Friday, October 11, 2013

Recharging the Batteries

Warren Bell at the Matterhorn
To visit Switzerland is like visiting at least three different countries. The northern regions were affected by Germany, and Swiss-German is spoken in this area. The eastern part of the country borders France. French influence dominates the east, and French is the everyday language. The southern part of Switzerland abuts Italy, and many here speak Italian. The best features of neighboring cultures has been absorbed and morphed into a uniquely Swiss flavor.  

Switzerland has two official languages (Swiss-German and French) and a third semi-official one – Rumantsch, the aboriginal tongue. While not an “official” language, most Swiss people also speak Italian. And we Americans gripe about having to study a single additional tongue?

My wife, Annette, and I spent 10 days in this wonderful country in September and early October. Most of our time was spent absorbing the sights and local food and learning something of the culture. I stored all these details in my brain with relish. Visiting new places and learning about their culture is like recharging the batteries of the intellect. 

One fact I learned long ago is that while all humans may look alike, it can be dangerous to predict what others will do based only on your own culture. All humans come with the same “hardware” in their brains. The “software,” however, may be quite different and varies by culture. Years ago, I coined the phrase, “cultural programming,” to describe this phenomenon.

When writing about characters from cultures other than their own, writers can

easily fall into the mistake of having them react as, say, Americans would.  Even
more dangerous is for political leaders to fall into this trap (consider the Pacific War, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars). In my new novel, Hold Back the Sun, I write about how Americans miscalculating the Japanese mind made the Pacific War inevitable.   

Authors can avoid such mistakes by carefully studying the culture of the characters about whom they write. Actually visiting the countries involved is the most effective way to do this, but careful document and Internet research can also yield satisfactory results.  Due diligence is the key.

Surprisingly, I didn’t gain any weight during our Swiss tour.  I certainly ate enough food. The one that made the most impression on me was Rösti, hash brown potatoes cooked in butter. The Swiss serve them with many meal, and they are delicious beyond description. Fortunately for my waistline, we also spent a lot of time climbing steps and mountain slopes to burn off all the calories.    

My batteries are fully recharged now. Book launch for the paperback version of Hold Back the Sun is coming up on October 25th, so I have work to do!  

Note:  Warren Bell's debut novel, Fall Eagle One, can be purchased at in either Kindle or Paperback form.  His newest novel, Hold Back the Sun, is available for Kindle, and the Paperback version will be available October 25th. 


  1. Great post, Warren! My novel features a German emigre living in America during WW2 and I've tried to be conscious of his culture when I'm writing. I wish I could visit Germany (it's on my list of places to visit one day) but I can't at this point. So I just read a lot of books from that time period. It helps. :)

    1. Lots of research can make up for no direst observation. The important thing is to recognize the differences in culture and place your characters in the proper time and place. Thanks for the comment!