What follows is a guest post I requested from my fellow Athens Writers Association author, Katherine Cerulean.
I am writing and planning on self-publishing three books in the next year. I am also a woman. Now, I’ve never really thought of those two things at the same time, or wondered how interconnected they might be. But then Rob White, (who I first got to know on FB as we talked about female characters) asked me if I’d write about this topic for his site.
At first all my thoughts were glib. What was the difference between us female self-published writers and the male ones? Most of us wear bras? My sister offered that ‘different parts shake when we write in the nude’. I had a feeling neither answer was what Rob was asking. What he wanted to know, I figured, was what didn’t he know or understand about the journey and struggles of a female writer? Rob’s always been a great proponent of females characters, be it in games, movies, or books, but what about the heroine’s real-life counterparts? What was that experience like?
Woah, I thought to myself. I’m probably the least qualified female writer around to write on ‘the female experience’. I was home schooled out in the country, my only sibling was a sister as tough and who loved the outdoors as much as I did. My mother was very unsentimental and my father cried at romantic comedies. AND I break out in hives at the idea of generalizing about women. Surely there was someone better.
Then I realize, that is part of the experience. Rob is probably not asked to be the torch-bearer for white men. Just as a white male character is a blank slate to write a hero’s flaws and eccentricities across, so too is a ‘average’ male self-published author. If you don’t have a pigeonhole of color, sexuality, or sex, then you start at zero.
Actually, I would argue, below zero, as a writer. I have thought that’s it’s probably much easier for a woman to strike up a conversation with a stranger than a man; she is at worst no threat and at best a welcome addition. A man may be welcome too, but he sort of has to prove himself normal and charming, where for a woman it’s expected.
I do feel some women (myself included) do find ourselves at a real disadvantage in being bold and talking to strangers. They may be happy to talk to us, but we are not used to starting a lot of conversations. The same is true, only more some, when it comes to selling, shilling, and talking up our books. There’s still a very real feeling that women should be humble and quiet — and that’s the opposite of the self promotional sales(wo)manship needed to sell books. We may be making friends, but are we making a profit? And why do I still feel guilty even thinking about the word ‘profit’?
For myself, the main connection between my sex and my career comes down to characters. Now, some of my favorite female characters are written by men (of course they are) and I will never believe one can write their own sex better than the other — we are all human in the end. That said, I think the pressure to write great women characters may be a little more pronounced if you’re female; I know it is for me.
My logic goes like this: more writers still choose to write leads who are their own sex. And some of my favorite genres are not 50/50 in having male and female writers, so I owe it to woman and little girls everywhere to create some kick-butt heroines in my writing lifetime. Also, shamefully, I’m more drawn to write male characters. Why? Because I’ve seen it done well SO much. All the more reason to think deeply about my female heroes and even flip sexes while writing a story if it seems suitable. I have a fantasy called Memento Mori that is in the planning stages and it started out as an adventure with two teenage boys who were in love, but now I’m flipping it to two teenage girls. I find you can do that sometimes, if it’s early enough in the process.
In closing, I’m reminded of the Chris Rock quote, “Being black is only 5% of my day, but it’s an intense 5%.” Almost everything I’m doing as a self published author is exactly what Rob is doing, what everyone’s doing, but sometimes I am still brought up short. By a guy who calls me ‘Hon,’ or by having a very real fear to ask for a sale, or when I have a great idea for a novel but there’s not a female character anywhere near it.
These things are all about me and many women — and men — share them. And at the end of the day it is this sharing I love — we are all invisible behind our typewriters, no one can see our weight or our makeup, our flaws or our skin color. And the oldest, whitest guy around may have the exact same fears as the young black woman and he is writing about her and she is writing about him.
There is a weight, a responsibility, to being a female author, but there is a great freedom to being a writer, period. And one in an era when neither children, lack of money, nor male publishers can hold any of us back.
I can do anything, including forget for a long stretch that I am a woman.
Katherine Cerulean grew up in the countryside near Athens, GA, home schooled on a farm with dogs, cats, a horse, a pony, peacocks, rabbits, sheep, goats, turkeys, an African Gray parrot, and many others.
She has been writing seriously for fifteen years, starting with screenwriting and then moving into novels. Her completed novels are Other Gods (a fantasy) and A Caged Heart Still Beats (a love story).
She was co-moderator of the Athens Novel Writer Group, wrote a well regarded newsletter for her local Best Buy’s Women’s Leadership Forum chapter. She is also the creator of People Who Have Come Alive, a Meetup group devoted to helping people achieve their wildest dreams.
She is the founder of the Athens Writers Association.
Katherine still lives in the house she was literally born in (she sleeps 30 feet from where she was born — how many people can say that?), with her sister, who is an amazing artistic genius, and their two dogs.
Since 1997, she has been hard at work improving her craft and measuring up to the high bar of what’s awesome. Two screenplays and two novels later, she is finally ready to blow the doors off the publishing world with ‘Caged Heart’.