This is an important campaign. It’s all over social media, and rightly so – it makes sense that books should reflect our cultural mosaic.
Mea Culpa time: I’m a 48 year old white guy that most people haven’t heard of and who, amazingly, has been published seven times. I’m a bit right of center in my values (understand, a Canadian conservative would be an American Liberal, BTW) but I’ve always considered myself a pretty tolerant person. It likely comes from having grown up in a country that traditionally votes Liberal, sticks to the mushy middle and basically tries to get along with everyone. Seriously, Canada is like the next door neighbor that everybody borrows gardening tools from but fails to return them and we’re too polite to ask for our property back. Apparently, the NY Times thinks we’re “hip” all of a sudden. Naturally, Canadians mocked this … politely, of course. Apparently, Planet Earth wants to have sex with our new Prime Minister. Good for him, I guess.
At any rate, multiculturalism is an official policy in Canada, but we’re still a very white with two official languages – English and French. Where I live in Saskatoon, we’re pretty darned white. We have a large First Nations population. (until very recently their federal government ministry was called “Indian Affairs”. Now it’s called Indigenous & Northern Affairs.) My own experience is lilly white. I was born in Ontario and spent my childhood in a very tough neighborhood of predominately working poor white families in Sudbury. We moved out to Calgary Alberta in 1980 and my experience there was mostly a white one. Yes, there was a large east Indian community but we didn’t mix in Junior High or High School that I can recall.
So when I started writing to get published, the mere thought my characters being anything but white hadn’t occurred to me. I didn’t expand that cultural mosaic into my writing because it didn’t reflect the reality of my life so everybody was a WASP. Or a WASC. I thought I was being progressive by including Ukrainian names for characters in my books because there’s a heck of a lot of Ukrainians in Western Canada. I didn’t write non-diverse on purpose, mind you. But over the past three or so years, I’ve come to recognize that books should reflect everyone in the community because the community is everyone. Know what I mean? It’s not just white people like me.
In my novel STUDENT BODIES, I decided to throw caution to the wind and write a diverse character. Twyla Standingready is a First Nations mage-in-training. She kicks ass all over the book. People loved her and I even got emails from readers who thought it would be cool for her to have her own book. Her grandfather was in there too, again, kicking ass using native magic – which of course I made up entirely in my world building process and to this day, I wonder if I had a right to do that. I wasn’t trying to make a statement by putting in a diverse character. I was just trying to make the story more reflective of the world I live in. This isn’t without risk because I wonder if I am going to upset anybody by writing a diverse character and not getting something right about their culture. Seriously … I’ve lost sleep over this. I don’t know what the rules are. I don’t know if I have a right to write diversity because I am a fat old white guy.
I purposely included diversity in my bleak post apocalyptic YA novel, THE NORTH. Again, a First Nations character.
But I have felt a need to write a novel with a non-white protagonist. Not because I am trying to correct historical maltreatment of ethnic groups but because I thought it would be cool.
Yes. There you have it. That’s my motivation in writing diversity now. Coolness followed by a healthy dose of “why the hell not?”
In 2015, I wrote a novel called #GRUDGEGIRL. My protagonist is named Jia Song – she’s Chinese. She sees the ghosts of murdered women and children. She hunts their killers. She’s off the grid. She’s massively bad ass. My agent has it and is about to shop it. I hope a publisher buys it but there’s this niggling fear that I didn’t get something right. That I might piss somebody off because I didn’t do enough research into her culture.
Writing is never without risk. It’s a great story and I hope it finds a home.
And I guess I’m kind of glad about We Need Diverse Books, because it grabbed this author’s attention. My motivation is still “this would be a cool idea” but now I’m looking at it through a multicultural lens and that’s progress. Writing books is a massive undertaking. Writing books that reflect my community is now on my radar and before it wasn’t. The funny thing? Because I’ve added diversity, I’ve got more angles to explore in my characters. More texture as I try to write their backstory.
Diversity might even be making me a better writer.
Not bad for a 48 year old white guy who needs to drop about fifty pounds.