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.