Today’s guest is one of my favorite new authors, M. L. Brennan! Generation V is one of the best openings to an urban fantasy series I have read, and Iron Night was even better and even more difficult to put down. On the strength of these first two books alone, her series has become a must-read for me, and I can’t wait to read Tainted Blood in November. Her books are unique and have a sense of humor, and I especially love the characters and her protagonist’s narrative voice.
She is here today discussing the aspect of her writing that seems to surprise people the most—and, no, it’s not writing about vampires, kitsune, and elves!
I’m a female author writing a series with a male protagonist.
I’m also a human author writing a series with a non-human protagonist.
Guess which one seems to baffle people more.
A lot of people have asked me about writing a first-person male character – sometimes the question is phrased better than others, but it comes out often enough that I think I can say that it’s representative of something that seems to honestly baffle a lot of readers. How on earth can I be writing from a male perspective – and even more than that, how on earth can I be doing that in an effective way?
A lot of attention was given to George R. R. Martin’s famous answer to being asked how he was able to write female characters (in his utterly delightful way, he paused and said, “You know, I’ve always considered women to be people.” – and if you’re one of those people who has managed to avoid seeing the viral meme, I’ll include the link right here — http://www.upworthy.com/why-it-shouldnt-be-difficult-to-write-believable-female-characters). It was an answer that I really liked and appreciated. When I was young, I did what a lot of budding writers seem to do when I essentially read my way through my local library’s entire collection of science fiction and fantasy. Like a lot of libraries in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the bulk of its sf/f collection was from the ‘60s and ‘70s, so I encountered quite my fair share of authors who seemed to regard female characters as even more alien than the characters who had tentacles. Also, in fairness, I read plenty of writers who were excellent in their presentation of both genders, whether tentacled or not.
In writing my main character, I focused on who he was as a person. What drove him, what formative experiences influenced him, what did he want and how was he going to get it? That he had a penis was certainly part of who he was, but it wasn’t his defining characteristic. Similarly, it wasn’t as if I got to female characters and suddenly said, “Ah, vaginas! Completely easy to write well!” It isn’t harder to write men and easier to write women just because I happen to share genitalia with the latter. After all, it isn’t as if the books are an unending series of descriptions about how the protagonist goes to the bathroom.
Besides, even if they were, I’m a writer and I can observe subjects to get the information that I need. Plus, let us never discount the Internet as a research tool.
One of the most hackneyed pieces of writing advice is “write what you know,” and there is a good amount of usefulness to it. But at the same time, people take it too far and allow it to become a literal dictate for everything that can be put onto the page. My own experiences as a person certainly inform how I write, but they shouldn’t be a series of fences that I can’t progress beyond. After all, then my books would be about white women in their thirties who avoid physical activity at all costs.
And they definitely wouldn’t be about vampires. Drinking blood? If we’re basing only on personal experience, these protagonists wouldn’t even be able to have lactose intolerance!
People who talk to me at cons or for interviews seem genuinely curious about how I wrote a supernatural protagonist. But a first-person narrator who is a different gender than the author? Inconceivable!
Is gender a throwaway? I’ll grant that as much as I do enjoy second-wave feminist theory, it is not. But gender is no great equalizer – it’s emotions, losses, desires, and stresses that truly form a character. And those are what I can dig inside myself and find as a counterpoint. Whether it’s women writing men or men writing women, we should all remember that what it’s really about is authors writing about people (even if those people sometimes have fangs).
M.L. Brennan is the author of the critically acclaimed GENERATION V and its sequel, IRON NIGHT. The third book in the series, TAINTED BLOOD, is forthcoming in November 2014. Brennan holds an MFA in writing and is employed as an adjunct professor at several New England colleges.
Brennan cut her baby bibliophile teeth on her older brother’s collection of Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert, but it was a chance encounter with Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks as a teenager that led to genre true love. Today she’ll read everything from Mary Roach’s non-fiction to Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasies, but will still drop everything for vampires and werewolves in the big city.
For Brennan’s thoughts on writing, publishing, and the world in general, please check out her official webpage at http://www.mlbrennan.com