Have you ever felt drawn a story you were scared to write?
I almost always feel this way when approaching a new novel (with picture books I trick myself into thinking what I’m doing is simply play). MAY B., though, brought its own special challenges. I had no idea what my story would be, and I discovered early on that the only true way the book could work was to write in a style I knew nothing about. Add to this the complexity of a character who spends most of a story alone in a place I’d never been, and you can begin to feel the intimidation I did in starting this piece.
Despite all this, I had to write about a strong pioneer girl. I knew the story had to deal with solitude. This was enough for me to begin the murky process.
Here I am again with a new idea that terrifies me. Those of you who have followed a while know I’ve been planning to write a verse novel about a Gitano girl (Spanish Gypsy) for some time.
I set aside my research last winter to work on other things. That work needed to be done, but honestly, I’ve been avoiding the hard work I know is ahead of me. Here’s why:
I’ll be writing about a culture that’s not my own. Some writers think it is impossible to speak in the voice of another people. Some think it’s wrong to even attempt it.
I must present the Gitano culture accurately and respectfully. This is a challenge in several ways:
- My research must move past stereotypes; like all characters, mine need to be complex.
- There is no one Gypsy culture. The Roma, as they are often called, live differently in every part of the world. There are cultural and linguistic similarities, but not always. While the Gitanos of Spain share flamenco, for example, those of the northern part of the country are different from those in the southern region of Andalusia. Even within Andalusia, there are differences (just compare the people of big city Granada with those of small town Gaudix).
- Gypsies have a unique, storied history filled with centuries of migration and persecution. Much of this past informs the way Gypsies are treated and treat other people.
- Parts of Gypsy culture aren’t especially attractive (for example, a deep-held belief in the superiority of their people — the word for a non-Gypsy is “gadjo” [“payo” in southern Spain], which means peasant or serf).
- Gypsy separateness and lifestyle choices continue to confound and frustrate those around them. Just look at what’s been happening in France these past few months.
I’ll discuss this further on Friday.