Some of my best friends are boys. I’ve been married to one for more than forty years. I have brothers and nephews I adore. So why don’t I ever write a boy main character?
Last week I Skyped with a book club that had read MOONPENNY ISLAND, and someone asked me this. (If you dislike provocative questions, beware serious young readers.) I tried to get off the hook by pointing out how many dads, brothers, and guy friends I’ve written, but the sad truth is, I’ve never been able to center a book on a boy.
I have tried. In fact, the first two (or maybe three) drafts of MOONPENNY had a boy named Larry Walnut as hero. I loved Larry, who had big ears and an even bigger heart. He was a funny, engaging, troubled person who was very much alive in my head, but on paper he fell apart. I couldn’t get his voice right. I tried first and third person, present and past tense. Nothing worked. Poor Larry always sounded fake, a bland copy of who I knew he really was.
I take this as a failure. I’ve imagined my way inside lots of characters who are, at least on the outside, nothing like me. This is what writers do. We find the place where we connect, where we and the character have something in common. A fear of heights. A love of the sea. A tendency to be stingy, or talk too much, or try to be in control even when that’s impossible.
Yet with Larry, and other main character boys I’ve tried to write, the spark kept going out. In EVERY SINGLE SECOND, Nella, who has four brothers—four!!—is still baffled by boys (including her crush, Sam). No matter how long she lives with the other sex, she thinks, she’ll never understand the blueprint of their minds.
Not that I’m giving up. By this point, I pretty well know the things I can do in my writing. And the things I’m not able to. Yet.