Can Male Authors Write Female Characters? (Novel Preview I)

This entry is the first in a series of novel previews for my upcoming release in June ’18 titled Beat the Blues. The reason I’m writing these is the same reason I write anything–I write to see what I think. But I’m not comfortable about this one–specifically the question in the title.

I wasn’t comfortable writing a love story with a female perspective. Right there the old chestnut write what you know went out with the bathwater. Accompanying uncomfortable were fearful, confused, and exasperated. So I did what I used to do before French vocabulary tests for which I had not studied–I cheated. Well, I compromised. I threw a male perspective into the mix.

I have no problem answering the title’s question if it doesn’t concern my own writing: Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. But for every wonderful example, there are dozens of gems such as: Cassandra woke up to the rays of the sun…She stretched, her breasts lifting with her arms…She rolled out of bed and put on a shirt, her nipples prominently showing through the thin fabric. Suppose female writers presented males the way male writers sometimes present females? He walked downstairs, noticing how his limp penis pressed against the front of his underwear, his nubile balls dangling hairily below.

Those two examples are from a web page, and of course they’re purposely terrible. How about a well known example from a canon author? I’ll pick on Hemingway. I’m familiar with him; some female authors, those who still pay attention to him, don’t like him; and he can no longer shoot me. Catherine Barkley, his heroine in A Farewell to Arms, seemed like a talking statue when I first read the book. That was before she died. Once deceased, she’s actually described as a statue: It was like saying good-by to a statue. That’s great description–death’s pallor. Of course description is one thing. Relating events and emotions through a character’s perspective is another.

I found writing from the viewpoint of my character, whose name is Katie, very educational. I got to know her much better by writing through her (I write to see what I think). Seeing her from the view of the novel’s male protagonist allowed her to come more into focus. Same with Katie’s relationship with her parents. My novel takes place over 40 years. Knowing Katie as a child allowed me to know her better as an adult.

All of which took me to the answer I needed to know to begin the novel: how did Katie as a young girl see the world? Here she is in the novel blurb, an undisguised advertisement for the book: “Katie Kline, a hip, introspective eighteen year old spins classic blues records and reads Susan Sontag. As a crusading reporter for the Village Voice she will lambaste Nixon and bird-dog John and Yoko.”

Gore Vidal said, Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps 20 players. … I have 10 or so, and that’s a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them.

Perhaps as some male authors get further removed from their younger, hormone-fed selves, they are able to view female characters more fully. I don’t know. I haven’t yet mentioned sex. That’s the next entry. Although given the current events and headlines, I may have to skip sex and go right to bar etiquette.

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