Ack, what do I know?

Am I even qualified to put together a few thoughts about writing across-gender?

Can a guy write from the point of view of a woman? Convincingly?

Why do I have a main female character and just where do I get off thinking that I can inhabit her head on the page?

The answer to the first part of that question is easy. Allison Coil is based on a living, breathing human being—yes, a female—who happened to be a hunting guide in the Flat Tops Wilderness of Colorado. Had she not been a she, I don’t know. I might have thought a “guy” hunting guide would be an okay character for a mystery novel.

But a woman? A young, tough, smart, engaging, sharp, appealing, dynamic female hunting guide?

Bring it on.

So how would I pull it off?

I had written two unpublished novels when I wrote the first Allison Coil mystery-adventure. One of those also featured a woman. But I had yet to stop and bear down on the issue: how would I write close third-person from a woman’s point of view?

I started studying.

Nevada Barr. Sara Paretsky. Sue Grafton. Kathy Reichs. I went looking for the “it,” that special something, those few flashes of insight of a woman writing about a woman. Where was the essence, that thing, those insights, those elements that gave the character femaleness. I pored through the texts (and read some great books along the way; I got hooked on Nevada Barr).

Anyway, I don’t know. I really have no business writing about this except, with three Allison Coil books out and lots of female readers, I haven’t had any complaints.

That’s not true.

I had one complaint from a woman once at a book club—she said she liked Buried by the Roan (book #2) quite a bit but in the very last few paragraphs, as Allison chased a new boyfriend down the hall for a romp, she said there was no way Allison would be interested in one-on-one time with this guy because she would have been too tired, given all she had been through.

Okay, point taken.

One complaint. (And many female readers who say I got her right.)

So here’s the way I think about this. I know women are different than men. (I mean, thanks to whomever came up with the whole concept.) I won’t make a Venus/Mars list or say anything about chocolate.

It just is.

But name me one emotion that is inaccessible by either sex. That can’t be felt by either sex.

Go ahead, I’ll wait here.

Name me one.

I guess the cliché is to say something about how women process emotions differently, as if it’s some sort of scientific fact. I don’t know.

But “women”—isn’t that fairly broad category? Let’s see, Mary Poppins in this corner and the Wicked Witch of the West in the other? Isn’t there a fair amount of room in between to place your character in the big wide world and set her in motion?

I am of the humble opinion that what matters most is the character and the specific emotions, feelings, thoughts and experiences that drive that particular individual.

That character. And then layer-in and stir with female essence.

Chocolates—and more. (That was a joke.)

Like I said, I don’t really belong here. All I know is like Allison Coil. She has issues and she has needs.

But don’t press me too hard on any of this.

I’m just making it up as I go along.




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Mark Stevens is the author the Allison Coil Mystery Series—Antler Dust (2007), Buried by the Roan (2011), a finalist for the Colorado Book Award, and Trapline (2014). Lake of Fire, the fourth book in the series, will be published in September. Stevens is a former newspaper reporter (Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News) and television news producer (The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour). His favorite mystery writers are Patricia Highsmith, James M. Cain, Elmore Leonard, Ruth Rendell, Tony Hillerman, Raymond Chandler and Nevada Barr. He is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America, Western Writers of America and Colorado Authors League.


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