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Sisters in Crime program presents ‘The New Heroine’

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SHIRLEY — Mystery writers and fans all gathered at the Hazen Memorial Library recently to discuss “The New Heroine,” offered through the Sisters in Crime program.

Sponsored by the Friends of the Hazen Memorial Library, the three-author panel offered their views on the changing role of women in mystery stories, and answered questions from the audience.

Sisters In Crime is a group of women and men, founded by author Sara Paretsky in 1986. The group provides networking resources for writers, readers and fans to support and promote women in literature.

“Mystery fiction has changed, (and) women have become a big part of that change,” said Vicki Stiefel, the author of “Body Parts” and “The Dead Stone.”

In earlier days, there were fewer female sleuths. According to brother in crime Gary Braver, males dominated the mystery genre through the 1970s and ‘80s.

In popular James Bond movies, Stiefel said women were not comparable to men in strength. They were used as add-ons, but not as memorable lead characters.

“Women have come a long way,” said Stiefel.

Women have changed real life, and the stronger, more prominent female characters are simply a reflection of that, said one audience member.

Female protagonists have sometimes been portrayed as masculine characters, Stiefel criticized, and she felt their roles were essentially male in a female façade.

Marilyn Kemp, author of “Murder, Mather and Mayhem,” said one of her characters, Hattie, uses her feminine wiles and wit as a tool.

When asked how much influence editors and publishers have on the writers’ formation of characters, Braver said it is understood that publishers want a strong lead character, male or female. Most writers are not assigned to write a particular character into their novels, unless they are commissioned by the publisher.

In addition, the Nancy Drew books that can be read today are not the same as the original works that older fans may have read, said Stiefel.

In the late 1950’s, she said many of the female assertions included in the original publications began to disappear. Braver said it was possibly a product of that period of time, when women were beginning to move toward a more liberated lifestyle.

At the conclusion of the program, authors were available to sign their work and take additional questions from attendees.

The panel was well-received by an audience of more than 20 people, made up of men and women alike, and refreshments were provided by the Hazen Friends for the event.