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Writing Women as a Man; are all writers equal?

I got a review of my novel The Ecology of Lonesomeness the other day. It was good: five stars. I was delighted. This paragraph struck me: “I’ll be honest, too, that I don’t think a lot of books by men in the romance genre really and truly portray women correctly. But, this author manages to do that with Jessie very well. She is a complicated character and she manages to be complicated without being whiney or annoying – which is always a plus!”
I don’t know why this is; I mean, why a lot of books by men don’t portray women correctly, or that complicated characters would be whiney.
I do know that most romantic writers are women, or at least have female pen names, and most male writers don’t write romance – under their own name, at least.
There is definitely an expectation of this – no, a surprise I’ve experienced when I have been interviewed about my romance novels. Which, in my view and that of their publisher, are contemporary novels with romance, more than straight romance. The surprise that I write such romance as I do under my own name; excluding my J.D. Martins novellas, which are romance.
And I hope that readers aren’t very prejudicial against male writers that they’d pass one over in favour of a female name.
Why should male writers “normally” write female characters and points of view badly? After all, the opposite is rarely commented upon. Nobody said JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter, or Ron, or Dumbledore all wrong (though she did use an ambiguous name to publish under). And surely there are male points of view in many romance novels (don’t read too many, myself, I admit).
I wrote Jessie from The Ecology of Lonesomeness, and Susan in Leaving the Pack (and Cora in the sequels), and Julie in The Soul of Adam Short, as people first, and female second. The sex (if there is any, depends on the book) might be a bit different, but the need for, and capacity for, love is the same. And every other desire and motivation is also equal between the genders. At least as far as I am concerned.
Perhaps I’m different. I suppose I am, though I don’t feel much different. However, I don’t think it hard to get into the mind of a female character, if you consider women your equal. Many men don’t. But that’s a problem of their own emotional growth, or lack of it. Many men are so obsessed with their own inadequacies that they fear women – or fear strong women (strong means equal here, in case you missed it).
Luckily, male writers are not usually like that. Their inadequacies are firmly sitting in their literary challenges. Their relationships may or may not be great, but they know they are in a business where (and I know the inequality exists even if I believe it is more in the readers’ minds) women are just as proficient as they are – if not more so, to be honest.
All writers are not equal, but the division is not based on gender.
So give a male writer a chance. You might be surprised as so many other readers.

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There’s always another step to take…

 

 

I recently wrote an article about sticking with writing over years of unsuccessfully trying to get published, and how, twenty years after writing my first novel, I got it published and had it followed up by the second, and now I have contracts for five books, including one published under a pseudonym.

It’s hard to maintain confidence in your ability: I often thought I’d never sell a book, but along the way there were confidence boosts now and then when a poem was published, and a few quid here and there, even, for a poem or an article. When I finally got a contract, after all the effort, it was gratifying and affirming of my small amount of talent, and I felt vindicated in keeping at it.

I’d made that giant leap into Authorship.

earth-from-moon

But getting a book on the market – professionally edited and with a great cover that I was able to have some input in the design of  – was just one more step forward, it turned out. I thought it was a giant leap because of my previous perspective – or lack of it.

It’s like an animation video describing the scale of the universe. You make it to the moon and before you have time to appreciate the view, the camera pans back to show just how far away Mars is, and then Jupiter, and how small our solar system is.

The journey has only really begun. It’s just you’ve learned to walk and been given a decent pair of boots, is all.

The pressure is not off now; it just got more intense.

Apart from building a platform, blogging and posting and advertising, there’s the requests for reviews and the feeling you have to get big sales, to justify the confidence in your work – and to a certain extent you do. Instead of feeling you’re no good if you can’t get an editor interested, now there’s the feeling that you’re not good enough if you don’t see lots of sales. Friends ask if you’re making millions yet – often despite not having read it themselves: and who ever sold a million copies of a book that wasn’t good enough for friends to bother with?

The reviews are another source of stress. You want everyone to love the book of course, but it becomes a bit over the top: what once might have been worthy only of a place in a desk drawer or the farthest reaches of a hard drive, suddenly needs to deserve only five star reviews.

God forbid someone should give it less than three!

But they do – they did mine already.

You can’t please everyone, and even fans of the genre might be your biggest stumbling block – especially if you did something with they didn’t expect, that quirk, that novelty, which pleases 9/10 readers, just doesn’t float the last one’s boat. They might even feel hard done by when the book doesn’t match their expectations – however misconceived they might be.

But the long term is what we have to look to again – just as before publication. Over the long haul, more will like it than not, and hopefully they’ll tell their friends. There will be reviewers who say they’re delighted to read a new slant, who believe your characters are great.

Nevertheless, in my short and scant experience, these great readers and reviews don’t do as much to put things in perspective as the old friends or colleagues who congratulate you and say they’re jealous of you. When you humbly tell them that you’re not making those millions, they shake their head and insist that they’re not jealous of you publishing, but of the fact that you actually wrote a novel: that you finished your shit, and polished it well enough that anyone would read it.

And that’s one of the things we need to keep in mind as we go to the next project, and keep blogging and advertising, and seeking more reviews. It’s a struggle uphill (hope Bjork doesn’t have that phrase copyrighted), but the fact we’re plodding ahead is something we need to be proud of.