The problems I have with writing foreign characters.

I’ve been debating with myself lately if I want to bother trying to shop around my novel “The Gallery” to publishers or if I should chalk it up to just “practice.” It might be worth revising but overall I’m just not sure if it’s ever going to be good enough to charge people money for. If I count only first drafts it’s my third novel although it’s my first attempt at a more “serious” or “literary” book. The first two were fantasy and really not very good. (As you’ll see when I get back around to continuing the “Stone Force” story here.) Even if I decide to scrap it based on quality issues this wouldn’t deter me from writing. I would move on and hope that I improve my writing skills. Yet I could change my mind and go ahead shopping it around anyway. Hey, I could use the experience in the publishing world as well. Still, on top of any sort of quality concerns that I have regarding “The Gallery” there’s another reason that I’m considering giving up on the project for: how certain aspects of my story, particularly in the main antagonist, relate to the real-world events going on right now with Russia and the Ukraine.

My ego is not so big that I think that my book is going to strain international relations but as it is it could strain my relations with readers. The antagonist, named Natasha Kosomov (a made-up last name), was born and raised in Moscow when Russia was part of the Soviet Union. Her back story involves her father taking her to the Ukraine and joining an occult group. The group has no political significance either in the book or real life. I included it as part of an ongoing universe which centers around The Order of the Shadows, a group that I invented for a short story a couple of years ago. I really didn’t do my research, either. I have no idea if it was as easy for her to move around as I made it in the story.

The fact that she’s Russian meant nothing. I made a point to not include any Russian stereotypes in character, especially as I had her living in the States for several years. It was simply a characterization that appealed to me. I can understand if the Russian villain is a relic of cold war fiction. There’s definitely a hint of Natasha Fatale in there. It wouldn’t be that difficult, technically, to change her background to some other country. The fact that she’s the villain and her history includes both Russia and the Ukraine that I can understand that it might be necessary to do so.

The problem is that at this point I have become so invested in the characters in the book that I would have a hard time bringing myself to change such prominent characterizations of any of them. I spent a lot of time with Natasha in the book, and while she gets her comeuppance in the end I have felt a sort of empathy for her. It would be difficult to think of her in any other way. I could change the facts regarding her background to make them less offensive but I would still be thinking of her in that way. If I were to make any more revisions later on the old Natasha would most likely seep into the new Natasha. Besides that, it’s very possible that I could forget to make certain changes and it would become a big mess.

There are two Arabian villains as well which could also be a problem but I wouldn’t have as hard a time changing them. Again, they have more or less become “Americanized” so I would avoid stereotypes. But isn’t that Americanization also an offensive tactic? Wouldn’t it have been better to research into what character traits I could give the characters to make them accurate but not offensive? Probably, but then that raises another question: would it even be worth it to make them foreign in the first place?

This is where I run into trouble. What started off as a mystery revolving around an art gallery and the clique that meets there turns into an international crime drama with a hint of the occult and James Bond. A lot of the characterizations are flat, not to mention potentially offensive. I could be my own worse critic. Maybe I’ll throw more excerpts up on this blog at some point so people know what I’m talking about. Today’s post got a little on the long side so I’ll skip doing that today. I get the feeling that it’s going to be an ongoing dilemma for me for a while, anyway. I have other projects I want to focus on in the meantime. I have that short story that I started last fall, not to mention all the stories I want to revise. For now the only problem that I want to focus on with characters is the issue of their gender.


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