Writing from the distaff side of life

It’s time to switch genders.

In the genre of mystery and suspense, women have pioneered a tradition of writing as men: Agatha Christie, Elizabeth George, Ruth Rendell, Martha Grimes. Poirot, Linley, Wexford, Jury . . . masculine characters come alive in the hands of female writers. The men seem real, the writing accepted by the public.

But what happens when men write about the distaff side of life?

Peak Season 3D cover 375x548Sure, men have written about women since cave days. Their work ranges from sparkling (Robert B. Parker’s Susan Silverman) to riotous (P.G. Wodehouse’s characterization of Honoria Glossop and other females in the Jeeves and Wooster stories). But when it comes to getting into women’s heads, do men get it right?

Some authors seem to meet the challenge without effort: Anthony Doerr’s blind French girl, Marie Laure, in All the Light We Cannot See and Tony Hillerman in Listening Woman. Others, like Parker in his Sunny Randall series, seem to present female versions of their male characters.

Ignorant or undaunted, I’ve entered the fray with Peak Season, a novel about a former detective who surrenders her gun, her badge her and confidence after shooting a fellow officer. Moving to Southwest Florida to care for her ailing grandfather, CW McCoy swears off violence until a fugitive kidnaps her family and she’s forced to decide which side of the law she’s on.

In portraying life through CW’s eyes, I’ve steered clear of stereotypical male and female roles. She swears off guns but will defend herself. She longs for a relationship but doesn’t make it her life’s pursuit. Even while navigating the mostly male world of law enforcement, she puts a high premium on family and friends, qualities exhibited by both women and men.

When I began the CW McCoy series, I wondered whether I could voice the feelings of a woman. Now I wonder about a more practical question: can the public embrace that voice?

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