I’m facing a conundrum with Holland Bay. One of my main protagonists (there are two or three) is a female cop in exile. She’s been there for about four years, and, over the course of the story, is drawn back into the world of “real” police. That is she’s given some meaty work to perform.

Now, of course, we all know the obvious route to go when a police officer is burned out. They turn to drink. They turn to drugs. They even turn to crime. Why not? It’s not like this person gives a damn. The Wire took this a step further. Jimmy McNulty, the frustrated homicide cop on the Baltimore PD, compounds his borderline alcoholism by becoming a male slut. No one questions this. It’s clear Jimmy doesn’t handle stress very well, and when Jimmy McNulty’s stressed out, he’s an admitted asshole.

I didn’t want my character becoming the cliched drunk. Everyone goes there. Nor did I want her to be lighting up a doobie when her day of prowling increasingly deserted docks and ticketing loiterers is over. She’s divorced as a result of her exile, her ex deciding a disgraced cop would hurt his career, and anyway, it was probably time to get of them there trophy wives his bosses seem to like. So our girl decides she’s on the open market and is going to enjoy something she probably hasn’t really enjoyed since her wedding night: Sex!

See the conundrum? I am a white male writer creating a female character who, in the words of Peaches, f***s the pain away. Now, I can see Theresa Schwegel writing this or Laura Lippman or Robin Burcell. But Theresa and Laura and Robin all have something I lack. They have ovaries. So how do I walk the tightrope? How can a male writer portray a sexually ravenous female character without her coming off as wish fullfillment? Inquiring scribes wanna know.


3 thoughts on “Slutty

  1. I think it’s pretty offensive to assume the only reason people like Laura and Theresa can write female characters like that is because they are female. They both do some amazing things with male characters as well and there are many, many, oh so many female writers who can’t write sexually aggressive characters without resorting to cliche and ridiculousness.

    It’s not about gender it’s about motivation. Why is this character drawn to sex as a vice as opposed to other chemicals or activities? If you put in the work to make this character a living, breathing creation then it won’t matter if you’re male, female, or alien, you’ll be successful.

  2. Well, I know Theresa pulled this off quite successfully. In fact, I was down on that character more because she was someone I just couldn’t warm up to. So even when it doesn’t work for me, I know it’s working just on that basis. She created a human being, and I don’t like every human being I meet. (That’s why Theresa has a career.)

    But, Bryon, you know and I know that there are people out there who DO assume that Theresa and Laura and Robin get away with this because of gender, but those same people would nail Dennis Lehane or Ken Bruen to the wall for trying the same thing. My question is how much I should factor that in.

    The character I have in mind will easily show the motivation, partly because I have no interest in doing the same sorts of scenes I did with Nick Kepler. (Who, let’s be honest, is kind of an moron whenever he gets an erection, so naturally, he’s going to go graphic just so he can brag.) But since this is being written to be read, do I need to take that crowd into account?

    Of course, I could always just tell the offended reader to go screw themselves, that I know why I wrote it. I do think more writers should do that.

  3. I think this problem arises when you’re giving unpleasant traits to someone other than “yourself”, in this case a white male. Very few writers, especially genre writers, can get away with portraying people of other races or sexes as anything but A) stereotypes, or B) saints.

    My own view is that people are people. If I wanted to write about a black man from the ghetto who can “fix” problems for his neighbors who can’t go to the police, I’m damn well going to do it. But then I’m not the sensitive type.

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