Thursday, August 5, 2010

International Characters

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."


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Having dated an Italian man from Italy years ago, I totally understand the strong opiniated part of that personality. It's born into them.

I love giving my characters foreign flair and since I live in Los Angeles, I don't have to go much further than outside my front door to find and research it. In fact, having books set in Southern California and not having different nationalities represented would be downright unrealistic.

On top of the covers in January - in Maine - YIKES!

G.M. Malliet said...

We vacationed in Tuscany this year - stayed in Cortona, of Under the Tuscan Sun fame. I had never been there and was captivated. (I understand the author had to sell up and move away as she had made the place so famous.)

Lucky you to be originally from Italy!

Darrell James said...

Vicki- My characters are usually an amalgam of numerous character traits and personalities I have encountered in real life.

Being in sales and traveling internationally for many years has allowed me to come into contact with many different people. Some were so outrageous that I can't use them because no one would believe it.

G.M. Malliet said...

Me again. I was wrong. Frances Mayes still has the house called Bramasole - lucky her. Some wonderful pictures on her blog:

Kathleen Ernst said...

I love introducing elements of different cultures within the cast of characters--but I agree, it's much easier/safer if you can actually talk with someone. It sounds like having the opportunity for casual conversation, as you did with your cousin, offered some delicious tidbits that wouldn't likely have emerged in a single "interview" with a stranger, either.

The new book sounds fascinating!

Alice Loweecey said...

I'm anal-retentive about character research (surprise!). I go online, talk to people of the nationality I'm thinking of using, and draw on all the books I've read in the past. Then I try to find a willing beta who would know something about the nationality I've chosen.

I bribe with brownies. :D