Author: Cate Holahan

Seasonal Inspiration

 I tend to set my stories with the backdrop of the season that I am in. Part of the reason is laziness. It’s easier for me to think of ways to describe the way a place looks in a particular season when I am surrounded by that season.  Fortunately, I tend to write most of my drafts in the summer and winter (editing in spring and fall). The two seasons are the best for thrillers, IMHO.  Why? Winter enables me to write characters under the inherent pressure of being stuck indoors. I can use that sense of being trapped to create tension. It also enables me to write about being cold, the symptoms of which evoke fear.  Summer let’s me write about characters struggling with heat. When you’re too hot you can feel angry, upset, frustrated. The need for hydration and relief can become overwhelming. Maybe I prefer these two seasons simply because my favorites are fall and spring. I guess I can see how the metaphors of death and renewal could come out in autumnal books. Spring is too full of life for me, but could make a cool contrast if the character is stuck inside despite the beauty outdoors. Missing out.  What is your favorite season to write about?  

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What's Your Writing Schedule

I got eight hours of sleep yesterday!!!!! It’s exciting because, for the past month, my writing schedule has had me on two.   I needed to finish a book this month so that I could return to working on an edit for my fourth book, which I hadn’t been anticipating would be as extensive as it turned out.  As a result, my writing schedule was 8:30 to 3:00 (6.5 hours) and then again from 8p.m. to 5 p.m. (9 hours) during the week. On the weekends, I was trying to squeeze five hours per day in. It was crazy and unsustainable past a month, but it did enable me to get this book that had been burning in my brain into a word document. Now, I am back to working on an edit that I anticipate I’ll have six weeks to finish. I am hoping that I’ll be able to work 8:30 to 6:00, a more normal schedule for me.  It’s important for me that I write every weekday. As a former journalist, I grew accustomed to writing a couple thousand words each day and I like keeping that up. I also find that forcing myself to write each day keeps writer’s block at bay. It’s not an option to not write, so I can’t be blocked. I might not write anything good. I might throw it out by the end of the week. But, at least I put something down on paper and got my mind working.  Every now and then, like this past month, I write like a fever. And now I have another book (or at least the first draft of one)  What’s your writing schedule?    

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Have Laptop Will Travel

I have lived in the same two states my entire life: New Jersey and New York. More specifically, I have lived in Manhattan or within ten miles of it for my entire childhood and adult life (save for four years of college in Princeton, NJ, which wasn’t really that much farther).  I set many of my books in these two states because I’m most familiar with them. After a decade in the city, I feel like I have a handle on the culture of Manhattan and, even more so, its suburban environs where I live and grew up. As a writer and a person, I’m comfortable in my area.  But that very comfort is the reason why I must travel. I need to see other places to gain perspective on the location that most often serves as the backdrop to my stories. When I don’t visit other places for awhile, I can become so immersed in my home that I can’t recognize anymore what’s unique or strange or beautiful or nutty about it. Writers need the ability to see a place as both an outsider and an insider. We need to have the accuracy that comes from immersion but also the distance to point out what makes a place special.  Recently, I went to Chattanooga TN to see my mother-in-law compete in a half Iron Man.  (Side note: if the world ever devolves into a Walking Dead situation, I’m on her team). The place has all these incredible rock formations and a mountain cave system complete with an beautiful underground waterfall that really should be the setting for a dark thriller–albeit not one that I would write since it would probably devolve into a Raft of The Medusa situation and I don’t do that kind of gore. Still… The city is also incredibly active. Everywhere, people are biking, rock climbing, running, kayaking, and just, generally, hanging outside.  I don’t know if I’ll ever set a story in Chattanooga, but going there did help me see how sedentary life in my home state of New Jersey is, particularly when the weather gets colder. We drive to indoor places or stay in our houses. When we need to work out, we drive to the gym. Seeing it, reminded me of how any story that I set in New Jersey really needs to note the driving culture. If there’s a book set in NJ and someone is not running around in an SUV, then it’s not really set in NJ.  It also reminded me of how active I was living in the New York City. I walked everywhere. Ten blocks. Twenty Blocks. Fifty blocks, in nice weather. I would walk from Battery Park to the Upper East Side on a beautiful day. Why take a cab? I’d walk five blocks in rainy weather to duck into the subway (impossible to catch a cab).  If a story is in Manhattan and it involves someone driving anywhere save for outside of Manhattan, it’s not a story in Manhattan. *Unless that story is Taxi Driver.  What is something that you learned about your favorite setting about being away for awhile? What place have you travelled to that had helped enrich your perspective.      

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What's the Best Book You've Read Recently (in your genre)

Part of my job writing psychological and domestic thrillers is reading them. I read most of the top books in my genre every year, both because I love the genre and because reading them is necessary to understanding the market that I am in. I don’t want to write a story that will feel derivative, nor do I want to pen something so completely out there that my publisher might have difficulty getting it on bookshelves.   Most writers do the same. So my question this week to the MissDemeanors was: what book have you read recently in your specific section of the mystery/thriller community that you have really enjoyed. I know that since we all read a lot in our genres, I can trust their recommendations.  First up, my picks. A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window was great. Deep characterization, an unexpected but believable ending, and fantastic descriptions. It deserves the comparisons to Hitchcock. I really enjoyed Kate Moretti’s The Blackbird Season, recently, and Peter Swanson’s Her Every Fear. Moretti’s book is a twisted tale about love and friendship. Her vivid characters explore what bonds people and the stressors that can break them apart. The ending was interesting and flowed from the narrative. Also, her setting is fantastic. I could feel the oppressive atmosphere of living in a town where the main employer is gone and people feel trapped.  Peter Swanson’s Her Every Fear had me at the edge of my seat. I suspected every male character in the book, but I never felt that the author was playing with my emotions. He was making me see through the eyes of a main character that is simultaneously relatable and completely, necessarily, paranoid. I loved it.  D.A. Bartley: In the last week, I finished both A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window and Harlan Coben’s Fool Me Once. Both were fabulous reads and worthy of all the accolades they’ve received. Your question asked about a book in my genre. I think Coben is closer to what I write than Finn is, so for no other reason than that, I’ll tell you what really impressed me about Fool me Once. First of all, Coben does a masterful job of writing women. I find some male writers write the women they want to sleep with and not real women. Coben writes women I can relate to. Beyond that, I feel like that for a genre-straddling mystery/suspense novel, Coben plays fair. As a classic mystery lover, that matters to me. I can enjoy suspense, but I feel a little resentful when explanations come out of nowhere after the fact. I’m impressed with the writer would can surprise me, but when I’m surprised, I realize I should have suspected. That, for me, is the highest form of the art of mystery. Coben doesn’t disappoint. Paula Munier: I just finished reading all of Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway mysteries, mostly in order. I love Ruth and Nelson, the dual protagonists, and how the author handles their relationship over time. Robin Stuart: Lately, I’ve been reading early works by best-selling authors in my genre. Joseph Finder’s Paranoia stands out as one that impressed me because the protagonist is a tech guy and I didn’t roll my eyes once. I jumped ahead to the acknowledgments early on to see who Finder thanked because it was so accurate – I’m not used to that. I actually reread it as soon as I finished the book to study the language and terminology. It isn’t often readers with my background are satisfied, as well as readers who never give a second thought to how their gadgets work. It’s quite an accomplishment 🙂 Susan Breen: I just read Jacqueline Winspear’s book, Among the Mad, which is not exactly my genre as it is historical, but she does have an amateur sleuth with a community of friends. I loved it because Winspear does such a beautiful job of bringing Maisie Dobbs to life, scarred and troubled as she is. She makes a so-called ordinary woman heroic. She writes about her characters with respect. She also always surprises me with the ending. (I think this is the sixth book by her I’ve read.) Tracee de Hahn: Martha Grimes’ newest Richard Jury mystery, The Knowledge, comes to mind. I am a longtime devotee of Martha Grimes and eagerly awaited this one. From the start, she lives up to expectations. She creates a cast of characters and a world that is charming and interesting. It is an altered reality, with London or various places in England recognizable and also shaped to fit her vision. It is England as we might wish it to be. For me the charm is escapism – people have real problems but they are not precisely real people. They are the essence of people. Grimes constantly impresses me with her ability to have the reader play along with her quirky cast. For example, in The Knowledge I bought into an eleven-year-old girl conning her way onto an international flight and following a bad guy to Nairobi. I’m the same person who when reading some thrillers thinks – really, they wouldn’t find a way to contact SOME branch of law enforcement!! My mind wanders as I think of ways to secretly contact my neighbor, distant relatives, or the head of Homeland Security without the bad guys catching on. At some point I have to deliberately say, okay, let’s believe the author and keep reading. That’s one of the joys of reading Grimes. Through her attention to detail, she creates a slightly altered universe where all things on the page seem possible. We are, in some ways, through the looking glass. C. Michele Dorsey:  I loved Before We Were Yours because it was a mystery without a murder and blended history with mystery through the voice of a contemporary hero. I was impressed that the hero never whined, something I am really tiring of in books. The author (Lisa Wingate) was masterful in blending backstory with the protagonist’s own story. Not my genre but an impressive book combining two.  Alexia Gordon: This question has been hard for me to answer because, honestly, much of what I’ve read lately has disappointed me. (I echo Michele’s comment about whiny characters.) I’ve been trying to expand my reading from classic/traditional mystery into other sub-genres of crime fiction but I keep running into protagonists who annoy me (take a pill, already, sister.), bore me (do something. Do anything.), or remind me why I’m not a fan of pastiches (nowhere close to the original author’s voice; should have created your own characters.) The most recent book I’ve read, in my sub-genre, that I’ve enjoyed is Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries, a collection of Golden Age short stories in the British Library Crime Classics series. Golden Age mysteries focus more on the detective’s skills, the puzzle to be solved, and the delivering of justice than on the detective’s inner demons and dysfunctional personal relationships. I’m much more interested in seeing how the protagonist is going to stop the antagonist from killing a village (or town or city or suburb)-worth of people than in reading endless descriptions of the protagonist’s personal traumas. If I find myself saying, you know they have meds for that. And therapy.” more than twice while I’m reading, the book goes on my never-getting-that-chunk-of-my-life-back list. I will call out one novel (one more recent than DuMaurier’s Rebecca–which I like because of Mrs. Danvers and because DuMaurier wrote suspense that was actually suspenseful) in the domestic suspense sub-genre that gives me hope that I may find something appealing if I just keep trying: Cate’s Lies She Told. (And I’m not just saying that because it’s her question.) I read the ARC, so I don’t know if it makes the “recently” read cut off but it’s the only domestic suspense novel written in the past decade that hasn’t made me wonder if the author only knows stupid, whiny people IRL. Cate’s protagonist has guts and does stuff. She’s proactive, not reactive, and that’s a quality I value. I’m open to suggestions for thrillers and other crime fiction sub-genres which I haven’t explored, so I’m going to enjoy reading this post and responses.

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Trusting Your Gut

As a journalist and now author, I’ve had more than a dozen editors. The best ones finessed my writing and ideas, getting the best story possible out of me and my research. The worst ones used me as a living tool to tell the story they wanted in their voices. The former resulted in some of my best work. The latter in some of my worst. I strongly subscribe to the every writer needs an editor doctrine. But I also believe that every writer needs an editor that respects him or her enough to bring out the best in the individual author. Writers need the freedom to tell their stories the way that resonates with them. The editor can help focus an author’s ideas and tell him or her where they are losing the reader, where the characters are falling flat, where the scene isn’t translating, etc. But the editor shouldn’t use the writer to tell the story in his or her head. It won’t work. It will read as strained as the process of creating the story will invariably become.     

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The Omnipresent Villain

Yesterday, I read a book (which will remain nameless) that made me want to bury it in the sand. The characterization was deep, the writing was vivid, and the villain was such a minor player that by the time he was revealed I felt betrayed.  In psychological and domestic thrillers/mysteries (the genres in which I write), the villain should be hiding in plain sight. Don’t tell me the butler that showed up every now and again to deliver a cup of tea is the kidnapper–especially not after making me suspect the victim’s mom. It will feel like the bad guy came out of nowhere and that the writer manipulated the reader’s emotions rather than actually created a puzzle able to be solved. 
In my opinion, the best mystery writers make the villain a POV character or close to it. He or she should be someone in many of the scenes, ideally someone even trying to help with the investigation. We should have a sense that we know who he or she is and what his or her motivations are. It should feel like we had a shot at figuring out that the person was, at least, hiding something.   
  

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Create A Scene!

The beach air smells like laurel. Wild and green, the scent saturates the air, thinning the musky ocean beyond into a faint note in an otherwise floral perfume. I inhale it and realize how wrong writers are to say that the air smells of the beach. This beach in Nicaragua smells like no sandy strip of waterfront that I’ve ever been on before. Back home, in New Jersey, the beach smells like food. Salt-water taffy and charcoal grills. The crashing waves compete with the shouts of children, the calls of parents, and the blare of portable speakers blasting salsa and Bruce Springsteen. The humid air pulses with the energy of people: sweating, dancing, laughing, browning. In Nicaragua, I hear birds. Wind. Monkeys. No two beach scenes are the same. As I writer, I have to remember that and never get lazy with my descriptions. A beach in my story is a specific beach, just as particular as any character. Moreover, the way a beach scene is described depends on the individual that I have created doing the describing. A woman with a young child might note that the sand is too hot for feet not-yet-hardened by a lifetime of bad shoes. A surfer would admire the wave hitting the rocks and the way the white water travels in a perfect line from the cliff on the left to the one on the right. Scenes must always be specific, and they must always be viewed through the lens of particular character.   

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When To Write And When To Read

Hemingway supposedly said write drunk, edit sober. As a thriller writer, I tend to harness my anxiety for my art. I write caffeinated and edit extra caffeinated.  But there’s little I love more than reading on a beach. Writers need to read. To know the market and understand what kind of stories have been told and what still needs telling, we have to read the best sellers in our genre.  I don’t read when I am writing because I fear unconsciously appropriating another author’s voice, or that of one of her characters. On vacation, however, I tend to read a book-a-day.  I have been on vacation since Friday. Since I write psychological thrillers, I’ve read the following.  This is currently my reading view:  

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Must A Main Character Be Like Me?

I am in the midst of rewriting large portions of my fourth book this week. There are three POV characters in this story. One is an African American female police officer, aged 27, single sans kids. She’s been a cop for three years and is very smart with a high EQ, but a troubled history. Another is a hugely successful 37-year-old Black female orthopedist of West Indian descent that armchair quarterbacks injuries on a sports network as a medical commentator. She’s in a heap of trouble. The third is a 35-year-old former Caucasian attorney turned stay-at-home mom to twin boys, one of whom is autistic and homeschooled. She’s a walking anxiety disorder with a sharp wit. All the characters are American. None of them are particularly like me, though I am sure my personality and observations bleed into all my characters. Specifically, their back stories and cultural heritages don’t match my own (though the orthopedist is of West Indian descent and so is the Jamaican half of my family).  I have things in common with all of my POV characters, though. And, most importantly, I’ve done my research.  All this writing has me thinking this week about character creation. How like me should my characters be? How much latitude do I have, as a fiction writer, to create characters that have different cultural heritages and American experiences than my own?   In practice, I tend to err on the side of a lot of latitude, providing I’ve done the research and have a connection to the character so that they come across as a real person and not caricature. For The Widower’s Wife, one of my characters was a white male insurance agent math whiz. I am not white. Not male. Not an insurance agent. And definitely not a math whiz. But, I interviewed a female friend insurance agent and am married to a former math major. I’d felt like I’d done my homework. Still, I’ve been known to take too much latitude in my life. So, I asked the MissDemeanors for their take.  Q. When you write main POV characters, do you create people that share your gender and ethnicity or do they come from other cultures? Why? Alexia: I write main characters who share my race, gender, and socioeconomic background because I spent the first 47-ish years of my life not finding many/any middle class, African American, female main characters and I got tired of not reading about anyone who looked like me. #representationmatters. Susan: I tend to write main characters who share my race, gender, etc. because I feel I have something authentic to say from that point of view. However, I did write a novel with a protagonist who was an Indian young woman, and that was a challenge, but I tried to get around it by making sure she and I had points of intersection. So I made her a Christian. I definitely populate my fictional world with a wide variety of people.  Michele: I’m going to sound apologetic here, but the truth is I don’t feel qualified to write from the point of view of someone ethnically or racially different from me. I do feel I can write from a male point of view and I’ve written gay characters with some authenticity, probably because I have gay family members and friends. What I try to do is appeal to the universal themes and desires that all human beings struggle with. I applaud those who can write with more diversity than I and enjoy reading those stories. Alison: I have an extremely detailed knowledge of my ancestry because I grew up Mormon. I can go onto a Family Search website and see my ancestry (including when everyone was baptized and received various temple ordinances), which is mostly English and Swedish, with a little Scottish, Irish and Welsh thrown in. If you go back several centuries, there is some French. Needless to say, my experience is that of a fish-belly white woman. My protagonist, Abish Taylor, is also white (but, wait for it, she has auburn hair). Before my editor convinced me to write Blessed be the Wicked entirely from Abbie’s PoV, my favorite voice was that of the male police officer and returned LDS missionary. He’s also descended from Mormon pioneer stock, which means some variation of the British/Scandinavian mix. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I could convincingly write another ethnicity for three main reasons: ignorance (I don’t know what I don’t know), fear (I’d be afraid to get something really wrong), and anxiety (I wouldn’t want to offend someone if I did get some thing wrong). Tracee: Susan and Cate may remember we (or I) were asked a version of this at our book even last year in Manhattan. The specific question was how did I feel about writing from a man’s point of view. For me the intersection or commonalities of culture and sociology economic situation are more restrictive than gender. On the other hand, if I really felt a story needed a character outside my comfort zone I think I would try. On the other hand…. would I get it right? I would never write a character simple to check a diversity box. I don’t think that’s fair to who ever really lives in that box. We all deserve authenticity. Paula: It’s a tricky question. I believe literature should reflect the multicultural world we live in and as an agent I try to do my part to champion writers who contribute to that multiculturalism. As a writer I believe that writers should in theory be able write about anything or anybody, but in practice in my own writing I am more cautious. My mystery A Borrowing of Bones features characters of different genders and ethnicities, but so far I only feel comfortable writing from the point of view of characters ethnically similar to myself. I do write his and her points of view, but both my hero and my heroine are former military and having been raised in a military family I hope that helps me pull it off. Robin: Authenticity is important to me – if a character is unrelatable they’re not fun to write and less fun to read. I have no problem writing in the voice of different genders. My best friends have always been men and they’re used to me asking lots of (sometimes inappropriate) questions. Socioeconomic diversity isn’t a problem, either. I’ve personally experienced the gamut on that so I have my own life to draw on. I’m also comfortable with writing gay or straight characters, being gay myself and having grown up, lived, and worked around straight people. Ethnicities are trickier because I worry about getting it wrong or the character feeling 2-dimensional. That’s where I proceed with caution and get guidance from friends. Looking back at the stories I’ve written, all have been set in and around San Francisco so multiculturalism is part of the world-building. Not to mention one of the reasons I love the SF (and NYC). When it comes down to it, though, it’s service to the story. I agree with Tracee, I won’t go out of my way just to tick a particular diversity box.  

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Creating Multi-Ethnic Characters and Landscapes in American Crime Fiction… (Alt. Title: Can Crime Fiction in America Be Post-Racial?)… A True Story

 “What are you?” Growing up in small town New Jersey in the 1990s, I stared down that question on a near-weekly basis. Parents, teachers, strangers at the mall—all would ask shortly after requesting my first name. “Catherine” didn’t reveal enough about me. It was too generically biblical. Every land to ever encounter a missionary doled out the moniker like a Christmas fruitcake. The name defied easy categorization. And, back then–as like now–seemingly everyone needed racial classification. I’d often answer, “American. Born in Queens.” My stock response invariably frustrated my interrogator. Here I was, a plain-old Catherine, with olive-skin and dark curls that, incongruously, could not speak Spanish. My straight nose, which hooks when I smile, had been keeping plastic surgeons employed across cultures since the invention of rhinoplasty.  And, now, I was telling someone—attempting in as PC-a-way as possible to figure out my race—that I’d been born in one of the most diverse cities in America.  “No, but what are you? Are you Black or White?” My usual follow-up sounded even more insolent. “Both.” The answer had the virtue of being true. Nearly all my paternal relatives trace their history back to Europe, specifically Ireland. My maternal ethnicity is more complex. A Jamaican-born US immigrant, my mom is primarily the descendant of West Africans brought to work sugar cane plantations in the Caribbean. Her ancestors mixed with Carib Indians, originally hailing from South America, Desi diaspora, and European indentured servants. There are members of my mom’s family with skin the deep brown of a carob pod and others as fair as ground nutmeg. Everyone is American, either U.S. born or naturalized. And everyone is considered Black.  I was and am proud of my racial heritage and all the people that had to exist to, eventually, make me. And I was (and am) always happy to share my family history. What I didn’t want to do in answering the what are you question was to adopt someone else’s idea of me based on their concept of what it meant to be Black or White American.  Back in the 90s, I was particularly sensitive to the stereotypes associated with being Black or White. Many of them had come from popular movies and music videos, which often reduced ethnic characters to caricatures. Jamaicans were all pot smoking Rastas. Black people were, by and large, good at sports and poor at academics. White people were the inverse. Blah blah blah… bull crap.  To me, my family members weren’t statistics or representatives of a particular racial group. They were individuals. And, individually, they’d always bucked the flawed assumptions most often made about their respective races. To this day, the family member best at math is a Black cousin on my mom’s side that went on to get an advanced engineering degree at Columbia University. The family members best at sports are my half-Irish, half-Jewish cousins on my dad’s side that started on a Division I baseball team and collegiate basketball team, respectively. My mother—the Jamaican-born Black woman—never smoked pot until my father—the 1970s White hippie—gave her a joint. Saying “both” was my way of asserting the truth and simultaneously refusing to be defined by another’s idea of Blackness or Whiteness.  Few wanted to hear my answer, though. Once a teacher told me in front of my entire class that saying “everything” was unacceptable. “This is America,” she said. “In America, you have to choose. Are you White or are you Black? Pick one.” “I’m both. I’m— “Well, what will you write on the SAT? There’s no checking all that apply.” After hearing this line of thought so often I acquiesced for a long time and began self-identifying as only Black. I thought the category was most likely to include me. America’s history of discriminating and enslaving people with any African ancestry meant that folks with less Sub-Saharan blood than myself were classified as Black. Therefore, to my thinking, I clearly belonged in the Black category.  As a Black woman, I wrote Black characters. When I penned my first book, Dark Turns (Crooked Lane Books, Sept. 2015), I made my protagonist a Black American ballerina. One of the antagonists was a White American student. There was a Hispanic American ballerina in the book. Just as I had been told that I had to identify with Black or White, I felt that my main character had to share my racial background in order to be believable. Everyone else had to be in a neat box.  As I matured, both in my writing and personally, I began to reject the idea that I couldn’t check all the racial boxes that applied to me. I moved to a diverse, suburb of Manhattan where many of the families near me were also mixed race, either because the couples married outside of their racial group or because the adults themselves were multi-racial. Living among so many multicultural families, I realized that I, too, could claim my varied heritage. And, if I could, why not my characters? Why couldn’t I create multi-racial characters? Moreover, why not create ethnic characters that, like myself, would be influenced by their cultural heritage but not defined by a racial identity?  In my second thriller, The Widower’s Wife (Crooked Lane Books, Aug. 2016), my main character is a bi-racial Brazilian American whose undocumented parents are deported. Her culture, gender, and race influence her–and impact how some secondary characters relate to her–but the most salient part of her backstory is that her parents were taken away. That is what creates her primary motivation to keep her family together at all costs.  In my latest suspense novel, Lies She Told (Crooked Lane Books, Sept. 2017), my primary character makes clear her amorphous ethnic identity and my supporting cast hails from a variety of multi-ethnic backgrounds as well. There’s a British transplant to America of African descent, a freckled Ginger-haired woman based on a high school acquaintance of Jewish and African American descent, and a Trinidadian American. The cast is diverse because they live in a diverse city and my fiction reflects the world that I know. In some sense, they are all post-racial because their racial identity is less relevant to their story than their jobs, their personal histories, the state of their marriages and their mental health… There are some that would argue no minority character can be post-racial, particularly in crime fiction given the unequal application of law based on wealth and perceptions of race. Moreover, critics might say, race is still a defining characteristic in American society today. To have multi-ethnic characters that don’t “choose one” or don’t relate to their world constantly aware of their racial identity is somehow disingenuous.  To these critics, I’d say that I write from my experience, not ignorance. I agree there need to be stories that address racism (past and present) and the legacy of racism. Jesmyn Ward’s Sing Unburied Sing is a beautiful and current example of literature that does this.  But, I would also say that there needs to be American stories where the cast is ethnically diverse and multi-ethnic without the story being about their ethnicity–especially today. And I think that American writers of all ethnicities and races should endeavor to include some diversity in their stories to accurately reflect what America looks like. It’s not as segregated as our art often indicates.  And it’s definitely not as segregated as some segments of the population would like. In the past couple years, I’ve become painfully aware of the ongoing backlash against multiculturalism in America and concerned about the renewed racial tribalism that I see in 2018. After years of feeling comfortable identifying as multiracial,  I hear the echo of calls to “choose one” in political rhetoric that refers to individual Americans by their perceived races before identifying them by first name. And I see a demand to check one box when watching video of White nationalists waving flags from a time when miscegenation was illegal. Recently, I read that White nationalists were using DNA tests from 23andMe to prove the “purity” of their Caucasian ancestry. Some posters on message boards envisioned a world where nationality would be determined by such tests. As my own little protest against this idea, I recently sent off a vial of my saliva to 23andMe. According to the company, my DNA is from five continents. There’s Irish, Caribbean, British, Sub-Saharan African, and South East Asian, with likely some East Asian and American Indian thrown in a long time ago. I shared the results wherever I could on social media along with three hash tags: #multiracial #American #me.  I have a diverse family. I live in a multicultural, multiethnic area. And I ardently believe that I can reflect that experience in my work. Moreover, I believe that I can create ethnic and multi-ethnic characters that know their backgrounds without it being the most important thing about them or how they relate to the world.  Sometimes, I will write a scene in which a character’s ethnic and racial heritage becomes relevant to the way they are being treated by another character. Just as, sometimes, in my own life, my ethnicity (or the question of what I am) becomes particularly relevant.  More often, though, my characters’ races simply influence what they look like as the move through their story, more concerned with, say, the possibility that their neighbor is a murderer.  I hope that, by writing American characters from diverse heritages and having them all interact, I can encourage a broader idea of what it means to be American. There are so many hyphenated-Americans now that, perhaps, we should all stop hyphenating. Moreover, some of us have too many hyphens to possibly do it.   I don’t need to check one box. And I believe that, as a writer, I can develop relatable American characters that defy easy racial classification and any corresponding stereotypes. The people in my books are individuals. They have cultural backgrounds and they are influenced by them. But they are also just themselves. And I think that, in 2018, I can leave them be.                    

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