Monday, April 19, 2010

An infusion of fresh blood - yum

Our writing group meets tomorrow and we'll have three new (or probationary, technically) members joining us. Two of the three are men, which we are all pretty excited about. Not because our writing group doubles as a dating pool/occult ritual cult, but because in our group of about 8 people, one of them is a guy. And while most fiction readers are, reportedly, women, all of us as writers value the perspective of that other chromosomal combination.

In spite of our desire to have some male feedback, it's been a little difficult to recruit and retain men for the group. I don't yet have a year with it, but in the time I've been with the group, we've added just 2 men, only one of whom stayed and is now the lone standout. Until tomorrow, at least. I suspect some affirmative action was involved in getting these latest two gentlemen, but I'm happy to remain guessing on that one. It's mysterious that writing, which is often dominated by men (see, for example, last year's controversy over the Publisher's Weekly top books list) seems to be filled with women at the lower rungs. I have no idea if that perception is correct nor do I feel informed enough to venture an explanation, but it's curious to me. I'd be interested to hear if anyone else out there has a similar dynamic in their writing group.

The numbers game aside, I'm looking forward to hearing from some different voices in our groups. Last week, two avid reader friends of mine, both women, were talking about how hard we thought it was for men to write female characters. (Norman Rush's fascinating but ultimately appalling Mating prompted the conversation; Tolstoy got major props for pulling it off.) We noted that we found female author's male characters far more believable, but then laughed at ourselves when we realized of course we had no idea if the men were truly authentic, or just appeared so to our minds, sympathetic to the female authors. Which is all to say, I'm excited to have some real live men (aside from my wonderful, real live husband) to sound test my male characters on.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ines of My Soul, by Isabel Allende

This is for Historical Tapestry's blog challenge - I is for ...

My fondness for this book might be colored by its presence (though imperfect) in a particularly ego-stroking moment: There I was, in Santiago, Chile, hunched over local favorite Isabel Allende's latest book in a hip coffee shop, and the server delivers my cappuccino with "Viva Espana" written in the foam of the cup. I blush as I realize that the four words I uttered to request said cappuccino were still tinged with the accent lingering from a college study abroad and this guy thought I was actually Spanish. I have rarely been so excited. I didn't say another word and I tried to cover up English on my book's cover. That is, so long as I remembered to do so, which was briefly because I quickly fell back into the book's gripping plot.

Ines of My Soul is the story of (real-life heroine) Ines Suarez and her 16th century journey from Spain to the New World, where she eventually became involved with Pedro de Valdivia, a leader in Pizarro's company. Together they and a tenacious bunch of settlers crossed the Atacama desert to found what would become Chile. They battle thirst, disease, other Spaniards and, most interestingly, the local Mapuche Indians. While I'd argue that Allende makes Ines a little too modern in her respect for the Mapuche - I suspect Allende didn't have the heart to make her beloved character Ines as bigoted as she probably was in real life - it's most likely a more comfortable stance for the modern reader to watch. (At least this reader was grateful Ines wasn't a total jerk to the displaced and abused Mapuches.) That aside, it was a charming, educational and really fun read. I definitely recommend it, even if it weren't tied to that particular cup of cappuccino!

And for those interested in Isabel Allende's writing habits and personal life, she was featured in the NY Times just this weekend.

Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma