f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 3 of Gender Studies: XX Fiction, XY Fiction, or Some Weird Hermaphroditic In-Between

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Day 3 of Gender Studies: XX Fiction, XY Fiction, or Some Weird Hermaphroditic In-Between

Day 1 we said that most Christian fiction was for women.
Day 2 we said that some men want Christian fiction written for them.
It's now Day 3 and I'd like to propose there's a third audience you might want to consider reaching: readers.

Readers are men and women. They read men and women. They judge a book first on its story, second on its writing, and often could care less if a book is written by a man or woman.

Readers aren't surprised that Ron Hansen wrote Mariette in Ecstasy or Mark Salzman wrote Lying Awake (both books about nuns written by men). They aren't taken aback by Jan Karon's Father Tim. They demand only that characters be authentic and true-to-their-fictional-nature and could care less if the author is man or woman. They're all about the story.

The problem, as I see it, of writing a fictional book for "women" is that you're basing decisions about content on a generalization and stereotype. The story is controlled by outside forces and therefore is rarely surprising or truly original because we all know and understand those outside forces. I think you can see this most clearly in the cinema. Hollywood has created a formula for "romantic comedies" (often which are neither romantic nor comedic) so that the story progresses, step-by-step and plotted-point-by-plotted-point until its painfully obvious climax. These are watched for comfort and predictability.

Readers often demand more from their books. (Actually, they're usually quite aware of the dichotomy between these two types of fiction and tend to be devoted fans of some form of genre often seeking it out to balance the rest of their reading. We all like comforts of one form or another.) Their demands, whether they say so or not, are to be taken by surprise. Pages are turned for the exact OPPOSITE reason of genre fiction--we turn the pages BECAUSE don't know what will happen next.

At this point, I think I'm talking around the issue a bit. I'll try to boil it down.

I chafe when I hear the question: "Who is this written for, men or women?" To me, that's an immediate signal that the questioner sees the world in generalizations and stereotypes. I prefer books written by men and women who are startled by individuality and yet who can transform a character's uniqueness into something relevant to ALL of us.

I guess this is the part of the entry where I try to give examples.

Jane Austen--the original chick-lit author--is as insightful on the behavior of an individual within society as any writer ever.

Richard Russo--his three best novels deal explicitly with the relationship between a son and ne'er-do-well father as a way of talking about love and family

Chaim Potok--man or woman, if you write you must read My Name Is Asher Lev

There are countless others. Let me know yours.