An Essay: Dropped Threads: Suggested Reading to Write Realistic Women

January 31, 2017


I don’t recall if there was another factor, but the biggest factor to picking up the first Dropped Threads collection was Dean Koontz. Picture it, over and over and over again, a woman on the run, she is gorgeous, she physically fit, she is terrified, and then two-thirds through the book, she accepts some flung ray of light from a god she’d recently ignored and turns from hunted to hunter. Now, Dean Koontz has at least a handful of pretty good books, but read too many and they meld into the same thing. I mean this in regards to all too similar characters. In the early nineties these Koontz books almost always featured a serial killer, a woman matching the aforementioned traits, and underlying pro-guns and pro-god message that would save the day.

I’d been piecing together my own stories, poorly, and mostly failing, hugely so, for a while when I wondered, am I creating characters as one-dimensional as Koontz writes? I got to thinking about more writers I visited often, many did a great job of creating life, but some failed in this character test, and usually it was with the opposite sex.

This created the great, universe-expanding question: how much do I truly understand about women? Writers research jobs and tasks of characters without argument. If you’re not an oil-rigger and you’re writing about an oil-rigger, you research. Knowing an oil-rigger does not tell you what that existence entails, it’s not enough, so you ask or you look it up. Assuming you have an in-depth grasp because you have seen an outline, even several outlines of what oil-rigging entails, is absurd. One must investigate thoroughly to understand this task and lifestyle.

Simple, right?                                                             

Now imagine oil-riggers make up more than half the population of the globe and exist in nearly everything you create, how much have you truly sought to understand about them?

Dropped Threads is a trio of books, the third I’d just finished on Sunday, featuring essays and short stories from women. Some are famous, most are not. Women talking about being women, the things they’d learned, the things they’d wished they’d learned sooner, the things happening that nobody talks about due to discomfort.

I’d gone in looking to understand the opposite sex, mostly to create better characters. What I got was a swatch of snapshots I’d never considered and had not fathomed considering. I felt like a peeping tom reading that first book. I came away baffled by this universe I did not understand. Women are everywhere and they are mysterious creatures with expansive stories, incredible experiences, survivors of crushing circumstances; they are not men but with different equipment.

I never questioned my knowledge, but still, I saw women, just as I alluded to being untrue, as men with different equipment… and different social expectations and reactions to circumstances. I mean, obviously it couldn’t be a complete trade. Nothing’s ever so simple.

I knew things were tougher at times for women, I didn’t question that, but I also sort of assumed a snapped finger fix in the history of the world. This was obviously naïve and perhaps idiotic. I was in my mid-twenties when I picked up that first book. Now to give you an idea of me, I come from lowbrow, hillbilly stock, spit in the dirt, wear your steel toes to breakfast, and raised on Biblical suggestions that men and women are not equal. To further that, that women are lesser –my ma was the one to underscore this notion.

I left that pretty young, hopefully I’ve remolded myself into someone that should be permitted in public.

Back to the point.

After I read the first, I’d picked up the second book in the series and it was better. Part two was a pure view of the curtains pulled aside and the anguish, love, and happiness involved with so many different women. Not a line of ink is wasted. Each individual lived in a universe centered on them and their views. To glimpse into these naked worlds is something rare and wholly rewarding. I assume especially so for a man seeking betterment. There is nothing quite like turning over a rock to find wealth of information.

The third book takes on lighter tones, mostly, but is no less revealing. There are even some aspects I could relate to in areas that I lose touch with most of the men I meet over (not that I meet many people). There are universal points that bind people on this globe, strangers or friends, that cross the boundaries of sex. Part three was another excellent trek of useful discovery.

Now, why I’d picked up the third book finally (it has been on my shelf for almost two years) was solely so that I could write essay, as I’d been thinking about it since I first opened submissions. This is an important time in history for women and I wanted to offer my summation of the abundance hiding within these pages.

As an editor with an open submission door, I get a huge range in quality and preparedness in writing. I have to say, there are many writing too much like nineties Koontz, and I don’t mean the ever-boring god stuff and pro-gun hubbub. None of the stories I’ve considered for publication –from as far as I have seen– appeared to have come from a mind that did not consider women separate and equal, on the surface, and still, a too large portion of the submissions I’ve read featured robots bumbling about the house, or bimbos revealing tits and opening legs thoughtlessly, or, the cleverest women involved, were destroying men, because that is what is done. It’s not only men that write the opposite sex in a one-dimensional manner, but it’s much more common.

I think some of these men sending in stories see the marching figures on TV, men and women, and don’t understand what the fuss is truly about, as if these folks are just being uppity, or bored. Whining about women who want more than they deserve. Hell, I’ve seen posts on social media suggesting that women ought to be thankful for all that they are given.

To this I say, get fucked.

I’ve always been grateful for being a man. It has a tremendous upside, the ease of pissing was the first case I’d noticed this, you don’t even need to stop walking so long as nobody’s apt to get offended! Comparatively however, I always assumed the upside to being a woman, pissing aside, was in counter-balance.

It’s not. It’s not even close.

It’s getting better.

Nylon seams can be crooked in the office. Reaction to a hand on the knee can reasonably garner a punched nose in return. Almost all jobs are open. Motherhood is not always a life-sentence to the kitchen. Ditto for marriage. Then there are things men can never truly understand: Giving birth to a stillborn, having to abort a child, needing to abort a child, questioning the abortion afterwards. There’s the threat of physical assault, religious and governmental challenges barriers invoked, and there’s the damage these possibilities, and the fear of these possibilities, does to the psyche. There’s periods and menopause. Modern history have only recently taken women seriously, not so long ago, women couldn’t officially become doctors… here, in North America!

These are things beyond the scope, for the most part, of being a man.

The stories in Dropped Threads reveal not only circumstances, but realistic, rational, all-encompassing and considered reactions to situations. Fascinating is an understatement. This is the clean and dirty of realistic women offering themselves for the sake of art and sisterhood. Like I said, reading this as a man has a peeping tom kind of vibe.

One-dimensional characters can serve a purpose, but for most stories, more is necessary. There is so much out there writers need to acknowledge and attempt to understand in order to move mountains with strung together sentences. Writing aside, knowledge, especially practical human knowledge, is of great use to understand your fellow Earth-dweller.

It is to everyone’s benefit for men to learn more about women… this despite women having only a gateway to an intricate system of metamorphosis between their legs rather than a wrinkly bit of garden hose with its overly sensitive pumps dangling below.

It is to the world’s benefit for creative works to be an expression based in intelligence, and honest, realistic expectations and characteristics.

I cannot really speak to any increased quality in my personal creative output or any great leaps conquered while trying to understand women, but there’s no way it has hurt me. It’s likely fair to suggest that these books have assisted in the quality of my humanity.

If you’ve never wondered whether or not you write women, or girls, in a fair and realistic way, then you’re probably should read these stories, because you’re likely fucking up. Alternatively, if you have and you’re open to humanity, read these stories because they are fascinating and entertaining. If you’re a woman or a girl, these were meant for you in the first place.




Dropped Threads: What We Aren’t Told, Dropped Threads –edited by Carol Shields and Marjorie Anderson 2: More of What We Aren’t Told –edited by Carol Shields and Marjorie Anderson, and Dropped Threads 3: Beyond the Small Circle  –edited by Marjorie Anderson were published between 2001 and 2006 by Vintage Canada. Collectively, they feature the following and many, many more:

Margaret Atwood

Miriam Toews

Elizabeth Hay

Jane Urquhart

Chantel Kreviazuk

Silken Laumann

And Ann-Marie MacDonald


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Powell River, British Columbia, Canada
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