Monday, November 15, 2010

Writing outside a reader's comfort zone

In the last few months, I've been asked a few times to write about my experiences as a Canadian author (who writes Canadian-themed fiction) who sells primarily an American audience. The following post has been, in different forms, on several sites including Maria Zannini's blog.

Since there is a good mixture of different countries of origin represented here on Paranormalists, I thought that I'd share the original version of "The Six Month Winter".


It doesn’t take long before folks figure out that I’m Canadian. I try to inject as much Canadiana into my work as possible, even when it is fantasy and science fiction. Canadians have difficult cultural ticks, different unspoken rules, and different laws than the US. I want my work to reflect that differentness. Easier said than done.

When I first ran “Harvest Moon” by my American beta readers, many pointed out my “typo.” See if you can catch it:

Six moons would pass before the spring thaw, relieving her of seeing her masculine features.

Spot it yet? It was the “six moons” (six months) phrase. I had a lot of feedback saying that winters are never six months in the US Midwest. I asked why did they think it was even set in the US. The response? They didn’t realize it could be set anywhere else. I laughed it off and developed a scene where Dancing Cat actually mentions the geography of the area. The beta readers put the story in the Northwest Territories. A little too far north, but at least closer. A few more twinks and most people figured out that I was writing about Northern Alberta, Canada.

(Americans, don’t feel picked on. My content editor is British and was quite shocked by the length of winter!)

Injecting other cultures and changing up the setting in fiction really helps challenge both the reader and, I believe, the author. It would have been easy for me to have placed Harvest Moon in Idaho or Montana. However, it would have changed the small, subtle differences: what people ate, what people wore. It was those differences, those tiny layers of texture, that I felt changed the tone of the story.

As an author, I feel that it’s important to include different peoples, different cultures, and even different sexual orientations. It’s even more fun when you take those differences and toss them into the mix of a stereotype or cliché. It makes for a rather interesting salad.


Krista D. Ball is a Canadian author who, through no fault of her own, has 1.5 dogs, 2.3 kids, and 7 cats. Her novella, Harvest Moon, is available for Kindle, iPad, iPhone, and in many other formats. Check out the MuseItUp Publishing bookstore to purchase.


D L Jackson said...

I think it's the small details that can really make or break a book and it sounds like you've worked a lot in to bring your story realism. Sounds great.
I often hear, when I write about female soldiers, "I didn't know women..."
I write about them, because I'm an Army Vet. I find there's so much you can work with when you write about what you know.

Arlene said...

I knew that Harvest Moon wasnt set in the USA, specifically upstate New Year. Our winters are from october to may, which would have made that seven moons.
I'm a reader who doesnt assume the setting, as I dont care. I'm into characters and HM comes through with flying colors. As a writer, I picked Nevada for the setting of my debut novel based on google claiming it to be one of the only spots on the northern hemisphere a certain shrub grows.
So I can enjoy a book if its based in a cardboard box if the plot and characters are worthy, but as a writer even if no one else knows the detail, yep, setting is important.

Rebecca Leigh said...

That's interesting. When I read the sentence I didn't think anything of it -- I guess my first assumption isn't that all stories are set where I'm from (of course, where I'm from has no winters). I also like to set my stories in various locals - mostly ones like where I am. Ah, paradise.

Great detail work is necessary. Bravo Krista!

Lisa Lane said...

I couldn't find the "typo" either, but maybe I've read so much sci-fi and world lit that I just don't don't read with those tpyes of assumptions. ;-)

Beta reads are always interesting--it is surprising to see the things the common reader might miss or assume, things you as a writer might take for granted that the reader will grasp or accept. It can be a valuable lesson.

My dad emigrated to Canada many years ago to work for the CFL. The couple of times I visited were definitely interesting cultural experiences. We're so alike--yet so very different. ;-)

Krista D. Ball said...

Arlene, your winters are mild though :)

Krista D. Ball said...

DL - being Canadian, I've written stories with Canadian military rules. Holy crap. Does that ever get people's dander going. Apparently, in the future, the entire universe's military system will be exactly as the US system is today. LOL

Dawné Dominique said...

Krista, I didn't read a thing wrong with that sentence. Then again, I'm a Canadian, too. *smiles* When I joined a writing forum in early 2000, I had people reviewing my writing and commenting on all my spelling and grammar errors. I was a paralegal for seventeen years, so my grammar and spelling had to be in top notch form. To say I was confused is putting it mildly. I knew we had spelling differences, but grammar? When I pointed this out to people, I'd receive an "oh" or "I didn't know" back, but it didn't stop. Eventually, I got so tired of it that I learned the US rules...and yes, there are many differences.

Dark Diary, the second novel in my vampire series is set in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It was originally written as a fictional US city, but I thought long and hard about the decision and wanted to interject some of my "Canadianism". Now I'm asked why I would have a seven century old vampire living in a small prairie Canadian city. *smirks. I answer that question in the book.

It's wonderful to meet another writer who thinks like I do. (((Hugs)))


Krista D. Ball said...

I also got the US spelling and grammar a lot in the first online critique group I joined. I even had to state in my author's notes that I was Canadian and used Canadian spelling.

I once got a critique back that said they couldn't finish because they couldn't take someone seriously who couldn't spell colour correctly. I replied and stated that I was spelling it correctly. He replied that everyone spells the American way, as that's where english comes from.

I sighed. Heavily.

Dawné Dominique said...

OMG! Krista, I had someone tell me the exact same thing in my writing forum. LMAO! I sighed, too, but then muttered a very unlady-like comment under my breath. *snickers* Actually, I was dumbfounded...and confused. Then a publisher asked me what market I intended to aim at. Realistically, the US market is far bigger, so she told me that if I was considering being published in the US, then I should learn to write American. So, I did.

But the sense of pride I have with this second novel...I can't describe it, and I know I will continue to use Canada as locations now. Plus, my hometown friends waiting for the second book to the series can't wait to read it because it's set in their city.

It's sad that in this province, if I wrote about growing up on the prairies on a farm, or aboriginal issues, or something biographical, political, or something to do with wildlife, I may have had more of an opportunity of getting published in here.


Barbara Elsborg said...

As a Brit, I sympathize with the spelling thing. I've given in now, though and set my default to US spelling. The strange thing is that I find myself writing using US spellings when I talk to American friends on line. The words I have problems with are backward (s) forward (s) toward (s) - I never get those right.

Krista D. Ball said...

I don't mind switching it to US language for a submission; I just use WORD to do it. However, apparently, some grammar things are Canadian and I've gotten some funny edits back from magazines (Krista - what on earth does this mean???).

The best?

"I love this story. What the hell is a toque??"

Jay Di Meo said...

Great post, Krista! I admit I don't know much about Canadian culture - but I share the spelling issue, since I come from a Commonwealth country. The toward(s), backward(s) etc. is a nightmare for me too. And I have also started using US spelling since my public is mainly US - but at work I have to use British spelling! Talk about confusing.
Oh, before I forget: keep writing stories in Canada, I love it! I love learning about your country.