Melissa’s Question, Part Two

We’re over 200 comments on the previous post, and as those of you who have been here for awhile know, when we get there, the comments section gets wonky and at 300, it goes belly up, so commenting on that post is now transferred to this post. For those of you new to the conversation, Melissa asked me, very politely, if I’d even though about moving out of my blizzard of white characters, and I posted and said, “Yep, thought about it, don’t know how to do it because . . .” and explained my difficulties, and lots of people chimed in and we talked about it in 255 comments. The 256th comment and all subsequent comments will be here. Same conversation, we’re just keeping the blog from breaking.

Have at it.

91 thoughts on “Melissa’s Question, Part Two

  1. I don’t have anything to say but want to keep watching the convo, so following!

  2. One other recommendation for book listening:

    The rivers of London series written by Ben Aaronovitch (who is white) and read by Kolbna Holdbrook-Smith. The protagonist Peter Grant (who I’m pretty sure you will love) is biracial (his father’s a white jazz muscian and an addict and his mother’s from Sierra Leone and a force to be reckoned with). The wonderful thing about the series is the way it portrays London as a diverse living and multicultural place.

    It doesn’t hurt that the author’s got an almost Prachettian style of writing.

    1. I second that recommendation. The Peter Grant books are a wonderful read.
      I expect however that Ben Aaronovitch does have some experience of what it is like to be treated as other, even if only in the shape of stories passed down in the family. It says on wikipedia that he is descended from Jewish immigrants.
      Come to think of it, the character who feels her otherness most, is the white policewoman Lesley. This is of course quite understandable after what happens to her in the first book. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read it yet.

    2. Just thirding(?) the Rivers of London series! Peter Grant is one of my favorite characters of all time. The series is incredibly engaging and just plain fun to read.

      The way Aaronovitch seems to effortlessly describe everyone is wonderful. He shows how diverse London is in a way that could feel like lip service, but it isn’t. It matters because the diversity of London matters. That’s what makes the city (and the world) so incredible and the world Aaronovitch has created so rich.

    3. Loved the first one, second and third were weaker but I loved the protagonist. And I really love that world and community.

    4. A delicate touch in Rivers of London is that Peter Grant almost always specifies somehow that someone he meets is white, but black people are described by specific features or style and _not_ as black. Nice change-up of what’s marked and what’s unmarked.

    5. I ADORE the Rivers of London books. I am very impatiently waiting for the next one, which I thought would be August but now looks like Oct. I’m sure 50% of my adoration is Kolbna’s voice. PS. I’m finding typing with one hand VERY extra annoying. Shoulder surgery, blech or bleck,

      1. I know, I’ve been waiting for that next book, too. I’ve downloaded the graphic novels from Amazon, but they are thin beer compared to keeping company with Peter Grant.

        I’ve broken my arm a couple of times, in fact I have ancient copies of freshman finals i wrote with my left hand. In pink pen, for some reason. Remember to keep on breathing through it all, literally, keep on breathing while you adjust to the physical limitations. It shall pass, but it *would* be nice to have just the book you want while healing!

  3. Three thoughts.

    I’ve been thinking about tag lines versus stereotypes. I like the comments that suggest bits of description that do/might indicate race, but are just left there.

    I like the lightness of your writing and I think humor is a way neighbors try to find safe conversations. And, humor often comes from upended expectations. (You’re a pro at that.) In The Devil in Nita Dodd you have the dark tone of people’s appearances as human masking their demonness. An element of balance/perspective might be people whose looks make them Other but whose actions make them everyman/woman. (I know that this book is darker than Bet Me or Faking It.)

    Finally, while I know that current events emphasize the Other, your intention to include the Ignored is more important to me. Both are vital for all of us.

    1. Well, the Other is usually the ignored.
      I don’t have any dark tones masking demon-ness, either.
      Of course, I just woke up, so you could write “the dog jumped over the fox” and I’d be responding, “What fox?”

  4. Jenny- thanks for the Slack suggestion. I went back and saw where Micki had mentioned a group to continue discussion, and that you had mentioned Slack there too but somehow in the overwhelming amount of comments it did not register. Not that I want them to go away here, but just there is so much happening in the world that I thought it might be nice to have a place to share thoughts and perspectives in a place that was not strictly for writing craft.

    Micki- I found your email in the comments from part one and have sent you an email. Thanks!

    Lots of good book and TV recommendations I have been noting. On that note, I have not seen anyone mention Black-ish or The Carmichael Show. Both get good reviews and Black-ish just got some Emmy nods. I have watched Black-ish and find it funny and the writing seems to be strong for a sitcom. (Plus Lawrence Fishburne and Traci Ellis Ross have been awesome forever) Going to check out The Carmichael Show so can’t speak personally to that one. I also tried Being Mary Jane (love Gabrielle Union- was great from the beginning- original Bring it On I saw with my daughter and in Life when Sarah Shahi was on maternity leave) but am not sure on that one. They are hinting at Mary Jane having a thing with a married guy, once she knows he is married and I just hate when they take a strong woman and have her with a married guy. That is almost where I stopped watching Sex & The City. Hated Carrie with Big once he was married. I think the only reason I stuck with it was we were in S3 or S4 by then so I was invested enough to try and see how they would end that disaster, and liked the other characters, where as the Mary Jane affair is coming up in S1 E2- I needed more time to get to know and root for her before they went there.
    Happy Friday to all!

    1. Micki- I don’t think I got your email correct. At first it would not send. I tweaked the address, it bounced back. Obviously without the spacing but was not sure if trying to post the email straight caused issues…

      michae _ duskova @ gmail . com ?

      If you want to send me a quick hi and I can reply with my original email?
      bdp326 @ live . com

      1. Thanks for your email, Bernie! Three-day holiday here, so I was off-line for a couple of days. It’s: michaeline duskova at gmail (remove spaces, replace at, add the obligatory dot com). But I got your email fine, and am looking forward to discussing it with you. Some of the Eight Ladies are interested in the conversation, too! So, we’ll get this figured out.

        In case anyone didn’t catch the first part of this conversation: some of us want to start a private group where we can discuss these diversity issues. I can’t really do anything until after the middle of August, but I can make a list of people who’d like to join. So, if anyone sets something up, contact Bernie and me, and likewise, we’ll keep you in the loop about any discussion group we pull together. I would like to be conversing by September 1.

    2. I tried The Carmichael Show and liked it. It’s a pretty simple premise that boils down to “Jerrod, his girlfriend, and his family all sit around the living room and talk about the issues of the day,” but I like that they’re having those discussions and most of the time don’t really resolve them (like, say, the Cosby episode), but you think it out.

      1. Carmichael is great because it often takes the position that there’s no view point that is right but we need to be visible if the conclusions of both (the Trump episode) and shows “family secrets” regarding the black community.

  5. Heh. I just tried to read all the comments yesterday. I know I missed bits, because that’s a lot of uninterrupted reading. And I had interruptions. Glad you hit upon Sulu and that difference of view. It’s nice, though, because people are invested in that character and telling the story of a gay man well, on both the pro and con sides.

    Just from my own experience, I had a character pop into my head who was Indian. It was so early in the story, I wasn’t even sure how she was related to the protagonist I was trying to develop. I have a big thing about names, though, so I tried to give her a last name very quickly. Once I started poking around, I realized giving her a surname was going to be a lot more complicated that I thought, because it would likely assign a region, or religion, or some other trait that hadn’t expected, and of course, I didn’t want to give her the last name of any of my friends. That fear of making a mistake was enough to quash that discovery process. Some people can change characters names later on. I don’t know if I can, I’ve never gotten that far.

    I also have a lot of guys named “Joe” running around in various snippets. But that’s a different problem. 😀

  6. This has been an amazing discussion, and is making me look even more closely at my own writing in terms of diversity. I live in a very, very diverse city–there are 90+ languages represented in our local school district–and my series is set in a fictional town just south of here. I was discussing the various cultures represented in this area with my 16 year old son, and he immediately said, “Mom, you have to have Russians, you know.” Yep, he’s right. All it takes is a quick stroll through the phone book (yes, there still is one in hard copy) to see it, aside from the Russian Orthodox churches and town names like Nikolaevsk. And I’d already thought of that, but it was interesting to see that my son was so aware of it even though we live 2+ hours to the north.

    I want to do it justice, but it isn’t what the story is all about any more than I am all about my Norwegian ancestry. It shows up sometimes in specific details just like it would in real life–foods, rituals and celebrations, etc. More than anything, I want to write a good story. How much I choose to obsess over the details of other ethnicities and cultures remains to be seen. But when I do, I know I’ll think of all of you and this fabulous conversation.

  7. Hi, long time- lurker delurking just to say its fantastic you’re having this discussion. I tried to read and take in everyone’s points before I said this, but so many people have said so many thoughtful interesting things, I know I haven’t digested them properly but I’m so excited you’re having this discussion I have to just make three points before I burst.
    As an Indian woman, I would love to see an Asian character who is not completely human. For me, that is part of what diversity and not tokenism is, if we get be fully rounded and have strengths and flaws. In my head, Nita is Nicole Beharie anyway.
    Perhaps the one way to have a POC not be faux diverse is to have more than one. Then they’re not representing their whole race, and are free to be grumpy, impulsive , athletic etc and not be a stereotype because they’re not the only one?
    I have always he most with Sophie and Lisa Livia, for me they have the same attitudes to family that I have (and food with Lisa Livia!) so perhaps you’e already half-way there?

    1. Hi Anita,

      Just curious; have you read “Personal Demon” by Kelly Armstrong?

  8. One of the things that should make it easier for most authors is to understand that there is in-group diversity. On a single topic, many different and even dissenting opinions.

    I want authors to try to diversify. If an author worked hard and has a pretty authentic characterisation that is not a caricature I think it would go towards showing their commitment.

    Sure, someone from the group is going to be unhappy. That’s what makes someone write to an author who was a teacher and say, “You don’t know about teaching high school.” I just think most people (of all colours) are like the rest of the reading world who did read Crazy for You and didn’t need to nitpick.

    Arundhati Roy – The God of Small Things,
    Vikram Seth – A Suitable Boy
    and VS Naipaul – A House for Mr Biswas are all Indian authors but you can bet that they had their critics both in and out group.

    African Writers :
    Tsitsi Dangarembga – Nervous Conditions,
    Wole Soyinka – various works,
    Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart
    Ndumiso Ngcobo – columnist whose book is called “Some of my best friends are white”
    … all of these people are writing about Africa and each one’s Africa is different from the other’s Africa.

    It is the colonised and now free African narrative that shows that when the African countries’ borders were formed, the colonial boundaries were used. Linguistic and cultural groups that had formed over millennia due to terrestrial boundaries were ignored. Hence the frequent conflict in Africa. People were left with countries made up of disparate groups and then given no guidance on how to live with tolerance.

    That these are complex and even divisive issues is undeniable. Yet it is here we need romance novels and fantasy and mysteries. The fiction of a happy ending is often what suggests to people that a real-life happy beginning is possible.

    If I’m not mistaken Stephanie Laurens did a speech or keynote along the lines of the same. The very presence of romance novels resulted in people choosing to marry instead of simply cohabit. I could be wrong, I’ll accept correction if so.

    In short thanks to centuries of oppression, authors who aree being published have the power to perturb the existing systems. The feedback changes the systems in small ways resulting in ripple effect of change over time.

    Oh my Gawdess, I dropped Ecosystemic Psychology theory on y’all. I was bemoaning my loss of academic writing skill today. I need to do an article and couldn’t get past 200 stilted words and here I may’ve dropped that much on my mobile from memory. I tried googling the Laurens keynote and gave up because the writing fire was here!

    Rock out Arghers. Excuse errors. I’m using the Swype feature to type.

    1. Thanks for that reading list– of those I’ve only read Achebe so I’ll be adding these to my TBR pile!

    2. Ecosytemic Psychology is a thing? I needed to know that! (I will not be hunting the interwebs for more tonight, because Must Go to Bed, but thank you.)

    3. The marrying point is a big thing. I was thinking about how “white” didn’t used to be the monolith that it seems to be now. I remember hearing “Polack” jokes in elementary, and my own family were a bunch of “Bohunks”. How did we get past those labels and discriminations? I think a lot of it had to do with intermarrying. “They” became “Us”. We lost a lot of heritage, culture and traditions along the way. Only recently did I identify my family’s tradition of giving clothing and books at Christmas as part of a Czech-area tradition. (Something soft, something hard, something the person wants and something the person needs.

      One hopes this is a kinder, gentler world where one can keep the best of traditional culture, but trade out the old prejudices and suspicions for something a little more friendly.

  9. Ran across this elseweb:

  10. In the acclaimed web series The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, which is a modern-day adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Jane falls in love with Bing Lee, well-to-do Asian studying to become a doctor. Lizzie is best friends with Charlotte Lu.

    And just like that, you have four characters who are Asian and get a good amount of screentime: Bing, Caroline, Charlotte, and Maria.

    Asian-american fans of the series found a lot of subtext to consider, just by slotting in Asians into the various class situations of the characters. But the text doesn’t make any comment on those implications. Their ethnicity doesn’t affect the plot or overt characterization at all.

    So let your characters just live well-detailed lives, colorblind cast them, and then let your readers with more personal stakes in the representation fill in the subtext made available just by the characters existing. Show, not tell.

    (The director/writer of Bend It Like Beckham also produced and directed Bride and Prejudice, for another example of color-swapping the romcom.)

  11. I’ve been thinking about this (amazing, splendid, multi-colored) discussion a lot over the last few days, and the only thing I have left to add is one thought:

    Jenny–as you said, you haven’t finished a book in a while. If this issue is going to derail you, as important as it is, leave it until the next book, and finish this one.

    Just my two cents.

    1. I have to agree with Deborah. You’ve been incubating this WIP for a long time. It may not be this book that opens up to allow the kind of diversity people have been asking for here. I have always admired how you honor your story; each book you write is truly a different book and each one contains what it needs for its completion and no extras. (Or at least very close to that ideal, in my opinion.) The way you write creates trust in me as a reader, and I worry that if you come back into this story with a need to change it in ways that are actually extraneous and even detrimental to the clarity and truth of the story, it will no longer be your story.

      I am always looking for books that give me glimpses into other people’s lives. It is easy enough to find the books that are painful to read and focus on the hardships and real trials of being mistreated or seriously abused. It is so much more difficult to find books that provide hope and humor and romance within a diverse community. I
      I am so very tired of post-apocalyptic drama and book endings that break my heart. I know the Peter Grant books quite well. Any other recommendations for contemporary non-white or diverse romances, whimsical tales that make you laugh while they invite you into new ways of looking at the world? I’m not asking for much…

      1. Not exactly a romance (although it definitely has romantic elements) but you could try “Helen & Troy’s epic road quest” by A Lee Martinez. Troy’s Japanese and Helen’s a minotaur, they’re a couple of very sweet teens , tricked into a quest by a hamburger god and pursued by a group of weekend warrior orcs. I love Martinez’s writing, it contains a warmth which you don’t often see.

          1. I actually wrote a short story/screenplay about exactly that based on a clickbait headline that was something like Minotaurs Are the New Vampires. I should resurrect that.

            But first, I want to squee with @KatyL! How exciting to meet another writer with a series in Montreal! I’ve already downloaded The First Faux Pas and am looking forward to reading it!

            I agree with @Anita and others that POC get to be fully rounded, and that means we get to be bad guys too. I also agree with @Deborah that finishing the book comes first. Jenny, remember that RWA column with “Protect the work!” as the battle cry?

            In the meantime, I am extremely excited to break the Internet (well, at least Jenny’s corner of it) without having to resort to a naked Kim Kardashian. Yeeeeeeehaw.

  12. I’m not about to read 250+ comments at 4am, so this may have been stated before, but you’re over thinking things. I’m a 29-year-old black woman. I’ve been reading your books for about a decade now and while I, of course, noticed that there were no people of color to be found–when you are a POC you notice these things. Sometimes it’s annoying, sometimes it just is what it is–I don’t recall it ever bothering me. For one thing, the general rule of ‘write what you know’ is still a very good one. As you’ve alluded to in regards to experiences, rare is the white author who accurately captures a POC character without making him/her a raging stereotype. Or, and sometimes this is even worse, going so far out of their way NOT to make their POC character a stereotype that they’re horribly inauthentic, plastic and an obvious token.

    I think the key to everything is something you mentioned several times. Your POC friends are just like you. And that’s kind of the long and short of it. They’re just like you. *We* are just like you. Everyone, black or white or yellow or green or pink or purple, has different experiences. Yes, racism is a thing that you haven’t had to experience, but as you mention, sexism is and having experienced both, I can tell you the emotional response, be it anger, disgust, disillusionment, or anything else, is quite similar. Also, you have sources to give you more information on that. I don’t know your POC friends, but if they’re logical, well-rounded individuals, they should be open to providing feedback on the authenticity of a character, his/her background, and anything else you may be leery of. I know I’ve done that for people before.

    The most important thing, though, is that writing is an organic thing. Forcing a square peg into a triangle hole will be obvious every time. That isn’t to say not to try to be more diverse and inclusive, but please don’t force it. Just do what you already do so well and write funny, human characters. Some of whom just happen to be black or Hispanic or Asian or Latino or…

  13. Just an example from life here.

    Yesterday I was in Target, looking for a clerk in the jewelry section. All the jewelry clerks I’ve dealt with have been women, so I look for a woman employee. When I see two employees in the next section over, I figure I’ll speak to the one who appears to be superior in rank (who is often the one to answer questions) or is a woman (more likely to be the clerk I’m seeking).

    One employee is a muscular, clean-shaven young black man. The other is also young, and is slim and sports a mohawk, piercings, tattoos, and is caucasian. Two slightly concave bumps in that employee’s Target polo shirt indicate breasts, but I’m not sure. Both are dressed neatly and look friendly — attractive young people, to my 60+ eyes.

    I can’t tell which holds a higher position. I don’t know if the mohawk-wearer is female. I usually try to speak to blacks because of my own worries about being prejudiced. But when does a strong man with a crewcut run the jewelry counter?

    I spoke to the mohawk. Sure enough, the young man ran the jewelry counter. I had a good laugh at myself.

  14. As for book recommendations, I think going back to Juvenile Fiction can be enlightening. Because if an author can make a kid get it, isn’t that the hardest bar to clear? So JF books are so optimized, pared down to the essentials.

    Then I realized that for recommendations, a majority of what I’ve read is genre, which does make things a much easier, especially if the entire story is set in an Asian nation or fantasy-Asian nation.

    So starting with genre:
    Beth Bernobich’s Fox and Phoenix
    Anything by Laurence Yep. His genre series are great, but so is his historical fiction. Of note is Dragon Road, which is a story of basketball, and mostly reads like any other sports narrative.
    The Adaptation duology by Malinda Lo
    The Kidney Hypothetical by Lisa Yee

    And a couple of recommendation posts that break the mold of your standard “Asian American immigrant coming of age” narrative:

    1. Thank you, AG, excellent suggestions and two good links. I’ve looked through all and ordered a few for my TBR list. Even though my children are grown I still pay attention to YA but not so much to books for people younger than that. Girl in Translation is in my pile and I just moved it a lot closer to the top.

      A further question, though, for anyone. Are there romances or women’s fiction that is written from a POC’s viewpoint that includes one or more white persons (male or female) who are neither the villain or the hero? Is there a genre for this? I read SciFi as well, and I do come across more diversity in characters, but often the plot is the thing in SciFi so no one ends up being very deep or intrinsically interesting. As I said before, I have read plenty of serious literature written by people from other cultures and other races, so what I’m looking for is lighter while still being true. Or is it too early in the shift in attitudes which I hope for and even see in many younger people to manifest in the books being written now?

      1. Not romance but if you haven’t read her, Ursula LeGuin – the Earthsea cycle, The Dispossessed & the Left Hand of Darkness. Her characters always run the range (she’s the daughter of a famous anthropologist) of both sex, gender & race. Without being necessarily about a message.

        The other one who you might be interested in- although he’s much older- is Frank Yerby. His most famous work is the Foxes of Harrow. It’s been 40 years since I read it, but the main characters are white. The other books of his I really liked were The Dahomean & The Girl from Storyville. More like the big saga types that were popular in the 40s & 50s. But there are scenes in both the Dahomean & Storyville, that I still remember clearly.

          1. First African American author to make more than a million dollars from his writing.

            BUT I’m not sure how widely known it was he was African American in the beginning. I knew it because one of my English teachers assigned him as one of the different mainstream voices. (Same class had us reading Leon Uris & Richard Brautigan.)

      2. Hope:

        Characters that are neither villain nor hero are mostly going to come from non-genre books. So you’re looking at historical fiction and “modern” dramas. Anything from the Literary Fiction shelves, really, as well as non-genre coming-of-age stories. Westerns also tend to explore ambiguities of hero/villain.

        And, of course, all those books explicitly dealing with the immigrant/heritage experience. Most of those in the YA section, dealing with middle/high school, tend to be lighter if they’re not centered around soulful romance. The chaos of adolescence as absurd comedy.

        Otherwise, honestly, your best bet for finding lighter yet character-focused stories featuring a POC main character with white characters as non-heroes/villains is going to be fanfiction.

      3. I can think of several PNR/ UF authors who write stories with racially diverse casts, but those may have the same issue as sf/f – Nalini Singh, Marjory Liu, Charles DeLint, Meljean Brook, and Shelly Laurenston. Alisha Rai and Rebekah Weatherspoon both write racially diverse romances with POC and white characters, although I don’t know if any have the break down you mentioned. I think Weatherspoon’s Fit series may fit the bill – iirc, in the third book the two MCs are poc but some of the supporting characters are white. It’s a great book but it’s both nerdy and kinky so it’s not for everyone.

      4. I realized I’ve read women’s fiction that fits your request but it was a library book and long enough ago that I don’t remember the author or title. It was about a twenty something AA woman whose absent mother reappeared in her life – she’d had a second child and gotten sober. All I remember is that the mother’s young daughter was named Sunshine and I think there was Mint in the title.

        Not that helpful. But the genre does exist.

        I think Bebe Moore Campbell also writes lighter fiction with mostly but not all AA characters.

        Zen Cho has written about wanting to write what she calls “post-colonial fluff” which I think may be similar to what you’re talking about.

        And there are lots of authors of color writing romances about poc MCs, with or without white supporting characters – Beverly Jenkins, Jeannie Lin, Alyssa Cole (although she writes IR couples too), Rebekah Weatherspoon, and Farrah Rochan (I think I’m mispelling this but I don’t want to look it up).

          1. I thought there was a citrus fruit in the title but searching for Lemon Mint just got me a lot of cookbooks.

        1. Farrah Rochon. Also Sharon Cullars. Mindy Huang. Piper Huguley. Suleikha Snyder. And many more.

      5. Ooh, I can’t believe I forgot some Fantasy books I JUST READ.

        Kate Elliott’s had a long career in Fantasy, but I recently read the start of one of her new series, Court of Fives, as well as finishing her Cold Magic Trilogy.
        Very engaging, and I’m agog at her ability to combine very very extensive world-building and complicated plotting (all of the political complexities and shenanigans) with prose that nonetheless puts the focus squarely on character. The Cold Magic books in particular also hit some great romance beats. And the entire thing is quite diverse, to the book’s advantage.

  15. Jenny and Argh nation, thanks so much for this excellent and respectful discussion. Like many of you who are commenting and many more who are lurking, I continue to return regularly to keep up with the comments and to sift through all the points of view to help me understand and hopefully improve! my own approach to writing in a more inclusive way. Which is why I was so disappointed when I visited another writing blog this week and read a post about RWA and its call for diversity that could have become yet another respectful discussion. Only, it didn’t.

    First, there were crickets. As it’s not a community of romance writers, I’ve noticed the occasional mentions of the romance genre do tend to end in silence. Then when there was finally a comment – one comment! – posted by an older white male who, instead of discussing diversity, instead devolved into romance bashing and blamed its ‘lesser literary status’ on the cover art. Cue head exploding.

    I left a comment that I rewrote several times to remove the vitriol, and brought the discussion back to the romance genre (trying to learn about) embracing diversity. And then I came back over here to read intelligent and informed viewpoints. So again, thank you, everyone, for that.

      1. Actually, it is. Some of the best cover art ever done was on pulp mystery and sf.
        Romance tends to play it safe.

        His argument was still dumber than snot, though.

        1. Except for Lois McMaster Bujold’s work which up until recently seemed to be cursed with terrible covers despite being some of the best work in the genre 🙁

        2. I’d agree with you with the pulps. But I read a lot of space opera & some fantasy now and the covers are lousy.

          And Bujold is a prime example.

          1. I’ll have to go check some out; I love talking about covers.
            The ones I remember, like the one on my copy of Wizard of Earthsea, were stunning.
            And it just occurs to me that I haven’t really read much sf for the past forty years. So never mind.

          2. One of the best bits of my job as a secretary/editorial assistant was being involved in commissioning cover art for science fiction/fantasy (American titles we were publishing in the UK, and of course the US covers never worked here (and vice versa)). But that was nearly forty years ago, too.

        3. Kinuko Craft and Stephanie Pui Mun Law, two of my favourite artists, did stunningly gorgeous covers for a number of fantasy and scifi novels. I admit, I only made the connection that I recognised the artwork style after it had tipped the balance in favour of buying the books in hardcover.

  16. Poking around I was reminded of one of Barbara Kingsolver’s first books, Animal Dreams which involves (among other events) a love relationship between a white woman and an Apache man. I thought it was very well done.

    From there I went on to read The Bean Trees which earned her a lot of criticism from Native Americans because of the adoption of a Cherokee child was a major plot point. (Trying to be culturally sensitive here; some American Indians don’t mind being called Indians and some detest the term Native American, so it’s hard to even try to be descriptive without falling into apologizing.) Anyway, Animal Dreams felt authentic to me, but it is the only book of hers that has never been made into an audio book, so I don’t know how she feels about it now. I believe that she wrote Pigs in Heaven as a sequel to The Bean Trees to try to be more accurate to the real world and to assuage the feelings of the Cherokee people specifically.

    I don’t know if the unwritten rules of this forum allow me to talk about an author in particular, but I think she has dealt with the pitfalls of trying to write outside of her own culture, so she is relevant to this discussion. And I like and admire her work.

    1. The Indian vs. Native American thing is tough. I ran up against that in a book I was writing and talked to a friend who lives in Arizona and knows lots of Native Americans. She told me that they call themselves Indians, for the most part, and that Native American is white people PC. And yet when I typed Indian, it looked wrong. SIGH.

      And some of the SF/Fantasy cover art is amazing–check out Patricia McKillip’s books. But some, yes, dreadful.

      1. I think it’s easier to go with tribal names so that you are speaking about one particular culture, the Cree and the Navajo are as different culturally as the Icelandic and the Greeks. I grew up around a lot of Cree and they say Indian or Native.

      2. I suspect you’re talking about the Kinuko Craft covers for Patricia McKillip. Utterly gorgeous – I have most of the picture books she illustrated, too, and more than a couple of prints of hers.

  17. Speaking of Indian/Native American — has anyone here watched Longmire? It streams on Netflix and then when it was cancelled, Netflix picked it up and did another season.

    It’s based on a mystery series by Craig Johnson and is about a white sheriff in Wyoming? Montana? somewhere west anyway and lives near a Indian Reservation. Murder mysteries abound (that’s the genre) and I mention it here because the relationship between the white society and the local reservation is as much part of the plot as the murder. It doesn’t feel like a forced narrative of look what the white man did to the natives (though it acknowledges the troubled history of that relationship), and that relationship drives some, but not all, of the characters.

  18. Just a couple of recommendations – I don’t know whether anyone has mentioned them before but Adichie’s Americanah is really pertinent to this discussion and her Half of a Yellow Sun is just a brilliant book.

    Last year I read Running Girl by Simon Mason (white older male). It was my absolute favourite YA book of last year. Garvie Smith, the hero, has a Caribbean mother and an absent white father. The mother and her family are brilliant and a-stereotypical. Another really good book about race and growing up different in white Britain is Meera Syal’s Anita and Me.

    I would agree with Megan P’s view that the comments are over-thinking things. You have to write what works in your world and for your world-building. I suspect the whole business is much less fraught for UK writers as we are surrounded by e.g. colour-blind casting on TV and in theatre, and although since the referendum racist incidents have increased substantially, overall, our small island allows for more multi-cultural engagement.

  19. Well. Someone decided in my writing group that we should all have to write stories using a lottery trope. And…in my head the story’s being narrated by an African-American male. No particular reason why other than that’s just what I’m picturing in my head and the voice because he’s got a bit of ‘tude. He goes to a screwed-up school and has reasons for that ‘tude, so that was fun to write.

    However…I don’t want to get In Trouble (again) for screwing up writing a person of another race while obviously being a white female who knows nothing, so I did not specify that in the writing, nor did I describe the fellow other than you know it’s being narrated by a nameless male. Which was a little tricky because he mentions that he’s making people mix him up with another student who looked similar to him, who was also close to him in the alphabet in school, and was pretty quiet in class–but I cut all racial descriptions I might have put in to specify that.

    I don’t know if anyone is going to pick up on this or not. I might be better off if they don’t. I suspect someone will figure it out and then call me out for trying. Sigh.

  20. The only thing I have to add is that I don’t think noting the race of a character has to make the story about race – especially if you note everyone’s race, whether they’re white or black, etc. Or include it in the description. Or mix it up.

    I think this was touched on in the discussion above about how race is and isn’t noted in the Peter Grant books but I wanted to comment on it here.

    I’ve also been thinking about my experience reading Nelson Mandala’s autobiography. He mostly doesn’t mention race but when he does it’s usually relevant to the story, and he’s more likely to note that someone’s white or Indian than black.

    In the first section of the book, about his boyhood, there’s almost no mention of race but he mentions different tribes a lot. It’s not until he goes to university that he encounters many people of other races that he identifies white and Indian people. And honestly that’s when I noticed that he generally didn’t identify someone as a black African.

    Anyways, that’s my two cents worth as a white American reader.

    1. I think it depends on the story.
      I could have made everybody in Bet Me black without that changing the story. (Whether they’d have been honest representations of PoC is another question.)
      If I make Sophie black and Phin white in WTT, and his mother and the town turn against her, race becomes part of the narrative by default.
      My heroines are almost always outsiders in some way, so also making them PoC automatically brings up the question, are they outsiders because of race? And if that’s not the story I want to tell, I’m out of luck.

      1. I guess I was thinking of supporting characters and how to identify them. But you’re right, of course, the race of the characters does make a difference to the story. Didn’t mean to imply that race doesn’t matter, because it does.

      1. Good grief. I grew up in a small town in the bush in the middle of nowhere northern Alberta and we had all kinds of people in my town: White, Native, Chinese, Middle Eastern of unknown to me country of origin, Indian, Trinidadian, Filipino, and Canadian-born black people. It freaked me out when I moved to the town we are in now and saw like 5 non-white faces. I told Tall Boy it was creepy and weird and I didn’t like it.

        That’s a lotta white people in that picture.

  21. I have a lot of things to say, but I am terrible at typing on my phone so I’ll keep it brief for now.

    Have you explored the romance twitter community? Diversity is an ongoing conversation and there are really amazing authors from diverse backgrounds with crucial insight on this topic. I would be happy to point you in the direction of my favorites. I think it’s important to note that including PoC and LGBTQ+ should not be done because it’s trendy or you’re “supposed” to. That’s like forcing someone to eat broccoli. Diversity is not broccoli. I read diverse books because they are AMAZING books, not because they are diverse. I think I got off track…I haven’t had any caffeine yet. Anywho… I’m glad to see that this discussion is happening.

    1. Diversity is broccoli if you’ve lived in white communities all your life. Okay, broccoli is a bad analogy. It’s something I have to figure out for any number of reasons including it’s just the right thing to do, but it’s not something I’d do because I have amazing stories about PoC. I also don’t have amazing stories about people who live in cities, people who live in the South, people in the tech industry, people in theater . . . We kind of went over all of this in the comments before.

      And the reason I don’t go to Twitter communities is that people there tend to confuse ignorance with stupidity and roll their eyes at me. Here I can ask questions from people I know and trust and we can have conversations without the whole world watching and judging and coming in to yell or mock. This is a safe space. Also, that stuff just eats time, and I have to write a book.

  22. Okay, so when I get my mind fixed on something, I get a tiny bit obsessive. Feel free to ignore what I’m about to write.

    Carpenter in Agnes and the Hitman is the perfect, gentle knight. He is the man who is going to (after the events of the story) go clean up the entire NSA (or whatever) in Washington, D. C.

    That Carpenter is black is right for the story: his color helps separate him from the war between members of a New Jersey Italian mob family (which has been abetted by Wilson for his own nefarious schemes).

    So, perhaps a black or Asian in The Devil in Nita Dodd could play a similar role in strengthening the themes of the story.

    1. Carpenter was Bob’s character, so he gets all the credit there.

      Never write to theme, discover theme after the second to last draft is done

      There’s a major demon character who is now the demon equivalent of black. I’d had him dark-haired, but when I went back to look at his (very brief) description, it was fairly easy to add skin color since demons are green and people would notice that.

  23. Yesterday I saw the movie Hunt for the Wilderpeople, whose protagonist is a mixed race, obese boy. The movie is sweet and uplifting, and the setting of New Zealand is amazing. Yet, one of the truisms for me was that right through to the end even most of those who loved the boy called him fat. The pain shows on his face.

    For all that the movie featured typical characters, impossible survival and chase scenes, and made me laugh a lot and love the characters, it didn’t feel like an extravagant fantasy because that pain was always there.

    I think that’s part of what the writer was getting at in the PoC-focused review that was recently posted somewhere on this blog (the review of a book with two black sorcerers).

    1. That’s a great comparitson.

      At the risk of repeating myself (over and over and over), it’s vulnerability.
      People of color get a built in vulnerability, and I think that’s what the blogger was talking about. (I’ll go back and find her name and put it in here; I’m still just waking up.) People who are overweight (in this county anyway) get a built in vulnerability. How they react to rejection either increases or decreases that, but the fact that characters have that built in vulnerability that will cause people to reject them unfairly will raise outrage in readers who have come to know them as people, at least in their minds.

    1. Ouch.

      That’s brutally honest. OTOH, that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing, being a bridge to myself, and that’s what got me into (deserved) trouble.

      I think it’s similar (although much deeper and more nuanced, obviously) to Houston’s “The Greatest Love.” Absolutely you have to value yourself first, but if you’re your own greatest love, you’re a narcissist. In the same way, absolutely you have to prioritize your own life, but I don’t see how that shuts out “explaining” to others. I think the more that things get explained, the better people understand (there will always be the racists and the clueless, but there are many more like me who are just ignorant) and the more that people understand, the fewer questions they have, and the more questions they answer for you. The important thing is that people are asking questions instead of just assuming that what they know about the world is sufficient. Donald Trump voters don’t ask questions.

      OTOH, if she doesn’t want to explain things, just say no. I am grateful beyond words to everybody who came by here and explained things to me, and to those incredibly patient women so many years ago who couldn’t break through my pc panic to make me understand. I’m ignorant, not stupid, I need the bridges.

      1. I listened to that poem, and then a number of others that followed that were presented by black women who were very angry and very powerful.

        I grew up during the civil rights era, raised by parents who were socially aware and even had black friends. (Not easy then, living in white America.) But even so, I never had a black friend and I really struggled to find a way to understand what I knew was a spectrum of black cultures that were pretty invisible to European Americans. African-Americans of the early Black Power times would say that they understood ‘white’ culture because they lived in it, but we didn’t understand them. But there was a virtual wall of anger (yes, justified) that made it difficult to have a clue. There was Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls… and then there was Alice Walker with The Color Purple, for which she was severely criticized by other African-Americans for portraying blacks in less than a positive light, as if intelligent people would think that one story was the whole story. But it is these last few generations where younger people are sharing more with each other.

        My grown children are all part of mixed cultural and racial friendship circles, which makes me so happy to see. But it still doesn’t mean that there are no misunderstandings.

        After all these years, I too still find myself undereducated and often oblivious. I try very hard to not step on toes and I am still learning. The biggest change for me is that there are so many more places and people to learn from; Ta-Nahesi Coates, Melissa Harris-Perry, podcasts and more.

        Kate Rushin is finding healing for herself and her cohort in the way that she is choosing. I am just so grateful for those who are willing to take on being a bridge.

    2. I read the poem (can’t watch yet; at work), and really connected to it. So glad you posted it, Reb. Seems to me like a typical “fixer” or “amateur diplomat” position. The peacemaker wants to make everyone happy, and then gets good and fed up with it.

      I am a professional bridge. My job is to teach English to Japanese kids (at least in theory), but when I first came here, all the people on my program were told that we were representatives of the outside world to the isolated Japanese villages and towns we were sent to, and as such, we were to act responsibly, and communicate as much as possible. I don’t mind the professional aspects of that; there are boundaries, and our trainers helped us find them. It’s actually quite interesting to have a foot in two worlds.

      But in my free time, it gets a bit wearing. I’ve found that if an acquaintance is using more than 50 percent of our friendship time on “bridge” activities, I get bored, and often drop the acquaintance. I’d much rather talk about things of mutual concern: the best doctor in the neighborhood, what to pack for the school picnic, even the goddamn weather. I don’t mind a little bit of bridgework — I figure that’s the price of my passport to another world. But I do mind when it’s the bulk of the friendship.

      I think Kate Rushin, when she wrote the poem, hadn’t yet discovered she could say “no” to draining people in her life. There’s no need to say, “Hell No!” — that’s more about the speaker; most of the bridge-seekers are sincere, and with practice, the bridge can channel them into more interesting conversations. Heaven knows, I’ve been a bridge-seeker a lot. And I’ve been crushed by a bridge or two in my time who has had enough.

      So, after being a bridge and bridge-seeker for several decades, I’d give this advice. If you are a bridge, remember that you can be a toll-bridge and refuse admittance to heavy trucks. If you are a bridge-seeker, don’t take it personally if your bridge collapses on you. Immediately detour and try to find common ground on the solid ground of your shared experiences, and if that doesn’t work, back off. Sometimes a bridge just has to collapse, and you weren’t the main cause — just the last straw, that’s all.

  24. I posted that really late at night and probably should’ve said a bit more about why I was.

    I wasn’t meaning it as a criticism of anyone who needs a bridge – either you, Jenny, or anyone else.

    I was thinking it’s an incredibly powerful statement of another way that people who are in a minority find that plays out in their relationships, like microagressions do. That they keep having to be a bridge. I think Micki explained it really well.

    I love Micki’s toll-bridge analogy. I’m a bridge in some things, and it’s a great thing to remember that I can just shrug and live my life and leave people to not understand.

    1. I think she’s in a no-win situation since her survival pretty much depends on people understanding.

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