A big thanks to Mary for letting me have some space here..
I’m sure none of you know who I am, so I’ll give a quick introduction. My name is Amy, I published under A.E. Wasp, and lately, I’ve been writing mainly contemporary gay romances about returning Veterans and how they find their way back in the civilian world.
However, my very first two books were gay fantasy romances, set in the real world, and I’ve been dying to get back to them. By the end of the summer, I will have finished book three in my Soulbonded series. I wanted to talk a little bit about the creation of the two main characters, Nikolai and Alexei Sirota. Both adopted by the same man and raised as brothers, but whose lives go back much further than they know.
The first book, Buried Desire is almost a prologue to the main action. While working at a camp during the last summer before they go home and enter into the arranged marriages waiting for them, Nikolai and Alexei give in to their long-suppressed desires, it starts a chain of events that has world-ending consequences.
In Book two, Shattered Destiny, Alexei and Nikolai desperately search for a way to be together and free Nikolai from the destiny fated for him, and the secret of Alexei’s origin comes to light.
In the outlined, but unwritten, book three, Stolen Fire, Nikolai is offered a choice between saving the world and saving Alexei.
Writing Roma characters was terrifying. I was so afraid I would get it wrong and offend anyone from that culture who read the book. I’m still not sure I haven’t!
Though the book is a fantasy, the characters live in the real world, and their backgrounds matter. When starting a book, I tend to research loosely, looking around for something that grabs me, that maybe links the themes and ideas I am exploring. With Buried Desire, it was finding a picture of St. Sara la Kali also known as Black Sarah and Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the Patron Saint of the Roma.
As the name suggests, there is a link to the Hindu deity Kali. Not surprising given the probably historical origin of the Romani people from Northern India. From that discovery, other connections appeared. In the Bhagavata Purana there is a description of Shiva as the Lord of the Ghosts making his way in the dead of winter with a band of hunters, this, of course, has great similarities to the legends of the Wild Hunt.
From there, I knew I wanted to write a story linking St. Sara and Kali and the Wild Hunt. What better choice than to make the main characters Roma? And to have them, in book two, come under the protection of a Norse Völva, a shaman.
In deciding that, I made my life very difficult. Which is usually the case.
It’s very important to me be as authentic as I can with whatever I am writing, whether it’s the impact of a Traumatic Brain Injury or the geography of Northern Minnesota where Shattered Destiny takes place.
Researching Romani culture was fascinating and frustrating because there is actually very little verified authentic information about modern Romani living in the United States. It can be, to outsiders, a virtually invisible culture, and one that is complex and multidimensional. Due to combinations of factors, including a history of constant persecution in Europe where almost 1/4 of all Roma were killed during the Holocaust and harassment in the U.S. (there are several anti-’gypsy’ crime units in various law enforcement organizations around the U.S.), the culture is closed to outsiders. I had a hard time finding accounts I could trust that didn’t lump all Roma into one, monolithic culture and make broad, sweeping claims about ‘them.’
It was easier to find information on the Wild Hunt, and less nerve-wracking. I wasn’t going to offend anyone with my version of the fae or the wild hunt. But there are actual living people I could offend with lazy, poorly-written characters.
I found some people on Tumblr and Reddit who talked about their lives and their families. I found a researcher at the University of Texas and an extensive listing of academic papers. Unfortunately, many of them were either historical or focused on European Roma. I did find a dictionary/grammar guide that translated from one Roma dialect to English. It was a start.
I love all my characters dearly in everything I write, and I want the readers to feel the same way. Culture and language are a vital part in creating real, well-rounded characters that people want to spend time with. I hope I did a good job!
If you want to check out my characters, come visit my blog at www.aewasp.com There is a ton of free reads.
My new book, Bronze Star, #6 in the Veterans Affairs series of contemporary gay romances, released March 28.