TL;DR: Wanting Diversity Won’t Hurt You

There’s a very strange argument going around on book twitter right now. Meaningful, important, but strange. And I don’t want to be silent about it.

TL;DR – Only a white supremacist or a bigot would see people wanting more diversity in popular fiction as a personal attack on them.

For a while now people have gotten better and better about being louder and informative about the issue of the lack of diversity in mainstream books. While a lot of us can remember reading diverse books in high school (for me, The Pearl and The Good Earth stand out as assigned by teachers. And stolen from my mom’s shelves, I remember Sacred Ground, the Valdemar books, and Elfquest), if you look at books on the shelves that are more for pleasure reading, popular books that have a lot of publishing house money behind them, giving them more media coverage, there is a startlingly lack of POCs, LGBTQs, disabled, religious, etc diversity.

Now. No one is forcing anyone to write any one thing. No one is saying anyone HAS TO write characters with different skin colors, ethnic backgrounds, various religious beliefs, or sexual and/or gender differences. All people are saying is it is important that we allow people who are writing these things a fair space on those shelves and maybe try to do a better job of portraying the real world we live in.

People are asking publishers to acknowledge that these books are just as good (if not better) than some of the books we see again and again.

I mean. I love witches. And I love vampires. They’ve been written again and again and often look and feel similar. But if there are authors out there with different viewpoints, different backgrounds who can bring a fresh perspective to these two types of stories, I want to see them!

Books should be innovative and different and that means we, as readers, should be open to reading about characters who might not look like us. Because they look like other people, people we know, people in our world who want to see characters who look like them. We all deserve that chance to find that book that resonates with us, no matter the genre.

Obviously everyone is entitled to write their own story. And, if your story happens to look like the cast of Pleastantville, then fine, but if your cast of characters looks like Sense 8, maybe publishers could give it a fair shot too.

I don’t understand why that thought process is controversial. And for most people, it’s not. So here’s where the strange part of the argument comes in. Some people are super pissed off that other people are asking for fair representation. Yep. They’re hearing “we’d like our voices heard too” or “please at least try to write a realistic representation of our city/state/country/world” as “you must write this way!” or “you must write this kind of story/these kind of characters!” or, even worse, “you’re being unfair to white people!”

Which is not true.

You don’t have to write anything in particular. No one does. But what’s wrong with wanting to show the world as it really is? I mean, listen, I have not been the best at balancing my casts of characters. I try to. I have tried from book one to include POCs and LGBTQ people, but I won’t lie to you and tell you my books are balanced. Yeah, I’m more than a little scared I’ll screw up the representation, but still I try and I’m trying with each new story to represent more, to do better. Because that is the world I live in.

I went to a high school where the majority populations were Latino and Pilipino. As a matter of fact there were such a small percentage of white kids at my school that we were lumped in with the other smaller percentages of races at my school as the “other” ten percent. So, while your mileage may vary, for some of us, seeing POCs as the majority is already normal.

I know it’s a little scary for some people. They see it as erasure, but for some reason can’t see the irony there. Trying to keep people from publishing books with characters that don’t look, think, and act like them is actual erasure. All people want is a seat at the table. And I promise, there is room. You acting like they’re trying to take something away from you is bullshit, plain and simple. White people have taken a lot of things from a lot of people and white people have an abundance of representation. You will be fine.

I know I’m lucky that I grew up reading diverse books. Hell, I didn’t even think about it at the time. I read books by Jewish authors and Native authors and black authors and they wrote characters that looked like them. I didn’t even give it a thought, if the story was good, that’s all that mattered. And it helped evolve me, helped me see other people I might not have experience with as no different than me. And I think that’s the ultimate goal; to raise a generation that doesn’t treat people differently for who they are, where they come from, what they believe, but at the same time celebrates how everyone adds to the tapestry of our world.

Now, I can remember which books I read when I was younger that featured LGBTQ characters because there were so few and honestly I think they were just LGB, no Ts or Qs. And, sadly, I can’t recall reading any books that featured a disabled MC. I wish I had. I want kids and teens to get to read like that—where it’s just normal to see all of these types of characters because it builds empathy in real life. People are people and just want to be accepted for who they are. Books help us with this process.

So calm down. If you don’t want to read books with characters that don’t look, act, or think like you, I promise, there is no lack of books for you. They’ve been published a lot and will continue to be published. But stop freaking out at people who want the people who control the money to know we will buy these books, we will read them, we will go see their film adaptation. They will get a return on their investment. And you will be fine, it won’t hurt you one little bit.

Now, if you’re on Twitter go check out these hashtags to start building your TBR lists. #ownvoices #istandwithdiversity

If you want to leave some book recs in the comments, please do! I can give a shout out to a few I’ve read recently: An Ember in the Ashes, This is Where it Ends, and the Don’t Get Mad Series. And speaking of witches, I’m excited to pick up Labyrinth Lost.

Let’s hear your recommendations!

How Do You Decide What To Write?

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If you spend any time in the parts of the internet that readers and writers inhabit, you’ve likely seen #WeNeedDiverseBooks, the hashtag for a grassroots non-profit dedicated to raising both awareness and money to promote diversity in children’s literature. (Jump HERE to take a look at their mission statement or HERE to check out their Tumblr.) This fall, We Need Diverse Books undertook an Indiegogo campaign with a goal of raising $100,000.

They raised $181, 676.

Their appeal clearly resonated, and their goals are long-term and multifaceted, designed to change the white, heterosexual culture that dominates bookstores. WeNeedDiverseBooks is focusing on children’s literature, which makes sense because if you teach children that diversity is the norm, chances are it’ll carry over to the rest of their lives. A quick look at the New York Times bestseller list of hardcover fiction for this week shows you a young Jewish girl growing up in early 20th century Boston, and a scientist with Aspergers. Most of the rest are spies and cops and special forces-types.

Based on the blurbs, there’s enough conformity to suggest WeNeedDiverseBooks has their work cut out for them.

When I went to the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up last September, diversity was one of the themes many of their speakers addressed. And not just diversity from a how do we get the general public to read queer fiction? perspective, but also is there a place in queer fiction for trans, lesbian, bisexual, non-binary, and other voices? All the publishers who participated in a panel discussion said they were eager to contract well-told stories from every possible perspective. They encouraged the authors who were present to write and submit stories featuring every facet of the lgbtq rainbow.

But here’s the rub. If nonprofits encourage diverse stories, and writers write them, and publishers publish them, will readers read them?

According to this Tea Time post on the Prism Book Alliance blog, the answer might be a little disheartening.

Maybe by the time today’s kids are able to make their own buying decisions, groups like We Need Diverse Books will have taught them to expect variety  in their reading. In the meantime, there’s a lot of white out there, and most of it is heterosexual.

Which, hey, you know, some of the nicest people I know are white heterosexuals. Like me, for instance. For the last year or so, I’ve been both reading and writing romantic stories about gay men (and we can save the issues around middle-aged women writing m/m romance for a different blog post, okay?). My stories tend to start with a spark, then come together in big chunks. At the risk of sounding all cheesy, they come from the heart.

The reason I bother to write them down, though, is so people can read them, and I worry that if I fall too far from the status quo, they won’t get read.

Even a subgenre of romance like m/m has trends. Rock stars are big, as are cowboys and college students. Chefs are popular, the serious foodie type. Historicals and shapeshifters make the list, too. I don’t want to write a book that’s just like a dozen others, but will anybody read my cute little m/m romance set in 1955 Seattle, starring a handsome trumpet player and the coach of a women’s synchronized swimming team?

That book is almost ready to send to my agent, so I’ll soon know if it’ll find an audience. I’m almost ready to decide what to work on next. I expect it’ll be another m/m romance, and I expect I’ll try to capture the diversity I see in real life. Conventional wisdom says not to write to trends, but geez, there’s safety in numbers, you know?

So where do your stories come from? To restate the title of this post, how do you decide what to write?

Peace,
Liv