Novelist Margaret Dilloway on the Humanity of Disobedient and Difficult Female Characters

Margaret Dilloway

After I sold my first book, How to Be an American Housewife, an assistant at my literary agency expressed hope that the publisher wouldn’t change me too much.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Your characters are kind of gritty,” he said. “Not like typical women’s fiction.”

Gritty? This came as a surprise. But then again, it was also a surprise that anything I wrote was “women’s fiction.” When I wrote my book, I did not think of it as being in any category. I simply wrote the story I wanted to write, which happened to have female characters—because it was a mother-daughter story.

But then I found out that my novels are categorized as women’s fiction, generally understood to have a heroine who has some kind of emotional journey where she saves herself from a high-stakes problem, with possibly a bit of romance thrown in for interest. In addition, my books tend to focus on family drama and themes about cultural identity—not terribly different than novels categorized as “fiction” except that the main characters are female.

I don’t mind wearing the women’s fiction badge. Though some writers view the term “women’s fiction” as a pejorative or a way to make women’s writing lesser than a man’s (the equivalent of a man in a tweed jacket smoking a pipe and patting you on the head and saying, “Good for you. Keep on amusing yourself with your cute little women’s fiction.”)

I’ve also found out that all these categories are useful and necessary for bookstores and librarians, so people who want this specific kind of book will know where to find it. After all, my dear father-in-law, who loves thrillers where there’s lot of action and little thinking, wouldn’t want to stumble into a women’s fiction novel by accident. Nor would I want to read most of his favorites.

So I’ve embraced the category. Yet though I’m “women’s fiction,” my fingers seem to be physically incapable of typing out descriptions of non-difficult women. And I’d like to think I’m getting better at it. I make my characters to start out in a low place of struggle, so they have room to soar by the end. I like a nice dose of redemption in my writing.  Kirkus Reviews praised my most recent novel, Sisters of Heart and Snow, for this very reason. “In this enjoyable novel, imperfect and at times unlikable women become lovable,” it says. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/margaret-dilloway/sisters-of-heart-and-snow/

However, this whole concept of “difficult” women still puzzles me. Sometimes, the word “difficult”  is a code word for “bitchy.” Someone you don’t want to deal with.

To me, to be “difficult” means to be human—imperfect, struggling with baggage from the past, responsibilities, aging, expectations, dreams.

In real life, every woman I know would be classified as “difficult” the way my characters are. The women I know are fierce and mercurial. Everyone’s got some kind of problem they’re trying to overcome. They complain and they struggle even while they love. And women mess up their lives just as forcefully and thoroughly as men ever have, thank you very much.

Male characters, on the other hand, are hardly ever tagged as “difficult.” Male characters have way more leeway when it comes to the sympathies of the reader. Take the wonderfully comic novel This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. It concerns a man who struggles with the end of his marriage. The discovery of his wife having an affair effectively paralyzes him, until he must return home to face his three siblings after his father dies. Judd is a passive figure at the beginning, sometimes doing unlikable things. Sometimes repugnant things happen to him (spoiler) such as when his sister-in-law, in a desperate struggle to get pregnant, climbs on top of Judd while he’s in bed and, at least in part due to his passivity, takes advantage of him (that scene happened differently in the movie than it did in the book). Kirkus Reviews praised the author for his “poignant depictions of damaged men befuddled by the women they love.” If Judd had been a female character, she’d probably be called “imperfect and at times unlikable.”

Or maybe it’s all just me. Maybe I’m missing the writing gene that makes my characters automatically lovable even while they’re flawed. Maybe my true calling is really writing villains.

This essay was originally posted on March 15, 2015.

Advertisements

What the Hell is “Women’s Lit”? Garine Isassi Asks the Burning Question

Garine Isassi  start-withe-the-backbeat

When I was pitching my novel to agents, the first line of questioning after my initial one-sentence summary went something like this: “What is the genre of your book? Is it romance? Is it about the girl?” I would begin an answer, saying, “Well, yeah. It’s about a woman in the music industry, and I guess the romantic subplot means it has romance in it, but that’s not the main point of the story. . . .”

That is as far I would get before the agent would make an announcement on whether I could continue or not. Either they’d say, “Oh, then it’s Women’s Lit,” and we would keep talking, or, they would condemn my pitch with, “I can’t sell Chick Lit anymore.” End of conversation.

A few times, I tried to argue that the book has more to it. It’s about authenticity. It’s about race relations. It’s about the love of music.  The quickness to pigeonhole my work left me deflated. Here I think of myself as a modern woman in a world where women have come a long way away from being shoved to the side. The line of questioning was solely based on my gender and/or the gender of my protagonist, not on the level of writing talent or storyline. They had barely even heard my pitch – just that it was a story told from the point of view of a woman. The most disheartening part of that experience was that most of the agents I spoke with were women.

It wasn’t always like this for authors.

In 1847, the epic romance Wuthering Heights was published. The author listed at the time was Ellis Bell. The dramatic love story is complete with crazed jealousy, paranormal heroines, and mansions set under stormy skies. Later that year, Jane Eyre came out, supposedly penned by Currer Bell. It became a bestseller.  No genre was mentioned in the reviews.

As we know now, both of these books were written by women — Emily and Charlotte Bronte, respectively – and about women.  They were read, analyzed, reviewed, and praised. There was no doubt that the complicated romantic content was appreciated by the men of letters at the time. (Remember, at the time, novel writing as well as novel reading and reviewing, was a man’s endeavor.)  Hailed as classic masterpieces, these books have been a mainstay in literature class syllabi for a century and a half.

Today, it is highly likely that both of those books, and countless other classics written by women, would be placed directly into the Romance section of the bookstore and probably never reviewed at all by the current version of “the men of letters.” Why? Because the publishing industry has ventured so far into marketing categories that today these classics would be considered “Women’s Lit.” The category has become a catch-all label umbrella over all novels involving romance, family relationships between women, any mom, women’s friendships, or — my favorite — simply because it was written by a woman and includes at least one main character that is a woman.

I suppose that the sheer number of books that are published every year makes it necessary to classify them. Many categorizations make sense — Mysteries, Political Thrillers, Science Fiction, Paranormal Romance; these are somewhat specific genres where authors buy in to the idea that they are writing according to the genre’s standard.

Fine.

I get it.

But, what if I’ve written a story that does not neatly fit into a genre? For the male author, there is no question — the book is categorized into General Fiction or maybe Literary Fiction. But if you are a woman? No way is it that easy.

Take, for instance, Jodi Picoult. Jodi is firmly entrenched in the “Women’s Lit” category as an author. She’s done well under that branding. But one of her recent novels, Nineteen Minutes, is about a school shooting and the havoc it wreaks on the relationships around a violent event. It got great reviews. It’s a bestseller.  On Amazon, the category is Women’s Lit. Compare that to another book about a school shooting and the havoc it wreaks on the relationships around a violent event, We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (who is also a woman, despite the male first name). This novel is considered Fiction or Contemporary Fiction.  Both books are about the same thing. Both have a woman as the main character.

Consider this example: Chris Bohjalian. He’s written several novels, many of which center on women and what they do. They are great books.  His thrilling family saga, The Light in the Ruins, puts forth not one but two women protagonists, one of whom is a detective, set against the backdrop of World War II, and is categorized in Literary Fiction.  Meanwhile, The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah, a family saga with two women protagonists, one of whom is a spy, set against the backdrop of World War II, is — you guessed it — Women’s Fiction.

This annoys the hell out of me.

Not only does this “separate but equal [maybe]” sham perpetuate the critical oppression of women’s talent, it doesn’t give the books a chance of making the sales impact that might be possible.  Men are half of the potential audience for fiction. Men don’t want to be seen reading a Jennifer Weiner or Jodi Picoult novel no matter how great the story might be. The branding effect makes it like buying tampons for your wife at CVS — only the few and brave will even consider it.

Even in retrospect, the industry is applying this label. A novel about the lives of several Chinese women and their relationships, set in the mid-20th century, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, is now called Women’s Fiction on Amazon, while a book about the lives of several Japanese women and their relationships, set in the mid-20th century, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, is called Literary Fiction. They are both richly-written, best-selling novels with fantastic plots. Both were made into movies. At the time that they were published, these books were simply labeled Fiction. What changed? Did we suddenly discover that Amy Tan is a woman and Arthur Golden is not?

If we want to get even more indignant about the this last one, I would like to point out that Amy Tan has much more authority on her subject of Asian culture in this situation. Yet she is shoved into the realm of the soft world, the women’s section . . . but that is a-whole-nother rant on the nature of diverse voices in publishing.

Allow me to point out some classics that would fit neatly into a Men’s Lit category, if it existed. A Picture of Dorian Gray. The Catcher in the Rye. Anything by Ernest Hemingway.

The point here is that the labels all seem to be at the whim of the publisher and how they decide to market the book. The content seems to have little bearing on the label. At best, it’s a bit lazy on the part of the publisher and the readers. At worst, it is an attempt to relegate women and their talent to second-class status. The Bronte sisters, all those years ago, seemed to have it easier than we do. After all this time and great strides toward equality, we still have not reached the point where a woman doing the exact same thing as a man is not explained away somehow, as if there needs to be a justification for her existence in the arts. We stopped saying “a lady doctor” and “a female executive.” Why do we still say “a woman author”?

Although recent surveys show that most people working in the publishing world are women and most readers of fiction are also women, this is still happening. From the 10,000-foot view, we seem to be doing it ourselves. In order to buoy ourselves against losing confidence, we “women authors” buddy up and create our own spaces, practically authorizing the separation.

My publishing company is called She Writes Press. And guess what category my book is under? Yup. Women’s Fiction.

The irony is not lost on me.

~ ~ ~

Garinè B. Isassi is the author of the novel Start With The Backbeat, available wherever books are sold.  Like her Facebook page and follow her on twitter @garineisassi.

Margaret Dilloway on Disobedient and Difficult Female Characters

Margaret Dilloway

After I sold my first book, How to Be an American Housewife, an assistant at my literary agency expressed hope that the publisher wouldn’t change me too much.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Your characters are kind of gritty,” he said. “Not like typical women’s fiction.”

Gritty? This came as a surprise. But then again, it was also a surprise that anything I wrote was “women’s fiction.” When I wrote my book, I did not think of it as being in any category. I simply wrote the story I wanted to write, which happened to have female characters—because it was a mother-daughter story.

But then I found out that my novels are categorized as women’s fiction, generally understood to have a heroine who has some kind of emotional journey where she saves herself from a high-stakes problem, with possibly a bit of romance thrown in for interest. In addition, my books tend to focus on family drama and themes about cultural identity—not terribly different than novels categorized as “fiction” except that the main characters are female.

I don’t mind wearing the women’s fiction badge. Though some writers view the term “women’s fiction” as a pejorative or a way to make women’s writing lesser than a man’s (the equivalent of a man in a tweed jacket smoking a pipe and patting you on the head and saying, “Good for you. Keep on amusing yourself with your cute little women’s fiction.”)

I’ve also found out that all these categories are useful and necessary for bookstores and librarians, so people who want this specific kind of book will know where to find it. After all, my dear father-in-law, who loves thrillers where there’s lot of action and little thinking, wouldn’t want to stumble into a women’s fiction novel by accident. Nor would I want to read most of his favorites.

So I’ve embraced the category. Yet though I’m “women’s fiction,” my fingers seem to be physically incapable of typing out descriptions of non-difficult women. And I’d like to think I’m getting better at it. I make my characters to start out in a low place of struggle, so they have room to soar by the end. I like a nice dose of redemption in my writing.  Kirkus Reviews praised my most recent novel, Sisters of Heart and Snow, for this very reason. “In this enjoyable novel, imperfect and at times unlikable women become lovable,” it says. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/margaret-dilloway/sisters-of-heart-and-snow/

However, this whole concept of “difficult” women still puzzles me. Sometimes, the word “difficult”  is a code word for “bitchy.” Someone you don’t want to deal with.

To me, to be “difficult” means to be human—imperfect, struggling with baggage from the past, responsibilities, aging, expectations, dreams.

In real life, every woman I know would be classified as “difficult” the way my characters are. The women I know are fierce and mercurial. Everyone’s got some kind of problem they’re trying to overcome. They complain and they struggle even while they love. And women mess up their lives just as forcefully and thoroughly as men ever have, thank you very much.

Male characters, on the other hand, are hardly ever tagged as “difficult.” Male characters have way more leeway when it comes to the sympathies of the reader. Take the wonderfully comic novel This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. It concerns a man who struggles with the end of his marriage. The discovery of his wife having an affair effectively paralyzes him, until he must return home to face his three siblings after his father dies. Judd is a passive figure at the beginning, sometimes doing unlikable things. Sometimes repugnant things happen to him (spoiler) such as when his sister-in-law, in a desperate struggle to get pregnant, climbs on top of Judd while he’s in bed and, at least in part due to his passivity, takes advantage of him (that scene happened differently in the movie than it did in the book). Kirkus Reviews praised the author for his “poignant depictions of damaged men befuddled by the women they love.” If Judd had been a female character, she’d probably be called “imperfect and at times unlikable.”

Or maybe it’s all just me. Maybe I’m missing the writing gene that makes my characters automatically lovable even while they’re flawed. Maybe my true calling is really writing villains.

Margaret Dilloway on Disobedient and Difficult Female Characters

Margaret Dilloway

After I sold my first book, How to Be an American Housewife, an assistant at my literary agency expressed hope that the publisher wouldn’t change me too much.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Your characters are kind of gritty,” he said. “Not like typical women’s fiction.”

Gritty? This came as a surprise. But then again, it was also a surprise that anything I wrote was “women’s fiction.” When I wrote my book, I did not think of it as being in any category. I simply wrote the story I wanted to write, which happened to have female characters—because it was a mother-daughter story.

But then I found out that my novels are categorized as women’s fiction, generally understood to have a heroine who has some kind of emotional journey where she saves herself from a high-stakes problem, with possibly a bit of romance thrown in for interest. In addition, my books tend to focus on family drama and themes about cultural identity—not terribly different than novels categorized as “fiction” except that the main characters are female.

I don’t mind wearing the women’s fiction badge. Though some writers view the term “women’s fiction” as a pejorative or a way to make women’s writing lesser than a man’s (the equivalent of a man in a tweed jacket smoking a pipe and patting you on the head and saying, “Good for you. Keep on amusing yourself with your cute little women’s fiction.”)

I’ve also found out that all these categories are useful and necessary for bookstores and librarians, so people who want this specific kind of book will know where to find it. After all, my dear father-in-law, who loves thrillers where there’s lot of action and little thinking, wouldn’t want to stumble into a women’s fiction novel by accident. Nor would I want to read most of his favorites.

So I’ve embraced the category. Yet though I’m “women’s fiction,” my fingers seem to be physically incapable of typing out descriptions of non-difficult women. And I’d like to think I’m getting better at it. I make my characters to start out in a low place of struggle, so they have room to soar by the end. I like a nice dose of redemption in my writing.  Kirkus Reviews praised my most recent novel, Sisters of Heart and Snow, for this very reason. “In this enjoyable novel, imperfect and at times unlikable women become lovable,” it says. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/margaret-dilloway/sisters-of-heart-and-snow/

However, this whole concept of “difficult” women still puzzles me. Sometimes, the word “difficult”  is a code word for “bitchy.” Someone you don’t want to deal with.

To me, to be “difficult” means to be human—imperfect, struggling with baggage from the past, responsibilities, aging, expectations, dreams.

In real life, every woman I know would be classified as “difficult” the way my characters are. The women I know are fierce and mercurial. Everyone’s got some kind of problem they’re trying to overcome. They complain and they struggle even while they love. And women mess up their lives just as forcefully and thoroughly as men ever have, thank you very much.

Male characters, on the other hand, are hardly ever tagged as “difficult.” Male characters have way more leeway when it comes to the sympathies of the reader. Take the wonderfully comic novel This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. It concerns a man who struggles with the end of his marriage. The discovery of his wife having an affair effectively paralyzes him, until he must return home to face his three siblings after his father dies. Judd is a passive figure at the beginning, sometimes doing unlikable things. Sometimes repugnant things happen to him (spoiler) such as when his sister-in-law, in a desperate struggle to get pregnant, climbs on top of Judd while he’s in bed and, at least in part due to his passivity, takes advantage of him (that scene happened differently in the movie than it did in the book). Kirkus Reviews praised the author for his “poignant depictions of damaged men befuddled by the women they love.” If Judd had been a female character, she’d probably be called “imperfect and at times unlikable.”

Or maybe it’s all just me. Maybe I’m missing the writing gene that makes my characters automatically lovable even while they’re flawed. Maybe my true calling is really writing villains.

Guest Blogger Robin Black: On Learning To Spell Women’s Names While Men Buy My New Book For Their Wives

Robin Black is the author of Life Drawing (Random House, 2014), a compelling study of betrayal and penance in a marriage between a writer and a painter, and If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, a short story collection published in 2010. [You can read my review of Life Drawing here.] Both books received critical acclaim in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the UK. Her work has been noticed four times for Special Mention by the Pushcart Prizes and also deemed Notable in The Best American Essays, 2008, The Best Nonrequired Reading, 2009 and Best American Short Stories, 2010.  She holds degrees from Sarah Lawrence College and the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. Here, Black addresses the vexing matter of men who won’t read fiction written by women.

RobinBlack2014   Life Drawing

I was at a party earlier this summer, a celebration of my novel, thrown by old friends, and filled with couples around my age, middle-aged men and women. My host had asked me to read a bit from the book, which I did, and I answered some questions about my process, about the publishing world; and then I stepped out of the spotlight so that something closer to a normal party might begin. A normal party that included one guest selling and signing books, that is.

Those interactions, while also wonderful, are inherently a little socially awkward, so I expected to feel both fortunate and a bit sheepish, which I did. But this time I also felt a different, distinctive discomfort settling in as more than one man approached me, book in hand, and told me he wanted to buy it  – as a present for his wife. You can make it out to. . . Carol. . . Jane. . . Kathy. . .

Whatever.

I began to feel grumpy. I don’t believe it showed, but I was starting to feel unmistakably irked at the unspoken assumption that I had written a book for women. Only women. That a man who bought a copy for himself might as well also buy a pair of heels and some jewelry to accessorize the purchase.

To be clear, I wasn’t ticked off at these individual men. They were – to a man, so to speak – warm and encouraging, said kind things about the work I’d read aloud, and expressed interest in the whole process of how a book comes into the world. My friends are lovely people, and they had gathered lovely friends of their own. But . . . One particularly engaging man told me he belonged to a book group. A men’s book group. “You should suggest this to them,” I said, poking a bit, consciously making mischief.

At least he was forthcoming. “It’s really tough to get them to read books written by women,” he said. “It’s viewed as. . . “ He shook his head and shrugged.

Sigh.

 

I recognize that I am writing for a blog that owes its very existence to this problem, that I’m not exactly introducing an unfamiliar phenomenon here. But something about this experience, the line of actual, living, breathing men armed with spellings of women’s names, made the imbalance feel true and – excuse me – just so fucking weird, in a way that no statistics, no documented trends ever have.

Really, guys? Really?

Yes. Really.

Part of why it’s weird is because it never occurs to me when I write that I am writing for one sex almost exclusively, which it turns out I am. To me, I am just a person, writing a novel for other people to read. As a writer, I am obsessed with the simple, central question of why people do what they do. Is that a particularly feminine  preoccupation? I hope not. I hope it’s something we’re all thinking about, a lot.

“Men love this book,” I finally said to one fellow guest, thinking of the men who have, many of them friends and family, their ages ranging from 23 to 81. “You might be surprised.”

“Well, I did like what you read, a lot. . .”

Dot. Dot. Dot. Awkward silence.

All righty, then. I guess I’m not going to change the world at a book party.

“And how is Carol spelled? Is there an e?”

 

I’m not angry at any individual. I’m not a bit sure I’m angry at all, though the word is, of course, inevitably, tiresomely melded to all observations that might be termed “feminist” – and so I feel some obligation to contend with the presumption. In truth, a bit weary, on this day anyway, I feel more frustrated than angry; and as for the frustration, it’s certainly not lastingly directed at the men who bought my book, much less the friends who so generously celebrated it. My primary emotion about that evening is one of gratitude.

The frustration itself is familiar, like some kind of natural element, innate to existence by now. It disperses into the air we all breathe and refills my lungs; strolls with me down sidewalks; prickles, uncomfortable, as I watch stereotypes play out on my TV. This a Big Social Problem, and so society, culture, history must all shoulder the blame – though of course, as always, it falls on individuals to fix what entire civilizations have broken. It isn’t ever acceptable to let the weariness win out.

Or, it turns out, to forget to be angry. Or to disown the emotion because others have used its name as a weapon against women. . . Shame on me for that. Anger it is.

And so the analysis begins, anew: Why don’t men read books by woman?

Friends and I have puzzled over that one endlessly. Is it the fear of being seen holding a pink cover, a logical if unfortunate response to an unabashedly gender-coded message that literary marketing has sent? Is it the outgrowth of a process that begins with people telling newborn girls how sweet and pretty they are, encouraging them as they grow, to be nice and worry about relationships, while telling boys how big and strong they are, encouraging them to be tough and smart? Does that well-documented distinction make reading what women write – always presumptively about domestic relationships – seem a feminine activity? (While not making reading male-authored fiction about domestic relationships problematic – as if those books have some kind of blue-for-boys won’t-lessen–your-manhood stamp of approval on them.) Is this just another corner of the world in which those who are taught to view women as equated with emotions, and emotions as equated with weakness (and therefore, by the transitive property. . .) reward the lifelong brainwashing inflicted on them by acting accordingly?

Or, to put it another way, do girl books have girl cooties? Is it really that much a legacy of the schoolyard? Of the nursery?

Probably. That’s all doubtless part of it. But, having gone through what felt like a strangely ritualistic enactment of a statistic I haven’t wanted to believe, I am filled more with questions about the larger implications of men not reading fiction by women than about the causes. If you think that because I’m female what I have to say in my novel won’t interest you, what about the things I say when I am talking to you about the research project in which we’re both engaged? About the funding needed for the public school system? How about when I am arguing a case in court? Filing an insurance claim?

Is it credible that fiction occupies a unique place? Credible that men who dismiss what female storytellers have to say as irrelevant to them, aren’t also inclined to dismiss – albeit unconsciously – what females of every variety have to say?  To think it somehow less relevant than what the other men say? Is it credible that this often unexamined aversion is a special case of some kind? A glitch?

Just as the fact that men skip over female fiction authors has never felt as real to me as it now does, the possibilities of what that fact might mean have never seemed as serious. And to the extent that I am limiting my exploration here to “men” and “women” as if our genders divide anything like so clearly, let me just say, I have no doubt that these issues are all the more complex and disheartening for those whose gender does not fit mainstream definition.

But back to the mainstream for a moment, back to traditional gender presumptions, which are almost certainly at the root of all this. The book that I wrote has been described in reviews as tense, taut, and brutal. I’m not suggesting that had it been called tender, sweet, and heart-warming, men would be right not to read it. But I must say that when you write a book so commonly described with adjectives that are viewed in this (dysfunctional, sexist) society as “male,” and men still aren’t interested in reading it because the author is female, it’s . . . it’s depressing. That’s the word. Depressing.

To me, anyway. I am bummed out about this, since that session of learning how to spell yet another set of women’s names. Not because I don’t value my female readers nor because of the impact on my career or sales numbers, but because of the questions to which this imbalance inevitably leads, because of my hunch that this book-avoiding nonsense is only a relatively innocuous hint at something much more important, something both endemic and profoundly ugly, something that has precious little to do with literary taste.

“What Does ‘Women’s Fiction’ Mean?” asks Randy Susan Meyers

Randy Susan Meyers

Readers of this blog may be interested in an essay by Randy Susan Meyers posted on the Beyond the Margins website today. In it, she explores the issues surrounding the use in marketing and criticism of the phrase “women’s fiction.”

Referencing Robin Black’s soon-to-be-published novel, Life Drawing, Meyers notes, “I have observed, more than one glowing review has finished by saying that both ‘women’s fiction fans’ and ‘readers of literary fiction’ will enjoy it. What does this mean? I’m compelled to parse that sentence; omnivorous review reader that I am, I’ve yet to see an analysis of a male-written book which states: Both men’s fiction readers and readers of literary fiction will enjoy this book. Why? Because there is no genre referenced in reviews as ‘men’s fiction.'” 

Meyers is the author of The Comfort of Lies (Atria Books, 2013) and The Murderer’s Daughters (St. Martins Press, 2010) and a founder of Beyond the Margins.

http://beyondthemargins.com/2014/04/what-does-women-fiction-mean/

Longlist announced for Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014

Women's Prize for Fiction

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 judges have released the longlist of 20 nominees for the prestigious British prize formerly known as the Orange Prize. The five judges each read 158 novels before choosing the 20 that make up the longlist. The nominees, in alphabetical order, are:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah

Margaret Atwood – MaddAddam

Suzanne Berne –  The Dogs of Littlefield

Fatima Bhutto – The Shadow of the Crescent Moon

Claire Cameron –  The Bear

Lea Carpenter – Eleven Days

M.J. Carter – The Strangler Vine

Eleanor Catton – The Luminaries

Deborah Kay Davies – Reasons She Goes to the Woods

Elizabeth Gilbert – The Signature of All Things

Hannah Kent – Burial Rites

Rachel Kushner – The Flamethrowers

Jhumpa Lahiri – The Lowland

Audrey Magee – The Undertaking

Eimear McBride – A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing

Charlotte Mendelson – Almost English

Anna Quindlen – Still Life with Bread Crumbs

Elizabeth Strout – The Burgess Boys

Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch

Evie Wyld – All The Birds, Singing

The judges still have to narrow these 20 books down to the six that will constitute the shortlist, which will be announced on April 7. The prize will be awarded on June 4. It comes with a check for 30,000 pounds (just over $50,000).

Helen Fraser, Chair of Judges, said: “This is a fantastic selection of books of the highest quality – intensely readable, gripping, intelligent and surprising – that you would want to press on your friends, and the judges have been doing just that.”

The judging committee comprises Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge; writer Denise Mina; Times of London columnist, author and screenwriter, Caitlin Moran; BBC broadcaster and journalist, Sophie Raworth; and Fraser, the former Managing Director of Penguin Books UK and Chief Executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust.

The list includes writers from the UK, Ireland, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, and Nigeria. The list includes two previous Orange Prize winners: American Suzanne Berne won in 1999 for her novel A Crime in the Neighborhood, and Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won in 2007 for Half of a Yellow Sun.

Eleanor Catton’s second novel, The Luminaries, set in 19th century New Zealand gold mining country, won the Man Booker Prize for 2013, which was awarded on Oct. 14. Fatima Bhutto is the niece of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Also worth noting is that the list of 20 books includes six first novels and seven second novels, suggesting that the newer and/or younger women writers are already working at a very high level. Another interesting tidbit is that American novelists have won the prize the last five years straight, something viewed with distaste by some British cultural critics.

Four of the books have not yet been published in the United States. But don’t expect that to remain the case for very long.