Tag Archives: Salon.com

What’s in a Name, Really?

Kate Harding’s compelling article, “Write Like a Man,” on Salon.com reveals how gender affects a writer’s success and psyche.

She writes about James Chartrand’s first hand experience that proves a male writer succeeds faster than a female writer, even in the 21st century (you can read James’s account here). For James Chartrand, changing the she to he, on paper, skyrocketed her writing career. The same writer – sitting at the same laptop, crafting articles with the same style – became a quick success under the guise of male anatomy.

Kate Harding also mentions Kathy Sierra’s story about a barrage of death threats, via internet, aimed at her simply because she’s a female blogger. Kathy Sierra put her gender on the table and still managed success. However, she also attracted a hostile reader who threatened her with physical and sexual violence. Not because she wrote provoking blog entries, but because she was a woman who dared to write about “cognition and computers,” which apparently is man’s domain.

There are days when equality seems accessible, tangible. Then, I read about the experience of these writers, and I wonder, what’s a woman supposed to do to get ahead, or just plain even? In ten days, we will enter another new decade, one that seems lightyears away from the Seneca Falls Convention and the  birth of a seventy year struggle to ensure a woman has a voice. Still, women stand two rungs down on the ladder to success. Not only that, but we are susceptible to bodily harm when we dare to succeed in a man’s world.

Sure, there are plenty of women writers at the top of their game, selling books left and right, sporting a fat, healthy readership. Yet, Kate Harding’s article cannot be ignored. She says it well when she expresses the same sentiment I feel when faced with these odds:

“I get furious when people insist that western women have achieved full equality, feminism is no longer necessary, the wage gap is imaginary or the lack of women in positions of power is unrelated to sexism.”

Check out Kate Harding’s article for yourself. Though your perspective may differ from mine, we’ll at least be on the same footing about the facts.

Fiction vs. Memoir

On Salon.com, Laura Miller wrote “A new book says: Fiction is dead, long live the age of autobiography,” in which she reviews Ben Yagoda’s book Memoir: A History. Laura Miller quotes Ben Yagoda when he claims fiction has become “like painting in the age of photography — a novelty item.”

He isn’t the first to say that nonfiction, including memoir, sells better than fiction. Nathan Bransford, in his recent article in the Huffington post, said “for many years adult nonfiction was the bread and butter workhorse of the industry.”  It isn’t that fiction is better than non, or vice versa, it just seems to be a fact that we are drawn to the stories of real people more often than the tales of our made-up friends.

It’s easy to slide on over to the nonfiction section in the bookstore and get caught up in the lives of real people suffering, and surviving. Reality TV plays a big part in our attraction to the memoir, as does our need to know that someone out in the real world might be worse off than we are. I think Laura Miller would agree, since she says “the characters and events in memoirs are often, like real people and events, the subjects of energetic controversy….”  Even when we know the ending of the story, we still ravage ourselves with the details.

So, Laura Miller’s article got me thinking. I like memoir, but I also like good fiction. I walked into the bookstore today with my daughter determined to leave with a new novel. While she twirled and tumbled in the middle of the store, I scanned the Indie Bound bookshelves.

I’m terrible at making decisions under pressure, so I let her pick out a book. She finally sat down on a couch, and I turned and found a bookcase of all the Best American anthologies. When I saw Alice Sebold edited the The 2009 Best American Short Stories, I stopped looking.

Alice Sebold’s introduction also acknowledges recent trends in the publishing industry. She says “highlighting good fiction is more important now than it ever has been.” I agree. She could have been talking about memoir or fiction when she writes “a story about grief can comfort; a story about arrogance can shock and yet confirm; a story populated largely by landscape, whether lush or industrial, can expand the realm that we as individuals inhabit.” But, she insists that great fiction narrative is just as critical to the publishing industry as great memoir.

If nonfiction is the mainstay that pushes the publishing industry through a recession, then taking risks and publishing fiction becomes even more critical.

“Stories provide an endless access into another world, brought forth by an infinite number of gifted minds,” Alice Sebold writes. Great fiction, like memoir, must find readers. And, it can’t find an audience if it’s never published.

I can’t wait to dive into the stories Alice Sebold deems Best of the best.

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Sebold, Alice, ed. The Best American Short Stories. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. Print.