Confessions of a Cross-gender Writer

I admit it: I’m a man writing in a woman’s body — a guy who writes in the first person as a female.

When my mystery/suspense novel FAST TRACK was first published in hardcover in 2005, one of my male friends said in astonishment to one of our mutual female friends, “I didn’t know John was a closet woman!”

Here’s how I inscribed his book:  “Welcome to my closet.”

My CNN colleague and cone-of-silence friend Carol Costello once told me after reading an early draft of the manuscript, “You have a very well-developed female side.” I suppose some guys might be freaked to be told that, but Carol meant it as a compliment, so I accept it even though I’m still not totally sure what she means.

Writing as a woman started when I first began toying with fiction at least 15 years ago. Someone suggested that I choose a point of view that would be different for me and a challenge.

It was only later that I realized that most people who buy books are women.   Cool.

I found that writing from the female perspective hasn’t been as tough as I thought it would be, for a number of reasons:

  • I had a great relationship with my mom (a third grade school teacher, incidently) — I could talk with her about anything
  • Cindy, my wife of nearly 30+ years, is one of those quality people who have a lot of substantive things to say. She’s smart, compassionate, articulate, and never boring
  • My 29-year-old writer/daughter Emily is never shy about offering an opinion on just about everything (including early drafts of my manuscripts)
  • I work in a newsroom surrounded by twenty-something young women who tell me stuff because I’m much more comfortable asking questions and listening than pontificating.

I asked a lot of women to read FAST TRACK before I found my agent — also a woman (Barbara Casey) — and their feedback helped me make tweaks that rendered the text authentic to the female psyche. For example, I had a line of dialogue in which Lark Chadwick, my protagonist, says, “I’ll just jump into the shower.” The women of the Princeton Lakes Book Club in Marietta, Georgia, who let me sit in and listen as they critiqued the manuscript, said, as one: “Women do NOT just ‘jump’ into the shower. We languish in it and savor the sensuality of the experience.”

Got it. Lark no longer jumps into the shower.

After FAST TRACK came out, Kris Kosach of ABC Radio wrote, “DeDakis crawls inside the mind of a twenty-something female, authentically capturing her character, curiosity and self-expression in this can’t-put-down thriller.”    Nice.

And I continue to be amazed at the numerous 5-star reviews I get on Amazon from women who don’t seem to mind that a man is writing as a woman. See for yourself:

And now, with the publication of BLUFF, my second novel in the Lark Chadwick mystery-suspense series, author and investigative journalist Diane Dimond had this to say:  “Lark reminds me of me in the early days of my career….DeDakis can so accurately write from a woman’s point of view — with all the intrinsic curiosity, emotion and passion — [that it’s] nothing short of astounding.”   Thanks, Diane!

Yes, there is probably still plenty of prejudice out there among people who don’t believe it’s possible for a writer to be able to bridge the gender gap, but I’ve found that emotions are universal. Women, as well as men, experience fear, joy, anger, and sadness. No one gender corners the market on having feelings, it’s just that I’ve found women express them more interestingly and articulately.

So, I’m proud to be a woman — if only on the printed page.

About admin

I'm a former Senior Copy Editor on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" and the author of three mystery-suspense novels: "Fast Track," "Bluff," and "Troubled Water." Book four in the Lark Chadwick mystery series, "Bullet in the Chamber," will be published October 15, 2016 by Strategic Media Books.
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One Response to Confessions of a Cross-gender Writer

  1. Hi John! I’ve had experience of this the other way round – when I’ve ghosted I’ve been pretending to be a man. No one has ever unmasked me, or suggested in reviews that the writer was not in possession of a Y chromasome. In most fiction the gender of the narrator is low down the list of story concerns anyway. Nice to meet a fellow literary cross-dresser.

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