A Young Female English Major Sounds Off
Written on an airplane.
(That'd be me, in case you had any doubt.)
I stood in the bookstore at the Oakland Airport yesterday morning for a good thirty minutes, trying to figure out which of the limited titles in front of me would suffice for (yet another) cross-country plane ride.
I picked a Scott Turow novel because I'd never read him before, and he's always getting compared to Grisham, and maybe it would be "fun."
And halfway through his newest book -- a plodding, self-indulgent best-seller -- I discovered I was really, really frustrated.
I get that there's a difference between great literary works and the kind of books people buy to read on planes. I mean, I buy stuff just to read on planes. I enjoy fast, thrilling page-turners that sometimes also have some literary merit (Harlan Coben), but mostly just serve as literary quickies. I get writing for mass appeal.
It hit me over the head like a ton of bricks: all of these fast-paced, suspenseful-like thrillers are written by men over the age of 45.
After a few minutes, I sort of felt like this particular airport bookstore wall of "best-selling" options was smirking at me. I had so few choices:
- I could read suspense novels written by men twenty years my senior.
- I could read any of the "pink books" -- i.e., "fun" girlish books about things women do, like buy pink things or have dating problems.
- I could read non-pink fiction books by women, but those seem to involve a lot of Victorian settings and/or vampires.
- I could read Sue Grafton.
- (I suppose I could read something non-fiction about my finances or blood pressure or new SUCCESSFUL! business strategies written by people whose only real business experience has been telling other people how to run a successful business; I could also stuff in-flight peanuts up my nose.)
How is it there are almost no women writing hard-boiled, fun, suspenseful thrillers?
Is it because there aren't women buying them? That seems hard to believe. So what else is it?
I don't know, but I will tell you what I do know. Or rather, what I'm tired of. Publishing houses, take heed.
Dear Rapidly Approaching Middle-Aged White Authors of "Suspenseful" Best-Sellers:
I know you are too busy lighting your cigars with $100 bills to listen to my whiney little blog entry, but that's why folks like me have blogs. Are you familiar with the term, "blog"? It's like an online journal that encourages two-way communication between author and audience and is changing the very notions of media-- huh? What's that? Yes, I did mean "online" as in "the internet." You know what...um. Nevermind. Let's just say I have a few prickly suggestions.
For one, I would greatly appreciate it if for your next best-selling novel you would refrain from trying to write "strong" female characters. You aren't good at it. Most strong women aren't also always stunning beauties with a wooden-intended-as-wry sense of humor hoping -- just hoping -- for the not-as-good-looking older man to charm them into having wild sex in inappropriate places.
Also, strong women aren't prone to winking a lot, nor to referencing their partner's penis, directly or by nickname, in "sly" conversation.
I don't know where you picked up on this habit, either, but for the record: most white women do not call their female friends "girlfriend!" in casual conversation. No, not even in jest. Please stop with that.
In fact, do you think it would be possible for you to stop with dialogue altogether? Hmm? Because honestly, sirs, no one talks like that. Do you? No, I didn't think so.
I'm also not sure where you get your characters' names from, but I have a sneaking suspicion you troll the made-for-Lifetime movies on Sunday mornings hoping to find something you like. It is going well beyond cliche to have a brash character with the last name of Kincaid. In fact, if you have any character with the last name of Kincaid (or Kincaide, which no, does not make you cleverer), I will giggle at you. Tee hee.
Same goes for any "glamorous" female character you write with the last name of Sinclair.
I also think it would be great if the next time you decided to write about characters who come from or venture into poor, urban neighborhoods, you could find a way to write about rap or hip-hop music without sounding crushingly condescending.
And speaking of condescending, I don't know if it's you or if it's your editors or what, but unless you're a tech person, you might wanna lay off the "technical" jargon altogether. It's my personal opinion that you're shooting yourself in the foot with your brand of computer-speak. For example, when you're right smack in the middle of telling a very exciting tale about someone doing something nefarious, please don't interrupt the action to describe what email is.
Because sirs (and really, I cannot emphasize this enough): I know what email is.
It honestly frightens me to think you need to explain it. Perhaps this is more a reflection of you and your high-tech ways of having your girl -- pardon me, I mean, your secretary -- check your email for you, print it all out, and then give you the hard copies (that means something tangible, like print-outs) in a file marked "RECEIVED EMAILS." Yes? Am I getting warm?
Alright, alright, I know I'm sounding bitchy. But so long as I'm subjected to you, I feel you should be subjected to me.
It's the wave of the future.
p.s. It's [ctrl + P].