27 March 2017

Writing Like a Girl with Gayle Lynds

My inspiration for this column today is a post by Gayle Lynds which she posted to Rogue Women Writers yesterday and gave me permission go use here.

Today I was thinking about how mystery writing has changed and one big change that is one I welcome as more and more women are writing big thrillers and they are outstanding books. One such writer is my guest poster, Gayle Lynds. We don't often hear, "You write like a girl anymore." Or as my friend, and a previous fellow SleuthSayer, Susan Rogers Cooper, who got a letter almost daring her to prove she wasn't a man. He didn't think a woman was capable of writing a male protagonist like Milt Kovacks. Yet Susan still writes Milt novels and he is very definitely a strong male character.

Here Gayle Lynds talks about her inspiration.
— Jan Grape

Gayle Lynds
How The Jackal Became My Writerly Inspiration
by Gayle Lynds

In the mid 1980s I was writing and publishing not only literary short stories but books in a genre the industry considered among the lowest of the low — male pulp fiction.

Some called my ability to do both artistic range. But it puzzled and slightly offended others, and after a while I began to wonder myself — was there something wrong with me? Maybe I was literarily schizophrenic. Okay, let's ask the real questions: Who was I? What in heck did I think I was doing?

And then I got lucky and was able to dig deep. I found my muse, my inspiration, maybe it was really my siren's song — I stumbled on The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth.

What follows is a tale of hubris and, perhaps, redemption.

Published first in the United Kingdom in 1971, the novel dramatizes the desperate hunt for an international assassin hired by a secret paramilitary organization to kill French president Charles de Gaulle in 1963. The assassin is so clandestine even his employers know him just by a code name – the Jackal.

From the French police inspector under unrelenting pressure to stop the Jackal, to the young war widow who seduces an elderly government bureaucrat to extract from him the inspector's plans, the author guides us unerringly into the hearts and fears of the story's characters – on both sides of the political drama.

In the end we resonate with all of Forsyth's characters not necessarily because we approve but because he reveals each's humanity, and once we understand we can't help but care at least a little – a feat of high artistic skill.

I'd avoided reading The Day of the Jackal when it was first published because, although many attempts were made on De Gaulle's life, he died quietly, a private citizen in his own home, in 1970 — seven years after the novel's purported events.

The daring of Forsyth's concept and marvelous conceit that an author could create not only believable but compelling fictional suspense about an assassination that never happened had been lost on me. Instead, it buttressed my naive arrogance – if the book was a hot bestseller, it couldn't be good.

Fast forward to the mid 1980s: I'd begun writing pulp adventure novels and experimenting in them with literary techniques from my short stories. At the same time, I had two young children to support, and words-on-paper isn't a food group. (The literary journals paid in copies, while the pulp fiction paid in checks just large enough I could buy extra copies of the journals.)

That was when a paperback copy of The Day of the Jackal stared at me from the shelf of a thrift store. It had been read so many times the spine was cracked and the pages tattered. Obviously it had riveted readers. I wondered why. I bought it.

As I read, I felt as if I had finally come home. Forsyth's prose was rich and smooth, often lyrical. The characters were memorable. The insider details of the workings of the French government were not only accurate but, under his hand, fascinating. The Jackal's violence was remorseless, as it should have been.

My love of history, culture, geopolitics, and fine writing had finally come together in the pages of this exemplary novel. I was more than grateful; I was inspired. My future in international espionage was sealed. Thank you, Mr. Forsyth.

Thanks so much to Gayle for allowing me to use her blog posting on Rogue Women Writers.

List of some of Gayle Lynds Books:
  • Masquerade
  • The Coil
  • Mosaic
  • Mesmerized
  • The Last Spymaster
  • No Rest For The Dead
  • The Book of Spies
  • The Assassins
  • Covert One books with Robert Ludlum.
    • The Hades Factor
    • The Paris Option
    • The Altman Code

8 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

Good for you, Gayle. I have some appreciate of what you went through because I often like to write a women as the central character. One of my favorite colleagues mocked that and even gently ridiculed my having a ‘feminine side’. If you met me, you’d realize there isn’t the least thing feminine about me. I tried to explain I like getting into the heads of my favorite species (so to speak). Thus I can understand, if just a little from the mirrored side.

Love that line that words aren’t a food group.

Paul D. Marks said...

I agree with Gayle about The Day of the Jackal. It's an amazing book in every way she describes. But the most amazing is the fact that Forsyth keeps you literally on the edge of your seat and if you know the slightest bit of history you know de Gaulle was not assassinated. So knowing the outcome ahead of time and still being on the edge of your seat is a truly fantastic feat.

janice law said...

two good illustrations of the power of imagination - over gender and over history!

Gayle Lynds said...

Thanks, folks. I'm glad you enjoyed my post. There are few women who publish traditionally in the international espionage field today, but the ones who are doing it, as you can imagine, are especially good. Please come on over to www.RogueWomenWriters.com and meet us.

Thank you, Jan, for reprinting my post. BTW, for those who don't know Jan's writing, you must read her! She's excellent!

Gayle
www.GayleLynds.com

B.K. Stevens said...

Welcome to SleuthSayers, Gayle. I enjoyed your piece.

Eve Fisher said...

Great post - and I will check out your website!

Leigh Lundin said...

Sheesh. The first sentence of the first comment and there's a glaring typo. My excuse is it was after midnight and I was drinking… tea.

As Gayle says, Jan has written at least two series with personable characters. Once series reminds me a little of a female Spenser and Hawk.

And as Gayle suggests, I need to find out about women espionage writers. Thank you!

Jan Grape said...

That tea will do it everytime, Leigh. Sounds like everyone enjoyed Gayle's post. If you have not read Gayle then do so whenever you can. She writes awesome realistic characters and outstanding locales with plenty of twist and turns to satisfy any thriller soul. Yes we have a mutual admiration society but that can happen over maybe 25 or so years. Don't take my word for it. Read for yourself.