This past St. Patrick’s Day got me thinking about my own ethnic heritage. They say everyone is Irish on St. Paddy’s Day. When we were young, my husband and I did our share of partying on that day, although neither of us has a drop of Irish blood.
Last year, my husband and I had our DNA tested. There were no surprises. Our DNA results were close, both of us overwhelmingly Mediterranean with some West Asia (Turkey, etc) thrown in. My husband also has some Eastern European DNA, not surprising since his father’s family is from the Ukraine.
Some years ago I wrote an article about using your ethnic heritage in your writing. I decided to dig it out and update it.
You’ve all heard the old adage, “Write what you know.” We writers do research to learn about places we’ve never visited, or we make up our own worlds, which is sometimes easier. Regardless of what worlds we write about, we put a little bit of ourselves into all of our stories.
I hadn’t thought of using my ethnic heritage in my books until my third one. In the first two books I wrote (one published, one not), 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 (Redemption Book 1). Doriana, named after a woman I know who is an immigrant from
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 Rome, Italy 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. Some of my cousins make
wedding soup together every year.
I used my ethnic heritage again in my romantic suspense novel, Murder, Mi Amore, which is set almost entirely in Rome, Italy, with an Italian hero and an Italian-American heroine. 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
in 2006. Every bit of setting — the hotel where my heroine Lexie stays, the
streets she travels, even the food she eats — are authentic, based on my own
experiences. However, unlike my heroine and hero, I wasn’t chased through Italy by very bad people
trying to kill me. Rome
In Franco’s Fortune (Redemption Book 2), the hero is Doriana’s brother, and of course Italian/Irish. The heroine is a redhead with a French last name. In Luke’s Temptation (Redemption Book 3), the heroine is Doriana’s cousin, and is all Italian. The hero is Hispanic. Although I’m not Hispanic, I’ve written several heroes who are of Hispanic or mixed Hispanic/Native American heritage. As you can see I’ve gotten away from my ethnic roots at times, yet the characters I write about have ethnic backgrounds that I enjoyed researching.
In my novella, Capri Nights, included in the Entice Me: Luscious Love Stories Boxed Set, my hero, Alex, is from the Isle of Capri, Italy. I’m currently writing a story that will be included in a box set of international stories. My hero is, you’ve got it, Italian, from the town of Ravello on the Amalfi Coast. I’ve visited Capri twice, and I’ve visited Ravello also.
I’ve sold a dozen short romance stories to national women’s magazines, and I’ve used Italian and Polish names for many of my short story characters. However, a few of the magazine editors have changed my characters’ names to something more “vanilla.”
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.
Writing my Italian characters is like writing about my family, people I’ve known all my life. I’ll use an ethnic name whenever it fits, but I know, regardless of ethnicity, the characters’ names must tell the readers a little bit about them. Try it when you write your stories. Spice up your characters a little flavor of yourself and your heritage.
Visit my website at www.caramarsi.com for excerpts and information about all my books.
The Redemption Series Box Set:
Murder, Mi Amore:
Entice Me: Luscious Love Stories