Golden Age of Detective Fiction Forum

July 27, 2008

Why are women [crime] writers ignored? Or are they?

“Natasha Cooper says the genre has a serious gender problem”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article4315389.ece

Friendly,
Xavier

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20 Comments »

  1. I think an article that makes such a claim should at least mention PD James and Ruth Rendell, because their huge success seem to be contradictory to her claims. Also, I hate it when a woman writer criticizing male sexism makes sweeping statements about “heterosexual men.” I’m sure — if she looked hard! — that she might find some “heterosexual men” who are not so scared of the idea of sex with men that they can’t bear to read about a woman’s perpsective in a novel. Too make that claim implicity about all “heterosexual men” seems pretty gratuitously insulting to me. Would most “heterosexual men” really regard reading about Harriet’s love for Lord Peter as threatening to their heterosexuality?

    Not to mention that homosexuality itself seems a pretty common feature in modern mysteries. Look at Reginald Hill’s gay cop. Or the books of Robert Barnard, where there always seems to be a male homosexuals somewhere (we know those “heterosexual men” dig reading about lesbians, of course!). According to the author, “heterosexual men” should be afraid to read Reginald Hill and Robert Barnard then.

    I expect that books like A Dark-Adapted Eye or Gaudy Night have always had a larger readership among women than men, but then I would think “Red Harvest” and “The High Window” probably have always been more popular among men. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t men who like Vine/Rendell and Sayers (Symons loved Eye, Barzun Gaudy) or women who love Hammett and Chandler.

    Which isn’t to say there isn’t a sexism factor traditionally. Symons and Barzun, despite having such different aesthtic beliefs, seem to me to strike sexist notes in dismissing women writers sometimes (The COC uses the term “feminine” as a badge of inferiority, while Symons gives short shrift, as I recall, to writers like Celia Fremlin, Ursula Caurtiss, Margaret Millar and Christianna Brand — though he, like the Times, adores Highsmith!). Boucher always felt free to make condescending references to the “HIBK school.” Although I also read recently a claim that Shirly Jackson had not been revived by feminist critics because so much of her work, from the pre-NOW era, is viewed as too domestic and domiciled, so maybe this problem impacts both sexes/genders.

    Is there such a thing as hyper-maculine and hyper-feminine? Are Mickey Spillane and Patrica Wentworth, say, the polar opposities of the mystery fiction?

    Curt

    Comment by jonjermey — July 27, 2008 @ 9:16 pm | Reply

  2. Re: Why are women crime writers ignored?

    To be fair though, I should point out that Natasha Copper does not endorse the heterosexual male panic theory, which is attributed to a male, Allan Guthrie. Cooper says his “idea is interesting,” though she thinks it may have more to do with “preferences for systematising and empathising and activity in the brain circuits around the parasingulate sulcus.” Yes, yes. It’s always the poor sulcus that gets the blame!

    Curt

    Comment by jonjermey — July 27, 2008 @ 9:16 pm | Reply

  3. I would have thought the most famous detective writers – Christie, Sayers, Allingham, Marsh, even Tey – were all women. (Oh, and Doyle, Chandler and Hammett.) Rendell, James (as you pointed out) and Minette Walters are all women, too.

    Long live Meyerbeer forever! “Pour cette cause sainte, j’obéirai sans crainte, à mon Dieu, à mon roi!”

    Nick Fuller

    Comment by jonjermey — July 27, 2008 @ 9:17 pm | Reply

  4. Curt wrote:


    Mmmm… While I can see Gaudy Night as kind of superior chick flick, I have more difficulty picturing the bleak ADAE as a woman’s favorite. Much like Patricia Highmisth to which she is much endebted, Rendell strikes me as a decidedly un-feminine crime writer, at least following usual definition of “masculine” and “feminine” writing.

    France’s top mystery reviewers up from the 40’s to the early 80’re were unabashedly sexist, and the local bias towards noir didn’t help. Maurice-Bernard Endrèbe, Michel Lebrun or to a lesser extent Igor B. Maslowski routinely ignored or patronized female mystery writers unless they wrote, or were supposedly writing, like men, thus the popularity of suspense writers like the aforementioned Highsmith, Margaret Millar or… Charlotte Armstrong. The British crime queens, on the other hand, were often deemed as dull and once again, writing lady’s stuff, though Endrèbe championed Marsh, Sayers and Tey. As a result, French female mystery writers remained a tiny, almost invisible minority but for isolated flukes like Laurence Oriol. Things started to change in the nineties with the rise of Brigitte Aubert, Dominique Manotti and of course Fred Vargas.

    Xavier

    Comment by jonjermey — July 27, 2008 @ 9:17 pm | Reply

  5. Re: Why are women crime writers ignored?

    The article strikes me as an exercise in fatuity. It’s not necessary to go back to Golden Age authors to point out the dominance of women in the field (Christie, Sayers, Allingham, Tey, Mitchell…). When I walk into a bookstore today (or consult one online), I am overwhelmed by the proliferation of popular women writers, including people like Catherine Aird, Dorothy Simpson, Mary Daheim, Nancy Atherton, Jill Churchill, Carolyn Hart, Lilian Jackson Braun, Rita Mae Brown – I could go on, obviously, at great length, but why bother? Frankly, to me at least, it’s the kind of article that gives too much literary criticism a bad name.

    Les Blatt

    Comment by jonjermey — July 27, 2008 @ 9:18 pm | Reply

  6. Xavier, I think the Vine novels are more “feminine” than the Rendells, at least the ones I have read.

    Certainly Dark-Adapted Eye is very woman-centered and domestic in terms of setting and character, which is what I was thinking about.

    SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

    There’s even a gay man of about thirty in it having an “affair” with a thirteen-year-old boy, as I recall, who is treated very sympathetically by the author, which should be extremely offputting to “heterosexual males” under the theory outlined in the article.

    END END END

    Which isn’t to say it isn’t bleak and psychological and depressing, but I’m not sure those qualities make it masculine. I think “psychology” is very popular in women’s books, women writers did so much to advance it.

    I recall hearing an analysis of books popular in the Oprah Book Club where they said that books where really terrible things happened were quite popular, as long as the main character reached some sort of understanding or resolution at the end!

    On Highsmith, by the way, it’s interesting that men like her and that she was a lesbian. I wonder if it’s been argued that hse had a “male mind,” whatever that means exactly?

    I thought Copper raised an interesting point about the picture chosen to illustrate Highsmith in the Times. I recall that from her biography there was a topless “art” photo of her as a young woman (quite attractive). It is kind of interesting that was the one they went with in the Times. Old boys wil be boys?

    Curt

    Comment by jonjermey — July 27, 2008 @ 9:19 pm | Reply

  7. The topics and arguments raised by Copper’s article are not new and they always baffle me. I don’t believe gender has anything to do with good writing.. When approaching a book the author’s gender is totally irrelevant to me, and, I believe, to the vast majority of the people who like to read.

    These discussions always take for granted what is far from having been demonstrated: that women and men write necessarily in different ways. They may, but they don’t necessarily do so. As, evidently, men don’t necessarily write from a man’s point of view or women from a woman’s point of view, like the article implies. Yesterday, Brazilian writer João Ubaldo Ribeiro was awarded the most important Portuguese literary prize (¤ 100000, roughly the same as the Booker). His most famous book is a fictional (and quite graphical, in fact) memoir of a sexually uninhibited 68 year old woman.

    I also find the “fear of homosexuality” argument puzzling, Curt has written: «I’m sure — if she looked hard! — that she might find some “heterosexual men” who are not so scared of the idea of sex with men that they can’t bear to read about a woman’s perspective in a novel». I believe this is correct and is enough to diminish greatly the scope of the argument (I don’t know if it would be necessary to look that hard, though…) But something more can be said: while reading, the reader doesn’t necessarily identify her/himself with the narrator or point of view character (if so, the reading of many books would be an unbearable experience). Therefore, why should a male heterosexual feel “terrified” of reading a sex scene from a woman’s point of view, even if he dislikes the idea of sex with men? In Blood on the Moon, by James Ellroy, one of the quintessentially “masculine” writers of today, the behaviour of the main characters is determined by traumatic homosexual experiences and the male protagonist has been raped as a child (which is described in the book). I don’t believe this has negatively affected Ellroy’s “though” status, sales or critical appraisal among men.

    And anyway, by statistical evidence, women plus gay men (to whom the argument obviously does not apply) are the majority of the world population — the article even claims women alone are the largest part of the mystery reading public (I don’t know if this is true). Why, therefore, should this supposed male heterosexual sexism, which would in any case be in the minority, be held responsible for the alleged neglect of women crime writers, or of women writers in general?

    Moreover, I doubt very much that such neglect exists. Not nearly as many men as women have been hailed, many of them with good reasons, as the best mystery writers of their time or of all times: Christie, Sayers, Allingham, Marsh, James, Rendell, Walters… As Nick Fuller mentions, women feature prominently among the most famous mystery writers of all time.

    Nobody has ever thought of “The King of Crime” (it would probably be considered sexist), as opposed to the media cliché of “The Queen of Crime”, which, after Christie’s death, has been used to refer, not only to the best woman mystery writer, but, at least implicitly, to the best mystery writer *period* – which, by the way, seems to assume that men are ipso facto unfit for the throne.

    It is also frequent in the current trends in criticism to salvage writers like Christie, Sayers, Allingham and Marsh from the general wreck of GAD mainly, or even only, because of their “distinctive feminine contribution to the genre” (whatever that may be), while Queen, Carr and others are ignored or even subject to derision, being perceived as having all the GAD faults and none of the redeeming (that is, in this context, gender) qualities. It is great that the books by GAD women writers are praised, but it is a pity that they are so because of secondary reasons (and even more the pity that other writers of both sexes are ignored.)

    All of Christie and Sayers books, as several major Allingham books, are currently in print — but one finds virtually none by Carr, Queen, Rhode, Freeman, Innes, Berkeley and others. It’s great that Christie, Sayers and Allingham are in print, but it proves that they are not neglected, least of all because they are women. (I am not suggesting that men writers are neglected because they are men, either).

    And, anyway, what if among somebody’s favourite mystery writers of the century only 13 of the 50 are women? I wouldn’t be in the least disturbed of only 13 of somebody’s favourites were men. The Times list is an individual one, although based on a poll. Another poll and another list would have different results. I don’t believe charges of sexism can seriously hold on these grounds.

    Henrique Valle

    Comment by jonjermey — July 27, 2008 @ 9:19 pm | Reply

  8. I will comment on gay characters in modern mysteries. I have read over 200 books in this year’s Edgar Best Novel competition, and I can only remember 3-4 gay characters in all the books. One was by Christopher Rice, which would be expected, as he’s gay as well. There was a gay couple in John Connolly’s latest, and a couple of painfully stereotyped gay characters in 2 other books. In fact, in one book, a gay man took his sterling place settings camping. There might be one or two more that I’m missing, because I wasn’t keeping count per se, but the article is wrong to say they are common.

    I would hardly have called Margaret Millar’s work feminine. I could see the Fremlin or Armstrong or McCoy as being more “domestic” but not really Millar.

    Jeffrey Marks

    Comment by jonjermey — July 27, 2008 @ 9:20 pm | Reply

  9. With this long range project of mine, on the Golden-Age in Britain (I’ve nearly finished what I hope will be volume one, on so-called Humdrums: Street, Crofts, Connington, Wade and the Coles), I did a list of 150 great novels by Golden Age generation writers that includes 59 writers, 21 of whom were women. Maybe that makes me a sexist, since it’s not 50-50, but I did want to broaden things out a bit from the usual Crime Queen stuff. It is striking how the men have disappeared relative to the women, though there are some once pretty prominent women who have faded as well, like Anthony Gilbert and Edith Caroline Rivett (Lorac/Carnac).

    Another point that could be argued (and has been) is that the Crime Queens largely bowed to male hegemony in their works. The ending of Margery Allingham’s “The Fashion in Shrouds” is pretty cringeworthy from a feminist point of view, I would have thought; yet I’ve rarely heard Allingham fans complain about it. Sayers was more of a genuine feminist, however, which is a great point in Gaudy’s Night favor today.

    Actually, I checked and Julian Symons’s treatment of Margaret Millar is rather detailed for a small survey. He also covers Shelley Smith, who is very undeservingly neglected today. I see from Hubin, by the way, that the latter died in 1998, I wasn’t even aware of this. Did her death get any attention?

    But, anyway, on this score, good for Julian!

    Curt

    Comment by jonjermey — July 27, 2008 @ 9:23 pm | Reply

  10. One thing missing from this discussion in branding / demographics. Since around 1970, most commercial entertainment in the USA has been targeted to a particular demographic group. Movies, books, comics, music: they are all clearly labeled to show if their intended audience is : adult, teen or child; male of female; white or black; gay or straight. Demographics is a huge revolution. Before 1970, TV ratings simply told the total number of people who watched a TV show. After 1970, the ratings broke people down by age, race, income, etc. Shows that were too popular with children (eg The Red Skelton Show) were canceled, and new, violent entertainment like “SWAT” was developed to please the coveted young adult market (25-40 year olds, perceived as big spenders).

    Today, anyone can just look at a book or film ad, and know the target audience its publisher intends. I can tell mysteries by Lee Child, Tom Clancy, Steve Hamilton, James Elroy, are for adult, straight white men. A child of ten can tell this. Why? Not because of their brain sulcus, or gay panic, or other “biological” explanations. But because the book design, blurbs, cover pictures are full of clues that make this clear to the densest customer. Similarly, almost all cozies are clearly marketed to adult straight white women.

    The authors might not like this system. In his Mystery Scene interview, Lee Child was pleased that quite a few women were reading him, in addition to his large male audience. However, no matter what authors think of the system, demographic marketing is such an overwhelming part of the late capitalist system of merchandising entertainment, that it is almost impossible to avoid or escape.

    Much of both the public and the critics seem pleased with demographic branding, and treat it as holy writ. I cannot tell you enough how relentlessly many people refuse to cross demographic brands. I as a critic liked such films as “Superman Returns” and “Fantastic Four”. People have smirked at me and called me stupid to my face, telling me these films are “obviously for children”, and that they can never have any appeal to grownups. Similarly, I begged and pleaded with the film critic community to pay attention to the film “High School Musical”, an exceptionally well made film targeted at 8-12 year olds, according to its publicity releases. Few critics will even watch this film…

    Jeffrey Marks’ post is fascinating and important. It tells how totally gay characters are absent from mysteries marketed for straight people. This is an index at how deeply branding has penetrated the mystery books themselves. It also shows publishers’ belief that all entertainment has to hew to the most rigid demographic standards. Such an absence of gay characters cannot be simple author choices. It must be a product of a corporate system – one that is systematically excluding gay characters from entertainment product aimed at straights.

    Mike Grost

    Comment by jonjermey — July 29, 2008 @ 11:21 pm | Reply

  11. > Another point that could be argued (and has been) is that the Crime Queens largely bowed to male hegemony in their works.

    You have probably good reasons to say this, but I’m not so sure. Agatha Christie was one of the shapers of GAD writing, having influenced most of the following authors, including the male ones. So, even if this is not evident today, these archetypal GAD writers, like Carr and Queen, have in a way been shaped by Christie.. I believe Christie soon achieved a status that enabled her to write pretty much whatever she wanted to; I don’t remember any example of her “bowing to male hegemony”. I believe in her autobiography she says she was not a feminist, but there is as large field between being feminist and being un-feminine!

    > >The ending of Margery Allingham’s “The Fashion in Shrouds” is pretty cringeworthy from a feminist point of view, I would have thought; yet I’ve rarely heard Allingham fans complain about it.

    I guess women may get away with some decidedly anti-feminist stuff in a way men will never be able to! But I’m also not so sure about Allingham in general. Women characters in her books seem much more emancipated than the average in contemporary her GAD authors.

    > >It is striking how the men have disappeared relative to the women, though there are some once pretty prominent women who have faded as well, like Anthony Gilbert and Edith Caroline Rivett (Lorac/Carnac).

    The most striking example may be Gladys Mitchell, who today is almost only read by connoisseurs.

    > >With this long range project of mine, on the Golden-Age in Britain (I’ve nearly finished what I hope will be volume one, on so-called Humdrums: Street, Crofts, Connington, Wade and the Coles)<<<

    Interesting that you chose to start with the “humdrums”.. Will you stick to this pejorative designation?

    Henrique

    Comment by jonjermey — July 29, 2008 @ 11:22 pm | Reply

  12. I agree that gay people are generally under-represented in the current mystery fiction. I also agree this is most probably not a choice of the authors. I also think gay people are badly represented. Mostly, gay characters tend to be stereotypes: be it negative (increasingly rare), neutral or positive. Very seldom they are convincing.

    In addition to the marketing reasons prompted by Mike in his insightful post, perhaps homosexuality is still perceived by editors to be too sensitive an issue to be dealt capably in popular fiction, in particular in the crime department. For instance, I don’t believe anybody would dispute the assertion that gay people are as capable of murder as heterosexual people, but the depiction of a gay person as murderer or shady character in a crime novel (especially if aimed at non-gay readers) may be read as an indictment of gay people in general. This is limiting, because it is not infrequent in mystery stories that several characters, and not only the murderer, have darker sides, and almost all the characters may at least be suspected of some mischief. And often murderers and shady characters are the most interesting ones in mystery fiction… As the depiction of gay people as potentially dark or evil may be understood as having a homophobic connotation, either gay characters are altogether avoided or they are irrelevant and innocuous. Editors (and then, inevitably, authors) don’t want to be thrown into such turbulent waters. This is another aspect of the ongoing cultural homogenization being brought about by modern capitalism.

    MILD SPOILERS Nevertheless, I must acknowledge that experiments in this field have not been very succesful, The Last Woman in His Life being a case in point: although it is obvious that Queen’s point of view is not homophobic (in the course of the novel Ellery explicitly says that he does not judge the sexual orientation of the gay character, whom he treats in a friendly way until the end), the result is catastrophic and, I believe, may shock many readers. Perhaps it is really difficult, within the framework of popular fiction, to build a gay character that is individual, complex and convincing enough to be cast as a villain without that being perceived as a generalization. The attempt at building a nice gay character by Ruth Rendell in Dark Adapted Eye, mentioned by Curt, is unsuccessful to the other extreme: irrespective of gender and/or sexual orientation, the behaviour of the character in question would be considered as criminal in most western states, and many readers, including gay ones, would believe he should be in jail.

    There are some puzzling cases, though. For instance, in Donna Leon’s Death at La Fenice many characters are homosexual but they seem to be there to fill a quota. In fact, despite of their sexual orientation being wholly irrelevant to the plot, their sex lives are much more explored by the author those of the heterosexual characters. I can almost see the author saying: “Look how modern I am, I can write about gay characters”. But then: although the motive for the murder involves aberrant sexual behaviour, it is heterosexual. I don’t believe any editor in her/his senses would allow a first book by a then unknown author to be published with a wicked and sexually deviated gay character in it – even if he was the most credible character in the book, as is the case.

    Henrique Valle

    Comment by jonjermey — July 29, 2008 @ 11:23 pm | Reply

  13. > Such an absence of gay characters cannot be simple author choices. > >Mike Grost

    Why not?

    If a book has a romantic element in it, then presumably a certain percentage ought to have a gay romance to reflect the population as a whole, but if a book is a mystery pure and simple, why does anyone’s sexual preference have to come into it, unless it relevant to the plot?

    True, sex is part of life, but so is food. Do we need to know every character’s eating preference, and do we need to make sure that sushi, Italian food, Continental cuisine, Thai food, down-home cooking, and every other common sort of edible substance gets its far share of mentions?

    Although I know something about how Archie thought about sex, I have no idea what Nero Wolfe preferred or how he satisfied his urgings, if any. It really doesn’t matter, does it, to the books? Would anythng much change if there were a mistress up in the orchid rooms or if Wolfe and Fritz had something going beyond gastronomy?

    IMHO, mysteries and detective stories are just that — mysteries and detective stories. An author may or may not choose to make some social comments as the story is told, but they are not essential, nor is an author obliged to comment on any particular aspect of society. If such timely comments were necessary, how could we all possibly enjoy books written by and for a generation removed so far back from ours?

    Sandy

    Comment by jonjermey — July 29, 2008 @ 11:24 pm | Reply

  14. There were papberback editions of a Ross Macdonald book I recall seeing where the change in wording of the blurbs intrigued me. The earlier one, if I recollect correctly, referred to a “psychopathic homosexual,” while the latter one referred to a “homosexual psychopath.” It seemed like they were trying to soften it a bit, in terms of offending homosexuals.

    Mysteries tend to deal in stock characters, so it’s not surprising we traditionally (and perhaps still?) get these gay stereotypes, especially the “bitchy queen.” I can recall gay characters like this in Brand’s Death in High Heels and Tour de Force and Marsh’s Death in Ecstasy and Final Curtain. Agatha Christie has them as well in The Moving Finger and Three Blind Mice, I believe. They are often genuinely amusing, but of couese quite stereotypical. PD James resorts to this classic stereotype in Unnatural Causes.

    I used to read a lot of Robert Barnard, and it seemed like every book he did had at least one gay character. Hi Scandal in Belgravia is one of the best mysteries with gay characters in it.

    Curt

    Comment by jonjermey — July 29, 2008 @ 11:25 pm | Reply

  15. This question was initially raised by Jeff and Mike, and I certainly don’t want to speak for them. But:

    Sandy wrote: > > If a book has a romantic element in it, then presumably a certain percentage ought to have a gay romance to reflect the population as a whole, but if a book is a mystery pure and simple, why does anyone’s sexual preference have to come into it, unless it relevant to the plot?

    I agree with Sandy to a certain (almost to the full) extent. In fact, I criticized Donna Leon’s Death at la Fenice for having show-off, irrelevantly gay, characters. But the fact is that most fictional works deal with married or dating heterosexual people, and we are told or shown that they are such, even if it is irrelevant to the story. Marriage and dating between heterosexual people is assumed to be normal and is, therefore, implied in most fiction. In all plausibility, there would be gay people too, whose sexual orientation could also be assumed as a matter of course even if irrelevant o the story. But it usually isn’t. On the contrary, when a gay character appears in a work of fiction everybody immediately assumes that the author is meaning to *say something* (good or bad) about homosexuality.

    The latter aspect seems to be implicitly acknowledged by Sandy:

    > >An author may or may not choose to make some social comments as the story is told, but they are not essential, nor is an author obliged to comment on any particular aspect of society.

    My point is precisely that, ideally, the inclusion of gay characters in fiction should not be perceived as social commentary. It would be perceived as resulting from the fact that some people are homosexual, an underlying sociological fact like the fact that most people are heterosexual, or the fact that people eat (and, by the way, there is a lot of food – too much, I guess – in continental European mystery fiction these days, even if without the numerus clausus mentioned by Sandy!)

    An author should have almost no obligation other than literary integrity, and most certainly not the obligation to depict certain kinds of characters. The absence of gays, or any other group of people, is not a moral or literay flaw of either authors or their works. I don’t like my books to be necessarily realistic, so I am perfectly comfortable with reading mystery stories without gays. Even stereotypes don’t bother me much (unless they are derogatory), because popular fiction is to a certain extent inevitably stereotypical. Isn’t The Great Detective, after all, a stereotype? And the Retired major From India? And The Wealthy American Businessman? And The Wealthy American Businessman’s Secretary? And, for that matter, The Lone Private Eye Walking The Mean Streets? And the Psycho With Several Mental Disorders Going Back To His Youth? But, by the current trends of mystery fiction, which value realism so much, the prevailing approach of homosexuality seems very narrow.

    Instead of having written that maybe it wasn’t the authors choice not to depict gay characters, I should have written that maybe they were not entirely free to make such a choice. Like Colin Watson has tried to demonstrate, very seldom popular literature is counter-cultural and it is almost always directed at satisfying primarily not the author’s but the public’s desires. Homosexuality is still perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a delicate topic by significant segments of the public, which range from the most conservative to the most liberal, including many gays. The same gay character may be seen as “promoting gay lifestyle” by some conservatives and as a “hideous stereotype” by some liberals and gays. Sieged by this curious negative alliance, it is comprehensible that most popular writers, or their editors, avoid touching the subject even with a 10 meter pole.

    Of course my idea of the under-representation of gays in contemporary mystery fiction is based only in my limited experience and has no statistical basis.

    Henrique Valle

    Comment by jonjermey — July 29, 2008 @ 11:26 pm | Reply

  16. This discussion is off on tangents I never intended. I didn’t say that gay people SHOULD be in mysteries – or that they should be portrayed in a certain way or manner. I simply expressed amazement that there seemed to be so few – and that this must represent control by publishers, rather than random behavior of authors. Netflix (a popular DVD subscription service here in the USA) says it has over 500 gay-themed movies for rental. Amazon similarly sells huge numbers of gay movies. You can’t go to a multiplex without seeing gay characters in films like “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” or “Little Miss Sunshine”. If mystery writers were left to their own devices by publishers, it seems logical that they would have lots of gay characters too – just like the movies. One suspects these portrayals would be all over the map in terms of attitude: pro-gay, anti-gay, realistic, way-out, comic, tragic, nasty, kindly and everything else a bunch of diverse authors might think. Instead, according to info from the Edgar committee, there are almost no gay characters at all!

    Statistically, this seems really unlikely. There has got to be pressure from publishers behind this. * I tend to draw similar conclusions about other things. In recent years, mystery novels have grown much longer. My conclusion: publishers are telling authors they want longer novels. But many posts here at GAdetection think long mystery novels are caused by egocentric authors. Right! Hundreds of mystery writers all had an attack of egomania at once, causing their books to go from 200 to 300 pages. Is this realistic?

    Mike Grost

    Comment by jonjermey — July 29, 2008 @ 11:26 pm | Reply

  17. > Homosexuality is still perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a delicate topic by significant segments of the public, which range from the most conservative to the most liberal, including many gays. The same gay character may be seen as “promoting gay lifestyle” by some conservatives and as a “hideous stereotype” by some liberals and gays. Sieged by this curious negative alliance, it is comprehensible that most popular writers, or their editors, avoid touching the subject even with a 10 meter pole. > >Henrique Valle

    And no wonder they don’t.

    If I want a character to be a bit weird or evil or have any outstanding characteristic, I don’t want that muddied by having readers have preconceived ideas about the character for other reasons. If I’d want a stuffy old Indian Colonel, then I’d use one, but I wouldn’t use one unless I *did* want the stereotype.

    After all, do we need all our mysteries to be like those movies during and just after WW II in which every squadron had at least one soldier with an easily identifiable Italian, Irish, Jewish, black, intellectual (horn-rimmed glasses optional), blue-collar, small-town, and big-city background? These were cast that way intentionally, for propaganda purposes, so that almost anyone could identify with at least one of the soldiers. (Sorry, the small town guy usually died first, especially if he was naive. If he had freckles, he died by the end of the first reel.)

    Yes, there are gays in society, but if they wouldn’t necessarily be part of the particular social group around which a book is written (small town, manor house, what you will), why should they be included any more than all of the above-mentioned sorts?

    Do we insist that a mystery set in Maine have a southerner in it? Does every suburban women’s literary group really have a lesbian in it? Either people are naturally in a group, or they’re not, and if they are not naturally in that group, why should either a writer or an editor want to introduce such a character?

    Sorry for the rant, but I get so tired of PC sometimes!

    Sandy

    Comment by jonjermey — July 29, 2008 @ 11:28 pm | Reply

  18. > I tend to draw similar conclusions about other things. > > In recent years, mystery novels have grown much longer. > > My conclusion: publishers are telling authors they want longer novels.

    This is true in all genres, not just mysteries. I think every contract I’ve ever signed has had an approximate wordage specified. And sometimes it’s higher than I think the books really need to be. However, I try to give the publishers what they want.

    As for the discussion of gays in mysteries, I’ve used gay characters in Western novels (a genre you’d think would be even less welcoming of them than mysteries — although in general I hate generalizing like that) and have never had a word of complaint from either editors or readers.

    James

    Comment by jonjermey — July 29, 2008 @ 11:28 pm | Reply

  19. Just reading Robert Barnard’s “Death and the Princess.” One “prissy” homosexual has already been killed off, and then there’s the line: “The Secretarial Personage listened intelligently, but he stretched out his lean, epicene length as if he were listening to a fag excusing himself for burning the crumpets.”

    Not exactly worthy of an LGBT award.

    Comment by Brandon Judell — March 5, 2017 @ 5:41 pm | Reply

    • ‘Fag’ is public school slang for a younger boy chosen to provide (or bullied into providing) one of the the older boys with the service a servant would normally carry out for them at home; bringing food, making the fire and so on. Some of these boys were sexually abused, and that may be where the term ‘fag’ as slang for a homosexual came from, but originally it had no specifically sexual connotations.

      Comment by Jon — March 6, 2017 @ 12:33 am | Reply


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