The Childhood (and Parents) Lurking in our Writing

Recently I wrote a guest post on another romance author’s blog (shoutout to Delilah Devlin!) about how my male and female characters elicit very different responses from me as an author. For male characters, I am able to quickly get in their head and emotions. For females, it’s damn near impossible.

I’ve noticed this for years now, how my heroines are standoffish and overly analytical, while my heroes are full of angst and sympathetic conflict. This is not a good thing. Most readers of romance are women, and readers must be able to identify with the heroine in order to enjoy the story.

As in, feel her pain and understand her emotion.  Which doesn’t happen very easily if the heroine is standoffish and analytical.

Here’s part of what I wrote:

I’ve always had a soft spot for guys. In high school, I enjoyed hanging with a group of guys, not that I didn’t also have female friends. I did. But with the guys, I felt more relaxed.

There was also something about the conversation with males that I preferred more than conversation with females. It’s hard to exactly pin down what specifically annoyed me about chatting with females—maybe that there seemed so little substance to it. With guys, conversation tended to be more to the point. And the point seemed more substantive. And there was less conversation overall, which suited me fine.

Throughout my life, I’ve found less to like about women than about men. Women can be unbelievably cruel, vindictive, and easily provoked to violence. Verbal violence, that is, things like character assassination, gossip, and vicious bad-mouthing.  I seldom see the same kind of hatred spewed by men that I’ve seen from women.

No question that both sexes dish out their share of ugly remarks, but in my experience, men tend to walk away from that kind of confrontation whereas women can’t get your face long enough to suit them.

Maybe there’s some truth to the theory that while early man was out silently stalking game, women were talking up a storm around the campfire. By necessity, women had to develop words for every aspect of their close-knit lives that centered around children, food, and textiles. That setting bred endless options for intrigue, jealousy, nitpicking, and other negative traits for which women are infamous.

Men didn’t need words to signal other hunters about the elk he spotted or to carry dead animals back to the cave. If he used words, it would spook the game he planned to eat for dinner. Once he dragged the carcass home and turned it over to the women, and as long as everybody played fair, male tribal members just wanted everybody to get along. …

Things seem so much simpler with men than with women, at least, that’s how I see it. Maybe that too is part of my sympathetic affection for men. I tend to write my male characters that way, big, charming galoots with not much to say but determined to follow his heart. Not complicated, not conniving, not spun out over the least assumed slight, not changing his mind or mood every fifteen minutes…

Sooo… After I wrote the guest blog post, I started thinking about why my writing turns out this way. Why do I have this kind of attitude about women? Because without a doubt, there’s something off balance about my attitude. (Or maybe not…what do you think?)

Then I thought of my parents. Ah ha! My dad was my emotional support, the understanding one, the person who was there for me no matter what. It was my mom who always had something critical to say. Without thinking about how her words would affect an insecure, near-sighted daughter, she said things like how my knees were ugly or I was clumsy (her term was ‘slew-foot’), or how she and her mother laughed when, at fifteen and miserably sporting an optimistic A cup, I insisted I needed a bra.

So there—with volumes more that could be said about my lifelong difficult relationship with a woman who never ceased to amaze with her well-intentioned yet hopelessly hurtful interactions with others—is the key to my struggles as an author and with female characters in particular.

This revelation portends a hopefully fruitful introspection for me both as an author and a woman. I need to dig deep to see how I have internalized my mother’s attitude and determine what if anything I can do about it. Meanwhile, I’m going to try really hard to write more warmth into my female characters instead of recreating the strained and painful impact of my relationship with my mom.

This means I have to try to understand more about my mom.

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