Crystal Magic and Sapphire Nights

Rice_SapphireNights_600x900Pat here:

For years, readers asked me to write about the descendants of my Malcolms and Ives. But I have a bit of a problem writing about the children of my characters because I have a feeling they would be very interfering parents, and romance needs to be about the couple, not their overbearing, all-powerful families.

So I introduced the Unexpected Magic series and the great-grandchildren of the original Malcolms and Ives. Almost a hundred years after that first generation, I have a dozen fascinating families I can create, if I like, but I’m incapable of writing about the same concepts and setting into eternity. I needed to explore new shores and different conflicts. I’ll probably come back with more stories for the grandchildren at some point, but it might not be in England. My Muse likes to travel!

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Exploding Casts of Characters

Group_shot_of_cartoon_characters.I’m stockpiling my e-reader for a long international trip. A lot of my purchases are old mysteries and some lovely old romances like Georgette Heyer. And of course, I can’t resist dipping into them when I have a few minutes to spare. (Right now, that means while in shopping lines or waiting rooms because my workload has tripled trying to meet deadlines and do Christmas shopping before we leave!)

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Writing Character

Umbrella Pat here:

One of the great difficulties and controversies of writing fictional characters is whether to “write what you know” or expand a book’s universe by writing characters of different cultures and ethnicities— or finding some happy medium.
AHappyMedium

Obviously, when I write about characters who live in Regency England, I’m not precisely writing what I know—unless years of research and reading count as knowledge. My Magic and Mystic characters with their psychic and paranormal abilities are hardly in any known universe, except to the extent of knowing what it’s like to be a fish out of water and researching psychic powers.

By those standards—research and experience—I suppose I can “know” people of different cultures and
African village ethnicities. So I might introduce a Chinese or African character into my Regency story and wrap them in appropriate attire and give them a historically correct background, but I have not spent decades studying Chinese or African culture, history, or literature, and don’t feel the familiarity I do with my make-believe Jane Austenish characters.

Since characters are my story, more so than plot, I need to know them from the inside out. I need to know how they felt as children growing up, what foods they like, how they feel about their hair, how they react to fear or joy. Because my parents were both orphans and I grew up in a small family, my characters will often be the products of small families. That’s what I know best,Family-at-night and it works well with my historical characters where death and distance so often truncated relationships. I might imagine what it was like to grow up in a large family in a village where I’m related to everyone, but I would not be comfortable plunking my heroine down there unless I could quickly move her out.

So trying to imagine someone who came from a hot, dry desert country where everyone dresses in grass
Fish-out-of-water skirts and transferring them to chilly, damp Regency England…  Fascinating fish out of water story but not one I would be comfortable writing. It would be difficult enough trying to fit a person of different color into an essentially white bread world, to have that world constantly reacting to their physical differences, without trying to get inside that character’s head.  It would be wonderful to read a book about such a character, but for me, the complications would exceed the limits of historical romance.

This leaves open the question of whether contemporary romance with culturally or ethnically different characters can be written by an author not of that race or culture. Americans are Americans, after all. We grew up with the same TV programs, in the same schools. But I’m old enough to remember the immense cultural divide between nationalities and religions and race as recently as the sixties. Even if my heroine is thirty, wouldn’t she be affected by the influence of parents and grandparents who thought in more judgmental, less educated old ways?  I can still remember trying to figure out if I was a Mick or a Polack when I was a little kid and deciding I was a Pat. I can’t bring that kind of information to the table with a character labeled with worse slurs, although I’d like to.
Racism

What do you think? Should authors stick to what they know or attempt to stretch their imaginations based on what we’ve read and observed? Can we really “know” what it’s like to be a different race or culture? Or can we just say romance is romance and who cares how well the character is drawn as long as the story works? What do you bring to a story when you read about characters of a different background than your own?