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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday Spotlight: Savannah Frierson

Knowing What You Write

Research is important when writing in order to get as authentic as possible when telling a story. Many of the stories I’ve written feature characters with international roots. Aaron from Reconstructing Jada Channing, for example, is the child of a father who was a first-generation Irish-American and a mother who was a first-generation Italian-American, which meant his parents still knew their mother tongues and spoke it around him. Aaron had Irish endearments for his ladylove Jada while his mother Isabella called him Italian pet names (Aaron is also not my only Irish lead; but Patrick’s story will come at a later date). He also swore in Italian too. It can be difficult having characters speak in a language you don’t fully know, so that definitely requires a lot of research as to syntax, grammar, which endearments are used when. I put good faith effort into it, so much so I try several translation sites and browse multiple forums just to make sure the choices I’ve made are more right than wrong.

Gunnar from The Beauty Within is another character who required much language research, as I had even less familiarity with Norwegian than Italian, but I learned a lot about the language as well as the country, having to find from where Gunnar’s mother was in the country. A Southern boy with Norwegian roots was fun to write, though; and Tyler, Gunnar’s ladylove, certainly didn’t mind being called elskling (darling) or kjære (love).

But it isn’t just the heroes who are international. Both Tyler from Beauty and Rosita from Trolling Nights and “I’ll Be Your Somebody” speak Spanish. Tyler’s mother is from Venezuela and Rosita’s parents are from Cuba. At the very least, writing those characters was a good way to keep at least some of the Spanish I learned in school fresh on my mind!

The two published stories that have required the most research have been AJ’s Serendipity and Go with Your Heart—my two novellas. There is a bit of irony in that as they aren’t as long as the full-length novels, but they required a lot of care. AJ because it was set in a country I’ve never been to and a language I truly didn’t know; and Heart because it is set in the past featuring a language I didn’t know at all.

However, I learned so much as I was writing that I often found myself getting distracted because I just wanted to learn more, irrespective of the story I was currently writing! I spent days—yes, days—searching for the right yacht AJ would own, considering he wasn’t very wealthy, but he did have a fair amount of disposable income. It was a lot of fun researching the different types of boats, and finding one that would match AJ’s personality as well as the boat I’d envisioned in my head. The Greeks are known for sailing and shipbuilding, so it was important AJ’s vessel would reflect that knowledge. For Nashoba, on the other hand, it was a little more difficult because I had to marry history with fiction and be respectful of a culture and language for which I had little prior knowledge. I’d even had a document just full of research of Choctaw words, phrases, beliefs, and its history in terms of its relationship with the Confederacy and its stance on slavery, and how did Choctaws navigate between their personal customs and those of an encroaching outside presence. Nashoba, in a sense, was allegorical, but I also wanted him to be his own man who’d eventually fallen in love with his own woman, Shiloh.

Writing and researching is a fantastic way for me to visit places and times I can never go or I’ve never been. I do plan to make to Greece one day, however. Perhaps I’ll find my own AJ browsing through the Monastiraki in Athens as Samara did!

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