Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Listening to Fiction and Talking with Shiromi Arserio

I'm one of those people who thought I would never read on an electronic device. I love paper books. During the four years I worked full time and attended law school at night, on those rare days I took off from both, I wandered book stores. I scanned titles in all their fabulous and varied fonts, ran my hands over book covers, inhaled the combined smell of paper and ink. So I had a certain amount of sympathy when a friend said she would never buy a Kindle, because there was no problem there that needed fixing. Books were perfect as is.

Yet I love the Kindle, too. The ideal vacation for me is a pool, a view of the ocean, and a giant stack of books. (Plus, as you might guess from my photo, a lot of SPF 50 sunscreen.) The Kindle allowed me to not only bring that stack on one small device but to order more with a click. The first time I finished a series and ordered the next, I felt just like a mouse must presented with the lever to get more cheese. Click, click, click.

Enter audiobooks. I bought a Kindle when I decided to publish my thriller The Awakening on it. I felt I ought to know what that reading experience was like. Similarly, a while back, I began hearing more about authors and publishers releasing audiobooks. I was skeptical. My experience was with tapes (yes, I'm old enough for that) and CDs that I bought, aspired to listen to, and never did. I couldn't imagine that I'd ever buy more than one or two audiobooks. Or listen to podcasts for that matter.

Now I listen to one or the other frequently on my iPhone during the day using the Audible app. (My favorite podcast is Dusted by Storywonk, which analyzes Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes.) When I read, I do so to shut off everything else. But with an audiobook, I listen to accompany other tasks, and compelling books motivate me to continue whatever I'm doing so I can hear more. If I'm listening to a book a I love, my condo is very, very clean, my bills are paid well in advance, and my checkbook is balanced. And I'm in great shape, as treadmills are wonderful for listening.
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For both listening and reading, I enjoy thrillers because they pull me right in and keep me engaged. I also like non-fiction on audio, but if the concepts are too complex, that doesn't work. On paper, I can slow down or reread a paragraph and ponder it. While Audible  allows skipping back 30 seconds at a time, that doesn't match seeing words on the page or easily flipping through an earlier section.

Given the differences I experienced in reading versus listening, I became curious about how narrating an audiobook differs from other types of performances. So I asked producer/narrator Shiromi Arserio.

Shiromi and I have similar tastes. I wanted to work with her on The Unbelievers, Book 2 in my series, because one of the first audiobooks I ever listened to, a sci fi thriller with a female main character, was one she narrated. I also was very excited that Shiromi has appeared in a few Lost episodes. (Which has nothing to do with producing audiobooks, I just thought it was cool.) And we both love Michael Biehn, the actor who played Kyle Reese in the first Terminator movie. Cyril Woods, the antagonist/almost love interest in The Awakening is modeled a tiny bit after Biehn's portrayal of Reese, so I knew Shiromi would understand how I saw and heard Cyril.

Her answers to my questions are below. (Notice how I didn't ask her what things about working with authors drive her crazy or make her want to throw things.)

Are the skills you need for narrating different from those you use when acting?

When you're acting, even if it's for a video game, you're playing one character at a time. In an audiobook you are doing an entire play by yourself. Jumping from male to female characters, changing accents. It's a lot to keep track of. Also, as a narrator, you have to remember that it's not about the actor's performance. You want someone to remember how good the story is, not how memorable the actor was.

When you read a book you’re preparing to narrate, do you hear each character’s voice in your mind? Do you need to think about it for a while?

Some characters pop in my head fully formed. I have a clear idea who the character is and how they should sound. Sometimes I’ll have to go away and think about it. Maybe get the author's input, if I can. The more well-developed the character is on the page, the easier it is to “hear” the voice. 

How do you handle a character’s interior thoughts? Is it hard to differentiate that from dialogue?

Interior thoughts can be really challenging. For one of my early books I used a slight reverb effect to change the sound of the thoughts, but it's time consuming and generally ACX (the production platform) doesn’t approve of effects in audiobooks. And most people are listening through tiny headphones while on the way to work or going for a run, and can't even hear the reverb. So now I just get a little closer to the mic and drop my voice as though I'm talking to myself.

What is your favorite type of book to read? To listen to? Is there a difference between the two when it comes to favorites?

I'm a geek, so I love to read or listen to scifi, horror, fantasy. However, with audiobooks I tend to go for ones that are more involved. There are certain books that I just process easier listening to rather than reading. The A Song of Ice and Fire series is like that for me. I read Game of Thrones, but it was a bit of a slog. The first time I read it, I kept losing my place and not realising I’d jumped ahead. Listening to Roy Dotrice's narration became a much more enjoyable way to experience Westeros.

Do you have a type of listener or a particular person in mind when you narrate, a sort of ideal audience, the way some authors do when they write? Who is that person?

I don't necessarily have an ideal listener. To be honest, usually I find myself getting lost in the story. But when I am thinking about the listener and how I’m telling the story, I try to imagine that he or she is sitting right here with me. I'll glance over to a spot in my booth, like I’m making eye contact, just as I would if I were telling a story in person. 

I enjoyed working with Shiromi throughout the production of The Unbelievers, which was released a few days ago. (You can listen to a sample of Shiromi's narration of the book here). She currently has a handful of audiobooks in various stages of production, and she also does a lot of video game work. In a game called Infinifactory, where you build "factories that assemble products for your alien overlords, and try not to die in the process," she plays four different characters.

What about you? What do you do while listening to audiobooks, and what types do you like best? If you're an author or narrator, what experiences have you had?

Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. Both are available in paperback and ebook editions and as audiobooks on Amazon or Audible. She is currently working on Book 3 in the four-book series.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Are Books Written by Women More Likely to be Labeled "Trash"?

Have you ever heard someone say with an air of apology, “I read trash”? Or has anyone dismissed what you read that way? Once a friend referred to an early Mary Higgins Clark book as trash. If Clark has heard her work called that, I imagine she doesn’t lose sleep over it given that she’s known as the Queen of Suspense, has sold over 100 million books in her lifetime, and receives advances of over $10 million per novel. But the comment made me wonder, what is it that makes one book or author more likely than another to be labeled trash?

It seems like some subjects, genres, or aspects of writing should make the distinction easy to draw, but I suspect other not so obvious factors are at work. For example, last month my women’s book group read a book I normally would never have picked up. It’s a coming of age novel told by a first person narrator. The story, to the extent there is one, revolves around sexual tastes and practices the general public considers unusual. The dialogue struck me as preposterous, and the narrative includes annoying catch phrases and repetition. All my critiques makes this sounds like a book in one of those genres that’s most often labeled trash, such as erotica or romance. Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps. But no, what I read was In One Person by John Irving. After the book was released in 2012, Time magazine called Irving a “literary legend.”

For those not that familiar with the two novels, Fifty Shades was initially self-published as an e-book in 2011. It is about a young woman who is a virgin. Her first sexual relationship is with a man whose proclivities include bondage and discipline. In One Person was traditionally published. Written as if it were a memoir of a man in his sixties or seventies, it focuses on the narrator’s first sexual relationship, which is with a transsexual (this is the word the author uses), as well as his many subsequent sexual experiences as he matures. I did not like either book. After the first chapter, I skimmed both. The critiques I listed above I had about both books. Yet E.L. James (the pen name of the Fifty Shades author) is generally considered a writer of trash and John Irving is lauded as a literary giant.

Here are my ideas about why:

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Emotional Distance or Closeness: One reason I don’t like many literary novels is that, as with Irving’s book, I often feel disconnected from the characters. While I didn’t love Fifty Shades, I had no doubt how narrator Anastasia felt about her love interest, her life, her sex life, her friends, etc. I had empathy for her. In contrast, I never quite feel what Irving’s main character, whose name I’ve forgotten, feels. His sex scenes are detailed to say the least—I’ve never read or heard anything that included so many uses of words for male and female anatomy—but, to me, not compelling. They are told with a tone of irony and detached observation. Most novels I was required to read in high school and college had that type of distance between the author’s voice and the characters. Most were written using an omniscient narrator. In that style, the narrator knows all about everything, sometimes even intruding and commenting on the plot or the characters’ choices, but stays a bit removed and above it all. Current fiction tends to set the reader right in the characters’ hearts and minds. I think this has led to associating “literature” with distance and popular fiction (which for some equals “trash”) with emotional connection. Though certainly there are literary writers, such as Dorothy Allison, whose work I find almost too hard to read due to the depth of the characters’ emotions.

Guilt/Entertainment: Many people feel guilty about enjoying reading. If a book is fun and they can’t put it down, they believe it must not have literary merit. On the other hand, if most people groan when they hear the title and say, “Ugh, yeah, I had to read that in school,” or if at the very least it takes effort and planning to get yourself to sit on the couch and open it, then a novel must be good, it must be literary. So a fast read like a Jonathan Kellerman or a Mary Higgins Clark is trash, and a novel that plods along where you don’t care one way or another about the characters must be literary. Again, I think this is a holdover from high school and college.

What the Book is About: I don’t mean the subject of the main storyline. In One Person and Fifty Shades of Grey are both about sexual awakening and experiences. But the former also explores sociological and political questions such as how the main character’s family responds to him and his orientation, what role heredity and environment may or may not play in sexuality, and how society treated and treats people who are bisexual. In contrast, for the most part, Fifty Shades focuses on the personal relationship between Anastasia and her love interest and leaves larger questions about society untouched. This is not to say that a reader couldn’t extrapolate from Anastasia’s experiences and feelings to a larger theme, but, to me at least, that isn’t in the text of the book. (Perhaps this is why I saw Irving’s book referred to as “literary porn,” while Fifty Shades is often called “mommy porn.”) This criteria is one that, for me, often divides what I think of as pure of-the-moment entertainment versus a book that makes me keep thinking about it long after I’ve finished. But I’ve felt this way about both books that are considered literary and those that are considered genre or mainstream fiction, such as certain Stephen King novels, my favorite being The Dead Zone.

The Education Needed to Read And Understand the Book: By education, I don’t mean level in school, but the breadth of knowledge a person needs to understand the book. I suspect this is a principal reason Shakespeare was considered entertainment for the masses when originally performed and is now considered literary. For most of us, enjoying Shakespeare’s plays takes a certain amount of knowledge of the times in which they were written and the changes in the language since then. That can be gained through reading an annotated text or joining literature classes or discussion groups, but it takes more effort than, say, a detective novel. So readers of Shakespeare and similar books may see themselves as smarter, more educated, and more like serious readers even if they only read a few books a year, while I tend to think of serious readers as those who love to read book after book after book.

The Gender of the Author and the Main Character: Look at any overall list of best literary fiction and you’ll find it dominated by men, and white men at that. This is starting to change, so now you’ll find women writers and writers of color included in literary book lists for recent years. All the same, being male helps if you want to be considered a serious author. Something else I’ve noticed is that a coming of age book about a young woman is generally considered a genre or young adult book (think Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, or anything else by Judy Blume if you’re my age or the Hunger Games or Divergent novels), and thus, to some people, a lesser sort of book—a sentiment with which I disagree. A coming of age book about a young man, however, is often considered literary. Think about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Catcher in the Rye. There are exceptions; for instance, I found To Kill a Mockingbird on one list of literary coming of age novels (along with 9 books about boys/men). Likewise, when women write about sexual or romantic love, by and large it is considered trash—think of the view of most everyone you know about romance or “women’s” novels. When men write about sexual exploits, though, it is literary. Ask Vladimir Nabokov and John Irving.

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The Track Record of the Author: This is the one that probably applies most directly to the two books I’ve been comparing. Fifty Shades of Grey began as fan fiction (fiction where the writer adopts characters of an already existing book, movie, or television show) based on the Twilight series. The author was an unknown in the fiction world. Only after she self-published it as an e-book and it became wildly popular did a traditional publisher take it on. John Irving, in contrast, had twelve novels published before In One Person, for the most part to critical acclaim. Based on his pedigree, I assumed when reading In One Person that Irving deliberately chose for stylistic reasons to have the narrator retell various anecdotes and refer to his uncle and other characters a gazillion times by nicknames such as “The Racket Man.” (Or “racquetman,” I’m not sure, as I listened rather than read and didn’t care enough about any of the characters to track it down or figure it out from context.) On the other hand, knowing the history of Fifty Shades of Grey, I assumed that when the entire contract between the narrator and her love interest was included word-for-word more than once, it was because the story initially had been told in serial fashion, so the author had repeated it for readers who hadn’t started at the beginning, then not thought to edit it out when transforming the work into one complete novel. Similarly, I ascribed catch phrases that made me cringe to inexperienced writing. In short, while I didn’t like either writing style, I concluded Irving was trying to achieve an effect that just didn’t work for me, while E.L. James’ novel needed another round or two of rewriting or editing. Accurate in either case? Maybe, maybe not.

As to for my own writing, as in reading fiction, plot matters to me most, then character, then the writing style, but I strive for all three to be as strong as possible. And I don’t consider anything I read “trash,” just a book or style or subject that’s not for me. What about you? Do read—or write—anything you would call trash? If so, what does that mean to you?


Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases and read reviews of M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller) books and movies click here.

Monday, May 25, 2015

War, the Roads, and the Value of Life

Recently I read Unbroken for my women's book group. It made me think about my father, who is pictured below, and it seemed appropriate to write about it on Memorial Day.

WWII Naval Aviator Francis G. Lilly with his mother
Like Louis Zamperini, whose life Unbroken chronicles, my dad was a WWII naval aviator. Dad tried to join the Army and was turned down because he had flat feet. He was then not only accepted by the Navy, but trained to be a pilot. He enlisted just before the Pearl Harbor attack and remained in the service six months after the war ended so he could keep flying. (He commented as an aside once that the Navy nurses really liked getting rides in the planes when he did his flights to keep certification during that time period, but I never could get much more detail about that. Perhaps because my mom was usually around when I was talking with my dad.)

What I didn't understand until I read Unbroken was the great danger to aviators and their crews even when not in combat. Like Zamperini, my dad was stationed in the Pacific. He never said a whole lot about the war, only that he loved flying and that he hadn't seen combat. One of his squadron mates, when I called about my dad’s funeral, told me they had a running joke at the reunion based on my dad setting the record for crashing the most planes during maneuvers. What was left out of that statement, I'm guessing, is that he was the pilot who crashed the most planes and survived. I learned from Unbroken that a high percentage of aviators died training, preparing, and practicing maneuvers--exactly what my dad did during his years in the Navy--regardless whether they flew in battles. I'm sure that percentage is even higher for those stationed on aircraft carriers, as my dad was. After reading the book, I searched Google for my dad's name and found it on a list of Navy and Marine aircraft accidents for which reports have been collected.

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Dad always made it sound exciting when he talked about parachuting out at the last moment. It never occurred to me to ask him about those who did not make it, and there must have been many, which may be why he didn't talk about his time in the war. I also am guessing that his experience flying and understanding and avoiding danger is part of why he emphasized safety so much when teaching us to drive. I remember him telling me that whenever I was on the road, I should glance at the rear and side view mirrors regularly to be sure I was aware of what other cars were doing. Also, he said, I should assess the traffic around me at all times and mentally prepare for what I would do if someone stopped suddenly, ran out in front of me, or swerved toward me. Always know your escape route.

Unbroken author Laura Hillenbrand quotes an ordnance officer who describes various safety issues with WWII aircraft that resulted in accidental deaths and says, “Life is cheap in war.” According to the statistics in the book, 35,946 personnel in the air corps died in WWII in non-combat situations, mostly in accidental crashes.

My dad, who survived WWII and lived for many years after, was killed at age 88 by a drunk driver, along with my mother, who was 84. According to the NHTSA, in 2007, the year my parents died, intoxicated drivers caused 12,998 deaths. On our streets and highways, too, life is cheap.

So on this Memorial Day, my hope is that as the human race continues to evolve, we will value life more and more, that our roads will be safer, and our battles fewer.

And to all our women and men in the military, then and now, thank you for your service.

Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases and read reviews on M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller), click here to join her email list.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Unreliable Narrators Abound in Life, Law, and Fiction

Recently I attended a talk by Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl. A week later I read The Girl on the Train. Both books are hugely popular and both feature more than one first person narrator who may be unreliable. Which led me to wonder: is that part of why readers enjoyed both books so much? And if so, why?

The Encyclopeadia Britannica offers this definition of an unreliable narrator “…one who does not understand the full import of a situation or one who makes incorrect conclusions and assumptions about events witnessed…” This may occur because the character lacks the age or capacity to understand or convey accurately what is happening, such as where she or he suffers from mental illness (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), has blackouts due to alcoholism (The Girl on the Train), or is a child (Room). Unreliable narrators can also be viewpoint characters that deliberately lie or withhold information from the reader.

This literary device is not a new one. Articles and lists on the topic usually include classics such as Lolita, Huckleberry Finn, and The Great Gatsby. But when I did a Google search about why readers enjoy such stories, most of the results were articles and posts directed at writers, not readers.
Personally, I can think of three reasons for our love of these types of stories.

First, a tale told by one or more than one unreliable narrator creates a puzzle for the reader, or adds more layers to an already-existing mystery, as in both Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. In a typical suspense novel, the reader attempts to put together what she sees and learns through the viewpoint character’s eyes to solve a mystery or guess how the plot will unfold. Adding one or more narrators who might not be telling the whole truth means the reader must assess the characters’ honesty, knowledge, and understanding, requiring more reading between the lines. This allows a higher level of reader engagement and is more satisfying for the reader who unravels one or more story questions or successfully spots misrepresentations. It can also lead to anger and disappointment if the reader feels the author didn’t play fair; for instance, by not sufficiently signaling that the narrator may not be fully truthful. (I felt this way about Presumed Innocent but, to be fair, the cues might have been there and I missed them.)

Second, on a related note, unreliable narration adds to the surprises or twists many readers enjoy in novels. By making the resolution less predictable and what actually occurred less clear, there is more room for a turn in the story that is well supported and yet still a shock. Also, revelations about how true or false a particular character’s narration is can come at different points during the book, adding to the intrigue and providing many plot turns.

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Finally, and most significant, unreliable narration reflects real life. In both reality and fiction, every narrator is unreliable to some degree, as we all see the world through the lenses of our own personal experiences, knowledge, and emotions. If that weren’t so, there would be far less conflict, and far fewer lawsuits, diminishing my work in my other life as a lawyer. Try asking two different family members who attended the same holiday gathering and had an argument to describe it. What each remembers about what was said and done will be different. And even if both remember the same words, the meaning that’s drawn from them will vary. Likewise, the courts are full of disputes where business partners discover after the fact that they had completely different understandings of contracts to which they agreed. Because no one knew what was in the other person’s mind, everything went smoothly until it was time to sell the business, or one partner wanted out, or another decided to hire his or her child as the president.

Our political process offers yet another example of this phenomenon. If you read the responses of the two major political parties to the same words spoken by the president, you might easily conclude that two different speeches were given. And one need only look at the reactions to the changes in the laws regarding health insurance to see the same effect on a personal level. I believe the new health insurance laws are wonderful for small businesses. Any number of owners of small businesses might disagree with me, starting with what counts as a small business. Right now, I’m a business of one, so I’m definitely small. But depending upon the industry, the Small Business Administration includes companies with as many as 1,500 employees as a “small business.” It’s unlikely a 1,500-employee company and I will have the same view of how a law affects our livelihoods.

And to segue to a topic more interesting than health insurance (and what isn’t), consider romance. There’s a reason He Said, She Said is the title of a 1990s RomCom and has been the basis for hundreds of thousands if not millions of books, plays, and movies throughout the ages.

So, ultimately, my take on the popularity of books with unreliable narrators is that these books more accurately reflect how we live from day-to-day. But who knows, my comments on this topic may be completely unreliable.

Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases and read reviews on M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller), click here to join her email list.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The It's-Not-Okay-To-Not-Have Children Act

I just finished reading The Children Act by Ian McEwan, this month's selection for my lawyer book group. (More on the lawyer book group here.) The main character is a 59-year-old judge who never chose to have children. At the opening of the book, the marriage is rocky, to say the least, and the judge is troubled by two cases that have come before her in court involving children. One was a set of conjoined twins who would die if not separated, but only one could survive if they were. The other is a seventeen-year-old refusing a blood transfusion for religious reasons.

Despite a thoughtful and long career and good relationships with her nieces and nephews, when divorce threatens, the judge feels her life is empty and suddenly laments the lack of children. I say "suddenly" because that's how it struck me. Perhaps it's not how the author meant it, but I didn't find any support for the longing being a more gradual realization or any indication the judge had ever felt particularly strongly about procreating. There was no discussion of whether the judge liked kids of any age or whether, growing up, she'd imagined herself having kids, or had a happy childhood herself, or had friends who enjoyed childrearing. I found myself checking the publication date, wondering if the book had been published in the 1970s, 80s, or 90s, when it might be more likely a woman would feel the need to say she longed for children whether she did or not. But no, ironically, the publication date is 2014, the same year Time reported that "More women in the U.S. are childless than at any other time since the government began keeping track...."

Protagonist Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games
Certainly, a character can be believable who experiences sadness and loss over not having children or who has a deep connection with a child. Elizabeth George created such a character, Deborah St. James, in her series of novels about Detectives Barbara Havers and Thomas Lynley. Deb desperately wants a child and is unable to have one, and an undercurrent of sadness runs through her plot lines because of this regardless what else is happening in the books. I'm not a big fan of Deb, not because of the children issue, but because she wallows in her grief, and I become impatient her. (Which is the sign of great characterization, as I react to her as if she were a real person, not a creation of the author.)  But I believe in Deb's angst, and it has a basis. Her backstory supports it, though I won't detail it so as not to spoil it for those who might want to read the books and have not yet done so. Likewise, in The Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins writes a moving portrait of a young woman whose love for her sister drives her to volunteer for what most believe is certain death and to fight others to the death. The feeling for her sister Prim doesn't come from nowhere for Katniss. Years before the first book starts, her father has died, her mother has become a shell of a woman, and Katniss has been supporting her little sister in every way she can.

In contrast, the author tells us in The Children Act that the judge and her husband discussed and considered having kids over the years, but between both their careers and other life events it never seemed quite the right time. There's no indication that as she neared an age when she might no longer physically be able to conceive that the judge gave the matter serious thought. And there's no indication that over the years she felt anything missing in her life until the author needed her to feel bad about not having children. It felt to me like a default. Woman - kids = sad.

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Ian McEwan is not the only author who seems to believe that saying a woman lacks children is sufficient to show that she is depressed or lonely. I see this often, and it rarely rings true. It feels like lazy writing. One of my favorite suspense authors is Jonathan Kellerman, who writes the Alex Delaware mysteries. A side character in some of those is Petra Connor, a thirtyish (or maybe fortyish, I can't recall now) woman who is distraught about not having kids yet. As a side character, I didn't mind that being a quick item we learn about Petra, and I didn't need more detail to buy it. But when I read Kellerman's first book with her as protagonist, I found it hard to see her as three-dimensional. Aside from solving the crime, her driving need was to find a way to have a child. But, again, there was no particular reason for it other than, apparently, biology. It seemed like a shorthand for dealing with the need for the main character to have some sort of personal story to go along with the mystery.

Men are not the only ones who write women characters this way. Another suspense writer I enjoy is Lisa Gardiner. What I don't like is that her single women characters tend to have no friends and spartan apartments, because apparently only married folk can shop at Ikea. (For a contrasting view of a single woman character, see Why I Love V.I.) And one of my favorite married characters plunges back into depression and alcoholism because she can't have a child. Gardiner does more with her characters than is done for the judge to show why they, individually, feel these strong desires. But something I heard Gardiner say when she was speaking at a thriller writing conference made me wonder. She said when she gets to know someone, she first asks if they are married, then if they have kids, then if they have pets. If the answer is No to all three, she doesn't know what to ask them because their lives seems empty to her. So perhaps authors who default to childless (or childfree, as some prefer) = sad and lonely are speaking from their own hearts. If what fills their lives and makes them happiest is a spouse and kids, then it might be easy for them to believe that anyone without one or the other of those must be terribly lonely.

Still, that's not much of an excuse. Authors are supposed to use their imaginations. After all, some of these are writers who create complex, nuanced portraits of serial killers. Can they truly not imagine a happy woman without children?

Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases and read reviews on M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller), click here to join her email list.