Thursday, February 12, 2015




The Glass Ceiling: The Invisible Authors
Compiled and Formatted by Anthony Servante




Introduction:

As a former professor of English literature, I can tell you the history of female authors who used male pseudonyms to publish their works and why, but I won’t because even a cursory Google search of the topic could supply you with all the information you'd need about the Brontë
sisters writing as the Bell brothers, or Joanne Rowling changing her name to J.K. Rowling, to sell a few more novels to a market that is perceived to be male dominated. But that’s the question. Is it male-dominated? Or do women readers prefer male writers? The main question, however, is: Why are women still using pseudonyms today, 150 years after Emily and Charlotte Brontë began the practice? 

To address this topic, I asked Billie Sue Mosiman to expand on her opinion of male perceptions of women writers that she posted on her Facebook timeline upon reading the obituary of Colleen McCullough. She wrote an essay entitled Literature's Glass Ceiling, accommodating this article. I also invited two female authors who use male pseudonyms to answer some questions about their practice of hiding their gender in the hopes of selling more books. Our two authors have chosen male names for the interviews, (Rowan Morrison and I.M.Goodman, respectively) neither their real name nor their writing pseudonym in order to maintain anonymity for this article. 

Anthony Servante

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Author of more than 60 books on Amazon, Mosiman is a thriller, suspense, and horror novelist, a short fiction writer, and a lover of words.





LITERATURE’S GLASS CEILING
By Billie Sue Mosiman

Colleen McCullough died January 29th at 77. Despite having sold thirty million books, being a bestseller, and having a career spanning decades with some of the best Roman historical novels ever written, in her obituary they started out in the newspaper saying, "Though plain of face and overweight, Colleen McCullough, author of THE THORNBIRDS, wrote a lot of books." I was infuriated. If she'd been male and a bestseller and died would the obituary mention his looks? His weight? Hell to the no. This second class treatment of women writers must stop. McCullough could write circles around many males, but they have to mention her looks? It's shameful is what it is.

Some might say why stir the pot? It was one single obit writer so why not ignore the disrespect shown Colleen McCullough? (Number 1- it was SHOCKING disrespect. Number 2-that one obituary points to problems that haven’t gone away when it comes to the gender of the author.)

I’ll tell you why it shouldn’t be ignored. Because it was also so blatantly sexist that it shocked just about everyone who read the obituary. It’s as if women writers haven’t really moved an inch toward that glass ceiling if a woman who achieved so much in her lifetime as did McCullough can be remembered in an obituary in a newspaper this way.

I had to make the decision, back in the 1980s, whether to use my real name that left no question about my gender or not use it. I thought of using my maiden name as a non de plume and initials instead of a name. I pondered this well before I ever submitted my first stories and novel. Today nearly 35 years later women are still making this decision. Do men ever think about hiding their gender as writers? Certainly not in most fiction and that’s proof things have not changed in decades. Decades! Why must we hide behind fake names and subterfuge?

I decided, and not without much contemplation, that I would be brave and write under my own name no matter the consequences. I would stand tall and be myself. I would use my married name because my husband was so instrumental in me becoming a writer. His name deserved the credit, if there was to be any. I knew, yes, I knew it was going to make things harder for me. Billie Sue is very Southern, for one thing, and readers would have to get past that. Then it’s obvious I’m female by that name, strike two. Why was it a strike at all? Because I’d determined my chosen genres were suspense and horror. Both genres overlap and both are dominated by male writers.

You see, it’s all right a genre is dominated by men. Because more men write in those genres and more men submit work to editors in them than do women. Why wouldn’t they dominate? The point isn’t that more men publish works than women. The point is women have little power and have to strive harder. Women have to believe there is a little prejudice among editors leaning toward taking the work of men over women only because it’s traditionally been a man’s world in those corners of literature. Some women broke out and busted through the glass ceiling. Most didn’t. In horror I don’t know of many who ever reached the bestseller list beyond Anne Rice. She deserved it! She wrote a spectacular, classic novel with INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE. But where are all the others in the past three decades? Not one of them could reach that pinnacle.

In suspense more women made it than in horror. It was a pleasure to see it and made me believe one day it wouldn’t matter who wrote the book, man or woman. So in that genre, though dominated by men in the 1980s, has come a long way, while not so much in horror. It’s true not as many women write in the horror genre and not a majority of women read it. Still, believe me it’s easier for a woman just to take a male name and be done with it.

It’s not the lopsidedness that is still so dispiriting. It’s the notion that a woman, Colleen McCullough, could spend her entire life making money for publishers, and hold her place alongside the male writers of her time and still be sited for having a plain face and being overweight. This tells us a great deal about the ceiling and how it hasn’t budged a bit. It’s still in place, a thing to overcome, and denying it won’t make it go away.

Women get together (at conferences, online groups, and Facebook) and talk. Women hide out in private groups and discuss this problem. No one knows what to do about it except to write the best fiction we know how and keep on competing with one hand tied behind our backs.

To be honest I had no trouble selling a new suspense novel a year to publishers in New York, but then I had high-powered agents pushing things through, and I was gaining a reputation for writing smooth, clear prose that needed little vetting or editing. Without the help of the agency (William Morris Literary Agency), I’m not sure I could have had it so easy. The agent believed in me and once I got nominations for prestigious awards, I was able to write and sell novels.

I don’t know today how female writers not using a male’s name will fare because obviously male writers who have had it easier to publish will be the first to be asked to anthologies, the first to sell to publishers, and the first to reach the audience who reads genre fiction. It’s almost imprinted in the readers’ minds that if the book was written by a man, it must be good. If it was written by a woman, who knows? It’s a risk, or so they think because tradition has it women writers are weaker writers of suspense and horror. That’s emphatically not true, of course, but the perception has been there for 35 years, at least.

Is there sexism in certain genres? You betcha. Is there sexism in all genres? Sure. Ms McCullough didn’t write suspense or horror.

How do you change a perception? You write as well as the boys and you submit to the same venues. You knock it out of the park and see if anyone, no matter the gender, can catch up. You work harder, longer, and with as much dedication as you can muster. When you’re passed over, remember it might be the work, not the gender that hinders you. Be fucking realistic.

But sometimes...sometimes it’s because you’re just a female and you’re bumping your head on the glass. If you’re female I’m hearing a hallelujah. Go out and do it, Ladies. Forget your gender, go beyond your gender, get to the nub of what storytelling is all about and in another 35 years the prejudice might disappear. That is my hope for the future of literature and for all female authors. One day you won’t be sitting wondering whether you should use a male name or initials. One day all women will go forth with the names given to them at birth, you know those frilly, girly names like Billie Sue.

P.S. I loved every novel about Rome Colleen McCullough ever wrote. Not a single thing about those books can be called “feminine.” She was simply a superb writer.

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The Glass Ceiling in the House of Horror: 
Two Invisible Authors Interviewed
Conducted and Formatted by Anthony Servante


Rowan Morrison Interview:

Anthony: Can you give us a bit of a general biography: what genres do you write about, for instance?

Rowan: I write all kinds of genres though I learn toward darker stuff, horror and crime. But I write humorous and light genres as well. I don’t like being pigeonholed too much but horror is where I started when I first got published.

Anthony: Did you originally write under your real name? If yes, was it a bad experience? Can you elaborate? If no, why didn’t you bother to use your own name?

Rowan: I used my own name to start with and then I started to use genre-specific names just to distinguish them because the  majority of readers don’t like to cross genre borders at all.

Anthony: Why then did you choose to use a pseudonym for your books?

Rowan: As I mentioned, it started as a way to distinguish genres, but for the darker stuff I’m writing at present I use a male nom de plume.

Anthony: Please describe the factors which led you to use a nom de plume.

Rowan: An awful lot of men won’t read a book with woman’s name on it, even men who write in the same field unless the woman is 1) already famous or 2) conventionally attractive. They don’t review books and the writers in the genre don’t share news for female writers (e.g. RTs on Twitter or sharing links on Facebook) like they do for males.

Anthony: Was there any one example or experience that exemplifies why you use a male moniker or a non-feminine name or initials to hide your gender?

Rowan: There’s not one experience, just an accumulation of many. Being at cons and seeing all male groups drink together. Listening to guys in the darker genres sneer at “chick lit” and romance as “girly” while they tell homophobic and misogynist jokes. It’s the kind of male bonding that leads to blurbing each other and inviting each other to submit to anthologies.

Anthony: How successful have you been with your pseudonym?

Rowan: It’s hard to tell as it’s still rather new. I had a publisher contact me to ask to look at my next novel. That’s never happened before.

Anthony: Is it an “old boys’ club” in your genre of writing? Or do you feel readers prefer male writers over female writers? Can you give an example?

Rowan: Yes, because the genre I mostly write in now is seen as dark and tough; there are still all-male anthologies which boggles the mind in the 21st century. It’s not even all actively anti-women, it’s just that most men are not friends with women, so when they help their friends they only help men. Women are just invisible to them.

Anthony: Can you discuss the essay by Billie Sue Mosiman? Feel free to add your thoughts to it, whether you agree or disagree, and cite specific passages.

Rowan: On the whole I agree with what she says. The McCullough obit may have been a misguided attempt at humour but it just emphasises how slapping down women remains the norm for many men. The era of the big publishers and the high-powered agents is never going to be a norm for people in the smaller genres, so it’s a different world. I rankle a bit at “go beyond your gender” which comes across as buying into the same assumption that what men write about is universal but what women write is only of interest to other women which is bullshit. Google Jennifer Weiner and Franzenfreude.

Anthony: Since we were children, we were taught girls should play with dolls and boys with guns, girls wore pink and boys blue. I’ve always believed these were and still are a factor in how males view females and how females view themselves, as the “weaker” sex, the baby makers, not the bread winners. Can you elaborate on this conditioning children receive from their parents who probably received the same conditioning when they were kids?

Rowan: I was the only girl with brothers. I became a feminist the day I was told I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl – when I could clearly do it. Pink was a boys colour as recently as the early 20th century. Blue was considered girlish. Most of our attitudes toward gender are taught and entirely cultural – and shift over time. I think the current frothing, virulent strain of misogyny has a lot to do with the erasure of lot of the inequality between genders. There’s a troglodyte minority who are terrified that they will have to prove themselves worthy of something and not rely on the mere fact of possessing a dick.

Anthony: Here you can tell you own thoughts on how we can break the glass ceiling in the House of Horror.

Rowan: Men have to step up. Women are already writing great stuff. Men need to stop being such cowards and actually read women authors – in public even! I’ve edited anthologies: I’ve never had trouble getting a diverse group of authors and gender representation. Men always bellyache that there “just aren’t enough good stories by women” which is bullshit. They may not submit to your market because they see your anthologies never have more than a token woman or two. Consider blind submissions: as a recent study showed, male students get ranked higher on tests when their names are revealed. The cultural bias runs deep. Support women, not just your buddies. You won’t lose your balls if you praise a woman writer or a review her book. Yeah, I know: #notallmen are like that. But far too many.




I.M. Goodman Interview: 


Anthony: Can you give us a bit of a general biography: what genres do you write about, for instance?

Goodman: Admittedly, I am not what one would consider a ‘girly’ girl but that does not, in my opinion, make me any less of a woman either. My husband can attest to that, I suppose. I grew up with brothers so I can run with the big boys but it is also a relief to let my hair down and be myself. My genres of choice are horror, suspense, and thriller. I write for both YA and adult audiences.


Anthony: Did you originally write under your real name? If yes, was it a bad experience? Can you elaborate? If no, why didn’t you bother to use your own name?

Goodman: No, I never attempted to write under my real name. I do keep that option in my back pocket if I ever decide to experiment with a different genre but I spent a lot of time and effort building a platform under my pseudonym so it would mean starting over completely.

     When I finally made the decision to publish, I spent a great deal of time researching female vs male authors in my genre. I looked at the women writing horror and noticed the incessant trolling over a measly chromosome. I am a realist. I know that not everyone is going to love my writing; I just want a fair shake. My work should be judged on its merit, not my plumbing. I knew it would be an uphill battle without the added stigmatism of being a female so I opted to put a genderless face out there. Initials seemed to be the easiest route so I played around with my real name to find something that fit. My profile pictures on social media are not gender specific and, as I suspected, it was assumed that I am a male since I write horror. Because I have been a fan of the horror genre long before I wrote my first novel, I knew that there was an aggressive bias against women. Many of my own friends had admitted to me that they would pass over a new female horror writer without hesitation, simply for being a woman.

     In all fairness to my fellow horror fans, the growing popularity of Paranormal Romance has a great deal to do with this fact. Too many horror fans have been burned. They pick up a book touting vampires or werewolves but don’t get the blood and gore they crave. Instead, the pages are filled with chiseled chests and rugged jaw lines, burning desires and yada yada. I can’t blame the fans for resenting authors turning something they love and cherish into a farce.


Anthony: Why then did you choose to use a pseudonym for your books?

Goodman: The pseudonym just seemed to be an easier choice. If I am going to change who I am then why not embrace the chance to be someone else entirely? As my alter ego, I can be all of the things I am not. It is a role I get to play and I rather enjoy it. Sometimes it means that I have to spend a few extra seconds thinking about how I should respond to a comment or joke … would a man say this or post that? That is probably the most difficult part of playing a duel identity. For the most part, I feel freer to be myself because I don’t have to worry that someone recognizes me from the grocery store or knew me in Kindergarten.


Anthony: Please describe the factors which led you to use a nom de plume.

Goodman: As I said, I’d already seen women authors being attacked online. The sad part is, these women are both talented and brave. In most cases, the nasty reviews on Amazon or GoodReads have nothing to do with their writing. They just have a target painted on their backs because they took a stand and used their real names. Compound that with a higher percentage of male readers in the horror genre and it was a simple decision. If they aren’t interested in new female authors then it seems obvious to just take gender off the table and let the work stand alone.


Anthony: Was there any one example or experience that exemplifies why you use a male moniker or a non-feminine name or initials to hide your gender?

Goodman: I went with initials because I didn’t want to flat out lie to my readers. With initials, it is purely an assumption as to whether I am a male or female. In general, I just dodge the question if it arises but most readers don’t bother to ask. They seem rather confident that I am a male because I write horror so I allow them to believe whatever makes them comfortable. It can be amusing when people call me “dude” or “bro” but I don’t mind it. It just means that whatever I am doing is working.

Anthony: How successful have you been with your pseudonym?

Goodman: Since I don’t have a comparison base for my real name vs a pseudonym, I am just going to have to assume I am doing well. Since most of the interaction I have online with readers has been positive, I suppose that is another good sign. Just the fact that the assumption is already in place that I am a male means it is working. A few author friends that I met via social media were genuinely surprised when I revealed my true identity. Most of them were certain I was a man.

Anthony: Is it an “old boys’ club” in your genre of writing? Or do you feel readers prefer male writers over female writers? Can you give an example?

Goodman: I definitely feel that horror is male dominated. The peculiar thing is, if you take Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein out of the mix, the average horror fan will have to really pause and think about a woman in horror. Part of this is because there does seem to be a bias but I still maintain that Paranormal Romance has done some damage to women in horror. Not that I have a problem with the genre itself, it’s just that it was lumped in with horror at first and that left a bad taste for many fans of horror. The same would hold true if you reversed a main plot point in any genre. Honestly, the growth of Paranormal Romance probably played the biggest role in my choice to adopt a pseudonym. I looked at it this way. If I wrote as a woman, most horror fans would ignore it. It would have been assumed that I write paranormal romance anyway. Worse, those looking for paranormal romance might have picked up my book and they would be very disappointed. I take an old school approach to horror— I like blood and gore.

Anthony: Can you discuss the essay by Billie Sue Mosiman? Feel free to add your thoughts to it, whether you agree or disagree, and cite specific passages.

Goodman: I definitely think Billie Sue Mosiman’s essay points out a glaring discrepancy, not just with the literary world but society as a whole. In this century, one would think we had moved past a woman’s worth being based solely on her looks. The hard truth is that we haven’t. Intelligent, educated, and well versed women are still intimidating because we break the traditional mold.

     Specifically, Ms. Mosiman’s words, “If she'd been male and a bestseller and died would the obituary mention his looks? His weight?,” stuck out to me because we see the same treatment of actresses on the red carpet. Some of those young women are educated at Ivy League schools. They use their celebrity to bring aid to poor countries, provide clean drinking water, better healthcare, and education but reporters ask them about what they are wearing and makeup tips. We women hold our fate in our hands. We can either accept the world as it is or we can change it. Ms. Mosiman’s words ring true … “How do you change a perception? You write as well as the boys and you submit to the same venues. You knock it out of the park and see if anyone, no matter the gender, can catch up. You work harder, longer, and with as much dedication as you can muster. When you’re passed over, remember it might be the work, not the gender that hinders you.” 

     Only hard work and dedication will change the perception. My hope has always been that my work will stand on its own and when/if I make it to a place of status, when readers discover that I am a woman they might be more inclined to give another woman a chance. While it would be ideal to live in a world where we didn’t have to hide our gender, the simple truth is that we are fortunate that we have the options available to us to still pursue our dreams. Decades ago, this was not the case. I will not allow it to hold me down. Instead, I will strive to make the change I want to see.

      I am fortunate that other female authors have forged ahead and started to chip away at the glass ceiling. Even though I personally do not consider Anne Rice a ‘horror’ author, I am still awed by her courage and strength. I consider her to be the mother of Paranormal Romance. She blazed a trail and that is worthy of celebration. If it had been recognized sooner, that she had a new genre developing, it might not have hit women in horror as hard but it happened and with it, a new generation of readers experienced the joy of being lost in a book.

Anthony: Since we were children, we were taught girls should play with dolls and boys with guns, girls wore pink and boys blue. I’ve always believed these were and still are a factor in how males view females and how females view themselves, as the “weaker” sex, the baby makers, not the bread winners. Can you elaborate on this conditioning children receive from their parents who probably received the same conditioning when they were kids?

Goodman:  I completely agree that children are conditioned and raised to view the sexes differently. I was raised in a home with a double standard. My brothers were permitted to go places and do things that I could not simply because I was a girl. I think that fuels me to work harder, to prove that I can be whatever I choose to be. I can, and will, run with the big boys! Some women will always look to break ties with old traditions and some will embrace them. That is just the way of the world. The nature vs nurture debate rages on and both sides point fingers saying the other is to blame. Personally, I think it is an individual choice. The same goes for any other form of prejudice. A child can be raised in a racist home but never give in to hatred of another based on the color of their skin. This hold true for sexism and other gender related issues, as well. Education can help to combat the fear but the world will always be an imperfect place. We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. The only real way to change someone’s mind and shatter a glass ceiling is by actions, not words. It takes hard work and dedication. It is simple to say, “I can’t because I am woman” but it will never accomplish anything. Likewise, it is easy to blame the industry or we can knuckle down and get to work. I’d rather show, not tell.  

Anthony: Here you can tell you own thoughts on how we can break the glass ceiling in the House of Horror.

Goodman: I still maintain that the best way to break through the glass ceiling is through hard work. Nothing of value ever comes easily! If it means that I use initials to mask my gender then, so be it. I will continue to do what I love and, hopefully, I’ll manage to entertain a few people along the way. I never set out to be rich or famous. I just love writing. If I never made a penny, I’d still be writing because I can’t stop. That passion in me will not be quenched so I will do whatever it takes to have my dream become a reality. Along the way, I hope that I can succeed in encouraging others to reach deep and strive to make their dreams come true also. Perhaps one of the most detrimental tools to any female success is the reluctance to share our knowledge. We learn to hold back when we could be helping to lift someone else up along with us. I do not look at another writer as competition. I want them to succeed right alongside me. I promote others and I share my mistakes to prevent them from tumbling into the same pitfalls where I fell. Too often we are taught to hone a killer instinct and slaughter the competition instead of rising up to meet the challenges. Rising above this instinct is just another step in the right direction.

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Summary:
We've only just begun to explore and discuss this important topic. I hope this is only the beginning of the discussion and invite authors male and female to contribute to this living document. Send me your opinion on Mosiman's essay and Morrison and Goodman's interviews and I'll gladly add it to this article, as long as it stays on topic. I also welcome other "invisible" authors to answer the questions and submit their responses; I'll be pleased to attach it (them) to the other interviews. 

Remember, Black men (former slaves) were given the right the vote (a form of it if you read the fine print) in 1863 and fought to equalize the same voting rights as Whites during the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s. Women earned the right to vote by suffering the arrests and beatings by guards on November 15, 1917 along with many white women protesting in front of the White House, a protest lasting nearly three years. These women where derogatorily referred to as the "Silent Sentinels". Black Suffragettes were in the minority, but they did work and protest hand-in-hand with the whites and suffered the same if not worse consequences. 





Eventually, however, these protest tactics helped influence the passing of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving the women the right to vote. 

Why do I bring this up? Because like Blacks, Women were considered furniture of the male household with no more rights than a chair or table. I think of Yoko Ono and John Lennon's song "Woman is the N****r of the World", but just as this song stressed unity among women, it mostly created a chasm between black women and white women, even as they both fought for the same rights of equality in a world of men that separated them with its glass ceiling. Today there is a new chasm that has given women pause about whether or not to publish their works under their real names. Imagine a black woman pretending to be white so she can vote in 1960 and you get the idea. Pretending to be male can be misperceived by female writers who write under their own names. Thus the chasm between women using their real name on the front line of the battle of breaking the glass ceiling and the women using a shortcut to break through by using a male pseudonym. If the male readers and publishers don't know if they're female or male, black or white, then the woman author has a chance to compete with the male authors. Hiding in plain sight, so to speak. Should the chasm be closed and all women authors united before gathering together to break the glass ceiling? Or is it everyone for themselves? As long as the ceiling is broken, it doesn't matter by whom, just so long as the glass breaks. (Read the article on this chasm by clicking on the "Sisters and Strangers" link above). 

But I've given you enough to think about. It's time for you to speak up. I welcome all opinions. Send them to servanteofdarkness@gmail.com under "Glass Ceiling" and I'll be happy to add it (them) to this article. Or you can use the "Comments" section to write your response. Look forward to hearing your thoughts. 


2 comments:

  1. Really interesting topic, Anthony, looking forward to reading more opinions on the matter.

    ReplyDelete
  2. As much attention as this issue attracts each February, it's still one I feel timid about sharing. The pressure to conform has a toll: I feel as though, should I mention it on my blog, I'm whining. If say nothing, and I'm invisible. It's a serious problem, sadly, one a yearly "women in horror month" isn't going to fix. Better than nothing, I suppose.

    ReplyDelete