Our topic this week is supposed to be male/female sleuths, but I’m going a bit off-topic and writing instead about me as a woman writing from the point of view of a male sleuth.
Years ago in a college writing class I turned in a short story written from the point of view of a young boy. The stories were read and critiqued with the author remaining anonymous. The story drew a lot of praise, but when the teacher revealed that I had written it, one of the men in the class grew irate. “You did not write that!” he declared. “It’s impossible for a woman to have written that.” For a moment I thought he was kidding, but he was really angry.
Why would this man be so adamant that a woman couldn’t write from a man’s point of view, when men have been writing from the point of view of women for centuries?
In a review of my debut novel, A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, Lee Lofland, founder of the Writers Police Academy, and author of the popular on-line blog The Graveyard Shift said, “…author Terry Shames tackles her first book from the perspective of a male protagonist. Normally, I can tell when one gender writes as the other, but not with seasoned authors like J.A. Jance who…is one of the best in the business, if not the best. Shames can now join the very small group of authors who’ve fooled me, and that’s a good thing.”
I don’t know why a man’s voice comes easily to me, but I suspect it can be traced to my childhood. When I was growing up, I adored my grandfather and liked hanging around while he told (sometimes racy) stories. I found myself always gravitating toward men’s stories. It seemed to me that all women talked about were babies and cooking. Boooorrrriiinng. I think I was very lucky to grow up in an environment where adults didn’t seem to particularly care whether children, boys or girls, overheard things “not for tender ears.”
And maybe this is the answer to the question of why the man I mentioned earlier was so upset that I was writing from a man’s viewpoint. He was an older man, and my story represented a sea change. I was a woman who had been around men enough to know how they thought. Previously, women were always expected to stay in the kitchen or the nursery, to be interested in a limited sphere. There were always exceptions, women who strayed from those limitations, but when I was growing up a lot of women were straying. During World War II they had been expected to take on traditional male jobs while men were off fighting wars. And this time, a lot of women didn’t want to go back into the kitchen.
So men started becoming used to having women around in their environment. The fact that I was a young girl rather than a young boy listening to the stories of my male relatives was irrelevant. And I think their ways of telling stories rubbed off on me. I still hear men’s voices when I write—even better than I hear women’s voices. Through listening to my grandfather, my uncles and my own father tell their stories I internalized the way men speak and think.
I’m curious to know how voices come to other writers. And if readers can tell the difference in men writing as women and vice versa.