Writing from the distaff side of life

It’s time to switch genders.

In the genre of mystery and suspense, women have pioneered a tradition of writing as men: Agatha Christie, Elizabeth George, Ruth Rendell, Martha Grimes. Poirot, Linley, Wexford, Jury . . . masculine characters come alive in the hands of female writers. The men seem real, the writing accepted by the public.

But what happens when men write about the distaff side of life?

Peak Season 3D cover 375x548Sure, men have written about women since cave days. Their work ranges from sparkling (Robert B. Parker’s Susan Silverman) to riotous (P.G. Wodehouse’s characterization of Honoria Glossop and other females in the Jeeves and Wooster stories). But when it comes to getting into women’s heads, do men get it right?

Some authors seem to meet the challenge without effort: Anthony Doerr’s blind French girl, Marie Laure, in All the Light We Cannot See and Tony Hillerman in Listening Woman. Others, like Parker in his Sunny Randall series, seem to present female versions of their male characters.

Ignorant or undaunted, I’ve entered the fray with Peak Season, a novel about a former detective who surrenders her gun, her badge her and confidence after shooting a fellow officer. Moving to Southwest Florida to care for her ailing grandfather, CW McCoy swears off violence until a fugitive kidnaps her family and she’s forced to decide which side of the law she’s on.

In portraying life through CW’s eyes, I’ve steered clear of stereotypical male and female roles. She swears off guns but will defend herself. She longs for a relationship but doesn’t make it her life’s pursuit. Even while navigating the mostly male world of law enforcement, she puts a high premium on family and friends, qualities exhibited by both women and men.

When I began the CW McCoy series, I wondered whether I could voice the feelings of a woman. Now I wonder about a more practical question: can the public embrace that voice?

Survey gets a read on e-readers

A fifth of American adults say they have read an e-book in the past year. They read more frequently than their print-loving counterparts and they’re more likely than others to have bought rather than borrowed their most recent book.

Those are some of the findings of the Pew Research Center Internet & American Life Reading Habits Survey, which was released this week. As with most research from the Pew Center, the report goes into some detail. Here are the highlights:

  • A fifth of American adults have read an e-book in the past year and the number of e-book readers grew after a major increase in ownership of e-book reading devices and tablet computers during the holiday gift-giving season.
  • The average reader of e-books says she has read 24 books (the mean number) in the past 12 months, compared with an average of 15 books by a non-e-book consumer.
  • Some 30% of those who read e-content say they now spend more time reading, and owners of tablets and e-book readers particularly stand out as reading more now.
  • The prevalence of e-book reading is markedly growing, but printed books still dominate the world of book readers.
  • E-book reading happens across an array of devices, including smartphones.
  • In a head-to-head competition, people prefer e-books to printed books when they want speedy access and portability, but print wins out when people are reading to children and sharing books with others.
  • The availability of e-content is an issue to some.
  • The majority of book readers prefer to buy rather than borrow.
  • Those who read e-books are more likely to be under age 50, have some college education, and live in households earning more than $50,000.

Most of the findings in the Pew report come from a survey of 2,986 Americans ages 16 and older, conducted on November 16-December 21, 2011, that focused on people’s e-reading habits and preferences.

For print titles, the ‘e’ in e-books stands for envy

The move to e-books is looking like a stampede.

Online retailer Amazon.com said today that it’s selling more electronic books than printed versions. The company says it sells 105 e-books for every 100 physical copies it sells.

Next Tuesday rival Barnes & Noble will ratchet up the competition when it introduces a new generation Nook e-reader to compete with Amazon’s Kindle.

barnes-noble-nookB&N chief executive William Lynch told the Wall Street Journal that despite a late start his company has captured 25% of the digital books market. It has also grabbed a good chunk of the market for electronic magazine subscriptions. “We’ve also sold more than 1.5 million magazine subscription orders and single copy sales on the Nook newsstand.”

The irony of Tuesday’s announcement (or maybe the marketing strategy) is that it happens during the week of BookExpo America (BEA), which bills itself as the largest publishing event in North America. It has traditionally promoted paper copies. This year BEA will co-host a session on electronic publications with the IDPF Digital Book Conference 2011, at the Javits Center in New York City.