Let’s face it, nobody can know what it’s like inside another person’s mind or body, so why create protagonists of the opposite gender?
In my Summer “Sam” Westin mysteries, my protagonist is female, and we’re so much alike that many people confuse her with me, which is somewhat understandable because, like Sam, I am a scuba diver/kayaker/hiker, although it amazed me that one reader thought I’d actually barely rescued myself from death at the top of a waterfall. If I was as death-defying as Sam, I’d probably be, well … dead. But Sam and Pam are very similar in many ways, so her character is easy for me to write. Although Sam is often socially awkward, she’s at home in the wilderness setting, and so am I.
On the other hand, when I set out to write my first Neema mystery, The Only Witness, I wanted to set the story of a signing gorilla witnessing a major crime in the most awkward place possible: a conservative, gossipy small town that is not open to the idea that an ape might have something to “say.” I also wanted my detective character to feel awkward in the setting, so I made that character a big-city transplant whose spouse deserted their marriage for a local love shortly after their move. I knew I wanted to include teenage mothers in this story of a missing baby. So, which gender should the detective be?
Husbands leaving their wives for younger models is an all-too-common story in real life. So, I decided that a man would probably be more embarrassed by that happening to him. And it seems to me (rightfully or not) that more women are open to the idea of animal intelligence than men, so I created Matthew Finn, a detective who moved from Chicago to the small hometown of his younger wife because she thought it was a wonderful place to start a family. And then she runs off with her old sweetheart, leaving Matt, who is decidedly not an animal lover (in the beginning), with her two cats and a huge dog. And then, after a teen mom’s baby goes missing, a gorilla unexpectedly enters the scene, and she may be his only witness.
All eyes are on Detective Finn. The town hosts a small college that teaches broadcast communications, and amateur reporters are following him everywhere. Strangers tell him they’re sorry about his wife, and try to set him up with an available woman. To solve the case, he needs to interview a bevy of young teenage girls in this uncomfortable #Me-Too era. And talk to a gorilla? How much more awkward can the situation get?
Yep, the situation definitely called for a man.