By J. J. Murphy
I’ve always been outnumbered. I was the only boy in a family with four girls. I now have a wife and twin daughters, so my dog and I represent the male minority of our female-majority family.
For the last few years, I’ve been one of only a couple of men in the Delaware Valley chapter of Sisters in Crime. I’m a Mister with an overwhelming number of wonderful Sisters.
When I decided to write a mystery, it was natural to pick a female protagonist. (And not just any female protagonist, but legendary writer and wisecracker Dorothy Parker. More on her in a minute.)
But here’s the interesting thing: My choice to use a female protagonist was not only a creative decision but also a “business” one. Why? Because women read mysteries, and women readers naturally prefer women protagonists. If I was going to get published, I reasoned, I had to find a female sleuth.
But here’s something I didn’t count on: My editor asked me to use a “gender neutral” name. Huh?
“We don’t want anyone to have to think twice when they’re considering whether to buy your book,” she explained. And women readers might think twice about buying a book written by a man but featuring a woman.
All righty! Whatever it takes to get published, I thought. I’ll be a woman. I’ll be a platypus, if that’s what it takes.
We settled on using my initials. (Call me J.J.! I’m in good company. On Sunday mornings I get together for coffee with J.D. Robb and J.K. Rowling. And then I wake up.)
Now I face something else I didn’t count on: I’m lumped into the mystery subgenre of “cozies,” a category largely ignored by the literati and book reviewing powers-that-be. Meanwhile, it feels like James Patterson and Tom Clancy can pump out a book a week, which gets instant best-seller status, prime positioning in the book store, reviews in every newspaper, and an option for the movie rights.
What’s up with that? What separates those big boys from us? Our frilly book covers and lack of violence (and heightened vocabularies), that’s what.
Again, we’re in good company. My gal Dorothy Parker faced the same problem daily. She was one of the only women accepted into the boys’ club that was the Algonquin Round Table. (You know Dorothy Parker. Even if you don’t know Dorothy Parker, you do know her. She coined such phrases as “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses” and “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.”)
We can take courage from Dorothy. She matched wits with guys from the Ivy League, yet she never went to college — never even graduated from high school. Now, 90 years later, she’s the most well-known of the members of the Algonquin Round Table. (Can you name any others?) Her collected works have never gone out of print.
So, I’m fine being a woman. I’m honored to count myself as a Sister. Just don’t ask to borrow my size 13 high heels.
And speaking of Dorothy Parker, which current actress would you select to play her in a movie? Vote here: http://www.roundtablemysteries.com/cast_the_movie.html.
Top photo: J. J. Murphy and spouse at the launch of Murder Your Darlings.
Bottom photo: A young Dorothy Parker.
J. J. Murphy is an award-winning health care writer in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Murder Your Darlings, a humorous historical mystery featuring Dorothy Parker, a dead body under the famed Algonquin round table and New York in the Roaring 20s. For more information on J. J., go to www.roundtablemysteries.com.