Writing Fiction in a Man's World
Written by
Tess Hardwick
March 2011
Written by
Tess Hardwick
March 2011

My first novel, Riversong, is coming out next month, published by Booktrope.  It’s the story of a woman who has an unexpected tragedy that leaves her penniless, pregnant and in mortal danger.  She’s forced to flee from her life in Seattle to the small town in southwestern Oregon where she was raised.  


I set it in a fictional town called River Valley.  It’s similar to the one I grew up in, with some tweaks and deletions, of course.  But it’s a love letter to the landscape of southern Oregon and a homage to people I knew when I lived there, especially my generation of friends who left because there was no work and no opportunities.


When my character arrives in River Valley, she quickly becomes ensconced in the community and agrees to help reinvent the town into a tourist destination by opening a gourmet restaurant using her wit and business acumen. 


And she meets a man.  A musician.  He’s a good, sexy man like the one I’m married to in real life.  They fall desperately in love but she has a secret that could endanger them both.  There are several scenes of poignant, descriptive lovemaking, all central to the plot and themes and quite simply what people do when they fall in love.  And yet I’ve felt slightly apologetic about not only the romantic scenes, but also that I’ve written a love story. Will male critics automatically dismiss it as a romance novel and miss all the subtleties of the characters and themes or the skill of my writing? 


Ultimately, though, I decided to stop apologizing.  I wrote a love story.  I have to own it.  This is a book about how the redemptive power of all kinds of love can rewrite your life.  It’s the subject I’ll always be drawn to, how the people you love can bring you out of tragedy to live another day. 


And I shouldn’t apologize for it.  Women’s fiction is the one place where we can make it as much about a woman as we want.  The rest of the world is so often about men.  We shouldn’t have to apologize for writing about what we know.  I am a woman.  I’m a fierce, intelligent woman who loves a man and has had the magnificent experience of bringing a baby into this world.  Does it make the writing less relevant, descriptive, or poetic because of the subject?  Absolutely not.  Does it make it less interesting because it’s a female main character?  Absolutely not.  Are ‘important’ books only about wars, or man versus his environment, or male coming-of-age stories?  Absolutely not.


Are many beautiful written books dismissed merely because they are about ordinary women?  Absolutely.  But here is what I know, what I believe without a doubt:  there are women like the characters in my book all over this complicated world and they’re doing amazing things, brave acts, noble work, and I find them interesting beyond belief.  I certainly find them relevant.  Important.  They inspire me to write, to capture on the page the gloriousness of their existence in a world that requires tremendous courage.  What could be more ‘important’ than that? 

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