Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Moving Beyond Stereotypes: Vegan Cowboys and Character Quirks (And a recipe for Turkish Rice)

It's confession time. One of the main characters in “A Casual Weekend Thing” started life as a cowboy.

What can I say? I'm a sucker for romance novel stereotypes—and the strong, silent cowboy is definitely one of my favorites, along with the sexy fireman, and the jaded police officer. But the challenge for any writer when trying to write a romance novel is to make characters who are unique, real, vibrant people.

Unfortunately, I often find myself reading novels where the author obviously started out with stereotypes (hello, sexy fireman!), smacked a masculine name on them, and let them fill the role of the story's hero without any more development whatsoever. And it works, but it works because most contemporary romance novels don't require anything other than that the hero be 100% alpha male and that he express his desire for the story's heroine at least once every two pages. In a romance where both main characters are men, where they're not included as a foil/romantic interest for a well-developed, spunky heroine, that trick doesn't work.

I must have read a thousand suggestions and tips for making your own characters feel real, and none of them helped me get my strong, silent cowboy beyond the stereotype. I made charts of interests, hobbies, forgotten dreams, and physical tics—but he was still just a cowboy. I couldn't figure out how to make him come alive on the page until I decided to make him everything a cowboy is not, without getting rid of the stereotype base. I incorporated every polar opposite of “cowboy” into his character development that I could think of, and a real person gradually emerged on the page. He turned out to be an enrolled member of the Salish-Kootani Indian Tribe and a well-educated deputy sheriff. Instead of riding a horse, he rock climbed. Instead of wearing a cowboy hat, he opted for a suit. And because he never forgot bottle-feeding calves as a boy, he didn't eat meat. He was still a cowboy underneath it all, but he had morphed into someone whose life and self-definition evolve and change as the years go by, into a character who finally felt real.

I even went to far as to experiment with different vegan recipes to figure out what an over-worked, totally stressed vegan cowboy might make for a dinner date. I tried a dozen recipes, experimented with every meat substitute, even bought whole vegan cookbooks that called for ingredients I couldn't pronounce. In the end, this basic recipe for Turkish Rice found it's way into the book because, like my cowboy, the simple ingredients morph from basic ingredients into something unique, complex, and amazing. Try it, it's good.

Turkish Rice

1 14oz can chickpeas/garbanzo beans
1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable broth
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp dried cilantro

Add everything to a large skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Let simmer 8-10 minutes, or until most of the moisture has evaporated. It's THAT easy. Enjoy.

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