As I dressed for a downtown event I felt nervous. Not because I had to face Seattle traffic; I was taking the bus. And not because I had not been to The Women’s University Club before; I Googled the directions. What elevated my nerves was I was meeting my editor, bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard, for the first time. I’d met plenty of famous writers before at countless workshops and conferences. But even though Jackie and I had physically not met, we knew one another through our writing, and that kind of intimacy has higher stakes.
I was greeted by several of the club members, all pleasant and friendly, and I felt immediately at home. The Women’s University Club was founded in 1914 “to form a closer union of university women in order to promote outstanding educational, cultural, and social activities.” It’s housed in a beautiful brick building with elegant decor.
After being invited to a cup of coffee, I followed two members downstairs where the reading was to take place. Within a couple of minutes Jackie arrived, we hugged, and started chatting like old friends. Knowing a person through his or her writing is a similar to picking up an old friendship with someone you haven’t seen in years; you’ve already established common ground on a deep level and you know where to fill the gaps. She was easy company.
Jackie autographed books, chatted with club members, and began her talk. Jackie told us a couple of stories about how her first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, and her current novel, Two If By Sea came to be. After her first novel came out twenty years ago, she received a couple of phone messages from Oprah Winfrey. She ignored them, believing they were from a friend playing a prank. Luckily Jackie answered Oprah’s third call, agreed to be a guest on the show, and propelled her writing career.
She also discussed balancing being an author, going on book tours, and editing the Merit Press, a YA imprint of FW Media. After she read a passage, Jackie’s friend and fellow writer Martha Brockenbough joined her in a lively dialogue about women and our place in the literary canon. Both authors made the point that when they tour, someone from the audience invariably asks, “who is watching your children when you travel?” Jackie and Martha agreed nobody ever asks a male author the same question.
Why does a writer’s gender matter? Jackie and Martha pointed out that for women writers there’s a belief that we should stick to romance and “chick lit” topics. There’s a perception that female authors can’t successfully write about politics and war, or as Martha referred to as “dick lit.”
Women in literature have historically taken a back seat to men, with their work often designated as “chick lit.” Some writers, such as George Eliot and James, Tiptree, JR., hid their gender through a pseudonym, and contemporary authors J.K. Rowling and J.A. Jance, use gender-less initials. But are stories limited by gender? Why should an author’s sex determine what kind of story he or she should tell?
I’m grateful that Jackie and the team at Merit Press did not hold my gender against me and chose to publish my book. Because my novel has a male protagonist I considered using a pseudonym or initials because clearly, I’m not an eighteen year-old boy. Yet the book isn’t about me; I’m just a channel for these imaginary friends’ voices.
Here’s a sneak peek for you. http://www.yainterrobang.com/breakfast-with-neruda-excerpt/