August 12, 2013
One of the questions I get asked often as a writer is which character I most enjoyed writing. Truth is, I really enjoy writing the males. Maybe because it stretches me to have to think from the male perspective … or maybe, because guys are just so much fun. They’re uncomplicated and straight-forward, more prone to act first and think about it later—characteristics that lead to great conflicts when they’re thrown against a complicated female who chooses her words carefully and wants to think everything through. But apart from the obvious, I have a great advantage when it comes to writing guys.
I grew up in Paducah, Kentucky, a small city in the far western section of the Commonwealth. I delineate Paducah as a small city because, at 35,000, it was large enough that everybody didn’t know everybody else (or their business) but small enough to have neighborhoods where everybody did know everybody else. Our neighborhood was our world for the first ten years of our lives; we even had neighborhood elementary schools that we walked to and from. It was my neighborhood … my world … that gave me the aforementioned advantage. There were seven children my age in my neighborhood … six boys and me.
If I wanted companionship, I had to learn the guys’ rules of the game early in life—and I did. Most of the time, I was treated as an equal. I ran fast, developed a courageous side, and was always ready for an adventure. But the boys had their principles. When we played Justice League, I had to be Supergirl or Wonder Woman. When we played army, I was only allowed to be the nurse. Occasionally they would play house with me, but I always had to be the mom who stayed at home and cooked mudpies while they went out and saved the world.
I was never just one of the guys—there was awareness that I was different– but I was privileged to be accepted into their inner circle and became privy to their way of thinking and handling situations.
I distinctly remember the exact day I knew things were changing … forever. The boys were playing football that afternoon. I wasn’t allowed to play—not their rule this time, but my mother’s, who was sure I’d get hurt—so I watched from the sidelines. One of the boys had a friend over from another neighborhood, and he was the cutest boy I had ever laid eyes on. His name was Rick. Each time the game would stall or there would be a timeout, Rick would come over and talk to me. Even with a backyard full of comrades, I captured his attention. I was enchanted. But the true magic happened when my mother called me home to supper. Seeing me leaving, he left the game and ran over to me, and asked: “Can you come back?” I still can feel the flutter in my stomach stirred by those four words … words that rocked my world off its steady axis and never allowed it to return to the way it had been before. It wasn’t only what he said, but the way he said it. He wasn’t just being nice. He wanted me to come back because he saw me not as a tomboy but as a girl.
I burned my membership card to the Boys’ Club that day; I had found the Girls’ Club, and instinct told me it was going to be even better.
Now, when I’m writing, and I come to a scene where the hero has to save the world, I think back to the lessons I learned from that wonderful group of guys, and I ask myself what Jack, Randy, Jeff, Gregg, Bobby, and Jimmy would do. And, of course, when the hero needs to say the exact words to win the girl, I recall the flutter in my stomach at Rick’s question.
I’ll never be able to thank my buds enough for the insights they gave me, but I can promise to portray them genuinely and faithfully. They will always be superheroes in my book.