What Are You Looking For in Female Protagonists in Mystery Series?

This post is worth sharing from one of my favorite blogs, Writer Unboxed. I hope you’ll read it. It prompted me to repost it and add my own thoughts, specifically about female protagonists in mystery series.

The majority of readers have let me know they thoroughly enjoy seeing the world through the eyes of my series protagonist, Britt Johansson, but she does take occasional heat from other characters in my stories because her actions can often seem reckless for a woman. That gives me, the writer, an opportunity to set the record straight.

The way I look at it, Britt’s actions could be seen as reckless if taken by an average person, man or woman, but not for Britt’s profession as a photojournalist covering international conflicts and environmental disasters. Taking risks is a pre-requisite in her line of work.

Another issue I’ve heard discussed about female protagonists, particularly in the thriller and mystery genres, is that they aren’t likeable enough, or too focused on their jobs—criticisms rarely extended to male protagonists. In Britt’s case, her mission is to help make the world aware of the plight of women and children who are victims of war. That sometimes takes a toll on her personal relationships, and she’s not the type to compromise much. Men behave that way all the time, and it’s acceptable, but when women put their careers or dreams first they’re often held to a different standard.

Books written by women with female protagonists have come a long way, but as Jo Eberhardt’s post points out, there continue to be lots of misconceptions and stereotypes. What’s satisfying to me as an author is that I get to work these things out any way I choose and so far, readers seem to like it.

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Coming Soon

For those who’ve been asking, the third mystery in my Spirit Lake series is in the final stretch! As always, expect lots of threads to connect and more than a few surprises. As one reader says,

Complex murder mysteries, bone-chilling thrills and a little bit of romance

I’d like to hear your thoughts on female protagonists in the mystery genre. What are your expectations as readers?

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The Life of a Writer Bear

You might or might not have wondered why you haven’t seen my blog lately, but I’ve been working on the next book in my Spirit Lake Mystery series. I’m not much of a multitasker, especially during this first draft phase.

Authors use the terms plotter or pantser. It means the writer follows an outline or writes by the seat of their pants without planning. Most of us are both of course. But what all novels and all projects involve is delving into the unknown. Creating with no net. Most likely, it’s not much different than what anyone experiences at the beginning of a big project, writer or not. Lots of uncertainty. And it takes concentration.

Writers like to use metaphors to describe what it’s like to write a novel. This morning, sitting at my computer in my brown ankle-length bathrobe and furry boot slippers, I feel like a sluggish bear coming out of a deep sleep. My brain-fog has cleared, I’ve stretched my hunched-over body and the knot between my brows has eased.

It’s not spring, it’s winter, but unlike bears, writers don’t use seasons as a timeline. For me, it’s about believing I have a good story to tell now that the first wild excitement of exploring an idea settles into completing that first draft.

Yesterday I was so close to reaching that goal nothing could penetrate my focus. Someone asked me a question and then wondered why it took me so long to respond. It’s not an easy transition from my story world to my real life. That same evening my son, who was over for dinner, looked in the pan on the stove and then at me, eyebrows raised. “What is that?” I wasn’t sure.

But this morning I am alert, alive and excited, because the next part is where the real fun begins. Making the scenes and characters come alive, honing the plot and action to keep you, the reader, surprised and engaged and enjoying the story.

But first, I’m about to go for a stroll through the woods, sniff the air, nibble blueberries or swat at a fish upstream.

Wishing you all happy holidays and happy reading!

Photo credit: ucumari photography via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

SinC-Up Blog Hop

I’m a member of the national mystery writers’ organization, Sisters in Crime (SinC), and was happily tagged by the delightful author and blogger Joyce Mason, to join the September Sisters in Crime SinC-Up for Bloggers. We’re invited to answer questions about ourselves as an author. Here are mine:

What books are on your nightstand right now?

  • Still Writing, The Perils and Pleasures of the Writing Life by Dani Shapiro. I’ve read it and reread it—always inspiring.
  • A Story Larger than My Own—women writers look back on their lives and careers, Edited by Janet Burroway. I’m enjoying reading these women writers as they look back at their long and successful careers. Their perspective is a contrast to my own life. I’m now fulfilling a dream, writing mysteries full time after decades of writing and editing for corporations and nonprofits. I’m excited to wake up every morning and dip into that fictional world I’ve created, and I’m learning more every day about publishing and promoting.
  • The Red Convertible, Selected and New Stories by Louise Erdrich. Many of the stories in this collection have appeared in the New Yorker and other publications. I’m a long-time fan and was thrilled when a dear friend gave this book to me.
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I recently read The Goldfinch, and loved the lyrical writing and wonderful characters, and now I want to read her other work.
  • The Passionate, Accurate Story by Carol Bly. Another old standby, I pick up this book to be reminded of my responsibility to the reader, the story, and to myself.
  • Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I often blog about how my journey through the writing, publishing and promoting process affects me as an introvert—my challenges, milestones and achievements. I watched Cain’s TED talk before picking up the book, and am enjoying delving deeper into her experiences and insights.

In my Kindle queue:

  • The Long Way Home by Louise Penny
  • The Crystal Ball by Joyce Mason
  • All Hallows at Eyre Hall by Luccia Gray
  • House of Dads by June Gillam
  • Too many books to name about writing, publishing and social media.

If someone said “Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men,” how would you respond?

I would reply, “Nothing against people whose favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men,” but you’re missing out on some of the best writing in the genre.

For me, it’s about the story and the storytelling, and what I’m in the mood to read at a specific time. That works out to be about equal female and male writers.

A good mystery—with psychological depth, interesting setting, flawed and unusual characters, wit and humor, gritty, and a little romance—could be written by a triple-gender space alien and I wouldn’t care as long as it was a well-written story with a few surprises.

If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business?

I wouldn’t talk to a new writer about the business of writing. I wouldn’t give advice on what, when, how to or how much to write, and I wouldn’t ever discourage a new writer, because life can get in the way of our best intentions.

I’d say, if you want to write, never let that fire burn out, no matter what it takes. If you’re a mother with a full-time job, elderly parents, sick kids, sick pets, a demanding husband, or you’re barely making ends meet, keep that ember alive, blow gentle breaths into it whenever you can, and when you’re ready it will be waiting for you.

Blog Recommendations 

Part of the SinC-Up blogfest is sharing other blogs readers might enjoy. Please check out these wonderful authors:

Susan Spann, author of the Shinobi mysteries, set in Japan.

June Gillam, author of the Hillary Broome mysteries, poetry and nonfiction.

Julie Williams, author of young adult novels and poetry; mixed media artist.

Let Your Brain(s) Co-mingle

This writing journey is the best thing I’ve done for myself in years. I’m not saying I’ve figured it all out, but the one thing I do every day is sit at my laptop and work on my manuscript. It brings me joy and it’s important to me to do the best I can. Everything else slips away.

Rarely does any part of the writing or editing frustrate me; it intrigues me when I come up against a situation that isn’t working or could be communicated more effectively. Writing mysteries employs my analytical brain and my creative brain. I used to think one or the other had to be in charge. One brain had the ideas, the other organized and honed the story. But I no longer believe that to be true for me. My two brains co-mingle like crazy, and when I get up from my chair, I’m satisfied I’ve given it my all.
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It’s been a few weeks since I last posted a blog, due to my busy schedule and scattershot method of letting people know about my writing journey. Unlike writing a mystery, participating in social media involves a different motivation, and for me that’s tied up with being a bit of an introvert, suffering from an occasional lack of confidence and overcoming the learning curve in some of the technical areas. But my overriding desire is to keep in touch with you, and hope you’ll do the same with me.

Today Steven Pressfield’s blog Why #4 was the motivation I needed, and I’m betting it will inspire you as well, no matter what your calling or where you are on your journey.

Keeping Art and Writing Fresh

Linda Townsdin

Linda Townsdin

Writing and making art have always played important roles in my creative life. Most recently, I’ve been concentrating on my mystery series—creating images with words instead of paint.

My dear friend, Julie Williams, a wonderful artist and writer, recently sent me a gift of watercolor art materials and told me about a technique she thought I’d enjoy. She was right. I always love trying something new.

Not long ago, encaustic painting captured my imagination and I created the piece above. For those unfamiliar with encaustic art, the medium is hot (or cold) wax and pigments. I did this piece using hot wax on glass.

For me, the back and forth between visual art and writing has been a way to refresh my spirit, and it always enhances my work. I know many writers who read this blog are also musicians, artists, photographers, etc. I’d love to hear how combining your creative activities keeps you inspired.