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Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Man Writing In a Woman's World

by M. L. Buchman

Perspective It's hard to argue that in the world of writing romance, it is a woman's world. This was driven home in 1996 when I went to my first-ever writer's conference--the Romance Writer's of America National Conference in Dallas. In attendance were 1,800 women and 7 men (4 of us because our publisher wanted to prove that men wrote romance--even though none of us really did at that time). I read my first romance (actually, my first 4) during the conference and was hooked. Even though it would take me a decade to start writing in the genre, I don't think that it was a question from that time forward.

Dial forward to last week in Orlando, Florida. This year there were 2,000 women and about 15 men at RWA National. Based on the ones I talked to, about half of us write romance (very similar to the ratio I observed last year as well). Let's call it around 0.5% just based on those two non-scientific data points. We'll set aside that I'm one of the very few making a full-time living as a romance writer (I think there were 2 of us this year).

There are an estimated 30,000 romance authors (who sold one or more titles last year--that's one or more copies of any title). That means that there are 100-150 men who sold even one copy of a romance last year in the US.

My dearly beloved Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment have reported that they now have "several women" who fly for them (none were allowed to even apply prior to 2012 when my first several books about the "First Women of SOAR" were released).


The Night Stalkers fly an estimated 200 aircraft which would roughly require 400 pilots. If "several women" = 4, then it is twice as likely to be a female Night Stalkers pilot than to be a male romance writer. If my entire college graduation class of 400 were all romance writers, 2 of us would be male romance authors. And if my entire college was all romance writers, one of us might be making his living that way.

A Strange World to Be In 
In 1996, I was simply ignored. Agents wouldn't speak to me, editors scoffed, and other (female) authors just breezed by. They all just assumed I was somebody's boyfriend.

This was actually a seminal moment for me as a romance writer. I spoke to some of my female co-workers when I returned home. "Welcome to our world," was the standard reply. I won't repeat the fascinating discussions that resulted about the marginalization of women in our male-oriented society. I will however say that, it really, really pissed me off. These were strong, capable women, banging their heads against a glass ceiling that had only recently been named that.

Shortly after that, I was fortunate enough to finally meet the right lady and received a six-year-old step-daughter as an amazing bonus. I thought a lot about the world my wife had grown up in and the world I wanted my kid to grow up in.

That's when I got serious about writing romance. Why? Because I wanted to show them both the kind of world I dreamed of them living in. It took over 30 romance novels for me to find a way to describe it properly, but when I look back, it describes everything I've ever written: early science fiction, recent thrillers, a ton of romance, all of it. All 50+ novels, all 50+ short stories are telling one story:

STRONG WOMEN AND THE MEN THEY DESERVE

A Reality Check on Writing
At RWA National last week, I was able to present a session with the amazing Suzanne Brockmann. This is the woman who pretty much single-handedly created the genre I mostly write in: military romantic suspense. We both write in big series (well above 20 titles), but she is a deep plotter and I'm an off-the-cuff pantser. So that was the topic of our presentation.

However, what I found fascinating were some of the commonalities we discovered in our writing as we were preparing this talk.

  • We're both writing to make the world around us a better place.
  • We both write about powerful women who are equals to the male heroes, but in their own way, coming from their own strengths.
  • When she writes, she's thinking about the story of the man. When I write, I'm thinking about the story of the women. Yet, because we're both writing romance, we both end up telling stories in which our fans wouldn't be able to distinguish one way or the other.
The other interesting change at RWA this year? Despite the still minuscule number of men writing romance, we were now fully accepted. Not a person I talked to dismissed me out of hand as a boyfriend or supportive husband. We were all just writers together talking about a topic we love--writing love stories with a happy-ever-after ending.

I truly hope that this microcosm world of a writer's conference is becoming more-and-more an honest reflection of the world women everywhere are experiencing.

I am a man who writes romance. It took me some time, but I will now where my "romance writer" t-shirts out in public (rather than just at conferences and classes). It is my way to make the world a better place. 

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M. L. "Matt" Buchman: 50+ novels, 3x Booklist "Top 10 of the Year", NPR and B&N "Top 5 of the Year."
M. L. writes: Military romantic suspense, contemporary romance, F&SF, thrillers, even more short stories than novels.
M. L. has: bicycled solo around the world, designed and built houses, worked too many years as a corporate project manager, rebuilt and solo-sailed a fifty-foot sailboat, flown and jumped out of airplanes.
M. L. also: quilts!?!
Find out more at www.mlbuchman.com.

6 comments:

Diana McCollum said...

You definitely had a "glass ceiling" of acceptance in the romance world. So glad you stuck it out! Your books are incredible. Great post!

M. L. Buchman said...

Thanks Diana. Compared to what is faced by women just about everywhere else in our society, it feels trivial, but perseverance is definitely one of the big keys. Matt

Judith Ashley said...

When I look back over my life and I compare my experiences to my granddaughters' experiences, I can see how important the perseverance of the women in my generation has been to the freedoms they experience. Back in my day not only was there no mention of a 'glass ceiling' there wasn't 'sexual harassment.' What the women of my generation endured and fought to change has gifted my granddaughters (27 & 21) and your kid with safer workplaces and legal recourse if they are sexually harassed, stalked, beaten by spouse or boyfriend, raped by spouse or boyfriend, sexually abused as a minor, etc. Also, I had to pay more for health care because I was a woman. You know because I might get pregnant.

Now to get the equal pay for equal work and a few other things put in place.

Barbara Rae Robinson said...

Ah, yes. A woman in a man's world. My most vivid experience was graduate school at UC Riverside. I was an English major, but that didn't matter. The men were more important than the women. I was working on only a masters. And planning to leave after that. The women working on or planning to progress to a doctoral program were hassled much more than those of us only working on a masters. Yeah. Figure that one out. The one PhD candidate who wasn't hassled was sleeping with a professor. Yes, it was that obvious. I was married and had three kids. I kept my head down, got my degree, then left California for Oregon.

I'm surprised you weren't treated better at the conferences, Matt. I started going to conferences in 1988 and over the years met quite a few men who were writing romance. Maybe they didn't last too long because of what they perceived as non-acceptance. So glad things have improved for you.

SusanD said...

Thanks, Matt. This was one of your best blogs, I think. Your experience was interesting to read about. Those points of commonality are also interesting. I can see the differences between you and Suzanne. I hope, even though you went under duress, that you accomplished something important.

I loved that you had all those "fans" gathered around you after your workshop. Someone has finally arrived! LOL.

M. L. Buchman said...

Barbara, perhaps I should have mentioned that the agent who refused to "waste his time speaking to a man" was male! The female session instructors were merely shocked every time I asked a question--disbelief not rudeness.

By the time I was done talking to friends about this afterward, I decided that for one week I had experienced about 10% of what my female friends were living with every day of their lives. Yes, I'm awed by the changes wrought in our world over the last 2 generations of women. But also I'm horrified when I see how far they have to go. Just today on BBC News there were three separate headlines of nasty, misogynistic harassments by Neanderthals who think they're men and the terrible time those women are having trying to prove it in court. Yes, at least it is getting to court, but...damn!

So this male writer is going to keep fighting for a world where women are treated like human beings rather than a lesser species.