March 21, 2009

Fingerprinting for Fun and Profit posted by Leann Sweeney Thursday I had the pleasure of being fingerprinted. No, I didn't commit a crime for research purposes. Apparently Texas has decided that anyone who must obtain any kind of license aside from a driver's license (which only requires a thumbprint) must be printed. And since I am due to renew my nurse's license (in this economy I need to stay current on anything I can do!) I was kindly asked by the state to go forth and be printed. Unlike many people (like the folks who waited their turn with me) I looked on this as fun. I'd never done this before and when you write crime novels, well, it's great to have that hands-on experience (pun intended). But there was an added bonus. Everyone waiting was getting a concealed handgun permit. I swear my mouth was watering at all this knowledge in one room. I learned how long the course must be (ten hours) and how long the renewal course is (four hours), as well as how many shots must be taken (50). I also discovered that most of the class participants these days are women. This IS Texas and we not only have big hair, we have big attitude. The woman who went in ahead of me was actually a hand gun instructor. Did I get her business card before she left? You bet I did. Then came my turn, but when I told the young woman doing the printing what I was there for--nursing license renewal--she groaned. And I was confused. Nurses are nice, we cooperate. You'd have thought I'd brought in my sixteen month old granddaughter for printing. That would make anyone groan. But then the fingerprinter showed me why. But before I get to that, I need to explain the procedure. I was expecting ink and such. Not so. It's all digitalized now and you simply put your fingers on a glass pad that's hooked up to a computer. You can see each print on the screen as it's done. She put her finger on to show me why I, of all people, might present a bit of a problem. "See my print?" she said. I did and it was perfect. Every beautiful swirling ridge easily recognizable. "Now we'll do yours," she said. I was shocked by what I saw. Nothing more than a big black smudge. The ridge detail was practically invisible. "Every nurse who's been working more than five years has prints like this," she said. "The state is dumb to print you people. We can't tell you nurses apart." And that's when it clicked. I'll bet I've washed my hands a million times in my career. I have essentially washed away my prints. Needless to say the process took twice as long as it had for the other people. This pesky little "rejected" notice kept coming up as she tried her best to get good prints. They really were a mess. And she warned me that I would probably be getting a notice that I would have to be reprinted even though she finallly did get that "rejected" warning from coming up on all but one of my fingers. So I have learned firsthand (hehe ... hand) about the process, which will be great for my writing. And I have also learned that the next time I break into a house to steal something, I won't need to wear gloves.
GENDER REDUX Posted by Sheila Connolly (Sarah, get back here and contribute something!) My post last week prompted some interesting responses, from both men and women. I wish I could cite more specific numbers for mystery sales, but the closest I can come is to provide Romance Writers of America's most recent statistics, from their website (Sisters in Crime, are you listening? We could use some good data). According to RWA, 78% of romance readers are female, and 22% are male. What is noteworthy about this fact is that in 2002 only 7% of romance readers were male (or would admit to it). That's a threefold increase, which is encouraging. As an interesting observation, 42% of romance readers have at least a college degree (15% have done post-graduate work). And to give heart to mystery writers, 48% of romance readers said they preferred mystery/thriller/action plots. Let us hope for crossover readers! But one responder brought up an corollary point: do we write across genders, and how well? If we do it, why? Readers/purchasers, do you find that you prefer books written by one gender or the other, and does it matter whether the author is using a male or female POV? Speaking from my own experience...when I first started writing, I tried my hand at a few romantic stories, one of which included a mystery (but no body). When I got serious about writing, my first effort was a gritty, dark story about a serial rapist terrorizing a small New England town. Initially I wrote that with three third-person POVs: the heroine, the love interest, and a (female) doctor. I'll admit that I knew very little about structure, pacing, etc.–in other words, most of the techniques of writing. I just sat down and wrote the dang thing. I started circulating it to contests and agents, and it garnered some attention and snagged me an agent, but it never sold. At some point, having tossed that non-performing agent, I decided to rework the book, rename it, and try again. I made some significant edits: I added two POVs, the rapist's and the (female) police chief's (she happened to be the doctor's lover, deep in the closet). Yikes! Five POVs, two male, three female. What was I thinking? But to return to the issue of writing from a male POV–the rapist was relatively easy, and I tried to make him convincing (yeah, like I know how a rapist thinks): he rationalized his actions, and he was interested mainly in revenge and in humiliating women. The love interest, on the other hand, was in some ways harder to craft, because I wanted to make him believable without turning him into a wimp. One commenter asked whether when women writers create male characters, we try to make them idealized men–they way we wished men were. In other words, we are crafting characters other women would like to read about, but who quite possibly male readers would dismiss as unrealistic. In my own work I accept that may be true, and my original hero Clayton may be impossibly sensitive, understanding, supportive–but gee, I really liked him. So how did I put myself into his mindset? I kind of dumbed him down. (You may now throw things at me.) He was academically and professionally intelligent, sure. He is attracted to the heroine in mere minutes (yeah, right), although part of that was a generic protective response (it's kind of hard to fall in love with someone who is unconscious). But mostly he has trouble articulating his feelings. So I'm probably as guilty as anyone of creating a man I'd like, but who may not exist in the real world. Sigh. As for reading male versus female authors (we're talking about fiction here), I have found over many years of not only reading, but rereading and making the critical decision about whether to keep a book, that I do prefer the work of women authors. That is not to say I acquire only books written by women. I enjoy some thrillers written by men. I understand the universal appeal of Lee Child's Jack Reacher. He's enigmatic, so we can read whatever we want into him. He comes with a simple love 'em and leave 'em attitude. And he doesn't try to justify or explain himself–he just is. Sometimes that's enough. I remember reading the late John Updike's book Couples when it first came out in 1968 (actually, it was my mother's copy). I was a nerdy high-school kid at the time, and I felt that Updike had given me some real insight into the workings of the male mind, for which I was grateful. I've read a lot of his books since, and my opinion hasn't changed. His male characters are often rather clueless when it comes to emotions and relationships, and that made sense to me (still does, after more than thirty years of marriage). So tell me: you male authors out there (who I hope read this blog now and then), do you write from a female POV, and why? Women authors, the same question in reverse. And for all of you: what writers do you believe have crossed the gender line and done it well, without making their protagonists completely unbelievable?

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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