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June 21, 2006

For Men Only

By Elaine Viets

It’s tough to define an award-winning thriller, but the new International Thriller Writers has succeeded:

It’s anything written by a man.

That’s not what it says on the ITW Website. That tells us, "Thrillers provide a rich literary feast – the legal thriller, the spy thriller, the action-adventure thriller, the medical thriller, the police thriller, the romantic thriller, the historical thriller, the political thriller, the religious thriller, the high-tech thriller, the supernatural thriller. The list goes on and on, with new variations being invented constantly. This openness to creation and expansion is one of the field’s characteristics."

Unfortunately, the plums at this literary feast are served to men only. For the first ITW Thriller Awards, every single novel nominee is a man.

Best Novel – five men.

Best First Novel – five men.

Best Paperback Original – five men.

And the winners of these Thriller Awards?

No surprise there: They’re all going to be men.

So is the recipient of the first ITW Life-Time Achievement Award.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of the men nominated wrote first-rate, critically acclaimed novels. Other male nominees made you wonder where the judges stored their craniums.

That’s typical of almost any award nominee list.

What isn’t typical is that the ITW nominees were exclusively male. Even the Mystery Writers of America, an organization justly criticized for male bias in its Edgar Awards, is moving past that. Ironically, this year it nominated a thriller by Tess Gerritsen for an Edgar.

The ITW makes MWA look like a NOW meeting.

Consider a few of the women who submitted novels for the ITW Awards and weren’t nominated:

Elizabeth Becka, Sallie Bissell, Alice Blanchard, Linda Fairstein, Alison Gaylin, Elizabeth George, Sue Grafton, Denise Hamilton, Kay Hooper, Val McDermid, Perri O’Shaughnessy, Sara Paretsky, Theresa Schwegel, Lisa Scottoline, Julie Smith, and the mother-daughter team of P.J. Tracy.

These women are the literary equals of any male ITW nominee. Alison Gaylin and Theresa Schwegel were both nominated for Edgar Awards this year, and Theresa won. The other rejected women have enough honors to fill this page.

I’m not friends with any of the above women. Most wouldn’t know me if I sat down beside them. I don’t write thrillers. But I like to read them. And I know women write some fine ones. So why weren’t any female authors nominated for their novels?

One ITW judge was "dismayed" over the absence of women authors on the nominee list, but wonders "if the problem wasn’t sexism so much as the definition – or lack of it – of a thriller."

The MWA has a short, sweet definition of a mystery for its Edgar judges: "A work of fiction in which a crime is the central element."

On its Website, ITW co-presidents David Morrell and Gayle Lynds spent more than 500 words struggling with: "What is a thriller?"

"What gives thrillers common ground is the intensity of the emotions they create, particularly those of apprehension and exhilaration, of excitement and breathlessness," they wrote. "By definition, if a thriller does not thrill, it is not doing its job."

But we all get our thrills in different ways. Apparently, women writers did not thrill enough ITW judges.

Co-president David Morrell’s list of 70 "Must-Read Thrillers" on the ITW Website includes Edgar Rice Burroughs’ "Tarzan of the Apes" and Oscar Wilde’s "The Picture of Dorian Gray."

If Oscar Wilde wrote a thriller, so did every woman on the ITW reject list.

The dismayed judge said, "Maybe the judges, when faced with trying to figure out just what a thriller was, were too quick to rely on the dick-lit cliches that have always dominated the genre – car chases, boy-banter, phallic guns and exploding stuff. Maybe instead of narrowing their focus, they should have been broadening it to reflect the rich diversity of what is called a thriller today."

There’s another problem with the ITW contest. Board members such as Tess Gerritsen cannot submit their own books, and that’s commendable. But ITW does permit reviewers to serve as judges. Many media companies ban their reviewers from judging, because the press should not create the news.

Many organizations, including MWA, do not permit reviewers to be judges. Reviewers have already judged the novels in the media. Besides, why submit a book to a committee when the judge has publicly panned it?

Consider something else co-president Morrell said about his "Must-Read Thrillers" list:

"You’ll note that there are far more male than female authors on the list. This imbalance is due to a publishing prejudice that for many years was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Editors felt that women couldn’t convincingly dramatize sensational plots . . . In turn, women avoided writing in the field because they couldn’t overcome the bigotry."

Uh, Mr. Co-President, bigotry is alive and well. And this time, you can’t blame the publishers.

Why didn’t the ITW see any problem with The Thriller Awards?

I could ask the organization for an explanation. But the nominee list speaks for itself.

This isn’t the International Thriller Awards. It’s the International Men’s Thriller Awards.

Skip the rubber-chicken banquet, boys, and make it a real guy event.

Cigars, beer and burgers in the bar – served by the ITW Ladies’ Auxiliary.

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Comments

...sounds like my kind of gig...how can i wrangle an invitation? Burgers and Beer, my kind of function!

Does the ITW Ladies’ Auxiliary wear bunny outfits?

Is there big screen television sets? I would like to watch the Miami Heat's championship run again!!!

Thanks, Elaine, for a great post. "Dick-lit" is a wonderful term :) I checked out the ITW website and read over Morrell's introduction to his "must read" list. My favorite bit, frankly, was his assertion that, from 1988 to 1995, no woman made a contribution to the genre in any meaningful way. So what is Sara Paretsky, chopped liver?

It also got me to thinking -- if the ITW itself is willing to include a category of romantic thrillers, then why-oh-why doesn't Morrell include classic writers of gothic romances in his list? Granted, I was a lot younger then, but Victoria Holt and Madeleine Brent got my heart thumping a whole lot harder than Dan Brown did more recently.

It's sad to realize that even intelligent folks don't get that prejudice is still very much alive and well. Fortunately, I have a box of mysteries by and about women headed my way from the Mystery Lover's Bookshop; that will make me feel much better :)

Elaine, this is a proud moment here at TLC. I'm so glad you've graciously agreed to become a Book Tart. You've got the stones, girlfriend.

Great post, Elaine.

Apparently, the ITW isn't alone in the manlove. The new issue of TIME features an article titled "5 Mystery Writers Worth Investigating." All five writers highlighted are men. So is the author of the article (surprise).

Oh, and as for that "no woman made a contribution to the genre..." comment, I nominate Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine.

Elaine - you've had the guts to say what the rest of us (women mostly) were thinking. Its become common place for authors to say "I'm taking a break from mystery and writing a thriller." Its almost like writing straight mystery isn't cool enough any more. Sad.

I suppose it's cold comfort that no woman nominated for a Thrillie has failed to win.

Thanks for the great post.

Has nothing changed from the days of George Eliot?? Do readers still subconsciously discount a book with a woman's name on the cover? There were women on the ITW judging panel! It seems no one is immune.

I was comforting myself with the thought that the most popular books on earth - the Harry Potters - are written by a woman. Then I realized that she uses her initials and becomes a genderless (and presumably male) author. Would Harry Potter be so wildly popular if the world knew at the outset that J. stood for Joanne?

Let me add my applause for a great post! For my money, if we're naming 'old-time'authors, Helen MacInnis (and I hope I spelled that right)wrote books that were amazing. She got me hooked with "Assignment In Brittany" and kept me going through the rest of her WWII and Cold War books. Out of date now I suppose, but she's one of the reasons I read Tom Clancy (early works are the best) and Tess Gerritsen and Sarah Paretsky...good plots and unexpected twists. JA Konrath (aka Joe) said once the reason he used his initials instead of his name was to get men AND women to pick up the book without giving a thought to the writer's gender. I thought P.J.Parrish was male until I met the sisters who write under that name. Maybe there's something to be said for those genderless letters. :o) All I know is that MacInnis, Paretsky, and Gerritsen piqued my interest with every book. Maybe SistersInCrime should talk to Mr.Morrell :o)

Wow, Elaine, spot on! I didn't read, but listened to Tess Geritsen's VANISH this spring and if that isn't an award-worthy thriller then I don't know why I was so focused I nearly side-swiped that truck.

You've said everything that needs to be said. Let me just add that if publishers, thriller experts, whoever makes these decisions thinks that the coveted businessman taking the red eye will read only MALE NAMES, they're wrong. I see plenty of men reading everything from Evanovich to Cornwell to Mary Higgins Clark. So there!

Wonderful post, Elaine. And I have to say, seeing my name alongside such greats was an excellent consolation prize.

"I could ask the organization for an explanation. But the nominee list speaks for itself."

But so do the judging panels if I am reading it correctly - Best Novel - 2 out of the 4 judges were female, Best First - 2 out of the 5, best PBO - 1 out of the 3 - so there were plenty of female judges who were perfectly free to have chosen one or more female nominees if they so wished (I'm sure that while the men were picking books to add to the list the women weren't being forced to make them a wee sandwich and a cup of tea, but had equal opportunity to ensure that books written by women were considered). All it means is that those judges for those particular categories preferred those particular books. No bias, no unfairness, just the opinions of a small handful of judges.

Sure, when I looked at the list, I thought "No women? That's a pity." I'm a woman myself, a wide reader of crime fiction and not a member of the ITW. I didn't particularly agree with all of the nominations in any of the categories but not because I thought they were misogynistic - just because there were books that *I* would define as thrillers, that I preferred. Some would have been by men, some by women.

I think it would be a real shame if award judges (who, let's face it - whether it's the Edgars, The Agathas, or The Thrillers provide a service to the mystery community by taking the time to read a whole pile of books that they might not otherwise want to read)then have to worry about their list of favourite books just because none of the authors are female/a squirrel/ an alien from the Planet Zog. I would much prefer that those judges said "These are the 5 books that I really really loved", rather than think they had to dump a favourite from the list because they didn't have a female author in there. Now THAT would be unfair.

When it comes down to it, awards that are based on a judging panel come down to the preferences of that handful of judges. Has there ever been a whole shortlist of nominations for ANY category in ANY award that I have ever agreed with? Not that I can think of. There is no "best book of the year". You ask 10 people what the best crime fiction book of 2005 was and you might get 10 different answers - and you might agree with none of them.

What awards DO do is bring crime fiction (in all its wonderful forms - whether thriller, cosy, historical, humourous, or the all-encompassing Edgar) into wider notice, and also gives those authors who are nominated a bit of a boost in what is a tough business, and maybe garners them some new readers. I, for one, have picked up books because they were on a list of nominees. After reading it I might think "Well, that was a pile of festering crap", but, again, that's just personal preference.

And yes, David Morrell's list of 'must read thrillers' DOES exclude some female authors, but it also excludes some men that I would have included too, and it includes some I wouldn't have included at all - whether because they don't fit MY definition of thriller, or just because I don't like those books.

Blimey, sorry to have sent such a long comment, I'd better shut up now before I start on the topic that I find more difficult to accept about the ITW and the Thriller awards - the whole "What is a Thriller" thing

Donna

Donna, I agree that this is not a men vs. women issue. (It's about perceptions in so many ways.) Question is, how do we fix it? By speaking up, certainly.

I've always thought the "no competition" rule in Sisters in Crime has a downside.--Although we're supposed to be supporting the writing of women, we're not supposed to single out any one above the others. Admirable, but not necessarily helpful in this age of The Tipping Point.

NO women?!

Where are these nominators from - under a rock? In addition to the nominees served straight up - Scottoline - Tracy - Grafton - ever heard of Michele Martinez? Laura Lippman? If "To The Power Three" wasn't a thriller, then what is? And I don't even read thrillers, as a rule.

Perhaps the definition of thriller needs to be amended. How about: Only dicks need apply. Dick-lit about covers it -- and here's a great thriller plot for you boys - this year, instead of acceptance speeches, we make that 'dick lit' tag apply - literally - and light 'em up. Now that'll keep them on the edge of their seats.

I would just add that the fact that women are on the judging panels doesn't mean eliminate the possibility of bias (any more than having women on hiring committees does, for example). I'm happy to believe that, at this stage of the game, overt discrimination is a thing of the past. But subtler forms are, as far as I can tell, alive and well, and I can't think of a reason to believe that women are less socialized to those subtle forms than are men. If I saw a list of 5 nominated books and saw not a female author among them, I'd be a little suspicious, but willing to suspend my disbelief. But 15 books and 5 screenplays? That's certainly enough for me to start wondering about the possiblity of unconscious bias creeping in.

Are there any Jews nominated?

African Americans?

Why isn't anybody up in arms about this?

Jason, the next thing you know, these uppity women will be wanting the right to vote. Where will it end?

Hey Josh? I see that point flying right over your head...

Jason, shut up. That's one of the most tactless arguments women have faced for decades - bring up that no women are represented and immediately someone points out "but there are no X either" which serves to diminish the argument and make it look like we're being petty. That stinks and it's not funny. I've heard it my whole life, from people just out to provoke, not contribute to a discussion. Like the ones who want to know "well but why aren't you tyring to save the X" when you support a movement to save the endangered Y, as if one cancels out the other.
I'm usually not this rude, but you are NOT funny and you are NOT helping.
Anyone read Sarah Weinman's column? There's a Time magazine story too about "new blood"; it cites five male mystery writers. AT least one such "new writer" has been around for fifteen YEARS. That's pathetic.
But Nancy, I still think SinC was smart not to do awards. I happen to think there are far too damn many already and that readers are not especially served by having more awards, juried or voted on.
As for the specifics of this organization and award,I'll leave it to others, far more qualified, to comment as they have here. I don't feel qualified - I don't read too many thrillers and one of ITW's founders is my convention's Guest of Honor.
Andi, remembering back over 10 years ago when she heard a group of women commenting about how "everything is fine now" and how Sisters in Crime really wasn't necessary anymore.

Andi, I'm not belittling the concern about bias at all, trust me as one of the very few men in publishing I'm well aware of it. But I do think it's presumptuous to say that an organization is biased based on results from its very first year in existence.

Some of my favorite crime writers are women, and I sincerely hope in the future those deserving are recognized. Hopefully its a coincidence (though certainly an unfortunate one).

All I'm saying is that bias is in the eye of the beholder. You say this is biased towards women, you have the imperical data (no women nominated) to back it up. I say this is biased towards African Americans or Jews, I have the same empirical data to back it up.

We need to view these nominations over the long haul before making any judgments about the overall bias of the group.

And in case anybody is interested, in the 78 Oscar ceremonies, exactly 17 out of 780 nominations for "Best Actor" and "Best Actress" have gone to African Americans. That is unmistakable bias.

For those of you in the business, have people been talking about this? I'm just an avid reader, so I don't know what goes on in the industry - surely the Lipstick bloggers aren't the only ones outraged about this?

I simply most protest two of the female names mentioned.

Sue Grafton. I've read F. Great mystery, but hardly a thriller.

Denise Hamilton. I just read JASMIN TRADE last month, and for most of the book I was bored out of my mind. If that's a taste of her books, believe me, she shouldn't even considered for a thriller award.

Now keep in mind this is coming from someone who reads almost all female writers. I understand the frustration behind the post. But please, if we're going to discuss women who were snubbed, let's talk about actual thriller authors here.

Mark

Mark - I hear you, and without naming names, I agree on a couple too, but I have to say that when it comes to Sue Grafton, R (the last one I read) is more of a thriller than a straight mystery. Her books have really evolved over time - they're much darker than they were at the beginning.

i said absolutely nothing about bias or empricial data, Jason. You wanted to divert from the issue, I think and I objected. don't tell me what I said or thought.

"Empirical"? there were no women named. That means what? That means that there were no women named. I know at least 1 person on every panel; I did not, do not accuse them of bias. (though I believe that it would be biased "against" not "for" if a group is left out.) At least one juror is a good friend who I trust to be fair in ALL things.

I'm talking solely about your comment. I don't KNOW the religions or race of any of the nominees. That is NOT THE ISSUE. Gender is clear/obvious and that was and remains the issue. Sure it's the first year - and that is when many people will form judgments. I'm not saing that's good or bad, but it IS. ITW is tring to make an impression as a new organization, therefore what they do - and they're big on press - is noted publicly.

I'm not a member of ITW, won't be joining and don't support the growth of awards in mystery. That's not a dig at ITW - I'm glad they formed. But I am not a writer and I don't tend to read thrillers and I'm weary of new awards.

Pointing out "other" places where there might be discrimination does not address the issue that Elaine raised. Period.

Jason, I beg to differ with you. As you yourself demonstrate, bias is most assuredly not always in the eye of the beholder -- your example of the academy awards is proof. Now, I do agree that the relatively small sample size of a single year's nominees suggests (strongly, in my view), but does not necessarily prove, bias. But I'm not sure that the degree of bias suggested against women is the same as that suggested against African Americans or Jews. I'm not an expert here by any means, but I know that a fair number of women write thrillers, and I'm pretty confident that they are numerically under-represented on the lists in question. How many African American and Jewish authors write them? And are they as numerically under-represented as women are?

As an aside, I will give a tip of my hat to David Morrell. On what turned out to be my last full day with my mother, I was reading aloud to her from one of his books (its name escapes me). At one point, his hero, a former Delta Force commando turned high-end security agent, needed to hot-wire a vehicle to get him and his client away from the baddies. In a fit of truly pedantic prose, Morrell explained at length how Our Hero broke the steering column of the car, and, knowing which wires were the important ones, connected them using the safety pin he always carried under the lapel of his jacket.

I am not making this up. My mother, sister, and I laughed until we could barely see straight, wondering in particular if my Mom, who had more safety pins than God, got to be a commando herself. I don't care for his books, but I thank him from the bottom of my heart for writing something so very, very bad and giving me a wonderful memory.

Andi, I was simply making the point that, in my opinion, it's wrong to accuse a group of bias--a very serious accusation--based on one year's worth of nominations.

If an organization gives awards, as soon as it starts saying, "Well, we'd better nominate X number of women or X number of men," it immediately loses all integrity, and people get nominated to fulfill a quota rather than because the judges felt they were deserving. There are certain instances (like the Oscars) where there is a clear pattern of bias going on nearly 80 years. But I will not stand idle and listen to good people who love books have their motives questioned and their reputations sullied.

If you think there are too many awards or that awards are unnecessary, that's fine, you're absolutely entitled to your opinion. But I completely disagree with others leveling personal accusations without placing the issue in proper context. Especially when, like Andi, I know many of the ITW board members (many of whom are women) and know firsthand that they vote with their hearts, not with their heads.

Perhaps I should just offer my head now and save you the trouble of reading my thoughts...

...but, while it is interesting to note all the ITW award nominees are men - and it is concerning to me, as a female writer - short of an established track record, year after year, of this being the case or being in the room with the judges who decided the nominees and knowing they deliberately chose men, that's all it is to me. Interesting, and wee bit concerning. But not concerning for the reason you might think.

Nominee lists are subjective. Contests are subjective by nature. There are writers I love that others just don't get, and vice versa. The fact that there are so many great writers is what I choose to celebrate - we can all find something to get excited about, something that speaks to us.

Now, I'm a huge fan of Val McDermid. Undoubtedly, the woman holds her own at the top of my "best" list when it comes to writing thrillers, but Val didn'thave a novel out in 2005. Although I'm not 100% on what passes for a thriller anymore - I wouldn't have called Laura Lippman's brilliant To The Power of Three a thriller myself, but then, the boundaries of the subgenres are ever-evolving.

I can't speak to all the other woman on the list, but consider this: what if everyone sincerely cast their ballot for what they liked best, and then realized the top five were all men? Should they then have ditched the true top five and got some women on there?

Then it would not be the top five, but the top five that included both genders.

Then what would happen if every category was 2 women, 3 men? Would they be split and have go 3-2, have go 2-3?

I'm all for women doing whatever they're capable of. I know some women who can kick any man's ass, be it writing or a fistfight. But I'm not too keen on "affirmative action" being the only way people get on a list, or get a job. Look - my husband is a full-time volunteer firefighter, as well as having a full-time job. One of my closest friends' husband is a full-time pro firefighter. She and I are both agreed: we don't want some woman on the department just to fill a quota. We want THE BEST PERSON for the job there, so that when our husbands risk their lives, they aren't being put at jeopardy because they got the best female backing them up. If the woman is the best, fantastic. If not, lives depend on it.

The wee bit of concern I have over this is that with future awards, those who cast ballots will stop and ask themselves if they're being sexist or racist because they really think a man did the best job in a category, or a black person, or whomever. And that they might vote differently because of that moment's pause. I just sent in my Anthony ballot. There was definitely a slant to one gender in my nominations if we just look at numbers, but I honestly put the books I believed were best in each category down. What if we get to BoucherCon and the list is all women, or the list is all men? Will we accuse the entire mystery reading/writing community of sexism? Doesn't that also infer collusion?

That's the way I think on it. Three years from now, if every list is the same thing, year after year, there's something to talk about. I'm not meaning to disrespect anyone's opinion on this, certainly not Elaine, but that's the way I see it.

For the record, the year that there were 6 nominees for "Best novel" Anthony and five of them were women, there were loud public accusations of ballot stuffing and collusion by Sisters in Crime. The difference, Sanda, might be numbers - the Anthonys are nominated/voted on by large numbers, not a few jurors.
And again, no one here is requiring quotas, as Jason is suggesting. It's impossible to explain that there are times when bias sneaks in and it's not obvious. I don't know whether it's better to vote with head or heart. I would not have asked GAYLE to be LCC's guest of honor if I didn't honor thriller writers. She has my utmost respect and I've said repeatedly how glad I am that she and David started ITW. (and for the record, Jon and faye Kellerman - 2 of the "founding sponsors" of ITW, were the LCC GoHs in 97 - when I last chaired Left Coast Crime.
It's not easy to explain - I used to work in the disabilty field an dyou want to bet that no one - NO ONE - I ever dealt with thought of themselves as biased against "hiring the handicapped". They just never did.

I think it's a question of many of us simply being shocked that with the number of books out there - BY WOMEN - that none made this cut. It doesn't matter who the jury was. I don't know whether X was a thriller or a mystery, it's just a surprise not to see SOME representation of women, given the number of books out this year. Good books as I understand. I do not accuse the jurors of that bias - the ones I know would not rule out any book and did I am sure, vote for the books they thought were the best. It's just somehow OFF that of all the books out there, no one came up with a nomination of a book by a woman.
Then again, I saw the Barry list and I remember the Edgar list and would not have chosen 99.9 percent of those nominees either. My taste does not seem to match the mystery juries out there.

Kathy,

Thanks for your thoughts on Grafton. I mentioned which book I had read for a reason in case the series had taken a different tone with the recent entries.

Mark

This may or may not be relevant to the subject, but I would just like to place a wager here that Satan will be placing a bulk order for mittens before a book that could be called a "romantic thriller" wins any of those awards.

The bet is fifteen dollars and a slightly-damaged beanie baby- who wants in?

Daisy - hilarious.

Wonder if one wrote a book that included sex while driving and shooting a bigass gun out the window during a car chase through a field of explosives would be considered romantic suspense?

Gender is clear/obvious and that was and remains the issue.

I don't know if I agree with this statement.
If gender is clear and obvious, why do both men and women use initials to lure unsespecting readers of both sexes?
Yeah, it sucks there weren't any women thriller nominees. Am I going to boycott the banquet? No. Because the number of women writing thrillers grows exponentially each year. Next year, we'll be represented simply because there will be more to choose from. And the year after that -- well, watch out. Because my thriller will be out there, and my female protagonist can kick any one of the men's asses.

Andi, it is something to think about. And I'd certainly never infer you don't honor thriller writers, so my sincere apologies if I gave off that impression. But one thing you said - "It doesn't matter who the jury was" - I'm not sure I can 100% agree. Just to play devil's advocate, what if the jury was 100% female, or even 75% female? Would it nullify the concerns raised here? Or raise a debate about reverse discrimination?

Some months ago, I tried and did stay out of the debate about African-American authors who felt discriminated against. I'm not African-American. All I can do is speculate. I can *believe* whatever on the subject, but what do I really know? From experience, nothing, I can only call it as I see it and admit at the same time that I'm looking through a dark glass and can't see everything on the other side.

Now, Val McDermid just remarked on a discussion on her forum http://www.valmcdermid.com/cgi-bin/showthread.pl?threadid=3635&offset=0 that overwhelmingly men won't read female writers. I trust Val to know what she's talking about, but don't have stats to back that up myself. I was surprised. It may answer what happened with the nominations here. It may not.

We can only speculate, and that's why I've got the "whoa" brakes on full force.

It's just a "me" thing, hopelessly naive I know, but my inclination is to trust unless I have a reason not to. In the same way I do not question who won the Edgar or why Tess Gerritsen was nominated and Laura Lippman wasn't (and it pisses me off everyone saw it as an either-or, but nobody questioned the place of any men nominated - maybe they both should have made the list and one of the gentlemen shouldn't have - who am I to say?), but trust the judges made the decisions based on their honest assessments of the books in front of them.

Frankly, with all the books published in any given year, making an award list is quite an accomplishment. I never think of myself having a snowball's chance in hell. Small publisher, no profile, it'll be hard enough getting a few reviews.

Now, get me stats that say that 3/4 of the people getting book deals these days are men, then there's something serious to look at. I just don't want to jump the gun.

This may or may not be relevant to the subject, but I would just like to place a wager here that Satan will be placing a bulk order for mittens before a book that could be called a "romantic thriller" wins any of those awards.
The bet is fifteen dollars and a slightly-damaged beanie baby- who wants in?

Daisy, I'll take the bet for the 15 bucks. I bet you that Allison Brennan, who writes some serious shit with a romantic suspense label, will get a nod.

Do women WRITE books?

I almost feel sorry for the ITW (and not just because they've got Jason defending them). The problem isn't that the ITW or its first four panels of judges are unusually biased against women thriller writers. The problem is that they're reflecting biases so widespread within our society that most of us would be surprised how much we've all internalized them.

I'm sure the judges were acting in good faith. But that's what makes it so scary. And I would love to hear that at least one judge had a small epiphany upon seeing the whole slate, and thought, "Whoa--it's not just my panel. None of us picked a single work by a woman. What's wrong with us? What's wrong with me?"

As it happens, I'm in the middle of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, and last night I was reading the chapter in which he discusses the Implicit Association Test (IAT), and the difference between our conscious and unconscious attitudes--for example, our attitudes toward race. To quote Gladwell, "First of all, we have our conscious attitudes. This is what we choose to believe. These are our stated values, which we use to direct our behavior deliberately. . . but the IAT measures something else. It measures our second level of attitude, our racial attitude on an unconscious level--the automatic associations that tumble out before we've even had time to think."

And isn't our reaction to a work of fiction at least partly an unconscious, emotional one? Yes, most of us also analyze--after finishing a book, if not while reading; at least if we are judging for an award--but if a book doesn't make that immediate, emotional connection, it's unlikely to make our short list. Which means that in judging, many of us, despite our best intentions, may be operating from a less enlightened place than we'd like to think.

So maybe we're choosing books by men not because they're better, but because they better fit the mold society has conditioned us to accept as a "best book"--a mold shaped by male writers---a mold that may or may not fit what women thriller writers have to say.

And in some cases, maybe our subconscious is devaluing a book simply because it was written by a woman and we have internalized the notion that thriller writing is a predominantly male preserve. (I think Gladwell was surprised to find that he displayed "a moderate automatic preference for whites," since he describes himself as half black.)

Bravo to Elaine for tackling this issue. I look forward to the day when an all-male or all-female slate for an award of this kind would be an occasional statistical anomaly rather than another reminder of how far our society has to go. But I'm not holding my breath.

Direct quote from Malcom Gladwell's blog:

"We accept that within the category of genre fiction a certain amount of borrowing of themes and plots and ideas is acceptable—even laudable."

So if you're relying on Malcolm Gladwell to reaffirm your moral superiority, you have bigger problems than ITW does in my defending it.

JT- You mean you don't want the beanie baby?
It's only *slighty* damaged.

Ahem: slightLy

Naw, Daisy, I'll just take the money:) I sincerely hope you lose this bet!

Actually, so do I. I just don't expect to.


(Oh, and brava to Donna for her clear and fair elucidation of the issue. That's exactly what I wanted to say, only a lot better than I would have said it.)

WOW. Don't log on all day and look at what I miss! Great discussion..pro and con. But, no matter how much I adore a female author's work, I cannot get my husband to read it. Bias? Yes he is. Would he admit it? No. Most people who hold a bais don't know, recognize or acknowledge it. His loss. So what does this have to do with this discussion? Only that, IMHO, sadly, men will USUALLY pick male readers to read. The females judges? No clue why they choose male authors. Maybe they just liked the male writers better, or (and I hesitate to say this), some females just don't support success for other females. Yes, I know there are exceptions (like RWA or SIS), but this organization is not female driven like the ones I mentioned.
As for the mitten orfer for the devil...sorry, but Daisy is on target there. No snow in He*l this year, or next, or next, or next, etc etc etc. But if Daisy loses, I help her knit those mittens...I'm not worried though. I don't know how to knit!

Cyndi wrote: "Maybe they just liked the male writers better, or (and I hesitate to say this), some females just don't support success for other females."

I think that is a VERY unfair comment to level at the female judges of the ITW awards. And going to crime fiction conventions over the last few years has demonstrated to me that crime fiction writers and readers are the most supportive bunch of people imaginable. Writers go out of their way to support newer writers - whether male OR female.

The most rational explanation is that those 5 books just happen to be the 5 books that they all preferred - and that is absolutely the correct way to go about picking nominees for an award. I REALLY hate the idea that a list of nominees should have a quota of women or Swedish people or aardvaarks. I want that panel to pick the books they thought were best, no matter who wrote them. No one's ever going to agree. I like the fan nominated and voted awards - because that way I get to say "Hey, here are the 5 books I liked best last year". I don't care if all my list is male or all my list is female - I'm nominating them because they are the best books I read last year. But I didn't read every book that was published last year.

As for the comment that "men will USUALLY pick male readers to read" well, I'm on a number of crime fiction related discussion lists. I know of no male who says he only reads male authors (at least openly!). I do, however, know of a handful of women who say that they NEVER read male authors. It's just like someone who says they never read books set in Europe, or never read historicals, or never read books featuring basil addicted dinosaurs. Personally I think they are losing out, but again it comes down to personal preference.

Oh, and just a wee comment. The most recent Agatha awards for best traditional mystery. . . Best first novel - 5 nominees - all female, Best Novel - 6 nominees - all female, Best Short Story - 5 nominees - all female. I don't recall any furore over that.

And thanks Daisy :o)

Sorry to post again, but having received an e-mail from someone, I just want to clarify just in case it doesn't come across in my posts. The e-mail accuses me of being biased in favour of men, not giving female authors a chance, not liking women (really!), and not being supportive of "the cause of women" which, apparently, as a woman I ought to be ashamed of. Well, several of my favourite authors are female, many of my favourite people are female, and I write a column for Mystery Women magazine focussing on a different FEMALE author each issue.

Anyway, I am out of this discussion and promise I won't post again.

Donna, I echo Daisy -- thanks for saying so clearly what I was trying to get at in my earlier posts.

Donna, everybody's welcome to post their opinions here. We're not accusing you of a bias. We're providing a forum to air an issue.

Elaine, did you happen to interview any of the ITW judges? Or the guy running the awards?

I know the guy who ran the awards, and over beers he lamented the lack of women on the ballot. But there was a reason for this: very few women submitted books to the committee, compared to the multitude of men's submissions.

You listed a dozen women authors who submitted, compared to hundreds of male authors.

Elaine, did you happen to read every book submitted?

The judges did.

According to him, they seriously considered putting a few women on the ballots, even though the judges (of both sexes) unanimously agreed that the few female books submitted weren't top five material.

But rather than resort to using the quota card, they went with what they thought the best books were, and braced for the complaints.

BTW, the guy in charge is a helluva nice guy and a stellar example of integrity. And the reason a 'guy' is in charge is because no one else wanted to take the volunteer position, and he was guilted into it.

No good deed goes unpunished.

Elaine, which books didn't deserve to be nominated? You don't come out and say it, and that poorly portrays every book nominated. If you think a book was nominated that didn't deserve to be, then let's hear the argument against that book.

To complain that all the nominees are men is a copout and just as sexist. Judge the books on their own merits. You clearly have opinions on those books, so please share them.

Elaine, you raise an interesting and worthwhile issue. But I'm concerned about one thing.

You say, "I could ask the organization for an explanation. But the nominee list speaks for itself."

Sometimes when I assume I know someone's motive for doing something, it turns out I'm mistaken. So I try hard to collect as much data as I can before forming an opinion -- certainly before leveling accusations.

I can't help wondering, therefore, why you didn't contact ITW, as you noted you easily could have. Is it possible you unconsciously feared that discovery of new facts could interfere with your own biases? That you might then have to write a more nuanced, respectful, and ultimately more persuasive piece?

Self-righteousness feels good. When we feel it, therefore, we ought to treat it with suspicion. We ought to redouble our efforts to find the facts, and question our own motives.

In this regard, Andi, I suspect it must have felt very good indeed to tell Jason to "shut up." Only being supremely right could justify such rudeness.

On my blog, I post on some sensitive political topics. My rule of thumb on tone is to write to persuade. I ask myself, is this intended to persuade? Is it likely to persuade? If it does persuade, will it do so because of my tone... or in spite of it?

Okay, bring on the calumny, including lots of adverbs and all-caps...

:-)
Barry

Hi Barry - don't feel neglected if you don't get much response - most people don't usually backtrack, and this discussion is continuing on today's blog.

I'm just a reader, so I don't know what goes on in the industry, but in response to a comment yesterday, I enough e-mails to propose that Elaine was one gutsy enough to say - in print - what many people were thinking.

And that's the great thing about discussions - it gets people thinking - and talking about it, too.

Kathy, I don't doubt that many are making the same complaint presented in this entry. On the surface, it looks quite valid, but the argument being made here is just wrong.

If you want these books fairly judged, then great. What bothers me is that the writer of this entry assumes lesser quality books were nominated because the writers were men and that if these particular books hadn't been nominated that a woman's book would have taken that slot. That is just as, if not more so, sexist. Is Elaine's intent to be sexist? I don't think so, but it's the result.

If a book didn't deserve to be nominated, then the complaint should be about the quality of the book... not the sex of the writer.

Barry, your insights on this are worthy of posting and I appreciate you speaking out on this topic, as well as Joe, who brought needed information to the table in order to fairly assess the process of nominations for these awards.

I do agree that leveling such accusations demeans all nominated, Bill.

This is a tangential point, but I am reminded of a conversation I had at Murder by the Book here in Portland. I went in looking for something new to read, and I asked for help from one of the owners. I told her I wanted something from someone I'd never heard of. She said, "Do you read women writers?"

I said, "Of course. Why wouldn't I?"

"No reason at all," she said, "but a lot of men don't."

That caught me by surprise. I don't believe I have some special bubble of enlightenment rolling around inside me, I just didn't realize that the gender of a writer was that big an issue. This morning, after reading of this controversy, I got to thinking about it.

Ultimately I fall into the camp of "One data point is not evidence of a systemic problem." Given the lack of other data about this selection process, I'm not ready to assume sexism. (Easy for me to say, perhaps, being a guy.) At the same time, I can't disregard that conversation at Murder by the Book.

Do I think this is a worthy topic? Of course. Fairness and equity are always worth talking about, I think, whether gender equity or some other area.

I worry about the way a controversy like this could unfold however. A lot of heat develops, folks get their backs up, lines are drawn, swords crossed. Do some people see sexism because that's what they're looking for, or because it's really there? This person makes a formal statement, that person takes issue. Fisticuffs!

Then next year rolls around and either there are women on the list or there aren't. If there are, is it because they were honest picks or picks made to stave off another controversy? If it's all men again is it a nose-thumbing or just the way things fell for a second time? And if it's all women (and why not, lotsa great women thriller writers out there) is it backlash or genuine?

So I worry because a controversy like this not only taints this year's awards but could have repurcussions into the future. If you're a writer on this year's list, how are you supposed to feel? Of course, as Sandra has said, any shortlist is subjective and likely to have question marks for anyone. But now this particular list has broader shadow cast upon it.

I'm in no way saying it shouldn't be talked about. I absolutely believe it's a legitimate concern, but I also think the way it is addressed is critical. It's a pickle, because how do you point to something like this and say, "Um, hey, what's up?" without it getting all breathless and heated? I'm not sure. My sense is that ITW could have handled it better -- J.A. Konrath indicates there was some awareness of the possible controversy. Perhaps a statement addressing the matter from the beginning would have been helpful: "Yes, we know this list is all men, so we wanted you to understand how it came about..." And, yes, I think asking the judges why before presenting a charge of nefariousness would have been of use as well.

Anyway, I can surely ramble. All I know is there are a lot of great writers in this genre, men and women alike. I hope the future of thrillers has a place for all of them.

And finally, to those men out there who don't read women writers, I have this to say, "Dudes, get the ball game here. You're missing out!"

Re the Agathas: Donna Moore neglects to mention this year's Children's/YA category, in which Peter Abrahams and Carl Hiaasen won.

And Donna...men have been nominated and won Agathas---the winners include Jeff Abbott, Robert Barnard, Aaron Elkins, Dean James, M.D. Lake, and Daniel Stashower. Past nominees include Walter Satterthwait, Edward Marston, and Peter Lovesey.

--Elizabeth Foxwell (a cofounder of Malice Domestic Ltd.)


Barry - I don't know the last time I said that to anyone but I wuld say that in over 35 years of hearing "har, de har har, you girls" dumb-ass remarks makes me feel rude and yes, it felt good for a bit because I believe Jason said it ONLY to provoke. Not to enable any form of discussion. I consider myself to be a polite person, even when faced with rudeness as I am a lot but Jason was being provocative. Interestingly enough several men who posted on this topic chose to joke about it - "har de har har, you girls take stuff SO seriously" rather than actually DISCUSS THIS and that triggered rudeness, you bet. I DID almost delete it 3 times but yeah I get mad when someone raises a serious point and osmeone else tries to derail it. And after about the 4th decade of seeing this as a way of dealing with issues that affect women, I get rude.

Jason pointed out that the number of Jews and African Americans isn't being made an issue of. That's a point.

Here's another: Jews and African Americans are a minority. Women are the majority.

The problem is that I don't know what percentage of thriller writers are women. Whatever that percentage is, I would expect it to be reflected on the nomination lists over time.

The key phrase is "over time." One year's worth of nominations isn't statistically significant.

I know, I seem to be giving conflicting opinions. That's because I'm conflicted. I hate that no women got nominated this year, and I think it's good to take notice of it. But I'm willing to wait a few years and see whether or not the ITW awards even out, or if they remain male dominated.

Wow. This is obviously a difficult subject.

But I'd argue that the ITW judges simply read a whole boatload of books, picked the ones they all liked best, and the chips simply fell where they fell.

If this were to happen over and over during, say, a ten-year span, you might have something to complain about.

But now? Not so much.

By the way, does anybody know the gender split of the ITW membership?

Somebody posted the following information. The Best Novel judges: 2 women, 2 men. Best First judges: 2 women, 3 men. Best PBO: 1 woman, 2 men.

So five judges out of twelve were women. Less than half, obviously. Does that reflect the gender split of the membership at large?

Just a question - not trying to stir anything NEW up here but if no one wanted the position of being "person in charge of awards" well um being guilted into it (and yeah now THERE's a fun job - its work and we all know that) doesn't that suggest that it should be put off if no one wants to handle a job?
Seriously. When LCC in '96 created a new award, it was just taht. A new award - no rules, no carved in stone requirements. In '97, as the con committee met and discussed things, the award was discussed. No one was interested in running things, doing the award, doing the work. It just wasn't interesting to that committee, so we did not have the award (and have since gotten flack for "ignoring tradition" based on what was then a one-shot thing.) It's now part of the LCC "carved in stone" planning so the award will be given and we'll do everything we can to do it right.
I don't think anything here was affected by having a "draftee" if you wil run things - clearly he made it happen but was it simply too late to say "let's wait until next year to get this together?"
I suggest this only as a way of offering that perhaps more time might have meant more people would have heard/known/submitted books for the awards? And even as i suggest it, I'm aware it's probably not that at all since it's been said that hundreds of books WERE submitted - however the word got out, I guess it clearly DID get out.
I don't know what if anything would be the result of having waited and I'm guessing that once it was decided/announced that awards would be given, you can't go back and say "um never mind", can you?

I think there might be a little of Donna Andrews's "Blink" theory going here. I read "Blink" and was surprised that short people get short shrift. I never would have thought there was a bias there. I think that male and females suffer from the same collective biases, to different degrees, and that it's much more complicated than just a bunch of boys in the clubhouse with a big KEEP OUT on it. As Bill Cameron suggests, there could be all sorts of biases this way and that involved.

I hate to admit this, being female, but most of my favorite authors, and the ones I study and learn from the most, are male. There could be that unconscious, collective bias, working on me.

I do think there's a probability that books with female names on them do not fare as well, and probably didn't with the judges---maybe even the female judges. But we'll never know. Subjective is subjective, and we are all products of everything that has gone into our particular Salad Shooters all our lives.

I will say this is worth talking about. I will say that there are ways to pressure people who disagree with the majority, ways to make them feel like the odd man our (or woman out). It happens on juries all the time. Did it happen here? I have no idea. And that's the problem.

If, after two, three, four more years, there are no female writers nominated--then we'll know something is stinking in Thrillerville. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Sometimes one person can sink a candidate. Recently, the Bloodhorse Magazine compiled a list of the 100 greatest racehorses of the 20th century. Two horses, Man O' War and Secretariat, were literally neck and neck for number 1. There were seven judges, all of them respected turf writers or people in the industry. Their votes were anonymous. Six of them had either Man O'War first, or Secretariat first, followed by horses considered to be not as good. One of them put Secretariat 14th on the list. End of story. Man O' War got it in a squeaker.


Here is the list of female judges from ITW's website. I thought we should name these biased women:

Alex Kava
Anne Frasier
John Case (according to their website, a husband-wife writing team)
Elaine Flinn
P.J. Parrish
Louise Ure

According to the list, they represented 6 of the 12 judges, including all 3 Chief Judges.

It does seem interesting to me that most of the people who don't take it seriously do happen to be of the male persuasion. (Not all!)

At A Writers Life, two of the men immediately said something to the effect that they were bad people because they were white, straight and male. They were "evil". Of course they were joking, but I found it interesting that they immediately played the "white male liberal guilt" card. Clearly, this discussion has awakened something atavistic in them.

You have to wonder if this is how they win arguments with their wives.

J Carson Black - your example expresses my hesitation over "juried" awards - I always imagine - with ANY group of 4 or 5 people on a book jury that you have 4 or 5 people with VASTLY differing tastes who cannot agree, simply cannot agree on "best" so they all end up compromising.
I know that's imagination. NEve been on one of those juries but I have imagined an Edgar jury with one fan of cozies, one fan of noir, one fan of historicals (nothing as late as the 1900s please) and one "oh, I' love everything" trying to come up with 5 nominees. And the noir fan cannot stand the historical fan's first 3 choices, etc etc etc. How do you all agree on "best"? I mean I know that's the case in award voting no matter what, but at least in a wider context, it's not up to 4 or 5 overworked people.

I will NOT accept "naming these biased women" as an accurate representation of the women on these juries.

No, these "biased women" know what great writing is, because they do it.

Oh, heck, we're all biased one way or the other. I, too, Andi, wonder what I myself would do on a "jury". There are some kinds of books I just can't read.

I guess what it should be like, is a Best in Show. You've got a Pekenese (sp), a Rottweiler, a Golden, a Shitzu, a Basset, and an Irish Wolfhound, and you have to decide which one fits its breed best. You might love Goldens, but the Peke fits the specifications of the breed much better (if you can find them).

So I hope judges try to do that.

Okay, this is really awkward, and I guess it serves me right for only using first names, but I was actually trying to back Donna Andrews's point there. Not that the other Donna didn't have valid points herself, it's just... Yeah, awkward.

Only 29% of the titles submitted by publishers were by female writers. 70% were men. 1% was undecided.

I should also mention that the judges all signed a confidentiality agreement not to publicly discuss deliberations, but I have it on good authority that they are saddened by the way their honest opinions have been twisted to look like sexism, and angry they aren't able to defend themselves.

Well, OK, I'll defend them.

If you don't like the nominations, contact the ITW, volunteer to take time out from your career to read a few hundred books (and to endure the public disdain that goes along with this show of generosity) and decide for yourself which ones you truly believe are the best.

But if you do so, I suggest you follow their lead and try to be impartial. That means judging the books on individual merit, not on if the author is a friend, a bestseller, or shares your gender.

And then, when someone blogs about what a sexist jerk you are, you can seethe silently because you aren't allowed to defend yourself.

Sound like fun, Elaine? Quit armchair quarterbacking and get in there and show them how it should be done the right way.

Think of the fun you'll have, after all of your hard work and effort, to have some blogger spout off about how bad your decisions were, and publicly wonder where you "stored your cranium."

To the judges: I'm truly sorry you're getting roasted for trying your best. If you ever decide to volunteer for anything again, I hope you remember that being politically correct is obviously more important than being impartial.

"You have to wonder if this is how they win arguments with their wives."

J, let me assure you... my wife would never let me get away with such statements. She's too stubborn and strong-willed (traits that I love about her). We do debate the status of the sexes at times, though, and it makes for interesting discussions.

That said, yeah, I do get irritated by the notion that just because I'm a "white male" things are handed to me, as if to suggest I didn't work for them. I would assume the two men mentioned in your reply were making this same point.

Uh, JA...I want to know about the undecided.

I find it fascinating that Travis felt it necessary to post the names of the women judges and not those of the men--though I don't think it's productive to name the judges, male or female, in this discussion. (As one friend said when she read this: "Women aren't the moral watchdogs of an organization. Men aren't exempt from challenging themselves. How Victorian is that?")

The fact that there were women on the panels does not in any way refute the possibility that however responsibly they went about their tasks, the judges--both women and men-- may have been operating with unconscious biases about what constitutes a good thriller. Biases, for example, toward the political/conspiracy subgenre of thriller, at the expense of the other subgenres the ITW names on its website. Biases that may have prevented any of the excellent writers Elaine has named from making it onto the short list.

Note that I said unconscious biases. I know many of the people on these panels and I don't for a moment believe they acted lightly or with any intent to discriminate. (And having been on a panel a time or two, I know they worked their asses off this year, and probably don't appreciate all this controversy. Sorry, folks.)

But I think it's important not to simply let this nomination slate pass without discussion. We need to talk about an issue that will never go away unless we face it honestly, instead of reacting with defensiveness, hostility, and name calling to any suggestion that things are not perfect.

I agree with Toni and others that we should give the ITW a few years to see if the awards even out or remain male-dominated. But not ten years, Rob. Two or three years would be enough to give me serious doubts about ITW's commitment to honoring the best of thriller writing, regardless of gender.

Bill, that's my point. The white male thing is ingrained (if only recently), just as the glass ceiling is ingrained in women. We all have our fallback positions.

Both those feelings--the ones men feel, and the ones women feel--are legitimately felt, and they stir up emotion in the one who feels he/she is the unfair recipient of said prejudice.

Which is why we're having this discussion in the first place.

Speaking as an individual-and not in my capacity as chief award judge for Best First Novel - or in any way in behalf of ITW, the award judges, it's membership or it's board, I find it sad that the broken pledge of confidentiality-by this 'dismayed judge'-has been ignored. Not only has she spoken out of turn, she has also offered the names of authors whose books were submitted to her committee. This egregious breach leaves me to wonder why no one who has commented here - has seen fit to question or discredit her lack of ethics.

I also find it incredulous that so many are quick to judge - and to place a label of bias on individuals whose integrity is being tossed and trashed. And all because of the vitriol of a disgruntled individual who has decided not to attend ThrillerFest simply because she is under the impression that her books would not be available for sale in the book room-not 'hearsay - it's on her blog)

To clear up other misinformation (not applicable to our oath of confidentiality)-many of you might be surprised to know that only 29% of the hundreds of books submitted - were written by women. Oh, one other thing - SIX judges out of twelve are women. John Case (Best PBO) is a husband and wife duo.

Unlike the identies of judges for the Edgar (which are not made public until they are printed in the awards program)all of our names have been on ITW's website since the beginning - and I must admit - we all felt great pride and joy in taking part in this inagural event. How sad to see we are now the object of derision - branded with lables of bigotry and bias - and for the women judges - to be considered females unwilling to support the success of other females - is really beyond the pale.

Donna, I agree with you completely. I'm thinking two or three years.

And as I said before, like the people in BLINK, I'm not immune to biases of my own. Some of them I don't even know about.

JCB- you GOT it. And it's not unlike the manuscript reviewing that many of us do for a small press; we don't get to choose the part of the genre or anything else; we're sent a manuscript. We're to judge it based on a number of carefully defined factors but even then, defining carefully what works and what doesn't? I'm often asked to evaluate something that I would not read BUT....but might be publishable, might be something that others would like, might work. Very different judgments from when I review a book and decide what I liked or didn't like (though i often review saying "I didn't especially like this book but other people might" which isn't unlike judging the Peke the best in show even if YOU don't think Pekes are exactly fabulously interesting dogs. There are so many levels of judging something; it can't be easy even with mysteries simply because there's a huge range. Even within the thriller field from what the website describees, it can involve comparing Volkswagens to chairs (ok hands up? who's old enough to remember the ad?)

So basically unless ITW makes an effort to vote based on gender rather than merit, there's a problem.

What this whole discussion has done, unfortunately, is make it even more difficult for next year's voting. If once again the nominees are mostly male, ITW will be charged with sexism. If there is a disproportionately large number of female nominees, ITW will be accused of empty pandering.

When the first woman is nominated and wins an ITW award, it will be a disgrace if she, or anyone else, feels it was fulfilling a gender requirement rather than due to merit. Those thoughts would not have even occured if not for this debate, but now they're inevitable.

And this truly saddens me.

Andi, it kind of makes me not want to be a judge. :(

I'm one who's proud of Elaine for speaking up. And she's put in plenty of volunteer hours for other organizations to earn the right to an opinion.

But if this complex subject has deteriorated simply into a discussion of how one contest is judged, we haven't heard from enough voices yet.

A garden can't flourish if it's heaped with nothing but fertilizer.

I would personally like to thank Elaine Flinn for taking the time to respond, but also reminding us of the oath of confidentiality the judges took. This entire situation is very frustrating, and we should be concerned about the "leak" as well.

I was unaware of the procedure, but emailed James Rollins this morning and with his consent have now posted a response to this on my blog, from Gayle Lynds, co-founder and co-president of ITW. I think people should read it - Brett Battles has posted it at his blog, I think Jason has it on his blog as well, and I did forward it to Sarah Weinman, so it should be on at least a few of those places today. If you just want to point fingers, stay here. If not, go read what Gayle has to say.

Nancy, that's a fantastic quote.

If a creature (please note I do not use the word 'man') stalks the streets and harms a child for his own twisted pleasure, it's a given we would all agree he's a Monster.

If a similar creature harms his own child in that manner, he's a "victim of family dysfunction" and recieves therapy. If this creature videotapes what he does and sells it on the Internet for profit, well, hell, he even gets 100 hours of community service.

I sat in a courtroom today and watched a six month investigation get flushed on this very issue, with the exact result recounted above.

Here's a thought: how about we take all this intensity and passion and turn it to something worthwhile, say, oh, I don't know, maybe protecting children? Instead of who did or did not get asked to the prom this year.

Just a thought.....


Nancy, I don't think the issue should be this single contest, but that's the focus of this journal entry. I don't see the results as sexism within the awards.

That said (and I've posted similar thoughts elsewhere), I do think it illustrates potential sexism within the publishing industry where thriller novels are concerned. I don't have enough facts to say where the problem is... if it's the publishers, a lack of women thriller writers or the readers themselves.

This is the important issue, not the ITW awards. The complaints I've read about the ITW awards just seem petty to me.

I have to believe that the judges in all categories, for all our mystery awards, choose nominees without prejudice, whether they are male or female. I've only been on one award committee, and that experience freed me from worrying about how things should/could have been done as far as nominations go.

It bothers me a little that no women were chosen for an ITW award this time. However, the more significant thing for me was that only one of the nominees is among the over-hyped Cool Elite who wrote a bad book (yes, I realize that's just my opinion) but got nominated anyway. That makes me very happy. That is the real indication to me that the books were judged fairly.

Mr. Konrath, I sympathize with your righteous indignation and would agree with you if you were in fact talking to 'some blogger' rather than Elaine. Your admonition for her to 'quit armchair quarterbacking' would anger me if it wasn't so ridiculous, since most everyone in the mystery business knows she has been getting in there and working many thankless volunteer jobs for MWA for years, long before your first book came out. Cleverly written condescending remarks by you and Mr Eisler aren't the way to 'persuade' me. Elaine deserves more respect than that from newer, less active members of the mystery community, whether you agree with her or not. Hugs, kisses, and now I'm going back to being the sweet little passive mouse I always am. Usually. ;)

I'm one who's proud of Elaine for speaking up. And she's put in plenty of volunteer hours for other organizations to earn the right to an opinion.

But shouldn't it have been an informed opinion? Couldn't she have done a bit of research before slinging accusations?

If she's put in so many hours volunteering, she should know what a thankless, difficult job it is, and that making snap judgements about those who volunteer is wrong.

After reading Gayle's letter about the ITW judging policy, I believe that not only is Elaine wrong, but that an apology is in order.

To accuse them of bigotry when that isn't anywhere near the truth was a very bad judgement call, and has hurt a lot of honest people.

So, in an effort to shift the focus to the root of the issue, today we've been trying to encourage everyone to "nominate" worthy thrillers written by women. And our respondents have been all women but for two lone male voices in the wilderness.

Does this mean men really don't read women? Or women don't write good thrillers? Or nobody cares? Or we're all more entertained by the fingerpointing? Or maybe nobody's reading at all? I'm really asking a question here.

Have you guys read a good thriller written by a woman? One you'd recommend to the rest of us?

I'm not a guy, but I nominate Tess Gerritsen for VANISH. And Alison Gaylin for HIDE YOUR EYES. My attention span is so short, that I'm nominating a 2006 book, too, P.J. Parrish's AN UNQUIET GRAVE. And to be fair to the male species, another 2006 book, TILT-A-WHIRL by Chris Grabenstein. Because I'm fair. And kind of sweet.

I'd nominate my own books, too, but even I'm not that craven.

From what I gather, the ITW has been promoting itself - and that's a good thing for a new organization.

You don't need to be a P.R. genius to have forseen this kind of controversy - it's just too obvious for anyone to miss. Rather than putting themselves in a position of defending themselves from hurling accusations, perhaps they'd have been better served by making today's statements at the same time the nominations were announced.

As an aside - if any one of the judges breached their pledge of confidentiality, that's awful - and there's no excuse for it, either.

Elaine's blog put to words something that many, many people had been saying privately. Just becuase she was the first one to exclaim that the Emperor had no clothes doesn't make her the bad one.

Maybe nobody is the bad one in this case - but geez, you've got to admit it doesn't look good.

As Nancy pointed out, today's blog is all about women who write good Thrillers - maybe it will encourage more women/publishers/agents/whomever to nominate more of them next year. I think that's an imperative first step.

With no disrespect, Nancy - I rather feel the 'root of the problem' is that accusations by a disgruntled judge have been levied - and even more seriously -by one who broke a serious covenant.

Do ethics-honor-one's word-integrity-pledge- become words subservient to the cry of so few women being short-listed for an award? Have these attributes become a thing of the past?

I see little umbrage about this here. Am I the only 'voice in the wilderness' you mentioned?


I think it says quite a bit that Elaine V. has not responded to Joe and Barry's intelligent comments.

Looking back over the all the comments, it seems as though the loudest supporters of this uninformed and unfair post have all quieted down since those two men commented. Two of them did comment again, but with decidedly different tones.


I hope you don't mean me, David. My comments have been that all of us are biased in untold numbers of ways; we can't help but not be. And if you don't think men - and women, for that matter - don't notice the sex of the person writing a book, you're not in the real world. For some, it doesn't matter, but they do notice. Heck, *I* notice. And that can sometimes color the way a person thinks about what the author is writing about. I have no doubt that if there were a blind test in, say, BLINK II, of first pages of books by similar authors without the names, and books by the authors *with* names, there would be a difference.

And I bristle at the idea that men are the only reasonable people here.

Now, see, Elaine F, I don't see the contest as the root of the problem at all. I see the lack of women nominees as a symptom of deeper, societal problems that need to be examined by us all--not just ITW, but writers, publishers, booksellers, readers--hell, citizens. We need to talk about it-- air all the issues.

I see your point and understand your outrage about the contest & the judges, etc. I'm not a member of ITW, though, and have no stake in the organization or the contest, so maybe it just doesn't hit home enough for me to get worked up about it. Which seems to be the case with all of us.---We're taking things personally and seeing the elephant through our individual perceptions.

Wow. Gone all day and come back to this! Though I am not a thriller writer and probably never will be, I was really interested to learn that few women (how many, exactly?) submitted their books. That is, if they can submit them. Must they be nominated?
Anyone who's ever studied sexism is familiar with the basic theory that women "shut up" about themselves or do not stand up for themselves because they fear a harsh, male rebuke or, worse, ridicule. This is one argument for single-sex education.
Could it be that fearless women who write about fearful subjects are too afeared of the male-dominated thriller community?
Either way, it's been fascinating reading this, though I do wonder at some of the comments.

Sarah, that's a theory that never occurred to me. See? It's all about perceptions, ain't it?

It just makes me mad. It's rare I run into a guy with that serene smile who says, "I'm here now. Don't worry, I know everything. I'll straighten everything out with a few reasonable words. The cavalry's here."

In fact, I haven't run into that for years, until getting on this blog today. I've got to get out more.

Once again, with no disrespect for your comments, Nancy, but the lack of female nominees in this case has no correlation to 'deeper, societal problems'-it's just the way things ended up.

Sadly, many people won't buy into that, and will continue to be positive that women were simply 'dismissed' as not having written a genre relevant and award worthy book.

My thanks to the lovely ladies of 'Lipstick' - and to their many faithful posters - for allowing me to share my thoughts.

Goodnight, and good luck.

I'm not a writer, and I only know one of the Lipstick writers personally, but this sure has been an interesting discussion.

For a change, I agree with Sarah, this time on the issue of self-selection, and, of course, all-girls' schools.

Gee....I was just looking for some conversation, a beer...and a burger.....Hey Elaine, let's meet at Jack's sometime and discuss!

I'm with Nancy - I can't get bent out of shape over some judge's actions when I have no idea what the rules were. I'mnot saying it's not an issue to be dealt with, but for the majority of us- assuming the majority of folks interested in this "debate" or discussion aren't ITW members, it's less important. I have little interest in the issues of pledges or abstracts like "honor" - at least in this discussion, Elaine. Even if no names had been named, the issue would still be that although as Gayle says 29% of the books submitted were by women, !00% of those nominated were by men and we need to understand why that is. And if we DO discuss and understand it, then it's far more likely I believe that fewer people "will continue to be positive that women were simply'dismissed' as not having written a genre relevant and award worthy book."

I was one of the judges for the ITW Awards, so I don't feel comfortable weighing in on that topic.

However, Nancy has asked a question that I can jump on with both feet!

"Have you guys read a good thriller written by a woman? One you'd recommend to the rest of us?"

I've read a bunch of them, I'm happy to say, and would be happy to recommend a few. Just thinking of some of the thrillers by women I've reviewed so far this year, I would suggest M.J. Rose's "The Delilah Complex," Michele Martinez's "The Finishing School," Lisa Gardner's "Gone," P.J. Parrish's "An Unquiet Grave," P.J. Tracy's "Snow Blind" and Gayle Lynds's "The Last Spymaster."

(I would also note that I'm a great admirer of some of the other writers who have been mentioned above, and would wholeheartedly recommend them, but I don't include them here because they don't write thrillers. Laura Lippman and Denise Hamilton would fall into that category.)

It's certainly true that there aren't a lot of thrillers by women being published. I've never done a scientific study of the numbers, but I'm guessing that the ratio of men to women in the genre is probably two-to-one at best.

There are definitely some very gifted women writing thrillers, though, and they are worth searching out. Hopefully their numbers will grow, and I think ITW will definitely be a part of that growth.

'Honor' is not an abstract, Andi. It's a measure of who we are. You ask why 100% of the short-listed books were by men? Okay, here's the answer - because the judges decided that. End of story.

I have read and followed all the comments with interest, including the formal response by the ITW. I stand by every word I wrote. As for the gentleman who felt I should join ITW and serve as a judge, why would I join an organization that does not appreciate the work of women? Why, in fact, would any woman?
Elaine Viets

//why would I join an organization that does not appreciate the work of women? Why, in fact, would any woman?//

So....it's better to bitch and retreat than to actively try and change from within? Okay, gotcha.

One thing I truly don't understand: what exactly is a thriller? I mean, really? I think the definition is so loose that it's hard to categorize. I read that mish-mash in PW defining "thriller" and came away more confused than ever.

My books are thrillers because I say they are, and because my publisher was happy to send it to the ITW awards. (Guess that means something, considering how publishers in general balked at sending out other books by female writers.)

Who was it who said about pornography: "I'll know it when I see it"?

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