Saturday, July 4, 2009

Confessions of a Cross-gender Writer

I'm a guy, but I write in the first person as a woman.

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 31 years, is one of those quality people who have a lot of substantive things to say. She's smart, compassionate, generous, funny, articulate, and never boring
  •  My 28-year-old writer/daughter Emily is never shy about offering an entertainingly-expressed opinion on just about everything (minus the "just about" part)
  • I work at a news organization heavily populated with 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 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. Thanks, Kris.

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:

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 tend to express their feelings more interestingly and articulately.

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

John DeDakis
CNN Senior Copy Editor
("The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer")

(hardcover: ISBN 1-59507-094-X)
(paperback: ISBN 1-59507-102-4)

web site:

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