It is no secret that we at Badass love Sophie Littlefield’s books. You can see our reviews of of her books here (Aftertime, Rebirth, Horizon, Bad Day for Pretty, Bad Day for Sorry, Bad Day for Scandal, Bad Day for Mercy, Blood Bond) and our interview with her here. Because we are so excited about her new novel, we invited Sophie Littlefield to write a guest blog post on her most recent novel and the beginning of a new series — Blood Bond. Below, Sophie shares her thoughts on writing from the point of a view of a character who may seem to be completely different than her.
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Writing this book was a powerful experience for me, because it explores some important topics – including racism and social dynamics in immigrant families – that I have no firsthand knowledge of. What’s more, I wrote it from a male point of view: my main character is thirty-ish detective Joe Bashir, whose parents emigrated from India shortly before he was born.
The strange thing is that at the time I started writing the book, I gave little thought to the fact that I was “writing as a man.” I had envisioned an entire cast of characters for the Joe Bashir series, including his fellow detective Bertrise Wellington, as well as uniform officers, crime scene techs, and chief. Though none of these secondary characters have point of view scenes in BLOOD BOND, I had written a short story in Bertrise’s point of view in order to get to know her better, and so moving from one character’s mind to another felt pretty natural.
Also, at the heart of the book is a relationship story. Joe is in a waning relationship with one woman at the outset of the book, and over the course of the story he becomes involved with another. He is also challenged in his roles as son and brother, and to write that effectively I had to think about how his parents and sibling felt about him. In short, I spent a lot of time thinking about Joe from others’ perspectives, so by the time I got around to writing his scenes, I felt as though I knew him very well.
Because of this, the details of his existence – what he would wear, eat, read; how he spent his free time; where he received his education – were clear to me. In general I think that when an author has prepared well, creating a character’s story world is easy.
Whether an author can write effectively outside his or her gender is an open question. I have written a number of male point of view short stories and been pleased with the results. I am an active observer, as most authors are; I make a point of noting the differences in the ways men and women behave. While Joe is not based on any particular person, there are elements of men I’ve known, and I rolled certain of their characteristics into the mix. The way he stares out the window in the opening scene, or eats his lunch or talks to a waitress any number of other actions, are modeled after real men, and perhaps more authentic for it.
My biggest ongoing challenge is trying to understand how it feels to be second-generation Pakistani-American, especially given the shifting sands of global politics and national sentiment and prejudice. I will be the first to admit that I can’t know this, but I strive to observe without judgment, to absorb what happens in the world around me and use that information to develop Joe’s character. I lived for several years in an area where there was a growing community of affluent south Asian immigrants, and I found it fascinating to see how the community reacted and how everyone interacted with each other.
For me, the path from observation to fiction is a natural one. Every time I get interested in something new, I want to write a book about it. (My friends would confirm this; they often send me links and stories that they think might inspire me. In fact, my last few books all came about because some quirk of history or news event caught my attention.) The fact that I’m bound to get the details wrong from time to time does not, to me, disqualify me from writing these stories. I reject whole-heartedly the notion that one must be somehow “qualified” to write about a topic: while living through an event or period of history certainly lends a particular kind of authenticity, I think outsiders can also write compelling stories, and that sometimes being an outsider even brings its own advantages, like an unprejudiced vantage point or a sense of balance about where an event fits into the broader world.
Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but at the end of a long stretch of writing from Joe’s point of view, I often experienced a sort of blurred reality. In a sense I felt that I was Joe; that I would rise from my desk and go practice martial arts on my deck or carefully clean my coffee pot (in my own life I do neither of these things).
I read an account of Daniel Day Lewis’s preparation to play Lincoln, and he is evidently quite the method actor, staying in character and speaking in the unnaturally high voice he cultivated for the role even when off the set. I’m a little that way myself, though I try to hide it. But I do think “method writing” enhances the end result, and I hope that as I continue to write about Joe, my understanding of him will deepen and mature.
Thank you Sophie for for that interesting insight. I loved it. And for readers who are wondering when the next Stella Hardesty or Joe Bashir book will be released, both likely will be released later in 2013. 🙂 I cannot wait!
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