You know, I like Stan. In this picture, he’s doing my two favorite things: calling people on the phone whilst I’m two sheets to the wind. “I just wanted to-to-to tell you, man, *burp* I love you; I really do!” *hiccup*
In addition to knowing his way around a beer mug, Stan has a rather impressive career and some interesting thoughts to chew on (beer nuts, anyone?) regarding interracial relationships in fiction. Cheers!
The Interracial Couple in the Modern Novel: Drawback or Opportunity for the Writer?
Those of us in interracial relationships have a background that in American society is daily becoming more mainstream. I posit that society has moved far more quickly to an understanding of the richness of our lives than mainstream publishers and literary agents who remain socially moribund. So, should we use our experience in our writing? And to what degree?
The short answer to the first question is yes and no. First of all, letâ€™s remember that publishers and agents are in the business to make money. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that. In fact, donâ€™t we want the same thing? I know I do. So letâ€™s keep it real. If we are going to write about interracial couples, we have to ask how it will advance us professionally. If there is a huge readership clamoring for novels about interracial couples and we can write well, than we have it made in the shade. But I have yet to see that market.
That is not to say we shouldnâ€™t write about interracial couples. We should. But how we do it and why are complex issues that must addressed. For those of us in an interracial relationship, how do we use that relationship and its experience to develop our story lines and characters? Or do we use that experience at all? And if we do use it, are we using it to our advantage or disadvantage? How have we approached the interracial couple in our writing?
Letâ€™s face it. How much time do we really spend dwelling on the interracialness of our own relationships? So if we build a story around an interracial couple how much emphasis should we place on their interracialness? The first question we need to ask ourselves is whether the story line is built completely around the couple or are they main characters in a larger, more complex plot? And how do they fit into that plot?
And even more importantly, how do we construct our characters? Are they created out of thin air? Of course not. While they may be fictional they are based upon what we have seen and whom we know in our own lives. In other words, our experience. I write in the mystery genre, with a subgenre of the hardboiled detective. In these genres, modern protagonists and their love interests have been successfully portrayed as both black and white. But rarely as an interracial couple.
In my first mystery novel, The Gendarme, I kept the protagonist, a male NYPD detective race neutral. His love interest, Nevine Chandler, however, turned out to be Anglo-Caribbean. As I was developing her character, her name was suggested to me by a lady friend. Nevine could have been Caucasian or Asian or Latino because her race or ethnic background was not central to the character. However, as I talked this out with my beautiful friend over a long lunch, I realized that by making her Anglo-Caribbean not only was I drawing on my life experience but it was adding an interesting depth to her character and to her interaction with the plot itself. As to their relationship, the detective and Nevine were brought together by horrific circumstance in the aftermath of 9-11. Love was not planned nor was it sought out as the story unfolds. All I will say is that there came a point in time where suddenly the relationship between the characters changed from professional to emotional. And it added complexity and drama to the story line.
My next three novels were The Ides of June, Forty-Deuce, and One-Trick Pony. In this series, the main characters are rough and tumble attorney Doherty, his love interest Dana McPherson, and Dohertyâ€™s buddy Henry Lowrie Jackson (Hank). Each of these characters is a composite of people that I know well. The same can be said for all of the minor good guys and not quite so good guy characters. The plots, however, are completely fictional. Something you need to keep in mind when you create characters based upon friends. We are fiction writers and not in business of hurting people or destroying friendships. And that includes spouses and significant others!
So how were interracial couples used in this series? Sparingly, to be blunt. And this column has given me the opportunity to reflect on that. Letâ€™s look at the characters. Doherty could have been any race but as I developed his character, he became a composite of myself and one other person, also a white male, so that is how he turned out. As for Dana, readers are left to their own imagination as to what race she is. I did not set out to create the two of them as an interracial couple, although many readers, mostly women, have told me that is how they have viewed the relationship.
Hank is another matter. I wanted to give Dohertyâ€™s buddy a lot more complexity than sidekicks usually receive in this genre. So I made Hank a Lumbee Indian from North Carolina, with a triracial background (again remember Hank is a composite of real people). Hankâ€™s background is discussed, but rarely as I have so far kept him as man of mystery, who once had a girlfriend back home. The only relationship Hank has had so far was with Sylvie, an Afro-French woman living in Paris, and that only started in the last chapter of One-Trick Pony. At the urging of a magazine editor, I have also started writing about Hank as the main character and in the third person. In a novella to be published this fall, Hank is in New York and is real tight with a woman named Nisette. Nisette is a BW and is also Hankâ€™s partner in street justice for a price. Again, while they are clearly an interracial couple, their interracialness adds to the story line but is not central to it.
This summer I decided to approach the subject through a relationship novel intended for a mainstream literary audience, and which is a work in progress (the first draft is almost completed). The characters are WM and BW American writers living in the south of France and who are going through a series of emotional crises built around their writing and their pasts. The story line is already complex, with mysteries about their backgrounds revealed in the final chapters. Unlike the mystery genre, development of their interracialness would fit more smoothly into the story line and as the first draft will be under 80,000 words I have plenty of room to work. Drawback or opportunity? I just donâ€™t know but Iâ€™m writing it anyway. So wish me good writing and good luck.
About the Author:
Stan, who happens to be married interracially, is the author of One-Trick Pony, and is a graduate of Columbia University and Brooklyn Law School. He was a felony trial prosecutor for the district attorneyâ€™s office in Brooklyn and later a civil trial attorney for the New York City Department of Education. Prior to becoming an attorney, Trybulski was a newspaper reporter, college administrator and bartender, as well as engaging in other interesting and exciting activities. A native New Yorker, he has traveled the world extensively and now devotes his time between France and two acres of Connecticut tranquility. His next novel, Case Maker, the fourth in the popular Doherty series, will be published later this year and more of his short stories will be appearing in upcoming editions of the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and Hardboiled Magazine.
Visit Stan and learn more of his work at stantrybulski.com