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Original Essays

Writing across Gender Lines

by Warren Adler
There was a time, back when the women's movement was dubbed "Women's Liberation," when I would catch lots of flack from the sister gender for writing through the eyes, heart, and soul of a female character.

"How could a man possibly have the insight and knowledge to write from inside a woman's mind?"

Believe me, I did not take such criticism lightly and, in the face of angry vituperation, mounted a spirited defense for which I was excoriated especially by the hard core militants who, at the time, to make their point, castigated most if not all men as "macho pigs." If the word "girl" slipped out of my then untuned politically incorrectness I was verbally battered. Today such a faux pas is shrugged off and tolerated, although I suspect that it still raises hackles among my female friends.

In those days, few would sit still for the argument that some of the greatest female characters in fiction were created by men. Shakespeare's plays are chock full of them, despite the fact that in Elizabethan times most female roles were played by men. Who could deny that Thackeray's Becky Sharp and Joyce's Molly Bloom are not full blown females pulsating with life?

And who can deny that the male characters of George Eliot, one of the greatest female novelists ever, are among the most well-rounded as any created by men? Alright her nom de plume was clearly male but this took no luster away from her creative brilliance. If I had the space I could cite numerous others.

Nevertheless, the notion of gender exclusivity cannot be dismissed entirely. The reality of specific male and female oriented fiction is a publishers' marketing ploy. Romance fiction, chick-lit for females, holds its place up there with action adventure, lad-lit, and the innumerable permutations of erotic fiction.

No male novelist worth his salt could possibly eliminate the sister gender from his stories, what they think, how they act, what they want, what they wish for, their passions, their emotional lives, their angst, their sexuality, their inner hungers and desires. Indeed, my twenty-eight published novels are filled with female characters, all of whom find internal expression in my third person style of writing.

Freud may have asked the question "What do women want?" out of secret male frustration, but I find it raw meat for a novelist of whatever gender.

Case in point is the protagonist in my mystery books, with the seventh in that series, Death of a Washington Madame, just published as an eBook and trade paperback. Her name is Fiona FitzGerald, daughter of a former New York Senator, a homicide detective in the mostly male-, mostly black-dominated Washington, D.C., police force. She is tough, feisty, smart, determined, and sexy.

She is very adept at navigating through the deep and treacherous valleys of the racial, class, and gender divide and because she grew up in the heady salons of Washington she is handed only the most high-profile cases that deal with those in the power structure of the nation's capitol.

A woman in her early thirties, she has had difficulty in making a permanent relationship with a man. Attractive, sexy, witty, and brilliant, she has had numerous affairs with clever men, but somehow that extra step she must take eludes her. I am extraordinarily fond of her and root for her, along with my readers, every step of the way. I am dead certain that I got her right and my many female readers seem to agree. Indeed, I find that I no longer have to defend myself for creating female characters. Certainly not Fiona.

For the record, and with some self-serving promotion in mind, there are seven Fiona books. American Quartet, American Sextet, Senator Love, The Witch of Watergate, Immaculate Deception, The Ties That Bind and now Death of a Washington Madame. They can be downloaded as eBooks in all available formats or ordered as a trade paperback.

Perhaps it is a measure of the maturity of the women's rights movement that has softened the criticism referred to above. Despite the burgeoning divorce rate, men and women know a lot more about each other than ever before. Through memoirs, interviews, self-revelation, and transparency, women are no longer reticent to share their inner feelings with others. Stigmas have fallen and equality of opportunity is rising exponentially, with still more hills to climb.

Indeed, one of my novels The War of the Roses has spawned a cult following so intense that people from everywhere quote lines from the book and movie and most seem divided by character, not gender, about who was right or wrong in this devastating of all marriage break-ups. spacer

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