Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I’m just a pussy cat really …

by guest blogger Zoe Sharp

 

“How about a short piece on tough girls, weapons, being one of the boys … you’ve probably already got content since you’re the toughest girl in the mystery community!” So said the delightful and talented Rosemary Harris when she emailed her invitation for me to contribute to Jungle Red Writers this week.

I never set out to be one of the boys, but equally I was never particularly drawn to dolls as a child. I had an Action Man (GI Joe to those of you across the Atlantic) but I hit my older sister with him and he snapped off at the knees, thus losing something of his active-duty status at that point.

We did have a Meccano set, though, in a proper wooden box, which fascinated me. I remember making a kind of greyhound trap for our long-suffering Siamese cat, so one of us could race along the hall trailing a cat-toy, and then release her to chase after it.
(But that, as they say, is probably another story.) Looking back, it seems to me that my interests have always leaned towards those considered in the boys’ domain, from sailing to shooting, cars to construction.

I was brought up on a boat. Sailing was considered a very masculine pursuit unless you were the cook, or the skipper’s girlfriend. But I was an astro-navigator, able to find my way by the position of the sun. One of my most treasured possessions is still my sextant. I grew to expect prejudice, even though I never really understood it.
Then I got into my cars and motorcycles and became a freelance photo-journalist specialising in motoring. When I started out, back in 1988, I was just about the only woman in that field. Even today there are barely enough in the UK to cover the fingers of one hand. Although I say so myself, I got rather good at dealing with smart-alec remarks.

Which brings me to writing, by a roundabout route. The last thing I expected when I started my crime thriller series featuring a former Special Forces trainee turned bodyguard, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox, was that I would encounter any kind of misogynist attitude. Charlie herself has had to deal with plenty. Women in the British Army are seen very much as second-class soldiers, even today ― OK in support roles, but not up to the Real Stuff, as Charlie has found to her cost.
I used to say that I wished I’d used a different name to write the novels, something like Chris, or Alex, or Max. Zoë is so obviously a girl’s name ― in fact, it’s the Greek version of Eve, and so you could say it’s the original girl’s name. Or perhaps I should have gone for disguising initials like JK Rowling, who famously said she didn’t write the Harry Potter books as Joanne Rowling because she thought boys might not read them if they were obviously written by a woman.

But now I’ve changed my mind. Hiding my gender is treating the symptoms rather than curing the disease. I write action thriller with a human heart so why should I have to hide that? Charlie is not a guy in nylons, she’s a tough but vulnerable person in her own right. She’ll weep for injustice, but kill you in a heartbeat if you cross that line in the sand.
So I’ve decided that I’m not going to change. If people don’t think I can write convincing fight scenes, car chases, or gun battles based on no other evidence than the fact I’m a girlie, that’s a great shame ― but it’s their shame, not mine.

What about you, Jungle Reds? How much gender prejudice do you encounter in writing or in your daily lives? Why can’t the boys openly write romance? Why are thrillers seen as a predominantly male preserve?
I need answers, because it’s still a mystery to me!

And as for being the toughest girl in the mystery community, I keep telling everyone, I’m just a pussy cat really …

 

Zoë Sharp opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel at fifteen. She became a freelance photojournalist in 1988 and wrote the first of her highly acclaimed Charlie Fox crime thrillers after receiving death-threat letters in the course of her work. She has been nominated for Edgar, Anthony, Barry (twice), Benjamin Franklin, and Macavity Awards in the United States, as well as the CWA Short Story Dagger. The Charlie Fox series was optioned for TV by Twentieth Century Fox. Zoë blogs regularly on her own website, www.ZoeSharp.com, on the acclaimed group blog, www.Murderati.com, as well as twittering on Twitter (@AuthorZoeSharp) and fooling around on Facebook. The latest book out at the moment is FIFTH VICTIM: Charlie Fox book nine.

Zoe Sharp will give away a signed and personalised First Edition hardcover of one of the Charlie Fox books (choose from FIFTH VICTIM: book nine, FOURTH DAY: book eight, THIRD STRIKE: book seven, or SECOND SHOT: book six) to a randomly selected commenter. Good luck!

46 comments:

gillhoffs said...

Great blogpost! I think you've hit the name/gender bias issue on the head - sums up nicely why I write as Gill not G.H. Love the pictures, too. Looking forward to your autobiography - I bet it'd be a cracking read!

Edith Maxwell said...

Great to get to know you, Zoe. I was a car mechanic in my early twenties (right after getting an undergraduate degree in linguistics...) and certainly met with tons of resistance from places like auto supply stores.

When I was looking for a pen name for my book that comes out next month, I wanted to use Max as a first name, since lots of people out there call me that, anyway, but I thought it sounded too masculine for a writer of a traditional mystery with female amateur protagonist. (So I chose Tace as a first name - certainly unique, and it's an old Quaker name that matches the protagonist's faith.)

Looking forward to reading your books!

Reine said...

Hi Zoë,

I love Charlie Fox. And I'm not surprised to hear that you were tomboy.

It was a bit surprising to hear you say that in the UK sailing is considered a manly sport. Where I was born and grew up in Massachusetts, sailing is very popular activity for girls and women as well as boys and men. There was/is a children's yacht club for both, as well.

Our scout troops, both for boys and girls, were focused on ocean sports like sailing and rowing. I think they would be Explorer Scouts now and blended gender wise, but back then we were separate. Many of us resented it. The boys were called sea scouts. The girls we're called mariner scouts.

Great to see you here Zoë!

Marianne in Maine said...

Thanks for your post. It's great to get to "know" an author to add to my to-be-read list. I can't wait to jump into your series.

As a woman involved in auto racing for over 25 years I have encountered some gender issues but, mostly, I've been accepted very well by those involved. The biggest obstacles have come from the media since their demographic is probably male.

Thanks for posting!

Gram said...

Wonderful stories about your life. I love to see females stand up for themselves, in fiction and in life. Thanks for writing. Dee

Karen in Ohio said...

Hi, Zoe; nice to see you here!

As someone who struggled through several male-dominated industries throughout my career, I just told myself it was very much like being the oldest child: you break ground for those following.

Sounds as though you have embraced your groundbreaking responsibilities. Well done.

Kaye Barley said...

Zoe, Hey - How fun to see you here!! I'm a huge Charlie Fox fan and can't wait to read the next one.

I could hop up on my soapbox and rant about this topic of gender prejudice so easily. About how baffling it is that otherwise intelligent people can be so extraordinarily ignorant. But, I won't 'cause it's early and I haven't even finished my first cup of coffee yet. Besides the fact - I'd be preaching to the choir. But it's crazy, isn't it?!

It's a great post Zoe, one that does deserve a great deal of attention.

Vicki Delany said...

Love Charlie Fox, thanks for this Zoe and for keeping your name! I've come across a couple of instances lately where someone assumed an author with initials was female. I was asked to do an interview on women writers and was then asked if I knew JJ Smith. I said, You know JJ is John, right. No, they'd assumed he was she.

Rosemary Harris said...

Welcome Zoe...and Vicki (who'll be Friday's guest blogger.) So just what kind of gun is the pussycat holding in that pic? Looks pretty scary!

Hallie Ephron said...

I agree, growing up tough is great preparation for writing action-packed thrillers. You're certainly on a roll!

As far as gender bias, I've been noticing how men outnumber women in the number whose deaths get written up as feature obituaries in my local paper... and we all know, death rates for men and women are identical: 100%. So I started counting. Over the last 12 days, 46 newsworthy men's obits to 9 women.

Dru said...

Hi Zoe,

It's great to see you here and I love the Charlie Fox series.

You keep writing these stories and I'll keep reading them.

Jan Brogan said...

Zoe,
That is so cool you were brought up on a boat. I have a sextant too! My husband and I used to have a sailboat until my daughter almost went over when we were swamped -we switched to a motor boat for many years, but for me, it was never the same.

I think there are gender bias in all fiction -but it doesn't sound as if you have to worry about it. We all love strong protagonists. Your series sounds awesome -

paulabuck said...

I am in one of the most female-dominated professions (no, not THAT one! - early childhood care and education), so we actually are kind of backwards. There is a huge demand for more men in the field, and then people look askance and wonder (suspiciously) why a man would want to work with young children.

Just ordered the first Charlie Fox book, Zoe, can't wait to begin! Thanks for another great introduction!

Karen in Ohio said...

Hallie mentions the obits, but for the last year or two I've been noticing that the book reviews in The New Yorker are overwhelmingly male-oriented, with four male writers to every female writer.

Surely, men are not so much better writers than women are that our fiction isn't as desirable or as worthy of being called literature. I absolutely refuse to believe that, when more women write than men. There is bias going on, in so many arenas, it's just more subtle in some places than others.

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Gill

Nice to catch up with you here. LOL on the autobiography. That can wait a LOT of years. I haven't done nearly enough to write on yet :)

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Edith - a mechanic? How great. I rebuilt the engine on one of my Spitfires. Great fun - it went quicker afterwards, too.

What a lovely name Tace is. Not one I've ever come across before. I've always liked Max. Apparently that was my parents' first choice for me if I'd turned out to be a boy.

Hope your own writing continues to go well.

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Reine

Nice to see you here, too :)

Oh yes, sailing is a very manly pursuit. It always amazed me that, in any crowded anchorage, you'd see the guys on the helm (because we can't let the ladies drive, can we?) and the woman on the foredeck struggling with an anchor.

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Marianne

Anything to do with motorsport is a very male preserve over here, although I think the other participants are more open-minded than spectators and commentators. I remember going to a car show recently where the commentator was asking the guys about mechanical stuff, and when he came to a girl who owned a tuned-up car, he asked her how much shopping she could fit into it ...

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Dee
Thank you for stopping by. It's always a pleasure to call in on the Reds!

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Karen

I like the analogy of being the oldest child. I shall pinch that, thank you!

I think to a certain extent you have to be slightly genderless. Margaret Thatcher was the first female Prime Minister of the UK, and as such I think she had to be more masculine than the guys. Hence the Iron Lady tag. And let's face it, the current lot are so wet they leave puddles behind them :)

Jack Getze said...

I used to be gender biased. But what my wife didn't cure with two wedding-day back flips and a 32-year choke hold, the Jungle Reds work on daily. Hope I get lucky and win your book, Ms. S. Charlie sounds like the kind of girl who could sweep me off my feet.

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Kaye

Thank you, that's very sweet of you to say so.

I don't tend to rant, I just quietly take the rip out of people who display such stupidity. It's a target-rich environment.

More coffee needed, definitely!

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Vicki

No, it may be a daft complicated name where people constantly get the dots over the wrong letter, but I'm sticking with it :)

And what about JRR Tolkein, CJ Sansom, and RJ Ellory? Quite a few people assume Norwegian author Jo Nesbø is a woman because of the spelling of 'Jo' (pronounced 'Yo').

But I think I've decided that if people try to thump a round me into a square pigeonhole, they better have brought a VERY big hammer and a bunch of friends :)

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Rosemary

Thank you so much for inviting me back, and for the warm welcome. It's always a thrill to be here at the home of the Reds.

The gun is a Colt M4 carbine. Nice weapon to fire, although I miss my 7.62mm competition rifle

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Hallie

46 male obituaries to 9 female? Wow. Have there really been no interesting women who've deserved a write-up during that period? If that's honestly the case, then I'm fine with that. I'm as against positive discrimination as I am negative discrimination. But if not ...

Zoë Sharp said...

72Thanks, Dru!

Lovely to see you here, too. And thank you for the kind words. #AmWritingHonest!

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Jan

Sorry to hear you had such a bad sailing experience. I've been out in some pretty rough weather. We had a good Force 11 in the Bay of Biscay one time that was ... interesting, shall we say. Hope your daughter wasn't put off the water by it.

I don't really think of myself as male or female. I'm just me, with all my unique strengths and weaknesses. So, I try not to play the 'you're-being-mean-to-me-because-I'm-a-poor-little-girlie' card. I'll keep following my own star and if other people want to hitch along for the ride, they're very welcome :)

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Paula

I see the dilemma of your profession entirely, and it's very sad that we've become so suspicious. I can't hear the word 'Scoutmaster' without all kinds of unpleasant connotations popping into my head :)

Thank you for stopping by and for the kind words. I hope you enjoy the books!

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Karen

I haven't looked at The New Yorker much, so I wasn't aware of the review thing. It would be interesting to note what genre or type of books they review compared to the current bestseller lists at the time to see if this is accident or design ...?

Zoë Sharp said...

LOL, Jack. "Two wedding day back flips and a 32-year choke hold" sounds like two falls and a submission to me.

I hope you give Charlie a try. But I should warn you, if she did sweep you off your feet, you'd probably go down and stay down. And possibly need a little assistance getting up again :)

Deb Romano said...

Zoe...I was about to put your name on my TBR list-and then discovered that it's already there! Now I KNOW I must read your books with recommendations popping up all over the place!

I know someone who told me that she (yes...SHE) "never" reads mystery or suspense books by women "because they can't do it well."I innocently asked her,at a later date,if she had ever read anything by So and So(initials and a last name). "Oh,yes! Great writer!" (And female,by the way!)

Many years ago when I was working as a paralegal, an attorney in the office asked me to go in person to get certain info from a municipal agency that we normally did not need to contact. He told me that I would probably have better success than he would "because you can bat your eyelashes." Ahem. I got the information by being my own non eyelashbatting self.

Deb said...

Hi Zoe! Great to see you here. How have I not read your books???? Top of TBR pile now. I love female action heroes.

I used to be married to a man who bragged that he'd never read a book written by a woman. (Operative phrase "used to be".) He didn't say this until after we were married, and at first I thought he was joking. He wasn't.

I've never had any gender bias in my reading, and I still find it astounding that people will choose a book based on the sex of the author.

Zoe, do you happen to know Victoria Blake? She writes a great female protagonist named Sam Falconer, a former world judo champion turned PI. I LOVE her books, but there hasn't been a new one since 2008...

Linda Rodriguez said...

Great post, Zoe! Welcome to Jungle Reds. Sorry I'm a little late stopping in.

Sometimes when I read rather silly pieces about how vicious the violence has become in women thriller writers' books, I have to wonder if they've read some of the guys--and why they never seem to worry about how violent men's books are becoming. "It's just so unsettling to see a lady doing that," I guess. Gag!

And Captcha hates me today.

lil Gluckstern said...

Have you noticed our poetics lately? The "little woman" at home is still very much alive here in the states. Love your attitude, and I have all your books. In another life, I would love to be Charlie.

Michelle F. said...

I used to be a secretary and they're mostly female but there was a guy in my word processing class. Recently on Jeopardy there was a guy who said he was a word processor.

Some male authors such as Tim Myers and Dean James who write cozies use female pen names to appeal to the female market. And don't forget that J. K. Rowling's use of her initials was suggested by her publisher so boys would read Harry Potter. Wish that publishers would let people write under their own names.

Lucy Burdette said...

Great post Zoe--so nice to have you here. The prejudice goes the other way too--with men refusing to sample lighter fare.

Books with heart, that's a great description and what I think we are all aiming toward in our own ways.

Karen, that is exactly why Sisters in crime was formed back in the '80's--we're not done yet, obviously.

Jack, we're so glad you keep coming:)

Lynda said...

Well hello, Zoë! Delighted to make your acquaintance, and I'm looking forward to reading your books.

I'm with you on the lure of what're thought of as traditionally male activities. Playing with dolls was never my thing. I wanted to be outside riding my bike or running around the block, climbing the neighbor's willow tree, exploring the creek with my brother.

Several years ago a friend and I were exchanging lists of favorite authors, and when she looked at mine she remarked, "Don't you read any books by men?" Of course I do, but this list was primarily female authors of first class mysteries.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

running in, running in..waving and cheering! SO terrific to see you here!

And of course, I LOVE Charlie Fox.

Yeah, I could never figure out dolls (see yesterday's post) and I always wanted to play cowboys or detectives. However,, I was a complete klutz, so things like bike-riding or softball eluded me completely.

People often think my books are written by a man, of course--I've been Hank since college, and just didn't change it. But you know, if I had to do it over, I might NOT use a man's name.

But! I MIGHT put some dots over it. Love you, Zoe! xoxo

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Deb R

LOL on putting me on your list twice. And thank you! And I’m amazed at your friend. I somehow think that kind of bias (“women can’t write mystery or suspense well”) is worse coming from a woman than a man. It’s almost confirmation for the naysayers that their position is valid. Ho hum.

I don’t know about batting of eyelashes, but women are often more diplomatic negotiators and defuse a situation rather than going for the confrontational approach.

Although Charlie would probably hit first and ask questions later, I admit … :)

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Deb

Thank you ― great to be here. I hope you enjoy the books when you get to them :)

LOL on the whole “used to be” thing. That’s sad ― and he was missing out on some terrific books, too, including those by the entire Jungle Reds line-up!

I haven’t come across Victoria Blake or Sam Falconer ― I shall seek them out. Thank you for the heads-up.

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi lil

Yeah, sometimes I think we haven’t moved on very far from the dark ages, have we? And I’m so delighted you have all the books.

In another life, I probably wouldn’t mind being Charlie, either, although if there was any likelihood of that happening I might start being kinder to her :)

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Michelle

When I was first learning to touch-type, there were no guys in the class, but now computing has taken over to such an extent that the boys don’t see it as an entirely female preserve any longer. Just as cookery programmes on the TV are as often hosted by male chefs as female. When I was growing up, there was Delia Smith and that was about it!

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Lucy

Thank you ― this is now my second visit to Jungle Reds and I’m always so happy to be back among friends :)

I don’t think I have any bias in my own reading tastes. I’m as happy reading Dorothy L Sayers as I am reading Matt Reilly. The only exception, possibly, that if I’ve met an author in person and they turn out to be a bit of an ass, I’m very put off reading their books in future. Does that count?

Zoë Sharp said...

Hello Lynda

Please to meet you, too! Yay, I’m all for doing whatever activities you enjoy, regardless of how suitable they might be considered for ‘niece young gels’ to take part in. Go for it!

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Hank

Thank you for the welcome. It’s always a real pleasure to be invited here. And LOL, I remember having my own cowboy outfit and cap gun when I was a kid. I loved bike riding, but ball games were never my forte.

I confess you’re the only woman I know called Hank, and how interesting that with hindsight you might have picked something different. Take my advice, though, don’t go for accents ― they cause nothing but confusion!

On the other hand, Häñk Pħîllíppï Rýåņ does have a certain exotic quality to it, don’t you think?

xxZ

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Linda

Sorry, I was trying to answer everybody in order and your post slipped a bit! Captcha always hates me. I can never read the squashed-up letters, either. I wonder if the spambots do any better?

I’m against gratuitous violence in books, which is different from graphic violence. If you really need to show something happening in real-time detail in order to advance or enhance the story, then put it in and don’t flinch, but so much of what’s in many books is little short of gore-porn.

I’ve only been asked to tone down one scene in my books, and actually I agree afterwards that it was more effective for you not really seeing exactly what happened. I think the reader fills in the gaps far more effectively!