Sylvia FitzSimons & Sarah Noffke

Dogs, Dreamers, and Women in Publishing

Gideon Stevens: Hello and welcome to the Round Table. Tonight we are very pleased to have with us two award-winning authors, Sylvia FitzSimons and Sarah Noffke. Welcome, ladies.

Sarah Noffke: Thanks for having us!

Sylvia FitzSimons: Thank you, Gideon!

Gideon Stevens: Sarah is a dreamer from California – possibly a hippie. She writes fiction around the idea of lucid dreaming.

Sarah Noffke: Recovering hippie actually.  🙂

Gideon Stevens: I’ve had some lucid dreams, and I understand that it’s an effect you can practice. Do you have any rituals that help before you go to sleep?

Sarah Noffke: Thanks for the question. Lucid dreaming is something that people can practice and get better at. It’s neat because it has a scientific aspect, but also many cultures and religions also speak of it’s importance. Anyway, meditation and accupunture help. Diet is of course a factor too. There’s certain foods which can aid or inhibit. And then just good old fashion mindfulness is the real key. Knowing that I’m about to fall asleep keeps the mind active during dreams. And using lucid dreaming one can direct a dream by making choices along the way or even create locations and experiences. There’s many possiblities.

Gideon Stevens: In your books, dreamers can even affect reality. That’s just fiction, right?

Sarah Noffke: Great question and I think this is when things gets weird. How does one know? Would I absolutely know if a dreamer had an affect on my reality and vice versa? The beautiful thing about dreams is they’re so illusive. For me it’s difficult to attribute what happens in a waking reality to a dream. But in one book I discuss dream interaction, where people are really together inside dreams. Maybe they know each other and maybe they don’t. Experiences like that would affect reality. It could affect our relationships or even give us the feeling we know someone we just met. I think the answer is that lucid dreamers can and do affect reality but who’s is unclear, and how much is incredibly difficult to determine.

Gideon Stevens: Sylvia Fitzsimons is a Canine Psychologist who writes humor from a dog’s perspective. I’ve seen dogs display almost human behavior sometimes, and I’ve certainly seen people act like dogs – but what exactly is the dog’s perspective? Do they see themselves as furry humans or us as hairless dogs?

Sylvia FitzSimons: Hi Gideon, thank you for inviting us. Well, I’ll answer you as honestly as I can, insofar as ‘honesty’ can intermingle with ‘farce’, which is what I write… Dogs definitely see us as weird, hairless critters and, between themselves, they refer to us as ‘the two-legs’. Nevertheless, being of a generally broad-minded and practical disposition, they accept us just the way we are. There is absolutely nothing politically correct about their attitude towards us (a fact generally overlooked by most dog owners)… The ‘almost human behaviour’ you may have observed is a tactic often used by dogs who have learned that by performing certain (bizarre and embarrassing) activities, they can train their two-legs to produce rewards in the form of food or other desirables.

Gideon Stevens: Sylvia, you’re originally from London but spent most of your time in Spain. Is that where you are now? Quaint little village or big city?

Sylvia FitzSimons: Yes, here in southern Spain, on the Mediterranean coast. Neither big city nor quaint village – a residential area where I am surrounded mostly by British neighbours. Since I can’t travel to UK very often, it’s the next best thing, I guess.

Gideon Stevens: Sarah, are you from California originally?

Sarah Noffke: Gideon, I’m actually a nomad. Originally I’m from Texas. Took a quiz almost ten years ago and it told me I belonged on west coast so I moved to Oregon, then later to Los Angeles and now I find myself in central California. I tend to go wherever the wind takes me it seems.

Gideon Stevens: And you were both winners in our Summer Book Awards.

You know, we like to pretend we’re a real website, so let me ask you both a serious question: One of my favorite novels is Silas Marner, by George Eliot, published in 1861.

But the author’s real name was Mary Ann Evans. She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure her works would be taken seriously. She wanted to escape the stereotype of women only writing lighthearted romances.

So here we have two successful award-winning women authors. Tell me ladies – It’s over 150 years later; does that level of discrimination still exist? Have either of you ever been tempted to hide your gender from the publishing world? Have you ever felt discriminated against?

Sylvia FitzSimons: I didn’t know that about George Eliot – very interesting. However, it’s understandable, given the attitude and prejudices of the time. It had never occurred to me that gender of the author might have an influence on the reader, although it probably does in some genres. The inspiration for both my books came from male authors, but I never really gave a thought to this. On the other hand, I did read somewhere (can’t remember where) that JK Rowling was advised to use the “JK” as opposed to her full name, so it would not be so obvious at the beginning that she was a female author. Seems like that was a good bit of advice, if it’s true…!

Gideon Stevens: For my romantic comedy, I was advised to use my middle name, Sam, since it’s gender neutral. “People won’t buy a romance written by a man,” they said. I pointed out that the most famous romance in the English language, Romeo and Juliet, was written by my man Billy Shakes.

Gideon Stevens: How about you, Sarah? Do you think any remaining bias is just trivial?

Sarah Noffke: Well, I have a lot to say on this subject. Let me start by saying I think these gender biases still exist and like you mentioned, they aren’t just against women. I never considered writing under a different name for the simple reason that I write YA. I think that my readers don’t care because they are mostly women and young girls. Maybe it benefits me, like the perception you experienced with your romantic comedy. However, I think there’s other ways that it does work in my disadvantage.

An article I read a few months ago made me stomping mad: A woman sent her novel’s opening pages to 50 agents under her own name and to 50 agents under a man’s name. The result: “He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book.”

And I think JK Rowling is a perfect example of this. Would we love her books any less if they were written by Sally Smith? Or how about EL James? Would 50 Shades be different to us if it was written by Bob Smith? Just a thought. The article says, “The women who wrote as men years ago weren’t playing by the rules, but they were playing the game. The rules say ‘Find Your Voice,’ but the game says ‘Succeed,’ and if you can’t do both, then you’ve got to wiggle.” I think this is an important takeaway.

Told you I had a lot to say on this. (wink emoticon)

Sylvia FitzSimons: (@ Sarah Noffke) That’s an interesting revelation. However, as Gideon pointed out above, it does seem to depend on the genre. As an anecdote, I knew of a (elderly) man who spent several years writing a regular column for a local newspaper under a woman’s name, next to which appeared the photo of a young, good-looking woman. The column was very popular, which I know for a fact it would not have been had he written it under his real name and identity. So perhaps it works both ways.

Gideon Stevens: The newspaperman was probably writing an advice or “agony” column, I’ll bet – and women are presumed wiser in the area of interpersonal relationships. But what if he were writing about “investing your retirement funds?” He might use his real persona for that. It’s gaming the system, like Sarah said. Giving your readers what they expect.

Sarah Noffke: I completely agree. I write YA and I think I actually have an advantage being a woman. My readers are young girls and I think I’m a bit more approachable. And a woman writing teen kiss scenes probably has a different perception for readers. However I have many male friends who write YA and do really well. However they get readers crushing on them. (smile emoticon)

Sylvia FitzSimons: Sarah Noffke An added bonus…?! (wink emoticon)

Gideon Stevens: One last question from me, for each of you: What’s next? What are you working on now?

Sarah Noffke: Great questions. And I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity for this interaction. Thank you Gideon! The third book (Warriors) in my new series (The Reverians) came out on October 15th. And I just now (literally) just emailed my editor my first stand alone New Adult novel. And now that those projects are off my desk I’m going to turn my attention to writing the third book in my third series. It’s about people with super powers (Dream Travelers) who perform in the circus. People think it’s smoke and mirrors, but it’s real. Anyway, that’s what what I’m doing.

Sylvia FitzSimons: (@ Sarah Noffke) I just started reading Defects, and am engrossed by it so far!

Sarah Noffke: Oh wow! Thank you! That’s fantastic to hear!

Sylvia FitzSimons: It’s well written and looking like a really great story. My problem is (nothing to do with the quality of books) I have to sit on an uncomfortable bar stool at my computer, so reading time can be a bit limited…!

Gideon Stevens: And you, Sylvia?

Sylvia FitzSimons: ‘Book three’. It’s the first one that isn’t written in farce/parody style, the story of the first wolf that ever befriended humankind and became a ‘pet’. It takes place around 25000 years ago and its main character (I’m in love with him already) is the predecessor of what we know today as ‘our dogs’. Fiction, of course – or who knows…? After all, no-one around today can claim to have been an eye witness to those events, eh…?

Gideon, thanks so much for the interview – really enjoyable!

Gideon Stevens: Thank you both for being here, it’s been a pleasure.

Women in Publishing – my takeaway:  Indie authors don’t have to please a publisher, they answer only to their audience, and they find stereotypical attitudes there. Traditional publishing said the same book was better written by a man. Maybe what they were really saying is that it would be easier to sell, given the prejudice of the audience.

Truthfully, the publishers I know are concerned with only one question: Will this sell? If the answer is “yes,” they wouldn’t care if it was written by a tree frog.

Readers apparently expect that some things should be written by men, others by women. So it seems to me that the bias is actually in the reader. And by gaming the system to meet their expectations (and thereby sell more books), we are effectively reinforcing their prejudice.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

For Book of the Day .org, I’m Gideon Stevens, and you’ve been reading The Round Table.