The novella I'm writing (currently at 12,500 words) is troubling me a little. It's not the plot, which seems to be actually coming together (not a thing I can always count on). The characters seem real to me, which is a sign they have at least a chance of seeming real to readers. The genetic engineering behind the plot has been carefully researched. What's troubling me is a meta-concern.
My viewpoint character is a dwarf, an anchondroplastic, which is the most common type of dwarfism. To write him, I read two books on dwarfism, one the controversial In The Little World, by journalist John Richardson. The other was Little People: Learning to See The World Through My Daughter's Eyes, by Dan Kennedy. Kennedy is the average-sized father of a ten-year-old child with dwarfism. I also read a lot of articles on-line, trying to educate myself . This involved by-passing endless articles about dwarf stars, dwarf mistletoe, and Lord of the Rings. My goal was to try to see the world as it looks to a dwarf in twenty-first-century America. What I found, of course, is that it's just as ridiculous to speak of one point of view on dwarfism, held by dwarfs, as it is to ascribe one point of view to any other group. Which gave me a lot of latitude in creating Barry, my dwarf.
But here's my question: I still feel uneasy appropriating a culture not my own as a subject for fiction. Writers do this all the time, of course, and critics and readers then complain about it all the time. (Look up the controversy over Memoirs of a Geisha, written by a non-Asian man.) I don't want to step on anyone's sensibilities. But if I stuck to my own culture -- white, female, middle-aged and middle class -- I would have a very narrow range of stories.
Nobody objected to my Rom characters in "Fountain of Age" -- or, if they did, I didn't hear about it. I hope I get the same reaction to Barry Tenler. Even more, I hope that he emerges as a living, breathing, plausible person who has, and has been partly shaped by, his dwarfism.