Writing Women’s Fiction as a Man by Ken Dortzbach – Guest Blog

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Ken Dortzbach who is celebrating the recent release of Finding Hemingway.

Writing Women’s Fiction as a Man
There aren’t a lot of men who write women’s fiction novels. When I started writing my novel Finding Hemingway I did not think about it from the standpoint of writing a women’s fiction story. My wife said I was writing a “chick book,” but I said I wanted to write a novel about personal growth and development. I thought the story worked better with a female protagonist and did not think beyond that.

The premise of the book is petulant New York attorney Callie McGraw has six months between jobs and a hefty severance check when she is literally “called” to Spain on her cellphone by Ernest Hemingway—the author of her very favorite book The Sun Also Rises. While in Spain, Callie learns about life, love, and herself … and how to run with the bulls in Pamplona. The idea was not to focus so much on her being a woman, but rather to focus more on how and why a deceased Nobel Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winning author is calling my main character on her cellphone in the middle of Manhattan, convincing her to move to Spain, and then becoming her life coach for six months.

Not until I was deep into the project did I decide to figure out what genre the book would fit into, and when I did I determined it fit squarely in women’s fiction. Could a man write in that genre? I loved the story, and sometimes in life you just need to “own it” so I decided to press on.

While “pressing on” meant trying to tell a really good story without trying to make a particular point about what it means to be a woman, at the same time I could not ignore who Callie McGraw is. She is headstrong. She likes to take charge. She “leans in.” But she also has weaknesses, like we all do. Callie meets different men during her journey and falls in love. Needless to say, not everything goes as planned.

One thing I wanted to avoid was “brand signaling,” or giving your character context by the brands they wear or use. There is no scene in Finding Hemingway where Callie McGraw dramatically casts off her Manolo Blahnik shoes and knocks over her Fendi bag! That may work great in some stories, but it seemed to be an insincere crutch if used by me. It would be like I were saying, “Look! I know these brands. I get you!” Nope. I needed to make my story about people and places. I wanted to take a person out of their element, challenge them, and see how they responded. The reader could decide what brands Callie wears. I purposely set up my story so the reader could make other decisions as well.

Ultimately, I tried to write a women’s fiction book that was not for women, per se, but rather it was a book for people who love books and love to read. I tried to write a book for people who have wrestled with challenges and overcame them—a book for people who have fallen in love or want to fall in love. I tried to write a quirky romantic comedy centered around female empowerment without hitting you over the head with it. I wanted you to root for Callie McGraw because you like her for who she is, and I think you will end up rooting for her.

My phone rang.
“Callie, it’s me,” came the voice. A voice I’d heard somewhere before, like on an old-fashioned newsreel.
“Who is this? Do I know you?”
“The sun also rises in Spain,” he continued. “I’m waiting for you. You must find me.”
My stomach lurched.
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“Yes, that’s correct.”
“The Pulitzer Prize winner? The Nobel Prize author?”
“Correct again. Well done,” he said.
“The deceased Ernest Hemingway?”
“Death is but a small detail, Callie. Pay it no mind.”

So began the journey of Callie McGraw, a hyper-focused, overachieving New York City lawyer with an ongoing passion for The Sun Also Rises. Being in-between jobs, she began packing her bags for Spain’s sun-kissed streets that same night.

Starting in Barcelona, Callie embarks on a six-month escapade of a lifetime, a whirlwind of Spanish food, wine, art, and dancing, with a revolving cast of new friends and lovers keeping her company in each new locale.

Callie’s next cocktail is never far away, but Hemingway knows her secrets, the demons that plague her deep-down. With each mysterious call and each enigmatic clue, Hemingway challenges her to open herself to laughter, passion, and love. Ultimately, he defies Callie to face her nightmares and embrace life on her own terms.

About the Author:Ken Dortzbach released his debut novel Finding Hemingway July 7. Ken divides his time between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. As a graduate of Princeton University and the Northwestern School of Law, he practiced law internationally for almost twenty years, including living abroad and working in countries across the globe. And yes, Ken did run with the bulls in Pamplona like Callie McGraw.

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