What do you get when you ask a bunch of Indie authors about diversity in fiction?
Having read around the topic for the last few months whilst writing my next novel, ‘FIre’, I decided to find out.
Diversity in YA fiction has been of particular interest to me, as you’ll know from previous posts. I’ve read many interesting debates on what ‘counts’ as diverse and how to go about writing diverse characters without falling into the stereotype and tokenism pit. My writing is changing as a result.
Looking at the YA bookshelf in my local library, I was surprised to realise how many books featured a white, straight, able-bodied main character. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t pick up every book there – just a random sample. It was pretty disconcerting nonetheless.
You might think I’m a bit slow on the uptake, and you’d be right, but this is because I see myself in the books I read. I see my reality and experiences in those stories. I see all this because I am white and heterosexual. Until recently, I didn’t think about the lack of diversity in the books I was reading and how problematic this is [I know, I know – I’m ashamed enough as it is].
I know what you’re thinking – just go out and find diverse books, then read them! Well, I did. I follow diversereads on Twitter, I have found some great blogs too, and now I’m enjoying new authors.
I’m fortunate; I have the resources to find these new reads wherever they may be for sale, and pay for them if need be. As I stood in the library, I realized how few young adults have the same privileges. Where do they find their diverse reads?
The more authors who represent our diverse communities in their work, the easier young readers will find it to access diverse reads. Simple, right?
Maybe not. In various twitter chats and blog posts I’ve followed over the last few months, it becomes clear that diversity means different things to different people. What one reader hails as a diverse read breakthrough, another slams for stereotyping.
At this point, I turned to my fellow Indie authors at Goodreads to see how they viewed diversity in fiction and how their own novels could be considered diverse reads.
Many of us plan for diversity in our writing. As Valicity Garris said, ‘Diversity isn’t something we can just hope for, you have to make it happen yourself.’ I hold the same view; if diversity in fiction were something that simply happened, no one would be having this conversation. When they are writing, I’m pretty sure every author asks themselves, how would my readers feel about this? When they ask this question, they need to be sure they are not excluding most of their readers in the first place.
The general feeling among the authors was that characters must be realistic in their setting. If our setting is the world as we know it today [let’s leave sci-fi and fantasy for another post], the question of diversity should be moot.
“I approach my novels as I do anything else in the ‘real world,’” Aaron-Michael Hall wrote. “When I step outside my door, there are all types of people. Therefore, I could not see writing a story that excluded most of them.”
Of course, not everyone will be represented equally in every story, and rightly so, perhaps; tokenism is to be avoided at all costs. Martin Wilsey made a point we can all agree on; diversity should add dimension to the story and characters, not a sermon. Or an insulting farce of stereotypes, for that matter.
Nathan Wall echoed this sentiment: “no matter what type of reason or theme or moral you’re trying to convey through your story, or your choice in a character’s sexual orientation or race, people are going to put their OWN meaning into it. The best thing to do is just make good characters and not let their race be what defines them or the story.”
His comments reminded me of a book I read a couple of years back. [I can’t remember the title, and the problem with my e-reader is that I can’t flick through my books to track it down as easily as I can with my ‘real’ books!] Anyhow, the main character was raising her friend’s son and going through the adoption process. She introduces him to someone and they show surprise. Her reply to them revealed that she is black and her son is white. Then the story moved on. Race was irrelevant, as it should be.
However, the diversity argument in reader and author communities is often about visibility, particularly in YA fiction. Young people should be able to see themselves in the books they read.
All of Valicity Garris’s main characters are minorities, and this deliberate. She also includes religion in her stories, as she doesn’t feel that religion is represented positively in mainstream fiction. “It’s like, unless you’re devoutly religious yourself then you don’t care about it and it shouldn’t be that way. I think there are plenty of ways to tie in religion to make it entertaining for everyone.”
Indie authors are more aware, perhaps, of the needs of their readership and the gaps that exist in the shelves of bookshops and libraries in every town. Readers want to be entertained, and they want to be included in the entertainment on offer.
For every author, entertainment is the order of the day. Like many of us, M. V. Noerrac believes that diversity is the foundation of life and literature and she had an interesting take on diversity and how it reflects many story arcs: “After all, whether we like it or not, diversity in all its forms breed polar opposites – conflict and resolution, chaos and harmony, life and death.”
In other words, life is a glorious mess and we’re all in it together. Or, at least, we should be. Jay Cole pointed out that “neither this country nor this planet is a gated community.”
Our books shouldn’t be, either.
Thank you to the authors at Goodreads who contributed their thoughts to this blog post:
Cross Academy, Facades and Truth, Why?
The Rise of Nazil
Still Falling, The Broken Cage, The Solstice 31 Saga
Sexual Evolution – A Naughty Comedy of Social Madness, Conversations with Laary Zenomorph
The Evolution of Angels series, Money Ball for Fantasy Baseball, and Fantasy Baseball for Beginners
The Soul Shepherd and The Threshold