USING YOUR ETHNIC HERITAGE IN YOUR WRITING
You’ve all heard the old adage, “Write what you know.” Of course, we writers do research to learn about places we’ve never visited, or we make up our own worlds, which is sometimes easier. But regardless of what worlds we imagine, 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. Doriana, named after a woman I know who is an immigrant from Rome, Italy, 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 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. My cousins make wedding soup together every year.
I used my ethnic heritage again in my romantic suspense novella, 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 Italy 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 Rome by very bad people trying to kill me.
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. 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.
But then there’s my werewolf paranormal, Cursed Mates, currently unavailable, but will be available again soon. No ethnic names there. My hero is an English nobleman who happens to be over 500 years old. I’d originally given my heroine an Eastern European first and last name, but that didn’t work for various reasons. Now she has a name which better suits her, even if it’s not exactly ethnic.
Writing characters who are familiar, who might have a shared background with you, can make for stronger stories. But the name has to fit the character. I used an English name for the hero of Cursed Mates because being a tortured English nobleman is a big part of my story and of this character.
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.
Please visit my website at http://www.caramarsi.com for information about all my books.
Lexie Cortese is in Rome to forget. The last thing she expects is to meet a sexy Interpol agent who suspects her of being part of a terrorist plot involving a stolen diamond. Suddenly thrust into a world of murders, muggings, and kidnappings, Lexie doesn’t know what to think—or who to believe.
Dominic Brioni’s assignment is simple. Befriend the American and bring her to justice. Only Lexie seems the most unlikely terrorist Dominic has ever met. Sweet, determined, and direct, she faces life with courage and fire, a fire that sparks his protective instincts and a longing for something more—something he allowed himself to hope for only once before.
But that woman betrayed him, and his boss isn’t about to let him forget it. With his career on the line and Lexie in danger, will Dominic learn to trust his heart before they both get killed?
Lexie had started to run to him when someone grabbed her arm, pulling her around. A man, his face hidden by a ski mask, held tightly to her. Her shock ratcheted to fear. “Let go,” she yelled, trying to jerk her arm away from him, but his grip tightened. The dim light from the balcony above illuminated his flat black eyes. She had seen those eyes before. Holy shit. She was in trouble. The masked man grabbed for her purse. She screamed, and with strength she didn’t know she possessed, whammed him on the head with her purse. He staggered back, swearing, and slipped and fell. Lights and freedom beckoned from the nearby Via Corsi, but all Lexie could think about was Dominic. Turning on her heels, she ran to him, slipping on the ancient stones herself as Dominic struggled to stand. But before she could reach him, the mugger caught up with her and grabbed her shoulder, twisting her around. Dominic sprang up and flew at the mugger, knocking him to the ground. The two men grappled, rolling together on the cobbled street. Lexie, her heart thumping wildly, looked for an opening to bean the mugger again, to give Dominic a better chance at overcoming him.
“Stop it! Stop it! Leave him alone!” The mugger ended up on top, and she whaled away with her bag, getting in any shot she could.
Shouts and the slap of running feet vibrated through the alley. The mugger swore, jumped up, and raced away, a few men giving chase. Several others helped Dominic to stand, yelling in excited voices, and gesturing toward where their attacker had disappeared.
Dominic winced in pain. Lexie looked down at his ripped, blood-soaked pant leg. “Dominic, you’ve got to get to the hospital. You’re bleeding.”
“I’m okay,” he said. “It is nothing.” Brushing dirt off his jacket, he turned to the men and said something in rapid Italian. With nods, they strode away.
Breathing heavily, Lexie disagreed. “You’re not okay. We’ll get a cab and take you to the hospital.”
He cupped her shoulders. “I’ve been through worse. I’m fine. Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”
“No. I’m…” The full impact of what had happened hit her. The adrenaline that had given her strength suddenly dissipated and she began to tremble. “I’m not okay.”
“Lexie.” Dominic moved forward to take her into his arms. She held on for dear life, needing his strength. He rubbed his hand along her back. “It’s okay, Lexie. We’re both okay. You’re safe with me.”
She clung to him. It wasn’t her imagination. Strange things were happening. She had nothing anyone could want. She didn’t know who to trust. Dominic said she was safe with him. But was she really?
About the Author
Cara Marsi, an award-winning author, is a former corporate drone and cubicle dweller who is finally free of her fabric-covered cage. She craves books with happy endings and loves to write about independent heroines and the strong heroes who love them.
Cara is published in romantic suspense, paranormal romance, and contemporary romance. She’s also published numerous short romance stories in national women’s magazines. Cara and her husband enjoy traveling and she loves to write about the places they’ve visited. They share their house with a fat black diva of a cat named Killer.