinction. Saying men write this and women write that, and men like to read this and women like to read that is silly and backward to me. All it does is assume knowledge about a huge portion of the world's inhabitants, which is impossible, and it keeps us all further segregated.

I don't like the idea of a special section for African-American writers, because if blacks and whites are equal (equality meaning that our value as a human being is the same) than why create a special section for anyone? The same goes for the male/female issue. It shouldn't be an issue, and it doesn't have to be.

Don't tell me that MONEY SHOT is a good book for men to read, or that women would like it equally as well. When we're thought of as belonging to a group it just further separates us. So just tell me what MONEY SHOT is about, let me read an excerpt, and let me decide whether I like it or not for myself, as an INDIVIDUAL, not as a man or a woman. I want to be treated as an individual person, because I am one, not a member of some gender, whose other members vary in personality, lifestyle, experiences, etc by a large degree.

You don't need to work with kids for a living to know that male and female are different. It's an obvious fact to just about everyone; if it wasn't, we wouldn't be having this discussion. And anyway, emphasizing how people are different is the worst way to bring people together.
I publish under initials for a reason. I have a male protagonist for a reason. I don't do cozy. I don't read cozy. Most of my fan mail is from men (yay!). I read more books by men than by women. But there are some great women writing. Rendell is one; Karin Fossum is another. I doubt either ever thought that their writing should be gender-driven. On the whole, I don't think about the issue either. I just write. But there is that thing about sales, and about women buying most of the books, and I suppose it does hurt me that I don't write what they like. It clearly does, when the fans on the historical mystery site prefer the other authors.
I'm not sure I agree with Sandra about "the online crowd." I've experienced the Crimespace culture as just how she describes, but the DorothyL culture as very different, with its roots in such writers as Dorothy L. Sayers herself rather than Raymond Chandler. As a shrink, I can tell you that there's a good explanation in developmental psychology for women's tendency (in general--of course there are exceptions and additional factors at play) to do well at the relational side of life and men at separation and autonomy. And that, imho, is reflected in the writing and taste in reading of many men and women. BTW, Sisters in Crime has been monitoring mystery reviews for 20 years, and there is still not parity between men and women in ratio of books written to reviews. Our society is still far from being free of gender bias, and if women had not started kicking and screaming about it 35 or so years ago, things would still be a lot worse than they are today.
The psychological differences between men and women are the point here. They have to be acknowledged by serious writers, not pushed aside as irrelevant for one or the other gender. Readers should also be open to accept both points of view. Good fiction is always about relationships, all sorts of relationships, as well as all sorts of world views. The fact that men and women reason differently and arrange their personal priorities differently is both fascinating and frequently painful for both. See D.H.Lawrence's take.

And gender bias works both ways. Many books by women engage in male bashing. How many female protagonists are divorced and bitter? How many have a male sidekick/policeman boyfriend to put in his place during an investigation? In how many books of that sort is the male relegated to service in the sack? Is it any wonder that men steer clear of such books?

Not sure that there will ever be any proof of bias in reviewing. You cannot deal with that by statistics. I'm grumbling because I have to deal with bias against trade paper books, and I think I have a better case there.


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