Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

How It Used to Be for Women Writers

I went through a spell of reading books that were highly acclaimed back in the 1950s and 1960s. They were ones I had missed reading since in the 1950s I was a kid reading Nancy Drew and Beverly Cleary.

In the Sixties when I was in high school, my favorite books were Les Miserables, Great Expectations and David Copperfield. I loved my classics and had no interest in the current fiction of the day back then.

I won't name the books or writers I read during my recent catch-up phase. They were all extremely well-regarded, prize-winning novels by famous literary people.

And I could barely stomach them, giving me much fodder to reflect on how much the literary culture has changed since those days of the 1950s through the 1970s. And thank heavens for that.

As managing editor at WiDo, I can say unequivocally that if any one of those prize-winning novels had come to us as a submission, we'd have turned it down flat. They were that bad.

Hardly any story, themes that made no sense, unlikable characters. No heart, no soul. Yet these books and their famous authors were such a big deal back then.

In fifty plus years, the world of books is completely different. To me, that's a very good thing. I'm so thankful I got busy with marriage and children and didn't try to have a career in those days as a novelist. I'd have been shot down so bad I may have never recovered.

Women writers didn't fare too well in that era except in the romance genre. The literary giants were largely all men.

Women with literary aspirations instead would often attach themselves to literary men--college professors, published poets, playwrights and novelists--and the women would write their poetry, essays and stories, maybe teach and maybe get published in little literary magazines or win an award now and then.

What I did was write children's stories and sell them to magazines for kids. Not exactly literary aspirations but it kept me in the game.

Joyce Carol Oates was different. She is one of my heroes and favorite writers of all time. I'm not sure how much her books made though, compared to men writers of the same era. She continued working throughout her career as a college professor rather than going full time as a writer. Either she loved to teach or she needed the financial security it provided, who can say.

JK Rowling, still using her initials since the publisher didn't figure the book would sell if people thought the author was a woman, changed all that. She gave women writers a voice.

Every woman writing and publishing today owes a debt of gratitude to JK Rowling. She opened up the era of publishers actually believing women could write outside of the romance genre and do it very, very well.

On the heels of the Harry Potter phenomenon came the Kindle revolution, further giving women an outlet for their work via self-publishing. The Kindle revolution along with POD publishing also provided the means for many small publishers like WiDo to remain profitable.

Many of these small publishers have overwhelmingly embraced female authors, and given older women a chance as well. One of WiDo's bestselling books is In the Mirror: A Memoir of Shattered Secrets by Ann Carbine Best, published when Ann was 72.

Now books written by women rule the bestseller lists. For those of us my age who clearly remember the way it used to be, this is pretty awesome.

10 comments:

  1. I've found a lot of literary classics and big award winning books to be boring.
    Most of the authors I follow are women. Many write in my genre. And I enjoy their books. I think that's what matters.

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  3. Maybe it was a bit different in Canada. We had the amazing Margarets - Atwood and Lawrence. Atwood is still with us and going as strong as ever. We have Alice Munro and Ann-Marie McDonald and Carol Shields and Marian Engel. But you had and still have so many that I read back then - Louise Eldrich and Barbara Kingsolver and Anne Tyler. Britain had Margaret Drabble and Pamela Frankau and Pat Barker... I remember feeling like I didn't ever need to read a male author again except for Michael Ondaatje. Ah well.

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  4. Maybe it was a bit different in Canada. We had the amazing Margarets - Atwood and Lawrence. Atwood is still with us and going as strong as ever. We have Alice Munro and Ann-Marie McDonald and Carol Shields and Marian Engel. But you had and still have so many that I read back then - Louise Eldrich and Barbara Kingsolver and Anne Tyler. Britain had Margaret Drabble and Pamela Frankau and Pat Barker... I remember feeling like I didn't ever need to read a male author again except for Michael Ondaatje. Ah well.

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    1. Jan, I do love Ann Tyler too, although I discovered her late. When I did I went back and read all her books.

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  5. Recently finished Anne Tyler's DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT, the one she considers her best. Recommended!

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  6. Most of DLP's authors are women. Times have changed.

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  7. That's exactly it, Diane. It's not that there were no women writers during that era but compared to how many women who wanted to write and be published it was miniscule. And compared to how many there are now, with the publishing road completely open to them, I think it was pretty shameful.

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  8. I'm very grateful that the opportunities for female writers have opened up so much over the past few years. I was solidly on the Harry Potter train as a child (still am!), and I remember the excitement of learning that JK Rowling was actually a woman.

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  9. I'm grateful too. It has certainly been a great experience to become published, one I had always dreamed of. Doesn't matter that I was in my 70s :) Definitely better late than never. And thanks to WiDo!

    In doing catch up, I just found this post, Karen. I have continued to go back and forth with blogging, as you know. It's taken me some time and the necessary mental space to realize I just don't want to give it up. Caregiving of course has to be my top priority, but I need this for me. Doesn't matter that I will most likely never get another book published in my lifetime, but blogging, though not literally face to face is nice. I've made some new friends with the WEP I did this month via Denise Covey and Yolanda. But it's WordPress that I now know/like better than blogspot, so I'm embarrassed to say the link here doesn't work. I'm re-posting some of the stories from it to go along with this final theme that feels like this is what I want. And I'm never going to delete it even if I can no longer blog!!!! (Jen and the [old] Karen Gowen exclamation points.

    Here's the link to my FINAL wordpress site (that blogspotters can link to thru a skeletal blogspot I put up and where I can keep in touch with them and easily leave comments)... http://annbestlifestories.com

    Thanks for all your support. And hi from me and Jen to you and your wonderful husband.

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