Odd Man Out
When I first joined American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), I was a bit dismayed to discover that the membership is mostly female and writes some flavor of historical romance or young-adult novel. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, but it makes me a bit of a misfit, being a guy who writes speculative fiction--fantasy and science fiction--and primarily short stories. You get a lot of blank looks when you tell people what you write, and critique exchanges provide feedback with disconcerting phrases like, “Very interesting,” “How unusual,” and “That was...different.”
As I began to review my work, though, I discovered we have more in common than it might appear at first glance.
I write a lot of stories with female protagonists or strong female supporting characters. They’re usually ordinary people flung into extraordinary situations: a teenager who wants a new look via genetic engineering, spacefaring nuns, a farm girl in a lost colony. Now, some people would argue that men can’t write authentic female characters. We’re just not wired for it. There may be some truth in that position, but I would reply that, unless an author is writing an autobiography, any character is going to be in some sense “other” to them. You have to imagine what it’s like to be this person who is not you, and make them come alive to your readers. I enjoy writing female characters. It gives me a chance to see my world with fresh eyes through people who will have insights and reactions I don’t expect--and I love to be surprised as I write.
Many of my stories are set in historical locales. Many of my science fiction and fantasy stories happen right here on good old Earth. One of my favorite stories involves a traveling circus whose train breaks down along a desolate stretch of Kansas prairie, in the late 1800s. They discover something unusual that changes them all forever. To write the story properly, I had to research circus culture and language, technology appropriate to the time period, and the geography of my setting. In speculative fiction, I usually get to make all that up myself, which is challenging in its own way, but if I get it wrong in a historical setting, my readers are going to tell me exactly where and how much I messed up.
So, getting involved with ACFW has been surprisingly good for me. It’s connected me to people with experience and skills that are not only pertinent to my chosen genre, they help me write better stories. Sometimes I’ll even be asked to provide a guy’s perspective on some fictional situation, which makes me feel a little more useful.
And when I need to write like a girl, I can always find plenty of help.
Fred Warren’s short fiction has appeared in a variety of print and online publications including Kaleidotrope, Every Day Fiction, Bards & Sages Quarterly, and Allegory. His first novel, The Muse, was published in November 2009 by Splashdown Books, and was a finalist for the American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award for book of the year in the speculative genre. Odd Little Miracles, an anthology of his short stories, debuted July 2011. Fred works as a government contractor in eastern Kansas, where he lives with his wife and three children.