Spurred on by a very generous Christmas gift from my wife, I've just started rereading Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley—part of a New Year's resolution to read the entire Ripliad (four more novels) over the course of the year. In his introduction to this boxed set of the first three books, John Banville writes:
This week's question on Criminal Minds—"Most male authors create male protagonists and women create female protagonists. Have you ever tried to write a main character of a different sex?"—called both Highsmith and that passage above to mind, and not just because Highsmith's greatest creation is of the opposite sex or because she identifies so clearly with him (her version of Flaubert's famous "Madame Bovary, c'est moi"). Equally interesting to me—equally appropriate—is that last part about being both the victim and the murderer.
The question about writing on the other side of gender lines seems to be a common one, as if writing from the perspective of someone whom you're not is a struggle at best, a no-no at worst. But isn't that a bigger question than just sex or gender. How could a law-abiding author inhabit the thoughts and decisions of a cold-blooded criminal? How could a civilian author accurately recount the musings and actions of a police officer, a military agent, a government spy? Much of this seems to be simply the very nature of what we do—inhabiting the perspective of someone other than ourselves: different sex or gender, different race, different occupation, different political persuasion, different moral compass, whatever.
the latest Chesapeake Crimes anthology) embodies the dreams, fears, and perhaps overactive imagination of a woman waking up on a stressful Halloween night, while one of the two narrators in "Precision" (from the latest issue of Gargoyle) is a woman with a hidden past and secret plans for dark moves in the near future. Looking further ahead, my novel-in-stories On the Road with Del and Louise, due out in September from Henery Press, is told exclusively from Louise's point of view.
I'm not sure why I fall back so frequently on women protagonists or female perspectives, and I certainly can't comment objectively on whether I pull it off well or not. Answering the former would likely be a much longer post; answering the latter would fall on the readers to decide, of course. I'll just hope that my characters—both the ones I've mentioned above and all of them really—are ultimately judged not just on whether the gender is a match or a successful mimic but instead on whether they come across as real and compelling and multi-dimensional, projections not of myself but reflections of the wider world, the wider cast of folks within it.