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Men who write like women

Writer/actress Felicia Day commented over on the GoodReads site that she suspected the writer of a book she'd just finished (Unclean Spirits, by M.L.N. Hanover) was a male, and it turns out she was right.

When I asked her about it, she told me she could definitely tell, but couldn't say why -- just a gut instinct. (Yes, she actually replied to my comment, just as Amber Benson did to my comment on her Twitter some time ago. I don't expect we'll end up hanging out together, sipping coffee and discussing characterization.)

This is something I've thought about from time to time, as I've written three novels I call romantic comedies -- in other words, romance novels, written by a male. It's more common than you might imagine, but it's far from unheard of. Emily says it's okay; I write like a girl, anyway. Um ... thanks? :-)

Storm Chaser would be shelved as a romance, and the novel I'm working on now is from the POV of a teenage girl, so I'm curious: How many of you can tell whether a writer is male or female, and why? I mean other than their names, of course! If you see initials instead of a first name on a book cover, there's a good chance it's someone working in a genre that's usually thought of as appealing mostly to readers of the opposite sex.

Oh, I almost forgot: My internet presence will be sparse over the next few days. Emily's feeling under the weather (nothing serious), so we're going to stay warm and comfy at home as well as, if weather and health permits, spend some time at the Kendallville Apple Festival and hopefully visit with Charis, Vinny, and the twins.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 30th, 2010 01:03 pm (UTC)
I had the exact same reaction to Unclean Spirits. I wasn't at all surprised to find it was a male author, but I couldn't for the life of me tell you why I thought it.

By contrast, a couple of years ago I read Whiskey Sour by JA Konrath, knowing it was a male author writing a female lead. The whole way through the book, I couldn't stop thinking of the lead as male. Her humour and voice was just so masculine to me. I wonder if I'd still have felt that if I hadn't know the author was male?
Oct. 1st, 2010 01:14 pm (UTC)
It could be that just knowing from the beginning makes a difference, even if we try not to let it. Just the same, I do believe most writers leave tells that a discerning reader can use to tell their sex. Men and women are equal -- but not the same.
Sep. 30th, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
I often find that when a man writes a woman there is something lacking, something about the feeling or perspective of the woman. I wonder if it is the same for men reafing women authors.

I don't read romance (have in the past, haven't in years) but my main genre of fiction, sci fi, has almost no female authors that are good (in the mainstream that is, smaller press I have found some good female authors). You can tell when a woman is writing even of it semi hidden, and that saddens me. I don't know why it is this way.

when I was at Balticon I went to a panel about feminism in fiction (it was called Get out of the Fridge, in reference to the character type of the girl in the refrigerator) and on the panel there was one male author who though I have not read his work yet is known to be able to write women well. Having an initial in his name he has had the mistake of people thinking he was female. So it isn't exclusive, I think most of the time you can tell the gender of the author, but there are always exceptions. (one of the things I picked up from that panel was if your female character can have a conversation with another woman and never mention a man, sex or related, they she is a full character)

Also, I use my initials in my art and in my professional life too, not to disguise my sex, but to avoid the topic before meeting a prospective employer, client or customer. I found it helps get my resumes and paintings looked at more often. Once I come in for an interview, then it is up to my portfolio and personality.
Sep. 30th, 2010 11:47 pm (UTC)
I want to say 2 words to you Nutty.... Connie Willis. :)
Oct. 1st, 2010 01:16 am (UTC)
I said not all!!!! :) Yes she is a good example, and when discussing this same thing with my brother in law dealing with fantasy type books and his rant against Lackey, which I agree with, I brought up Marget Weiss, to which he had to concede. :) (and yes, there are many more I could bring up but my brother in law has not read Elizabeth Bear or the lesser known authors I know.)
Oct. 1st, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
SF writers
When it comes to science fiction writers, I like Ursula K. Le Guin, Nancy Kress, and A.C. Crispin (who I didn't know was female for many years). Also Linda Nagata, who was my instructor in a SF writing course I took and had produced some wonderful books.
Oct. 1st, 2010 03:13 pm (UTC)
I think you hit it with feeling. Men and women just seem to feel things differently, and no matter how studious and sensitive a writer is, that might tend to come through to a degree. One writer who impressed me with the ability to write the opposite sex is AC Crispen, who started out writing Star Trek novels -- I never had a clue she was female until years after I became a fan.

I've heard the same thing about a character having a conversation with another woman without mentioning males or sex; the problem is, the three novels I wrote from the POV of a woman are romances, and although that genre is much improved from its origins it's still, at heart, about a man and woman coming together (unless it's gay fiction, of course). That being the case, there weren't all that many scenes in my books in which two women talked about something else, although I can recall a few.

I once got a request for a full manuscript based on a query and sample in which I used a female penname. I was also thinking that it would help avoid the topic until they'd judged me by my work, but it got complicated when I signed on with an agent between sending the query and getting their request back. Whether they would have still requested the complete manuscript knowing I was a male, or whether finding out I was male led to their rejection, I'll never know, but I decided to go with full honesty after that.

Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, but with my new manuscript I'm going with even more challenges. Not only is the POV character female, she's decades younger than me and the story's a mystery, something I haven't written before. No one can accuse me of avoiding challenges! :-)
Oct. 1st, 2010 04:16 pm (UTC)
Challenging yourself is always great, and I think it make you a better writer, creator, whatever ::)
Oct. 2nd, 2010 04:23 am (UTC)
That's good, because my next character is going to be a Chinese lesbian assassin from a two dimensional universe.

Sep. 30th, 2010 01:56 pm (UTC)
It's interesting you brought this up, because although my first thee books had a female lead, "Art of Forgetting" is all from a male perspective. I'm not sure how obvious it is that I'm a woman from my writing, and I'm anxious to make sure I get it right. I think you can usually tell if a writer is male or female, but I couldn't say exactly how...
Oct. 1st, 2010 03:16 pm (UTC)
No, it seems to be a very subjective thing that most readers can't really explain. I've heard different explanations, one being that female writers tend to concentrate on introspection more than males, but it's likely a combination of many factors. In any case, I think most writers, with a little work, can pull off writing the opposite sex well even if some readers figure it out.
Sep. 30th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
having never read it, i can't answer that. However, I can say I can often tell if the author is male or female (and I've noticed people can peg my males as being written by a woman)
Oct. 1st, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
Maybe I should poll the people who like my Buffy fanfiction, considering much of it is written from female POV's. Since my username is a fictional female character, and I know some people thought I was a female, I wonder if I did a good job or if people just weren't paying attention?
Oct. 1st, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC)
that's a thought
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 1st, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC)
I agree, it *shouldn't*, and certainly good writers can pull it off either way. Just the same, it's becoming clear from comments I'm getting that many readers can tell whether the writer is male or female just by their writing style. The average female writer, it appears, concentrates more on feelings and their characters are more introspective, which probably means they're better at characterization.
Oct. 1st, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
Well, one of my all-time favorite adult fiction authors is Terry Pratchett, and his female characters are just as well-developed as the males. In fact, of the characters I'm thinking of, the last things on their minds are sex, men, fashion, and so on--except for maybe Cheery Littlebottom the female dwarf forensics officer, but as a female dwarf, she has to overcompensate in the femininity department for other characters to accept her as an openly female dwarf.

And as for an author both of us know, L. Frank Baum probably wrote more convincing female characters than male characters, and not just in the Oz books either. He of course had the Aunt Jane's Nieces and Mary Louise books, but he also wrote some adult fiction (The Fate of a Crown for example) with well-developed female leads. Baum's male-oriented adventure books were more of a shocker to me, and I think that's part of why he wrote them under pseudonyms, because no one else would believe it was Baum either.
Oct. 1st, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC)
Yes, Terry Pratchett does a great job. As for Baum, I haven't read any of his adult fiction, but I've heard the suggestion that at least with his children's literature he was the opposite of what you might expect: His female characters were very strong, but his males tended to be less than whole in one way or another (no heart, no brain, one leg, always getting lost, and so on). Baum may have been one of those rare writers who identified more with the opposite sex than he did with his own in some ways.
Oct. 2nd, 2010 12:26 am (UTC)
I wonder how much of Baum's characterization of female characters had to do with having a well-known feminist as his mother-in-law. His time in musical theater probably gave him some experience with strong females and pushing gender roles, too.
Oct. 2nd, 2010 03:00 am (UTC)
I considered both of those, but I can't help thinking that it was just as likely to be something about his childhood that made him more sensitive to other people in general; in my experience technique can be taught, but someone like Baum must have had a raw talent for seeing through other eyes from childhood. I wonder if he was a sickly kid who had a lot of time to observe those around him? Of course, it could be that he had the ability to get into other skins early, but turned it to female characters after his marriage and various careers.

Now that I think about it, I never wrote from female POV's until after *my* marriage!
Oct. 2nd, 2010 05:33 am (UTC)
We really don't know much about his time in the military academy, which is surprising, as I would think the school (if it still exists, and I think it does) would keep records about his grades, extracurricular activities, and accomplishments. Maybe he was the type to sneak out of artillery practice to daydream and write stories. And with everything that Baum got involved with throughout his life, on top of raising four boys, it's amazing to me how much he wrote and got published, not to mention even had a chance to write.
Oct. 3rd, 2010 03:11 am (UTC)
Yes, I could definitely see him sneaking out of the skills portion of his classes to go write stories, just like I used to do! And, like me, I suppose he just inched the time out here and there, wherever he could, to get bis writing done in between all the other demands of real life.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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