In the Bitchery HQ Slack this week, Amanda shared this link to the ever-outstanding Kelly Faircloth on Jezebel:
Men Are Apparently Adopting Ambiguous Pen Names to Sell Psychological Thrillers to Women
From Kelly’s write-up:
“…there is a huge market demand for psychological “Girl Who” thrillers, often featuring dead or missing women, written largely by women for female audiences. And the guys—and their publishers—want in.
Her source, a Wall Street Journal article with a truly cringetastic headline:
These Male Authors Don’t Mind if You Think They’re Women
Well, thank heavens, because you know I was worried about it.
The WSJ article is behind a paywall, but the salient details are also on The Guardian:
Riley Sager is a debut author whose book, Final Girls, has received the ultimate endorsement. “If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll love this,” Stephen King has said. But unlike Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, The Girls, Luckiest Girl Alive and others, Final Girls is written by a man – Todd Ritter. This detail is missing from Riley Sager’s website which, as the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, refers to the author only by name and without any gender-disclosing pronouns or photographs. (His Twitter avatar is Jamie Lee Curtis.)
Ritter is not the first man to deploy a gender-neutral pen name. JP Delaney (real name Tony Strong) is author of The Girl Before, SK Tremayne (Sean Thomas) wrote The Ice Twins and next year, The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn (AKA Daniel Mallory) is published. Before all of these was SJ (AKA Steve) Watson, the author of 2011’s Before I Go to Sleep.
“Literally, every time I appear in print or public,” Watson says, someone asks about why he uses initials. It was his publisher’s decision to avoid an author photo and to render his biography non-gendered. He has never hidden, but when Before I Go to Sleep went on submission, editors emailed his agent and asked, “What is she like?” Watson found the mistake flattering.
Right, because with profit, they’re “okay” with you mistaking them for women.
I’m so relieved.
Never mind the incredible violence faced by, you know, actual transgender individuals.
Wow, did that entire reading experience leave me with side eye and a frown. There’s already plenty of barriers to entry within publishing if you’re not a white dude, so this was the news equivalent of rubbing a cat backwards from the tail to the shoulders.
This part of the WSJ article particularly rubbed Amanda the wrong way, as it did Kelly Faircloth. She wrote at Jezebel:
One of the authors featured has gone so far as to try on a bra so he didn’t make any obvious mistakes that might throw female readers out of the story. Wonder if he also gets the infuriating emails or the creepy DMs or the generally patronizing bullshit?
…Nevertheless, if only being a woman in, say, serious nonfiction or literary fiction were as straightforward as publishing under the name Steve.
Well, thank God the bra question was addressed.
Given that Elyse and Amanda both love thrillers, especially those that focus on women, they had a few things to say about this discovery.
Amanda: Since I just got Final Girls, I’m kind of bummed about this, Elyse.
Elyse: Dudes ruin everything.
Amanda: It’s weird how my excitement for the book just got sapped out of my body.
RedHeadedGirl: It’s one thing when women are exploring the things that make the world unsafe for us.
It a whole other thing when it’s men and since they are, you know, one of those things, it feels exploitative.
WHY ARE DUDES.
Sarah: Because Money.
Elyse: I guess I have two books to donate.
I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers written by men, and I have no issue with that. I think the reason this is squicky for me is that so many of the “Girl” mysteries deal with deep female POV, and that POV is often dealing with themes like toxic masculinity and gaslighting by men.
Sarah: The whole picking another name thing seems a lot like gaslighting.
Elyse: Yes. I have written about why I really love this new trend of female driven psychological thrillers. It’s reclaiming a genre that commodifies violence (often sexual) against women. It’s about female rage and about reclaiming our bodies. For me the genre works because it subverts the traditional narrative in a genre dominated by men.
Sarah: It’s a familiar feeling. An unpleasant one.
Amanda: Going back to RHG’s comment about women exploring things that make them feel unsafe, I’m skeptical of a man being able to accurately write a woman’s experience.
I’m not saying it can’t be done, but (as an example from the WSJ article) how is trying on a bra really going to get to the heart of the experience of living as a woman and having to factor in your own safety to your daily routine?
It all just feels like a gimmick to me and leaves a bad taste in my mouth, given the amount of violence that often occurs against women at the hands of men.
Sarah: And…cue the sound of us all nodding and grimacing as one.
I’ve been pondering this for the better part of a day, wondering if my reaction is outsized or uneven. For example, JK Rowling adopted the Galbraith pseudonym to write without the expectation and pressure that came with the Rowling surname on the cover. I get it.
These individuals masking their gender to sell thrillers, as RHG pointed out, feels exploitative, not because of the pseudonym, but because of the pseudonym and the subject matter of the genre – not to mention the politics of gender identity – in the exploitation and insecurity inherent in identifying as female.
That said, it is entirely possible that I’m cranky and there are much better uses for my ire and snarly energy.
What about you? Are you a thriller fan? What do you think? What’s your reaction?