Thursday, April 20, 2006

Heart of Darkness

Yesterday, I asked if men do it better.

And I got some interesting responses.

Kate said: "I don't see why female crime writers would feel they had anything to prove... Historically in the UK crime fiction has been dominated by women."

Tania stated: “I probably read slightly more male authors because lately I've been dipping my reading toes into the darker end of the pool, and there are more male authors writing those kinds of books. It has to do with availability rather than any conscious effort to seek out male authors.”

Of course, the one person who stated that they liked male writers better commented via email and I don’t have consent to quote, so you have to take my word for it…

But that isn’t the point today. Besides, those of you who’ve been hanging around for a while were likely thinking (if you didn’t email me to point it out) that my tendency to get on better with guys might have something to do with problems with my mother. But I’m going to save the psychoanalysis for another day.**

I was reading Karin Slaughter’s introduction to her story in Tart Noir. She said, “I’ve always thought of noir as a male-dominated genre, not because women can’t do noir, but because the moral of these stories generally seems to be that men are basically solid, upstanding citizens until they meet the Wrong Woman. It’s a classic retelling of Adam and Eve, only with more liquor and sex… The women of classic noir were defined by the men in their lives: they were dames and broads, singled out as real lookers for their gams that wouldn’t quit. To get away from one man they would latch onto another.”

And the men are all saying bring back classic noir, right?

When I read this comment, I was surprised. I’d never thought of this as the moral of these stories. I'd never thought of noir as being about men and women.

In fact, recently I participated in a discussion about noir. Nobody even went near this idea.

It was the combination of that comment, and the fact that “who writes better crime” will be debated at Harrogate Crime Festival that got me wondering about it all. Until then, I assumed it was just me being an oddity, that for the first long while I had a hard time finding women writers I really connected with.

That’s long past. Laura Lippman is cozying up to my Rankin collection. Cornelia Read is snuggling with Stuart MacBride, and Simon Kernick rubs shoulders with Val McDermid. I just got the latest Natasha Cooper, so Steve Mosby is sandwiched between her and Denise Mina. I really want to reiterate I’m not anti-women! Even my musing about whether or not women felt they had something to prove was not intended to infer that they do have something to prove, but rather that some of them believe they have something to prove. One thing’s for sure – this will be a hell of a start of Friday morning at Harrogate!

I really do believe that noir is about stripping the hope and faith out of a person’s life, until there’s nothing left but darkness. There might even be hope there, but they can’t see it. They can’t find their way to it. They’re lost.

I don’t think it has anything to do with men or women. Cornelia Read’s debut book is being called WASP Noir. And even it isn’t completely bleak.***

Next week, you’ll be able to decide for yourself if I can do noir. One of my short stories will be wondering how the hell it managed to crash the swanky party that features such ladies of taste and talent as Sarah Weinman, Jen Jordan,
Kim Harrington, Aliya Whiteley, Patricia Abbott,
and JT Ellison.

In the mean time, I just love the challenge of fleshing out real characters of all kinds and trying to make the story come alive. Keep hoping to improve, keep setting new goals and working towards them. Sometimes I aim to write first person. Sometimes I try to write tough chick. Sometimes, the goal is to elicit one single emotion. When I write short stories in particular, this is how I do it. I have to think narrow framework, or else they start turning into novellas.

You writers – have you set any goals for yourself lately? Tried to stretch yourself in any way?

Maybe I should make a real leap and try to do romance… Speaking of which, any men that write good romance? Oh, come on, I bet we’re all thinking this is something women definitely do better!

Because I’m obsessing over the genders lately…
You may not know that many non-living things have a gender:.
For example:
1) Ziploc Bags- They are Male, because they hold everything in, but you can see right through them.

2) Copiers- They are Female, because once turned off, it takes a while to warm them up again. It's an effective reproductive device if the right buttons are pushed, but can wreak havoc if the wrong buttons are pushed.

3) Tires- Male, because they go bald and are often over-inflated.

4) Hot Air Balloon- Male, because, to get it to go anywhere, you have to light a fire under it, and of course, there's the hot air part.

5) Sponges- Female, because they're soft, squeezable and retain water.

6) Web Page- Female, because it's always getting hit on.

7) Subway- Male, because it uses the same old lines to pick people up.

8) Hourglass- Female, because over time, the weight shifts to the bottom.

9) Hammer- Male, because it hasn't changed much over the last 5,000 years, but it's handy to have around.

10) Remote Control- Female...... Ha! You thought it'd be male. But consider this - it gives a man pleasure, he'd be lost without it, and while he doesn't always know the right buttons to push, he keeps trying.


** I know some of you are wondering and I’ve been mum on the subject since I talked about what happened. I have begun to rebuild a bridge with my mother. It’s pretty surreal after 8 years, but there you have it. I’m fine, things are fine, it’s a fair start.

*** Trying to avoid spoilers of any kind…

23 comments:

jason evans said...

I think pushing yourself to do other genres and viewpoints, at least in short fiction, is a good way to built depth. I'd be afraid I was stagnating if I wrote one kind of story.

Lisa Hunter said...

"Even my musing about whether or not women felt they had something to prove was not intended to infer that they do have something to prove, but rather that some of them believe they have something to prove."

Actually, women writers DO have something to prove. Unless you are entirely alone in your view that men are better writers, that attitude is a major obstacle to overcome. It makes it harder for women writers -- including you -- to get published, get blurbs, sell books, and be taken seriously. Is that really the way you want the public to view your own work?

Boy Kim said...

Hey, what happened to *?

stevemosby said...

"I just got the latest Natasha Cooper, so Steve Mosby is sandwiched between her and Denise Mina. I really want to reiterate I’m not anti-women!"

Are you implying Natasha and Denise might see that as some form of punishment? ;-)

JamesO said...

At the risk of starting something:

'Cornelia Read is snuggling with Stuart MacBride'

Does She Who Must... know?

I missed out on yesterday's discussion due to technical problems, but as a reader, it's never occurred to me to consider the gender of authors. I either enjoy the book and will read more, or I don't and won't. As writers, I guess there are genres where women have to work twice as hard just to be taken seriously - it's the same in many walks of life and it will take many years of de-conditioning to change.

When it comes to ability, talent, skill or whatever, there are far more differences between individual people than there are between men and women.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Here here Jason!

Lisa, we should take a survey! And at the same time, how many men are publishing romances? Erotica? Any? Is there a dominance between the genders in any other genre?

I've never wondered this before.

I don't know that I think men are better writers. I've continued to think about this since I wrote that post. I think men are perhaps better writers of some things, just like women are better writers of other things. Val McDermid does noir that gives me the creeps and freaks me out.

I guess, maybe I should've been thinking about it not from a technical aspect but from a content aspect. Men tend to write about things I'm more interested in. Women, I think, write about a much broader range of things, some of which I'm not interested in.

Boy Kim, I ate it.

Steve, I'm sure they wouldn't see that as some form of punishment. But it was darned hard to type that with my fingers crossed...

James, I'm not sure She Who Must Knows. I mean, they live in the sticks and he has one of those ankle monitoring devices for a reason.

E. Ann Bardawill said...

I just read 'Memoirs of a Geisha', an incredibly romantic book.
By Arthur Golden.

The only other romances I liked were by Jennifer Wilde.
Another guy.

I'm detecting a trend here.

E. Ann
Solid member and founder of of BEDS-ME*
.
.
.
.
* Ask Sandra.

>.<
+

M. G. Tarquini said...

I never notice the sex of the author.

Is that a bad thing?

Sandra Ruttan said...

MG, I guess it all depends... I'm sure you've noticed the sexiness of some authors.

BARDAWILL! I'm very glad you brought up Memoirs of a Geisha, because that is a great book, one I really enjoyed.

See how I think in stereotypes?

And you'd best ask BARDAWILL about BEDS-ME. She's a card-carrying member...

stevemosby said...

Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult. ~Charlotte Whitton

I don't take much notice of a writer's sex either (except my own), but I don't think there are many female writers amongst my favourites. Or even that I like all that much. Diana Wynne-Jones, Mo Hayder, Val McDermid - that's about it, and one of them's not even a crime writer. It's quite weird, now I actually come to think about it, but like I said, I'd not even really considered it much before.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Steve, do you think there's any merit to my idea that women do cover a broader range of style, which may make it harder to find the ones you like if you have a narrow range of preference?

I mean, I don't really like romantic books, or erotica. And I was born without a sense of humour - I mean, some people do it well, but I tend to think there isn't much funny about crime, and the minute a cat is intricately involved in the solution, I'm long gone - that's fine if other people like it. It isn't my thing. I mean, I know there will be people who don't like my books too because they aren't for them. It isn't that the writing is bad, it just doesn't tickle my fancy.

Lately, I seem to be discovering more and more brilliant female writers. And a lot of them seem to be American. Again, just an oddity I've noticed, and I occasionally wonder why the trends in my reading habits. Maybe I'm just really really weird.

See, I didn't even just reduce that to you liking men better...

Trace said...

Karin Slaughter rocks. I can't wait to read your short story.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kate said...

Since you were going to discuss what Karin Slaughter said, I think when you quoted me you should have left in the middle part of what I said. It was, "but maybe it's different in the US."

I thought you might be going to quote Karin Slaughter on women writers and violence. Another day, maybe?

I think of writers as individuals whose work I might like or dislike, not male writers or female writers. I do read more books by female writers but it's not a huge majority.

I read about a UK survey that found that although women read books by men and women, men often only read books by men. This starts with children's books. Girls will read books written for boys. Boys wouldn't be seen dead with a girly book. At school teachers look for books that will appeal to boys because they can rely on the girls to read them anyway.

Crime fiction might be the most equal genre. More men are prepared to be seen reading crime novels by women.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I was more intrigued by the idea that noir was about the genders, something I'd never ever considered. And I don't think I agree on it. But that's interesting about the men reading books by men, although some of the guys seem to have no issue with it.

I took out that bit about the US, probably erroneously, because I didn't want to make it a US-UK issue, for one thing. I mean, the oddity for me seems to be that I read mainly American women and British men! Why my reading habits have evolved this way, I don't know.

But I'm making a concentrated effort to push myself out of boxes and explore new terrain. I have heard people locally talk about choosing to 'read Canadian' or to 'not read American' and those are trends I don't like. I never deliberately set out to create my reading patterns years back - but now that I've assessed them and I see where I'm at, I wonder how it happened, and I'm trying to move in different directions. Read translated work (not easy to come by here) and read Australian, Canadian and Irish authors as well.

Male and female doesn't seem to be much of an issue anymore.

But I never thought of noir as being about gender. Anybody see it differently?

Gabriele C. said...

Are you very fond of the new colours? Because they hurt my poor eyes.

I usually don't care about the gender of a writer. Except when I want to read something heavy on battles and heroism - in that case I go for male writers. I haven't yet found a female Bernard Cornwell or David Gemmell. So, if I buy a Hist fic or Fantasy book by a woman, I have different expectations about the ratio of battles/relationships and the way both are written.

As writer, I try for a more male-oriented way of writing, closer to Cornwell than Penman. :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

As you can see Gabriele, I'm not married to anything!

Kate said...

I haven't read enough classic noir to comment on it. I have even less idea what noir is now.

stevemosby said...

Sandra - I'm not sure. If you mean women write across a broader range of genres, then I don't think that's true. Certainly all the genres I read - crime, thriller, sci-fi, horror - tend to be dominated by men. In terms of crime, I'm not sure women write a broader range of styles either. Do you reckon?

Within crime (and I'm kind of just talking blind here), maybe it's something to do with the traditions of the genres and the worlds they reflect. The police force, the underworld, private investigators, hitmen, spies, soldiers, investigative journalists, lawyers - they're predominantly male environments. I'm generalising wildly and I know it, before anyone shouts at me, but you tend to start off writing what you know, which at its most basic means probably having a protagonist who's the same sex as you. And of course, you do get female cops, PIs (etc), but when you think of a PI you probably think of Humphrey Bogart rather than VI Warshawski. It's a basic thing - I write men better than I write women, so I would have trouble writing a sex and shopping novel, because the main characters tend to be women.

So maybe the fact there are few female crime writers I like is just down to statistics: I don't like that many authors anyway, and the pool I'm drawing from is mostly men. But my gut tells me it's also about voice. I like first-person stuff, I like male protagonists, and so on. I like John Connolly's voice and Michael Marshall Smith's voice, which are very distinctive and very male. I don't think any writing is objectively better than any other, and I would never say women can't write crime as well as men - that's bullshit. But I don't seem to find many with the kind of voice that appeals to me.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Hmmm. Good points Steve. Maybe it's that the particular niches women tend to go into (and I am speaking in generalities) are the ones that don't interest me as much.

I get the impression that Zoe Sharp's books might really appeal to me. At least, she's given me a pretty darned good sales job.

Huh- you like first-person. That's interesting. I've always had a preference for third. But I also prefer a male protagonist.

One thing's for sure - with us both going to Harrogate, it will be interesting to see what we think AFTER the debate. This could be the subject of a whole blog post to analyse what gets said! Frankly, I think the discussion will be risky, no matter what. I'm sure there are some that could be a bit sensitive about it. I'm just really curious to see where these guys will take the discussion, and how poor Natasha Cooper's going to maintain the peace.

Hope she's getting paid well.

Gabriele C. said...

Sandra, that's a lot easier to read. Thanks.

Did you get tired of the old layout? Hehe, some women need new shoes (me, for example) others redecorate their blog. :-)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah, sometimes, I just need to shake things up! But I like the format better too.

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