Saturday, May 10, 2014

Get Real

It’s hard to write as someone of the opposite sex. I’ve done it. You have to stop and consider every word, every description and thought. Avoiding stereotypes takes on a new dimension.

I’m reading a serial-killer novel right now. The author is a man writing about women who end up murdered. This is a guy who’s written 40 novels, yet something is off when he tells us how the killer gets these women alone.

Three women have encountered the murderer so far, and two thought he was stalking them before they actually met him. Yet he has easily turned each meeting into a dating situation. His looks and clothes are average and his conversation is uninspired. He barely flirts. The women start out uninterested, even annoyed or frightened. But each one magically decides to have a wild time with this near-stranger.

The whole city knows a killer is on the loose; it’s all over the news. Yet there is victim No. 3 studying her companion as they head for private quarters. He looks harmless enough, she thinks to herself—and here is where it goes astray: “Even if he did get a little kinky, she was sure she could handle him. Besides, what was wrong with a little kinky?”

I’m not saying that no woman would ever entertain such thoughts, but when promiscuity is written in a book as a predictable trait of multiple women, and in fact as the sure-fire way for a serial killer to operate, it doesn’t work for this reader.

I hate to spend $9.99 on a book and find out something like this.

Back when my mother and I were visiting my grandmother in a nursing home, we passed the five-hour car trip listening to books on tape. Mom tended to choose detective stories from another era, written before widespread awareness of sexism. She didn’t notice what I did; I was too tuned in and after a while had to tune out.

Here’s another cockeyed take on women from the book I’m reading. They consistently eat like farm hands: eggs and bacon and toast; French toast; and “huge bites” of pizza—not all at once, but still. Sorry, Mr. Writer, not happening.

These things wouldn’t bother me if they were noted as unusual, but universality is implied by the repeated examples. Maybe the author is writing primarily for a male audience. He’s sold plenty of books and has won awards, but I’m grinding through this book. I might finish it, but I’ll skip the other 39.

My brother let me know plenty of times during the writing of Mr. Joe when I had misrepresented him. One time he came walking up to the front door announcing, “I would not say ‘fret’ under penalty of death.” There is nothing wrong with a reality check. It can make us better writers.

The women in this book won’t be marching up to the author’s door to complain; his lack of appropriate dialog took care of that before the murderer ever stepped in.

I’m now reading about the next victim-in-the-making. The killer says to himself as he approaches her: It’s so easy to know what women are thinking. In the story, he’s right; she quickly offers herself up just like the others. And there’s the flaw. The author doesn’t have a clue what women are thinking. 

This post was written in 2013. 


  1. Your comments are so on target. I go so far b/f ordering a new book to look at the NY Times Best Seller books and note how long they have been top 10. I then do the reviews on Amazon. I am not easily pleased and have stopped "mid-stream" on several books. I can see the errors and rationalize just as you have done. I want a book to engage and keep me turning the page. So many authors are predictable top 10 and spew out predictable murder mysteries by the score. I soon lose interest in these "top 10." I want a book that will take me to an unpredictable place with a good plot and characters I can get to know. Jane, you should also be a critic for new books, you certainly have the knowledge and intelligence. Thanks for this latest blog. Right on!

    1. Thanks, Betty. I have a book series to suggest for you. I'm now on Book 4 of a legal thriller series by Melissa F. Miller. The first one is Irreparable Harm. Good plot and characters, well written, and hard to put down.