|"Simply gorgeous...uh, in a virile, masculine sort of way."|
When I wrote ‘The Handbag’s Tale,’ and later ‘Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery,’ something funny happened.
I started to get into the part, right inside the head of the Inspector.
We had plenty of previous models to study. It was interesting to feel the tug of Inspector Clouseau. I didn’t want to write a comedy, but the urge was strong.
There were other prototypes, like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, whom I’ve parodied before, in ‘Heaven Is Too Far Away.’ There was a show starring David Suchet as Poirot on PBS, which was sometimes the only thing good on TV. There are movies, books, etc. For all the talk of murder, those were curiously bloodless books. I think their time is past, at least in terms of the writing of them. The books are still available and they still sell. They just re-title them so you don’t know what you’re getting.
The motivation or inspiration to do a French detective was due to a sort of feel that I got from reading George Simenon’s Maigret character. It was a bit dark—noir, with stronger emotional overtones than Dame Agatha.
It was very strange to morph into a Frenchman myself, but I found it happening. There is some French heritage in the family. My grandmother came from Quebec, and spoke with an accent.
It was an interesting discovery to find out just how French I really was, or how French I could be without a whole lot of prompting. Paris would be a great place to visit. I like French paintings. To live in the south of France would be great. Yeah, when I was a kid I wanted to be a detective. I expressed this strange morphing phenomena it in a parody, ‘The Frenchman.’
It really wasn’t much of a stretch to get inside the head of the character.
Part of the job for a writer is to create characters. Many of my early female characters are essentially thin cut-outs, put there more for sexual tension. My first novel was written in first person. There was no head-hopping in terms of POV. The female characters move like Barbie dolls in a doll-house, and that’s why in certain later books I tried to do more with them, to give them more of a role, to get inside of their heads and look at the world from the perspective of a woman. Janet Herbert in ‘The Shape Shifters’ comes to mind. She was fully-formed as a person.
In ‘Horse Catcher,’ there are a total of five female characters. Jill Bentein and Sandra Jensen aboard ship are strong characters. Tiona and Reeta on Earth seem much less substantial for many reasons, although it is a primitive culture and Reeta could be anyone’s grandmother. On Earth, Benefritha, Brother Raffin’s sister, is the only one we get to know anything about.
To develop as a writer is to stop writing about ourselves. A book shouldn’t be about us so much any more. It should be about other people’s lives, their problems, challenges and the hurdles they overcome. Otherwise we are just indulging our narcissism, and the modern world has enough of that already. Tune in CTV News Channel, any day of the week, they’re more than happy to hold up a shiny mirror for Canadians to see themselves in bourgeois reflection…filtered through rose-coloured lenses and all nicely pablumized for your consumption. No one is ever offended by such flattery. There is no danger of enlightenment here. That might be bad for Canadians.
That’s not to say I must do the politically correct thing and create strong woman characters. Some of them could be the wallflower type. But it would be nice if the reader could see them in their own heads. That’s what matters. I’ve just done a couple of short stories with female protagonists and I wonder how those will go in the marketplace. Other stories have women as secondary characters, but I’ve never set out to write a book from the standpoint of a strong female protagonist. I suppose I really ought to try. But this is where overcoming the squeamishness, all the worrying about what the neighbours might think comes into play.
Really, who a gives a shit? They don’t have the guts to write anything at all. Such considerations lie entirely within our own heads, not that people can’t be ignorant.
The creation of a ‘lady pen-name,’ and trying to run the thing on social networks and the like, would definitely be challenging. That’s a whole ‘nother work of art.
Damn, I’m going to have to try that!
But there would be hell to pay if I became a big-selling romance author and one fine day some TV network calls up and asks for an on-air interview. At that point I would be auditioning (in a hurry) talented young actresses who weren’t too well known and knew everything about my books.
I suppose it could happen, eh? Some enterprising journalist, or more likely a loose-tongued family member would eventually out me, which might incense fans who felt they were fooled or mocked or whatever.
Some of them really would be angry, hurt, or disappointed.
Yeah, sometimes I just sits and thinks, and sometimes, I just sits.
I’m a man who defies categorization.
Photo: Goltzius, 'The Farnese Hercules." Wiki, Public Domain.