With the planned re-release of my book, Pratima’s Forbidden Book, I’ve thought about the setting of that story. Set in Northern India, Pratima and the other characters must navigate a world they are immersed in that contains a mostly alien culture. I decided to ask other authors about the topic.
Erin Yoshukawa gave me her thoughts, “I got lucky: I’ve been to certain parts of Asia and I’ve known a lot of people from these regions. Being from Hawaii places me perfectly in the nexus for Asian-Pacific cultures. Anybody from Hawaii probably has the same insights I do. Our culture isn’t indigenous, per se. It’s a patois of every country that lands on our shores. We see glimpses of these places and find the intersection where our cultures (the indigenous population) and their cultures (recent immigrants) mingle. The devil is in the details, I suppose? The small things like attitudes towards strangers and other genders aren’t immediately apparent, in most cases. But small gestures and throwaway comments add up.”
“In respect to Lesser of Two, the book I wrote with Mirren, I have one leg up on most people: I’ve been close to certain individuals who have traveled to Southeast Asia for sex tourism. And through that person, I’ve met several women who were in the trade on different levels of involvement.”
S. L. Kerns also shared his experiences, “After living in Thailand for nearly six years–and currently in Japan going on three–I have learned a lot about Asian culture. While cultures do vary, I am discovering first-hand that by and large people around the world want the same basic things: a good quality of life, love, and a purpose to exist, no matter how insignificant that purpose might seem to others. As a writer these all work to my advantage, allowing me to write from various POVs and still be able to move the readers with believable characters and situations they can relate to.”
“In Butterflies in the Killing Fields (coming soon from Burning Willow Press: Crossroads in the Dark IV), the MC tries to give his life meaning by finding out the truth about his ancestors deaths in the Killing Fields of Cambodia. In Angel and the Weeper (coming soon in Heartfelt Flows and Misery), Sunsanee seeks the fame she has missed out on as a struggling actress in Thailand. These characters could have been anyone from anywhere–of course with changing out the details of certain situations and locations. But I try to write what I know and what I know now is Asia.”
“One thing that a writer should keep in mind when writing on another culture is: what you like and what you know is not exactly the same as what they like and what they know. This is something I struggled with early on when attempting a short story called Chouko (unreleased). It is the tale of a young Japanese woman with a unique job. I wanted to make her an individual, someone in Japan yet into the American emo music scene–and such a person most likely exists; however, beta readers did not buy it. ‘She should like Japanese music,‘ and, ‘Would she really know so much about the emo scene having never visited America?‘ were common complaints that awoke me to the reality. Yes, characters can be, and at times should be individuals, but don’t expect the reader to always buy what your waving in front of them. Research is key in making fictional characters believable, no matter where they live or come from.”
Greg Alldredge contributed some thoughts, “I try to insert as much reality as possible in any story. I feel the real life experiences helps me to insert details to make the settings more believable. Last thing I want to be accused of is cultural appropriation but I think there are so many good stories that can be based or set in Asia it is an untapped location or at least underutilized setting for stories.”
“I also try to write in believable characters into my stories. Not just stereotypes or tropes of people. Everyone or thing I have written about are bits and pieces of different people I have met traveling around the world. Even the Transgender Hostel owner was an amalgamation of a few different people I have met over my travels, though I have yet to meet anyone with real super powers or aliens. Those all come from my head!”
I agree with points mentioned by these authors, Asian cultures share similarities with others, and are not uniform. Setting my story in Northern India required extensive research for me to imbue the story with realism and authenticity. For me, the important factors are authors immersing themselves in the culture, and clearly showing the culture is not uniform. Authors can convey an alien culture when they put in the effort and take the needed care and love.
Erin Yoshikawa: https://www.amazon.com/Erin-Yoshikawa/e/B06Y3Q6PNX/
Gregg Alldredge: https://www.amazon.com/Greg-Alldredge/e/B0718VVJ8S
S. A. Gibson: https://www.amazon.com/S.-A.-Gibson/e/B00O0HQ6E8