The Gender Gap

July 21, 2012

Tags: Richard Ford, political thrillers, Say Nothing

I write this blog today with hesitation. We are living in the 21st century. Does the gender gap among writers, readers and publishers still exist? The inspiration for my thoughts is the publication of Richard Ford’s new novel, “Canada.” He is one of a triumvirate of fine white male writers which includes Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. Sadly, Raymond Carver is no longer with us, but Tobias Wolff and Richard Ford are still writing with gusto. I cannot think of a congerie of white female writers who have written with as much depth or constancy. Why not? The answer to this question will be found among the ruminations of sociologists, psychologists, historians and anthropologists, and not this year.

My concern today is with literature and its legacy. Which books will last, become classics? Of the African-American authors—Toni Morrison and Alice Walker for example—we can be sure of a lasting legacy, but name me, please, a white female writer whose book will be remembered in fifty years. Why F.Scott and not Zelda? “The Great Gatsby” is a masterpiece, as are some of the short stories, but Zelda’s “Save Me The Waltz,” is by far a greater work than any novel by her husband, other than Gatsby. Some think that Zelda went mad from both alcohol and Scott’s denigration of her talent. She ended her life in an asylum.

I am a big Richard Ford fan and downloaded “Canada,” onto my Kindle before it had been reviewed. I knew it would be good; he has never disappointed. And I began reading a collection of his short stories, “Multitude of Sins,” as a warm-up. The stories I have read so far are about adultery, and Ford captures both the male and female point of view with precision and compassion. And though at one time I had thought that Ford had anti-Semitic aspirations—if that is possible—putting words and ideas into his characters mouths that were hard to read, I now understand that these are exactly the thoughts and words his characters might have; the author is not the character. Politically incorrect? No. Honest. If this is how characters speak and feel, than this is how they speak and feel. So I trust that Ford will deliver with “Canada,” and be well remembered as a “great” American novelist after his lifetime.

Then I got to thinking about having become, unexpectedly, a thriller writer with the publication of “Say Nothing.” How many female political thriller writers are there? Murder mystery writers, yes. But political thriller writers? Would it have been easier for my agent to sell the book to a mainstream publisher if I had been male? As I am not male, and did not use a male nom de plume, there is no way to know this, of course, but I did have an experience a few years ago which makes me wonder. Frustrated at being unable to sell an essay, I changed my byline to C. Bergman. Nearly instantaneously, I received hearty, admiring, long replies from editors, male and female. The essay was published with that truncated non-gender specific byline. Maybe I should try it again.

Say Nothing Redux

July 15, 2012

The revision of my first thriller is finished and available exclusively as a Kindle ebook: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008KS9PTQ. It has been a challenging process. Apparently, I was not writing a murder mystery as I had thought, but a political thriller. Once my agent and I understood that I was criss-crossing genres, accepting the publishers’ confusion about where to place the book also became understandable. And though I do feel that the book has finally arrived, I’m not waiting another year for a round of submissions. A Kindle publication is fine and, in due course, I’ll also make a POD hard copy available. Next up, an attempt to transpose the story to a screen treatment. I’ve written two screen treatments before—with my husband—but he’s busy so I’ll try this one on my own. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from the press release for “Say Nothing” :

"Two unsolved murders, a killer or killers still at large, and David Rizzo was still missing. And though the murders were grotesque and baffling, local interest peaked and then fell away with the first melt of spring… By the time the cherry blossoms blossomed and fell, and the Wallkill River surged into the flood plain, David Rizzo’s disappearance and the two unsolved murders had vanished from the local papers and from casual conversation. Any fear of a killer residing nearby dissipated in the balmy, scented air… "

In this revised edition of SAY NOTHING, rookie Private Investigator Alison Jenkins, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, teams up with her mentor , PI Margaret Singer, to solve the disappearance of a decorated Iraq veteran, David Rizzo. Not far into the investigation, the detectives realize that the young man’s disappearance is only one of several related crimes committed in their jurisdiction and that the FBI has taken a controlling interest in the case and invoked the Patriot Act. When David’s girlfriend and a young Iranian girl are found murdered, the case becomes even more complex and challenging. At each turn in the investigation, the sense of danger intensifies. Though it seems impossible for any crimes to be solved with the government insisting they back off, the detectives are determined to find the killers. What ensues is larger and more complex than they, and particularly Alison, had ever imagined. A political thriller, a murder mystery, and a meditation on the futility of war, SAY NOTHING will twist its way into your psyche and not let go.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry http://aiweiweineversorry.com/

July 12, 2012

Tags: Ai Weiwei, Chinese artists and writers

I went to a screening last night of Alison Klayman’s documentary about Ai Weiwei, the defiant Chinese artist who disappeared into police custody for 81 days in 2011, and survived torture to continue his work and his political/artistic activity, traveling abroad for exhibitions and creating art within China in his large studio in Beijing. (His studio in Shanghai has been demolished by the government.)

As I write, Weiwei has been slapped with a $15 million tax bill and is suing the Chinese government. In other words, he has not been silenced. When his blog was shut down, he started using Twitter. He twitters constantly, using images and words. He has thousands of followers inside China and around the world. The twitters are a thread of distilled wisdoms and observations, and, eventually, they will become history. Here is his Twitter address: https://twitter.com/aiwwenglish/. The Twitter site may also be shut down—it looks a bit strange today as I write—and Weiwei may have moved to Tumblr.

The documentary called “Never Sorry,” soon to be released in the U.S., is riveting from beginning to end, as is Ai Weiwei himself, a free spirit, who reminds me of Michael Moore. He even looks like Michael Moore with his big belly, impish smile, quick wry wit, and courage. I thought it was interesting that Weiwei had lived in the U.S. from 1983-1993. During that formative decade, he had studied art and embraced both intellectual and artistic freedom. Once in your heart, he has said, freedom is there forever.

When asked by Ms. Klayman, who lived in China as a journalist from 2006-2010 and speaks Mandarin, where he finds his courage, Weiwei explains that he is actually very afraid because he knows full well the possible consequences of his actions and his art, which are inseparable for him. Therefore, he continues, he must be courageous, otherwise he will be overwhelmed with fear. And though we live in a free society, Michael Moore has also had to endure threats to his life—not incarceration or torture, but death threats all the same.

Because I am a writer with a “troublesome conscience,”—a phrase I picked up this morning while reading a bio of Theodore Roosevelt (it described TR’s father), I’ve been very concerned about the harassed and incarcerated artists, writers and dissidents in China and wonder when, if ever, the despotic regime will change their ways, or if they ever will, or what we can do here in the west—other than sign petitions and send letters—to support the persecuted artists, writers and dissidents. Is it better to boycott or to engage? Do we study the example of apartheid, or the Soviet Empire, or Iran? Can anything we do, or don’t do, change the outcome?

My book, "Another Day in Paradise; International Humanitarian Workers Tell Their Stories," with a foreword by humanitarian activist, John le Carré, is soon to be reprinted in China for the second time using a simplified alphabet. During negotiations for its first Chinese edition, I was concerned about the translation: Would the text be censored in any way? I was assured it would not. That was more than five years ago. My concern has not abated for this second Chinese edition as the book, by definition, is subversive. The stories therein are, in part, about the problems relief workers have on the ground in war zones and despotic regimes. And China is a despotic regime. So what, if anything, do they make of the book, and will it reach an audience in China?

On the way home last night, I traveled with a friend who works for a humanitarian organization, and we chatted about the film and how inspiring it was. When we got to the train station, there’d been a power outage, so we had to take a bus. Two young Chinese students, in New York for a three week management course at Columbia University, were waiting at the stop, and we began chatting. One spoke English well, the other didn’t. One had heard of Ai Weiwei, the other did not know who he was. The young woman who knew of him said that he was very different, not like the usual artist in China. Was she pleased? I wasn't sure.


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