I have this odd talent: I can mimic sounds. Not bird calls or random noises, but everything from accents to singing voices. I guess whatever I hear has to be in English, not English Sparrow. In some way, it feels related to my time-space synesthesia, because when I repeat what I hear, it always carries exactly the same rhythm as when I first heard it. The entire sound reaches my brain as one complex pattern, and I memorize it as a whole.
It was my obsession with accents that prompted me to create a character with an accent in my mystery novels. Australia has been a fascination of mine ever since a young Aussie couple on their honeymoon took a day trip around Oahu with my grandparents and fourteen-year-old me, and the groom laughingly tried to throw me into the waves on the North Beach. I fell in love with him and with Australia in the same moment. I still remember how he tossed some money onto the front seat, all stealthy-like, as he was exiting back at their hotel, so my grandfather wouldn’t have time to object to the words, “Here, for the petrol.”
Alas, I’m not Australian (no one’s perfect), so I rely on a combination of research, practice, and local Aussie guidance to make my character sound natural. Every character has their own personality, and Bindi is no different. Her vocabulary is organic—she has her favorite Aussie sayings (“No worries, mate. She’ll be right.”) and those she doesn’t use (the f-bomb, because her day job involves American preschoolers), and they reflect her personality, as any character’s dialogue does. Each subsequent book in the series gives her more Americanisms on top of her Aussie slang as she adapts a little more to Oregonian culture. And as her mood changes, so do the words she’s willing to use. Or overuse—if she uses “bloody” more than twice in the same sentence, just pray it isn’t you she’s yelling at.
I think of Bindi by her personality traits first and her country of origin second. That’s helped me keep her consistent, true to herself, as I expand her Aussie vocabulary through the series. Accents are awesome, and I love the linguistic awareness they bring to stories that include them. But accented dialogue has to arrive in the reader’s brain as one complex pattern—clarity, character, and information rolled into one. I don’t want to sacrifice any of those elements for linguistic show-don’t-tell overkill. Above all, I want my writing to be transparent. Or at the very most, bearing a slight tint of color. A nice translucent sea green, perhaps. Reminds me of Bindi reading a book at the beach. No worries!
Nine Feet Under, Morgan's latest book in the Caching Out series featuring Margarita and her Aussie roommate Bindi is now available.