When I sat down to write my first novel, Faces, I kept a tight grip on the advice to “write about what you know.” The main character was a software developer, enjoyed rock climbing, lived in Denver, and had acquired prosopagnosia (face blindness that begins following some sort of brain injury). I am a retired software developer, enjoy rock climbing, grew up in Denver, and have developmental prosopagnosia (face blindness that I may have had since birth). Gee — what a stretch. The rest of the story was fictional, however.
I’ve just completed the first draft of a new novel, tentatively titled The Daughters’ Baggage. The primary character is a black, teenage girl living in California with her mother, struggling to pull themselves out of poverty in the years following the death of her father. Another important character is a young Afghan refugee who has come to the U.S. without legal documentation.
I’m a 60-something, white woman who has never experienced poverty, and has never been to a war-torn country. Is it okay for me to write about these characters I don’t really know? Can I possibly empathize with them, having had a limited number of black friends over the years and no direct exposure to refugees from central Asia?
I like to believe that writing about people with different backgrounds and experiences than my own isn’t against any “rules” on being an author. Men write about female characters and vice versa, middle-aged authors write about teenagers, bankers write about detectives, and nobody finds that to be strange. I hope that my exposure to other points of view through conversations, presentations, and my reading, along with my desire to imagine lives different from my own, have allowed me to present fictional characters and situations that are true to real life.
Soon, I hope to have a draft of the book ready for Beta readers — people who read an early version and provide feedback on the story, plot, pacing, characters, and any other reactions they have to the book. I’m especially interested in finding readers who have more of a personal connection to some of the background or experiences of my characters. Reading books and articles has been helpful to me — conversations with people can be even more powerful.
Would you like to be a Beta reader? Not only would I love to hear from persons of color and people with personal knowledge of life in Afghanistan, I’d like to get feedback from anyone who enjoys reading fiction with strong female characters and contemporary settings. Leave a comment below or email me if you are interested. The likely time period for reading will be January 2016.