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General Discussions > Gendered perspectives on supernatural fiction

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message 1: by Werner (last edited Oct 24, 2009 04:06PM) (new)

Werner | 1152 comments Back last summer, in a message to me, one of our members broached the idea of discussing the whole issue of gender perspectives in supernatural fiction (female vs. male authors, female vs. male main characters, etc.). Up to now, we've never posted anything on this, but I thought it might make for an interesting topic --especially since our group is probably about evenly split between the sexes.

Being a librarian, I know that broadly speaking, male and female readers tend to have different tastes (the American Library Association's trade journal, Booklist, even has separate reader's advisory columns for the two genders). Does that dichotomy carry over into this genre? Some people, I'm sure, would say it does. Other things being equal, I think more women than men are drawn to books that emphasize romantic relationships at the heart of the plot. The readership for the Twilight series, for instance, tends to be much more female than male for that reason --though, obviously, there are males who like it, too. And possibly more males (though in this case, not me) would be attracted to the more violent, grisly-gory kinds of "horror" tales than females?

Is there, generally speaking, a difference between male and female supernatural writers, that influences you to prefer one more than the other? Roald Dahl, for instance, thought that men were more successful practitioners of the ghost story form than women, though he couldn't explain why and admitted that there were exceptions. (I'm not sure he was right --I've probably read as many good ghost stories by female authors as by male ones. :-)) My own favorite supernatural writers --Manly Wade Wellman, Russell Kirk, J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer-- are an even mix of the sexes; they have various differences from other writers (and from each other), but I can't really say that many of those are decisively related to their gender, or that my gender affects the way I react to those.

Then there's the question of preferences in main characters or supernatural figures --are they gender related? (Of course, the gender of these characters and that of the author may be the opposite: the two most popular supernatural characters in the genre in recent years have been Harry Potter and Edward Cullen, but both of their creators are female; and the classic novel of a female vampire, Carmilla, which also features a female protagonist-narrator, was the work of a male writer.) To a point, I think many female readers are drawn to a strong, handsome hero as central figure in a book, and many male readers to a capable, beautiful heroine central figure (I certainly am, in some cases), for reasons that are the converse of each other, and that are definitely related to gender. (Think, for instance, of the appeal of characters like Angel and Buffy --both of whom appear in books as well as TV.) But that doesn't simplistically exhaust the gender factor --I think characters like Buffy also have a lot of female fans, who find them an empowering role model, in a world that doesn't necessarily empower women much in its daily life.

Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts, and questions, on the topic. :-) What are yours?


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments I can't disagree with most of what you have written, but I've noticed I like to read stories with a male point of view, maybe because I like to explore the way a man would approach a situation.

For instance, I love the occult detective novels with a male protagonist, although I like the ones with a female as well. My preference is for the male ones, such as Harry Dresden of the Jim Butcher series, Cal Leandros of the Rob Thurman books (who is a female writer, which I found out after the fact), and John Taylor of the Nightside books by Simon R. Green. This is just my theory, but I feel that the male-driven stories are less likely to be distracted by romance and relationships. I am a big romance fan (including paranormal), but when it comes to urban fantasy and the occult detective novel genre, I think romance gets in the way of the storyline.

When it comes to ghost/classic horror stories, I like just as many written by females as males, but I do think the British write the best ghost stories. I'm not exactly sure why, but they can write a hair-raising yarn. That's a little off-topic though.

I'm also a big action/adventure fan. I wish more women authors wrote these books (I wouldn't mind writing some myself). I think because of the dearth of women writers (and perhaps the publishers being less willing to take chances on these other than the female-lead urban fantasy and paranormal), there tends to be more male-written action/adventure stories with male leads, although I've read a few good ones with female main characters, such as Demolition Angel by Robert Crais.


Werner | 1152 comments Danielle, you're a lot better read in the whole occult detective sub-genre than I am. To be honest, I've never read about an occult detective who wasn't male (and created by a male writer); and I guess I never thought of characters like Anita Blake or Mercy Thompson as occult detectives --though, I suppose, they actually are! I agree with you on the place of romance in this type of literature --I'd actually apply it to literature in general-- and I think that view tends to be more common for male readers (though, as you demonstrate, plenty of females hold it too, at least for some types of fiction). We like to see a good guy, or a good gal, end up with a worthy life partner; but usually (though there are exceptions) we're not as excited by most of the books where that process is the whole be-all and end-all of the story.

Like you, I enjoy well-written action/adventure, and appreciate female lead characters in that genre (it's no accident that I'm the moderator of the Action Heroine Fans group!). I'll have to check out Demolition Angel.


Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 1059 comments Anita isn't supposed to be a detective. That's what Ruby does, but you're right, she is. Mercy is supposed to be a mechanic. Now Rachel (Kim Harrison) is supposed to detect. She's always in the thick of it.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments Just to clarify, I use the term occult detective for a story in which a mystery or case is being solved that involves magic. The protagonist doesn't necessarily have to be a detective. I gave up on Anita Blake when her stories started to focus more on sex than the storyline, but her initial books are what got me into the urban fantasy/occult detective (if you will) genre. I loved the action in those early books. Some good world-building too.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments Werner wrote: "Danielle, you're a lot better read in the whole occult detective sub-genre than I am. To be honest, I've never read about an occult detective who wasn't male (and created by a male writer); and I ..."

--Like you said, I'm all for a good romance, and I like to see tendrils of it in the urban fantasy, but too much, and it's a paranormal romance, which is different.


Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 1059 comments I've heard that "Skin Trade" is supposed to be more like the old Anita Blake. I won't buy a copy, but may read it if the reviews show that it is. Hamilton has been a huge disappointment in her last 8 or 10 books. The last couple were endless repetitions of talking about kinky sexual relationships. Blech.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments I think the Anita Blake ship has sailed for me. I don't feel connected to the story anymore, although I have heard that the latest book is more like the original stories.


Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 1059 comments What kills me about Hamilton is you can look at the reviews of her books & watch them fall. Apparently she was told of this & ignored it. Almost like she wanted to self-destruct. I've also heard her writing style changed with her new marriage. Possibly I'm passing along gossip, but I find it amazing that any writer would do this. She couldn't be so far out of touch that she didn't know.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments It's interesting, Jim. I'm on reading groups where the majority of the members love her books. I'm just not interested in concept of her having to sex with as many men as possible because of her magical curse. It sounds like an excuse to inject more sex into the storyline. I heard the same thing about her marriage to the president of her fan club and how that caused her to want to express her sexual fantasies through her books more. Okay, that's fine, but I'm not really interested. I was going to read the Merry Gentry books, but it essentially has a similar storyline except she has sex with her guards so she can conceive a child for the Faery throne. (Rolling eyes). Thankfully, there are many other series that don't have this going on for me to read.


Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 1059 comments I'm not into reading about odd orgies either. I generally skim those parts & just read the other stuff. Unfortunately, that's getting to be very little.

Check out Amazon's reviews. Her books go from 4.5 or 5 stars on the first few down to 3 on the last couple. The ratings really start falling about book 11, where the sex starts getting really heavy. If it's obvious to me at a glance, she has to be trying to ignore it because I'm sure her publisher is raising the devil.

Even one of her 5 star reviewers said of Blood Noir, "...if you don't like repetitive sexual dialog, don't buy her books." or something close to that. I found that she crammed the action part of the story into a summary in the last chapter. I was highly disappointed. I posted a review, if you're interested.

The Merry Gentry series started out good for the first couple of books, but was going downhill by the third & done after that. My daughter likes them all & I skimmed through them, but even she agrees no more now.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments That's pretty good evidence for your theory, Jim. I guess she doesn't care if the royalty checks are still coming in. I'll check out your review. I'm pretty disappointed with Hamilton. I know that she has the right to write what she wants, but I feel betrayed that the storyline changed so dramatically with the Anita Blake series. I don't think I can trust her enough to read anything else from her.


Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 1059 comments I think Kim Harrison handles sex very well in her Rachel Morgan series starting with Dead Witch Walking. There's never any blatant sex, but it is as important to the story as it is in real life. The odd attractions caused by vampires plays a part too. Straight Rachel & ambiguous Ivy play off each other nicely.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments I've read the first two Rachel Morgan books and enjoyed them. I'm not sure what I think about Ivy's character, especially after reading Dates From Hell (a short story about her). It seems like there's a subtext there between them. I like Rachel a lot. I'm way behind on this series, as you can see.


Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 1059 comments Ivy fleshes out better in the later books. I think we have 7 or 8 of them now. I think it's my daughter's favorite series now. It's pretty high on my list, too. We're buying the hardbacks.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments That's good to hear. Gosh, I wish I had more reading time. I'm behind on all the series.


message 17: by Twoina (last edited Nov 03, 2009 12:12PM) (new)

Twoina | 59 comments I don't care who wrote it or whether it's a hero or heroine. The most important thing to me is the writing. If the writing draws me in and holds my attention I'm there.

That said I started reading science fiction when I was 10. That was back in the mists before time when SF was pretty much brand new (think Asimov, Heinlien). All the SF writers were male )or used male names if they wanted their books to sell since women were abvioulsy not rocket scientists according to the "wisdom" of the time--I'm talking 1950s here, folks. We have made great strides in the way women are percieved now.)

Anyway,when I found out that Andre Norton was a woman I was elated. I loved her books which were a departure from the mostly hard SF of the male writers (Bradbury being the exception).


Twoina | 59 comments As for Hamilton my theory is that younger readers who are columns of hormones with feet like all the sex. We older readers though still full of hormones realize there's more to life and books than sex. :)


Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 1059 comments It's funny, but I always thought Andre Norton was a woman. She was one of my early favorite reads with Asimov, Heinlein & Tolkien. I know it's a unisex name, but I never had any doubt of her gender. I was surprised when others did. I always felt she had a feminine touch on her tough male heroes.

I can't understand why Hamilton's latest books appeal to anyone with half a brain. Repetitive, not just the sex, but the sexual angst. She took a tough, decisive woman & turned her into an idiotic slut. If she was a teenage guy, I'd understand her current dilemma. Lack of experience & a plethora of options would have done that to me, but Anita was too tough & worldly to fall into this, IMO.


Twoina | 59 comments A young reader in another group informed me that Hamilton has a reason for putting so much sex in her books that will be revealed down the line. She gave Hamilton's latest Anita Blake novel 5 stars and ranted about how this book is just as wonderful as all the others.

She accused people of not liking Hamilton's sexed soaked books because a woman was writing them. The hormonal brain damage years last forever in some people. :-)


Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 1059 comments As bad as bad as hormones can be & I have 3 kids who through theirs in the past decade, I think a rave review of her latest books is pure brain damage. Nothing else explains it.


Emeraldbirdie | 6 comments Well I gotta say that I have all of the Anita books and was also told that Skin Trade was finally getting back to the good ole days when she would have a Browning in her hand instead of something else :) So actually I was excited to read this one. Well she tried,it was not without sex but had far less than her previous. And my favorite character, Edward is in it, along with Olaf. I am a loyal fan fron the Guilty Pleasure days and yes I too find the over-the-top sex parts old and boring. Anita was badass and "one of the monsters". Now she's just a fangbanger and furr-whore. But I patiently wait that perhaps one day she will jump out of bed, pull her pants up, grab a gun, and go be a kick ass necromancer that she once was.
Divine Misdemeanors comes out in December I believe and it should be interesting to see if she writes it well. Because technically all the sex should come to an end because of what happened in Swallowing Darkness. Am curious if any of you have read the Cassandra Palmer series by Karen Chance and if so, what did you think? It's 4 books into the series and felt that book 4 fell short. Harrison's Rachel is good, my opinion on Ivy is still undecided, and Jenks is fantastic!


Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 1059 comments Emeraldbirdie, you give me hope for Hamilton. Maybe I'll pick up her back up next year some time. I really like Edward & Olaf, too.

I've read Chance's Cassie Palmer series. I felt the last book was too hectic. The idea behind it isn't bad & I did get all 4, so I didn't think it was horrible, but I wasn't nearly as impressed as I was with the early Hamilton or with Harrison's books. I agree that Jenks is the best. I'm really dreading the next book, though.


Gemma (BookMoodReviews) I agree with most of what everyone says, especailly with Hamilton and the direction of Anita Blake. I admit to picking up the latest novel. (Is it Skin Trade or Blood Noir) and I admit it began very much like old school Anita, but and here is the big thing for me. The characters of dward and even olaf were diluted somewhat and I felt that she had changed them in order to fit in with the story arc. The change in Edward was rather dramatic from the potential step-father to his girl-friends son, who brought him along in the Harlequin, to this unrecognisable person in the latest book.

It did seem to go back to old school Anita, but it seemed stale and as if Hamilton was trying to mix what she did write to what she writes now. I put it down as I could see where the story was going and I didn't care for it.

Having thought about the books on my shelf, I notice that I read mostley female authors. The only exception is Jim Butcher, for his Harry Dresden books and M L N Hanover for his black sun 's daughter series. I didn't know that M L N Hanover was in fact male until I googled the name and found out it was a pen name for Daniel Abrhams.

I agree most female writers have romance in them, but a few manage to fill it with more. As mentioned Kim Harrison is one such author. Might I also suggest Jaye Welles debute novel Red Headed Step Child as another exampe.


Emeraldbirdie | 6 comments Jim wrote: "Emeraldbirdie- I agree that Jenks is the best. I'm really dreading the next book, though.


uh oh I haven't heard about the new one nor have I even gone to look for it yet.....what happens? Don't worry about spoiling it for me, I've been known to read an ending of a book because I can't stand not knowing, then I'll jump back to the begining and proceed on.LOL.



Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 1059 comments Emeraldbirdie, I sent you a PM with the info. I don't like posting spoilers unless it's a spoiler topic.

Gem, have you read any of the Vampire Files by P.N. Elrod or the Vlad Tepes series by Fred Saberhagen? From the writing, I'm pretty sure Elrod is a gal, but she's more like Andre Norton. She doesn't do the heavy romance & the setting for the first 4 or 5 books is 1930's Chicago. Very good.

Saberhagen's Vlad series is Stoker's Dracula through history. It's very well done. He has flashbacks to his breathing days, remembering DaVinci & the Medici family in one. Another tells Stoker's Dracula story, but from Vlad's point of view. I really enjoyed them.


Gemma (BookMoodReviews) I've heard of P.N Elrod, but never read any of their books. Will have to look out for Fred Saberhagen. Sounds intresting. :)


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments Jim wrote: "It's funny, but I always thought Andre Norton was a woman. She was one of my early favorite reads with Asimov, Heinlein & Tolkien. I know it's a unisex name, but I never had any doubt of her gend..."


I really dislike how Anita's character devolved in the series. I share your feelings, Jim. It was a cheat to the original fans of the series who wanted something more than numerous sexual encounters in a series.



Werner | 1152 comments P. N. Elrod is indeed female --her initials stand for Patricia Nead. I just learned that fact myself; I'd always assumed that P. N. stood for a male name, since I know (even though I haven't read any of Elrod's books --I need to do that!) that the central character of the series is male and it adapts the conventions of the 1930s noir P.I. novels, a sub-genre that traditionally has been a male author/reader province. That just goes to show that even equalitarian feminist guys aren't always free of gender stereotyping! :-)

On reflection, it's not hard to see how some writers might be drawn to portraying opposite-gender lead characters, for the same reasons some readers are drawn to reading about them. In some ways, male characters can just plain be more interesting to the average female, and vice versa!


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments I think that I enjoy reading the male point of view to explore how men are quite similar to women, but also very different at the same time.

I'm a woman, so I know how it feels to be a woman. It's neat to read a book with a male character and to get the male perspective on life.


Gemma (BookMoodReviews) I find that I like reading about female characters that are strong or have a definitive point of view. I kind of go off them if they become too whiney. I've got a few anthologies with P.N Elrod as the editor.


Gemma (BookMoodReviews) I've just ordered The Vampire Files Vol 1, which has the first 3 books in the series.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments I can see where you're coming from, Gem. I love strong heroines. But I like gentle heroines as much as strong heroines (although they can be both). I don't want to see them whining. But just because they're sweet doesn't mean they have to be whiny. I think it's unrealistic for all the heroines to be buttkicking and tough, so it's a nice change when you see one who actually can't kill the badguys. Actually a good number of so called tough heroines can be whiny too.

I enjoyed the PN Elrod story I read. I have been collecting more of her stuff to read. I like her vampire storytelling.


Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 1059 comments I've never read anything by Elrod except the Vampire Files & maybe a short story or two. I don't recall for sure.

I guessed Elrod was a woman the same way I did with Norton. Their men are just too -- nice or well behaved -- sort of, maybe? They're not real guys. Women who write about men tend to leave out some of our rougher edges, things that men do & feel that women don't.

I think men tend to write worse women characters than vice versa, but being a man, I don't mind that nearly as much. My wife & I have had the conversation often since we read a lot of the same books. It's mostly little things that distinguish it, very hard to put a finger on for me.


Werner | 1152 comments Interestingly, back in the 1800s, Charles Dickens deduced that Charlotte Bronte (who wrote under a male pen name) had to be a woman because of her female characters; he said no male writer could portray women with the degree of insight she displayed. And pulp "space opera" meister E. E. "Doc" Smith had so much difficulty portraying credible female characters that he actually hired a female ghost writer to draft their dialogue for him! So those stories would tend to support the truth of your point about male writers and their ability to portray females, Jim. :-)


message 36: by Werner (last edited Nov 05, 2009 03:12PM) (new)

Werner | 1152 comments Danielle, I agree with what you wrote above! There's no inherent conflict between being strong and tough and being compassionate and gentle at the same time. And it's also true that a lady doesn't have to be a pistol-packing street fighter to be strong and tough. One of the strongest and most gutsy characters I've ever encountered in modern literature is Jamie in Nicholas Sparks' A Walk to Remember. She's not a Ninja or a gunslinger; if she were confronted by an armed thug, I could see her just going up to him and gently asking him to behave better (and if anybody could pull that off, she probably could!). But that girl has a backbone and a will power like iron. Of course, she's not a supernatural fiction character! But there are female characters in this genre too who also display both strength (without kicking butt) and gentleness --actually, Lily in our just-completed common read Haunted Lily would be a pretty good example.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments Werner, I haven't read A Walk to Remember, but I loved Jamie in the movie. It's such a beautiful love story, and I really liked Jamie. She's everything you said she was. I loved how she was at peace with herself, even though she got made fun of because of her morals and how she dressed. That peace in her heart is what gave Landon peace, conquered his heart, and opened his mind to a better road to take for his life. It was a great movie, despite the sad ending.


Werner | 1152 comments If you liked the movie (which I did, too!), Danielle, you'll also like the book. It has some differences in details and incidents (and it's set in 1959, where the movie appears to be set in contemporary times); but the essential plotting and the characterizations of Jamie and Landon are the same. And, of course, in many ways a book serves as a much richer medium of storytelling than film.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments I've been pondering reading it, but I'm trying to stay off the Nicholas Sparks train. I don't care for the tragic stories too much. (Shrugs.) Maybe one day.


Werner | 1152 comments I hear you --I'm really not a big fan of tragedy (in any genre) either! But I can sometimes appreciate a storyline with a bittersweet quality, where tragedy is transcended by a kind of triumph, or a significance that makes it worthwhile; and for me, that particular book worked that way. (I've never been interested in seeking out any of Sparks' other work, either --I read this particular one just because I'd seen the movie, and one of my grandnieces recommended it. :-))


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments I agree with you about the bittersweet, yet triumphant quality. Some of those are my favorite types of books.


J.B. Cameron (jbcameron) | 27 comments Perhaps there's something wrong with me, but some of my best work as a writer comes from writing female protagonists. I actually find it easier to relate to their personalities than I do the male protagonists in the other books I'm working on.

LAPD homicide detective/criminal profiler, Sarah Milton, from my series Reading The Dead - The Sarah Milton Chronicles, has been frequently acknowledged by female reviewers as a strong female lead with whom they could easily identify. Perhaps female writers bring a more submissive role to their heroines that's falling out of favor with the current generation of female readers? It's interesting that in this age of equality, many characters are still in danger of stereotyping by their writers, based on their gender.

Personally, I would much rather read a story featuring a strong woman who doesn't need others to define her, operating on her wits and guile, than a muscle-bound male figure handling everything with brute force. That's so 80's.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) (Gatadelafuente) | 295 comments Sherri, the magic vagina trope is a huge turnoff for me as well.


J.B. Cameron (jbcameron) | 27 comments Agreed. It doesn't matter whether the character is human or something like a succubus or vampire. It doesn't make for interesting reading, I find.

Good storytelling thrives on conflict. I'd rather read about a succubus or vampire struggling to deny their baser urges throughout the series, rather than simply jumping in the sack with every warm body that comes along. Much more entertaining.


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Books mentioned in this topic

Blood Noir (other topics)
Dead Witch Walking (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Kim Harrison (other topics)
Fred Saberhagen (other topics)
P.N. Elrod (other topics)