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Promoting Cultural Diversity in Literature
So this may come as a shock for some of you but just in case you haven’t noticed…I’m Black. “Surprise!” I also happen to be an avid reader and a writer of several genres including Young Adult fiction. My debut novel, On The Run (The Moriya Chronicles: Book 1) features a half African American, half Chinese protagonist. My second novel from a different series has a Caucasian female lead who also happens to be vampire. So…what’s the point? The point is that although I can be described as many things and boxed into several intricate categories, I am first and foremost, a human being. A human being who is in love with literature. When I decided I wanted to become a writer it was because I wanted to tell stories. Lots of different stories. About lots of different people. Which is why I have absolutely no problem creating a character who is white, black, purple, orange, tall, fat, or ugly. Because I enjoy telling stories about people.
That being said, it is sometimes overwhelming (and often quite discouraging) that as a reader I have had such a hard time finding books that feature people like me. People being the operative word. See I have no problem writing about all kinds of characters in my stories because I have come across all kinds of characters in my life. I am blessed to have friends from many different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, and was raised not to see color. However, often times when I am reading (YA novels in particular) it becomes hard not to. An overwhelming percentage of these books are about fair haired, fair skinned girls. In fact in most, you’d be lucky to find even a supporting character who is non-white.
Now I know that people typically write what they know, and you often identify with people who look like you. And I suppose it could be argued that Katniss from The Hunger Games wasn’t Native American because Suzanne Collins isn’t, but am I really to believe that as authors our creative minds are that one dimensional? How would you then explain someone being able to write from the perspective of an animal? Or a person of the opposite sex? Or someone of a different species? There are also those who feel that race has nothing to do with this argument and I would encourage those individuals to do an internet search about the uproar that some movie goers had at discovering that Rue from The Hunger Games- who is described as having dark skin and dark eyes in the book- was indeed Black. And more times than not when a character in a novel is of a particular minority group they behave in a way which is stereotypical, or the story is about the fact that they are of that minority. Why can’t we write stories about interracial relationships without making the story about the interracial relationship?
So enough griping, how do we solve the problem?
1) Well, let’s take baby steps. First we could perhaps decide as authors of all different races to write about- wait for it- all different races. Yes, we absolutely write what we know but we all know lots of different people, and have fan bases filled with beautiful faces from all across the globe. Perhaps we could all make more of an effort to reflect that in our literature.
2) Don’t make it about race. I am no less qualified to write about a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes than a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes is. And wouldn’t it be silly if every time I wrote about a girl who looked as such, her looks were the topic of the story? Case in point: we all bleed, cry, laugh and fall in love. So let’s have all different types of people do all different types of things in our stories, and remove the topic of race from the table.
3) Perspective is key. Some people just don’t get it, and perhaps they never will. To be honest, I picked up on the fact that Rue was Black as soon as she was introduced into the story, while others, clearly did not. But in all fairness I am admittedly more cognizant of the presence (or lack thereof) of characters of color because of my color. I’ve had friends who didn’t recognize racial disparities simply because they weren’t exposed or had no knowledge of them or just look at the world differently. We’re all different, so perhaps you could enlighten them. Don’t preach. Just share.
4) Since we’re on the topic of diversity how about we include all diversity. May it be race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or those suffering from an ailment or disorder. I have an autoimmune disease and a majority of the people I come into contact with on a daily basis have no knowledge of it. My disease does not define who I am and it doesn’t always have to define who your characters are either.
5) Lastly, I encourage people from diverse backgrounds who have a knack for writing to do so. We can’t complain about a lack of representation if we don’t first make an effort to represent ourselves. Of course that does not mean that the Brazilian author has to write books that only feature Brazilian characters. (When you hear it that way doesn’t it then seem silly for anyone to do this?) I don’t believe any author should feel obligated to write anything they do not truly want to write, but if diverse people began to write about diverse topics it would really broaden so many horizons.
6) Unfortunately, I must point out one last thing. At times during the publishing process there may be individuals who are disinterested in diversified characters or insist on pigeonholing authors who write about them into specific categories. Even Neil Gaiman, a highly successful fantasy author who wrote a book called, American Gods, which features a main character who is of mixed racial descent, found that when his book was initially being shopped around to movie studios there were those who wished to alter the race of his characters, claiming a lack of appeal. He chose to decline their offer and years later the movie has still not been made. There are countless others who have seen firsthand that the people in a position of power don’t always promote diversity. Case and point: when it comes to publishing literature, there is another answer. If you have a story you feel strongly about and everyone is telling you “No,” then publish it yourself! Don’t let another person’s negative attitude deter you from sharing your story with the world!
So remember, write what you love and love what you write. If you are blessed to develop relationships with different types of people, cherish those relationships. We are all beautiful, and we come in many colors, shapes and sizes. An author’s success is dependent on its wide variety of readers, so allow your writing to represent all of them.
On the Run: The Moriya Chronicles
Keith Thomas – Idris Elba
Meiying Thomas – Zhou Xun (Chinese singer and actress: Cloud Atlas, Painted Skin)
Derrick Harris – Derrick would be really, really hard. He was so much more than a pretty face. Offhand I would say Reggie Bush (13 years ago) lol, but to be honest he’d be the hardest one to cast and I’d probably go with a total unknown.
Jade Thomas – Another toughie, but I’m going to go with model Karrueche Tran
Imagine your life is now a book. In 100 words write the blurb for it.
The Untold Tales of a Tired Mother
I haven’t watched TV in nine years. Yup, that’s right. I don’t know who McSteamy is, and I have to assume that Orange is the New Black is a show about adding color to your wardrobe. Before you check for a pulse I should tell you that between writing, working, going to school, having a nine going on nineteen year old, and trying (but failing miserably) to maintain proper hygiene, I simply haven’t had the time.
Juggling fifty balls with just two hands is something I’ve become a pro at. So what happens one day when the balls drop?
Interview by Cassandra Larsen
1. When did you decide to become a writer and what inspired you?
For a good portion of my life I absolutely hated writing. I had to do a ton of it in school and the endless papers and writing assignments sent me running for the hills. To add insult to injury, several of my teachers and my parents reminded me on an almost daily basis that I was good at it. Then I really wanted nothing to do with it. The years went by and I eventually discovered a love for it, but figured publishing a book was something that would take years upon years to accomplish. After all, they rejected the Harry Potter manuscript twelve times! Twelve! One day I picked up a book at my local Walmart, dove into it with glee and happened to glance at the back cover. It was called Switched by Amanda Hocking and there was a small note next to her picture that the book had initially been self-published. “Wait, what?” was my initial reaction. I had never heard of self-publishing and I didn’t even own an Amazon account, but that single moment was truly the catalyst for On the Run. Now inspired by the fact that perhaps I could make this dream a reality on my own, I began researching and writing feverishly. And the ideas just kept on coming. The first really solid idea I had was about a girl whose mother is mysteriously taken one night by some unknown creatures, and the relentless quest her and her father go on to find her mother. And On the Run was born
2. Do you have a particular time of day in which you write? Do you write every day? Do you aim for a set number of words or pages per day?
With school, work, my daughter, my boyfriend, trying to prevent my house from being condemned and reminding myself to brush my teeth on a daily basis I haven’t nailed down an exact time to write. I do it whenever I can, however I can, wherever I can.
3. What are some of your favorite books? What authors/books have influenced your writing?
When I was younger I was a Fantasy snob and refused to stray from my comfort genre. Anne McCaffrey was my hero, and I enjoyed the warmth of delving into unknown and foreign lands. Now I read everything. The Hunger Games was awesome! The Fault in Our Stars made me cry very unattractively. I just read The Maze Runner and it’s all I can think about! Mind. Blown. Times. Seven. I’ve read a lot of awesome indie books and feel we do not get enough credit. The Soul and The Seed by Arie Farnam was awesome, as well as The Ninth Orphan by James and Lance Morcan. I wish I had more time to address my lengthy TBR pile. I also wish I would stop adding new books to it on an almost daily basis.
4. Where did you get the idea for “On the Run?”
Honestly I get ideas from everywhere. Conversations I have. Movies I see. Books I read. And the ideas seem to come at the oddest times. Mid-meal. Mid-giving a shot to a two year old. (I work at a pediatrics office.) Honestly, I just wanted to create an epic adventure. I feel like YA today isn’t diverse enough and I think interracial children are gorgeous so I already had Jade’s face in my mind. The most important thing for me was creating a character who was real. A few of my beta readers disliked that my characters often said and did unbecoming things and while I found the feedback incredibly helpful, I tried to illustrate that these are real people. Real people who make real mistakes. Sometimes the knight in shining armor is just a jerk in a rusty breast plate. Sometimes the damsel in distress has no plans of waiting in the castle to be rescued. I was inspired by genuine people who go through life interacting with others, making mistakes and (hopefully) learning from them.
5. What marketing strategies do you employ to connect readers to your work? What types of social media have you used to market your book? How do you go about finding reviewers to get book reviews?
Well I don’t know if I’m the best person to give advice on this matter. I have a Twitter, Facebook and Google plus page. I’m not a social media queen, but interact fairly regularly on those forums. Goodreads has been pivotal for me. I can’t say enough good things about the people I’ve met and the things I’ve learned there. I also have a blog which really provides me with an opportunity to flex my writing muscles (which like any other muscle can get stiff after disuse.) I try to just genuinely communicate with people instead of always trying to sell things. Self-promotion sucks, but I always strive to be kind and to be myself. As far as sales are concerned I’ve only been at this for about six weeks. I’m such a newbie and I only have one title in publication so my focus isn’t really on sales. Right now I’m working on getting awesome reviews, forging great friendships amongst the indie writing community, gaining an audience and building my titles. Writing is the most important thing you as a writer can do, and I’ve had to remind myself of that often. Never stop writing. Once I have a few more titles under my belt I will really start exploring the various marketing strategies that I’ve seen detailed in books like Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran, and other marketing books I’ve read. I can do all the promotion in the world but without the body of work to back it up, it’s pointless.
6. Which marketing strategy do you think had the greatest impact on your book sales?
Facebook has been a great marketing tool but once again I’ve really got to shout out Goodreads. For me this community of authors and editors and readers has been a phenomenal support system and marketing tool. I have gained a lot of readers and reviewers through Goodreads and without it I wouldn’t have met an amazing author named Kira Adams who has helped mentor me and guide me through the indie publishing world. I will be forever grateful to her for all her kind words and advice.
7. Did you make any marketing mistakes that you would avoid in future?
I’ve heard a lot about paid ad’s not working, but I wanted to try one out for myself. I didn’t run it for very long but it really didn’t do much for my sales, which is fine. I just wanted to test the waters a bit. What works for one may not work for another, and I might try another paid ad again in the future, but at this point my focus is on writing.
8. What advice would you give to new writers?
It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Write because you love to do it. Believe in yourself when no one else will. And remember that success is in the eye of the beholder. I knew I was a success the minute I hit the Amazon publish button, anything else that comes along the way is just a bonus!
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