Friday, November 30, 2007

On Heroes and Contests

So I struggled for awhile with the idea of writing a Native American hero. Alex Gray just popped up of his own accord in Finding His Child, my April 2007 Intrigue. I didn't worry too much at the time about his being Lakota, because he was a pretty minor character--which meant I didn't have to try to flesh out his background too much and run the risk of making some horrifyingly offensive error.

But then when it was time to write the next book, Alex popped into my head again and started talking spin-off. And he refused to go away, even when I told him flat-out to take a flying leap off my universe, because he was done. The last thing I wanted was offend every Lakota who ever lived by adding yet another erroneous Native American representation to the genre-fiction canon. We Latinos aren't off our heads over stock Latino characters that pop up in books, TV, and movies--you know, the pool boys, maids, border crossers, illegals, gangbangers, and skeezy "Latin lovers"--and I didn't want to inflict something like that on the Lakota because I'm not deeply immersed in the culture.

But Alex just wouldn't go away. So I got out my trusty notebook and started sketching out a plot, hoping that once he saw me write myself into a corner, he'd leave in disgust and I could go back to my comfort zone.

That's when I realized that Alex and I had a lot more in common culturally than I'd thought--and not just because my great-grandmother was Chorotega (a little-known and now very tiny indigenous tribe in Honduras). After Alex's father inexplicably shot and killed the first female tribal president of the (fictional) Pine Woods reservation in South Dakota, his father went on the run, and Alex's mother fled with her then five-year-old son to Washington State.

No, my dad didn't shoot someone and go on the lam. (He's a former church council president and Peace Corps volunteer who works for a farmer's credit union in Wisconsin and occasionally travels around the world giving workshops on the various aspects of farmer's cooperatives. He's awesome, but not really dramatic enough to make an appearance in an Intrigue.)

But like me, Alex lost part of his culture when his mother left Pine Woods, just like I lost some of mine when my mom moved with my dad from Honduras to Wisconsin. Don't get me wrong--mom always did her best to help my brothers and I experience and value our Honduran side. But walking the line between two cultures can be a strange experience sometimes. I've always been just a little louder and a little more demonstrative and a little more dramatic than many of my friends. (Of course, not that all Latinos are loud and demonstrative and dramatic--but my aunts and my mom could probably star in their own Central American soap opera. And yeah, it rubbed off.) And the first time I went to Honduras as an adult, my cousins were surprised at how "stiff and reserved" I was. I get the whole "You don't LOOK Latina" from some people when they find out my background (probably because I left my fruit hat and chihuahua at home.), but others--especially Latinos or Native Americans--see something of themselves in me almost immediately upon meeting me.

To my surprise, Alex had similar issues--his dark hair and dark skin mark him as different, but he didn't have the day-to-day experience of living with other Lakota. So he feels a little out of place around people who share his background but grew up immersed in the culture he and his mother left behind--a sense of belonging and yet not really belonging.

With the (unsolicited and, at first, unwanted) help of a self-professed "psychic who sucks" named Sophie Brennan, he starts searching for the truth about his father--and he ends up exploring his own identity as a result. (Not to mention atttracting the attention of a homicidal villain who wants the past left in the past. Wouldn't be an Intrigue without one!) Like me, when he goes back to his roots, he feels simultaneously out of place and a real sense of coming home.

Long story short, Alex got his story--December's Telling Secrets--and I tried my best to get the more specific details of his background right. As I do with all the people living in my head, I took great care to make him much more than a stock character, too.

So it was a little ... shocking for me to get my cover and see 26-year-old Alex, who normally runs around in sweatshirts, jeans, and a Mariners baseball cap, looking significantly older and wearing a vest that looks like it was stolen from the pseudo-Native American in the Village People.

I take full responsibility--I didn't do a comprehensive enough art fact sheet. I respect the cover artist's talent and think s/he did a lovely job with Sophie and the forest behind them. :::::White light. White light.::::: The model, while obviously older than Alex, isn't hard on the eyes.

But the vest ... it deserves mockery.

So come back tomorrow for my First! Contest! Ever! and help me mock it.


MA said...

Oh, god... you're so right about that vest!

Tracy Montoya said...

I KNOW! Isn't it the worst? I feel like I need to apologize to every Lakota who ever lived.

Thanks for stopping by, MA. : )

MaryF said...

I have this book in my TBR - now that I know the story behind it, it's moving up!

Tracy Montoya said...

Hey, Mary, thanks! I look forward to having Hot Shot on MY TBR pile!

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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