LEARN WHAT’S AT STAKE
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A discussion came up on Facebook regarding the apparent lack of diversity in publishing when Martha Boss, book blogger, educator, and model shared her opinion regarding the lack of diversity at book events. She explained that she had no desire to attend any literary events that didn’t have authors from all walks of life. And in the United States of America in 2017, one would think that such an opinion would be positively acknowledged and celebrated. Unfortunately, an uproar of finger-pointing and finger-wagging ensued by some disgruntled readers of her post. On a positive note, the conversation inspired me to write this post.
Before I delve into where I stand on this matter, I will first give some background knowledge and context.
Most of you may know that my husband is white. I bring up his skin color because of the nature of this post. You see, some time ago Marvel was relaunching Spiderman and making the hero that followed in Peter Parker’s steps a young man named Miles Morales, who is half-Black and half-Hispanic.
I was okay with this change. And as an advocate for diversity, I’m all about the inclusion of more and more people of color in all social constructs. On the other hand, my husband was concerned about this change. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Spiderman, he’s a young man named Peter Parker who happens to be white, like most of the comic book characters that have become not only popular, but also who have become mainstream due to aggressive marketing and appearances in movies (Batman, Deadpool, Superman, ad nauseum). All alternate personas of these heroes are white males. And all but two of them are filthy rich (yes, looking at you, Deadpool and Mr. Kent.)
Hardcore fans are all about staying true to the “canon”. And there are laws that must never be broken.
Two main “no-no’s” are:
THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE COLOR OF THE CHARACTER.
THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE GENDER OF THE CHARACTER.
My husband was concerned that the writers weren’t staying true to the canon by changing Spiderman’s ethnicity. My husband’s argument was logical especially when he supported it with this gold nugget: “The market should be actively looking for writers with new fresh faces and cultures to add to the Marvel or DC universe. Peter Parker should keep on being Spiderman.”
I agreed with my husband that the Industry or Market should be looking for new material from different perspectives instead of rehashing the same tripe year after year. Moreover, consumers need to do their job by demanding what they want and if the Market isn’t giving it to them? Well, now. There’s this powerful principle called supply and demand and it’s a beautiful thing. If I don’t like a show, I won’t watch it. If I don’t like a restaurant, I won’t eat there. For example, even if McDonald’s were the last restaurant on the planet I REFUSE TO EAT THERE!
A few months after my husband and I had our third child, he turned to me and said, “I get what you’re saying. You know, about seeing more characters that are people of color. I don’t want our sons growing up not seeing that they’re important. That they exist.”
And the cry for diverse books wasn’t enough because then you fall into the bait-and-switch trap that it’s okay for white authors to write books that star nonwhites as the characters. Then, the #ownvoices movement was ushered in to stress how important it is for people of color to tell their own stories in their own voices and not having to fear that they needed to pander to or patronize a white audience or any audience (regardless of color) that didn’t understand where they were coming from.
Too bad these movements aren’t making waves on television. Yet. You see, over the past several months, my husband and I observed a disturbing trend regarding television shows for children. I’ll most likely go into more detail about that in a future post. 🙂
The conversation that my husband and I shared regarding the necessity for diversity in books and comics inspired me to reflect on my childhood as a reader and where I am now as an author and reader. My reflection motivated me to write this blog post.
In one of my previous blog posts I discussed the deathtrap of stereotypes. A common stereotype regarding Black people is that we don’t like to read. It was also one of the arguments that excuses the cold, hard fact that 88% of books reviewed by the New York Times are written by white authors. So, one could ignorantly draw the conclusion that Black people don’t like to write either. Or that they don’t know how to write. But, if they do like to write, they’re not very good at it because they don’t like to read and thus there’s no market for them. And that’s just the way it is.
Uh, no. Just no.
When I purchase books for my classroom I choose them very carefully. I want books that will not only keep my students engaged, but appeal to their gender, not only relate to their own experiences, but challenge, and build onto this foundation. My Black students, as well as White, Asian, and Latino students love reading a good book regardless of what color the main characters are . . . or whether or not the main characters are even human. However, there comes a time when nonwhite students wonder WHY their experiences, their truths, their very essence isn’t proudly shown on the cover of a book or even within its pages. I know because I was once their age and wondered these thoughts: Am I not worth writing about? Are people like me not worth reading about? (Well, unless you’re a slave getting the crap beat out of them). By the way, what is the USA’s morbid obsession with Black pathology? Yuck.)
About eight years ago, libraries (some may still practice this, but I’m pleased to say my local library DOES NOT) shelved books based on genre in an obsessive compulsive way that would impress even this guy:
Back then, there were no cross-genres.
No, no, no. Every little book went into its own boxed off little shelfie-welfie corner. Oh yes, yes, yes.
So books like this:
or this . . .
wouldn’t appear in the general romance aisle, but be ghettoized or segregated from that oh-so lucrative and coveted section and placed in the African-American books, Street Lit, Urban Lit, or wherever library’s chose to place books with dark brown to light brown faces on the cover. Think about your local grocery store and how soy sauce, butter chicken, and curry are cordoned off in their own aisle labeled “multicultural or ethnic” away from the other condiments. Even poor sauerkraut and gelfilte fish has its place there. If I hadn’t watched the Food Channel or binge watched “Great Eats Around the World” I would remain culinarily (made that word up) ignorant! Now, regarding the segregated books: Was this practice intentionally racist? *Shrugs shoulders*. Not sure. But, one could see how this limits authors of color from being discovered from readers regardless of their color even though it fit in the “general genre”.
A couple of weeks ago while visiting my local library I noticed a lot of newer authors I had never seen before. I was so impressed that the library had become “integrated” that I had to take a picture of it!
Clearly, people and books don’t belong in boxes. Well, unless you’re dead and boxed in a coffin. Sorry, I digress.
In 2015, Lee & Low, a publishing house that prides itself on finding new authors of color shared the results of the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that overall the Industry is predominantly white and female. Bet you weren’t expecting THAT revelation. But, it’s true. And when I say overall we’re talking about all levels:
Is this predominantly female white status quo deliberate and thus, racist? Well, if you consider the data . . . the other question is will it be kept this way and by design?
While I hunted for facts regarding the struggle many writers of color — Asian, Caribbean, African, South American — experience trying to get published, I encountered similar stories:
To piggy-back on the final bullet regarding the science fiction and fantasy genre that I write and adore I come to a fork in the road. Lately, several of the Big Five publishers that are located in New York are requesting romance novels from Black authors. I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I mean, doesn’t it entail, you know, like a “formula” where handsome guy meets gorgeous lady and they don’t like each other at first until he or she does something and then the tide is turned and then they like each other, but not like that and then they fight and break up and then you know — heck, I DON’T KNOW! So, my point that I’m trying to make is do I just “sell out” and go to the “Crimson Wine and Chocolate Covered Cherries Side” of Le Force and write Romance because it’s popular and I’m more than likely to succeed since there’s an open call for it?
Like I said before, I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I need creepy scenes, an occasional vampire or demon to slay. I need undiscovered elements on the periodic table. I need a nod to the current status quo and how to change it. I need to believe that there are dragons to slay whether they be literal or figurative. I need to hope for windows, doors, closets, basements, or even dreams that lead to alternate dimensions.
I may not write Romance yet, but I could learn, if I feel so inclined, and not because it’s what a publisher wants of me to selfishly benefit themselves. In other words, why should writers of color pigeonhole themselves? We should be able to write what we want.
This scenario brings this excerpt from Rachel Deahl’s Publisher Weekly’s article, “Why Publishing is So White”:
So how does the industry move forward and do better? Right now, publishing seems to be struggling with the difference between words and actions. Take, for example, a situation a publisher at a reputable Midwestern press recounted. Claiming he is “always trying to diversify our staff,” he brought up a recent editorial assistant search that initially yielded 250 applicants. The press narrowed its options down to eight finalists, five of whom were white and three of whom were people of color. Although all the finalists were “excellent” in his estimation, the position went to a white woman. The reason? “There’s no room for tokenism at [our press].”
There’s always going to be a first and you don’t have to stop there. A first — if that’s the intended direction you want to go — will lead to a second and a third.
It only takes one to turn the tide.
The need for diverse books from diverse authors with different stories to tell isn’t a trend and never will be.
Disclaimer: The following analysis of characters and their names are solely my opinion and conclusions I’ve drawn from being a wordsmith, character creator, and a lover of names.
Juliet, from the play, Romeo and Juliet, speaks this famous line. She argues that it doesn’t matter that the young man Romeo whom she loves is a Montague, her family’s archenemy.
But Juliet is wrong. Names are important. Especially when it comes to creating names for characters. And on a more mundane note, who the heck would lovingly pen the name, Toilet, on their newborn baby’s birth certificate. Or Virus? Cesspool? Booger?
I read a lot of fantasy and I love when I can tell that an author put a lot of thought into creating their characters’ names. When my oldest brother read the names I had brainstormed for a book we’re working on together, I smiled until my face ached (okay, fine I’m using hyperbole) because I was pleased that he was pleased with my inventions. Creating names is a lot of fun!
In Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, the wizard Harry Dresden’s full name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Not only is Harry’s name fun to say, but his first name is a nod to Harry Houdini, a Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer, famous for his sensational escape acts. Dresden’s also named in honor of David Copperfield, an American illusionist and magician who was born in 1956. I’m not sure about the background information on “blackstone” though. I do know that it comes from the Blackstone Group, which is a financial firm founded by two dudes in the 1980s who used the German and Greek parts of their names to create a cryptogram: “Schwarz” is German for “black” and “Peter” or “Petra” in Greek means “stone” or “rock”. Thus, “blackstone”.
Another popular character in urban fantasy, is the one and only Anita Blake. I adored this series and still mourn for the style it was written in over a decade ago. I miss Anita solving crimes, raising the dead, and putting them back to rest. Her full name consists of four syllables. Her first name sounds softer and more romantic to me. Also, Anita certainly had a softer side in the beginning of the series (i.e., her stuffed animal penguin collection). Her name is derived from Sanskrit and means full of grace, mercy, favor, variety, a leader, without guile. In the series, it’s implied that her name is from the Spanish language because her deceased mother is Mexican. Her last name, Blake, is a mystery and where it is derived from is uncertain. According to Mr. Wikipedia it could come from “blac”, a nickname for someone who had dark hair or skin, or from “blaac”, a nickname for someone with pale hair or skin. Another theory is that it is a corruption of “Ap Lake”, meaning “Son of Lake”. I think this uncertainty and duality of dark and pale suits the character of Anita Blake just fine since she has gone from being a character symbolizing justice and daring not to dabble with the dark creatures of her world — vampires, for example — to not only protecting them, but doing the horizontal mambo with them every day, all day.
Olivia Pope’s name is interesting. Her surname evokes images of holiness, righteousness, and power. However, one could argue that the title or word “pope” also conjures images of the exact opposite due to corruption and hypocrisy in the Catholic Church. Likewise, the character, Olivia Pope, in the television series Scandal, is a woman of contradictions.
As a crisis manager, her job is to solve problems for her clients who add to the existing drama in her personal life. Her first name comes from Latin and means “olive branch”. Olive branches are a symbol of peace or victory, which fits Olivia perfectly. The fictitious character of Olivia Pope is partially based on real-life crisis manager, Judy Smith. I watched the first two episodes of Scandal and couldn’t continue. There are no dragons and too much mundane drama that I avoid in the daily news. I found it tragic that Olivia, a beautiful, talented, and intelligent woman couldn’t have her happy ending. Granted, it’s her own choices that often keep her from it. Or maybe Shonda Rimes, the show’s creator, wanted to portray a realistic woman who forfeited the search for an impossible “happily ever after” and instead settled for or could be satisfied with “happy enough”? I have no idea. I like Happy Endings. That’s why I often play RPGs and live vicariously through my CGI characters. 😛
Anyway, I predicted that Ms. Pope’s slippery slope into tragedy would continue to worsen and if I became a fan my heart would most likely break. I’m all about keeping my heart intact. 🙂
Another character with a cool name is Nikita from the series (first a movie), La Femme Nikita, which is French for The Woman Nikita. Nikita. Nikita, Nikita. That’s it. No last name. And that’s all that’s needed.
Why? This name is loaded with goodies! Nikita is an assassin that is paired with great assets — beauty, intelligence, and the ability to kill with ease and efficiency. Her name isn’t even originally French or female. It originated as a masculine Greek name and subsequently a Russian name exclusively for males. The name has been recently adopted as a French name for girls.
Keyser Söze isn’t the name of a breakfast bagel. And no, I’m not referring to one of Moe’s (Welcome to Moe’s), (Tex-Mex eatery — delicious!) salsa. Keyser Söze is the name of the main antagonistic and driving force in The Usual Suspects, one of my favorite movies. I won’t spoil the movie’s epic and mind-blowing twist ending for those of you who haven’t yet seen this cinematic masterpiece. Traditionally, Keyser is a last name and it’s a development of the early Germanic name “Kaiser”, which was derived from the Roman imperial title “Caesar”. In the criminal underworld, Keyser’s great skill, ruthlessness, and reputation are of epic and mythical proportions. For example, handicapped con artist Robert “Verbal” Kint describes Keyser as “a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. ‘Rat on your pop and Keyser Söze will get you.’ But no one ever really believes.” Poor dears. They should believe.
Keyser may be a man of violence and enjoys spreading fear, but like some mega-villains he’s a man of his word. I looked up the meaning of the word “soze” in Turkish and was prompted to look it up in Kurdish. It means “promise“. Keyser Soze is most likely a pseudonym and a small piece of the puzzling, deceptive, and criminal world the “usual suspects” dwell in.
Speaking of the criminal world, how could I not mention John Wick? Before John Wick, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 beckoned action, thriller, and suspense lovers, I didn’t think any movie could bank on the explosions, the mystery, the gunfights, and the gloriously twisted plot that the writers of The Usual Suspects had created. During a heated and no less humorous conversation between a father and son (both elite members to the Russian maffia), important information about John Wick is revealed:
Viggo Tarasov: It’s not what you did, son, that angers me so. It’s who you did it to.
Iosef Tarasov: Who? That fucking nobody?
Viggo Tarasov: That “fuckin’ nobody”… is John Wick. He once was an associate of ours. They call him “Baba Yaga.”
Iosef Tarasov: The Boogeyman?
Viggo Tarasov: Well John wasn’t exactly the Boogeyman. He was the one you sent to kill the fucking Boogeyman.
Iosef Tarasov: [stunned] Oh.
Viggo Tarasov: John is a man of focus, commitment, sheer will … something you know very little about. I once saw him kill three men in a bar… with a pencil, with a fucking pencil. Then suddenly one day he asked to leave. It’s over a woman, of course. So I made a deal with him. I gave him an impossible task. A job no one could have pulled off. The bodies he buried that day laid the foundation of what we are now. And then my son, a few days after his wife died, you steal his car and kill his fucking dog.
The name John is Hebrew and translates to “Jehovah has been gracious; has shown favor”. And the fact that John Wick is unstoppable and for the most part untouchable seems nothing short of a miracle. Reeves, who plays John Wick also compared Wick’s story to “[…] a kind of Old Testament revenge story” adding that, “When someone takes the things he cherishes, violence erupts and John can’t temper it.” Though the character’s last name, Wick, is a name Kolstad (the movie’s writer) had used as a reference to his grandfather, the founder of Wick Building Systems, as a fellow writer just because something is simply cool isn’t reason enough to do it. So, I did a little digging. The word wick is Old English and related to both Dutch and German languages. The best definition of the word “wick” that I discovered is:
The second definition is symbolic in regard to how John Wick operates in the criminal underground of assassins. Without his wife’s love, he’s like a wick or woven fiber waiting for fire to light it. In other words, there are two parts to John: his need to settle down and find happiness and the wanton desire to kill and blow things up. And the second definition, which is slang for annoying a person is poetic justice. In the first movie, John just wanted to permanently silence whoever messed with him by stealing his car and killing his dog. Cautionary advice: give him what he wants and he’ll return to his quiet self. Word to the wise: don’t bother John Wick and he’s as sweet as a lamb. 🙂
Earlier today I attended the critique group that I belong to. I also pushed myself to write the first three chapters of Moondust, an upper middle-grade novel that is one serving size of Nightmare-on-Elm-Street-horror, a tablespoon of Wan and Whannell’s Saw, a generous sprinkling of middle school drama, and two dashes of dream god fantasy.
A visually mathematical representation of my creation:
Now, it’s 11:31 pm. I wanted to go to bed, but I promised myself that I would share another “quote to write by”.
So, here it is:
“Don’t let a single day go by without writing. Even if it’s garbage, if garbage is all you can write, write it. Garbage eventually becomes compost with a little treatment.”
A couple of days ago, I finished the entire novel outline of the second book, Moondust, in my first middle-grade novel series, Waking Dream.
I had ideas bumping around in my head for months, but I finally had the time (while the rest of the family slept – lol) to write it down. At this time, there are roughly about 25 chapters. And I have a feeling that that will change as a continuing getting to know the characters — especially three new ones — who are bullies. But I want to write these three young people as realistic and not cookie-cutter villains.
On another note, I’m a hybrid between a pantser and a plotter when it comes to preparing my story. If you’re not familiar with these terms, please refer to this article by Writing Abby that I had to reblog!
Now, I move onto the more difficult step: writing the first draft.
WISH ME LUCK and stay tuned! 🙂
I remember when I was in middle school and my language arts teacher had us complete a short story assignment and the catch was we had to use a lot of verbs. I mean a lot of verbs! I shoved my verbs in every sentence — sometimes at least three consecutive verbs and utilized commas in between the verbs to describe the characters’ actions. What fun!
Here’s an example sentence: He thrust himself into the forest, leaping, dashing, running, and dodging trees as the wind blew against his face. The thirst for blood burned his insides, it even set his mind into a fever and his temples pounded, matching the syncopated beat of his pounding heart.
Now, why did my language arts teacher have us do that? As a student, I wasn’t exactly sure, but now that I’m in her shoes, I’ve reflected on the activity and realized that she was trying to get us to understand how important verbs are and how these action words (or muscles) interact with nouns (people, places, things, ideas) in a powerful way.
My short story focused on a vampire consumed with blood lust as he spies on a lone woman. My vampire of course satiates his terrible thirst by preying on the lady, but hey, even as a preteen I was channeling my inner Anne Rice. Way back when –you know — when Lestat was a naughty, pretty playboy and vampires didn’t sparkle. 🙂
“Nouns are the bones that give a sentence body. But verbs are the muscles that make it go.”
I read and write fantasy of many different flavors. I relish in the strange worlds, the diverse characters, and the possibilities.
However, just because I write fantasy doesn’t mean that I can break the rules of my own world. Here’s a great quote for fantasy, horror, and science-fiction fantasy writers!
“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”
Thank you, Kwadzana for your review that validated my job as a writer — to entertain you! May you dream beautiful dreams and control your nightmares!
Readers of this blog, if you’ve read any of my books please consider posting positive reviews on Amazon or Goodreads for them. Why?
Because writing and posting reviews does miraculous work by helping out with boosting my visibility in the Cave of Obscurity (Amazon, Goodreads, the whole darn, bloody Internet). Reviews do indeed take a few moments of your precious time and they’re so vital to the exposure of authors — especially your dear, friendly neighborhood author (c’est moi — that’s me!).
Once again, thank you, Kwadzana!
Get Moonstruck, Book One of Waking Dream Series here.
Get Forbidden, Book One of Gabriel Lennox Series here. And right now this adult e-book title is FREE with Kindle Unlimited! Fabulous! 🙂
The end of the school year is almost here and my middle school students are becoming . . . unhinged. Heh.
Oh, the talking. And the forgetting. And the out-of-the-seat moments.
So, this week to keep learning at maximum levels students must complete a four paragraph essay on two people’s reactions to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Students have the option to choose from any of the important people we learned about in our Read 180 Workshop: Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Keckley, et cetera, ad nauseum. Blah, blah, blah. For the most part, students are doing well!
I too was feeling a little stressed. Okay, forget the “hedge word” little. I was totally feeling stressed out! So much to do and so little time! I had such goals and it’s funny how plans don’t follow directions and fall in line.
I have struggled with staying focused and keeping myself writing daily. In between writing sporadically, I’ve been reading other authors’ books, hosting a Literacy Night at the middle school where I teach, grading papers, and on and on it goes.
I hope someday I will build a readership that enjoy the worlds I’ve crafted and the characters I’ve developed so that way I can fulfill my dream and write full-time. I tell myself it’s a ridiculous dream, but for once, I suppose I owe it to myself to be optimistic.
Even a little.
Anyway, I was cleaning out my classroom cabinets and found a plethora of items from over a decade ago! One of the items was a stapled packet of writing quotes I used to write on the board to motivate students when I taught second grade.
So, for the next 60 or more days, I’m going to use each of these quotes to motivate myself to write!
I hope this writing exercise will help other writers too. 🙂
“You can take for granted that people know more or less what a street, a shop, a beach, a sky, an oak tree look like. Tell them what makes this one different.”