This workshop by New York Times Bestselling Authors Lee Child and Suze Brockmann at RWA National turned out not what I expected but it was fascinating nonetheless.

The subtitle was “Crossing Gender Boundaries” but I have the feeling the room would have been even more packed if the subtitle had been:

“Come listen to the incredibly charming & funny Lee Child who also happens to have an awesome British accent.”

Yes, I am shallow. And I have a thing for voices. 🙂

Onto the substance of the talk.

I had originally expected the workshop to be about how to write to appeal to both genders. It turned out to be more an exploration of what appeals to both genders.

In that, it was somewhat eye-opening.

Brockmann said her work likely isn’t viewed as romance any longer by traditional romance readers. For those not familiar with her books, she writes military action/adventure with a strong helping of romance. Some romances take place over several books, others take two steps forward, one step back.

Brockmann is also a big advocate for male/male romances and GLBT causes. Her books aren’t to my taste but, obviously, they appeal to many, many readers, including men.

Child has a large female crossover audience for his hugely popular Jack Reacher thriller/mystery series.

I went to the workshop because my writing seems to appeal to both genders as evidenced by my reviews on Amazon and a blogger review. I ‘d always assumed that crossing the gender boundaries to snag male readers was sorta of a holy grail for a romance writer.

But Child upended that.

He said the potential male audience is very small.

“It’s bad to limit yourself to male readers. Bankruptcy lies that way.”

ETA this point by comics writer Gail Simone about the female audience.

“Men are a difficult sell. They tend to be hung up about reading fiction, almost considering it demeaning. The ones that do read tend to pick up a lot of non-fiction and those that do read fiction, many of them read literary fiction. That leaves a small slice that reads genre fiction.”

He said the crossover readership is much more generous coming from men to women than the other way around.

He also said, as a mystery/thriller writer, he encounters the same sort of pre-judgments about the work–not being serious enough–as romance writers.

Both Child and Brockmann talked about what they called the Ugly Brown Couch. What they meant was an issue or moment really unpleasant or dark or too realistic that can scare away some traditional romance readers. Brockmann said these traditional readers want the familiar and not do not want to see their fantasy world upended.

And women tend to have triggers that men don’t always have, Child said.

“There’s something elemental about an unjust situation that offends women,” Child said, providing an example.

The most interesting comment, though, came from the audience.

A question was asked about Jack Reacher’s appeal to women. Child said he thought it was because women viewed him as the perfect guy to have a one night stand with–he’s great in bed and he’ll leave in the morning, so he’s the ultimate fantasy.

I thought an audience member hit it closer to the truth.

She pointed out that Reacher is a man with no ties and leaves home with only a toothbrush. No responsibilities, just him and the road. She said this is an escapist fantasy for many women who have to support and care for their families and juggle so many responsibilities.

Basically, she said it’s possible women want to fantasize about *being* Reacher far more than about *sleeping with* Reacher.

This seemed to take Child by surprise.

But I think it’s pretty close to the truth. Running away is, I think, one of those fantasies that “good” women aren’t allowed to have. That’s because they’ll be bad mothers and bad daughters and all those other things whereas, for some reason, it’s a little more acceptable for men.

It’s similar to how, years ago, women weren’t supposed to want sex and much as men because that would make them somehow bad or evil.

Now, I’m not advocating women pick up and leave their families. 🙂

I’m just saying that even the fantasy of *wanting* to leave is perceived still as making women bad people.

Even more, the lone wolf male is still more acceptable in our society than the lone wolf female. Some in our society still considers women who want to be alone to be somehow wrong and unfulfilling, whereas George Clooney is celebrated for staying unattached.

So it’s left to male characters like Reacher to embody this escapist fantasy.

I have more stuff about how Child came to create Jack Reacher but I think I’ll put that in another post, since it’s kinda tangential to the gender issues.