by Deborah J Ledford
I spent my summers growing up in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina, which is the setting for my Steven Hawk/Inola Walela suspense thriller series. I knew early on that I wanted to present multi-cultural characters from this region in my novels.
Inola Walela, the female lead in my latest novel, CRESCENDO, is the only Native American female on the Bryson City, NC police force. I knew that Steven Hawk’s love interest would be Cherokee from the first moment she came to my mind. The reservation is ten miles from the city featured, so Inola’s heritage made perfect sense given the location. I’m part Eastern Band Cherokee so it was extra important for me to be respectful of Inola’s character. Demeanor, how she carries herself, habits, interaction with her loved ones and peers, are all instrumental elements I kept in mind while creating a believable character of this ethnicity.
I also wanted the Native American element to be instrumental for SNARE, book two of the series. It is always my intent to present Native American characters with respect, so once I decided on the Tribe to focus on I worked closely with the communications director on the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. Floyd “Mountain Walking Cane” Gomez read every word of the manuscript as I composed each draft. He either approved scenes, characterizations and events, or informed me flat out “No, you cannot use this.” (He told me this a lot!)
From day one, Steven Hawk, the law enforcement male lead in my series, came to me as an African American Southern gentleman; well-educated, quiet but firm, and wise beyond his years. I created Hawk many years ago when the project was first a screenplay. The race of Hawk came into question when it came time to submit the novel to agents—everyone wanted me to change him to a Caucasian to make the novel more “sellable”—but I held fast, deciding to pass on offers and stay true to the character as he first visited my imagination.
Bottom line is, do your research when creating multi-cultural characters. From naming your characters, to being true to the regions where they live, most important of all is to be respectful of your characters no matter their race, culture or upbringing.
Deborah J Ledford’s latest novel, CRESCENDO, is book three of the Steven Hawk/Inola Walela thriller series from Second Wind Publishing. Other novels include SNARE—The Hillerman Sky Award Finalist (LCC Santa Fe) and NM-AZ Book Awards Finalist, and STACCATO. December 2013, her media company, IOF Productions Ltd, will release the audiobook version of CRESCENDO, narrated by film and TV actress Christina Cox (Elysium, Chronicles of Riddick, Dexter, NCIS, 24). .