If I have any kind of mission statement when it comes to the things I want to write, it boils down to:
- historical fiction from a diverse, female, or some sort of “other” perspective.
Some people I’ve come across in my life have acted like my very existence could only be a modern thing.
“But you’re Irish and Japanese! I mean, like, what is that?”
…Because they think people of different races didn’t ever meet until the twentieth century?
If you think that, go read Pearl. Better yet, go read Bury the Chains or Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, look up Dido Belle, read about Noor Inayat Khan, read Tidewater, Google Dejima and the Silk Road, and check out the book up there. I read it in elementary school and it was the only book I read as a child that came even close to reflecting me and my experiences.
Of course, in the past few years, We Need Diverse Books has emerged as a way to get diverse characters and authors in front of readers, librarians, and the publishing industry. There is no earthly reason why a story like my friend Michelle Tran’s Diamond Queen (Vietnamese-inspired fantasy) cannot exist in the same world as Twilight or Outlander or Affected by Randi Lee or SL Huang’s Russell’s Attic books.
And if somehow, you feel that all of this is too much diversity, inclusiveness, new voices, new perspectives, or female perspectives/writing/characters for you, then go stand in the corner.
I’m not telling you to change the stories you’re interested in, the ones you want to write, or even the ones you want to read. I’m not decreeing that everyone must have a token person of color (please don’t), an LGBT character, a disabled person, or a poor person in their book.
Heck, the project I’m working on now? White people. The short story I handed in to an anthology? White people. However, they both have women as the protagonists.
Will I ever write an Asian character? Very possibly–but not at the moment, since my knowledge of Asian history is a bit sketchy and I can’t write a contemporary story beyond five thousand words without hating it.
The first time I encountered a WASP was in college. I define WASP as “white person who doesn’t know when their family came to the United States or where they came from.”
All the white kids I went to school with growing up were immigrants or the children or grandchildren of immigrants. They knew where their families got the boat from. It was actually jarring to meet white people–to be surrounded by them, actually–and realize what the rest of America outside of New York City was like.
Dude, it was weird. And yet, not weird at all in some ways. I mean, I am half white. I’m related to non-WASP white people and I’ve been watching, listening, and reading about white people my entire life.
I remember sitting in memoir writing class and one girl, who was white and Hispanic, had written a line about realizing she was “the foreign cousin” among her family. I totally got it; I am the foreign cousin, the one that doesn’t look like everyone else. The rest of the class was like, “But it only occurred to you then? How come?”
I’m a big believer in diversifying the kinds of the stories writers write and the kinds of stories that readers get to read. But just like the diversity conversations going on in the film industry and in theater and wherever else, it’s systemic. At Broadway Con, one of my highlights was attending the diversity panel, where it was pointed out that it’s one thing to have a diverse Broadway season or a diverse cast–but that the behind the scenes crew, producers, directors, and writers are still majority white. It’s like that in publishing, too, although publishing at least has a lot of women working within it.
In fact–and maybe it’s the genres I tend to read?–but the majority of authors I’ve read in the past couple of years are women.
The great thing about publishing is that as the industry is changing, there is a chance for more and different perspectives to come in. For example, I know a few people who have started their own publishing companies. There’s self-publishing, too, of course. There’s going to be a new children’s imprint at Simon & Schuster called Salaam Reads, dedicated to publishing stories about Muslims. I see more agents wishing for diverse stories on Twitter.
It’s one thing if you’re writing diverse stories with diverse characters or from a perspective that isn’t commonly read in fiction—but what happens to that story if everyone who gets their hands on it in the course of the publishing process don’t understand it or don’t connect with it somehow? That’s the worry, that the story may not connect and may not reach its audience because it’s “not marketable.” Because that audience “doesn’t read.” Or the book gets shelved in a weird way because the author is a person of color.
Reading about different experiences makes us more empathetic. Stories are awesome. More stories, newer stories, are even more awesome. Also, never ever having a roomful of random white people not understand what I was trying to convey when writing about a childhood friendship between me, my black childhood best friend, and my all-kinds-of-immigrant-white childhood best friend ever again would be really awesome.