I'm like everyone else in that I follow links on Twitter in the hope of finding something good. Sometimes I do, and one of the website I've bookmarked is this one: http://blog.janicehardy.com/ Take a look at her home page and you'll see (if you are like me, that is) loads of titles to articles you simple must read. They don't disappoint, either.
I keep re-reading the one about the first 250 words of your book being the most important in the hope that eventually, I'll be doing what she suggests by instinct. It will filter through in a process something akin to osmosis. That's my hope, you understand. I think I really ought to read the one about forcing my hero to make moral choices, too. Many readers, particularly women, I suspect, will dislike Matho for taking the child queen from his mother, and I suspect they'll dislike Meg Douglas even more for the same reason. But my justification is the characters lived in times when choices were hard, and if the characters can justify the act to themselves, if not to us, with out 21st century ethics, surely that is all that matters? They lived in a time when uttering the wrong word could send you to the stake to be burned alive.
My female characters are rarely the simpering type, and Meg Douglas is not a simperer. That some reviewers don't care for my ladies has become obvious to me. My female characters say what they think, and even if they don't say what they think aloud, their thoughts are honest. I didn't have sisters, and there were 40 years between me and my mother, so we didn't have any "girly" contact. She was always a figure of authority in the household, and said what she thought. Consequently, I don't write "girly" females. What you grow up with shapes what you become and it is devilish hard to contradict it. Because I had a brother, I can relate more easily to men, who always seem to me much less judgemental, say what they think and then let you get on with it.
Perhaps the trick of fine writing is to transcend these things. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it is usually easy to tell if a book has been written by a male or female author. It's just there in the writing, in the characters and their actions, even in the choice of theme. Possibly all unconscious, too. Writers probably have their audience in mind, and write to them. I can imagine the audience for thrillers, romance, vampires with varying degrees of success and allowing for blurring along the lines and edges as tastes overlap, but I do have a problem deciding the audience for literary fiction. They can't all be university professors, can they?
(Take note: the last comment is definitely tongue in cheek and meant to amuse.) And a further note: today's pic is Loch Crinan, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the post. The black dot is probably a midgie on the lens looking for someone to bite. I still have the red blotches they caused that day.