How I became a Rogue Woman Writer
By S. Lee Manning
I’ve always loved spy stories. There’s something that has always fascinated me about a secret world, where politics matter, and the stakes are high. Spies exist in a parallel plane to the real world, something like the magical world of Harry Potter. Spies disappear through tailor shops into secret offices. Spies take the corner seat in restaurants to watch everyone. They know what the average person doesn’t know, see what the average person doesn’t see.
But it’s more than that: there’s the moral ambiguity of the best international thrillers– that ask what actions are acceptable even in pursuit of an admirable goal.
So of course my first novel – or at least the first novel I’m willing to admit to writing – was a spy thriller. Kolya Petrov, a Russian-born, American naturalized spy, is betrayed by his own agency for what seems to be a good reason – nevertheless what happens to him as the expected result of the betrayal is morally and actually horrifying.
It was a pretty decent premise and a decent enough novel. An early version won first prize in the New York Mystery Writers of America novice contest.
But I’m a woman. Women have always been spies, working under the radar, and women have always been writers. But for some reason, women writing in the spy genre, like women agents, often wind up operating under the radar.
Several sources informed me that women don’t buy or read spy novels. I was also told by a well-known editor that men wouldn’t buy espionage thrillers written by women, even though I’ve cleverly disguised my gender by using my first initial and my middle name. (Did I fool you? Bet not.) The editor advised me to change my novel from a thriller to romantic suspense. Turn Kolya into a woman.
I refused and marketed the book as written. Five Star offered me a contract for Trojan Horse without my changing anyone’s gender or softening any of the violence. (It’s still not published, but that’s a long story, involving Five Star’s decision to leave the mystery market. I have a new agent and am working on a new novel – but this is best suited for another blog.)
Soon after signing the contract, I met New York Times best selling writer Gayle Lynds, author of such fabulous espionage thrillers as The Book of Spies, The Spy Master, Masquerade, Mosaic, and most recently, The Assassins. She gave me a wonderful blurb and even more importantly gave me a call to talk about my career.
“There’s not many of us,” she told me. “Us” being women writing espionage thrillers.
As hard as it is to publish traditionally for any author – it is harder for women writers of espionage fiction. Once published, it’s harder to get noticed.
A reviewer told me he didn’t like to read women espionage writers. Articles listing authors of espionage fiction often list only men. Advances for women writers of international thrillers tend to be smaller than advances for men writing similar novels. Women’s espionage thrillers may not get the same backing from publishers as those written by men.
So what to do? What women always do – and do well. Organize.
Thus, Rogue Women Writers. It started with Gayle Lynds and Chris Goff, author of Dark Waters and Red Sky, who contacted me a year and a half ago with a plan to take women writers of international thrillers to a new level.
The circle widened to include Francine Mathews, author of many spy thrillers, the latest being Too Bad to Die; Jamie Freveletti, who writes the Ludlum Covert One series as well as her own series featuring chemist Emma Caldridge; Sonja Stone, whose award-winning young adult novel Desert Dark debuted last August; Karna Bodman, author of four international thrillers, the latest, Castle Bravo; and K.J. Howe, whose international thriller The Freedom Broker debuted in January.
We are kickass women. Some of us know how to shoot, and others how to kill with our bare hands. Our various credentials include working as lawyers, spies, journalists, intelligence analysts, and White House insiders, and we’ve joined forces.
Our mission: to change perceptions of international thrillers written by women. To fulfill our mission, we blog together, and we appeared together on panels at Thrillerfest and Bouchercon last year. Most of us will be together again this year at Thrillerfest.
It’a an exciting ride.
How I became a Rogue Woman Writer