By Amy Willis
Published: 2:59PM GMT 25 Oct 2009 in The Telegraph UK.

The author claims she is is fed up with increasing levels of "sadistic misogyny" in crime fiction and says authors are simply jumping on the bandwagon to get a bestseller.

"Each psychopath is more sadistic than the last and his victims' sufferings are described in detail that becomes ever more explicit as young women are imprisoned, bound, eaten, starved, suffocated, stabbed, boiled or burned alive," she told the Observer.

Authors must be free to write and publishers to publish. But critics must be free to say when they have had enough. So however many more outpourings of sadistic misogyny are crammed on to the bandwagon, no more will be reviewed by me," she added.

And the most disturbing plots are by female authors, she says.

"The trend cannot be attributed to an anti-feminist backlash because the most inventive fiction of this kind is written by women," she claims.

Natasha Cooper, former chair of the Crime Writer' Association, agrees with Ms Mann. She says women do this so they are taken seriously as authors.

"There is a general feeling that women writers are less important than male writers and what can save and propel them on to the bestseller list is if they produce at least one novel with very graphic violence in it to establish their credibility and prove they are not girly," she said.

The British market for crime fiction is worth more than £116m a year, with almost 21 million books sold.

Women account for more than 60 per cent of the readership with females over 55 the most avid readers.

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Yes, Sarah Weinmann also quotes from this article. It's nothing new, of course, that women authors have in more recent years gone to graphic violence, the rougher, the better. Not sure if that establishes credibility. It seems to me it does the opposite by revealing a certain desperation to be accepted. I rather think it was done for sales and to get hardcover books.
But I'm somewhat sympathetic. Years ago I decided to use initials so readers wouldn't assume I was female and that the book was a cozy mystery or a historical romance. There are very good female authors who didn't have to go that route, but I still fight against the prejudice that has built against historical mysteries as superficial and cozy reads. It bothers me a good deal to think of the many years of research that went into the writing of my series to see that they receive less attention that those turned out by the dozen every year by other writers. We all fight, in one way or another, against the tide of crap that sells.
Back to the topic: So this graphic violence thing is for sales. Mind you, I use graphic violence. The difference here is that those books have graphic violence on every page. They are bought for the graphic violence (as Tess Gerritsen's poll revealed). It's really not different from graphic sex on every page of a romance novel, and surely it doesn't spell greater credibility for the author.
All those female readers have very bad taste.
So if women aren't taken seriously as writers, and most readers are women, then it's women who aren't taking themselves seriously. Part of me says WTF, and another part of me says that makes perfect sense because women are vicious towards each other.
You don't have to go very far back in history to find that women writers had to assume male pseudonyms in order to be taken seriously, by the primarily male-dominated publishing field. There's still a tendency by men to think of work written by women as fluff. It's not as pronounced as it was in the Victorian era, perhaps, but it still exists.
Certainly, but if more than 60% of readers are women, then women are mostly in control of what sells and what doesn't, so you can't just blame this one on men.
I read Sarah Weinman's piece, which was a response to a blog post by Steve Mosby. Both are worth reading.

I was at a panel at Bouchercon where this topic came up. No one had a satisfactory answer to account for why woman are upset by this, yet woman writers and readers are responsible for most of it. The gist of it seemed to be that woman were made to feel safer because justice always prevailed. I guess the sting of corpses that accumulated before that were just collateral damage.

I've read many places where woman writers are more interested in relationships and characters; these books use the victims as little more than props. They're the violence porn version of cozies.

Please note: I a referring only to women who read and write these kinds of books. I am NOT slamming all female writers and readers.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that some women are titillated by fictional violence; it should surprise us even less that such women might gravitate toward crime fiction both as writers and readers. The idea that morally correct outcomes make it all safe enough for women's consumption seems preposterous to me: truth is, women read and write violent books because they like them. I think from a writer's perspective graphic violence is an easy and effective "hook," but it's pretty obvious that the line between realism and fetishism isn't always clear to writers, editors or readers. I'm all for realism, and if you've ever looked at crime scene photos of homicides it's hard to overstate how gruesome they are. But if we fetishize violence, death or gore, then we're really just writing snuff porn. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not really my cup of tea. That said, I do see crime writing partly as a safe way of airing my inner psychopath; all that homicidal ideation has to go somewhere.
Realism vs. fetishism. I like that. It makes the situation clear.
She's right, and honestly, I don't know why so many women read that crap. I think it may be simply because there are so few alternatives.

Some five years ago, I got so fed up with it that I vowed to stop reading immediately whenever I came across blatant sexism in a novel. What surprised me is how many good writers I put down, and how few books I got through.

I hope Mann's gesture is the first of many.

But there are endless alternatives, no? Dozens of varieties of cozy, for starters, and hundreds of non-serial-killer sleuths and procedurals, male and female.

My other question is what constitutes sexist violence, rather than just plain old gratuitous violence? Is sexist violence gratuitous violence specifically against women? My feeling is that the waters are a bit muddy here--some of us are talking about graphic violence in general, some of us are talking about torture/snuff porn, some of us are talking about gratuitous fictional violence against women in particular, and so on.

I wonder if anyone's read Chelsea Cain's books (Heartsick was the first one), in which a female serial killer tortures mostly men. What's the collective feeling about that sort of thing?
Yes, the waters are muddy. I got the feeling from the article the reviewer was fed up specifically with violence against women.

I remember once reading an article about books about serial killers that described the photos in the book as the most depressing all-girl high school in the world. Dozens and dozens of yearbook photos of the victims.

My feelings about the Chelsea Cain (I haven't read the book) - is that torture comes from insanity and insane characters don't interest me. Their actions are too random for literature to get much insight. I don't mean that insane characters never work, it's just that as the centre of a crime fiction novel I haven't found much beyond pop psychology which doesn't interest me.

The violence may be "realistic" but the characters rarely are.
The other reason to stay away from the whole serial killer thing as a writer is that it's become such a cliché: if you just read crime fiction and never stuck your head out the door, you'd think serial killers were everywhere. True serial killers are extremely rare (almost always male, almost always white, almost always carrying intense psychosexual baggage), but we (readers, writers, editors) obviously find them interesting or they wouldn't keep popping up in fiction. Spree killers are another story--that is, people who commit multiple murders over a period of days or hours. They're actually pretty common, and they usually act out of depression and/or rage, even if the objects of said rage are ill-defined or ill-chosen. They generally go after co-workers or family members, often committing suicide in the end. But there's no psychosexual drama there, obviously--or not enough to sustain a novel. As genre conventions go, the serial killer thing is no weirder than the sexy vampire thing: in fact the two have a lot in common.
Yes, I agree. Even the lead-up to the sree killer is often rather mundane, the stuff they're so angry about just doesn't seem compelling to most people.

There may be a good novel in there somewhere, a lot of people really liked, We Need To Talk About Kevin, but I haven't read it.


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