Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

The Author Gender Wars: Wherein Female Authors Must Do It Twice...

A special Monday edition of Jane’s Rants Opinion Letters

GenderTara Gelsomino, former managing editor of RT and alleged face behind the blind Flavia authored items, writes at Access Romance Reader’s Gab that men do it better. Oh, not sex, you guys, writing. Ms. Gelsomino posits that men are doing better jobs of creating smart books and even beyond that smart heroines in smart books. She snerks that the women in the softer side of literature (such as romance and chick lit), are too busy measuring the appendage of her male counterpart to catch a bad guy.

Ms.Gelsomino is deliberately provocative and wrote to gather a response and attention. I always feel like I should give to those who ask. It’s my biblically mandated duty. (Ask and it shall be given you; Matthew 7:7).

Her credibility is in question given her Amazon lists includes Confessions of a Shopoholic and the Miracle Strip by Nancy Bartholomew (stripper with a heart of gold solves mysteries with hunky sheriff) and One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (wherein Stephanie Plum is constantly surmising Ranger’s assets), but I’ll give her the response and linkage that she wants.

Certainly romance and chick lit has its issues, and because I read widely in that area, those are well known to me. However, to equate smart books with the ability to solve a crime seems a little short sighted. Next month is the release of a third book in Julie Kenner’s code series. In the first book, with the title, the The Givenchy Code, Kenner’s heroine must use her mensa brain abilities to solve clues in a role playing game that someone has taken to real life.

Ms. Gelsomino laments the lack of strong female protagonists in sci fi and fantasy. She does not mention Linnea Sinclair whose space operas have all been piloted by strong female characters. Nor does she give credit to authors like Maria Snyder, Laura Ann Gilman, Sharon Shinn, Lois McMaster Bujold (Civil Campaign, anyone?), Kelley Armstrong, Kim Harrison, Rachel Caine, Richelle Mead, Jackie Kesslar, Charlaine Harris.

She can’t name one other female author than Karen Slaughter who writes smart mysteries. I’ll name some for you: Nora Roberts, PJ Tracy, Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell, Tess Gerritsen.

Ms. Gelsomino makes the mistake of equating intelligence with the ability to solve crimes. I am a multiple degreed individual and consider myself reasonably intelligent but my skills at detecting would be embarrassingly low. That’s not my bailiwick. It’s like saying comedians aren’t actors. They don’t appear to be acting. They are just making us laugh. Only the serious movies, the ones that have foreign languages in them, are smart. (Because anything with subtitles necessarily requires us to read and therefore is a smart movie).

Smartness or intelligence can be evidence in other ways. Such as when Yelena in Poison Study makes the decision to be a food taster and thereby stave off death, at least for a few days. That seemed like a smart decision to me. Or when Eve Dallas in Innocent in Death, sees her marriage teetering on the edge of collapse, goes to Roarke and lays out her heart regardless of possible ridicule and rejection, that seemed smart. When Lilith in Demon Angel tells so many lies that she believes them because she must in order to deceive Lucifer, that seems smart.

Smartness is not the sole province of the Soduko challengers (btw, I can do the hard levels in under 30 minutes) and the ability to solve the Rubik’s Cube is nothing. Perhaps illustrative of this is the understated story of Carrie Pilby by Caren Lissner. Carrie Pilby is a young woman who is struggling to survive on her own. She just graduated from Harvard at the age of 19 and is alone and friendless. She cannot relate to anyone because she constantly looks down at them for not being as smart as she. Over the course of the book, Carrie begins to make connections and realizes that her brain power alone can’t fulfill her.

Corporations began testing prospective managers for EI (Emotional Intelligence Quotient). It is posited that the higher EI or EQ, the better manager because you understand how to lead your team. These tests are subject to criticism but the underlying thesis is true. To be a smart leader, you must understand how to motivate. Phil Jackson, NBA coach guru, is said to be a master at manipulation and motivation.

Smart can mean all kinds of things. It can mean the ability to give a quick rejoinder like the heroines in Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s Natural Born Charmer or HelenKay Dimon’s Viva Las Bad Boys!. Smart can be the ability to detect or solve crimes like Michele Jaffe’s heroine in Bad Girl (one of my favorites). Smart can just be the ability to survive amongst really bad circumstances like Keri Arthur’s heroine in Tempting Evil (ie., when you are put in the situation of fighting your brother until one or the other of you is maimed beyond walking or death, what do you do?)

To create a syllogism based on gender seems misplaced. (i.e., smart books are written by men. Book A was written by a woman. Thus Book A must not be a smart book.). Gender of an author does not makes a book more or less smart; nor does genre of a book define quality. To assume so would insult all the authors who are female and write in a particular genre and also the readers of those authors and genres.

Would I like to see more capable, stronger female protagonists in chick lit and romance? Absolutely. One reason is because I think that true love is best between equals. But to say that the men do it better is not only inaccurate but demeaning.

We romance bloggers may complain about the genre we love, but love it we do because we know that intelligence comes from the heart, not just the head.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

61 Comments

  1. Angie
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 10:59:52

    Elizabeth Haydon, SL Viehl, Mercedes Lackey, Lisa Scottoline, Tami Hoag, Sara Paretsky, and so many others I can name would beg to differ. I’m disappointed that Ms. Gesomino showed such a narrow view but I think you aptly rebutted it, Jane. Your legal roots are showing ;)

  2. Bev(BB
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 11:10:38

    I posted a response there mentioning Linnea Sinclair and Merline Lovelace and now can’t get back to check it. I think we crashed their system, Jane. ;)

  3. bam
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 11:14:34

    Awesome comeback, Jane! Kick misogynistic ass, homegirl!

  4. Meljean
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 11:15:12

    *reading along, nodding head*

    Fantastic post.

  5. Nora Roberts
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 11:22:19

    While you did a wonderful job responding to Mrs. Gelsomino’s article, her take is the sort I rarely feel merits a response. Her opinion is her own, of course, however sexist and narrow it may be.

    For myself, I can’t recall writing any heroine who measured her potential partner’s appendage–whether or not there was a mystery to be solved.

  6. Jaci Burton
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 11:26:41

    I would also add in both heroines in Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series. Highly intelligent and able to outwit the most powerful intellectuals of their species. The whole series is based upon the heroines’ uses of their minds, using reason and intellect to outsmart their opponents. It’s a fabulous series, and yet still romantic and profoundly sensual.

    Smart can be very sexy. Fortunately, there are many fabulous romance writers out there right now creating whip smart heroines. So I guess I don’t understand where Ms. Gelsomino indicates we’re lacking.

  7. jmc
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 11:38:06

    The Interweb hates me today — my comments aren’t going through at RG….

    My comment, which may show up sooner or later:

    I’m perplexed by the comparison of romance/chick lit to action-thrillers for your intelligence factor. The focus of one genre is the relationship, with the action (even in romantic suspense) as the backdrop only; the focus of the other is the action, with any relationship or character development as ancillary. Are you saying that the heroines of action-thrillers are “smarter” because they are detectives? How does the choice of profession, crime-solver vs. copy editor, speak to intelligence? It strikes me as an apples and oranges comparison.

    Where do heroines like Eve Dallas, Sookie Stackhouse, Lily Bard, Roe Teagarden, Nell Sweeney and Anita Blake (pre-magic coochie) — all written by women — fall in your analysis? What about mysteries written by PJ Ryan, Marcia Muller, Deborah Crombie? Science fiction by LM Bujold? Jacqueline Carey? Anne Bishop?

    I think there are smart heroines written by women and by men. And there are TSTL heroines written by men and by women. Irritating characters are by no means limited to romance and chick lit.

  8. Jackie
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 11:50:13

    I would also add in both heroines in Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series.

    Jaci, in Jane’s reply on the other site, she specifically mentions Nalini. :-)

    Terrific post, Jane, both here and at AR.

  9. Sandy AAR
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 11:51:45

    Though you certainly took her out very nicely, Jane, you’re giving her essay a credence that it doesn’t deserve. JMHO.

  10. Jaci Burton
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 11:55:29

    Jaci, in Jane’s reply on the other site, she specifically mentions Nalini

    Yeah, I saw that after I posted here. Duh.

    Sorry Jane. ;-)

  11. Jane
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 12:05:12

    First, I think if Nora Roberts would see the light – that is thoughts about man meat are always popular amongst the pink set – she’d sell more books. I’ve been wondering why her books always seem lacking to me.

    Second, I had to respond. I am a responder. That’s what I do. Respond, respond, respond. Someone once said bloggers are parasitical and I believe that to be true. In a more serious vein, I do think it requires response because as LLB noted on her blog the other day, romances don’t get respect but within the romance, readers give it respect. Here we have a noted romance insider – a managing editor for RT, the premiere romance publication with over 160K subscribers, saying men do it better?

    Third, I know I missed lots of authors who write smart heroines. Jaci’s heroine, Gina, was strong, competent and helped save the world. I couldn’t, off the top of my head, name them all. That’s what the comments are for. To name off the ones I couldn’t remember this morning.

    And I love me some Nalini Singh.

  12. jmc
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 12:09:22

    DA & RG don’t like me today, apparently. My comments are getting sucked into the ether.

    I’m perplexed by the comparison of romance/chick lit to action-thrillers for your intelligence factor. The focus of one genre is the relationship, with the action (even in romantic suspense) as the backdrop only; the focus of the other is the action, with any relationship or character development as ancillary. Are you saying that the heroines of action-thrillers are “smarter” because they are detectives? How does the choice of profession, crime-solver vs. copy editor, speak to intelligence? It strikes me as an apples and oranges comparison.

    Where do heroines like Eve Dallas, Sookie Stackhouse, Lily Bard, Roe Teagarden, Nell Sweeney and Anita Blake (pre-magic coochie) — all written by women — fall in your analysis? What about mysteries written by PJ Ryan, Marcia Muller, Deborah Crombie? Science fiction by LM Bujold? Jacqueline Carey? Anne Bishop?

    I think there are smart heroines written by women and by men. And there are TSTL heroines written by men and by women. Irritating characters are by no means limited to romance and chick lit.

  13. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 12:13:54

    I’m just going to say…. Yeah, what Jane said! I couldn’t possibly put it any better than that.

    I’ve been told a time or two that I’m pretty smart (and I don’t think they were just referring to my sarcasm) but there’s no way I’m ready to join CSU or anything.

    I’m going to go and work on my soft literature…I don’t think the heroine has measured the male’s appendage in this one.

  14. Sandy AAR
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 12:28:09

    Jane, I think we’re fortunate that she’s a former RT Managing Editor. From my contact with her I seem to recall that she said she didn’t reach much romance. Big surprise.

  15. Keishon
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 12:36:30

    Her argument makes no sense whatsoever to me and it is clearly written without anything to back it up.

  16. Tara Marie
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 12:45:14

    I’m going to play devils advocate here, well sort of (though I actually agree with everything Jane said–LOL)

    We can sit here and name all the writer that produce intelligent strong female characters in very good romantic suspense (nobody’s mentioned Carla Neggars yet) or fantasy or science fiction, but there will always be authors that write the damsel in distress type of story (can anyone say Julie Garwood?) and these authors know their audience. My sister gave up reading Linda Howard after Mr. Perfect. “There was just too much killing. She didn’t have to kill off the rest of the friends after the first one was killed… blah blah blah” I’m still blinking owlishly over that one, obviously she didn’t get it, but I can name several other readers who felt the same way.

    Simply put there will always be authors that write “lite” simply because there’s an audience for them.

    I do think Ms. Gelsomino is being deliberatly provocative, but then that gets people talking doesn’t it?

  17. Nora Roberts
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 12:48:59

    Maybe it’s time my heroines, ah, lower their sights–so to speak. And perhaps start carrying tape measures.

    I think this is an excellent forum to respond/discuss that sort of article. For myself, I’d find it tricky–and too much effort–to respond on the site of the original, to the originator. And my take on it pretty much mirroed Keishon’s comment above.

  18. Alison Kent
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 12:51:22

    I thought about commenting anonymously, but I’m going to suck it up and take the hit. I quit reading romance several years ago (before many of the authors mentioned here were writing) primarily becaue of the heroines in the books I was picking up. They were “said” to be strong and independent. They were “shown” to rely on their heroes for too many of their decisions, for rescuing, for advice on their every move. There were two authors in particular, list making authors, who were the last straw. I belonged to both of their yahoo groups where their fangirls raved about the appendages of the heroes they wrote – just as the heroines did. This was when I moved to reading mostly male authors and mostly thrillers and suspense. I’ve also put my own feelings out there before and lost “friends” because of it.

    Are heroines of today smarter and stronger than the ones that put an end to my romance reading? They are, yes. But the other type is still out there. Is it just a “me” thing? That only I found the doormats and dishrags so hard to take that I stopped reading romance? Very possibly so. Are there romances written still with heroines going ga-ga over appendages? Duh. Do all authors write them? Of course not. My point is . . . probably lost by now. *g* But there are some female authors who do write heroines I still want to slap upside the head, just as some readers most likely want to slap mine. One reader’s definition of a strong heroic heroine will not be the same as all others. Otherwise, those authors I mentioned above would not still be making lists.

  19. Bev(BB
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 12:58:59

    I do think Ms. Gelsomino is being deliberatly provocative, but then that gets people talking doesn’t it?

    Well, there’s provocative and there’s simply misinformed. I seriously doubt most of us mind provocative, considering what we love to talk about all the time. ;) It’s the hint of things being out of kilter with what she should already know that seems odd to me. Granted, maybe she really is one of those people who thinks romance heroines are that way for the most part or worse thinks they should be that way, but either way, it was startling to read coming from someone who used to be in the position she was in at RT.

    So, what does she do now? Or do I even want to know?

  20. Alison Kent
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 13:01:17

    [quote comment="24191"]So, what does she do now? Or do I even want to know?[/quote]

    There’s a link to her bio at the top of the Readers Gab page.

  21. Jane
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 13:01:37

    There’s a two fold argument here. 1) that male authors write smarter characters (including female ones) and 2) that the softer genres don’t have smart protagonists.

    For the first one, just a gender classification is a weak argument. Agatha Christie is one of the best known mystery writers ever and obviously a female.

    For the second one, the romance industry is replete with books full of mental lusting. But you know what drew me to Stephanie Lauren’s Devils Bride in the first place? The heroine’s competency. That she seemed a match for the hero. I’ve been reading romances for oh, 17, 18 years and I’ve grown up with Joan Wolf, Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz, Nora Roberts, and the like. There have been strong heroines all through the years but a greater surge in recent times which may be reflective of the buying market.

    I also think that there is a time and place for the fantasy (sweep me off my feet) stories but a broad stroke rendering a certain genre or a certain gender less than on the basis of a few books written by popular men seems to be incorrect.

  22. Jaci Burton
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 13:02:29

    I often wonder why it is that some think that an exceptionally smart heroine has to become asexual? Why can’t she be smart and also look below the hero’s belt buckle and assess the package, so to speak? Does sexuality go out the window with brains?

    And if so…since when?

    I love smart heroines. I love action, adventure, love a good mystery.

    But I love me some sex, too. Can’t I have it all? And isn’t it great when we get it all, when our heroine gets it all?

  23. Tara Marie
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 13:02:57

    Well, there’s provocative and there’s simply misinformed. I seriously doubt most of us mind provocative, considering what we love to talk about all the time.

    You got me there. :)

  24. Christine Rimmer
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 13:08:56

    Great rant, er opinion, Jane. Unfortunately for Tara/Flavia, she only succeeded in making *herself* look far less than Mensa-qualified.
    And her post does have echoes of Maureen Dowd’s “pink-bashing” blog entry of a few weeks ago, doesn’t it?

  25. Sandy AAR
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 13:12:23

    [quote comment="24193"]
    For the first one, just a gender classification is a weak argument. Agatha Christie is one of the best known mystery writers ever and obviously a female.
    [/quote]

    And P.D. James, for God’s sake. She’s in her 90s now and still writes incredibly smart, intricately plotted books.

  26. Janine
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 13:13:50

    [quote comment="24194"]I often wonder why it is that some think that an exceptionally smart heroine has to become asexual? Why can’t she be smart and also look below the hero’s belt buckle and assess the package, so to speak? Does sexuality go out the window with brains?[/quote]

    The problem I run into with “assessing the package” scenes is that I’ve read so many that usually, they seem cliched. That being said, there are exceptions. There was such a scene in Ward’s Lover Revealed that I enjoyed, mainly because it was written with some humor.

    Also in regard to package assessments, must the hero always be big? Can’t one be average-sized, but still sexy?

  27. Tara Marie
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 13:17:02

    There’s a two fold argument here. 1) that male authors write smarter characters (including female ones) and 2) that the softer genres don’t have smart protagonists.

    Jane you’re thinking like a lawyer. :D

    Apparently she’s not reading the right books because they’re out there.

    She’s going to the extreme to make this point…

    “Romantic suspense heroines are too frequently paper tigers, saved at the last minute by their FBI agent lovers…”

    Whether we like it or not there are readers out there that enjoy this type of story.

  28. Alison Kent
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 13:26:16

    [quote comment="24199"]Whether we like it or not there are readers out there that enjoy this type of story.[/quote]

    Exactly. Which is why I think this whole argument can be boiled down to personal reading tastes. An individual reader’s expectations and perceptions are the only thing that can determine any character’s intelligence, etc. How many times have you wondered if another reader even read the same book you did when she comments on certain aspects? Take any of the examples Jane made above about smart choices. Another reader might not find them smart at all because of what she is bringing to the reading experience.

  29. readerdiane
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 13:40:00

    At times I feel sexist because I would prefer to buy books by women authors. I have tried to read male authors but the ones I have read do not develop their characters like I like to have it done. I want to be able to root for the character because I have developed a connection to them. I find it much easier to do that with a woman author. I love female protagonists who change and learn from their mistakes.

    I also can’t handle too much violence. I have a very vivid imagination and live out in the country….too much scariness and I can’t sleep at night.”I just know that there is something outside my door.”

    I will just continue to buy female authors. (I do like Jim Butcher though.)

  30. Bev(BB
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 13:48:51

    [quote comment="24200"]Exactly. Which is why I think this whole argument can be boiled down to personal reading tastes. An individual reader’s expectations and perceptions are the only thing that can determine any character’s intelligence, etc. How many times have you wondered if another reader even read the same book you did when she comments on certain aspects? Take any of the examples Jane made above about smart choices. Another reader might not find them smart at all because of what she is bringing to the reading experience.[/quote]

    Okay, I can buy this. To a point. And the point is that personal taste can’t be used as an excuse for generalizations about an entire genre. Or its characters. Or it’s readers or its writers, either, for that matter. Do we really want to let something like that go completely unchallenged?

    Somehow I don’t think so.

  31. Nora Roberts
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 13:59:39

    Personal taste is personal taste. But it kicks it up a few big notches when someone blogs that, by and large, women writers don’t write as smart as men writers. This, for me, gets into the silly, insulting and boggy ground of big-ass generalizations.

    I prefer green over yellow. Green looks better on me and suits my personal taste. Okay. But that doesn’t make green smarter or superior.

  32. Sybil
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 14:03:13

    [quote comment="24190"]I thought about commenting anonymously, but I’m going to suck it up and take the hit. I quit reading romance several years ago (before many of the authors mentioned here were writing) primarily becaue of the heroines in the books I was picking up. They were “said” to be strong and independent. They were “shown” to rely on their heroes for too many of their decisions, for rescuing, for advice on their every move. …..

    Are heroines of today smarter and stronger than the ones that put an end to my romance reading? They are, yes. But the other type is still out there. Is it just a “me” thing? That only I found the doormats and dishrags so hard to take that I stopped reading romance? Very possibly so. Are there romances written still with heroines going ga-ga over appendages?[/quote]

    LOL sooooooooo Alison to make sure I understand correctly…

    You are judging romance based on books you haven’t read after bitching about a RT reviewer and other readers judging your book unfairly… without reading it.

    I think there is a word for that ;)

  33. Sybil
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 14:04:54

    [quote comment="24204"] But that doesn’t make green smarter or superior.[/quote]

    Of course not… purple is.

  34. Sybil
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 14:13:21

    Eh… when I read the post I thought oh look attention getting topic to cause traffic…

    Who knows, maybe it is honestly what she thinks. Then she shouldn’t be blogging on a romance board. As I have always said we will never have respect from others until we can respect oursleves.

    That will happen sometime between now and never. But what the hell ever I like it. And hey there is hope Nora will sell better one day if she keeps trying.

  35. Alison Kent
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 14:13:27

    [quote comment="24205"]

    You are judging romance based on books you haven’t read after bitching about a RT reviewer and other readers judging your book unfairly… without reading it.

    I think there is a word for that ;)[/quote]

    No, I judged romance on books I was reading. Or trying to read but couldn’t. That’s when I left romance for suspense. I’ve come back to reading romance since I’ve found authors finally writing heroines I don’t want to slap silly.

  36. Sybil
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 14:18:02

    [quote comment="24208"]No, I judged romance on books I was reading. Or trying to read but couldn’t. That’s when I left romance for suspense. I’ve come back to reading romance since I’ve found authors finally writing heroines I don’t want to slap silly.[/quote]

    ahhhh I must have missed that for the giggling… sorry ;)

  37. Alison Kent
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 14:19:57

    [quote comment="24209"]
    ahhhh I must have missed that for the giggling… sorry ;)[/quote]

    Not sure how you could. It’s right there in black and pink. ;)

  38. Karen Scott
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 15:26:12

    Ahh Jane, Patricia Cornwell smart writer?

    She used to be, then she killed of Benton, and brought him back again when her readers went batshit crazy. (Read: Me)

    She’s been half the writer she used to be ever since that unfortunate episode. Although she’s still my version of LKH-type crack.

    Nalini Singh’s world building is definitely worth Mrs Giggles’ 5 Moist Thongs… erm, or whatever the optimum grading was…

  39. Megan
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 15:55:49

    My first thought was: P.D. James, as Sandy AAR said. And Octavia Butler and Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy Sayers. Or Patricia Highsmith? I mean, really, good writing is not on gender lines. It’s just patently absurd.

    Thanks for responding to this, Jane.

  40. Nora Roberts
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 15:55:53

    ~As I have always said we will never have respect from others until we can respect oursleves.~

    I so completely agree with this. It’s not that we shouldn’t criticise or critique or complain–about issues or individual books or trends. Whatever. But when it’s this strange and oddly general–women writers/book soft, frothy, not very smart–men writers/books stronger, smarter, it grates my cheese.

    It disrespects women, Romance as a genre, women’s books, women writers, women readers altogether.

    I read across the board–all genres pretty much–and have never looked at a book and thought or considered the sex of the writer when deciding if the book was worth my time and money. I don’t get it.

  41. Nora Roberts
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 15:58:54

    Ahh, Nagio Marsh. Big fan.

    Must go stop and marinate fish for dinner–seeing as I’m a girl and all, and my macho guy and his package will want a meal when he comes home from being so manly.

  42. bam
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 16:07:54

    I really have nothing to add except:

    Must go stop and marinate fish for dinner

    Ms. Roberts doesn’t have a pack of pygmies doing that stuff for her? Wow… that’s so mind-blowing. ;)

    Okay, back to lurking.

  43. Sybil
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 16:26:34

    [quote comment="24217"]I really have nothing to add except:

    Must go stop and marinate fish for dinner

    Ms. Roberts doesn’t have a pack of pygmies doing that stuff for her? Wow… that’s so mind-blowing. ;)

    Okay, back to lurking.[/quote]

    There there bam, did Mz. Roberts just shatter your dreams? You could prolly have pygmies now if you want them ;).

  44. Nalini Singh
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 16:50:15

    a pack of pygmies

    I just want to know – why pygmies? Now I have a image of the oompa loompas in my head.

  45. Robin
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 17:54:51

    I think TG’s column is basically two-in-one. The first part, right before that “intelligence factor” comment, is the most interesting, IMO, because it goes to the point I made over there — that expectations often drive our perceptions of male and female authored books (and by “our” I mean humans). I thought what she said about Crusie and Mayer was interesting, because I felt that divide in Don’t Look Down — it very much seemed partly male and partly female, at least on a superficial level. And I have no idea whether that’s just the coincidence of the two particular styles or whether it has to do with genres and gender expectations. Maybe a little of both. I’ve seen numerous readers on AAR say they don’t think men can write Romance effectively and won’t read male Romance authors. I know I have to watch my own double standards about Romance — that perhaps I have unrealistically high expectations for women authors when they write their women characters.

    Basically, I think there are a lot of stupid books written by men and a lot of stupid books written by women, and a lot of smart books written by both. One thing I do think is interesting, though, is that many of the books people are pointing to as expressing strong heroines seem more hybridized to me, Romance + (suspense, SF, Fantasy, etc.). NOT that I’m trying to make a general summation here, because I can name tons of smart Romance heroines and books, too, from Melanthe in Kinsale’s For My Lady’s Heart, to Sugar Beth Carey in SEP’s Ain’t She Sweet, to Emma Hotchkiss in Judith Ivory’s Untie My Heart. But are there certain expectations for how women are drawn in straight Romance, especially in terms of how they express or demonstrate their strength? I’ve seen readers hold it against Eve Dallas that she leaves Roarke alone so much when she’s working on a case, but would those same readers hold the same behavior against Roarke? I don’t know — I do wonder about this sometimes, about how female characters in straight Romance get to be strong and smart and how sometimes I feel books have to go out of their way to prove that the kick ass sharp as a tack heroine is still a Woman underneath it all.

  46. Jane
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 18:58:07

    The idea of oompa loompas cooking my dinner kind of grosses me out. Maybe that would be a great diet book: The Oopma Loompa Diet: Losing Weight Through Visualization. I also have two other diet books I am going to author: The Trash Diet: Lose Weight the Easy Way – Rifle Through Your Trash Before Every Meal and Watch Your Appetite Plummet and The South Beach Diet, Part 2: You Can Only Afford to Eat 1 Meal a Day. Choose Wisely. (I like to think about diet books but in reality,I am stuffing my face with oreo cookies).

    Onto Robin. Your comment is a like a 2 for 1. First, I agree that there need to be better heroines in romance and by better, I don’t mean physically stronger. By better I mean women who are emotionally capable. Whose answer to life is not to find a man and fall in love. By better, I mean women who are financially capable. I read one report that stated in over half of the marriages today, the woman is making more money than the spouse. By better, I mean women whose strength is derived from inside herself and not just through physical prowess.

    But emotional and mental stability does not compute in the might equals right equation. So long as we allow the male dominated society to dictate what is of value, then we as women will always struggle with identity. I think at the heart, we women have to change the dialogue to make emotional things, pink things, have greater value.

    I’ve always thought Madeline Hunter had strong female characters. I thought Claudia Dain’s character in The Holding, Catherine, had strength of character. She endured vile things to save her people and managed to survive, heal and love. More recently, I like the characters drawn by Julie Ann Long and Caroline Linden. In Beauty and the Spy, the heroine says to the hero that she loves him, laying herself bare, without any guarantee of a positive response. Those actions to me say “I’m going to take control of the outcome and not be passive.” In the same way, I think erotic romance can be (but is not many times) be empowering whereby a woman takes control of her passion, her own sex life and creates her own destiny.

  47. Wendy
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 19:10:02

    Actually Patricia Cornwell started losing me when she decided to neuter Marino. Not. Happy. About. That. At. All. And I think Tess Gerritsen writes wonderful heroines, although I’m currently a little peeved with the direction she’s taking with Dr. Maura Isles. I suspect I might be the lone voice in the wilderness on that though. Still, I love her books! She’s the only author I rush out to buy in hard cover on the laydown date.

    I partially agree with Alison on this. Romance readers like to think that the Dishrag Diva heroine is a thing of the past but she still exists. Nothing gets my blood boiling more than when an author “tells” me the heroine is “smart, tough, independent” but she’s really as dumb as a bag of rocks. I’m not expecting every heroine to be a weapons expert – but good lord some common sense would be nice. Also, heroines who don’t wait around for the hero to rescue them. Certainly there are a lot of “strong” heroines in romance now – but helpless wimps that evolution should have weeded out are still here too. It’s especially trying when you hit a patch of these idiots at once. I can never read just one wimpy heroine, I somehow get stuck reading several of them in a row. Dumb luck I suspect.

  48. bam
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 00:43:23

    The idea of oompa loompas cooking my dinner kind of grosses me out. Maybe that would be a great diet book: The Oopma Loompa Diet: Losing Weight Through Visualization.

    hey… i’m not the one who employs oompa-loompas. That would be Miz Nora. Allegedly.

    I kid, I kid. Please don’t strike me down. :(

  49. Nora Roberts
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 04:51:37

    I would employ oompha-loompahs, but their union is so strong and powerful. Plus all that singing is very distracting. And pygmies? Forget about it–all they want to cook is lion burgers or gizelle surprise. It gets old fast.

    So are dumb or weenie heroines. (See how cleverly I circle back?) But there are readers who enjoy them, who get tingly when the hero saves the day or continues to save her from her own dumbass actions. Everyone’s entitled. In some fiction written by men, female characters may or may not be smarter than a bag of rocks, and can still be, essentially, wallpaper. Pretty to look at maybe, but all they really do is hang around.

  50. Robin
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 11:24:50

    I think at the heart, we women have to change the dialogue to make emotional things, pink things, have greater value.

    Societally speaking, I totally agree with you. But I think Romance DOES embrace emotional things as valuable. The trick in Romance, IMO, is to have the value of women’s emotional lives be more than their softness and vulnerability. In other words, I get tired of reading heroines who “discover” or “reclaim” their “womahood” or their “femininity” as part of falling in love. These emotional qualities are practically set in bold type and underlined as particularly *female* and not as simply part of what it means to be a whole and happy person. I wish more tough heroines didn’t have to go all soft to have the Romance HEA — as if they have to earn love, somehow, by being more of a “woman.” Too often, I feel like there’s stereotypical “girl” territory and “guy” territory in the genre (i.e. my reaction to the Crusie/Mayer book — and I actually think Mayer wrote some of the “girl” stuff and Crusie wrote some of the “guy” stuff, so I don’t think it’s about the gender of the authors themselves so much). That’s one of the things that drew me to the In Death series, actually — the fact that Roarke and Eve are always swiftching and shifting roles such that the roles aren’t as gender identified.

    At one level, I think those physically strong tough as nails kick-ass heroines are part of the pendulum swinging away from the damsel in distress heroines, so I welcome them, because I think they signal a backlash against the stereotype of female passivity in Romance. And hopefully the backlash signals an openness to finding a better balance in both heroes and heroines. I include heroes, because when we talk about “alpha” heroes in Romance, they often bear little resemblance to how alpha animals are in the wild. True alpha animals, for example, don’t routinely bully and overpower weaker animals just for the heck of it. That’s another stereotype I’d like to see nuanced a bit more. Yes I know some readers love the extremes, but I don’t think there will ever be any lack of those more typed characters in the genre for exactly that reason.

    As for the heroines of Julie Ann Long and Caroline Linden, I find myself avidly reading books by both of them for the sheer freshness of their voices and the focus on character and relationship building.

  51. Carrie Pilby
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 13:11:50

    Yeah, I think Carrie Pilby illustrates that theme very well! Great book.

  52. Devon
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 15:22:20

    What an odd column. I’ve read it over several times now, and ultimately she just seems to be arguing that her reading preferences are more intelligent than others. And my feminist radar (femdar?) is pinging strongly. [Everybody run and hide, it’s women’s studies girl.] Ultimately, what powers Ms. Gelsomino’s argument is her own tastes and her sexism. Why are male-written, dark, violent, action driven thrillers more intelligent than mushy, hearts and flowers, shoe shopping driven romances? Because the emotional realm is less cerebral, less intellectual. Perhaps I’m overstating things a bit, but I definitely hear echoes of the ages old argument that women aren’t as strong, capable or intelligent because they are ruled by their emotions. There is little evidence to back up her argument, and since it’s all based upon individual reading preferences and value judgments, I’m going to ignore it.

    I often bemoan the lack of well-drawn, “strong” heroines in Romance, especially compared to heroines in mystery and fantasy (and even YA novels). And I agree with Alison Kent (I think. I apologize if I’m not giving credit where its due), that many romance readers are far more interested in a strong “alpha” male than the female characters. I’ve seen comments where it is explicitly stated that a reader could care less about the heroine, or a book is dismissed out of hand if the hero is described to be other than traditionally “alpha”. I find it fascinating that such a female driven genre is so much more concerned with the characterization of the males. But the romance genre is huge and very diverse, and the strong heroines are out there.

    Everyone’s come up with great suggestions for females who write intelligently and who write intelligent women. I’d like to throw in Sharan Newman and Lindsey Davis (historical mysteries). And for straight up dark and violentand non-feminine, how about Minette Walters, Poppy Z. Brite, Kathe Koja, or Caitlin Kiernan?

  53. FerfeLaBat
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 16:16:00

    What have we gotten from this thread? A new way to say someone is stupid:

    Christine Rimmer replies:
    March 5th, 2007 | Quote
    Unfortunately for Tara/Flavia, succeeded in making *herself* look far less than Mensa-qualified.

    unworthy of the effort required to step on them …

    Sandy AAR replies:
    March 5th, 2007 | Quote
    Though you certainly took her out very nicely, Jane, you’re giving her essay a credence that it doesn’t deserve. JMHO.

    And … (possibly) unemployed

    Sandy AAR replies:
    March 5th, 2007 | Quote
    Jane, I think we’re fortunate that she’s a former RT Managing Editor.

    Carry on.

  54. FerfeLaBat
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 16:51:25

    As to my opinion on the article itself I disagree with Tara. It was Tara who turned me on to Sookie Stackhouse, BTW. So – she reads romance but not exclusively. It would be pointless to try to list all of the women writers who successfully create believable strong heroines and stories that don’t insult my intelligence. I read more books written by women than men. I have no clue why except that perhaps it is because guy writers tend to portray women as bitches, whores, or stupid and I have a hard time reading that. On my keeper shelf for guy writers is Hiassen, Tim Dorsey, Simon Winchester, Douglas Adams, Michael Pollan, Michael B. Oren, David Sedaris, John Grisham’s A Painted House, David Bodanis etc.

  55. Tara Gelsomino
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 19:18:24

    Hi all,
    Ms. Gelissimo checking in (hehe sorry Jane, couldn’t resist).

    Thanks for the discourse. I can confess that I didn’t post to be deliberately provocative. It was rather more an afterthought. I posted what I wanted to say and then thought “Hmm I bet some people aren’t going to like that.”
    But I’m used to that…

    I’ve read these posts with interest and I think perhaps I didn’t make my point clearly enough and/or people are OVERgeneralizing what I said. I didn’t say ALL women are writing dumb heroines or that ALL men are writing smart heroines. Nor did I say that ALL men do a better job, etc. etc.

    There are plenty of smart heroines in fiction written by women. I’ve read Charlaine Harris and Caren Lissner and Judith Ivory (who writes probably the smartest romances around) and SEP (whose heroine for Match Me If You Can–Annabel–may just be the worst example of that neurotic, supposedly brilliant/capable businesswoman who is anything but, yet she turned it around with the fairly crafty chick in Natural Born) and lots of other authors who are pretty fabulous. (Oh yeah and for the doubters out there, I challenge you to read Nancy Bartholomew’s stripper series and not think Sierra’s damn clever beneath the bleached roots). Ferfe’s heroine Tara (ahem) is a great example of a smart, DIFFERENT heroine for the genre.

    But, I’ve read a good number of really poor romances and chick lit (perhaps in part due to my total immersion with the genre during my time at RT) with heroines who like to tell me they’re smart and yet don’t follow through with their actions. There are far too many dithering fool heroines who don’t really make an impression. Maybe it’s the sheer glut of too many books on the market that’s leaving me with these experiences. Not sure.

    For my money, the male writers I’ve chosen to read (and mainly my tastes lie with mysteries nowadays after being burnt out on too many predictable romances/women’s fiction with stock characters) are crafting more interesting, complex, smarter heroines. It’s not a scourge to the genre, it’s my personal reading experience.

    It is an interesting (to me anyway) fact that I tend to find the heroines in mysteries more dynamic than those in romance and women’s fiction. Perhaps I feel like the women who are spending 95 percent of their time wallowing in melodrama over their relationships simply need to get a hobby.
    Perhaps the whole point of romance just doesn’t appeal to me anymore. I hope I havent’ gotten that cynical…and I don’t think I have because give me a Jenny Crusie book (written alone) and my heart will flutter any day. Show me a little great Julia Quinn historical banter and I’m all yours. I don’t know, I guess I can’t find what I’m looking for nowadays in romance or chick lit. (I’ve talked mostly about romance here, but I adore some chick lit heroines who worry about trivial things like the size of their posteriors too–Marian Keyes is a goddess, and I really enjoy Heather Cochran, Ariella Papa, and Jody Gehrman’s recent leading ladies.)

    But I like this feedback (incensed or not) because I do want to hear recommendations for great female characters. So carry on, carry on. Give me some pointers on who not to miss!

  56. Robin
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 19:34:30

    Hey Tara, do you think it’s less about male v. female writers and more about genres and expectations for those genres? Especially since so few men are writing Romance as opposed to, say, mystery?

    I think reading within a genre can both condition and jade you as a reader. I know I respond to things in Romance differently now that I’ve been steeped in the genre. I’m hypersensitized to some things (like how strong women still have to be soft and gooey inside) and differently sensitized to others — like how when I first read Shadow and the Star, as maybe the first or second Romance I read, I thought Leda was a wet rag, but when I re-read the book later, I saw her strength and dignity clearly. Sometimes I think there’s a certain shorthands in genre fiction for types and characters and characteristics, and sometimes I think this shorthand sort of backfires, depending on how a reader fills in the blanks and on how far beyond that shorthand an author takes his or her characters.

  57. Tara Gelsomino
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 21:53:04


    Robin said: Sometimes I think there’s a certain shorthands in genre fiction for types and characters and characteristics, and sometimes I think this shorthand sort of backfires, depending on how a reader fills in the blanks and on how far beyond that shorthand an author takes his or her characters.

    Robin, I think you’ve kind of summed it up right there–clearly more eloquently than I did.

    I think with so many novels getting published each month, it’s too easy for a lot of authors to just stick with sort of shallow gender stereotypes for their characters (Women automatically want lots of children! Men are never the needy, clingy ones in the relationship!) and not really flesh their characters out fully. Furthermore I think in romance and women’s fiction, because they’re so driven by characterization and character interaction, there’s less for the heroines to do and focus on besides the relationship issues.

    I think what I personally am responding to in the “men books” I’ve read is that the characters have a little more spark because they have something to work towards, a clear goal is in sight. There’s less motivation and goals assigned to characters in women’s fiction for the most part, and for me personally I find that unappealing. In too many romances/chick lit that I’ve read lately (and I’ve read many more than I have thrillers or other traditionally “male” books), the women are characterized as kind of aimless and juvenile and lacking that motivation to make them interesting. (For my money, Jenny Crusie does motivation better than anyone. She’s a perfect example of a writer who creates romance heroines who are never boring.)

    I love romance and women’s fiction and I’m a feminist and I’m not trying to malign the genre. What I was expressing was my surprise to discover that I enjoy heroines written by men more than a lot of the heroines written by women that I’ve read. I mean it should go without saying, but clearly your mileage may vary.

    My post doesn’t speak for a genre and it doesn’t speak for RT or the way anyone else there thinks or feels, any more than I should hope Sandy AAR’s post speaks for AAR. We’re all individuals and we all have opinions (they are like assholes, after all). But it does speak to the way I feel, based on what I’ve been reading (and in my former job at RT and my current job as an assistant acquisitions editor and managing editor at BBC Audiobooks America, I get to read quite a bit.) The books traditionally pegged as men’s books are by and large offering more interesting heroines FOR ME than the books traditionally pegged as women’s books. Are there bestselling female authors (like all the ones you’ve named here) that write fabulous characters? Of course there are, that’s why they’re bestsellers. But hey there’s also Cassie Edwards out there. And it’s disappointing to me to see more new romances being released that follow in her footsteps than in Jenny’s.

  58. Diana
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 22:01:34

    I don’t consider myself an unexamined reader, but perhaps one who never put much stock in gender-based literary criticism. I don’t spend much time thinking about the gender of the author and its effects on the story or how it’s told. I haven’t analyzed whether my favorite writers, or the writer I tend to think of writing smart fiction happen to be male or female. I imagine the ratios are equal.

    I do think I read more women writers, but only because i read more romance, and the vast majority of romance writers are women.

    And no, I don’t find it easier to overlook bad characterizations because of a whiz bang plot. I don’t get that at all.

    I also don’t think “pink” equates with “girl” but maybe that’s because I never wore it growing up. It’s a color, same as any other.

    Finally, I totally agree with Jane about smart not having anything to do with ones ability to solve crimes. One of the reasons I’ve never been into the mystery genre (until veronica Mars, which I love because, you guessed it, the strong characterization) was because I had little interest in the whole crime-solving past-time.

  59. Samantha
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 00:38:24

    Sadly I think a lot of people (not the ones commenting) seem to be under the same illusion as Gelsomino. I’m an English major and 95% of the books I’ve read are by men while the women authors seem to get shoved into the background. I find this is true especially if the teacher is a male. In my brit lit class I had with a man we didn’t read one text by a female author and when someone brought this up to him he pretty much brushed the comment off and said “They’re not in abundence and we had more important texts to cover.” Same goes for my male american lit teacher, but to his credit we actually covered one story by a woman “The Yellow Wallpaper” but we discussed it only for a day then quickly moved on to discuss a short story by Fitzgerald for the rest of the week.

    It amazes me how much books by women authors are pushed aside and deemed too “fluffy” to be given any literary value. You should’ve heard the uproar in one of my classes when someone lumped Jane Austen in the classic literature group. The majority of students seemed to think of her books as old brainless romance novels and refused to give her any kind of credit.

    As for men writing stronger heroines than women writers… well as you pretty much said, that’s just bullshit. Wonderful response that article, Jane.

  60. Ann(ie)
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 19:33:42

    readerdiane said:

    At times I feel sexist because I would prefer to buy books by women authors. I have tried to read male authors but the ones I have read do not develop their characters like I like to have it done.

    I agree. I enjoy David Brin’s books but not for the characterization. The only exceptions I can think of to this are James Lee Burke and Jim Butcher.

    Maybe you have to be a Jimmy in order to write deep rich characters.

  61. Watch Veronica Mars
    Jun 26, 2009 @ 01:50:39

    I like to watch Veronica Mars episodes as well Lost. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

%d bloggers like this: