Creating a Space (Part 1): Diversity and Diverse Books

The Conversation about Creating a Space for Diversity and Diverse Books

All art, I believe, is a reflection of our times and experiences within the society. The race, gender, sexual orientation, and able-bodied politics that rule our world are reshaped and recorded, repeatedly, in countless mediums of art.

The art we create today will be inherited by the next generation. The possibility of it, alone, makes it invaluable that we become conscious about what we leave behind and whose voices will represent our generation of creators. The reality is that there’s a lack of representation of ethnicities, sexuality and individuals living with disabilities in the media.

The English-speaking publishing world has tied itself in a knot in the attempt to address the need for diverse books in the last decade. It’s a topic of interest to me, as a person of color, as an avid reader, and as a consumer of art. Honestly, there is something gratifying about picking up a book or watching a movie in which the characters and I share the same culture, food, and stories. It’s the familiarity of the characters’ worlds that makes me feel at home and less alone. Many of us find solace in stories; it’s one of the reasons why stories are important. It is also equally exciting to learn about cultures that are different from my own.

The movement for diverse books has hit a wall of controversy, a small wall, but a wall, nevertheless. When the topic of diversity and books comes up, I’ve heard those of the opinion that pushing diversity in books would only perpetuate the same stereotypes that many hope to combat and that, at the end of the day, the human stories are the ones captivating us and moving us to tears or making us burst into laughter, regardless of the character’s background.

I agree with the later statement, but I also feel that these feelings stem from our personal experiences and fears. It’s also the reason we need diverse books and authors in the first place.

Diversity in books is not the same thing as “diverse books.” Diversity in books refers to diversity in the cast of characters starring in a book or books. I believe there’s value in encouraging authors to think outside of the box and give a thought to the possibility of writing three-dimensional characters living with disabilities, of different sexual orientations, religions or racial backgrounds. It all only takes a bit of imagination and a bit of research.

Nonetheless, it’s not enough to encourage authors to add three-dimensional minority characters to their stories. We need more minority authors to write and publish. And I know they exist because I know a few of them.

The term “diverse books” implies a wider selection of books to read and a bigger pool of authors to pick from. I read all types of books, a myriad of the genres, characters, and styles, and I sense that there is a craving out there for diverse stories and authors. I can feel this craving.

Art holds a lot of influence in our society. As readers and writers, we should also be open-minded about reading books from different authors, genres, and countries in the English publishing world. My heart aches to think about all the great books out there waiting to be read, and yet not translated. We shouldn’t be afraid to get out of our comfort zones. We should write a reflection of the whole world, not just our own.

Note: Writing is a job, and it’s already hard enough. My reason for writing this entry was only to start a dialogue about the types of books we read and the characters we write. I was also happily informed by my fourteen year old sister that changes are happening within YA, and it’s great news! She’ll have more choices than me at her age.

Thanks for reading! Please share your thoughts.

Best,

Steph

Note: Writing is a job, and it’s already hard enough. My reason for writing this entry was only to start a dialogue about the types of books we read and the characters we write.

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4 thoughts on “Creating a Space (Part 1): Diversity and Diverse Books

  1. I agree with this, I try to write my characters realistically, and I try to add the same thoughts and trials, and temptations in my own writing. I do find that some of my characters seem bland, and my beginning books need a lot of updating on character building since they all seem to be a bit too ‘perfect’, so I definitely appreciate this post.

  2. Hi Steph

    I have read all of Nalini Singh’s books and having read them all twice, sought out her website looking for more or the news of more to come and found the short vignettes she has written about various characters – wee insights into their private lives, snippets from their days etc. and promptly read all of them in one sitting. It made me think that perhaps there were more elsewhere and it was while I was searching out these extras wherever I could find them on the internet that I found your writing – Anthony and Nikita – and summarily consumed that in short order too.

    I was delighted. In terms of Nalini Singh’s style and content you were rock solid and the transition was seamless. (Incidentally I have just re-read all of her books yet again and at the appropriate time transitioned back across to your work and it was still a contextual delight. Thank you)

    It was only when I had finished reading your work for the first time that I noticed the date of your posts – years ago. I was so excited. Because of the calibre of what I had read from you, I just assumed that the reason you had stopped writing on the forum was because you were publishing instead and I could not wait to whatever you had written.

    But there were no books.

    So I sent you a request, asking for another chapter, because the story is incomplete and I would love to read the rest and you obliged.

    Thank you again.

    But more.

    Please.

    In the process of trying to track down more of your work I came across this website and it actually saddened me. So much that felt I should write to you.

    I had returned to Nalini’s books and they inevitably took me back to your writing, I found myself trawling the net once again for more of your work and re-reading this post and came to the same conclusion. I wanted to write to you. You had asked for feedback at the end of your chapters and I had provided you with none.

    And as I said this website saddened me.

    For a couple of reasons.

    First – I do think you have your own voice and it was a shock and a sadness to me that you feel you need to find it.

    Secondly I believe your school teacher did you a great disservice. While technically he was accurate and clinically he was incorrect. I think he was wrong and did you a great disservice.

    He did not ‘see’ the person in front of him or recognise what I think was and is your process and by doing so, separated you from it.

    When you ran home and attempted to capture that which you loved so much about the Joy Luck Club, I liken that to a student of fine art in love with a work by Monet, filled with the desire to learn the skills of combining, texture colour and light and wanting to experience the creation of impressionism as a medium. You were beginning your journey into mastery.

    Part of the process of mastery is to study the masters, or wherever we find mastery in written form or otherwise and gain tools of expression, for expression.

    Rather than trying to ‘take on the author of the Joy Luck Club’s voice’, I would have said that you were attempting to inhabit it, experience it and I would have encouraged you to explore further, write more and expand on that experience of how that particular style of writing suited, served and expressed you. Encouraged you to ‘capture what you loved so much’ , until you felt you had (not when I felt you had, because everyone looks for and sees different things, and another person does not know the part you seek or the whole that you are in the process of making – the important thing is that you capture that which you love) Then I would have encouraged you to find another author that filled you with the same passion and do it all over again and as many times as you felt inspired to do so. That is a legitimate process. It is not stealing it is experiencing.

    You seem to love reading and to love writing. I think encouraging you to inhabit authors as you went through love affairs with their books and consumed their works would have worked very well for you in terms of giving you an ever expanding tool kit for self expression. I have read that artists who went on to become great painters began with studying and learning the technics of the masters who went before them and then went on to become great by combining those technics in ways that were unique to them.

    Yet while we talk about pieces being unique and or having/finding your own voice, we do recognise that we have impressionism, cubism etc whole genres where each participating artist did not create a new genre but painted in the recognised style of a genre and that there are distinctive styles of writing, not just genres.

    I believe that just because your voice has similarities with another, that does not mean you are without your own voice. I think that part of the reason you are attracted to Singh’s work is because you do happily inhabit a similar register and inhabit it extremely well.

    The long and the short of it is that for me, I do not think finding your voice is the issue. You have found a style and a register in which you feel at home and comfortable and over which you have a good level of mastery.

    The issue is finding your world and your people.

    If I am wrong and you do know where and when in time your world is and the people who inhabit it, but feel you cannot adopt a Nalini register – then I say let that go and go for it. There was more than one impressionist painter, there can be more than one author with that narrative style.

    If however, you have not found your people, your world(s) or where you are in time and space, then there is one thought that I had when I first read this blog.

    Now, I will preface this and say that I am not a writer, nor a teacher of any sort, so I do not come from that place of experience. if what I am about to suggest offends your sensibilities, or seems too clinical or just seems plain wrong in terms of your way of going about things, I apologise in advance and please do just ignore it.

    Here goes. I am taking as a given that you have read a lot of books and you have said that you also love movies – so have viewed lots of movies – and that within those books and movies you have favourites, some that you read over and over or watch over and over and also that within them you have favourite characters.

    What I am about to suggest is a social club of sorts.

    Make lists of favourite books/movies and then of your absolute favourite characters from those books and movies – the ones you feel you know and love and want to know more about them – about what happens next.

    Go through these favourites from both mediums – books, movies (tv too if you want) imagine them all single and do some match making. If you could go across all divides, and indulge in some shipping who would you put together? And draw up a list of those relationships. Change any ages that need changing. You are looking at personalities.

    Really think about it.

    Merge all those worlds into a singularity.

    Next, try them out in different contexts for example, which of you short-listed favourite characters (based on personality, loyalties and ethics ) would be on the same side if the favourites from all your books were at war?

    How would those characters divide up based on social heirarchies?

    Families don’t have to be on the same side (think of the Civil War)

    Where/what would the alliances be?

    Who (which characters) would the factions be made up of?

    What would opposition and discord look like or what would cause it within the groups you have created? Where would the intermarriages be? The unrequited love? Also be open to changing the genders of some of those characters. How do they function then? How do they change? Who do they become?

    When you have done some serious matchmaking, what types/groups of people are you left with?

    How do they look/function as a group or a community or even a nation?

    And where are they? When do they belong in time?

    I think with all the reading and viewing you have done you have quite a bit to play with. Characters you know extremely well, just waiting to have new names and adventures and to meet each other 😉

    I hope there is a kernel of something in all of this that is of use, because it is my way of saying thank you for the gift you have given to me in the form of your writing.

    I have truly enjoyed it and look forward to reading more.

    Thank you.

    1. Thank you Tiratu,

      You have left me speechless. I am so happy that you enjoyed my Psy-Changeling fiction, and I feel even more honored knowing that you genuinely love my writing in general. There should be another chapter coming in soon. Due to my hectic life, it’s different to update regularly, and I also rely on a beta reader for help proofreading the work. The process could take time, but it’s a great learning experience for a writer.

      Regarding finding my voice, I’m happy to report that my teacher didn’t deter me from the learning process of trying out different voices. He just made me aware of it, and he made me more conscious of it. I think of it like when a person is learning how to paint or draw. The student starts by mimicking the people who have already made it.

      I have been writing for some time now, and fanfiction has been a great platform to experiment with different points of views and styles. Therefore, when I write fanfiction, I do make an effort to sound a little be like the author of the first few chapters, and I do it consciously. I go through this process because want to understand the characters from that point of view. Unfortunately, these characters don’t belong to me (I cry sometimes) so it helps.

      I have written Harry Potter, Stephanie Plum, and Psy-Changeling fanfiction, which helped me develop a voice of my own. So, I do agree with your comment about my voice. I do think I found it or understand it a little bit more.

      I have gone own to write my original tales. These stories had just come into my mind and stayed there for weeks, even years. I’m a slow writer, but I listen to them, and I write as much as possible.
      Currently, I’m working on two projects:

      I am working on a contemporary story about Carolina, a smart, beautiful and dutiful young woman who has lost her last living relative. Carolina’s grandmother has left her with one request, a wish that opens up many wounds.

      My second project is a collection of short stories, mostly contemporary and some magical realism.

      That said, there’s also a paranormal story currently building a shelter in my head, and if it doesn’t leave me in a few weeks, I might start writing it too.

      However, I do think that I’m not finished learning yet. As a writer and a reader, I’m always looking for opportunities to improve on what I have learned, and I also think that’s part of the voice. I always thought of it as the Holy Grail of writing, once you find your voice, you have the base to start something new…well at least for me.

      Tiratu, I hope you continue to read my fanfiction stories. I also hope that someday you’ll get to read my novel too. I’m working on it, and one of the keys to success is persistence.

      You have flattered me in the best way possible, and it has filled me with joy. It was a great way to start my Saturday morning. I hope to hear from you soon, and maybe you’ll be able to read my first drafts.

      Best,
      Steph

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