At one time or another, many of us have wanted to write from the viewpoint of someone who is from a culture other than our own. This usually happens for those of us who write fiction when we want our main character to be African American, Native American, Roman, English, French, Native African, Chinese, Japanese or whatever culture you choose. The question is how do you do this without offending those who are from that culture? While there are some authors who don’t really care if they offend someone of the same culture as their character by not remaining true to the actual culture, most of us would like to avoid that, particularly if we’re writing about a group of people that is large and well known. The thing is if you do offend enough people from a particular culture, even if you are a well-known author, the people from that group can affect your book sales in huge ways. And let’s face it! This is about respect.
It is one thing if you make a serious mistake out of ignorance, meaning you did your research, you interviewed people from that culture and so on. In this, people will forgive you most of the time. But if you just don’t care, you risk writing stuff without really knowing what you’re talking about, and if it’s a big enough mistake, it can be end of a writing career.
So, how do you write about characters who come from cultures other than your own, cultures you’re unfamiliar with and therefore escape your knowledge? And how could I, an Italian-born writer, write about American characters such as Leon Sterling, Sean Davis and Drake Seymour in my ReScue and Soulmate Series?
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Don’t rely on the internet alone for your information. In fact, the internet should be the last resource you look at. The internet is a wonderful thing, and I will be the first to admit it has a plethora of fantastic accurate information. But…and this is a big BUT there is also a ton of misinformation as well. Anyone can post a website and say whatever he or she wants on it. So, don’t rely on the internet as your only source for understanding another culture ‘cause it’s just about guaranteed the information in your book is incorrect. Which means that you should always make sure to back up your internet info with at least two other reliable sources, such as any of the ones listed below. The internet should always be your last resort when it comes to finding out information about any culture.
2. Start out with books written by people who are from that culture and who grew up in it. Or people adopted away from it at an early age, but who have returned to it and spent a number of years actively involved in it. These books will give you a foundation to understand the culture.
3. Interview people from the culture your character comes from when possible. Sometimes this isn’t possible. One example might be if you are writing a book with a Native American character who is Lakota. While you might get lucky and be able to interview a member of that tribe, many Native Americans don’t care if non-Natives understand their culture, and as such will be unwilling to be interviewed, or will make stuff up because they don’t want to share what they know. This happened quite a lot to anthropologists in the early 19th century who were trying to learn more about indigenous cultures. If you’re respectful, you explain why you would like to interview them and have some questions answered, some people from other cultures will be willing to help you. If not, then you have to respect them and their wishes and work to find your information elsewhere, and no this does not give you carte blanche to go right to the internet and just use whatever you find there.
4. Go to cultural events. Go to events that people from the culture you are interested in are putting on. Often these are open to the public and you can learn much by paying attention. If you’re lucky enough to go with someone of that culture then you may be able to ask questions about things whose meaning you don’t understand.
5. Watch TV, movies and any video from that culture. Today, with satellite television and with the globalization of movies and TV series, you can watch just about anything from just about any culture. Who hasn’t seen a Bollywood movie at least once, if only to get a laugh out of it? Sure, most of them are full of songs, dances and melodrama, but underneath it all, a Bollywood movie tells of the Indian culture like few others things. And this is just one example on just one culture. I can think of dozens of others, like the Japanese manga or the British sit-coms, all of which can help you determine how people from that culture likely to behave.
6. Don’t make up stuff. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve read books about a culture I was very familiar with, where the author had obviously made stuff up. Making stuff up because you’re too lazy to do proper research is a sure fire way to get bad reviews from those who know you made stuff up, and to offend people within the culture you wrote about. You don’t want that as it can cost you book sales in the long run.
The key word you want to keep in mind anytime you are dealing with another person from another culture, or even reading about another culture, is respect. If you show respect, treat a culture’s members with respect and treat the material you are reading or learning with respect, you will be much more likely to learn the information you are looking for.
Oh and there’s one last tip that is very effective though isn’t at everyone’s disposal: live in the culture you want to describe. And I, who have been fortunate enough to do it, can assure you that it’s the best method of all to get to learn about people radically different from your own way of thinking. This is the reason why I, an Italian born who has lived five years in the USA, can invent credible characters that are American born and raised. Like Leon Sterling and Sean Davis from the ReScue Series, or Drake Seymour from my Soulmate Series, all characters that are pretty close to home, wouldn’t you agree?
But don’t take my word for it. Here are a couple of PG excerpts so you can judge for yourself!
Sweetie, I don’t pretend you have your act together
[image:image-4]“Hey, Sean, John Spencer already called three times this morning.” Keith’s urgent tone sounded worried. “And he promised hell if he didn’t find you by noon.”
Fuck! “Why, what time is it?”
“Past eleven thirty.” Coming from behind, the famil¬iar voice’s ironic tone was unmistakable.
Whirling around with a crunched stomach, Sean caught Leon standing on the threshold, looking as fresh and rested as if he had slept ten hours, which he had not, as the prey well knew.
“Eleven forty to be precise.” With a deliberate show, Leon raised his arm without glancing at his watch, his gaze glued on Sean’s face.
“Uh…” Damn! How the hell does he do it?
They had fucked until four or five in the morning, and he seemed in perfect shape, while Sean felt a wreck despite having slept past ten o’clock.
“Sorry, boss, I ran a little bit late last night and…” You rammed my ass so deliciously I didn’t want you to stop. Will you accept that as an excuse?
Looking at Leon, he had the weird sensation the hunter had read the question from his eyes, considering how he nodded imperceptibly with a sly grin curving his mouth-watering full lips.
“Forget it. The important thing is you’re here, so we can get down to the business of calling John.”
“Now?” Dismayed, Sean went to set his coat on the hanger, wondering how he was going to manage without…“I think I need a coffee first.”
Dazzling green eyes flashing in understanding, Leon held out a steamy cup he had kept hidden behind his back, and Sean’s heart simply melted on the floor, which was the reason he had to avert his gaze, lest Leon noticed the emo-tions brimming in his eyes.
“Gee, boss, thanks.” What was really getting to him this time, this life, beyond the coffee and his undeniable love, was the glimpse of something new for the hunter. Never a talker, he seemed unable lately to hide a certain caring Sean had to pretend not to see if he did not want to be overwhelmed by it. This time being no different, only once recovered his composure did he wear his most blinding smile and walk to Leon. “Had I known you were so generous this morning, I might’ve come earlier…” If my lover hadn’t pumped the life out of me last night. Crossing gazes from above the cup’s edge, Sean finished the thought, knowing Leon would have no trouble picking it up.
And I’m ready to do it all over, sweetie, if only we didn’t have work to do. “And gotten John less angry, so let’s get this call though before he becomes furious and unman¬ageable.”
“Here?” Why not in your office?
As much as he loved their verbal confrontations, nothing beat being alone with him in the privacy of his fabulous office where, unable to resist the tension, he had no trouble obtaining a closer phys¬ical contact. Going around the desk to bend over his shoul¬ders, pretending to examine the relevant documents, Leon would play with him shamelessly, running a hand up Sean’s legs to press a warm palm over the half-aroused cock waiting for any pretext to stir, teasing it at leisure. But seduction worked both ways, and since the object of the game was for Sean to surrender, he complied by dropping on his knees and burying his face to his lover’s crotch, mouth ready to swal¬low what his hands were working fast to uncover—
Sorry, sweetie, not this time. This call’s too impor¬tant. “Your phone has a loud speaker, so we can do it here, unless Keith has some objection…” Leon looked over at the desk across Sean’s.
“Of course not, boss, no problem whatsoever. You won’t disturb me one bit.”
“Shall we?” Grinning satisfied, Leon gestured to Sean’s desk.
“All right, let’s get on with it.” Even if he knew it was just another of Leon’s tactics to get to him, a sort of game-within-the-game, he could not help feeling defeated as he turned to pull up a chair next to his for Leon to use. “Hem…what do we have to do?”
“I’d say we call John…” He immediately stopped Sean’s hand from grabbing the phone. “But first, what do you say you switch on the computer and open the incriminating file just to refresh your memory about what we’re going to tell him?”
“Computer, right.” Looking at the blank screen, of course he needed to turn it on, so he fumbled with the switches until he found the right one and heard the familiar noise of the machine coming to attention. But sipping his coffee while waiting for it to complete its many, too many, diagnostics, he perceived Leon’s body heat much like he had only a few hours before when the powerful frame had pressed on him, long hair brushing his shoulders, dick firmly planted in his ass or mouth in the delightful pumping—
“Shouldn’t you open the file?”
[image:image-5]Leon’s voice breaking through his memories brought him back to the now lit screen, the system finally operative and in need of instructions that Sean, after focusing hard, remembered how to impart in order to find and open John Spencer’s campaign. And when it finally came to life, it flashed like a twisted sort of Window’s reward for his efforts. “Now what?”
“How about we dial his number?”
“Right.” But as Sean went to grab the receiver, he realized he did not remember John’s number, did not have it underhand nor where he might have stored it. Aimlessly, he rummaged through his desk, looking beneath the many papers scattered over it, then opening a few drawers and searching without success. Beaten, he was about to tell Leon he had no idea where to find the number when he noticed the hunter holding a business card between index and forefinger right under his nose. “Why didn’t you say so?” Sean scoffed, snatching it from his hand. “Instead of having me turn over my whole desk—”
“You seemed so taken, I didn’t want to spoil it.” The green eyes blazed mockingly. And you were just too much fun to watch!
At the same moment, the phone on the opposite desk rang, and Keith picked it up immediately. “Hello?” A brief pause, then he became very friendly. “Oh, Mr. Shickle, I was just about to call you, yes, for that detail we discussed about yesterday. Listen…” Cradling the receiver against his shoul¬der, Keith moved a few files around. “I talked with Mr. Sterling…” A brief pause and a look over at Leon who gave him a silent go ahead. “And he’s agreed to…”
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Sean lowered his voice and leaned closer to Leon, almost burying his face in the broad chest counting on the screen’s protection. “Listen, lover, if you think you can fuck me until five—”
“Actually, it was four.”
“Well, whatever…and expect me to be fully func¬tional by eleven—”
“Actually, it’s noon.”
“Well, whatever…you’ve got me all wrong. I’m not like you. I can’t sleep just a few hours at night and have my brain running at top speed at this ungodly hour of the day.”
“Would late afternoon be more to your conve¬nience?” Leon grinned, openly teasing him. “Actually, sweetie, I don’t pretend you have your act together, simply ask for a bit more organization on your part.”
“Well, sorry, I can’t handle it.” Then hearing Keith’s voice on a descending tone, Sean straightened his shoulders, but the pain from the newest incisions made him wince. Not the balm’s fault however ineffective it seemed of late. More the hunter’s repeated carving.
Delicately, uncaring if Keith noticed, Leon traced the scarred skin from above the clothes. “I’m sorry it hurts.”
Sean shrugged. “Not your fault, just maybe we’ve been carried away with the game lately, doing it too often for my skin’s taste…” Practically every night since we met, lover. Then Keith hung up, and the time for privacy was over.
Drake, honey, is that you?”
“Drake, honey, is that you?”
With a sinking heart, he adjusted the receiver to his ear, spiritually bracing himself for the onslaught to come. “Yes, Mom, it’s me.”
“Oh, honey, how are you? I wanted to be the first to wish you happy birthday.”
“Thanks, it was really nice of you to—“
“Oh, I know I could’ve waited until tomorrow, like your father said, but hey, you turn thirty-six today, not tomorrow. Besides, it’s a wonderful age, worth celebrating because it won’t ever come again.”
Just like all the others. Rapidly calculating the wasted time of his life, he suppressed an ironic smile. “That was really nice—“
“So what time are you coming over tomorrow?”
“You know, everything’s almost ready for the Thanksgiving dinner. I have the turkey and the cranberries, and the potatoes. I’ll even try to make a pumpkin pie, though your father insists we buy one. Well, I told him that for my kids, I’d rather do it myself than buy one ready-made. But he’s got a thick head, so I had to agree I’d do as he says if I get really tired.”
“I see.” Drake tried to break the rushing flow, already knowing it was useless. And how can she breathe through all those words?
He wondered, not for the first time in his life.
“Anyway, I’m sure Jenny will help a little and I’ve asked her to invite also Aline—“
“Aline?” He managed to cut in.
“Yeah, remember her?”
How could I forget? Anguished at the idea of seeing her again, he sighed.
His mother had continued as if completely unaware of his tightening stomach. “Your sister’s best friend and our next door neighbor.”
“I know who she is, Mom.” Slightly annoyed with her need to state well-known facts, he shook his head. “But why is she coming over? It’s been years since we last saw her.”
“Not for your sister, honey. She’s kept up the friendship and helped her through a very bad year for the poor thing’s lost her mom to cancer just a month ago. Now she’s all alone and I didn’t think it fair she should spend the holidays by herself. She was part of the family anyway, don’t you remember?”
All too well. He sighed, wishing he could forget.
“And Jenny insisted, too, so I asked her over.” A deep breath told Drake that Rose Seymour had finally taken the much-needed pause. “Why, is it a problem?”
“No, of course not. I’m just surprised. That’s all.”
“Not as much as I, honey, especially when I learned Aline wouldn’t be the only unexpected guest. Jenny said she’ll probably convince her fiancé to spend Thanksgiving with us.”
“Jenny’s engaged?” Apparently, there was no end to surprises.
“So your sister tells me, with Dale…something.”
He liked to imagine her beloved features creasing in the effort to bring forth what she probably had no interest in recalling.
“I don’t remember his last name,” she admitted at last. “Whatever he’s called, it’s a nice change for your sister, don’t you agree? She hasn’t dated anyone particularly interesting since Mike left her.”
The subject was getting treacherous by the minute, so Drake had to stop his mom from taking the usual path that led to pity and recrimination for his sister’s future. “So this Dale something is gonna be part of the celebrations, too?”
“Yeah, and I’m very happy for your sister. She deserves it because it’s never easy being alone, especially if you’re a woman. Which reminds me, are you bringing anybody over? We have plenty of space, you know, and it wouldn’t be any problem if—“
“Mom, not again. I thought we had agreed you wouldn’t touch the subject unless I did.”
“Hey, don’t get all huffed up, honey. I was just asking. I guess your father’s right when he says men are different, but I worry about you all the same. You’re not getting any younger…”
No need to remind me, Mom.
“Time slips by so fast and it just ain’t fair for someone as special as you to spend your life alone—“
“I’m not alone. Don’t worry.”
Of course, she did not listen. “Going out with people doesn’t mean you’re not alone or happy for that matter. Today’s relationships are so much more superficial than during my time. With all this Internet stuff you hear about—“
“Mom, I don’t do any Internet stuff. I’m perfectly happy as it is and I can’t wait to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Does that satisfy you?”
Of course, it doesn’t. Drake was well aware of it, catching her sigh and knowing it definitely was not what she wanted to hear, but it would have to do as far as he was concerned.
“All right, honey, so what time are you coming over tomorrow?”
“In the evening. I have to finish up a few things here at work. Then I’ll come over.”
“Bring something warm along. The lake’s beautiful this time of year, but it does get very cold, especially at night.”
As if I didn’t know. He shook his head, acutely aware he would never win against his mother.
“Your father is suffering particularly this winter.”
“Really? I hope nothing serious.”
“Oh no, honey, relax. He just has a bit of a cold he can’t seem to shake off, but I told him he’d better shape up for Thanksgiving or else.”
And Rose’s “else” was far worse than any blasted cold could ever hope to be. “Give him my best.”
“You’ll give it to him tomorrow directly, right, honey?”
“Sure. Then I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes, honey. You take care, you hear?”
Yes, Ma’am. He nodded at the receiver, mercifully hanging up, feeling as depleted as if he had climbed up the Himalayas in a hurry, coming down equally as fast.