The Politics of Women Writing about Women

I would like to call your attention to the following quotes:

“To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars.”

(Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature)

“Ever since the Renaissance, modern man has perpetuated the idea that he carries an infinity of possibilities within himself; their realization is always within reach, at least in his phantasies and dreams. His potentialities are such that, if need be, he would live apart from the rest of society; he could return to nature.” (Leo Lowenthal, Literature and the Image of Man, 2011)

“I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.” John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley, 1962)

Man and freedom. It is a pairing as old as literature (and later, film) itself. From King Arthur’s tale, to the Star Wars odyssey, to Braveheart, and the writings of Emerson, Steinbeck and Whitman, the fantasy (or phantasy, as Lowenthal writes) of the return to nature, of the pursuit of freedom, is a predominant, serious theme in “mainstream literature,” both fiction and non-fiction. Think of Kerouac’s journey or actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s journal of their motorcycle trip around the world (which inspired my own husband to ride from Arizona to the Arctic Circle) and you will likely be able to recall and list a variety of stories that validate the eternal search of men for another place, a new adventure, the finding of oneself, and the solving of challenges as they arise. These are considered life-affirming, worthwhile quests not only to be lived but to be recounted and admired. The search for freedom, I am sure would be argued, has philosophical implications; it is fodder for serious reflection and craft, and, therefore, it is to be studied in university courses, discussed in roundtables and eternalized as “real” literature.

There is of course nothing wrong with any of that. I was immensely proud of my husband’s journey, and I myself was happy to teach a course on travel writing at the university (though I could not resist subversively including Eloisa James’s Paris in Love in the reading list).

So why did I start a post about the politics of women writing by talking about men writing? Because it is still the case that what a woman does is often considered in opposition to what a man would do.

Let me preface what I will say in the next paragraph by stating that women too are capable of adventure and the pursuit of freedom. One does not have to go any further than Cheryl Strayed’s Wild to know just how brave women can be. However, more often than not, and perhaps also in quantitative terms, one will find more titles about freedom and adventure penned by men, which is as much an indication of market perceptions and publication opportunities as it is of anything else— remember that J. K. Rowling used initials for fear that boys would not read the fantastical adventures of a wizard if they knew the author was a woman.

The Politics.png

If writing about freedom is often associated with the Masculine, writing about connection is often associated with the Feminine, and that is the crux of the matter for this post. Women often, though certainly not always, enjoy reading and writing about community, communion, the building of a home, the sharing of love, the finding of one’s place in the world. When a book is about love (from a woman’s perspective), or a woman’s search for connection and growth through internal struggle and learning, it often loses its claim to be called “mainstream fiction” through no fault of its own. Instead, our books get classified as “romance” (if a love story with a satisfying ending is at the center of the story) and “women’s fiction” (if personal growth and connection are the central thread). Much like it happens in other areas of work and practice—like one realizing they’ve become a “woman doctor”—“female writer” is a loaded term, indicative of the partition that is still present in the representation of women in their professional capacities.

Don’t get me wrong: I am proud and happy to be associated with these genres and to partake of the craft, talent, and wisdom of so many authors writing in them. It is an honor just to be a member of the same professional associations as many of them or to find myself having dinner at the same table. What I appreciate much less is the realization that in a world that is still so unequal in its bestowing of respect and opportunity upon women, literature figures as one more reminder that there are strides to be made. The number of people who still “don’t get it” is at the same time surprising and frustrating.

Last year, the New York Times published in its book review section, for the first time, a front-page roundup of romance, a genre predominantly, as the saying that is commonly cited in the community goes, “for women, about women, by women.” Who was given the task of writing about the new releases and the growth of the industry? A man. One who very clearly did not enjoy nor understand romance. His condescending, unimaginable conclusion: “Its readership is vast, its satisfactions apparently limitless, its profitability incontestable. And its effects? Harmless, I would imagine. Why shouldn’t women dream?”

I can’t imagine a scenario where the same critic would have been as patronizing to fans of science fiction and adventure sagas (associated with masculinity) as he was to romance readers and writers, which, truth be told, also include men. Can you imagine his writing about a saga of freedom and liberation and asking, “Why shouldn’t men dream? Sure they have 9-to-5 jobs, but shouldn’t they be allowed to at least write about the great outdoors?” I don’t think so.

But maybe the last laugh is to be had by those who find great satisfaction in writing, reading, and community building around stories often associated with the Feminine, be them men or women. While all of general fiction, according to Publishers Weekly, sold 33 million books in 2014 in the US (a great chunk of which is represented by women’s fiction, since for statistical purposes those titles are not counted separately from mainstream fiction), romance alone sold about 31 million. An obvious conclusion is that the literature that focuses on the feminine universe sells more than anything else.

Perhaps it’s time social endorsement should follow. Or not—we will keep writing and having fun anyway.



Patricia Friedrich is a Professor of English (Linguistics/Rhetoric and Composition) at Arizona State University. She is an expert in the spread of English throughout the world, a researcher of peace in relation to language, and the author/editor of six books, including The Sociolinguistics of Digital Englishes and award-winning The Literary and Linguistic Construction of Obsessive-compulsive Disorder. She has written many chapters in other books and articles in such periodicals as Harvard Business Review and World Englishes. Her short fiction has appeared in literary journals such as The Linnet’s Wings, Birkensnake, and Gray Sparrow. Her novel manuscript, The Art of Always, won first prize in the “Realizing the Dream” competition as a mainstream fiction work (RWA’s Desert Rose Chapter). She is represented by TZLA Literary and Film Agency and lives in the greater Phoenix area with her family.

How Volunteering Improved My Writing


We are thrilled to welcome today’s guest and current president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Christine Adler.

When I first started publishing articles and essays, I emulated what I’d read. National newspapers and magazines were my guides for pacing and tone. My editors loved the articles and my readers responded well to the editorials and essays. So I figured I could do the same thing when I decided to try my hand at fiction—emulate what I’d read.


If you don’t already know, let me tell you how much harder it is to write fiction than non-fiction. How can that be? You ask. It’s easy to make stuff up.

Yes, it’s easy to make stuff up. I’ve known that since I hid my brother’s favorite blanket when he was two and said I hadn’t seen it because he was being a pain. But articles are also easy. You talk to people, you learn about a place, an event, an organization and put it all down in black and white. Who, what, where, when. No emotions involved, just the facts, ma’am. But fiction? Whoa. It’s not just making stuff up. It’s making stuff up that people will care about, want more of, cry over, laugh over, love. Nothing easy about that, it turns out.

So I set about learning the art of fiction, turning to those tried and true tools upon which fiction writers depend: workshops, daily journaling and craft books. Then three years ago, I heard about a new, online writers’ group called the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and I signed up. I figured meeting other writers—even virtually—would be another way to help improve my craft.

Not long after becoming a member, I was tapped to volunteer. To do what? I thought. I’m not a published author. What could I possibly bring to the table? But I was game and had nothing to lose, so I said yes.


Jumping into the deep end of the pool taught me to swim with the big fish in a hurry. I learned a ton about non-profits, Boards of Directors, bylaws, planning and moderating writers’ workshops and more. But volunteering also taught me some skills that I never anticipated. The best part is that they translated to my writing. Here’s how:



I wasn’t much of a volunteer before WFWA. Nothing that required interacting with people, anyway. When you volunteer to do a job, no matter how big or small, you’ve promised to show up and work for no pay. That means you’d better love the organization you’re supporting and the work that they do. How to know? Do a little soul-searching. What matters to you? What gets your blood going? If you knew your time could make a positive difference in people’s lives, whose lives would you change? The answer will bring authenticity to the work you do. It will matter because it matters to you.

Once you’ve done that, you can’t help to bring that authenticity to your writing. You want to dig in, find the root of problems and get your hands dirty. This is where you need to tell the truth. Yes, you’re making stuff up, but at your story’s heart is an emotional truth. That truth comes through in my stories where it didn’t before. It’s made my stories and my characters real. Authentic people can’t help but write the emotional truth.


Asking for help is hard. Painful, even. Be it emotional, financial or otherwise, I hate to be vulnerable, to need others, to put myself out there. But life sometimes demands it, demands that we swallow our pride and say, “I can’t do this alone.” I’m a firm believer in karma, so when I’m in a position to help someone, I just do it. I’ll smile, encourage and give whatever knowledge or skills I have that can make someone’s life easier, if only a little bit, if only for a little while. Because it makes me feel good. Useful. Brave. I feel strong not because someone came crawling to me and made themselves vulnerable, but because I was able to lift someone up without making them leave their pride at the door. We’ll all need help at some point in our lives. Helping others when they need it creates a beautiful balance in the universe. The more positive energy we expend, the more of it there is in the world. That can never be a bad thing.

The great thing about helping? It’s empowering. I’m changing the world for the better!

*strikes Wonder Woman pose*

And that translates into courage in my writing. I’m not afraid to take risks with plot ideas. I don’t shy away from the tough conversations between my characters. I ask others for their feedback and use their input to improve my work. When I feel good about myself as a person, I feel brave with my writing.


At a time when everything feels so divided, volunteering with other like-minded, passionate people to do good for a community is one of the best ways to come together. Writing is such a lonely endeavor. Mutual support can remind us that we really are all in this together, and the more we help each other, the better our world will be. Remember those other WFWA writers I volunteered to help? They make up one of the most caring communities I’ve ever encountered.

I used to think writing fiction was just a way to tell my stories to individual readers. Now, I write books that I hope will change lives. Maybe they’ll help someone tackle a personal challenge or feel less alone. Maybe they’ll bring readers together to discuss ideas, fears and hopes. With my writing, I can build community through books, uniting people I may never meet. Like volunteering, writing isn’t just a one-way shout out to random strangers; it’s a way to change the world.

WFWA is a supportive, inclusive and professional organization of writers run entirely by volunteers. I’m honored to have been elected President this year. Come check us out!


adler-small-headshotChristine Adler is a recovering IT Help Desk Design Specialist from corporate America. After her first child was born, she started a blog and never looked back. Since then, her articles, essays, poems and book reviews have appeared in various print publications and anthologies throughout the United States and Canada, as well as online. She’s a former Editor-in-Chief of the literary magazine Inkwell, and the regional NY Westchester Parent and Rockland Parent magazines. The current President of WFWA, she lives in New York with her husband and sons, where she dives into history and research for fun, something her children cannot comprehend. She’s diligently at work on her second historical novel. She enjoys Hershey’s Kisses, red wine and floppy-eared puppies, and has a very close relationship with coffee. She blogs at and


Know your Writing Flavor

I just left New Mexico, where I attended the Women’s Fiction Writers Association annual retreat. I was there for four days and the question asked at nearly every restaurant was “Red or green?” This, of course, is because Albuquerque is home to Mexican food in pretty much every way you can imagine, and which sauce you want to put on that food is important.

While I was there, I also had the chance to attend a session wherein authors got to test the waters of reading parts of our book out loud. It was a chance to experience our words in a different way. But what happened as I sat there waiting for my turn was I got to experience the brilliance of 9 other authors and became completely aware of the flavor that each writer used.

Women’s fiction is defined as a book that follows an adult protagonist’s emotional journey. A lot of times, when people hear this, they think it means emotional like when we reference someone who is emotional: that the story is sad, solemn or somber. But in nine five minute sessions, I heard women’s fiction that was suspenseful, comedic, mysterious, magical, and paranormal. This was particularly noticeable because the whole retreat was focused around one genre.

There can be a temptation, when we are reading and writing, to try and mirror someone else. We try that flavor, think that it’s awesome, tell our friends about it. But I can tell you that after three days of eating nearly every meal with a southwest flavor, I found myself craving something else. Something unique.


I think our writing is the same way. We know genre, we understand the nuances of it. But that doesn’t mean that we have to exactly match what is out there. Our uniqueness, our writing voice, the way we see characters, the ideas we have regarding settings are what people crave.

But it can be difficult to identify our flavor. The first thing to do is identify what it is about your writing that you are the most proud of. Is it the emotional arcs you can create? Maybe character depiction is where you are the most strong. What about your prose? Are you snappy? Eloquent? Humorous? Do you have a way to increase tension, to push your audience to the edge of your seat or do you write something that makes people weep openly and in public?

Then, look up books that are similar to yours, comps you may have used when describing your book to others. But figure out what it is about yours that makes it different from those comps. Why would a reader want to pick up your book instead of another by the person you are comparing your book to?

Identifying your flavor of writing will help in drafting, editing and discussions of your book, and will offer readers something different enough to feel refreshing.


Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Writers are Readers: Best Lessons from Women’s Fiction

For just over a month, several contributors here at TTOF have been discussing the importance of writers being readers too. Elaine (MG), Erin (MG Fantasy), Rosalyn (YA) and Helen (NA) each talked about the importance of reading, so I’m not going to reiterate what they have said.

Instead, I will advise that reading is fundamental to understand genre. Of course, there are certain genres that are easily identifiable, but as the market continues to grow, it becomes important, no, essential that writers are reading what they claim to be writing. There are nuances between magic realism and fantasy, between MG and YA, between romance and women’s fiction, nuances that people can talk about and explain, but that are nearly impossible to fully understand without having read that genre.

So, the books recommended below are all novels that were instrumental in helping me identify my genre, see what was possible within it, and a deep study from some of the masters of women’s fiction and how they weave in the fundamental elements of the genre.

For a lesson on emotional writing

For a lesson on magic

For a lesson on family relationships 

For a lesson on friendship

For a lesson in voice and character development

For a lesson in establishing mood and setting

For a lesson on historical fiction

Do you have any WF novels that taught you quality lessons? 

Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.

Guest Post: 19 Things My Friends and Family Said About My Book

We are thrilled to have Bethany Chase, author of THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY available in MARCH 31, with 19 things her friends and family said about her book.

1. My editor friend, circa 2010, after reading my very first draft: “You need to understand it is a compliment when I tell you I did not expect this to be this good. Usually when my friends give me things to read it’s very much a ‘don’t quit your day job’ conversation.”

2. My husband, circa 2011: “Why won’t you let me read a draft of your book?”
Me: “Because I’m self-conscious. You don’t get to read it until it’s on a shelf at a bookstore and I can’t stop you from buying it.”

3. Everyone, at any given point in time: “Hey, do you want to come to this fun event?”
Me: “I can’t, I have to write.”

4. Everyone, March 2013: “Your book is done? When do I get to read it?”
Me: “AAAAAAAAhahahahahahahahaha”

5. My newly-acquired agent, April 2013: “So is the love interest based on your husband? He must be an amazing guy.”

6. My editor, July 2013: “So is the love interest based on your husband? He must be an amazing guy.”

7. My husband’s friends, July 2013: “So is the love interest based on Allen?”

8. My husband’s friends, July 2013: “So is the main character based on you?”
Me: “No, not really.”
Me: “I mean, it’s pure coincidence that she’s also an only child from the Virginia Blue Ridge who lost her mother to breast cancer at a young age, and went into an architecture-related field.”

9. Writing craft cliché: “Write what you know.”

10. Everyone, August 2013: “You got a book deal? When do I get to read it?”
Me: “AAAAAAAAhahahahahahahahaha”

11. My in-laws, November 2013, over Thanksgiving dinner, escalating their arms race with their friends who have been bragging about their filmmaker son: “Bethany’s book is going to be published by Random House!”
My in-laws’ friends: “That’s wonderful! Is it coming out next year?”
Me: “AAAAAAAAhahahahahahahahaha”

12. My copy editor, May 2014: “You say the word ‘just’ a lot.”

13. My husband’s friend’s father, July 2014, over dinner: “You sure do have a big appetite. Are you sure you’re not pregnant? Where does it all go?”
My husband: “It goes to her brain.”

14. Everyone, September 2014: “Holy crap your cover is gorgeous.”
Me: “I KNOW. Thank you, Belina Huey.”

15. My boss, December 2014: “Could you please take a look at editing some of the copy in this product guide we’re releasing? I’ve noticed you’re really good with words.”

16. My boss, January 2015: “That’s awesome that you wrote a book. What kind of book is it?”
Me: “It’s a love story.”
My (young, male) boss: “Is it like 50 Shades of Grey?”

17. My friends, February 2015: “So when do you hit the NY Times bestseller list?”
Me: “AAAAAAAAhahahahahahahahaha”

18. My husband, March 4 2015, pointing at the finished copies of the book that just showed up in the mail: “You know I can just read this now. You can’t stop me.”

19. My friends: “So when is the next one coming out?” so much Bethany!
Enter below for the chance to win TEN copies of Bethany’s book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway//


After growing up in the foothills of the Northern Virginia Blue Ridge, Bethany headed to Williams College for a degree in English. Only in the spring of her senior year did she begin to consider how exactly she might earn money with a degree in English. And this gave rise to the logical answer: interior design!

Bethany has been working in the architecture & design industry for over eight years now, but when she’s not hanging out with mess-makers and paint-slingers, she’s writing. And when she’s not writing, Bethany enjoys photography, karaoke, and complaining about being flat-chested.


Tasha’s Five Favorites from 2014

My contribution to this week’s book spotlighting event, I realized five of my very favorite books all had a sort of element of magic, or at least was written in a way that felt magical. They each follow a female character (aka Women’s Fiction) who is working to negotiate through what she has known and the possibilities of life enriched.  I have three others that absolutely justify attention, which I will feature on my own blog tomorrow.

The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh

This books explores the relationship of two sisters, Olivia and Jazz, after their mother commits suicide. Jazz is very logical and practical, and put in charge of her sister who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights. Olivia is certain she needs to take a journey to some far off place, a journey she decides to embark on by train hopping. As they negotiate the issues that arise from the eccentric journey, the people they meet along the way, and the obvious opposing means they have each selected to negotiate the reality of their mother’s death, they reach a point where they each have to face the reality of their life, and their relationship with each other.

The writing in this book is lyrical. The character development, description of everything (especially Olivia’s synesthesia), and the heartfelt connection Walsh creates between the sisters makes this a charming book.

The Look of Love by Sarah Jio

Jio is usually known for her dual time period books, and this starts out with the same feel, but then quickly unfolds as something completely different. In it, Jane receives a card on her 29th birthday instructing her to find the six different kinds of love before her next birthday. If she fails, there will be grave consequences. The trick is that Jane can actually see love – she experiences a sort of vision when this kind of love is present, much to the disbelief of her neurologist, and the science writer she falls for despite her efforts.

I have been a huge fan of Jio’s writing since I first read her, but this book knocked my expectations out of the park where they were already decently vast. The Look of Love rotates through multiple points of view (again, different from her usual two) and each switch allowed me to fall in love with the character, regardless of their faults (which they all have).

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. 

This books is showing up on lists all over the place and for good reason. Hoffman takes the beginning decades of the 1900’s and explores them through the eyes of two characters, Coralie who is an incredible swimmer and plays the role of mermaid in her father’s museum, and Eddie, a Russian immigrant whose own history is full of tragedy. A photographer by trade (eventually), he stumbles upon a mystery after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that eventually leads him to meet Coralie.

If you have read Alice Hoffman before, you will know that despite her incorporation of the magic, her writing tends to be dark (probably a content warning on that) and more serious (If you’re only familiar with the movie version of Practical Magic, this may surprise you). This is the case with The Museum of Extraordinary Things as well, but there is still the sense of wonder and powerful reflection that is characteristic of Hoffman’s writing.

The Witch of Belladonna Bay by Suzanne Palmieri 

Bronwyn left her home of Magnolia Creek, Alabama when her mother died, and hasn’t been back for fourteen years. But when she gets a phone call that her brother is in prison for murdering her best friend, and his daughter, Byrd, is more than her father can handle, she returns. There, magic that she has been trying to hold off since she left comes back. She has the task of trying to sort through the past she tried to leave behind, solving the mystery of what really happened the night her best friend died, as well as providing the support and guidance to Byrd. It soon becomes clear that love AND magic are necessary to fix the family.

Palmieri writes voice in a way I’ve never seen before. The characters are so incredibly vivid, and the magic an obvious accompaniment. This has the plot to keep the reader wondering and the description to leave you in awe. *content warning for language – contextually valid, but warning none the less.

The Book of Life (All Soul’s Trilogy #3) by Deborah Harkness

This is a little bit of a cheat, because for this book to make sense at all, it requires that you have read the other two books. But I loved them all and looked forward with anticipation to the conclusion of the series. There are no spoilers in this review at all (for the other books either). Diana is still trying to discover the secrets to the book she found in The Discovery of Witches, Ashmole 782. Age old traditions, and the people who maintain them, are violently opposed to a relationship between a witch and a vampire, and their efforts to break up this relationship that has been deepening over the course of three books are intensifying as well.

I often tell people this is the smartest brain candy I’ve ever read. The story is an absolute delight, and at the same time, the readers gets to learn about various pieces of history (primarily from centuries old Europe). Along the way, we get to discern the truth from tradition as Diana works to understand the power she inherited but never learned, has studied but doesn’t know. All of this is enhanced through Matthew’s genetic studies, as well as several other events that continue to encourage the plot to build to a pinnacle that will leave the reader satisfied.


Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is an editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter and can be found here.