Sunday, August 26, 2012


The timing of this one is particularly lousy, since it's expected to make landfall on the seventh anniversary of a certain, memorable event. I tried a couple of days ago to compose my annual Katrina post. In preparation, I reread my past years' musings and was rather stunned to find myself sitting at my computer and sobbing. Obviously, I'm not as "over" it all as I thought I was.

Fortunately, Isaac is only expected to come ashore here as a Cat 2, although a rather wide, nasty one. And it's so disorganized and unpredictable that it may well go in someplace else. But, just in case, we spent the day closing our fancy new hurricane shutters (for some reason they've swelled since we had them installed last year, which explains why, ahem, they tell you to test your shutters at the beginning of hurricane season), cleaning out gutters, stockpiling water, and making sure anything that might blow around is tucked in tight. We're not evacuating, thank God. (I am sooo not in the mood for that.) But the city-wide buzz of anxiety makes it hard to settle down and do anything like, well, write.

At any rate, I've stockpiled everything I need to make it through the next few days...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Rose by Any Other Name

We hear all the time that there are legions of men out there who won't buy a book written by a woman. It's why Joanne Rowling published the Harry Potter series as "J.K."; she knew boys would be less inclined to pick up her books--even though they're about a boy wizard--if they had a female author's name on the cover. Ask your typical male for his favorite books, and he'll inevitably give you a list written by male authors. When there's a woman on the list, it's usually Harper Lee, and an astonishing number of those men who cite her don't realize that the ambiguously-named author of To Kill a Mockingbird is actually a woman.

For a long time, I thought this prejudice worked from the male side only, since despite the fact that a huge majority of both book readers and book buyers are women, books written by men still make up the vast majority of best sellers. Obviously, women are more willing to buy books written by men than men are to buy books written by women. The gender distribution on the bestseller list is changing, slowly. But readers still have a lot of expectations and prejudices when it comes to an author's gender, and it seems that female authors aren't the only victims.

I was surprised the other day when a good writer friend of mine mentioned off-handedly that she rarely read books written by male authors. "I find they don't usually delve into emotion and character interaction the way I like." Now, I knew this woman loves to read what she calls "girlfriend books" and books that focus on interactions within families; in other words, the kind of angsty, meandering, introspective books that have a tendency to send me running for the hills while screaming "Nooooo!" But I'd always assumed she chose her books by subject; I didn't realize that at some point she'd consciously come to the conclusion, "I don't like books written by men."

Now, this might strike many of you as one of those "Well, duh!" moments (I have a lot of those). But the fact is, while much has been written about MEN not reading books written by women, we don't hear so much about the reverse.

In thinking over my own reading history, I can honestly say that I read books written by both genders. Yet I refuse to buy a love story written by a man unless I know in advance it ends happily (no Bridges of Madison County, The Notebook, or Cold Mountain for me. Seriously; what is it with you guys? Afraid that if a couple live "happily ever after," critics will think you write like a girl?). And--the ultimate irony--I'm also leery of suspense and thrillers written by women, largely because I've found in the past that they generally don't give me what I'm looking for. That said, though, I'm always open minded. (Or at least, I try to be.)

Interestingly, my friend revealed her thoughts on male authors because she was in the middle of reading a book, written by a man, that was giving her all the emotion and character interaction she craved and normally assumed she wouldn't find in book with a male name on the cover.

So what about you? Do you find that you have expectations based on an author's gender? Does an author's gender influence your buying habits, and if so, in what way?

Sunday, August 05, 2012

SOLA's 2012 Writers' Retreat

This past weekend our local RWA chapter, SOLA, held its annual writers' retreat at a wonderful old plantation house down in Plaquemines Parish. Steve and I volunteered to give a workshop we entitled "Secrets from the Bestseller List," which was basically an examination of certain characteristics all bestselling books (even the most godawfully written ones) have in common, and what writers can learn from them.

This was SOLA's first time at Woodland, built in the 1830s and the only plantation house south of New Orleans still standing on the west bank of the Mississippi. The hotel is advertised as "rustic," which makes it sound considerably rougher than it is. The old house has been plumbed and wired with electricity (it wasn't when the present owners bought it back in 1997!), and while I wouldn't call the accommodation slick, it's more than comfortable. And in terms of ambiance, it is simply unbeatable. The sense of staying in an old home, as opposed to a hotel, is very real. Guests have the run of the entire plantation house, which consists of the central hall...

a large conference room....

and nine original bedrooms.

The house is considerably larger than it looks from the outside, probably because the 14 foot ceilings fool the eye and distort the perspective. The office, kitchen and restaurant are in what was once an old nineteenth century church...

And I am not exaggerating when I say the chef is world class. Steve and I stayed an extra night by ourselves and enjoyed a six course meal so exquisite we've decided it would be worth making the drive down to Woodland some evening simply for the restaurant.

If you think the plantation looks vaguely familiar, that's because a print for the old house is on the label of Southern Comfort bottles. Sunday morning, before we left, Steve and I went for a walk toward the nearby river, and came upon this sign...