My caterpillar eats mulberry leaves

Hrm, where to start.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Stop beating the dead horse, katje! But… but…

Anyway, go read Gabrielle’s post and then come back. Or not, if you don’t need a second dose of the same kinda medicine.

This whole thing is something I’ve struggled with, actually. The question of whether to try and agitate for more “mainstream” authors to write more diverse characters or to simply turn my back and solely seek out diverse characters who haven’t been discovered yet.

Of course, one can ask why choose? Can’t you do both?

Well, only so many spoons in a body in a day, really and right now my spoon foci is focused on not-dying/getting well and writing.

Which leads into the whole question of whose responsibility is it, really, to foster diversity in the world? And on whose dime spoons?

The situation: authors who write diverse characters want readers to support them; some readers want mainstream authors to write diverse characters but don’t really want to seek out diverse characters by authors who deliberately set out to write diverse characters because…because; other readers howl when they get tricked (offensive, much?) into reading about diverse characters and some Big Name authors either don’t give a damn or don’t have a clue or are hiding behind the whole “I write what I know/ I write what my muse tells me to” concept.

It’s a mess and I’m not helping, which makes me a damn hypocrite. Good thing I know it and own it and try very, very hard to work towards not being one.

Part of the problem is that, really, when hetero-normative, neuro-typical, melanin-challenged authors write diverse characters, they usually get a screaming horde on their hands. The readers who are pissed that their lily-white worldview has suddenly gone technicolor. (I can’t imagine the amount of righteous fervor over Disney’s Frog/Princess…) The readers who are pissed that they’re doing it wrong.

Another segment of the problem is that, well, most people aren’t readers anyway. Because it’s harder to read than to watch TV. Then with the readers, you have the fluff readers — those who read to escape and who really don’t want anything to challenge them within their happy-places.

Then you have the writers. Ah, ye gods, the writers. Here’s the thing: many writers who set out to write diverse characters or who have a mission? They tend to evangelize or they come down too heavy or something and …well, it can come out ugly is all I’m saying.

That author who somehow managed to turn a fantasy series into political evangelizing… the author who had her characters awkwardly extol the virtues of organic food and commented on how cellphones gave brain tumors… the relentlessly ethnic characters depicted in all their authentic glory….

For that last, I might get smacked, but I will admit in interests of full disclosure that often I do not read Asian American characters because it can be painful. When I read, I’m so rarely in the mood to be reminded of the darkest periods of my life over and over and over and over again. I get enough bullshit in real life that I do not want my face ground into painful reality when I’m trying to escape. I still tend toward As-A characters but I usually close the book if it actually starts grating on old wounds.

So okay, katje, what now? You’ve pretty much made a case to rationalize everyone being a dick, including yourself. Way to go. What now?

Welp.

We change despite it being hard? We change, together?

Because much as it pains my fluffy, fluffy soul, I agree with Chuck Wendig about needing to machete past the cushy padded walls of our comfort zones. Here’s me, agreeing to let you drag me out kicking and screaming.

Ah, you don’t want to go to that effort? …welp.

I saw a blog post once that what makes a bestselling book a bestseller isn’t the usual readers. It’s all the people who don’t usually read who get into a book and support it — that’s what makes dramatic explosions like HP and Twilight and Hunger Games. So I’m still with the noblesse oblige here, okay? I believe that if, by the grace of the Fates/God/gods, you have managed to catapult yourself into the public eye, maybe you could consider …diversifying a bit. Add a side character or two. Maybe have the romance interest be not-the-same if you can’t write a MC that way yet.

As a reader, I dip my toes in. So I’m okay with people dipping their toes. I didn’t start reading m/m until I was kinda tricked into it by accident, got snookered by superlative writing and never looked back. It was Jez Morrow and she’s awesome. I still don’t really read it as a matter of course, but I do read it now, thanks to her. Maybe Malinda Lo will be the one to do the same except with the other half of the coin. Don’t machete down your cushy walls if you don’t want to, but maybe, just maybe create a window and peer out. Don’t worry, the water’s fine. Nalini Singh’s Ria, for example, is a good way to ease into things. Laura Florand’s Sarah Lin in The Chocolate Temptation is another great one.

As a writer — well, I’m going back and smacking myself for all of my monochrome characters. It’s an evolving process, but hey, I’m learning. I think I need to go back and spray some color onto like half my cast, but it’s on the to-do list.

So…anyway, super long ramble at this point….

In wrapping up:

To prove my sincerity in shoving past my own limits, if anyone wants to send me a copy of their book-with-diverse-characters, I promise to read and review it.

Readers — please shout out in comments about books you love with diverse characters.

2 Responses to “My caterpillar eats mulberry leaves”

  1. Gabrielle Prendergast

    Thanks for the ping back and the further thoughts. This issue tends to agitate people and not always in a good way but I think that’s a sign that we’re onto something. If you could have seen the faces on my 50% non white students when they realized what they had done…honestly I felt like crying with them. And when they came to terms with what made them do it, they felt violated. But ultimately inspired (I hope). Inspired to do better.

  2. Katje

    My friend Thene once said that there wasn’t quite anything like the visceral revulsion when a liberal is told they’re racist and I think she’s right.
    I thank you for what you did — hopefully, probably you did inspire them to something different. I felt pole-axed when I realized Estyria was essentially the stereotypical European princess and I felt pole-axed again when I realized that almost all of her friends were from the British isles. …not a fun time, so I sympathize with anyone struggling with it.

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