When I read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (to be accurate I read half and then gave up in disgust.) I was put off by the subtle anti-female tone of the whole thing. The tone of the writing is sympathetic to Patty, (the protagonist) but her actions, thoughts and words belong to a lesser being who exists nowhere but in relation to a man, and is helplessly bound by her womanhood to a certain destiny. Allow me to be the next of many, many women to call bullshit on that entire line of thinking.
Interestingly, this is not the first time Franzen has run afoul of females, the last time being at the release of this same book a few years ago (and to be fair, this one was not his fault, it just sort of sprung up around him). At the time, Franzen's book was hailed as a literary masterpiece by many, and one of the major points of discussion was his ability to write a female so "well". His work is, in theme and characters, very similar to the works of countless female authors writing about the world from a woman's perspective. A huge media-fueled firestorm swirled for a few weeks around Franzen and authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner. Franzen became the poster boy for a problem many see in the publishing world: say something as a female and be branded a "female-interest writer", but say the same exact thing as a male and be "important". Did Franzen deserve more attention for his work than Picoult and Weiner have received for their own (considerable) talents? I certainly didn't think so. So Picoult and Weiner both had something to say on the topic, and ultimately, they gave THIS INTERVIEW on the topic which you can now read if you want to hear their thoughts.
So now you have some background to explain why I was so interested when this article: Jonathan Franzen's Female Problem popped up in my web browsing this morning. After reading Freedom, I was not prepared to brand Franzen anti-female, I just thought the critical response to the book was horribly overblown and that he wasn't my kind of writer. Maybe, I told myself, he had some sort of weird ideas about what goes on inside the female brain, but that didn't make him a bad guy. After all, the huge conversation about female vs male writing in the media wasn't exactly his fault...and then I read the article I linked above. Now I suspect he might actually just be kind of a jerk. I don't think I really need to explain to anyone reading this blog why this article was so troublesome (go read it, it's short), but I do want to say this.
Mr Franzen, I was among those "forced" to read Ethan Frome in high school and the first time I read it I thought it was crap. So boring! Such stilted writing! Then, tragically, two years later I was forced to read it again, in another class. The funny thing is, I had grown up a bit by then and I discovered that while Wharton might not have been a keen crafter of lyrical phrase, they story itself is compelling and resonant. I tried to read Freedom and found that while each line was its own carefully built work of art, there was nothing underneath of value to me. I vastly prefer the substance to the style. (And for heaven's sake, who cares what she looked like you big jerk?!?!?!)
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Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Thursday, February 23, 2012
I just finished a late breakfast and headed up the stairs to my trusty internet machine to find this article waiting for me...
I'm going back to work now (It's a big crochet project day).
I'm going back to work now (It's a big crochet project day).
Saturday, February 18, 2012
Being a Woman in Horror all the time myself, I have a soft spot for this particular celebratory month, so we're going to chat with some great female Horror authors today about the state of the female in the genre.
You can join two of the three authors below (Rhiannon lives very far away and sadly, can't join us for the discussion) on February 25th from 1 to 3pm at Eljay's Books in Dormont when they join local female writers and filmmakers for a round table discussion celebrating the month. One of my favorite things about the Horror fan base is the amount of charity fundraising that goes on in the community, and this event is no exception. A portion every book sale in the store between noon and 4pm the day of the event will be donated to Pittsburgh Action Against Rape. Sandy Stuhlfire, co-founder of Horror Realm set the entire event up and was also kind enough to help me get these three authors together (electronically) for our chat.
Chris: I think that from outside the fan base there is a perception that horror is a "man's world," what do you think?
Christine: As far as being on the outside, actually creating those horror works, oh yeah, I definitely believe most people think that. Oftentimes, from the fan base aspect of it, I will ask my female friends about horror and they will say that don’t watch it because it frightens them. I have to admit at this point, I truly have very few female friends who like horror. So that means if I want to go to the theater and see the new Resident Evil flick or especially if it were a more grotesque film, I would have to take a male friend with me. I actually went to see The Collector by myself because no one and I mean no one would go. Strangely, there was also no one else in the theater at first, which made it all the more creepy. However, despite it seeming like a man’s world, women as actresses in horror flicks have always added beauty to the darkness of those films. The essential man of macabre mixes with the maiden in distress. Recently, I have seen an influx of horror ladies coming on board with the creative side and in production aspects. I truly hope that this influx proliferates at a very rapid pace. I work with guys mostly on any horror-themed projects at the moment so it would be nice to co-create projects with ladies as well.
Kim: The genre of horror has been both a man's and woman's world. Men have dominated the monster and hero roles, while women have dominated the victim and supporting roles in the past and present. But, I've noticed female characters now are taking center stage as heroes in many movies and literature.
Rhiannon: That is very much the perspective of a lot of people. I definitely feel that at times my work is judged on a different scale because there is a belief that women cannot write horror. Robert Kirkman can have sex, love triangles, and explore the emotional fallout of the zombocalypse in his THE WALKING DEAD comic series without anyone batting an eye. Yet as a woman, if I include those elements in my zombie trilogy AS THE WORLD DIES, people are a lot more critical. I get accused of writing Harlequin books with zombies. I hope as more women enter the genre that sort of gender based bias will go away.
Chris: 2) As a writer, how do you work with the "scream queen/ victim" stereotype of female characters? Is is something you avoid, embrace or completely ignore?
Christine: I’d say I have embraced it. Oftentimes, we yell at the screen once we see this “dull” young lady who is oblivious to her surroundings preparing to be butchered. It irritates the masses but at the same time, the crowd is, sickly, happy to see her end so they don’t have to watch her anymore. If an actress who portrayed a smart, intelligent woman were to be butchered, it would have a different effect, a less favorable one on the audience- they might think, “Man, that sucks,” rather than, “Yes, get her!” The whole mood tends to change in those moments. So I understand it, of course, but when I did my first acting experience, I thought, “How do I play this stereotypical woman?” It worked out, but I personally tend to relate better to stronger female characters (but I sure don’t want to see them killed!) I am not offended by it at all though.
Kim:I choose to put my females in dominant villain or hero roles. Stereotypes really do not affect my placement of characters.
Rhiannon: I am surrounded by very strong women. For example, my step-mother in law is a veteran of both Iraq wars and Afghanistan. She is an amazingly strong and capable woman with a beautiful heart. I attempt to write realistic characters and though I am sure both men and women might act like “victims” in a situation like those faced in horror novels, they won’t end up the central character in the story. I try to avoid genre cliché’s and write about more realistic people, both male and female. You won’t see alpha males and scream queens in my stories. You’ll see Regular Joes and Janes.
Chris:Can you talk a little about the social significance of the horror genre? (Feel free to take this from a women's perspective or a writer's or both...or neither)
Christine: Horror gives you excitement, whether you’re male, female or even just the objective writer in the middle. You have the power of the outcome of any tale and can make it as vicious or as tasteful as you choose. If you’ve been watching horror for a very long time, it is absolutely never going to scare you. Instead, most horror buffs watch for the creative aspects and the thrill. In regards to the outward aspects of it, in Pittsburgh especially, you will see people come together in a social manner, just the same way you might see a bunch of people at the gym, smacking each other’s butts. It’s a bonding experience, getting bloody together n’at. I am amazed, surprised and elated that Pittsburgh has such a huge horror scene. I mean, really, Who knows more about zombies than we do?
Kim:The horror genre is built on excitement, mystery, a terrifying and yet compelling story while utilizing the audiences own vivid imagination. We all need a good scare every now and again to get the blood pumping.
Rhiannon: Well, right now I feel like horror is a fading genre. Rare few book stores keep “horror” sections anymore. Most books that I would consider horror are now shelved in urban fantasy, science fiction, or even paranormal romance. Novels with horror themes that are written by women are more likely to be shelved in a different genre. My novels are tagged a lot of times as something other than horror. My vampire novels are horrific tales with plenty of gore and blood, but also have elements of humor, action adventure, and romance. Therefore, they get tagged as paranormal romance or urban fantasy. A few readers of my Gothic horror series were quite upset with THE TALE OF THE VAMPIRE BRIDE because the tropes of romance are not in it and it’s really violent and gory, yet it was listed under paranormal romance.
Horror is supposed to reflect our inner fears in the guise of monsters or apocalyptic situations, but I suspect that there is an unconscious aversion to allowing female writers to explore the darker genre.
Chris: Can you recommend some horror books for our readers that feature strong and memorable female characters?
Christine: This one requires a bit of thought, truly and now, that saddens me. I grew up on Anne Rice, so I might want to point out Queen of the Damned, but I admit that I liked the first books in the series best, such as, “The Vampire Lestat.” I know Dean Koontz was pretty good at having a few strong female characters, perhaps Carrie from Stephen King (but that blurs the line of strong with powerful/insane). How about some more Stephen King, we all know of that devilish car named Christine.
Kim: A Degree of Wickedness by me, of course.Chris: Thank you all for your time! I want to remind our readers that Eljay's Books stocks Kim and Christine's books and Rhiannon's books can be purchased from Amazon in both paper and ebook formats. One of the best ways to make sure that women keep getting into horror writing and film making is to support the female artists in your area!
Rhiannon: Two recent books that I recently read come to mind. Jenny Pox by JL Bryan has a wonderful lead character that just ripped my heart out but was still a strong and nuanced character. I definitely consider the novel horror, but because Jenny Pox is a teenager people tend to mark it as young adult. There is violence, sex, drug use, and gore, so I would not classify this as YA at all. Neither did the author, but once the book was tagged that way he couldn’t fight it. I also enjoyed the character in Amanda Hocking’s zombie series. Remy in Hollowland and Hollowmen is not easy to like at times, but she was an interesting character.
Chris: 5) Can you recommend some horror books for our readers that are written by female authors?
Christine: I can recommend some of Anne Rice and my own! Final Moon is just one of the ones I have written, which displays some pretty wild horror scenes horror. I would actually like to be exposed to more female horror authors. Like many others, I truly did grow up on male horror genre authors (back to that first question again). In addition, horror goes beyond the bloody physical aspects of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the like- I am quite fond of psychological horror as well.
Kim: Teresa Klay's and Reflections of Death. Teressa.
Rhiannon: Honestly, no. Well, there is always the old standby of Anne Rice, but someone said recently that Interview with the Vampire is paranormal romance. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro also comes to mind, but she’s shelved in fantasy even when her books take on a horror slant. We’re shoved into other genres constantly. If you’re female and you write about vampires, chances are your books are going to end up somewhere other than the horror section.
But, thankfully, women are breaking into the zombie genre more and more. We’re having a much greater impact there. Madeleine Roux, Eloise Knapp, Amanda Hocking, Carrie Ryan, Ann Aguirre, Jessica Meigs, Sophie Littlefield, Mira Grant, Cherie Priest, Sue Edge, and many more are writing stories in the genre with unique takes on the shambling undead. But most of those books are shelved in places other than horror. My own zombie books are often shelved in general fiction.
There are definitely women in horror and we’re starting to make a much bigger impact, we’re just not always classified in the horror section.
Christine M. Soltis was born and raised in Washington, Pennsylvania. Her deepest passion is in fiction writing and has been for the past eight years. She has written 18 books, many of which can be accessed via Amazon.com. In addition, she is co-writer on several film scripts and creates her own book cover photos and promotional videos.
Christine is lead writer for travel sites EscapeWizard.com and WhatsCheaper.com. She also contributes to the horror site Ravenous Monster. In the past, she has written for the Yahoo Network, Verdure Magazine and The Front Weekly. In 2011, she was an exhibitor at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. In addition to her writing, she made her acting debut in A Chemical Skyline, which was an Amazon best-seller for monster horror. She attended Point Park College for Broadcasting and has worked in news radio since 2002. Currently, she is pursuing a Masters of Science in Environmental Studies.
Rhiannon Frater is the award-winning author of the As the World Dies trilogy(The First Days, Fighting to Survive, Siege,) and the author of three other books: the vampire novels Pretty When She Dies and The Tale of the Vampire Bride and the young-adult zombie novel The Living Dead Boy and the Zombie Hunters. Inspired to independently produce her work from the urging of her fans, she published The First Days in late 2008 and quickly gathered a cult following. She won the Dead Letter Award back-to-back for both The First Days and Fighting to Survive, the former of which the Harrisburg Book Examiner called ‘one of the best zombie books of the decade.’
Kimberly Bennett is an independent author whose main goal is to provide readers of fiction a thrilling and memorable experience when they pick up one of her books and begin to read.
Kimberly has been a lifelong resident of Northeast Ohio and currently resides in Williamsfield. Kimberly attended and graduated from Kent State University where she earned a degree in Computer Technology.
Kimberly has published two thrilling short story collections, Twisted Delights & A Degree of Wickedness. She is currently working on a novella that is first in a series titled, Evil, Under the Microscope: Unholy Union. Kimberly plans on publishing Unholy Union by fall 2012.