Category Archives: Book

Genre Stereotypes and Gender Double-Standards

I’ll preface this post by stating that I’m well aware, as with everything else in life, there are exceptions to what I’m about to discuss, and those exceptions are a good thing. But a stereotype, by definition, is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified concept of a particular type of person or thing. And when that thing is a book, when it comes to reading, a majority of readers will make choices based upon some basic, commonly accepted conventions of plot and formula for a specific genre. For example, whether tame or steamy, romances revolve primarily around two people who initially can’t see eye-to-eye but ultimately discover their romantic love for one another, and the story will end on a happy, optimistic note. Fantasy novels usually occur somewhere imaginary, and while they often include subplots ranging from mysterious to romantic, magic of some sort or another is a key element. Readers turn to erotica primarily to be turned on. They pick up cozies, expecting a light, even humorous mystery with bloodless, off-screen murders, minimal sex and violence, featuring an amateur, often female sleuth in a small-town setting where she can turn to family, friends and authorities, though often she’s dismissed as being ‘nosy and meddlesome.’ Hobbies such as knitting, baking, and scrapbooking are popular themes. Thrillers, memoirs, science fiction – the list goes on and each of these genres carries with it certain accepted guidelines.

And then there’s hard-boiled. Lean, unsentimental, gritty. A genre where the protagonist goes head-to-head with the ugly realities of a dangerous world, and they frequently go it alone. Faced with a darker side of life and forced to survive, they fight violence with violence, often far from the assistance or the eyes of the authorities. It’s a bloody, vicious world of “be tough or be killed.” And for decades, this world has been the domain of the American tough guy. Donald Westlake’s Parker and John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee are superb characters and perfect examples: physically and emotionally scarred, square-jawed, hard-hitting, hard-drinking and hard-loving men of action, cynical, calculating, and capable. The “shoot first, ask later” types who operate outside the law and follow their own moral compasses. And in these tales, the majority of the female characters fall into certain specific roles. They’re either a love interest, a victim in need of rescue and/or avenging, a femme fatale, or all of the above.  And often, they have a low survival rate.

Again, I know exceptions exist, but what I’m discussing here is the stereotype of the traditional hard-boiled mystery. The stereotype that leads some readers to see the word ‘Hardboiled’ in a description and go into a book with certain gender-specific expectations. And conversely, for readers who see the protagonist’s age and gender, then expect a cozier story.  The first lines of the description should make it clear that isn’t the case. Nice young ladies really shouldn’t be dumping bodies at sea. Then again, that isn’t stopping Hazel Moran, and she can’t figure where anyone got the idea she was nice to begin with.

Despite the fact that she’s faced with a threat, even as she has been left no choice and it’s a case of kill or be killed, even as Hazel does whatever it takes to survive, protect herself and her family, refusing to be a victim, some readers have stated both in reviews and letters to me that they were shocked by the violence from this “young girl.” It seems ironic that within the setting of a more traditional hard-boiled with a more traditional (male) protagonist, these same actions wouldn’t so much as raise an eyebrow. In fact, they’d be expected and approved. Apparently, stepping outside the traditional, more accepted genre and gender formulas established generations earlier makes some readers uncomfortable, and double standards continue, even to this day.

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MFA? WTF?

A big part of life, of existence, is trying to figure out answers, often when we don’t even know the questions. But lately I do have one answer: “Author.” That’s what I’ve finally learned to reply when asked the ever-popular, “What do you do?” It’s taken years to reach this point. But the part that makes me laugh is another question that usually follows. “Where did you study?”

Uhm? Study? Seriously? Hell, I pretty much stopped paying attention half-way through high school. Not to knock the public education system, but 1.) I planned to sail to far ends of the earth, and I saw little value in much of what they were teaching, and 2.) anything of interest that they were teaching I more or less already knew. I’d been reading ahead in textbooks for years, and within the first week of class I’d usually read the year’s lessons from cover to cover. By time the teacher got around to each chapter, I’d already been there, done that, moved on to some detective novel and could care less about the class discussions. In the end I could ace most of my tests, but was labeled a problem student who rarely paid attention or contributed. Looking back, I suppose perhaps I should have paid a bit more attention in English; I’ve been told I have issues with my Oxford Commas… but that’s why editors exist.

Fast forward to a few years back, when I’d first completed Last Exit in New Jersey, (and I say first, because that story has gone through numerous reworkings before becoming the book it is today,) I optimistically set out in search of my ideal agent, certain my debut work was a blockbuster in the making. Hey, when you’re dreaming, you might as well shoot high. And the first step involved composing a killer query letter, so I dug in and did my research. I read books, blogs, and online articles, versing myself in what I’d need to do to make my query enticing and intriguing. The blurb was easy, but regularly I’d read that I should include the writer’s organizations to which I was a member, as well as where I earned my MFA.

MFA? WTF is an MFA? A bit more research yielded an answer: a Master of Fine Arts degree, something that would have required years of study beyond the Bachelor’s degree I never obtained. I needed an MFA to write a book? I guess I missed that memo. No, I’d been out there, living life. I hadn’t spent the requisite time between university walls; I was out in the world, paying my tuition in a different way and learning my lessons by living them firsthand. Losing my first car to a flood. Losing my first apartment to a fire. Driving around in a $100 Buick held together with pop-rivets. Discovering at twenty-one, as my peers were partying, I was going to be a mother. Buying fixer-uppers – cars, trucks, boats, homes – and then fixing them because that was the only way to afford these things. I’ve worked as everything from a commercial driver to a lobby ornament/receptionist in a high end corporation, a commercial illustrator, a boatyard manager, along with various other unusual jobs in between. I learned to learn from everything, both at the time and looking back. That talent from high school carried over, I’d learned if you give me a manual and a day or two, I can teach myself nearly anything from VI Editing and UNIX to rebuilding an outboard and keeping a diesel engine running.

As I’ve come to notice how many of my fellow writers hold MFAs, I began to wonder if yet again I’d zigged in life when I should have zagged. My education has come from years of triumphs, failures, gains and setbacks – and often I’ve learned more from a single failure than from multiple wins. I’ve learned to learn from others around me, to pay attention to those who are ‘doing it right’ and pause to consider how and why. And while I don’t have a diploma from the School of Hard Knocks, for better or worse, the degree I’ve earned comes through in who I am and how I write.

To my amusement, even as I was composing this post, Vincent Zandri offered his writing advice on education and it certainly gave me a smile. And here’s some grammar rules from Vampire Weekend.

 

 

How did I get here?

Last night I found myself tucked into the corner of a table at 44 and X, a very stylish little restaurant over in Hell’s Kitchen, surrounded by some big name authors and editorial people from Thomas & Mercer and Amazon Publishing.  The night before, it was a cocktail party at Ink48 Press Lounge. And I asked myself… how did I get here?

Yes, it is me, dressed up. It happens once in a while.

I received an invitation from my publisher to both events, and though I wasn’t attending Book Expo America, both the cocktail party and the dinner were a short train ride from my side of the Hudson, and this would be my chance to finally put faces to the people I’d been dealing with since last summer. Oh, and to network, I suppose, though anyone who knows me knows I’m not really a ‘network’ type person. I’m a solitude type, and the moment I stepped out into that loud, crowded lounge, filled to bursting with wall-to-wall laughter and unfamiliar faces, my first instinct was to U-turn it right back into the elevator. It’s amusing how pressing through Penn Station at rush hour doesn’t faze me, and I’m perfectly comfortable wandering the streets of Queens, but set me in the middle of a social event like this and I start backing towards the exit. But I was there for a reason, and armed with a glass of Glenfiddich, I braced myself and headed in. From the looks of it, everyone there seemed to know most everyone else…everyone except me.  No name tags, no means to tell who was who, no idea where to start. This was my first foray into the world of publishing, and I was completely out of my element. Ultimately I retreated to a quiet corner and stared longingly out at boats making their way up and down the Hudson.

I realize these events, from the writer’s groups and conventions to the cocktail parties, are part of the landscape many authors navigate along their way to publication.  It goes with the territory, this process of making connections, networking, and I began to wonder if I might have overlooked something I should have been doing from the beginning. I eavesdropped on the animated conversations swirling around me and wondered if I’d missed some critical step in the process. I wrote a book simply because I enjoyed writing. I never really though much beyond that, and the last year had been a whirlwind of amazing and unexpected changes. But now I was on the outside, looking in.

Throughout the room, books from Amazon’s various imprints lay scattered across the low tables, including, ironically enough, a copy of Last Exit in New Jersey on the table beside me. As I sipped my drink a tall fellow wandered over and picked it up, flipping through it. I warned him that it was an awful book, and it was receiving some terrible reviews. Great icebreaker, huh? We started talking, and I caught that his name was Johnny and he was also an Amazon author, though through the noise I didn’t clearly hear his last name. But I was able to learn he was quite at home in this setting and he knew a good deal of the people there, including my editors and various marketing team members. I was delighted to finally meet Jacque, Eleni and Leslie face to face – they’re a wonderful group to work with, and even more fun to hang out around. And before long I found not only was I surviving my first night, but I was actually having fun!

Compared to the cocktail party, I figured the second night would be a breeze.  Only a dozen people at dinner together, strictly the Thomas & Mercer crowd, including a few familiar faces from the first night.  But I quickly discovered myself surrounded by some of the biggest names in the T&M stable, all heavy hitters with years of publishing behind them and reputations to match.  And me. The noob. The lone self-published author that somehow caught Amazon’s eye. The more I looked around, the more I listened to the other conversations, the more I felt like I was way out of my league. I did my best, I joined in when I could, but I began to wonder if I had any business being there.  And that’s Vincent Zandri, the author of numerous international bestsellers, made it clear to me that indeed I did. He told me to look around at the  other authors with whom I was dining, all well-regarded in the publishing world. Amazon signed each and every one of them for a reason, and they signed me for a reason as well. “These are very smart people at Amazon,” he told me, “They know what they’re doing, and they wouldn’t have picked you if they didn’t believe in your work.”

Writing can be a lonely business, but as we spoke I realized it didn’t have to be. And thanks to a great author offering me precisely the encouragement I needed, I began to see that I’m right where I should be, and I’m just getting started. He made me understand I shouldn’t sweat the little things. I should focus on what really matters and what I truly enjoy: my writing. Reputations like Vincent Zandri’s are built step by step, book by book, reader by reader.  And for an author at the beginning of this amazing, often intimidating journey, connecting with someone like Vincent Zandri helped me to put things into proper perspective, and for that I am grateful.

For more of Vincent Zandri’s wonderful wisdom and insights, check out his blog: The Vincent Zandri Vox

Launch day…

It’s official. We have launched. No, not the boat — by my pictures it’s pretty obvious that’s going to take a bit more time. But today is the release date for No Wake Zone. So, for all of you who read Last Exit in New Jersey and have been patiently waiting to learn what’s next for Hazel, Hammon, Annabel, and Stevenson, here’s your chance. Happy reading, everyone!

(And for anyone who hasn’t read Last Exit yet, it seems that Amazon has currently discounted it to $.99.)

Where did it go?

I unpublished Last Exit yesterday.

It was a strange feeling. Sales were starting to spike, both on the old edition and the pre-order March 6th edition, apparently fueled by Advance Read Copies currently out for review. It wasn’t something I had to do – it was my idea, and Jacque at Thomas & Mercer assured me that until the new edition was released I could keep selling the old one. But I felt that at this point, if an early buzz is building based on responses to the new edition, it was time to pull the original.

Getting closer…

I’d been looking forward to February, knowing that things would start to kick into high gear. And sure enough, just as I’m plotting and scheming my way into the start of book three, Evacuation Route, advance read copies, cover designs and release dates are coming in for the last two books. So here they are.

The very polished and re-edited edition of Last Exit in New Jersey will officially re-launch on March 6, 2012, and No Wake Zone is set for release on May 8, 2012.

Thomas & Mercer wanted to give Last Exit a new, grittier, more hard-boiled cover that hinted to the nautical angle of the story, and to keep a consistent look with both books. And while I was fond of my cover, with the actual Parkway sign for the title and hood of my old Dodge on the Parkway at 3 a.m., I think their design is a better match for the story.

Yesterday I received four concepts for No Wake Zone’s cover, and one really jumped out at me. I suggested a minor change that they are currently addressing, and I should have a finalized cover in the coming days, and we’ve finalized the promo text as well. So for all of you wondering just what happens after the conclusion of Last Exit, here’s a hint:

Hazel Moran, the tough truck-driving amateur sleuth introduced in C.E. Grundler’s debut novel, Last Exit in New Jersey, returns in this dark and twisting sequel.

Seven years ago, someone destroyed Jake Stevenson’s dreams when they murdered his fiancée, Helen Matthews and her family. Since then, tracking down the one responsible – finding them and making them pay — has consumed his life. Stevenson thinks the truth behind the killer’s identity and motive might still lie in the most elusive place – buried within the mind of a semi-mad man. But Stevenson may have found the means to access Hammon’s suppressed memories, and cleverly he draws Hazel into his hunt. Can she trust Stevenson, or does he have a hidden agenda? Hazel has her suspicions — but she has her own reasons for playing along.

Hammon and Annabel also question Stevenson’s motives. To protect Hazel from becoming the next casualty of a forgotten history now repeating itself, they must retrace a treacherous path of deceit and murder. But Annabel thinks Hammon is going about everything entirely wrong, and she’s decided it’s her turn to start calling the shots, whether Hammon likes it or not. And when, again, someone very close to Hazel dies, she’s pushed to the edge. The facts all point to suicide, but Hazel isn’t buying that. She’s determined to prove it was murder, and she’s closing in on answers, only to find someone is changing the questions. No one she trusts will hear her out; they’re all certain she’s in denial and becoming potentially unstable. But when has presenting a serious threat to herself and others ever stopped Hazel?

As her hunt travels from New Jersey to a Manhattan rave and a vacant construction site outside LaGuardia Airport, it’ll take all of her tough, fearless, no-nonsense smarts to navigate a complex and dangerous trail of clues. How far will some people go to hide the truth? And how far will she go for vengeance?

Are we there yet?

It’s official. As of today, the edited draft of No Wake Zone heads off to the nice people over at Thomas & Mercer. I still have more tasks ahead, finalizing the promotional text and looking over cover designs. The wheels are already turning at T&M for a spring release, and as soon as I have more official info I’ll be posting it here. But as for writing No Wake Zone, I’m done.

Done. Time to kick back, catch my breath, and catch up on life outside the madness of my fictional world. Yep. Done. No more dealing with my admittedly insane characters, who really need some lessons in communication skills and still refuse to play nice. I’m done.  Finished.

I can relax.

Or not. Already my muses are whining like a bunch of bored, restless children on a long road-trip. They won’t shut up. No. They want mayhem! They want chaos! They’re plotting away; they want my crazy characters to pull off a heist, and not get themselves killed or kill anyone else (unless absolutely necessary, and we all know how that goes,) in the process. And the forecast doesn’t look good.

So yes, the gang will return. We’re out of the No Wake Zone, and now it’s time to make some waves. Lots of waves, in fact, because there’s a hurricane headed this way, and as of this morning, I’ve already started work on book three:
Evacuation Route.

And here’s my last two posts at Write on the Water:

But how did you get here??

Prepping for launch day…