Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Guest Bitch: Michael Betcherman, a man writing with a female voice

As a male who has written a romantic comedy with a female protagonist, and co-authored a mystery with a female sleuth, I’m often asked—well, twice—why my main characters are women. The main reason is that I find women more interesting than men. It’s not that I don’t like men. I do. I played in a basketball league for years, until my body said “no mas”, and what I miss most isn’t the game itself, it’s the guys—the horseplay in the locker room, the physicality, the way they smell.... oops, wrong column...

My background has been a major influence. I grew up with strong, witty women—a mother and an older sister who had opinions and weren’t afraid to express them—the kind of characters who make good protagonists. My mother is particularly forthright, a quality I didn’t always appreciate when I was growing up. When I was fifteen, I told her that I wanted to be a detective. Unlike the child-centered parents of today, whose kids are all “special” to the point the word no longer has any meaning, my mother did not exactly nurture my ambition. “The only way you’d find a dead body is if you tripped over it,” she snorted, referring to the previous week when I mindlessly clambered over scaffolding that protected newly painted stairs leading to the back door. The thought never crossed my mind that the barrier might have been put there for a purpose, I knew only that I’d been forbidden to use the front door.

Another reason why I like to write in female voices is because men are easier to make fun of than women. And they’re even funnier when they’re seen through a woman’s eyes. Plus, if I need source material, I don’t have to leave home. Case in point: Last Saturday I decided to replace the toilet by myself, ignoring my wife’s entreaties to call a plumber. “Why would I pay a plumber to do something “Home Improvements for Dummies” said a complete novice could accomplish in 90 minutes?” I asked. “I plead the fifth,” she replied.

Following the instructions to the letter, I shut off the water, removed the old toilet, and then stuffed a wad of newspaper into the drain to stop the sewer gases from backing up. Next, I took the new toilet out of the box. 90 minutes later, right on schedule, I was done. I turned the water back on. No leaks. “Honey, can you come here?” I asked, affecting mock concern. She rushed in, the words “I told you so” tumbling out of her mouth. I flushed the toilet. As the bowl filled up, I began my victory dance. I managed to get out one “who’s your daddy?” before she interrupted. “Shouldn’t the water be draining out of the toilet?” I stared into the still water, wondering how a never-used toilet could possibly be plugged. The village idiot who stared back didn’t have any answers. My wife interrupted my reverie. “Did you remove the newspaper from the drain before you installed the toilet?”

There is plenty of female insight into the vagaries of the male of the species in my latest story, a romantic comedy called Suzanne, and it was particularly gratifying when a number of readers commented that I had done a good job portraying the female characters. So I’ll take the liberty of passing along two pieces of advice for male writers who want to do a good job writing in a female voice.

First of all—and it may be a cliché to say so but if there wasn’t some truth to it, it wouldn’t be a cliché—you have to understand that men and women have a different view of relationships. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what a male character is thinking when he sees a beautiful woman doing the downward dog. Pay a penny for those thoughts and you’ve been overcharged. But most women don’t divorce feelings from sex and if you don’t know that, you’re not going to come up with a very convincing female character.

And secondly, get in touch with your own feelings. To state the obvious, how can you write about someone else’s feelings if you’re oblivious to your own? It all comes down to getting in touch with your feminine side. I’ve worked hard on developing that aspect of my character—and I’m not referring to the time my mother-in-law caught me in my wife’s lingerie—and I think it’s paid off, both as a person and a writer.

What do I mean about getting in touch with your feminine side? Here’s an example from my own life. When I first asked my wife out after yoga class, she made it clear that we wouldn’t be having sex any time soon. If ever. A lot of men would have headed for the hills, but when she explained that she was sick and tired of men who were only interested in getting her into bed, well, that really touched me. She was so honest. I told her that I wouldn’t put any pressure on her, that we would move ahead at a pace she was comfortable with. “I’m not sex-obsessed like those other guys,” I assured her. “I want to get to know you too.” That surprised her. Then I surprised her some more by suggesting we see Terms of Endearment. At the end, when Debra Winger died, I started sobbing uncontrollably. That really surprised her. An hour later, we were in the sack. Didn’t surprise me at all. And that’s what I mean about getting in touch with your feminine side.

Of course, my wife was in touch with her feminine side as well. “I’ve never seen one that big,” she murmured when I stripped down. Years later she told me she was referring to my ego.


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18 comment(s):

Blogger Mallie said...

Amusing guest-blog Michael, and fantastic words of advice. Methinks its enough to get me interested and go out and read those books of yours. I hope the books are just as witty ;) I'm sure they won't disappoint!

11/07/2007 08:11:00 AM  

Blogger Lola Lovegood said...

The wife and the toilet thing? Been there done that, just about every other weekend. My DH thinks he can fix just about anything. He tries it against my better judgement and then we spend more money getting someone to fix the original problem plus the mess DH made. Men, what are they good for? LMAO

Good post.

11/07/2007 08:56:00 AM  

Blogger Sparkling Cipher said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/07/2007 10:12:00 AM  

Blogger Sparkling Cipher said...

Funny stuff. I look forward to reading his books.

My boyfriend arrogantly insisted he did not need the instructions when putting together a cabinet. He had two minutes of smugness before I pointed out that the middle shelf was upside down, exposing the rough underside with the large manufacturers stamp in the middle. We had to take the whole thing apart to get the shelf out again and turn it the right way. It was sooo cute how embarrassed he got.

11/07/2007 10:13:00 AM  

Blogger Midas said...

I love this post...I am going to read your book...will order from Amazon if it's for sale there?

I like men writing with women's voices. I think it's fascinating that they can pull it off.

11/07/2007 12:22:00 PM  

Blogger Midas said...

I am teaching my 4 little boys to get in touch with their feminine side....and hopefully, it won't involve cross-dressing.

11/07/2007 12:24:00 PM  

Anonymous karamia said...

Very funny post. And pretty universal, as well, it seems. I try to leave the house with my kids whenever my husband is doing some home improvements. No child should be exposed to that kind of language.

11/07/2007 01:41:00 PM  

Blogger Petra said...

Men are so arrogant about things. I don't know whether to get irritated or to snicker whenever they assume they don't need directions, that they can fix or assemble any equipment or they can manage any tools. Usually they need women to remind them how silly they are. LOL

11/07/2007 03:03:00 PM  

Anonymous Di said...

I was getting turned on by that locker room description. You should have finished it *smile*

I have never read a romance book written by a man. Sounds interesting.

11/07/2007 03:31:00 PM  

Blogger Lollie Rose said...

Di! LOL. This is where some authors fail: men who can't write women's voices or women who can't write men's voices. Anyway, Michael your email mystery sounds interesting :)

11/07/2007 05:29:00 PM  

Anonymous Saylor said...

Like my father used to say, it's important to be in touch with your feminine side.

11/08/2007 02:01:00 AM  

Blogger Jolie said...

Ahh men and their misguided illusion that they are the better sex. *G*

11/08/2007 02:30:00 AM  

Blogger Isabella said...

Michael, your email mystery is beginning to be very interesting. Funny stuff. :)

11/08/2007 03:26:00 AM  

Anonymous Michael said...

Sounds like my home reno misadventures struck a chord. My wife has been regaling anyone who would listen with the story. Now that she’s gone through our friends, she’s taken to buttonholing complete strangers on the street. But I’m about to get my revenge. Two days ago she decided the kitchen needed to be repainted. I told her I was too busy. “No problem,” she said, “I’ll do it myself.” “Are you sure?” I asked. As far as I know she’s never painted anything, with the occasional exception of her fingernails. “Piece of cake,” she said. She’s been at it ever since and the paint brush still hasn’t come out of it’s wrapper. She’s been prepping the job all this time. At this rate she won’t be done before Christmas. Good think I like takeout.

For those who were asking about my books, they’re only available online. The stories are told through emails exchanged among the characters, and delivered by email directly to the readers inbox – a few emails a day over a three week period. The two stories, a mystery and a romantic comedy, are available at www.emailmystery.com. A sample of each story can be downloaded from the website.

11/08/2007 10:20:00 AM  

Blogger Harlot said...

Michael, thank you for being here. And i hope you had fun being our "guest bitch". Heh, forgive the name. Anyway, welcome. :)

11/08/2007 12:28:00 PM  

Blogger Vicious Trollop said...

Michael, go on help your wife with the paiting!!!! That way you can give her something else to talk about to friends/strangers LOL women love to complain about stuff like that

11/08/2007 02:10:00 PM  

Blogger Isabella said...

Michael, thanks for the info. I hope I win! :D

11/08/2007 02:29:00 PM  

Anonymous Carmen said...

Michael,

I love it when a book has a great sense of humor and I'm guessing since you have one yours will to. By the way the Post was TOO FUNNY!


THANKS!!

11/08/2007 05:42:00 PM