Not long ago I finished an excellent novel called “Help for the Haunted.” It’s about two sisters, ages around 14 and 18 and their parents who make a living by helping expunge demons from haunted individuals. Hmm. Well, never mind the plot – it actually works quite well.
When I was about halfway through I happened to notice the name of the author. Isn’t that awful? I didn’t even pay attention to the author’s name until then. Shame. Anyway, the author’s name is John Searles. A male . . . writing in the point of view of two young females. The characters were so well formed and realistic I was surprised to learn they were created by a man.
I began to wonder how many other books I’ve read had characters developed by an opposite sex author. One that came to mind immediately was “Memoirs of a Geisha.” In this book, the author, Arthur Golden, does an excellent job of portraying the opposite sex main character. (Not to mention all the cultural differences that required a great deal of research.)
The other book I recalled was “She’s Come Undone,” by Wally Lamb. Also an excellent portrayal of a female character by a male author. Here the protagonist deals with rape, the death of her mother and suicide. How much tragedy and trauma can one woman deal with and how can the male author empathize so poignantly?
In “Help for the Haunted,” clearly I assumed the author was female. I applaud John Searles for getting into the heads of two young women so artfully. But how did he do it? Does he have daughters? Does he teach high school girls? Does he vet his characters through other young women to see if they are, indeed, realistic?
In my novel, “The Triangle Murders,” I attempted the same thing. The main character is a male homicide cop, Frank Mead. However, Frank had been developed in other books with the help of a female character. In this book I simply let him fly on his own. The point is that Frank “grew” around my female protagonist in other books and I felt I knew him well enough to give him the lead. But how well did I know him compared to my female lead? As a woman, how well can I know any man?