I want to be honest with you. It's taken me a while to get to this straight honest evaluation of where my life has been, and how it led me to this point.
Dear readers, I want you to follow. Not because I want your money (how the hell does that work anyway), but because I want you to know my story. In December 2017, I lost my job of 6 years. I fell into a deep depressive hole, and evaluated many of the things in my life...I had been coasting along, all 6 years, content but comfortable, happy but unhappy. I think we have all done this to ourselves.
We make excuses because we have no other reasons.
I got another job working for the bank. I didn’t fit in. I felt like a strange girl dressed in black, a ghost in the corner. I felt stranger than I’d ever felt.
I finally got back into writing. Found a group to belong to. I wrote my first words of fiction again, 7 years after stopping entirely. The group fell apart, and at the end of September, 2018, I was desperate for something to be good again in my life. So I rebooted. I critiqued. I recruited. And I brought it back from the ashes, during lunch breaks and before work. It was reborn. I met some of the most beautiful people I’ll ever meet.
In November 2018, I lost my job again. Just after the week of Thanksgiving. My life had fallen apart. I had a mental, suicidal break. I filed for divorce. There were too many things happening, and I barely stayed afloat with the support of my new friends, and my old ones. The day after I got fired, I got an email. I had gotten my first short story published. “Lot”, the story of a talking car. A car like a child, jaded to the world, trying to fix it again. I spent half an hour sobbing in the car. This was validation. The only validation I had ever gotten, for 7 long years.
It is January 2019 as I am writing this. And I have hope again. I will step off the plane in London a week from now. I will breathe in the new air and remember to dream again.
I was reading this article about the lack of diversity in Harry Potter, and then my mind started going in all directions at once. Here's my attempt to tackle this wide-ranging and often quiet topic in literature.
I write mostly fantasy, so this will be colored in that lens, but I feel that diversity is so, so important for all writers and readers.
1. Not to tell you how to write your stories, but...
Don't forget about diversity! Harry Potter is the best-selling series of books in the modern world, a literary classic, a far-reaching story that has resonated with so many children and adults around the world.
Do you know what makes me sad about its success? The fact that not one person of color, non-binary character, homosexual character, transgender character, minority character, character with a disability (I could go on) makes it into the books with a significant role (more than a few speaking lines) over SEVEN VOLUMES.
Dumbledore doesn't count! Why? He wasn't gay in the canon. It was a side note by Rowling after the fact. If you're going to write a gay character, maybe have Dumbledore say something about his long-lost love at some point...in the entire gigantic series. All this catching-up doesn't count. None of it is canon.
Hermione's role was cast to a black actress in The Cursed Child. Does that count? I'd say that was a casting decision, not something Rowling consciously did.
She wrote all her main characters as white, that's how she pictured them in her head, and none of them identify with a minority or underrepresented group.
I'm not blaming her for writing white-bread characters. I'm disappointed.
The sad thing is, her books have reached so many, it has fostered a love of magic and fantasy and reading in so many children, yet many of those same children do not seem themselves in the hero's story. How tragic.
2. You can't force diversity.
So you're a writer who doesn't identify with any minority groups. That's okay. Write what you know (to a certain extent--you can also use your imagination!), make your characters true to life.
But you can't tell me that you don't have any friends and have never come across anybody queer, transgender, asian, black, someone with a disability...etc etc. You just can't live in this world without meeting people with all different backgrounds and experiences (unless you are like Bubble Boy and live...literally in a bubble). USE THAT IN YOUR STORIES. You'd be doing a disservice to all those people in your life you know if you didn't include some of those very human experiences as well as your own.
That doesn't mean you are writing a "token" character. You're not. If you're writing from the heart, and you're representing someone fairly, it's not a token. People are just people. Characters are just people. But try to help those kids who want to identify with someone that looks or acts like them. They need heroes, too.
3. The fantasy genre seriously needs some help.
There are so many western-centric fantasy novels out there. So many.
We've all heard of the big ones--Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones.
What's similar about all of them? They're set in a European or Euro-inspired world and have a lot of white characters.
I'd love to read a fantasy set in an African country, a story about Ghanaians and the local mythologies and myths that they have grown up with. I'd love to read a fantasy inspired by the Haiti and its peoples' culture. I'd love to read a fantasy set on the moon with a colony of diverse characters from all heritages. I'd love to read a fantasy inspired by Mongolia. Thailand. India. Pakistan. Iraq. Lebanon. Egypt. Nepal. On and on.
There are so many mythologies, so many creation stories, so many people, so many cultures, so much potential for world building. Why limit yourself to just the European medieval mindset? I love some of those fantasies, too, but until recent years, it's all we really got.
For the new generation of writers, let's kick some ass and write from our collective energies. Let's make this shit diverse and amazing.
Are you writing a different kind of novel? A different kind of fantasy? I'd love to know.
Hugh Howey is one of my newly favorite writers, after I read through his Wool Omnibus and the rest of the Silo series, binge-reading his story about a dystopian world where the entirety of human civilization lives in underground silos. I clipped through all of his brilliant visual descriptions and amazingly-paced plot. I read more about him and realized: he was one of the rare indie writers who self-published and made it big. The quality of his writing carried him through some of the slush that exists in self-published works. He is such an inspiration to me, and I wanted to read more actively and rationalize why it works.
We don't know what works until we read it. Every sentence we right must be inspired from somewhere else, and I strongly advocate for any fledgling writer to read voraciously, and dissect what you've read to make yourself a stronger writer. Read more to check out the little tidbits I gleaned from Howey's writing style. Warning: spoilers if you haven't read it. But you should so read it! Then come back here and read my impressions.
© 2018 Writing on Fire | All rights reserved.