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B.W. Jones on crossing culture, age and gender barriers

Fiction, Uncategorized

Amy Davies - July 13th, 2012

In my novel,  All Woman and Springtime, I explore the lives and friendship of two teenage North Korean orphan girls who are tricked into leaving their country. The story delves into the intricacies of their friendship as they are forced to adapt to their unsettling new circumstances, and how each responds differently to the hardships they endure.

I am often asked how, as a man, I was able to render the mindset of my female characters. Some assume that this must have been one of my greatest challenges when writing the book, but during the process I actually thought little of it. My characters were vivid to me, and their thoughts, motivations and feelings seemed to come of their own accord. I did my best to become my characters as I was writing, to imbibe not just who they were from scene to scene, but their entire histories up to then; and by doing that I got to know them deeply. In the moment I sometimes found myself surprised by what they said and did, which I always saw as a good sign that I was getting out of my own way. In the beginning I had a small sketch pad at my desk, and I would doodle on it until the faces of my characters would appear. There were times when a sketch would clue me in to some facet of the character I was working on; maybe something of the line quality would give a character a mood, or the angle of the eyes might show the anger lurking underneath the fear. As with most things, I found it was best not to overthink it.

I began writing with the belief that, at the most fundamental level, before we pile on our cultural, age and gender identities, we all have the same basic needs, drives and desires; and it was these basic universal elements that I focused on in the story. I know what it feels like to fall in love, to crave what I cannot have, to suffer a broken heart, to watch an icon fall from grace and to discover something I held as true to be a lie. These are some of the things my characters go through, and are things everyone can relate to.

Immersing oneself in another character is not for the faint-hearted. I found that writing the perpetrators (both male and female) in the story was more personally challenging than writing my female protagonists. It was uncomfortable to investigate the motivations for their terrible actions, and those days left me exhausted. The most difficult scenes to write were the ones looking directly through the eyes of those who were abusing my main characters, in part because I had to ask myself not only how I would go about doing horrible things, but also how I would justify them to myself.
I think that what makes All Woman and Springtime work as a novel, and why it seems to move people so deeply, is that it is written in a way that these far flung characters become immediately tangible. I wanted to bring forward the elements of my characters that translate across culture, age and gender barriers, and to look through those external differences at their basic humanity. I want my readers to come away with the sense that the people behind the iron curtain of North Korea, and those trapped in the very real world of modern slavery, are within their empathic grasp, to remove the sense that there is a fundamental separation, or an “us” and “them.”

All Woman and Springtime by B.W. Jones is out now.

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This entry was posted on Friday, July 13th, 2012 at 12:52 pm and is filed under Fiction, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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