Most of my readers have come to like them both (thus far), but you may find Qasim charming and Dianna wishy washy. Or you may find Qasim chauvinistic, even immoral and Dianna relatable. One recent reader didn’t like Dianna because she felt Dianna was, well, wimpy at the beginning. I made a conscious decision as an author to make Dianna young, naive, and less than perfect so:
- The novel would show the effect Qasim has on Dianna’s life, including increasing her self-esteem and empowerment;
- The novel would reveal character growth, not just plot;
- The novel could portray the 1980s in a realistic manner; women were just coming into their own in a still largely male-dominated society;
- Dianna could observe her relationship with Qasim through naive (read: innocent), less worldly eyes because that’s the only way people can see anyone anything for the first time they run into it…with fresh eyes. I wanted a narrator who was new to meeting other cultures.
That’s what I wanted. Here’s what I didn’t want:
I didn’t want flat, tidy characters. I didn’t want Dianna to be modeled after an action movie superhero (created mostly by men for video games and comic books). I needed to take risks with my protagonists’ flaws. Dianna, though she’s no gold digger, does fall for Qasim for his outward persona – his age, prestige, intellect, and worldliness. Yet as she comes to know him, she begins to love him for who he is and not what he reveals at first glance.
Qasim’s reserve, she learns, is a cultural dynamic, just as her own Southern roots (and dysfunctional childhood) molded her. Dianna has abandonment issues, coming from a place she never felt safe. Frankly, so does Qasim. Even as they begin to understand each other, new revelations keep them unbalanced. Their reactions to feeling any loss of control, based on their pasts, affect how they behave toward each other. Dianna’s uncertainty then permeates all areas of her life. Ever date a person that had that effect on you?
Author Kiese Laymon called my characters runners. “How can a reader dislike a character who has to run to be free?” he asked. Dianna and Qasim both run away from home, run toward each other, and run away again.
Dianna, being a researcher, is curious, almost scientifically so. She notices detail. She’s an Observer. She’s also inexperienced, and therefore that makes her less biased in her observations. Not to say she hasn’t been brought up with a certain world view. Yet the fact that she’s in Manhattan lets the reader know that she’s not going to be just like her parents who raised her. The fact she wants to travel the world means she wants to take risks and have adventures, and that’s a great way to change perspective. The fact that she decides to let Qasim into her world means she’s a little different than an average 1980s woman. She just needs to grow into herself, and as she’s growing, she’s observing.
“How can a reader dislike a character who has to run to be free?
Qasim falls for Dianna because, just like most men and women, he’s attracted to her, too. He notices her blonde good looks and youth, but he also notices her depth and strength as time progresses. Later, he begins to appreciate what she can become. In fact, one reason he feels she might not fit into his 1980s patriarchal, bureaucratic, political world is her spunk, well hidden underneath a young immaturity and Southern gentility. Would he have fallen in love with someone his own age, from his own country? Probably not. Did the fact he thought he could be in control of the relationship allure him? Most certainly. Would Dianna have fallen in love with someone she could totally figure out? No, she enjoyed the challenge he gave her.
In life, we often don’t engage a person we’re not attracted to in conversation. We may think he’s “Mr. or Ms. Right,” but only time together can reveal that. Yet even the Mr. and Ms. Wrongs teach us lessons, and it’s not my opinion that these two are wrong for each other. Their timing is just off. Their love of family and country causes them both to be alternately judgmental, secretive, and selfish. They’re fighting an uphill battle, and they almost win. Today, their union might be more accepted. They’re paving the way for a more accepting future for the world.
At least that’s my hope, and I know I’m not alone.
So, I don’t think you need to love a character to love a book. To be true to my 1980s characters, I wanted Dianna to grow into Dianna first, to embrace her heroic nature step by step, to stop chasing illusion, and to evolve into loving herself. Dianna, the huntress of her own Heart and Soul. What do you think?
P.S.: A couple of you were surprised at the novel’s ending. My own little secret: I have a sequel. Dianna runs to Africa in the sequel, out to “save the world,” where she’ll mature and may learn she needs to save herself first. Yet it is in Dianna’s and Qasim’s natures to “run.” We’ll see if they ever stop. If there’s a third novel, I’ll be interested to see if they can ever be together.
For more about my characters, and point of view, read my blog on my publisher’s page: http://shoresofoursouls.com/2017/03/politics-passion-and-point-of-view-by-kathryn-brown-ramsperger/
For more on intercultural relationships, you can read the first in my series of articles here: https://goodmenproject.com/sex-relationships/5-reasons-interracial-relationships-can-fail-lbkr/