A literary agent friend of mine told me once that I should write what I know, and that included creating American characters for my stories. I knew what she meant—I’m an American, and it’s much easier to understand, and write about, people from my own culture. But I had a different perspective. I grew up in this U.S. ‘melting pot’ and came from a family with a varied heritage. What I longed for was to understand the differences in the way people think and behave based on their geographical and cultural climate, and how it affects their relationships.
My mother grew up Germany. She met my father, a U.S. army soldier, when he was stationed in Germany in the late 1950’s. They married and she moved to the U.S. with him. One of her sisters married a Frenchman. Decades later, my son fell in love with a German woman and moved to Munich. He’s now discovering different customs and views.
My father and his sister researched their family tree and traced their ancestry back to a Danish Prince and to Cherokee Indians. And with an Irish surname of Finlay, you can probably guess that my husband came from an Irish background.
In the U.S., I’ve worked with people from all over the world. I’ve also traveled to Europe, Great Britain, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. So, because of all of this, whenever I begin work on a new novel, I automatically reach for characters from different ethnicities and weave them into a rich and colorful setting.
My new mystery novel series is set in rural France, in a fictitious hillside village riddled with caves. It features an American man, an Englishwoman, and a village full of French people. Another of my books brings an Englishwoman to the U.S. and places her in a dangerous situation. I suppose that makes my characters ‘fish out of water’. I force them to sink or swim.