Sunday, August 19, 2012

#OBSummer Guest Post - Why I Write Women

Why I Write Women
by J.L. Hohler

My regular readers – between my blog The Last Blog Name on Earth, and my novels, I’d like to think I have a few of them – have learned a few things about me. I like watching movies, I like soccer, I have a day-job and I’m prone to random self-promotion. More importantly, when they read my fiction they find out pretty quickly I have a preference for women protagonists. 

Of the six books I’ve published – I won’t name them, but you can find them here – one is a short story collection, one is about a married couple dealing with the death of a child (While You Were Here), the rest are exclusively about women and all include the smallest number of the male sex possible. And honestly, if I had to pick out one thing to change about one of them, it’d be cutting the husband out of While You Were Here. Reason: he bores me. 

The problem of While You Were Here was solved in my latest book, Peck: A Book (is that a terrible title of what?) by basically cutting the husband to a nub and focusing almost exclusively on the relationship between the main character and her mother. Another, less-important change: I didn’t kill off any of the children, so in that respect, it’s already less depressing.

The obvious question that springs to mind is: why on earth would a man in his middle-30’s be so interested in writing about women, and what could he possibly have to say?

Beyond the fact that the question is basically sexist, it also asks a question that undermines all fiction writing. Namely, if a story or novel can only be written about a subject with which the writer is – i.e. men write about men, women about women, lawyers about lawyers, etc. – then in what world would we be treated to Dracula? Frankenstein? The Invisible Man? Harry Potter? After all, despite the few deranged enough to claim to actually be vampires, modern Prometheus’s (shouldn’t the plural of Prometheus Promethei?), invisible men, or preteen boy wizards, if we insisted on absolute fidelity to ‘write what you are’ we’d miss out on all these creations. We’d only have novels about novelists, movies about movie-makers, etc.

But attacking the question as provincial and close-minded only distracts from my real answer, and the real reasons I have for writing about women in the first place.

(As an aside, if I’m the one who proposed the question in the first place, aren’t I the ‘provincial’ and ‘close-minded’ person I attack? Just food for thought…)

Anyhow, why I write women:

1) I write about those things that interest me. When I was a teen, I wrote about typical male-teenager interests: sex and violence. In my later teens and early adult years, I turned to writing about things that were ‘hip’ or ‘cool’, although I still kept a healthy dose of sex on hand. As an almost-middle-aged adult, my interests are more varied. On the one hand, I’m interested in deeper, ambiguous work – I’ve been particular to the writing of Updike, and the films of Bergman and Herzog. On the other I’m still interested in many of the things I was when younger, only now I look at them from a level of maturity that exposes the fallacy of much of what I treasured in my youth. Still, though, the one through-line in all my writing, and what’s interested me, young or not-as-young: Women. Younger, I was afraid of them. Older, I’d like to think I understand them. Either way, they are still the most interesting subject I can find, so I write about them.

2) I write for wish-fulfillment, that is, to create things I like, women included. Admittedly, this seems a creepy notion, given that three of my books are young adult novels and center on 16 year-old girls, but it seems a lot less creepy when I explain that those girls are meant to have been liked by the younger-version of me, not the adult version of me who can recognize the weirdness of what he just said. Even so, the younger ladies or the older ladies, I tend to cut them all from the same cloth: smart and cute and just dorky enough they wouldn’t have spit on me.

3) Even though I say I think I’ve grown old enough to understand them, there remains quite a bit of the female mind that will forever remain a mystery to me and so I write about them as a way to explore and understand them. Does it seem odd I try to understand the female mind by drafting them out of my own psyche? Yes, it does. Do I care? No.

4) At heart, my preference for writing about women largely has to do with men. Being one, I’d like to think I have them pretty well figured out and know what makes them tick. To me, writing about men is no challenge and I almost always find them boring, predictable, and impossible. As the writing process is already hard enough, without adding in any more difficulty, I’ll stick to those things that make it as painless as possible, even if I might not be completely qualified to do it.

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Genre - Literary Fiction 
Rating - PG13
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1 comment:

  1. Interesting. This past week, I was relieved when the women in my critique group said that the female protagonist in a short story I wrote was believable. They wanted to see more, but I don't know where the story will go next.


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