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Death comes for us all.

Keep her as your friend.

 Read "La Santisima"

What's New:

Miserere is now available at Audible.

My short story "Naked the Night Sings" is only one of the many fine stories in the urban fantasy anthology Manifesto: UF, edited by Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann, Angelic Knight Press, 2013.

Novels

"Filled with show me now and tell me later prose, [Miserere] was one of the finest debuts of 2011 and remains a novel that I remember details from nearly three years later." Justin Landon, Tor.com

Download an excerpt of Miserere here

« a book exchange with Helen Lowe | Main | Autumn Tales »
Monday
Jan072013

Gender Bending--The Big Reveal

First of all, I want to thank each and every one of you who took a moment to be my lab rat. You guys were simply awesome and gave us a great deal of material to work through. I'm not sure who had more fun with this--the readers or the authors.

So while I'm up here saying thanks, I also want to say thank you to all the authors who participated in this exercise and generously offered their books for the grand prize winner. A special thanks to Myke Cole, who went the extra mile in recruiting authors for the experiment, and to Mark Lawrence for all the wonderful pie charts that he worked up for us.

There were a total of 1,045 guesses. Of that number 535 people correctly guessed the gender of the authors.

Our scientist in residence, Mark Lawrence, kindly analyzed the data and reached the following conclusion:

"Given the 1,045 guesses and 535 correct guesses we can say that no statistically significant power to determine gender from writing has been demonstrated (under the assumption both genders were equally represented - they weren't but it doesn't introduce a large effect).

"With selection of authors drawn with equal likelihood of either gender then a random guessing machine making 1,045 guesses would expect to get an average of 522 correct answers and if it repeated the experiment many times we would expect 95% of the results to lie between 490 and 554 correct answers. So our result is well within the bounds of expected statistical variation for a random set of guesses."

In other words, people can't tell the difference between male or female writing styles based on the prose alone. Without the hint given within a name, people were guessing. Many of you, and thank you for your honesty, point-blank admitted that nothing in the prose gave you a clue. Others suspected we were deliberately trying to outsmart you, so you guessed the opposite gender in order to be right. However, that kind of thinking pushed the experiment off the rails a bit, primarily because some of you lost the prime objective of trying to determine gender through stories or excerpts. [A side note here: regardless of the rationales for answers, if someone guessed correctly, then he or she was entered into the contest.]

For some reason, you didn't seem to trust us tricksy authors, and that made me smile. Alex Bledsoe told me in advance that he was shooting for a Raymond Carver vibe with his piece, "White Spaces." Most of you guessed that "White Spaces" was written by a female. Mary Robinette Kowal submitted a piece that she had been toying with before this experiment came into fruition. She submitted Entry #4, which was a short piece that she had written for herself in an exercise to mimic John Scalzi. She deliberately picked a male pseudonym in order to fool you. When so many of you guessed that the author of Entry #4 was male, Mary chose to submit "Meghan's Bike" in contrast. The majority of you still thought she was a man.

A few of you over-analyzed the excerpts, which was okay too, with the rationales moving in all sorts of directions. A couple of consistent ideas did come up repeatedly in both the comments here and in a few of the forums where the experiment was discussed (yes, I've been-a-lurking about your forums and such). People tend to associate emotive stories with women and "big idea" or action based stories with men. There might be some basis to that argument; however, when statements like that are made, then storytellers like Patrick Rothfuss and Stephen King, who tell very emotive stories, are shot out of the picture. Likewise, people who expect anything less than "big idea" stories from women are missing out on authors like Ursula K. Le Guin or Margaret Atwood. The list of male and female authors who don't fit neatly into these two categories can go on, but the idea here is simply this: not everyone fits a niche or a certain style.

None of you can say for certain whether K.J. Parker is male or female. You can guess. You can suspect. Ten thousand different rationales can lead down ten thousand roads. I used to work for attorneys where I mastered the art of reasoning both sides of an argument with supporting documentation, so I take it all with grain of salt. As Mark pointed out in one of our emails, it's very easy--not to mention human nature--to skew the evidence to support an individual's point of view. We like to think we know the answers and that the facts support our reasoning, but in the end, it's all conjecture.

My opinion here is simply this: No matter how much we analyze story, prose, or word usage, none of us can say with any certainty whether a specific piece is written by a man or woman unless the author stands up and accepts responsibility for the story.

Perhaps the publishers are right to ask women to submit their stories under pseudonyms. If a female name automatically conjures young adult/romantic/emotive story-lines in someone's mind, and a good part of the audience suffers from contempt prior to investigation before the first line of prose is read, then the novel or story may never make it out of the gates sales-wise.

So the publishers succumb to subterfuge, the authors (tricksy, tricksy, tricksy authors) also participate in the game, and you, the reader, are left to guess. None of this is new, by the way. Female authors have been hiding their gender behind pseudonyms for over a century. Likewise, male authors who write romance or other genres with a predominately female readership are asked to disguise their gender. It may be another century before we can all come out of the closet and be judged by our prose, not our gender.

Those are my thoughts on the matter and do not reflect the thoughts or opinions of the other authors who so graciously offered up their stories and their time for this endeavor. I invite you to post your thoughts on the subject either in the comments here or on your own blogs. I will leave the discussion to you.

If you do decide to comment here, remember this is my online home. I will not tolerate abusive posts or trolls. All comments will be moderated, my judgment is final and is not up for debate. Be respectful of one another, both in your words and your conduct, here and everywhere.

Now for the big reveal. We will begin with Entry #10 and work backwards toward Entry #1. Since so many of you indicated a desire to read more works by the various contributors, I am including links and author bios, all of which were shamelessly plagiarized from the authors' websites.

 Entry #10 -- Meghan's Bike by Marian Westwood and

Entry #4 -- Untitled by Jackson Harris were written by the same author:

Untitled by Jackson Harris and Meghan's Bike were both written by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Mary's debut novel Shades of Milk and Honey (Tor 2010) was nominated for the 2010 Nebula Award for Best Novel. In 2008 she won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, while three of her short fiction works have been nominated for the Hugo Award: “Evil Robot Monkey” in 2009 and “For Want of a Nail” in 2011, which won the Hugo for short story that year. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and several Year’s Best anthologies, as well as in her collection Scenting the Dark and Other Stories from Subterranean Press.

Entry #9 -- The Sea-Folk’s Price by Z. Riddle

 

 The Sea-Folk's Price was written by Courtney Schafer, who is the author of The Whitefire Crossing and Tainted City, books one and two of The Shattered Sigil series.

A voracious reader, Courtney always wished new fantasy novels were published faster - until she realized she could write her own stories to satisfy her craving for new worlds full of magic and wonder. Now she writes every spare moment she's not working or adventuring with her family. In her day life, Courtney is an engineer, an avid rock climber, and a figure skater.

Courtney is currently hard at work on the third novel of The Shattered Sigil series, The Labyrinth of Flame.

Entry #8 -- White Space by T.J. Breckenridge

White Space by T.J. Breckenridge was written by Alex Bledsoe.

Alex is the author of The Hum and the Shiver, which was named as one of the best fiction books of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and the popular Eddie LaCrosse series, which includes The Sword-Edged Blonde, Burn Me Deadly, Dark Jenny, and Wake of the Bloody Angel. In addition, he has created Memphis vampires with Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood. Watch for his newest novel of the Tufa, Wisp of a Thing, which is coming in June of 2013.

Entry #7 -- The Hated by A.K. Reid

The Hated was written by Damien Walters Grintalis.

Damien lives in Maryland with her husband and two rescued pit bulls. She is an Associate Editor of the Hugo Award-winning magazine, Electric Velocipede, and a staff writer with BooklifeNow. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, and others. Her debut novel, Ink, was released in December 2012 by Samhain Horror.


Entry #6 -- Untitled by Kyle Schuler

 

Image by Ayrica BishopUntitled by Kyle Schuler was written by Shiloh Walker.

Shiloh is the author of the following series: The Ash Trilogy, FBI Psychics, Grimm's Circle, The Hunters, in addition to the novels Fragile, Broken, Voyeur, and more. Her latest release is entitled Beautiful Scars and will be released January 2013. Shiloh has been writing since she was a kid. She fell in love with vampires with the book Bunnicula and has worked her way up to the more ... ah ... serious works of fiction. She loves reading and writing just about every kind of romance. Once upon a time she worked as a nurse, but now she writes full time and lives with her family in the Midwest. She writes urban fantasy, romantic suspense and paranormal romance, among other things. Shiloh also writes urban fantasy and erotica as J.C. Daniels.

Entry #5 -- Untitled by S.A. Daniels

Untitled by S.A. Daniels was written by Diana Rowland.

Diana is the author of The Kara Gillian series and The White Trash Zombie series. Diana has lived her entire life below the Mason-Dixon line, uses "y'all" for second-person-plural, and otherwise has no southern accent (in her opinion). She attended college at Georgia Tech where she earned a BS in Applied Mathematics, and after graduation forgot everything about higher math as quickly as possible.

She has worked as a bartender, a blackjack dealer, a pit boss, a street cop, a detective, a computer forensics specialist, a crime scene investigator, and a morgue assistant, which means that she's seen more than her share of what humans can do to each other and to themselves. She won the marksmanship award in her Police Academy class, has a black belt in Hapkido, has handled numerous dead bodies in various states of decomposition, and can't rollerblade to save her life.

She presently lives in south Louisiana with her husband and her daughter where she is deeply grateful for the existence of air conditioning.

Entry #3 -- The Education of Rebecca Cavendish by Alice Leakey

The Education of Rebecca Cavendish was written by Myke Cole.

Myke is the author of the Shadow Ops series which includes Control Point and its sequel Fortress Frontier, in addition to several short stories. As a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill.

All that con­flict can wear a guy out. Thank good­ness for fan­tasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dun­geons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.

Entry #2 -- The Ballad of Sophie Nu by Dirigible Elephant

 

The Ballad of Sophie Nu was written by Mark Lawrence.

Mark is the author of Prince of Thorns, which is his first published novel. It is the beginning of a projected trilogy following the fortunes of Honorous Jorg Ancrath. The second book in the series King of Thorns was published last year and will be followed by Emperor of Thorns in August 2013.

Mark is married with four children, one of whom is severely disabled. His day job is as a research scientist focused on various rather intractable problems in the field of artificial intelligence. He has held secret level clearance with both US and UK governments. At one point he was qualified to say 'this isn't rocket science ... oh wait, it actually is'.

Between work and caring for his disabled child, Mark spends his time writing, playing computer games, tending an allotment, brewing beer, and avoiding DIY.

Entry #1 -- Bearna by Jamie Sears

The story Bearna, which was submitted by Mazarkis Williams, was written by a woman. Mazarkis is the (tricksy, tricksy, tricksy) author of the Tower and Knife fantasy series, which includes The Emperor's Knife and its sequel, Knife Sworn. The Tower Broken, book three of the series will be available in late 2013.

Oh!

I almost forgot!

THE GRAND PRIZE WINNER ...

The great and mighty Random Number Generator chose MC from a comment on Entry #10. MC's comment was "Female, I think."

Based on that comment: can you tell me if MC is a man, or a woman?

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Reader Comments (19)

Thank you for organizing this, Teresa!
Wait a minute...was this post written by a man or a woman? ;)

Teresa, thanks for inviting me to participate. It was mad fun.
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShiloh Walker
Also worth pointing out that one person got 9 correct answers and nobody got 10 correct. Which given the sample size is well with the expected range. The person who got 9 correct may now believe they have some ability to discriminate gender from writing, but the fact that someone out of the sample did get 9 correct is not at odds with the thesis that everyone was guessing randomly and they were the 'luckiest' one.
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark Lawrence
A fun and thought-provoking experiment, and I have to say I'm heartened that this was the result. I can't remember what I guessed for each of them without going back through the posts, but I don't think I was right more than half the time. Which is exactly as it should be.

Thanks for pulling this together, Teresa and contributors, and over the holidays too. I hope this not-so-unscientific study challenges a few prejudices, changes a few minds, and gets some wider attention. It deserves it.
I had a lot of fun reading all the contributions from the various authors and I'm glad that the experiment yielded these results. Let's hope this is a first significant step for people who still judge a book by the gender of its author.
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEmmanuel Sanya
Where's number 4?
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJuniper
Oh, sorry. Number 4 is at the top with number 10! If in doubt, read.
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJuniper
Hm, so it looks like I had 4 out of 10 of the entries right, which isn't very impressive, though I'm going to blame Myke Cole's tricksy entry for getting me under 50%. :) In my mind I'd correctly correctly guessed which story Mark Lawrence wrote, but then he is one of my favorite authors and what the story was about was a bit of a hint. My favorite short story, The Sea Folk's Price, turned out to be from one of my other favorite authors, Courtney Schafer, though I'd had no idea when I was reading it. Also, since I really liked The Hated and I hadn't read anything from that author before, I picked up her debut novel.

Overall this was a great contest/experiment, thanks for running it. :)
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBigZ7337
I loved watching this experiment. Found myself thinking the stereotypical thoughts you elucidated above, about what is typically male and female writing, then grew ashamed of myself. ;-) Am delighted to know my initial thoughts were wrong.
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJan O'Hara
Yes, I guessed because I do not really think about whether an author is male or female. Or at least I did not think about it until I started responding to your posts. I am presently reading Bernard Cornwell's books about Arthur (surely fantasy!) and I noticed that one of ladies knelt down in a white dress and he mentioned that when she stood up that there was dirt where her knees had touched the ground. I was thinking, hmmm, a man wrote about that. Maybe his wife has him do the wash.... I was talking with my daughter about your survey, and she did mention that usually she associated feelings more with women and action more with men. From now on, I will surely make note of the author's gender and the type of writing he/she does. Thank you for the opportunity to participate.
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJean
Just wanted to add my voice to Teresa's in saying thanks to all who participated. This was so much fun, both as an author and a reader. Special thanks to the people who took the time to discuss reasons for their guesses in their comments - I found them fascinating to read! And enormous thanks to Teresa for all her hard work in putting this together.

My favorite result of the experiment so far: BigZ7337 saying he picked up a book by a new author. Hooray!
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney Schafer
Teresa, thank you so very much for including me in this experiment. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed reading the entries, the guesses, and the reasoning behind them.

A special thank you as well to BigZ7337; I hope you enjoy the read!
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDamien Walters Grintalis
Well, going back and double-checking my votes (including my late ones for the last 3 stories which I commented in the rules post just to have them publicly on record, sort of, before the results would be given), I see I was 7-3 to the plus side. It signifies nothing, I know, but still it makes me feel a lttle bit good. Not smug, just good.

I DID actually read each story with the specific purpose of trying to divine the author's sex just based on the "feel" of the story and how it was told, whether it seemed like a male or female perspective underneath the superficial sex-based characterization of the protagonists/narrators. Even so, I was not very confident on most votes.

For the record, I am male and tend to read SF, not fantasy, and most of the authors I read tend to be male as well. I'm not sure if that shows bias based on sex, but I'm sure many would say it does... Mostly I like to think it shows bias based simply on the kind of stories I think I'll like regardless of the author's (irrelevant) genitalia. Also, I'm closing in on 50 and a large part of my SF reading was golden age classic stuff, so obviously male writers there with only a few exceptions. The more current authors I read also tend to be, well, not THAT current (still well established vets), and in the classic style of the golden agers, as well. I think I'm just narrowly focused on the types of stories I enjoy and they just happen to come from male authors for the most part.

I found out about this experiment from Tor.com... It seemed interesting, so I stuck with it. Thanks for the experience, Teresa, et al. It was fun.
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDimSkip
I didn't have time to read all the entries, but I'll admit that, in the ones I read, I had no idea whatsoever.

FUN!
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Blake
This is sooooo cool. I'm sorry I missed out on it, but I'm so very glad you did it.
January 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterstina leicht
I'm glad you're here now! ;-) I missed having you be part of the crew too. Maybe we'll do another one some day.
January 8, 2013 | Registered CommenterT. Frohock
I find it interesting that there is variation when looking at each author individually - I don't think this contradicts the results (esp. since there is difference in each direction, mostly equal - if this weren't true, then the average would be different, after all!), but I think it is curious and fun.

All of it is fun! Thank you for doing this.

Although I have to admit I have sometimes been confident about the sexual organs of the writer... when they screw up something fundamental about sexual organs. Ex., PMS is not related to being pregnant. I would be surprised if the author who wrote that had ever menstruated.
January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSpencer
So I'm a statistical outlier eh?

I can live with that.

I was sooooo close to a perfect score, and then Mary Robinette Kowal pulled the "every father's worst nightmare" card on me and made me guess that Meghan's Bike was written by a man.

Damn you Mary R. Kowal!
:)
January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGhryswald
No need to test people.
Everyone is Bias and has their own agenda.
Trying to see what box people have put themselves in is a hopeless endeavor as it opens up a even larger Perspective question.

Its the Natural Law of being Human.

We do try to be better then we are, but you can back anyone into a debate corner and they will show you there ugly teeth complete with specks of foam dripping from there flapping lips.

Though people being themselves is not a entirely bad thing. Could be argued that we need more of such honesty.

Its all very complicated.
January 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaddog
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