A couple of days ago, I discussed the age old question of whether women can write male characters and men can write female characters.
In the novel I am currently writing, Trine, a novel in three parts, the first part is from the perspective of a woman and the second and third parts are from the perspectives of two different men. I’ve finished writing the first part and I’m extremely happy with the result. I’m about half way through writing the second part from the male perspective and I’m just as happy. But I thought I’d let you be the final judge on whether I am effectively conveying the male voice.
The following is the first chapter from the second part of Trine. Each part covers the same two week period so the first chapter of Trine previously published here on my blog takes place on the same day. Considering this is a work in progress, I am more than happy to receive critiques. Happy reading!
My name is Joseph Copeland but for as long as I can remember everybody has called me Jock. There was a point in my childhood that my mother had to sit me down and explain that it wasn’t really my name. When I asked why she didn’t just name me Jock to begin with, the question seemed to stump her. Eventually she told me that not everything in life has an easily defined reason behind it. Philosophising at the age of four with my mother, I wish I’d given her maternal wisdom more credence.
It’s hard to keep secrets in a small town but even harder not to have secrets at all. People scream for privacy but mostly only to cover their shame. It’s certainly my motivation. But I’m the police chief of a three cop town so I know the secrets of most of the people who live in it.
Jillian Sugar, the local librarian, once had a daughter who died in her sleep when she was still a baby. Rumours circulated at the time that it may have been more sinister because back then nobody knew much about cot deaths. When her husband left her, this seemed like further proof. And she didn’t do anything to extinguish the gossip because in her mind it seemed less dishonourable to be thought of as a baby killer than admitting her daughter’s father was gay and had only stayed for the child.
Mildred Roberts, the owner of the general store, actually is a killer. She’d been a long-term battered wife, since before I was born, and when her husband had pointed a shotgun at her, she had wrestled him for the weapon. It went off in the struggle and when it was over, he was dead. It was ruled an accident and Mildred dutifully attended his funeral as the distraught widow. In all the time she’d been married, she’d never made a single complaint about the violence she’d endured but the police chief at the time, my uncle, had kept detailed notes of every bruise, every cut, every fracture, just on the off chance that she might find the courage one day.
Albert Doncaster, a direct descendant of the man who originally settled Hope Springs, is thirty-five years old, still lives at home with his parents and barely ever leaves the house. A couple of years ago, after an anonymous tip, I had to conduct a welfare check on him. The unidentified caller said that Albert was being chained to a wall by his mother, Eleanor, and that his father, Gus, was too browbeaten to do anything about it. It turned out they were half right. Albert has an IQ that places him in the bottom one per cent of the population as well as a condition that makes him prone to self-harm. At night, Albert sleeps in a bed with arm and leg restraints. It was confronting but it was also inspiring to see parents so devoted to their child that they refused to have him spend the rest of his life locked away from the world.
And then there’s Prudence Butters. She came to Hope Springs three years ago, buying a huge old pine plantation that had been on the market for years, and moving into the spartan house in the middle of it by herself. She is as close as Hope Springs comes to having an eccentric or a recluse. She comes to town every Monday and Friday and to church on Sundays. A deviation in this routine would suggest something is wrong. But there’s never been a deviation.
Because she buys a notebook every Monday from Mrs Roberts’s general store, there are rumours she is a writer, a very successful one. She certainly doesn’t have a job doing anything else. I’m not convinced. My infrequent interaction with her tells me she wouldn’t be able to hold down a job of any sort. There are three people in Hope Springs Prudence sees with any sort of regularity: Mrs Roberts every Monday when she goes in to buy her notebook, Father McKenzie on Sundays when she has lunch with him after church, and me. And she only seeks me out when something is wrong.
Prudence doesn’t seem to cope very well with things that regular people tend to shrug their shoulders at. Stray dogs. Trespassers. Light planes flying over her property. Sometimes her concerns have validity. Last year after she complained about someone on her property, my officers and I found a marijuana crop growing in a secluded spot halfway between her house and the fence line of her nearest neighbour. The plantation is enormous and we never would have known where to look if it weren’t for her. We would never have caught the couple responsible for it either, had it not been for the detailed descriptions she was able to give.
Prudence was in church yesterday and she made no attempt to speak to me or anyone else so I can only assume that everything is okay at the moment. And despite the occasional cot death, battered wife and marijuana crop, Hope Springs is generally not a hotbed of criminal activity. Most of our time is consumed by traffic duty and farm equipment thefts.
“Morning.” Matt Davey, one of the officers under my command, is at the front desk when I arrive for work shortly after eight in the morning.
“Morning.” He’s short where I am tall, fair where I am dark, pudgy where I am less pudgy, although he assures me it’s what’s in his genes, not a lack of effort that is responsible. There’s a gym at the police station – at least there’s gym equipment shoved into a room the size of a broom closet – but as much as he uses it, he never seems to get any less pudgy. Then again, he doesn’t get any more pudgy either.
Sarah is Matt’s wife and was meant to be the only officer under my command. But, as a policeman, he was struggling to find a role that would allow them to move to Hope Springs so Sarah could take up the position I had offered her. I petitioned the state commissioner for the funds to take on an extra person, reasoning that three officers meant three people for each eight hour shift per day. We had to expand our geographic area of responsibility and abolish the janitor’s role but Dermot, the long-time janitor, had been ready to retire anyway. We clean the station and mow the lawns ourselves now and nobody complains. And we all work the same day shift and takes turns being on call.
“Another tractor has gone missing. She’s out at the Peterson place taking a statement and seeing if they can track it on Jim’s computer.”
Sarah is technically Matt’s superior because she’s a senior constable while he’s a constable. They are together almost constantly but it seems to work for them. It works for me.
“Oh. The psycho’s in your office.” Matt is a man of relatively few words, the shorter the better as far as he’s concerned, even if it means shortening them himself.
“Any particular psycho and are we just letting random ones in?”
“Maybe to avoid potential confusion, you could refer to her as the psychi,” I suggest and move around the counter to join him on the other side. I stop when I realise my suggestion sounds plainly ridiculous. “Or perhaps just call her Dr Chamberlain,” I amend, knowing Matt will end the conversation and spare me any further indignity of my own making.
“Will do.” He looks back down at the computer screen in front of him, the cursor blinking like the arm of a metronome, although I could swear the longer I look at it, the more rapidly it flashes. The perception of reality is a moveable feast and an uncomfortable one sometimes. I look away.
When I go into my office, Dr Janet Chamberlain is sitting behind my desk, her laptop open in front of her and a crisp, fresh, white notepad of lined paper next to it. I shouldn’t mind. We’ve already agreed she will use my office when she comes on her six-monthly visits. It’s the only place in the station with any privacy because the interview room can be monitored from the outside – and what she does requires a sequestered space. Still, courtesy would dictate that she wait politely for my invitation on each day of her visit. She doesn’t.
Perhaps some of the silly old-fashioned values in this town, the ones I grew up with, the ones I managed to shake off while I was at the academy, are worming their way back under my skin. After all, it’s the north side of the desk compared to the south side of the desk. And we’re the only two people here to witness a power struggle over approximately eighteen square feet of wooden real estate. I’m not even really sure what it is we’re fighting over.
“Good morning, Janet. Good to see you again.”
She looks up at my voice but doesn’t smile. If it weren’t for the fact that she’s not at all unpleasant, I would consider her the most unpleasant person I deal with. I have to keep reminding myself that she isn’t a friend or a colleague or a confidante or someone even remotely on my side. She’s here to assess and assist with our mental health. I also have to keep reminding myself that she’s here on my invitation.
Given the relative remoteness of Hope Springs, there are some work benefits my officers and I find inconvenient to access. Like the employee assistance program. And also given that sixty-six point six six six recurring per cent of the employees in this station are men, I have concerns about whether certain members of my staff would be proactive in using the service even if it were more accessible. So Dr Chamberlain visits us every six months for a conversation.
It’s entirely confidential. Thank God. I wouldn’t like what she and I talk about to get back to anyone. Like I said, it’s hard to keep secrets in a small town. But hopefully doctor-patient privilege covers that.
It’s also entirely up to each of us – Matt, Sarah and me – what we choose to talk about. For all I know, Dr Chamberlain’s a Giants fan and that’s what she and Matt spend two hours discussing. My only concern is that if he gets to a point where he needs or wants to talk about something else more personal, he knows she’ll be back every six months without fail without him having to take the difficult step of asking for help. Help automatically arrives on schedule.
“Ah, Sarah was supposed to meet with you today but she’s been called out to a reported theft. I’ll send Matt in instead.” I turn to call him but Dr Chamberlain’s words halt me.
“You could meet with me today.”
“I would,” I say, “but I have a meeting with the mayor in forty-five minutes. I’ve made sure Wednesday is clear. We’ll meet then.”
The expression on her face doesn’t change. She simply taps her fingers rhythmically on the keys of her laptop keyboard, which means she is thinking about how far she should push it and whether it would actually get her anywhere. I know this because during our sessions, she does the same thing on the arms of the chair she sits in when she approaches topics of conversation I am uncomfortable with and I give answers she doesn’t like. “Fine.”
With that one word, I am dismissed. I leave quickly. Dr Chamberlain is constantly assessing everything, the faces we pull, our body language, how much we sweat. I don’t want her to think that this is anything other than a scheduling conflict.
It isn’t. I don’t have a meeting with the mayor. The mayor and I have been running into each other at the diner at nine o’clock on a Monday morning every week for at least the past five years but I don’t think it really counts. Still…
I send Matt in to talk with Janet and redirect the main switch incoming calls to my cell phone before heading over to the diner early. The mayor is there early as well. I’m not really surprised. We have a lot more in common than we would prefer.
“Chief,” he says when I join him at the counter.
It’s been nearly twenty years since either of us has called the other by our names rather than by our titles. I’ve been the police chief for five years and he’s been the mayor for six. Before that he called me “Officer” and I called him “Councillor”. Before that we didn’t speak for a long time. And before that we called each other “best friend”. A lot can change in twenty years.
Rosalie Sawyer, who runs the diner with her husband Ron, puts coffee down in front of both of us: for the mayor, a clean white cup in a clean white saucer that chinks every time he picks it up and puts it down and for me, a takeaway corrugated cardboard cup with a plastic sippy lid in case I have to leave suddenly on police business. All of us have this routine pretty well practised.
“Catch any criminals today?” the mayor asks, as he adds sugar to his long black.
“Working on it,” I say, then swallow a mouthful of my skinny flat white.
“Not too hard, by the looks of it.” He throws the empty sugar packet on the counter but Rosalie doesn’t let it sit there for long.
“That’s what I have officers for.” I wait until he has the white cup raised to his lips before I ask, “Shuffle any papers today?”
“It’s the twenty-first century, Chief. Council chambers are a paper-free environment. You should look into it.”
I wish the powers that be would let me. Instead I say, “I’ll take that under advisement.” Paper-free was one of his election promises at the last campaign. That was nearly three years ago and a new poll is just around the corner. The mayor never breaks promises once he’s committed to them publicly.
I wish I’d known that when we were best friends. I wish I’d known a lot of things back then. I might have considered asking him to wait for my first real relationship – with Ginny Forrest – to run its natural course and burn out, like almost all high school romantic relationships do, before making a play for her. I might have asked him to promise not to steal my girlfriend.