Monday, January 19, 2009

A man or a woman?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Does it matter whether the writer is a man or woman?

You bet it does. I started thinking about this because I was rereading John D. MacDonald's A Tan and Sandy Silence. I'm not finished with it yet. When I am, I'll have a few comments about it.

I picked it up again because of the little discussion a few days ago about what characters or stories I remember. I remember Travis McGee and Meyer, the specific characters, not the stories.

This time, one of my major responses to the book is, "This is a book written by a man at a time when more men were writers and readers." McGee is a man's man, tough, strong, in a strange dominant relationship to the women around him. He has a code in regard to women, but that code doesn't give most of them the kind of independent role women have today (and that's putting it mildly).

Don't misunderstand. In a way, I feel that almost anything I say will be wrong. I know women still have a long way to go in equal pay and opportunities. We haven't had a woman president yet. So basically, I'm going to try to slip around all this. But even I have the sense that there are fundamental differences between most mystery novels written by men and most mystery novels written by women.

I also have the sense that today, most readers are women. Just look at the publishers' lists. Look at the book clubs in your church or other groups. Mostly women.

This book was written in 1971. It would be unfair to judge it by today's different standards. It is without a doubt a well-written book of the sort I still enjoy. But it is certainly different.

Let me confess: I read and enjoy all kinds of mystery books. I've read cozies about flower arrangers and books about cats who solve mysteries, as well as the powerful Romanic mystery precursors like Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I've read intellectual mystery novels and mystery novels of the puzzle sort.

One of the problems I have is that I write what I would call tough cozies. I'm no Mickey Spillane or Ross McDonald (who I think is one of the greatest mystery writers). But I'm no strict cozy writer either. I will probably always have trouble getting my in-between type stories published, but that's OK too.

I haven't tried it, but I think that if I were reading an unattributed manuscript, I could be at least eighty percent accurate when it comes to guessing whether the author is a man or woman. Both can be good writers. Both can write and have written books I enjoy. But generally (maybe not always) it does make a difference whether a book is written by a man or by a woman.

If you would like to respond to this post, please leave a comment or go to my web site where there is an email address. Thanks.

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