Let’s begin by extending sincere thanks to Seana Graham for her kind words about Wild Bill on her fine review blog, Not New For Long. (No, it’s not a “fine review blog” because she liked Wild Bill. It’s a fine blog, period. That she liked Wild Bill threatens her reputation almost as much as it enhances mine.) The review ends with Seana saying she would like to have seen “more of Madeline ‘Mad’ Klimak, a strong female protagonist who shows that King has a range beyond the macho trope. Maybe [she’ll] appear in a sequel?”
I worked harder on Mad than on any other character in anything I’ve written. She’s integral to the story in several ways; the book could not have been written without her. That being said, I’d never written a female character with the mix of qualities Mad had to have, and I sweated bullets every time I read a Mad chapter to The Beloved Spouse or my writers group. Seana’s compliment is not the first Mad has received in a review, but it’s the first from a woman, which makes it doubly gratifying.
I’ve looked for opportunities to write Mad again, notably by including her in a PI series set in Chicago I’ve worked on for several years. She’d be a perfect foil for Nick Forte, but they live in different fictional Chicago universes, and the accommodations that would have to be made are too great. (For the dozens of people who’ve read Wild Bill, at least.) Thoughts of giving her a book of her own always break down when I remember the angst of writing her as a supporting character.
Seana’s remark, coupled with Patti Abbott’s comment to my “Best Reads” post, got me to thinking seriously about how much time I spend with female writers and characters. Frankly, it’s not much. Looking back on my list of books read, I thought to have read more female writers than I have. I may have subconsciously shied away from female characters in the two Penns River books I’ve completed because Mad caused me so much agita.
That has to stop.
Not for political correctness. (No one who knows me would think that, but in case some stranger wanders by…) There are woman writers whose work I like a lot. Megan Abbott, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Zoe Sharp, Laura Lippmann (when she’s not writing Tess Monahan) come to mind immediately. My Books Read list goes back to 2006, and has names and books I liked a lot, but somehow never got around to reading the next. I’m cheating myself out of a good time by skipping over them.
As for characters, well, half the people in the world are women. True, most of my characters are either cops or crooks, and those are male-dominated fields. I’m careful not to fall into the crime fiction trap of making women either strippers or hookers or victims—though I have done all three, in conscious moderation—and can only broaden my stories, and my writing, by becoming more inclusive.
I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, and don’t need one here. I’ve already added woman writers to my TBR list, and will find at least one new one from those recommended in John Connolly’s and Declan Burke’s Edgar-nominated compendium Books To Die For. (Congratulations, gents.)
The writing will require only a small course change. I’m nearing the end of the first draft of the next Penns River novel. A change I’d planned for the second draft will suit adding a woman nicely. I hope to spend the summer tidying the first two Nick Forte PI novels for Kindle releases. The series has a couple of strong continuing female characters, and the second book is virtually controlled by women. Maybe revisiting them will remind me of the benefits in writing characters of complementary plumbing to my usual casts, while remembering it’s not the plumbing that makes them relevant. I’m hoping folks like Seana and Patti and others can not only keep me honest, but make sure I do it well.
As for Mad, I’m looking for a good story for her. Maybe I’ll ignore the parallel universe issues and add her to my PI stories. (Or vice versa, depending on the story.) Aren’t reboots all the rage now?