Meet Serafina, Part 3 (religion)

This is another in a series of posts about a character I am developing for my novel-in-progress, Power of Boston.  For the rest of this series, you may want to read Part 1 or Part 2 as well. Your comments as always are appreciated.

To work well within the plot of my story, it is essential that Serafina have high regard for her personal modesty. At the same time, it is vital to me that she not be perceived as a victim.

The story of The Girl in the Skirt convinced me that women who wish to live differently can run into conflict with their associates because of the way they dress. I have seen similar conflicts in the lives of Christian women who favor long skirts and eschew jewelry because of their views of modesty.  I think Serafina is that kind of woman: different by choice.

On the other hand,  Serafina is a bit of an action hero, and a capable fighter. She would not consider it practical to wear a skirt. How then, would I demonstrate her modesty by the way she dresses? The answer, I think, is hijab. While many seem to think that hijab is a symbol of opression, those who wear it by choice seem to be proud of it, and for some, it is even a feminist symbol.  The fact that some will misinterpret it, or insult her because of it, only adds substance to her character.tumblr_l97doy8OII1qcamkko1_r1_500-147s22q

This then leads to the question of what faith background Serafina should have. I don’t think I could effectively tell her story if she were a Muslim, but I don’t think that’s essential. When I visited Japan, I found there were many nominal or cultural Buddhists, and I am convinced that most Americans are cultural Christians. I therefore see no reason why Serafina couldn’t be a cultural Muslim.

Serafina’s father came to the US to work as a mathematics professor at the University of Chicago. His parents, worried that he would be corrupted by American culture, convinced him to marry before he left home for his new job. His wife (Serafina’s mother) is a conservative Muslim.  Like her father, Serafina is more of an agnostic, but she learned modesty from her mother.

The question I have, however, is whether this will be best for my story.

  1. I think Serafina’s relationship to the Ethiopian community at large will add depth to my story, but the majority of Ethiopians are Christian. Do Christian and Muslim Ethiopians in the US interact to a significant degree?
  2. If Serafina’s parents come from the Muslim community in Addis Ababa, do I need to discard Amharic as her second language? Being able to focus on one language will greatly simplify my research.
  3. How would the more conservative family members react to the fact that she is
    1. working as an executive with authority over men,
    2. habitually dressing in trousers (pantsuits), and
    3. is still single at the age of 34?

I have no intent to let Serafina back down in the face of those conflicts, but I want to understand them so she can confront them accurately.


Meet Serafina, Part 2 (career)

This is another in a series of posts about a character I am developing for my novel-in-progress, Power of Boston.  See the category with that title for more posts (and more questions) about the characters in that novel.
350px-John_Hancock_TowerThere are probably a dozen or so people in my history to whom I would assign the label “boss”. Of these individuals, perhaps the best manager I have known is a woman named Donna. Despite her obvious ability to manage projects and personnel, Donna was often burdened with the additional responsibility of planning our company social events.

It’s possible that this is simply a case of people who get things done being asked to do more, but my gut tells me that the real reason she was assigned this role was her gender. I never asked her how she felt about this, but  I think the job was beneath her, and I think it was insulting.

When I think of Serafina, and the way she feels about the men with whom she works every day, I cannot help but think of Donna. Serafina began her career in personal and plant security, and did her job well. Somehow, she eventually found herself the job of personal bodyguard to Julian Nebo, the eight-year-old son of company president and owner Vance Nebo.

I’m sure that the elder Nebo is convinced that this decision was the right one for all the right reasons — Serafina is careful and focused, and well able to keep Julian safe. Some of her coworkers, however, would have seen her as nothing more than a glorified nanny, and that had to be insulting to her.

Twelve years later, Serafina is 34, and Julian has grown from a wild and irresponsible boy into a wild and irresponsible young man. She was promoted years ago to manager of personnel security, but somehow she finds herself pulled back into situations where her team can’t cope with him, and she ends up having to “babysit” him.

The question I have oustanding is whether or not it’s plausible for Serafina to continue to respect Vance Nebo because of his authority, even while thinking of his son as an irresponsible child. I also wonder how that would color her relationships with other coworkers, both within her department, and with her peer managers in other departments.

Ladies, here is your chance. Unwrap for me those times when you or your friends hit your heads on the glass ceiling. How did that effect your other work relationships? Is it just men who bear the stigma for disrespecting a woman like this, or do women do it to each other as well?


Meet Serafina, Part 1

My novel-in-progress, Power of Boston, is a near-future SF thriller about a woman thrust into authority at Chaldin Energy and confronted by a villain who wants to destroy her reputation, her company, and the lives of thousands. While developing my ideas for this story, I encountered Serafina, the protagonist of my story.

power-linesOriginally, I had planned on letting Serafina be an Italian-American, hence the name. As I have gotten to know her, though, I think that she is most likely of African descent, that her parents came to the US from Ethiopia, and that she was born to them here. The problem is, I don’t know Ethiopian culture well enough yet to tell her story properly. To that end, I’d like to toss out a few questions for consideration, and see what I can learn. To keep this post from getting too long, I’ll break it up into as many parts as it takes for me to know Serafina properly.

  1. I originally chose the Italian name “Serafina” because a serif is a particular kind of angel — beautiful,  powerful, and sometimes scary. The boys’ name “Melaku” means Angel in Amharic, but I don’t know if there is a feminine equivalent, or if it carries the same undertones.  Would Ethiopian parents have named a US-born daughter Serafina?  If not, what equivalent might they have chosen?
  2. Serafina is a high-ranking executive in a US-based multinational corporation. Would her extended family be more likely, or less likely to accept this than an outsider would? What demands might they make on her that would conflict with the responsibilities of her job?
  3. Personal modesty is important to Serafina, but her work requires her to wear a pantsuit most of the time. How might she demonstrate her conservatism by her clothing and accessories?  Is a headscarf appropriate? How might the fact that she is unmarried (and not seeking a spouse) affect the way she dresses for work?

My research is ongoing, but I covet any comments you may have on these initial questions. In future posts, I hope to discuss in greater detail Serafina’s relationship with her co-workers, her family, and any romantic interests she may encounter along the way.

Thank you.