Something like ninety percent of readers of both sexes stick with books written by writers of their own gender

Something like ninety percent of readers of both sexes stick with books written by writers of their own gender

But in seeking to make it-to be made-something important gets lost when writers censor themselves by treating political questions as taboo. Aren’t novels supposed to be challenging? Is genre fiction only about killing time and villains? Isn’t it humiliating to stifle a sincerely held political conviction or opinion, out of fear of losing some sales?

If you think about it, genre writers are exactly the ones who stand the greatest chance of stimulating and advancing public discussion on issues of the day. That’s because genre fiction, not the high-priced spread of literary fiction is what’s being read by the great majority of people who still read.

[pullquote]The practical writer will answer that compromise happens in all walks of life. She will say writers must pick their battles wisely, and that pulling one’s punches on political questions-or better yet, avoiding politics altogether-is just common sense.[/pullquote]The practical writer will answer that compromise happens in all walks of life. She will say writers must pick their battles wisely, and that pulling one’s punches on political questions-or better yet, avoiding politics altogether-is just common sense.

Yes, you can write for the opposite sex. But for men, is it best to stick with two- or three-handkerchief subjects the way Nicholas Sparks does?

For women, is it a good idea to make everyone of either sex in your story equally repellent (Gillian Flynn)?

I confess to having done this. The central character in my just-released suspense novel Deep North is Brenda Contay, a woman journalist. Before the first book in the series came out (The Anything Goes Girl), I bowed to the voices of reason, and cloaked myself in gender anonymity with my initials (they still figure in my website address, it’s too hard to change).

But at some point, the idea of intentionally trying to hoodwink readers into thinking I was a female writer began to seem ridiculous. I asked my cover designer to change my books. Barry Knister was writing my novels, not B.W. Knister, and I wanted that known.

As for writing for only male or female readers, that, too, now strikes me as a form of timidity, of hiding from imagination. In my case, I live with women young and not-so-young. Most of my colleagues and bosses over the years have been women. With all this life experience, am I actually going to limit myself to writing stories drenched in testosterone for only half the reading population? Correction: for just thirty percent, since women buy seventy percent or more of all fiction.

Do that, and you can probably get away with not writing specifically for members of your own sex

So: in the name of truth and beauty, I invite you to consider risking your status as a made writer, or your chance of becoming one. To passion do this, you will need to forget about political and gender third rails, and write what you actually think matters.

If you are apolitical, that’s a different matter: no one should expect you to reinvent yourself as a sign-waving zealot. But writers read, and they pay attention. I am not easily persuaded that very many of them are unaware of or uninterested in the political issues of our time. If this has any application to you, at least consider the price that’s paid, in intellectual and spiritual terms, when writers bow to conventional wisdom.

Let me borrow-okay, steal-from what others at Writer Unboxed have urged in a different context: find your bliss by facing what you fear. Write what actually matters to you, and dare to use your own name. In other words, make a contract with yourself, and be your own made writer.