Poison Ivy and Voices in My Head

So I’ve been thinking about what topic I wanted to tackle today. Thanks to a customer, I had a this great idea about voices. No, not the kind of voices you hear in your head, although there is a time and place for that. However, before we get too deep, I must embark on a momentary tangent, because it’s important to explain why I might periodically lose track of whatever the hell I’m talking about. For the last week and a half, I’ve been afflicted with toxicodendron radicans on both legs and both arms. Don’t worry, it’s not serious. What I’m calling Satan’s Scratch is more commonly known as simple poison ivy, and I have to stop every third sentence because IT ITCHES SO FREAKING BAD. Then I smear more calamine lotion on and hope for the best. Then it’s all fine and good for the moment, and believe me, it can be a very short-lived moment. So anyway. What was I talking about? Voices. Oh yeah.

I work once a week in a small, independent mystery bookstore. Lots of awesome customers come in and we often get to talking about books. Gee, ya think? BWAAAA IT ITCHES! Ice pack! ICE PACK! Ahh, Wee Wee (yes, that’s my wife’s nickname—one day maybe I’ll tell you how she was stuck with that) hurry. Oh, God. Oh. OH. That’s soooo good.

Jeez. See what I mean about distracting? Back on track, Chandler. Back on track. So this customer and I got to talking about writers. This customer happened to be a man, and he was one of the guys who fairly often gave women writers a chance. He was pretty clear about which writers he’d read, so I asked him why. He told me it was because these particular women could write believable male characters. He said that it could go the other way as well. Some male writers can’t write a realistic female character to save their lives, while others can. J.A. Konrath wrote the Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels mystery series, and pretty well channeled his inner gal. Then you have the infamous Robert Galbraith penning what turned into a wildly successful PI novel in The Cuckoo’s Calling after it was revealed J.K. Rowling was the author behind the man.

What qualities allow someone to pull off a successful portrayal of the opposite sex, particularly as main characters? What do you readers out there think? Lesbian fiction is almost exclusively written by women. Most main characters are women, but not necessarily all. How would you feel about a guy writing a lesbian? Would it matter if he were gay? If he were straight? Would you read a book by a lesbian that had a male protagonist? Why or why not? What do you thinks make for an accurate voice, male or female? I know one of my pet peeves is when women or men write their female protagonists as weak and unable to stand up for themselves, needing to be saved by someone, even if that someone is a hot lesbian herself.

See? This is what happens when I think too hard while I’m knee-deep in crime novels. It’s a conversation that I don’t think has any right answers, but should prove to be very informative and interesting. Please share your thoughts while I head back to Walgreens. I think I now fund the itch-relief section in its entirety!





10 thoughts on “Poison Ivy and Voices in My Head

  1. I also suffer from poison ivy allergy. I have found a product called Zanfel Poison Ivy wash. It is a miracle drug and I have tried everything. It is expensive but well worth the money, follow directions and you will get quick results. I bought it at Amazon.com but you might be able to find it at Walgreens. Good luck.


  2. I can’t say that it bothers me if a male writer wrote a lesbian main character. If a writer can execute the final product well, does it really matter? One of my favorite f/f comic series is written and illustrated by a man who is married to an equally talented wife. It is a series I’m completely loyal too. His execution is perfect in how both female leads act and feel.

    And to look at this a another way, I’ve seen women who have executed main female leads poorly. Ultimately, it comes down to the writer and their style. As for the secret recipe to writing either sex successfully… It’s way too early for my head to think of a proper answer. I do look forward to what others have to say. Side note: So sorry to hear about the Poison Ivy. But to be perfectly honest, when I saw the headline of Poison Ivy, my mind went straight to the lovely Pamela Ivy from Batman. 😉


      1. You are forgiven. My inner fangirl may have been slightly disappointed from the lack of Pamela pictures, but I’ll survive. There is always tumblr for that side of me. lol. Great post though. I’m honestly curious what others have to say on this. I’ve listened to some heated discussions on this topic and it’s interesting to see the viewpoints of others.


  3. One of Scotland’s best lesbian authors, Louise Welsh, doesn’t write lesfic as such. She very often writes a male protagonist (a scuzzy, gay antique dealer in her first, beautifully written thriller) but recently had a book published featuring a lesbian as mc, in the latter stages of pregnancy (which as far as I know is also outside her experience!) She is well respected by a broad spectrum of readers, not just the LGBT community. How I wish I had been able to reach more straight women with my debut, which was conceived as a barrier-breaker. Personally I read within and without the LGBT genre – hate literary confines!


    1. I’ve heard that in Britian the deliniation between lgbt and mainstream writing is very blurry, in a good way–much less rigid than they are here. That Brits don’t blink nearly as hard at gay characters as readers in the US. Tell me more about your debut, S!


  4. Oh, geez, Jessie. That’s a bucket of suck. See if any of this over at WebMD helps. Heard this stuff is pretty good. Here’s a more holistic approach. This treatment suggests (in addition to other things) capsaicin cream, which is the stuff in arthritis meds (it’s basically pepper-based) and the wiki says it burns at first, but it will stop the itch for hours.

    Anyway, on to other matters.

    This is an issue that I see crop up all over the writing world. A reader told me a few years back that she absolutely will not read any lesbian fiction written by a man or a straight woman because, in her opinion, what does he or she know about being a lesbian? To which I responded that I write male characters and straight characters, so how is that different than a man writing a lesbian character or a straight woman writing a lesbian character? I also pointed out that I write a Hispanic character, and I’m not Hispanic. Now, I understand where she’s coming from on some levels. There’s an inherent power structure and hierarchy involved here with regard to men and women, and men often do not see it and don’t truly grasp how it affects women, so we could actually ask the question how a man can convincingly write a female character given that. And there’s a power structure with regard to heterosexuality versus homosexuality, so we could ask the question how a straight woman can convincingly write a lesbian character (um…research).

    But it seems to me that once we start saying that only certain people can write certain characters, then we’re pretty much perpetuating labels and boxes and ensuring that we aren’t opening minds to the possibilities of other people’s experiences. And in some ways, we’re further marginalizing already marginalized people. If, for example, you would like to know more about the slums of Lagos as fictionalized in a novel in which the main character is a resident of one of those slums, by the logic initially presented here, then someone who was born and raised in one of those slums should be writing that book and that character for you to read. But how would a person born and raised in those slums have the opportunity to learn to read or write and the luxury to take the time to actually write said book?

    At any rate, the point here is that writing is like acting. If an actor is able to convincingly portray a character, regardless of who that actor is in his or her life outside acting, then that actor has pulled us into the story and made it believable. Thus, if a writer is able to write a character convincingly and the character responds and acts within the parameters of the story realistically and it draws a reader in so that he or she is no longer thinking about who the writer is and the reader is convinced by the actions of the character(s), then the writer has done his or her job and created a tight, strong narrative populated by believable characters.

    All of that said, I do think there are legitimate questions to be asked about motivations for writing certain kinds of characters, and how a writer approaches creating those characters.

    Good questions, Jessie. Thanks.


    1. Wow, Andi!!! Those are some excellent recommendations for poison ivy. Thank you for taking a look for all of those! Now onto the meat of the topic. You make some absolutely excellent points. I loved the Lagos example. Very clear. There really is a lot that goes into this topic, on many different sides. It’s quite multifaceted, I guess you could say 🙂 thanks for taking the time to leave this very thoughtful comment, Andi!


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