"What do you write?" This is a common question at a writer conference, and this time it was asked by a man pushing sixty in a crisp shirt and a vest. He leaned in and squinted at the lanyard around my neck and rolled his eyes. "Paranormal Thriller." Too bad those typed out words can't convey the tone that came along with them. Contempt.
I'm used to the reaction. Authors ask what the other person is writing for a chance to describe their own book. He didn't care what I wrote. He wanted to tell me about his story--get another chance to practice his lines before the stressful pitch sessions. I kept my chin up. "It's about a woman who finds out she's terminally ill and decides to kill her stalker."
His considerable eyebrows raised. "That actually sounds interesting. Are you pitching?" Another eye roll. "I bet you'll get a book deal. People eat that vampire romance stuff up."
"Actually, this time I'm lucky enough to not have to pitch. My book will be out in a few months."
He laughed. "Of course it will."
I bit my tongue so hard I tasted copper. Instead of pointing out that my own book had more in common with the thrillers and spy novels he liked than Twilight, I asked him what his book was about. He gave me a long winded explanation of his true crime novel with a list of names that could rival the roster of a football team. I explained that the names were distracting, but his concept was extremely interesting and coached him on tweaking his pitch. We sat down for half an hour to review revisions.
By the end of the day, he hunted me down and offered to buy me a drink to thank me for my help. Every agent he had spoken to had expressed interest in more material. Maybe next time he'll rethink his approach with other authors.
People, particularly people who prefer non-fiction or spy novels (male or female), tend to see "paranormal" and assume I write angsty teen romance. There's nothing wrong with angsty teen romance, and I've read (and enjoyed) my share. What's wrong is that books are not only judged by their cover, but also by the appearance of the person writing them.
Despite a happy marriage, I'm not able to fulfill the "happily ever after" criteria of romance. Books with tragedy speak to me in ways that "happy" books can't. I've tried to write "light reads" with more humor, but something dark always sneaks back in. I write thrillers with suspense and disturbing content. My books have vampires who aren't really good or evil--they are intelligent beings motivated by their own priorities and objectives. My characters have relationships because that's what happens with social entities, but the relationships aren't the focus of the story. I want to give readers a mystery, a fast pace, and something to think about. I want to present a flawed protagonist who fights to keep going.
My mom has expressed disappointment in my inability to write a romance, and I've been pushed to turn my series into what is expected when people see my picture with the world "paranormal." I used to joke that I would sell out and do whatever was demanded, but I've found I can't push myself to be something I'm not (a romantic). Instead, I've written something that's hard to describe and is in a niche that makes it difficult to market. But Del Toro did it with The Strain and Anne Rice managed to write her vampires without a physical romance (although their relationships are highly introspective and intense). Why can't I?
We didn't change it because it's not a romance.
Do you think you have gender biases as a reader? Are you an author that has experienced gender biases? Do you think some genres are more skewed than others?