Sunday, July 8, 2012

Is my masculine side showing???

By Carolyn J. Rose

A friend recently told me she started to read Hemlock Lake and then put it aside because she found it strange that I wrote the mystery from the point of view of a male protagonist, Dan Stone.

“Why would you do that?” she asked, the implication being that women should write only in the point of view of women.

From the moment the seed of that dark story took root in my mind, I saw characters and events through Dan’s eyes. Never once did I consider the point of view of a woman even though Camille, an outsider and objective spectator, would have been a strong possibility.

Stripped to its core, Hemlock Lake involves a power struggle between two men. It’s set in a small community in the Catskill Mountains and there’s room for only one alpha male. The challenger won’t leave, so a fight looms. I wanted readers to have the feeling that it would be physical.

Now, women also have power struggles and fight over territory. (If you don’t believe that, go rearrange another woman’s kitchen cabinets or dresser drawers.) But, except for the girl who threw a punch at me in college when I told her it wasn’t smart to stagger home from an evening of alcohol-infused partying along the double yellow line, the women I’ve known tend to fight with words—or the lack of them. Their aggression makes use of body language, not body blows.

So my experience with physical fighting is limited and so is my physical presence; and I’m 5 feet, 2 inches tall and shrinking a little every year. Okay, so I own 10 pounds the healthy-lifestyle charts say I should drop, but that isn’t much help in creating the perspective of man an inch beyond 6 feet.

Fortunately, I come from a family of big men—carpenters and stonemasons, guys who cut their own wood for the winter and possess not just a backup chainsaw, but a backup to the backup. And I’m married to a six-foot guy who hits the gym five days a week. Whenever I was stuck, I’d think, “What would one of them do here or say about this? How would he stand? How would he sit? How would he claim his space? What would be the expression on his face?”

When I finished the first draft, some of my friends brought up the claims that women writers shouldn’t attempt the male protagonist and men shouldn’t attempt the female. Men and woman are, the argument goes, from different planets.

But we’re from the same solar system, aren’t we? Our core needs are the same, aren’t they?

Hemlock Lake deals with love, loss, betrayal, and the quest for revenge. Men and women all feel those emotions to some degree.

And Dan isn’t a tough guy—at least not the stereotypical tough guy. He reads, he likes poetry, and he feels things deeply. He has a strong feminine side. That makes him seem a little softer than many men (and male fictional characters), and a little more sensitive. Now and then he even asks for directions and advice.

I polished the book, sold it to Five Star in the winter of 2008, and moved on to other projects. I thought my relationship with Dan Stone was over, but shortly after Hemlock Lake was published in 2010, he announced that he had an idea for a sequel. (And, yeah, I admit right here and now that my characters speak to me, most often while I’m falling asleep or chopping vegetables or trying to find mates to socks.)

Dan said he thought there were a lot of loose ends at the conclusion of Hemlock Lake and I could tie them together into another story. He thought he might team up with the guy who pulled him from the lake and together they might go after a serial killer. Oh, and he’d need a dog.

I mentioned that to my husband who said, “I hope you don’t give him a dog like you got for me. If you want that character to be more masculine in the second book, he’ll have to have something bigger and tougher than a ten-pound Maltese.”

Point taken.

In Through a Yellow Wood, Dan still reads and occasionally recalls a line of poetry, but he has a dog. Not a huge dog, and not a breed known for aggression or protective instincts. Nelson is a mutt with three legs and a mind of his own. And Dan, nice guy that he is, is mostly okay with that.


  1. I'm about half way through through a Yellow Wood and am trying to wait until I finish some work today before I go back to curling upn with it again. It's a gripping, satisfying read, and I forget whether the writer's a man or woman when I'm in the story. who cares? Isn't it about the story, not the writer? Or is the criticism just a remnant of the whole woman's power thing?

  2. Hi, Eileen. I'm glad you're "in" the story. I think my friend's comment came because the point of view took her by surprise and rocked her preconceived notions. Also, I don't think she ever considered the author-character gender issue before.