Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tip O'Day #341 - Gender Bender

Guest blogger John DeDakis asks, “Can a man write effectively as a woman?”

I'm a guy, but I write in the first person as a woman.

When my first mystery/suspense novel Fast Track was published in hardcover in 2005, one of my male friends said in astonishment to one of our mutual female friends, "I didn't know John was a closet woman!"

I inscribed his book: "Welcome to my closet."

My CNN colleague and cone-of-silence friend Carol Costello once told me after reading an early draft of the manuscript, "You have a very well-developed female side." I suppose some guys might be freaked to be told that, but Carol meant it as a compliment, so I accept it, even though I'm still not totally sure what she means (but I think it has to do with nuanced emotional depth, or something).

Writing as a woman started when I first began toying with writing fiction nearly twenty years ago. Someone suggested that I choose a point of view that would be different for me -- and a challenge. It was only later that I realized that most people who buy books are women. Cool.

I found that writing from the female perspective hasn't been as tough as I thought it would be, for a number of reasons:

• I had a great relationship with my mom (a third grade school teacher, incidentally) -- I could talk with her about anything.
• Cindy, my wife of 33 years, is one of those quality people who have a lot of substantive things to say. She's smart, compassionate, articulate, and never boring.
• My 30-year-old writer/daughter Emily is never shy about offering an opinion on just about everything. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and edited both my novels.
• I work in a newsroom surrounded by twenty-something young women who tell me about their boyfriend, career, and family issues, probably because I'm much more comfortable asking questions and listening than pontificating.

I asked a lot of women to read the Fast Track manuscript before I found my agent -- also a woman (Barbara Casey) -- and their feedback helped me make tweaks that rendered the text authentic to the female psyche. For example, I had a line of dialogue in which Lark Chadwick, my protagonist, says, "I'll just jump into the shower." The women of the Princeton Lakes Book Club in Marietta, Georgia, who let me sit in and listen as they critiqued the manuscript, said, as one: "Women do NOT just 'jump' into the shower. We savor the sensuality of the experience."

Got it. Lark no longer jumps into the shower.

After that first novel came out, Kris Kosach of ABC Radio wrote, "DeDakis crawls inside the mind of a twenty-something female, authentically capturing her character, curiosity and self-expression in this can't-put-down thriller." Nice.

And I continue to be amazed at the numerous 5-star reviews I get on Amazon from women who don't seem to mind that a man is writing as a woman. See for yourself here.

Bluff, the second novel in the Lark Chadwick series, came out a year ago. Veteran investigative journalist Diane Dimond (NPR, NBC, and now Newsweek/TheDailyBeast.com) writes, "Lark reminds me of me in the early days of my career.... DeDakis can so accurately write from a woman's point of view -- with all the intrinsic curiosity, emotion and passion -- [that it's] nothing short of astounding."

Conversely, I think it goes without saying that women, too, can effectively write as men. In fact, I would venture that all authors have at least some experience writing characters of the opposite sex because most novels contain male and female characters.

Yes, there is probably still plenty of prejudice out there among people who don't believe it's possible for a writer to be able to bridge the gender gap, but I've found that emotions are universal. Women, as well as men, experience fear, joy, anger, and sadness. Neither gender corners the market on having feelings, it's just that I've found women express them more interestingly and articulately.

So, I'm proud to be a woman -- if only on the printed page.

John DeDakis is a Senior Copy Editor for CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” and the author of the Lark Chadwick mystery-suspense series “Fast Track” and “Bluff.” He is currently at work on books three and four in the series (“Troubled Water” and “Bullet in the Chamber”). John will be a guest speaker at the Flathead River Writers' Conference, Oct. 6-7, 2012 in Kalispell, Montana. You're also invited to visit John's website.

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