On Being a Female Writer

The other day, I was required to read Virginia Woolf’s “Professions for Women” and A Room of One’s Own for my Women and Autonomy class.  I’ve read them both several times over the course of my schooling, but after publishing, I think they resonated more.  Both pieces discuss the issues and hindrances women have in the world, particularly the writing/publishing world, and despite the works being written about eighty years ago, I think a lot of the problems still persist.

Woolf discusses the prejudice women face when writing because the literary canon is male-dominated.  The publishing world was established by men, for male works, and often the only way for women to enter that field is through subversion.  In the 19th century, the Bronte sisters wrote as the Bell brothers in order to publish their works, and today, writers like J.K. Rowling use initials when publishing in fields that are “not for women,” like science fiction and high fantasy.  If Rowling was writing romance, chick lit, or bodice-rippers, then she could have easily used Joanna Rowling, but because she was writing a story about a young boy in a magical setting, her publishers believed her book wouldn’t sell as well with a woman’s name on the front. Pfft, I mean, women don’t write fantasy well, right? She adopted the initials J.K., which relate back to her real name, but they also harken back to J.R.R. Tolkein, one of the fathers of the fantasy genre.  When Rowling decided to branch out into crime novels, she switched pseudonyms to a outright male name.  Why would she do that if her name is already famous and would draw crowds? Well, crime fiction is another genre where women are often kicked to the curb.  Unless you’re someone like P.D. James (neutral pseudonym) or Sue Grafton (whose female detective hit me as a man masquerading as a woman), you will probably not be taken seriously. To break into this genre, Rowling and/or her publishers believed she had to be a man to do so.

Sadly, I have seen this in real life.  At a book fair, we were rained out, so I was parked inside next to a huge table of female romance writers.  As people walked past my table where I sat with my boyfriend (who came as a second set of hands and a coffee-runner), they asked about my little brown book… to my boyfriend.  Quite a few people thought he was the author.  I wondered why, especially when I was the one trying to engage customers. Did they think I was some lackluster Vanna White? My hypothesis is that my little brown steampunk novel is not what one would expect from a female writer. No stock photos of women in ballgowns or half-naked couples, which is what people seem to expect from female authors.

I recently read an article saying that in the New York Times’ book review section, books by men make up sixty-something percent of the reviews.  Why would there be such a disparity?  Men’s work couldn’t possibly be that much better than women’s writing, but the explanation may lie in what the New York Times deems worthy of review, literary fiction.  The definition they are using of literary fiction is a novel that doesn’t fit any genre conventions (no wizards, no space travel, no steam-powered devices, and no straight up romance. Plot vs. character driven is irrelevant at this point). It seems men write genre fiction and women do not. This little tiff between lit and genre can be seen in Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Buried Giant and how he made the comment that it wasn’t fantasy and that his previous book wasn’t scifi when the book had elements of it.  Ishiguro is automatically a literary fiction writer despite the fantastical elements in his work while a writer like Ursula Le Guin openly states her books are scifi.

Why is Le Guin okay with her books being “genre” fiction while Ishiguro isn’t? Because genre fiction is the niche women have carved for themselves over the last century.  Even though men still dominate certain genres, women authors are more likely to be found in the genre categories of Amazon than men. Even though amazing authors like Le Guin, Rowling, and Rice write in this area, the canon and literati consider it lesser than “literary” fiction.

The same is emerging with self-publishing. More women are self-publishing than men.  Why? Because they can subvert the traditional publishing industry, which has not been as open to them as it has been for men, and self-publishing is the niche where they can succeed.  Strangely, Woolf self-published all those years ago.  She had the right idea, and it’s lasted until today.


Why I Write LGBT Characters

lgbt flag

Because we still refer to them as LGBT characters.

They’re still a novelty.  We get all excited (or angered, depending on your political/religious stance) when a character in a TV show turns out to be gay or bisexual.  Let’s say, being attracted to the same gender is a recessive trait (yes, I do believe it is genetic), then statistically, gay or bisexual people should make up about a quarter of the population, yet in the media, they make up only between 1-5% of the characters in shows and movies.  On top of that, in certain aspects of the media, they are wholly absent.  Do you see the disparity between population and representation? Continue reading “Why I Write LGBT Characters”


Straddling the Genre Line

litvgenrThe phrases “genre fiction” and “literary fiction” strike fear into my heart.  There’s a constant tug and pull in the literary world between what is of the higher art and what is considered beneath the establishment.  What should be valued more? Entertainment and enjoyment or the more “artistic”, philosophical, cerebral side of literature. Being a graduate student studying creative writing, I cringe when people ask what I write.  I am already anticipating the raised eyebrows and disapproving looks when I say, “Well, it’s technically science fiction or historical fiction.”  Instantly, it is discounted as trope-laden, cliche genre fiction. Continue reading “Straddling the Genre Line”

Personal Life · Uncategorized · Writing

A Woman of Principle

On my blogs and page, I try as a rule not to get too political on my author page or blog, but a recent event has refused to leave my mind, leaving me to purge it through writing.

One of the authors I know from the writing groups I am a part of on Facebook sent me a link to a blog tour service that was hosting a tour for a steampunk novel and was looking for blogs that would be willing to do the advertising posts.  Obviously, I want to support and network with other steampunk writers, so I checked it out.  The book looked okay.  I’m not a fan of advertising something I haven’t actually read, but at that point, I was willing to give the author a chance based on the blurb.  The only thing was, I couldn’t figure out how to sign up for the tour, so I went onto the their contact and information page.  As I scrolled, I came across the thing that completely soured my feelings toward that book blog tour host, No M/M, F/F, or M/F/M.

For those who are unfamiliar with the terminology, that basically means no stories involving same sex or bisexual protagonists or love interests.  I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t bring myself to sign up for the tour and quickly clicked off the web page.  From the time I understood what being gay meant, I have been a strong supporter of LGBT rights and marriage.  Many of my friends are gay, and two of my characters in The Winter Garden comprise a gay couple who is dealing with their relationship in a world that does not approve of them.  How could I, a supporter of the LGBT community, work with a company that outright excludes them?  I couldn’t.

When we exclude certain types of fiction, what are we saying to those who choose to write about their experiences or the experiences of others?  Your story isn’t worth telling. I don’t want to hear it. No one wants to read it if it’s about that. In this day and age, diverse books are a necessity.  By writing and reading about characters who are a different ethnicity, sexuality, or religion as yourself, you are learning empathy and stepping into their shoes as you go from cover to cover.  When you say no gay or bisexual protagonists, you are telling every bisexual or gay reader or writer that comes across that site that they are unacceptable.  The anti-gay sentiment from many book blogs and reviewers follows in the vein of the prejudicial sentiments of the 1960s. Diversity in characters and novels is a necessity, and having open-minded reviewers and book programs will only further that goal.  I hope you will not ignore books solely on the sexuality or ethnicity or a characters within.  I will not state the name of the blog tour and take away their livelihood or slander them, but I will boycott them.  I will not participate in anything that excludes those who are in need of support.