Welcome to our very first guest to the Rogue Women Writers’ blog: The great SHANE GERICKE. I met this talented author at the first ThrillerFest, and he kindly asked me to help him run PitchFest. Fast forward a few years, and now I’m fortunate to be the Executive Director of Thrillerfest. So thank you, Shane, for getting me involved in this great organization.
Shane writes female protagonists with authenticity and aplomb, and that’s why I felt he’d be a perfect guest. And it just happens that his alpha female character in THE FURY has the middle name of Kimberley!
Take it away, Shane….
A reader once accused me of being a traitor to my moustache. Why? Because, in his immortal words, “You wrote a cop book with a chick hero. Chicks can’t be cops. They just … can’t. Guys are cops, girls aren’t. But hey, maybe you’re gay or something . . .”
Did I mention that while I love my readers each and every one, I love some more than others?
As to his complaint, it was heartfelt, if completely Neaderthal: I wrote a cops-vs.-serial killer thriller whose protagonist was a tough, yet feminine, cop named Emily Thompson. That single book, Blown Away, turned into a trilogy—Cut to the Bone and Blown Away—since the sales of the debut were grand it became a national bestseller and won Debut Mystery of the Year honors from RT Book Reviews.
All that for a “cop book with a chick hero.”
My fourth book took me in a new direction, cause I was tired of writing serial killers. The Fury is a story about international terrorism, and stars—wait for it—a chick who’s a tough, yet feminine, cop whose assignment is to bring down a psychopathic Mexican cartel leader and save the United States from his plan to nerve-gas millions of Americans.
A book for which I got zero complaints about the hero being female. Part of that is times have changed, and readers in 2016 are far more accepting of female leads than they were a decade ago, when Blown Away made its debut.
But that’s readers. I want to talk about my reader’s original premise: Why does a man choose to write female heroes rather than male. I mean, write what you know, right?
Wrong. If I wrote only about things I know, I’d be out of words pretty quickly. So I write what I can imagine, which is far more vast and fun. And my experience AND imagination dictates that women are every bit as tough, wily, heroic, compassionate, venal, corrupt, and asshole-y as men. So why not write them that way?
I deliberately chose suburban cop Emily Thompson for the trilogy and Chicago cop Superstition “Sue” Davis for The Fury. I could have chosen men easily enough. But I didn’t for one main reason:
I can charge a female hero with a much wider range of emotions than I can a male hero.
As a society we are less sexist than we used to be. But we’re not sexism-free. I like my heroes to be tough AND tender. To kick ass, take names, AND cry. To openly mourn the loss of a friend instead of being stoic and sucking it up.
With women, I can can do that, and readers accept it. Superstition’s husband was assassinated by the cartel jefe that she would later be assigned to capture. She and Derek were childhood sweethearts and she took his death very, very hard. After his funeral she went crazy, crying and crying and crying until she couldn’t breath, then jumping onto her bed and breathing his pillow in hopes of catching his scent. Then she buried her face in his old sweat clothes, for the same reason. All this after she shot and killed three men who were robbing a tavern and began to slaughter the patrons. So, tough and tender.
Female heroes can have that wide range of emotions, and readers are fine with it. But a male hero weeping and crying and flinging himself on the bed and smelling his wife’s clothes to catch a scent of her? No way. Enlighten as we think we are, we expect male heroes to act stoically, suck it up and get back to business, maybe get drunk and smash things.
But not smell her sweat clothes.
As a writer, the gift of that tool—using every range of emotion in the human experience—lets me write my heroes to their emotional maximums, without turning off any reader. Men and women accept females kicking ass AND crying their eyes out. They do not accept it from male heroes.
And that’s why Emily and Superstition rock.
These are not romance novels, and the cops are not dewy-eyed or meek. They are very, very tough. They fight bad guys hand to hand, they shoot bad guys up close and personal, and they don’t berate themselves for it afterward.
But they also like nail polish and puppies and kittens and cooking and taking care of their men, who in turn take care of them.
It’s a perfect world for me as a writer, and that’s why I like female heroes.
Thank you, Shane! Hope you’ll come back again and visit us on the Rogue side.
Shane, any advice on how you create such balanced characters, women who are strong but also vulnerable?
Hi Shane: Great to see you here! And I love that you write a female protagonist. In the course of writing the novels have you ever written a scene where you thought "Hmmm, if that were a male protagonist it would have gone a different way?"
Terrific blog, and welcome. I agree completely that writers should not feel bound to only write out of their personal experience. Male only write males. Females only write females. How limiting. How boring. The comments about female protagonists from your reader were chilling, and illustrate exactly why we formed Rogue Women Writers. I have been told that men aren't interested in reading espionage thrillers by women and that women can't write good espionage thrillers. I was urged to turn my protagonist, who is male, Russian born, American naturalized, into a female and call my novel romantic suspense. Have you had other comments about the fact that you write female protagonists?
Welcome, Shane, to our website — SO great to have your ideas about how you write about female heroes in your terrific thrillers….especially how you can use more "emotions" in your descriptions of women. You write terrific stories! We are looking forward to seeing you at "Thrillerfest" – the annual conference of our International Thriller Writers organization in NY in July!
Kimberley, thanks for introducing us to Shane, and Shane, thank you for the post! I love that you were creating strong female leads a decade ago. Nice job writing ahead of the curve! See you at ThrillerFest!
Hi, guys, delighted to be here. Thanks for the invitation, I'm proud to be your first, and yes, you were gentle with me 🙂
Jamie, I'd probably write the scenes the same way, but when emotions were called for from my (male) hero, I'd write them with stoic humor, not open emotion. Example: a female can cry openly because her husband was assassinated. A male can shed a tear or two, but tell his buddy, "Fuckin' allergies are bad this year." Buddy: "I heard they were bad this year." Hero: "Yup. Bad."
Sandy, surprisingly, no. Just the one guy. But he ranted in the same note about my using too many exclamation points, so I figure he wasn't the most reliable of How to Write Good sources.
Karna, looking forward to being there again. As Kim mentioned, she and I grew up together in Thrillerfest, both of us having been at the first one in Phoenix. I chose to skip last year because my beloved wife was dying of cancer. (Conference vs. Her? No contest.) But it will be nice to be back "home."
Gayle Lynds was my first "big name" mentor, so I'm delighted she is gracing this blog. Love ya, Gayle!
Sonja, thank you. I grew up around strong females who carried as much load as the males in my family, so it came pretty naturally for me to create strong women who weren't men in a dress. Though an editor once made me switch Emily Thompson's drink of choice from beer to chardonnay, on the grounds that beer was men and wine was women. My grandmother would disagree, seeing she made her own brandy 🙂
Kim, it's mostly observation of how women treat women, women treat men, men treat women, men treat men, and how they all treat kids, animals, pets, and pumping gasoline. To write effective characters of any kind, you have to be patient and see how people act in the real world–strong people and weak people, of all genders. My journalism background gave me a natural grounding in the art of close observation of people, places, things, and the details therein–sight, sound, smell, all the senses–and so I was able to write Superstition and Emily pretty naturally. Little things mean a lot: men's shirts button from one side, women's from another. So I'm careful with those kind of details, which convinces female readers that I actually pay attention to things they consider important, and so they grant me the honor of believing all the fake stuff in my books.
Finally: You can put Jack Reacher in a dress and call that character Marcy, but it won't work. You have to create characters that are believeable at their toughest or most vulnerable–male OR female.
Thanks again for having me here today.
Shane, thanks for the phenomenal answers. I respect how much thought and deliberation you put into your strong female characters–and it certainly pays off. Really appreciate you joining us today!
Shane, great blog. You make a great case for the female thriller protagonist. I know that some of the writers on Rogue Women write male characters. Ladies, why did you choose to write me?
Thanks for being the first guest, Shane. Hope you'll come back!
If you'll have me, I'll be back!
I write often about male characters–Jack Kennedy, Ian Fleming, and entirely fictional guys as well. Most of my books have both male and female protagonists, because that's the world I live in. It never occurs to me to consider myself barred from entering a character's mind simply because we're different genders. And as a reader, I would never consider limiting my experience to either a) solely female characters or b) solely female writers. Why would I do so as an author?