SAN JOSE, CAClaims adjuster and novice author John Kitner is "constantly" asking what it's like to be a woman, reports his wife Becky.
"It never lets up," Becky said. "Today he asked, 'If a woman were running from a burning building, what would she be thinking about?' And I don't know how to answer that. I'd be thinking about getting away from the building, I think."
The questions began when Kitner first started writing his crime thriller, Low Jack, in December of 2004. At the time, he reportedly asked occasional questions ranging from, "Would a woman want to be romanced by 22-year-old wannabe confidence man Ronnie Hodges?" to, "How would a woman feel if she were hammering a guy on the head with a briefcase full of money?"
"I didn't mind the questions at first," Becky said. "I was happy to help out."
But in recent weeks, the level of questioning has become what Becky called "really annoying."
Becky said when the two were at the grocery store Sunday night, Kitner began staring at her as she looked over the frozen-foods section.
According to Becky, Kitner asked, "What type of food would a woman try to eat if she were trapped in a walk-in freezer? How about a piece of liver? Would that be it? If I were a woman, I think that would be just perfect. But I don't know. You tell me, Becky."
Becky said her husband's questions are typically followed by him producing a small notebook and ball-point pen.
"I really don't like when he whips out the notebook and clicks the pen and stares at me," Becky said.
According to Kitner, Becky has been "a great resource" in his novel writing.[pagebreak]
"Becky is an indispensable tool in my writer's tool chest," Kitner said. "I feel like, with her, I'm able to get under Vivian's skin."
Kitner referred to his heroine, Vivian Drake, a 26-year-old ingenue who is "thrust into a steamy underworld of intrigue and danger in Low Jack."
Best-selling writer Tom Clancy, author of Without Remorse, said Kitner is lucky to have Becky as a source of reference.
"I worked alone in my study for years on The Bear And The Dragon before I realized my female character Lian Ming was dead on the page," Clancy said. "If only I'd had someone like Becky around to answer some questions. It might have helped me figure out how women think."
Clancy said he hopes Kitner can unlock the mystery of writing female characters, something no male novelist has ever been able to do.
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and literary critic John Updike agrees.
"Someone should have thought of asking these questions earlier," Updike said. "If only Tolstoy had thought of this, Anna Karenina might have been a more memorable novel."
Updike added: "John Kitner's quest is a part of a larger one: how to write a character who is different from yourself. If he can find the magic key to this age-old puzzle, he will usher in a renaissance in human literature. For the first time, crime novelists will be able to write convincingly about murderers, even if they are not murderers themselves. Non-spies will be able to write about spies. In this new type of literature, there will actually be characters who are something other than novelists. Imagine the possibilities."
Kitner shares these high hopes for his work, but his wife, who has had an opportunity to read some of his early drafts, said it "still needs a lot of work."