Monday, February 8, 2010

Speaking Boy

I’m trying something new with my next novel: narrating from a male point-of-view. A teenage male, no less.

For a woman-of-a-certain-age, like myself, (you fill in the number) this is a stretch. Not only because I have to adopt the parlance of the high school cafeteria, but I have to inhabit the mind of a 17-year old boy and try to respond to the world his way. Everyone advises me to just keep thinking sex, sex, sex, sex … and occasionally FOOD!

But that’s the stereotype, isn’t it? Thuggish preoccupation with overwhelming physical need. Best expressed in sentence fragments and obscenities.

Boys are so much more. I know my boy is, and I’m fascinated by the layers of teasing, random anecdote, sports talk, current events talk, and NO talk we have to mine before hitting the rich, emotional lode our young man carries within. It’s a process, and requires me to unhinge my own gateways into conversation and simply remain open; listening and waiting.

The linguist, Deborah Tannen, author of You Just Don’t Understand, posits that men and women speak so differently that their conversations are essentially cross-cultural communication. I totally buy that, and incorporating that premise into my day-to-day has added a level of humor and depth of understanding between my husband and myself that has helped our marriage survive. It’s helped me talk to my son. Expressing it artistically, however, is another challenge.

So in addition to eavesdropping on teenagers and consulting with my own teens, I’ve been looking for role models: authors who have “cracked” the authentic, contemporary male voice. Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tops my list, as does Libba Bray’s Going Bovine. It’s encouraging to me that Libba is a woman (You go, girl! You speak boy!) Right now I’m halfway through Garret Freymann-Weyr’s After the Moment, a novel in which she very consciously explores notions of masculinity and a male point-of-view.

My wonderful editor at Knopf, Nancy Hinkel, recommended Tim Tharp, both Knights of the Hill Country and The Spectacular Now, along with a historical novel by Victoria McKernan called Shackleton’s Stowaway and a book about chess competition called Perpetual Check, by Rich Wallace.

The stack of books on my night table teeters at this point … but any other role models you might suggest?

This blog is on vacation next week. Next post will be February 22nd.


  1. Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
    Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
    Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
    City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende
    Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
    The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
    Slam by Nick Hornby
    Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (of course)

    The first three are reviewed on my blog
    (check my sidebar for links)

    My teenaged son talks about odd facts and concepts like the plausibility of String Theory. Lots of talk about gaming and politics with his friends. They avoid talking about relationships. I'd characterize their conversation as intellectual as opposed to emotional. He eats a lot of food but doesn’t talk about it.

  2. Thanks, Sarah, although now my night table truly "runneth over!"