Book Widows

Have great fun with gender reading gap

The Book Widows include, from left, Susan Jimison, Constance McKee, Rona Simmons and Valerie Joan Connors.

The first detail readers should know about the quartet of wordsmiths called The Book Widows is this: None of them are widows, per se.

Instead, think “golf widows.”  Imagine four happily married female writers who find themselves at a book event, without spouses as usual, and decide to combine their literary forces.

At a recent book festival, authors Joan Connors, Susan Jimison, Constance McKee and Rona Simmons found themselves standing together at a reception, sipping wine, when one joked, “I think this makes us book widows.”

“My first thought was the phrase would make a great title for a book,” Simmons said. “But then we agreed we should hold on to that idea and see where it might take us.”

Where it’s taken them is to a theme built upon exploring gender differences between readers, which has become popular among  readers, writers and publishers.

Simmons, the group’s de facto leader and promotional “rock star,” researched how the sexes read differently. She then created a PowerPoint presentation which The Book Widows share at appearances including February’s Georgia Writers Museum luncheon and April’s Writers on Writing program at the Milton Library 

“We did a lot of work to create a program to go with our theme,” Simmons said. 

What she discovered in her research includes:

Women read slightly more books than men and are reading about the same number as they have in the past (though more women prefer alternative, e-reader formats).

Both sexes tend to prefer books written by someone of their own gender. 

Women read more fiction than men and significantly more romance and mysteries. McKee, a psychiatrist, explains that by saying women are more empathetic than men and generally possess a greater emotional range, traits more “rewarded” by fiction than nonfiction.

All four women consider themselves “late-blooming” authors who began writing after retiring from other careers. They all live in the area: Simmons in Cumming, Connors in Norcross, Jimison in Woodstock, and McKee in Tucker – and all four are published by Deeds Publishing of Athens.

While Connors, McKee and Simmons write primarily for female audiences, Jimison’s war-related nonfiction is popular among men. 

All four have been nominated for and/or won writing awards, including McKee and her debut novel. And, while each also makes individual appearances, all four look forward to the camaraderie at Book Widow events, where, in addition to the playful “men vs. women” repartee, attendees are treated to details about books by four very different writers.

Simmon’s most recent book, “Postcards from Wonderland,” is a tale of murder, mayhem and the Boston mob during prohibition. 

“I am drawn to this era of history, perhaps because it is recent enough to feel almost contemporary. My stories are stories of people dealing with the turbulent times of the early 20th century,” said Simmons, who began writing after retiring from a 30-plus-year corporate career.

McKee, a retired forensic psychiatrist, worked as lead psychiatrist in the program for the criminally insane at Decatur’s Georgia Regional Hospital. After retiring nine years ago, McKee wanted to put a fictional spin on former patients’ stories. So she penned a first draft of her current novel, decided she didn’t know what she was doing, got a Master’s of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine, then rewrote the book.

In "The Girl in the Mirror," McKee tells the story of a young female psychiatrist whose husband dies suddenly. 

“Overcome with grief,” McKee said, “she takes an overdose and has a near-death experience in which she reunites with him in a parallel world.”

Connors, the chief financial officer of an engineering firm in Atlanta, set her most recent novel, “A Promise Made,” in post-World War II America. 

The story involves a young mother who leaves an abusive alcoholic husband and moves with her 3-year old son to New York City to start a new life. There she is challenged with supporting herself and her son without losing sight of her own dream of becoming a writer.

While Jimison is the most recent in the group to embrace writing, she is no stranger to the book world. In what she called “major career changes,” she and her husband, Mike, a retired helicopter pilot, opened Woodstock’s Peerless Book Store in 2011. 

They hosted over 100 author events, featuring both local writers to New York Times Best-Selling authors. By the time the store closed in 2013, Jimison had plenty of publishing and marketing insights for her first book, “Dear Mark,” a memoir.

She was 13 when her brother was killed in action in Vietnam, and decided to tell his story 27 years after his death by reaching out to the men in his helicopter unit. Through the process she met her husband, Mike, who had served with her brother. 

“So, through the tragedy of my brother’s loss, I met and fell in love with Mike,” Jimison said. 

The next appearance of The Book Widows is June 14 at the Conyers/Rockdale Council for the Arts event.


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