Ecco il mio cugino, Federico.
My Italian is not too hot but I think I'm saying "Here's my cousin Federico." His grandfather and mine were first cousins and both hailed from the same teensy hill town in Tuscany. He's seventeen, lives in Milano, and we just bid him arrivederci after his 3 week visit with us in Maine.
Living in a foreign place is without a doubt the best way to learn a country's culture, but second best is having someone from "away" live with you. How else would we have known that Italians hate peanut butter, small dogs, sandwiches, bringing presents home for their parents and wearing helmets when bike riding? At least these are the tidbits we picked up from "Rico" during his sojurn with us. He may look sweet in this picture, but the guy had a definite opinion on tutti, and was not afraid to let us know.
Perhaps because Rico was such a character, he got me thinking about how much I like to include characters of various nationalities in my books. Killer Listing, which comes out in April, features a Japanese businessman willing to fork over $40 million for a pro golfer's island estate. How did I create Hideki Kobayashi's character? Research on the net, naturally, but also the visit, several years ago, of a Japanese exchange student, Nanami. (She arrived in Maine in January and it was several nights before we realized she was sleeping on top of the bed and not under the covers. Brrrr.)
The book I'm working on now (third in the series) continues the Japanese subplot and may introduce a character who spent time in Russia. I seem to enjoy throwing in a touch of the foreign mystique, or maybe I'm just armchair traveling.
How much research do "you all" do in creating your characters? Do you try to interview someone, conduct other types of research, or do you wing it? Sono curiouso... which I think means, "I'm curious."