Spy fiction is not a genre I usually read (ok, never read) much to the chagrin of my friend, fellow writer and fellow member of the best book club ever (The Nightlighters), Elizabeth MacKenzie Biedell. That’s why Elizabeth kindly wrote a blog on the topic for me, as I have no lit cred when it comes to spyfic. (Is spyfic an actual abbreviation? If not it should be. I bet it’s a Twitter hashtag.) And it was such an amazing blog, she agreed to write a sequel! You can read part 1 here, where she discusses the book Red Sparrow as an example of the virtues of spyfic written by former spies.

Now, get out your cloaks and daggers because here we go…Part 2… 

Spy Fiction (Part 2): The Real Mystery—Where Are All the Women? (Guest Blogger E. Biedell)

Spy book Freveletti.jpg

In Part 1 of my guest blog, I featured former spies turned writers-of-spy fiction. I extolled the benefits to readers when authors write from what they know. Today, I am turning to the genre of spy fiction again and, specifically, focusing on women writers of the genre.

The bottom line…there aren’t many. And there are even fewer with experience in the clandestine world. (Note: I am not suggesting experience is required, but that it has led to some very good spy fiction among the men. Female authors are jumping into the fray including Gayle Lynds and Francine Mathews). 

Iris Johansen spy vendettaThe fact that there are very few women spy fiction writers and readers makes me curious as to why. Do women just love the genre of spy fiction less? I hope not. It’s a great genre. But I think the numbers bear out that purchasers of spy thrillers are majority male. And since most authors write what they read, not many authors have emerged. Some exceptions include Jamie Freveletti who has written a female lead spy series and also writes Robert Ludlum’s Covert One series, thriller author Iris Johansen, who this month is releasing Vendetta, and I would be remiss not to mention Helen MacInnes who is one of the very first female spy thriller authors.

Does the subject of national security and espionage engage women less? I don’t think so. Women are entering the field in record numbers. And TV shows about spies—Covert Affairs, Homeland, Alias, and The Americans—are very popular and appeal to men and women alike. And even more interestingly, these shows all feature strong female lead characters.

alias spy.jpgIn spy fiction, however, the main character typically is a man. (One recent exception, Red Sparrow by Jayson Matthews, featured a female lead and was turned into a major motion picture). But female main characters alone will probably not be enough to convert female readers to the genre.

Spy thrillers are plot driven and many feature one-dimensional characters. This format, which is exciting and appealing to many, when combined with a story line that does not feature complex relationships or realistic individuals or relatable problems, may not ever appeal to most women.

However, thriller books such as Gone Girl and Girl on the Train have become bestsellers and feature fascinating complex female characters in suspense filled plots. My hope is that these types of authors, as well as historical fiction authors such as Olivia Hawker, Kate Quinn, and Jennifer Egan, or romantic suspense writers such as Meredith Wild, or any of the numerous female mystery writers will bleed into the spy thriller genre and feature women leads in entangling international situations with ethical or security issues at stake.

spies-women.jpgPerhaps women writing about women in this way will appeal to female readers and lure them into wanting to read about international intrigue even more. And, in a generation, perhaps this will bring us a plethora of spy thriller authors who can move in the space of high action and espionage drama but with a more fulsome representation of the complexity of the people involved in a way that appeals to male and female readers alike, just like onscreen.— Elizabeth MacKenzie Biedell

A Little About Our Mysterious Spy Expert

Elizabeth MacKenzie Biedell double majored in Leadership Studies and International Studies and minored in Women’s Studies. She also earned two masters degrees, one in International Peace and Conflict Resolution and the other in Comparative Theological Studies. She’s written OpEd pieces for CNN. You can check them out at the following links: http://ow.ly/7WSJ306G2lp, http://ow.ly/JnE7306G2tM.  She is also an amazing mother of two, a calming bedrock to her friends, all-around wonderful human being and an aspiring author. (Jeez, total underachiever. Am I right? 🙂 )