“Good ole boys”

8 Feb

One of the hardest things I’m discovering about writing a book that takes place in a completely foreign land is how disconnected from the culture I am.

Ooh, what other hard-hitting, shell-shocking facts are we going to uncover on this blog, Sarah? Isn’t that the point? I can hear you thinking through the Internet. I can do that now. Don’t question it. But, please, hear me out.

It’s the little things I really don’t understand, and I’m not sure where to begin to look.

One of my characters, Sasha, is a “good ole boy” from St. Petersburg. It’s been on his character 3×5 card since I started this endeavor five years ago. But, five years ago, this was nothing more than a cute, short story that would win admiration from my friends. Now, it’s something bigger; it’s a Project (with a capital “P”). I’ve worked on it, put it away, done some revisions, completely changed the structure and worked on it again. Characters have been added and dropped, but through it all, Sasha’s card has still read, “good ole boy from St. Petersburg.” Except now, it’s circled in red ink with a question mark next to it. This is the year I’m taking these characters and the plausibility of situations serious. This is the year I write my first novel and get it ready for editors, agents and/or publishers. So, I’m left with a pretty daunting question–what exactly is a good ole boy and what’s the Russian version look like?

When I try to look for a singular word that encapsulates this person (all the more better to translate, my dear), I can’t come up with anything. There’s a lot of flailing of arms, desperate sighs and, “You know! Good ole boys!”

There’s apple pie on windowsills involved. Deep, raw, American pathos that I know, understand and can manipulate to create new and interesting characters.

The idea of the “good ole boy” for all it’s good and bad connotations, feels like such an American character, that I’m not even sure a British version of him–although if he did exist, I’m sure there would be a lot of tweed involved.

(As a side note,  I fear that the Canadians are too similar to the American culture to make a good comparison. And too close in the sense that “country” for Canadians probably mean the same thing as it does to Americans, since their West was conquered in similar fashion. “Good ole boys” definitely have a western, country connotation to them, even if they’re from Manhattan.)

If I ask Google, “What is a Russian good ole boy?” I’m pretty sure it’ll look at me like, “the hell am I supposed to do with this?”

Good ole boys are a stereotype, yes, but like a chalk drawing at a crime scene, it’s the absolute minimum of a character. It’s just a starting point.

So…good ole boys. Who are they?

Yeah, I know it's Zac Efron. He's turning into a decent actor nowadays. HSM was a blip in the past. Leave me alone.

Disney Channel stars are usually a pretty good place to start–their character, not their off-camera person. Wholesome, handsome, always a twinkle of mischief in their eyes. Good ole boys play football (QB) or baseball (pitcher; first base). Not so much with Efron, but there’s usually a twinge of country in their voice, if not a full-blown drawl. He works hard, goes to church every Sunday and has a small, close-knit of friends, just as wholesome and sweet as he is. For the female counterpart, the Girl Next Door, look to Taylor Swift. (Either by a touch of irony or a great move on marketing, the two are starring in a movie based on Dr. Seuss book [the Lorax], another wholesome American staple).

As a writer, I know what’s on his iPod. I know what kind of jeans he wears. I know where he shops, where he eats, what kind of truck he drives.

There’s apple pie on windowsills involved. Deep, raw, American pathos that I know, understand and can manipulate to create new and interesting characters.

What is the Russian equivalent of a guy who would say, “Aw shucks,” and kick the pavement with his Converses, blushing and hands in his pockets? What’s the Russian Dungarees, white T-shirt and Garth Brooks? What is the Russian 1976 Chevrolet with rusted hinges and a duct tape window and broken headlight? I’ve read a few books (City of Thieves, Agent 6) who mention male characters who are handsome like a propaganda poster. Is that a good ole boy?

When I try to look for a singular word that encapsulates this person (all the more better to translate, my dear), I can’t come up with anything. There’s a lot of flailing of arms, desperate sighs and, “You know! Good ole boys!”

I have an inkling of a feeling that provincial Russia is not as imbued or highly regarded in the public conscious as it is here. In fact, even the connotation of country and provincial feels different. “Provincial” leads me to peasant, and West Virginia (and even that, it’s a stretch). “Country” brings me to Arkansas and trailer parks; poor, but not quite “peasant” poor.

For this bit of research, I’ll have to find people who straddle both cultures. Preferably someone born in the United States, because like I said earlier, this isn’t a character you will just fall into on a Google search. You have to know what you’re looking for and you have to know what it feels like for each culture. At the end of the day, it’s more of the feeling than the look I want to draw from Sasha. But then again, since my audience will be American readers–does it really matter?

I have some people in mind to talk to, and hopefully they can help me out. Rest assured that I will definitely be back with my findings, so stay tuned!

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