Monday, October 13, 2008

FEMINISM IS NOT A DIRTY WORD

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne
www.clarelangleyhawthorne.com



Inspired by my panel at Bouchercon on social issues in crime fiction, I thought that I should be clear and unapologetic – yep, I have a feminist heroine and I’m proud of it.

One of my fellow panelists also pointed out that I have a lesbian main character too and that it was great that this was not an issue in the book at all. In Edwardian England the concept of female ‘close friends’ was tolerated in a way that male ‘friendship’ most certainly was not – so in both Consequences of Sin and The Serpent and The Scorpion, the sexual orientation of Winifred Stanford-Jones is really only background to the plot and not a social issue per se.

One of the questions I and my fellow panelists (the terrific Neil Plakcy, Karen Olsen, Charles O’Brien, Frankie Y Bailey and moderator extraordinaire, Clair Lamb) were asked was whether we had a particular readership in mind when we considered addressing social issues in our fiction – to which I replied that I guess for those who didn’t believe that women should have got the right to vote, my books were probably not for them.

Other than that though we all agreed that the issues were integral to the story but not a pulpit from which we were determined to preach. In The Serpent and The Scorpion I raise all sorts of issues – the rise of socialism, the potential culpability of the so called ‘merchants of death’, feminism, Jewish settlements in Palestine, Egyptian nationalism – but none of these issues was something I necessarily felt compelled to write about – they all arose organically out of the creative process – through research on my settings, history, character and plot.

AND NEITHER IS ANY OTHER SOCIAL ISSUE...

Nonetheless it was interesting to hear about the ‘ghetto-ization’, particularly of gay and lesbian as well as African-American crime fiction. Seems that all too often these books will be marginalized in bookstores – often placed in a hard to find corner somewhere at the back of the bookstore (probably near self-help). Typically I have found my books are placed squarely in the mystery or general fiction sections – sometimes the historical mysteries are separated out but not usually hidden away where no one can find them!

On our panel we got to explore the ways in which mystery and crime fiction in general can provide a framework in which to view the world – to focus in and illuminate social issues that transcend genre as well as time period. I'm not even sure we can divorce crime fiction from social issues (crime is after all a social issue!)


People after all do not change. Their vices do not change. There is still injustice. There is still a passion for change. One day let’s hope there will be no need for boundaries and labels – genre fiction will no longer be considered literary fiction’s ugly stepchild and crime fiction, no matter who the protagonists are or what the social issues may be, the books won’t be marginalized in a bookstore but will be out there for all to see, find and read.

6 comments:

  1. Yes, ours was a terrific panel (he said humbly). All during the weekend people kept coming up and telling me that.

    I think you're right, Claire, that crime IS a social issue-- and without some larger consciousness at work, our books won't have the resonance of great art.

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  2. Good to see you here Neil and hell yeah - the wider social consciousness is why I think crime fiction resonates with readers. I'm looking forward to the day when all the issues we discussed on the panel are just part of the mainstream publishing industry.

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  3. I've not had a chance to read your books yet, although I had hoped to before you make it to the shop this week -- Seattle Mystery Bookshop -- but I can't wait to meet you!

    Well said, well said indeed!

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  4. Thanks Fran. I hope to see you at the Seattle Mystery Bookstore!
    Cheers
    Clare

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  5. Well, since I work there, I suspect you will! :-)

    (by the way, it's a small thing but it impresses the owner -- it's "Bookshop", not "Bookstore". The founder chose it deliberately, since a shop is friendlier than a mere store)

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  6. I'll try and remember Fran - I like to impress:) Cheers

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