USING YOUR ETHNIC HERITAGE IN YOUR WRITING
You’ve all heard the old adage, “Write what you know.” Of course, we do research to write about places we’ve never visited, or we make up our own worlds. But regardless of what type worlds we writers imagine, we put a little bit of ourselves into everything we write.
I hadn’t thought of using my ethnic heritage in my writing until my third book. In my first two books, my heroes and heroines had Irish/English names, as do most characters in American books. Face it, we Americans have an easier time pronouncing English, Irish, Scottish and German names than we do Italian, Polish, French, etc.
When I decided to write my third book, I had an epiphany. Why not make at least one of my protagonists of Italian descent, as I am? Thus, Doriana Callahan, the heroine of my romantic suspense, Logan’s Redemption, originally from The Wild Rose Press and now available on Amazon Kindle. Doriana, named after a woman I know who is an immigrant from Rome, Italy, is half Italian, half Irish. Doriana has the quintessential Italian mother, loving, but intrusive, named after one of my favorite aunts. Doriana’s Nana lives in South Philadelphia and is a sweet, tiny elderly Italian woman who is a terrific cook, modeled after my husband’s grandmother and mine. I had such fun writing these people because they are so familiar and dear to me. I put in a scene where Doriana, her mother, her cousin, and Nana are making Italian wedding soup. My cousins make wedding soup together every year.
I used my ethnic heritage again in my romantic suspense novella, Murder, Mi Amore, set almost entirely in Rome, Italy, with an Italian hero and an Italian-American heroine. This story is scheduled for release December 15, 2010, from The Wild Rose Press. I even included a whole chapter set in the small town in Abruzzo where my grandparents were raised. Writing Murder, Mi Amore brought back memories of my trip to Italy in 2006. All the scenes in that book, even the food my heroine eats, are authentic, based on my own experiences.
In the past year I’ve sold eight short stories to the confession magazines. I’ve used Italian and Polish names for many of my short story characters too. You have to be careful when using ethnic last names. The names must be easy to pronounce--like Russo, DiMarco, Novak, Morelli, Brioni, Cortese. You don’t want readers tripping over the names.
But then there’s my werewolf paranormal, Cursed Mates, scheduled for release December 13, 2010, from Noble Romance Publishing. No ethnic names there. My hero is an English nobleman who happens to be over 500 years old. I’d originally given my heroine an Eastern European first and last name, but that didn’t work for various reasons. Now she has a more generic name.
Writing characters who are familiar, who might have a shared background with you, can make for stronger stories. But the name has to fit the character. I used an English name for the hero of Cursed Mates because being a tortured English nobleman is a big part of my story and of this character.
I’ll use an ethnic name whenever it fits, but I know that, regardless of ethnicity, the characters’ names must tell the readers a little bit about them.