We're all used to the never ending argument about whether women can write realistic male characters, or whether a Caucasian can write an African-American character without falling into stereotypes. The argument flares up every few months and is never resolved completely. Those who don't think an Anglo woman has any business writing about an Hispanic man will never be convinced and those who think the idea that we can write from many viewpoints, will persist in doing so.
But how do you write about a character that is so diametrically opposed to your own world view and make that person interesting and someone you want to read about? In my first historical novel, Shadows and Smoke, I had Billy Brewster to deal with. Racist misogynist, a violent man who also happened to be an LAPD officer in Prohibition Los Angeles. He is the opposite of everything I am. But to make him believable, I have to get into his head and understand him. I have to feel what he feels and believe like him, that what he is doing is right.
Another example are the two characters in Geography of Murder and Forest of Corpses, Alexander Spider and Jason Zachary. Now Jason bears some similarity to me -- he's very into birds, he did some stupid things when he was younger and made some bad choices. But that's about where our similarities end. I find nothing sexually arousing in pain. I can't stand possessive men. If a man told me I belonged to him, my only response would be “Not in this lifetime” and I'd be out the door. Nobody owns me, period. I told an ex that once, and that's why he's an ex. But in Spider I had to create a man who has to be in control, who is a damn good cop because he's smart and never shows weakness to anyone, who seems cold and unfeeling, but inside is a person who can find love for one person: Jason. He picks up men in bars and is into hard core bondage -- and Jason loves him more than life. Spider is everything I hate in a man. But the two books he is in have been some of my most successful and a lot of people have told me how much they love him.
When you create this type of character, you run the risk of people assuming those characters speak for you, especially if you write in first person as I did in both the Geography series and in Shadows and Smoke. If they do, you can at least be sure you made your characters real enough for readers to hate them. It's a risk, but it's a risk I'll take, and keep on taking, since I like edgy, dark characters and that means they have edgy, dark lives that are seldom politically correct.
How do I do it? How do I make sympathetic and even lovable characters out of people I wouldn't sit in the same room with? Because I'm a writer. I don't know if it's an innate talent all writers have or if it's learned over years of reading and writing. All I know is I have the ability to enter the mind of a person that exists only in my head and give him life in my novels and I know his thoughts and the way he looks at certain people. I cherish that ability and am forever grateful that I'm able to make a modest living doing the thing I always wanted to do, which is being a fiction writer.
So, yeah, be assured that I don't hate you or anyone else, but my character sure might. Trust me, it's nothing personal. :-)