Do we assume all women write YA fantasy; Or what’s in a name?

The first six months after Miserere was published, I felt that I made a mistake publishing under my real name. I am, after all, a woman—a woman who writes fantasy. I think a lot of genre fans made an automatic assumption that a woman who writes fantasy is either writing: a) young adult fantasy; or b) paranormal romance.

I say this for a couple of reasons. My first clue that assumptions were being made came from my initial reviewers. Many of the prominent genre fiction reviewers understood Miserere was an adult novel. However, there were several reviewers that obviously entered the novel fully expecting a Middle Grade or YA fantasy. I believe this little gem of a review encapsulates the confusion nicely:

I had trouble relating too or liking any of them [the characters]. It left me a bit confused about what age group this book is aimed at. Lindsay is a pre-teen, yet there is too much torture, violence and sex for this to be a middle grade or YA book. Rachael and Lucian appear to be older, in their forties or fifties maybe? Their older age and frame of mind made it harder to relate with them as characters either.”

The question that nagged me after I read that review was simply this: Why did she automatically assume this was a Middle Grade or YA novel?

Although Lindsay does have a significant role in the novel, she isn’t a main character. She is not mentioned in the blurb, nor is she pictured in the cover art. That was Night Shade Books’ decision and I thought it a wise one. As a matter of fact, Night Shade Books did not market Miserere as a YA fantasy at all.

Nor did I. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I enjoy reading and writing fantasy for adults. Middle Grade and Young Adult fantasies are wonderful and I occasionally indulge, but not often. I enjoy the complexity of adult themes. So I remained baffled as to why some readers continued to assess Miserere as if it was a YA novel.

At some point in all this, I read one angsty review too many and snapped. Frankly, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often with debut authors. We’re under a tremendous amount of stress and every review influences the overall perception of our novels. Authors are told to say nothing. In some authors this “say nothing” rule creates a powder-keg effect, and mine erupted in the manifesto, “I write dark fantasy.”

Shortly after that blog post, people started taking me seriously as an adult fiction author. Suddenly, I noticed a 180 degree change in attitude regarding Miserere. People viewed the story differently.

Hmmmm, said my brain.

I became curious and looked at reviews for male authors such as George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Doug Hulick, Mark Lawrence. No one mistook their novels for YA or Middle Grade. Stina Leicht took some heat because her urban fantasy Of Blood and Honey was very dark and didn’t meet the hunky urban fantasy romance prototype, but no one banged Alex Bledsoe for doing the same type of dark urban fantasy with The Hum and the Shiver.

Hmmmm, said my brain. (My brain says that a lot.)

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that a strong possibility existed that people automatically equated Miserere as being a YA novel because I am a woman. The reason I infer a “strong possibility” is simply because I have no data with which to support this hypothesis; all I have is circumstantial evidence. However, the more I evaluate the situation across the board, the more I realize it’s entirely possible.

I’m also quite cognizant of the fact there is an overall assumption by non-genre readers that all fantasy novels are written for young adults. However, the reviews and confusion about Miserere came from people who read genre fiction on a regular basis.

So. The unanswered question, of course, is: If I had published under the name T. Frohock, would people still have made the YA assumption about Miserere? I don’t know. The thought has haunted me from time to time over the last year, and it has certainly made me more aware of my initial assumptions when I see an author’s name.

Me?

I’m going to publish under Teresa Frohock. I’ve had that name for quite some time and I’ve grown rather fond of it. I will change your mind about how you perceive my work. I love a challenge.

And please allow me to clarify once more, so there is no confusion:

I write dark fantasy.

For adults.

You know the drill. *winks*

Tell me if you make assumptions about an author’s work simply by looking at his or her name. I’m in interested in what you think.