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Author Diversity

The other night my writing group had an in-depth discussion of diversity in the writing and publishing world. As we’re all writers, we mostly focused on that aspect: the push for more authors of diverse backgrounds.

There are a lot of parts and pieces to consider when discussing this topic, and I don’t mean to make light of any of them. If I skim over something, or fail to consider an angle, I’m happy to hear your thoughts.

I am not a person of color, nor am I LGBTQ+. The most I can say is that as a child many people mistook me for Latina (and sometimes still do if I’ve been out in the sun). People will come up to me and start speaking Spanish until they interpret my blank expression as lack of comprehension. I am French Creole, and I do speak that language (very rustily now), but in the eyes of the world at large, I am Caucasian and privileged.

This is, I think, the fundamental starting point for a discussion like this one. I can identify as French Creole, but I did not grow up with as much of the oppression as many other people of color. (Though I did find Adam Sandler’s Cajun Man extremely offensive when I was younger.)

I won’t lie. I do sometimes get frustrated when I see so many calls for books by diverse authors. I want to ask, “Aren’t my words worth something too? Even if my skin is ‘white’ and my sexual orientation is hetero?” But I also understand WHY it’s so important to get a variety of perspectives into print. Readers need to see themselves represented, and the world needs to hear stories that go beyond what we’ve had for the past 400 years. In all that time, literature has been dominated by white, heterosexual characters penned by white, mostly male authors. It’s long past time to change that.

One of the reasons that literature has skewed in favor of white authors is that those were often the people who had the means to sustain themselves as writers. Writing was an elitist hobby, something rich kids did for fun and sometimes profit. There weren’t many wealthy people of color who had the time or education to sit down and write novels. Even now, the publishing world depends largely on interns who can afford to live off their parents, often in expensive cities, while attempting to learn the trade. And there’s no lack of nepotism either. Recently a literary agency has had to deal with backlash because the founder’s son became an agent who, to put it bluntly, screwed over many authors.

So here we are in a world where it can be difficult to get people of color to write. Not necessarily because they don’t want to, but because they don’t have the time or means to do it. The result has been a rise of scholarship type programs to help those would-be authors.

At the same time, I find myself wondering whether an agent would have signed me by now if I’d come from a more diverse background. That’s probably me making excuses for why I haven’t landed an agent, though—I recognize that. I know that if my writing were truly great it wouldn’t matter what color or sexual orientation I was. So don’t rage at me. I’m just trying to be totally honest in this post and voice my doubts and fears.

The flip side of all this is the ever present discussion of whether authors who are not from a diverse background can/should write characters from those backgrounds. As someone who writes a lot of gay characters, I certainly hope that’s permissible. And I hope I haven’t offended anyone in doing so, or gotten too much wrong. I do talk to my gay friends for perspective. The spread of sensitivity readers speaks to writers’ desire to get these things right. That said, sometimes it does feel as though one cannot win. If we try to write incorporate diverse characters in our writing, we’re “pandering” and told we can’t write these stories because we haven’t lived the right experiences to tell them—we’re “whitewashing” characters, or making them tokens so we can fulfill a checklist. Yet if we write stories about all-white, heterosexual characters, we’re not being inclusive. Short of only ever writing in collaboration with a minority author, I don’t know what a white, hetero author can do to meet the conflicting criteria.

And AGAIN, I’m not angry or putting anything or anyone down. I’m just saying that I’ve heard all these different arguments and I don’t know the answer. Or if there even is an answer. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts.

Writers use their imaginations for a living. If men can write women characters and women can write men, it’s not so farfetched to me that a hetero writer can possibly imagine an LGBTQ+ character, or a white one can imagine someone of color. I do think it’s important to get feedback from those quarters. Don’t write blind. Writing, really, is a blend of experience, direct intel, and imagination. An author can make something up, something fantastical, but for it to have impact it must speak to the reader in a way that the reader nods and says, “Yes. I know that feeling.” And that feeling may not be, “I know what it’s like to be gay,” or, “I know what it’s like to be black,” but it can often be, “I know what it’s like to be other, an outsider. I know what it’s like to want something I can’t have. I know heartbreak and joy and love and hate. I know what it means to strive and fail. I know fear, and stress, and frustration, and relief.”

Anyway, this post is really just a collection of thoughts on the subject of author diversity. I’ve endeavored to be open and honest and cover a variety of angles, but as I said, if there’s something I missed, please let me know.

IWSG: Spring Fever

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Still hammering away at Faebourne! Looking down the barrel at that August 7th pub date . . . Also nervous but excited to have started doing Facebook videos. So if you have any questions you’d like answered, ask away and I’ll answer in my next video!

Question of the Month: It’s spring! Does this season inspire you to write more than others, or not?

Spring lights a fire under me in terms of writing because I realize that the kids will be out of school soon and my chances to write will become smaller. At the same time, I find myself wanting to be out in the warm weather (when we have it). Why not write outside? For whatever reason I find that nearly impossible. The glare on my screen or off the paper in particular makes it difficult for me. And I have to sit in the sun; for me, that’s the point of being outside to begin with. So writing in spring usually ends up being a kind of internal tug-of-war. A real need to sit down and get some work done versus a restlessness and desire to be out and about.

You Are Not Alone

I want to put in a little plug for this book that released today. You Are Not Alone is part memoir, part self-help book. It delves into the grieving process, particularly in dealing with the loss of a loved one. I helped edit the book, but even if I hadn’t, I’d recommend it. I’ve never read anything like it. You Are Not Alone is both gentle and strong, just the right mix for the people who need it. And everyone will need it at some point in their lives.

If you’re grieving, or know someone who is, please pick up this book.

Good News/Bad News

Yesterday evening I found out my screenplay 20 August made the Top 20 in the Fempire Screenplay Contest. The news came in a rather surprising way, actually:
 
 
 
 

So that was fun.

I’ve been trying to get 20 August made for years now. I’ve had indie directors pick it up and then wander off to do other stuff, which is a bit frustrating. I’ve been told I should just make the movie myself, which is also frustrating. If I could—and if I really wanted to—I would. But I’m a writer. And yet, in the indie world, it seems that’s not enough any more. Indie directors mostly write their own material now and aren’t looking for outside content.

The Good News: 20 August has been recognized yet again as a good screenplay.

The Bad News: I’m not any closer to getting it made.

I’ve often heard, “If you wanted it badly enough, you’d figure out a way.” But life doesn’t work like that. We can want things badly—need them, even—and there’s sometimes no way. People who say there is always a way are the same people who say that if you work hard enough you’ll succeed. And that simply isn’t true. You can work your ass off and still fail. That’s life.

I’m not even sure why I still send 20 August into competition. I guess I keep hoping someone will see its potential and magically pass it up to someone able to make it happen. With the rise of indie Oscar winners like Moonlight, I fantasize that my little movie could also be a winner. But the truth is, I write very few screenplays any more. It’s too difficult to get a “yes” from all the people required to say “yes.” Hell, it’s too difficult to get the damn thing in front of the people who have to say “yes.” Books are simpler.

Still, I had an indie director contact me the other day asking me to write a script for a specific location. Um . . . I’ve written stuff for this director before and he has yet to do anything with it. So is it a waste of my time? I’ll probably never see any money for all the work I’ve already done, not only on stuff for this director, but any of my screenwriting. It’s a losing proposition.

Yet I won’t rule out writing something. Hope springs infernal, after all.

Actions Speak

As a rule, I try not to be political on this site. The point of this site is to focus on writing, publishing, books, and other media. But I was talking to someone the other day who seemed genuinely surprised and aggrieved to have had friends ghost her after political discussions. This person had voted for Trump and couldn’t understand why she and these friends couldn’t simply have “a difference of opinion.”

Usually, a mere difference of opinion wouldn’t be enough to make a friend—depending on how close the relationship is, I suppose—bail. I mean, I’m the only one of my friends who likes Matchbox Twenty and Jimmy Buffett (and I don’t like metal), but no one has dumped me for my dubious musical tastes yet. That I know of . . .

But voting is not just an opinion, it’s an action. And when you vote for someone whose policies are designed to oppress entire groups, then I think it’s probably a valid response for some people to not want to associate with you. You’ve basically acted against whole sects of society, which is the same as saying, “I don’t care about you. I don’t think you have rights. I don’t think you should exist.” Your actions have words behind them, whether you speak them or not.

Think about it in more mundane circumstances. A person who runs a red light is “saying” any or all of the following:

  • My time is more important than yours.
  • The rules don’t apply to me.
  • I am entitled to do what I like.
  • I am distracted and therefore should not be driving.
  • It’s fine if there’s no authority figure around because who is going to stop me?

We all hate that person because their actions speak to a disregard for everyone else.

All this said, I’m not condoning dropping your friends based on who they voted for. I’m just saying I can see why someone would do that. Certainly, we need to remain open-minded and have a willingness to discuss issues. But we should also think about how what we do impacts others. We’re a society, a community. We don’t have to agree on everything—we don’t even have to like everyone—but we do need to show basic human kindness and respect. To everyone. When you take an action that doesn’t do that, that in fact does the opposite, you can’t be surprised when people react badly.