Friday, January 15, 2010
The Gender Question
by Michelle Gagnon
Gayle Lynds, Alex Kava, and other female novelists found it difficult to gain acceptance in the crime-writing business because they weren’t men and therefore “wouldn’t know what it’s like in the mean streets,” etc. But they entered the field years ago. Since you’re relatively new in the business, has that changed? Are you being accepted as a female crime writer?
I know there's considerable disagreement about this issue, but here's my stance. More books written by men are reviewed than women's- across the board, according to a study conducted by Sisters in Crime last year. Many female crime fiction writers still go by initials to mask their gender. And I believe that there are men who, consciously or subconsciously, are more likely to pick up a book by a male author than a female one.
I think that with thrillers, this effect is particularly pronounced (although the balance is slowly shifting). There are some amazing female crime fiction writers gaining prominence, among them Chelsea Cain, Tana French, and Gillian Flynn. But it remains a struggle. I was recently told by one editor that my books were a bit too "testosterone-driven," too much like Lee Child's work (and that's a bad thing?!)
I've also discovered that the same bias applies to female characters. I wrote a book featuring a kind of female James Bond. The response from editors was universal: she was too perfect, she needed a flaw. And yet if you look at the work of Clive Cussler, Lee Child, and others, their male characters are practically supermen: smart, attractive, almost unbelievably strong and skilled. And no one says, "Oh, that's so unrealistic. At least give him a drinking problem."
Another irony: of the writers I mentioned earlier, most of their work features a male protagonist (at least with their first book). Chelsea Cain has Archie Sheridan. Tana French kicked off her series by focusing on Rob Ryan. Only Gillian Flynn featured a female protagonist- and a terribly flawed one at that.
(As an aside, going back to our cover discussion, each of these writers was also graced with some of the best cover art I've ever seen).
So the more things change, the more they remain they same, sadly.