Crossing Gender Lines to Create a Woman Investigator
Posted by mruthmyers
Grant McKenzie leads a double life, as a thriller writer under his own name and as author of the Dixie Flynn mysteries under the name M.C. Grant. The latter series features a young investigative journalist for an online news site who’s as tough as she is rumpled. Beauty With a Bomb, the third book in the series, was a finalist for this year’s Shamus Award for best paperback original P.I. novel — and is it a page-turner!
This year’s Shamus Awards Dinner gave me an opportunity to become acquainted with Grant and his wife, Karen. He generously agreed to be interviewed for this blog.
Ruth: You already were well established as a thriller writer when you started the Dixie Flynn series. What made you decide to tackle something a good bit different?
Grant: The Grant McKenzie novels are real edge-of-your-seat thrillers written in third-person, but I have always been a fan of crime noir that tends to be written in first-person. The Dixie Flynn series allows me to explore a genre that I adore, and write it from a different perspective. (I also write them in present tense, which is different from the Grant McKenzie novels, too).
Creating a series also allowed me to introduce quirky characters that can grow with each book, so that a minor character in one book could take on a larger role in the next book, while another character sits on the sidelines. Plus, as becomes very clear in the Dixie books, the ramifications of each book plays a toll on Dixie, shaping her in dark and dangerous ways. That’s why I always suggest that readers start the series at Angel With A Bullet before moving on to Devil With A Gun and Beauty With A Bomb.
Ruth: Why a female protagonist?
Grant: Dixie is such a fun character to write. She’s feisty, hard-headed and doesn’t pull her punches – either verbally or physically. I decided to make Dixie female in order to give her a vulnerability that can be difficult to create in a male character. Noir readers don’t necessarily like to see weakness in their male characters, but it is those moments of fear, doubt and despair that can really show character. Despite her toughness, I really wanted Dixie to have those moments when she got in too far over her head and the reader could really fear for her life. I also wanted to bring in her troubled love life in a humorous manner, and writing that from a woman’s perspective was just plain fun. There is a scene in Angel With A Bullet where Dixie describes two police officers by the seat of their pants that always gets a giggle from readers.
Ruth: It seems to me that women writers are more likely to cross gender lines and write a series with a male protagonist than men are to base a series around a woman. Of course there are exceptions, like J.A. Konrath, Alexander McCall Smith and the late Robert Parker, but in general, do you think that’s true?
Grant: I do. I think a lot of female writers believe that their work will be taken more seriously by the publishing industry if it features a male protagonist — and that may have been true at one point, though, fortunately, not anymore. While male writers choose to write in a female voice as both a challenge and for the sheer fun of it. There are likely male writers who wouldn’t be comfortable ever writing in a female voice, and the same trepidation is likely true of some female writers, too.
Ruth: Is the Dixie character based on anyone?
Grant: The character isn’t based on anyone, but the name is. When I first emigrated to Canada as a teenager, I met a girl named Dixie Dash who was the roller-skating queen of the high school I attended. As a Glasgow Scot, roller skating was as foreign to me as Canada was, and Dixie was kind enough not to mock my absolute uselessness at the sport. At the same time, I was reading S.E. Hinton and Gregory Macdonald, and just beginning on my journey to Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Mickey Spillane, etc. I always thought Dixie Dash was such a cool name and it stuck with me. Unfortunately, my publisher Midnight Ink, felt that Dixie Dash sounded too corny, so the name was changed to Dixie Flynn. In my heart, however, she is Dixie Dash.
Ruth: Both you and your wife are former journalists, correct? Did that influence your decision to let Dixie be an investigative journalist rather than a regular P.I.?
Grant: Yes. I spent over 30 years in the newspaper business, and have very fond memories of all the characters that I worked beside over the years. The business has changed a lot in recent years and Dixie mourns those early days when gutter-rumpled creatures could shuffle into work on a cloud of stale beer fumes and write incredible journalistic poetry. I like to close my eyes to those later paycheck years in journalism and try to remember when I was young, naive and wanted to change the world. Dixie is jaded, but she still has those dreams and ideals in her heart.
Ruth: What’s the most difficult part of the writing process for you?
Grant: Finding the time. Working full-time for a homeless shelter and trying to write books is a difficult task. I dream of having a break-out book that puts enough money in the bank that I can actually make writing my full-time occupation. There are stories I haven’t told simply because I couldn’t find time.
Ruth: What’s your current project? Thriller? Dixie?
Grant: I’m busy writing a new Grant McKenzie thriller that I’m very excited about. Polis Books is publishing three of my novels in 2016: The Fear In Her Eyes in April, K.A.R.M.A. in July, and the one I’m currently writing, tentatively titled The Butcher’s Apron, in September. It’s going to be an exciting year as I believe these three are some of the best thrillers I have ever written.
Ruth: If you were going to choose a line of work other than novelist, what would it be?
Grant: I’ve always fancied running an Exotic Cat Farm in Belize – the furry pet kind not a Nevada bordello – but I don’t think there would be much money in that. Apart from that, anything creative, really. Anyone hiring Dreamers?
COMING NEXT: Early women P.I.’s and police women
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