I was invited to read from my novel and answer questions during a university class on Literature of the Dutch West Indies. I was early and so I sat in on the class. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more observed. Not that I could blame the students, my novel was sitting on each of their desks (for those of you who are new to this blog: I was born in the Caribbean/Dutch West Indies and my first novel was set there).
Third year students are educated and very mature. When it was their turn to fire questions at me, for a brief moment it felt like I was the student taking an exam. Quite an uncool situation. I considered this and realized a male author would never experience the same mechanism. When male writers waltz into a room, people very readily enter into a state of awe. It’s a simple reality we female (writers) have to deal with. You’re too friendly and they’ll not take you seriously – ‘they’ meaning the world. But if you furrow your brow and lean towards intellectualism, they’ll dislike you for being arrogant. A fine balance and a very thin line. Take, for example, the issue of sex in a novel: you write one sex scene and make a few more references to sex, and I guarantee you quite a few people will be saying: “your main character engages in a lot of sex.” That is to say, if you and your main character are both female. I doubt anyone would ever say that to a male author.
The most challenging part of Q&A is the comment that hits close to home, the one you have no rational explanation for. Such as: “your main character tries really hard to be accepted within that society, but she fails.” We all know wanting something too much is a recipe for disaster.
“What should she have done to succeed?” I asked.
“Just… be herself,” was the answer.