A while back, I was pitching a novel to an agent, and she asked why I wrote it from the male point of view. I could see she really wanted stories about women. I danced around why I had done that with that particular story, and she was interested enough to ask for part of the manuscript. She eventually passed on it. But her question made me think: Why do I write from the male viewpoint? And what about men can make a story work?
First, something about my past. I was raised in a tiny community with only three girls (including me) in my class; one was a quiet person who drifted into fantasies to escape her family’s poverty and the other a bully who wielded a powerful load of scripture and judgement she liked to aim my way. For many years, until high school, I believed the Bible wielder truly did know what was right, something that on my own I could never quite figure out.
The boys in my class didn’t seem to have such a great hold on righteousness, so I turned to them. I was lucky, I liked a lot of the things they liked: science, math, building stuff. I had a good arm and could throw a mean ball. It didn’t matter that I had terrible aim and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
It was our sophomore year, I think, that one of the boys looked at me and said, “Hey, you have a mustache.” And, perhaps for the first time in my life I had a comeback. I blurted, “Yeh, aren’t you jealous.” I had spoken their language, and after that I was in. (Though at home I began to make good work with the tweezers.)
I have come to understand our culture doesn’t treat its boys well. It makes them find ways to deal; they turn loud, or angry, or physical, and they do stuff, build stuff, play stuff, brag, shout, act out, in order to cover feelings.
But here is the real thing: I was lucky. The two most important men in my life—my dad and my husband—allowed me in. They opened up to me. To others, they could put on the same front other men did. They could be hard, pushy, brash, sulky, stinky physical, as hard-shelled as clams. But also like clams, they let me see their soft insides, like when they were scared or shed a tear. This dichotomy, this hard outside but tender inside, makes for good storytelling. It is, I think, why men take over my pen when I write.
To me, men are our tender sex. In my experience women are tough. Women hide behind smiles and sweetnesses, but they wave their antennae about for others’ vulnerabilities and wield that knowledge as a weapon. Except for a handful of really close friends, women scare me a bit.
I have three more novels in the works, two from the viewpoint of men. The third has to be told by a woman, and I am finding myself wary of her. This is big, because her character doesn’t deserve suspicion. I hope I can learn from her. I hope she can set me right about women. After all, I am her.