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Archive for March, 2008

Can a writer write without controversy about characters of a different race from her?

In an interview with Khaled Hosseini I heard on NPR, the interviewer asked Hosseini if it was more difficult for him to write from the perspective of women in A Thousand Splendid Suns than it was to write from the perspective of men in his debut novel, The Kite Runner. He said at first he struggled with it only because he tried too hard to “think like a woman,” always second-guessing himself, wondering if that line or this one “sounds more like a man, like myself.” Would a woman say this? Would a woman do that? The constant questioning crippled him.

Finally, he stopped thinking about the differences between a woman and a man and just wrote from the perspective of motivations. Would this character be motivated to say this, or do that? That liberated him and ultimately made A Thousand Splendid Suns one frickin’ good book.

Does the same apply to racial differences, or should I say, perceived and presumed racial differences?

In the novel I’m working on, I write about the thoughts of characters that are not Asian American. I want to argue that I should be able to do this, but I have doubts. And even if by some great luck I can competently do this, do I have the right to do it? I mean, I know how antsy I myself get when I read a book about Asia penned by a white guy from Minnesota. Nell Freudenberger (a pretty white girl) wrote from the point of view of Indian men in Lucky Girls and did it quite well. In one story from Ideas of Heaven, Joan Silber wrote about the Boxer Rebellion, describing the thoughts of Chinese characters, and that was just god-awful. I’ll be writing about blacks and whites from a yellow perspective. Hmm. Oh this will be an interesting excursion.

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:: I interrupt regular blogging to indulge in a meme ::

My Responses to 10 Signs A Book Might Be Written By Me:

  1. Flawed Antiheroes. Main characters in my novels and short stories are not lovable; they’re understandable. The situations they find themselves in never “just happen” to victimize them, but rather the characters brought it upon themselves and they must deal with the consequences of their own actions.
  2. Dichotomous Characters. The dissenter is usually paired with a conformist, an acquiescent personality with a domineering one, and each character has his or her subliminal counterpart.
  3. No Race Card. My characters deal with marginalization as a result of their own inadequacies or perceived inadequacies, and not marginalization as a result of their race.
  4. Asian People. I write from the perspective of characters of unnamed East Asian heritage, but on occasion I’ll include a few details that suggest they’re Korean or Taiwanese or some ethnic group descendant of Han.
  5. Religious References. I would argue vehemently that I am not religious (but “spiritual”) and once upon a time in my youth I went through the nihilist phase, which I think any kid who reads Derrida, Camus, Nietzsche, and Jacobi will inevitably slip into. Yet a friend pointed out that I incorporate a lot of both Christian and Buddhist symbolism. Upon reflection, I realize I do. Hmm.
  6. Feminist Themes. There’s usually a strong presence of feminist thought underlying the narration. It may come as a critique of the state of feminism or it may offer my notion of what feminism means. It may also offer my interpretation and observation of feminism in the Asian American community.
  7. Lack of Sentimentality. No mushy love stories, no beautifully tragic heroines, no knights in shining armor, and never anything that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, unless stuff like Vonnegut, Conrad, and Chekhov leave you feeling warm and fuzzy….not that I write like Vonnegut, Conrad, or Chekhov; my point is if the stories leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, then you’re pathological.
  8. Nonlinear Narrative Structure. I almost never write (or think) in chronological order. The organization will follow stream of consciousness.
  9. Verbosity. Me, myself, and I are working on this one. As of the present, though, I tend to be verbose. Bleh.
  10. Critique of the “Asian Mob Mentality. Enough said. =)

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