I’m not a well-known writer by any stretch of the imagination. In any given month I’m lucky if my sales numbers crack two digits. This means, Internets, that every time a reader reaches out to me, it’s a rare and special occurrence.
I mention this because I was contacted on Goodreads by a reader who thanked me profusely for Faerie Blood, specifically because she’s a reader of color, and it meant a lot to her to see Kendis, a heroine of color. She told me that she talked the book up to her friends as well, because she was so excited to find a book with a heroine like her.
Now, y’all, I’m a white woman. And I’ll say straight up that I was a bit nervous about making Kendis a heroine of color–because since I am a white woman, by definition, I’m not going to be able to write about a PoC with the same perspective and experience that writers of color can. It’s very likely that as I continue to write Kendis (because Bone Walker IS on the way, I swear!), I’ll probably screw something up in that regard.
But on the other hand, I felt like it was important to make Kendis non-white. As with a lot of aspects of my writing, this grew out of my love for Elfquest and the simple fact that I saw the Sun Folk–elves of color!–so vividly portrayed on the pages of that series. I’m also very aware, after a lifetime of reading SF/F, that protagonists of color are still pretty damned thin on the ground. The ones that do get written about run the risk of being whitewashed on their covers if they’re written by white authors–or of being exiled to non-SF/F sections of the bookstore if they’re written by authors of color.
And I’m aware that as a white author, I have a certain level of privilege that may get my book looked at twice when an author of color’s book might not be. The same applies to Valor of the Healer, where I also have a distinctly non-white heroine (and I’m grateful to Carina for making sure that’s clear!). At the same time, I acknowledge that yeah, I might screw something up, and that I need to listen if a reader of color comes and tells me “hey, you wrote this wrong”.
I hope I have the grace and sense to listen when that happens, to learn, and to do better next time.
But for now, I want to send a public shout-out to Colette on Goodreads. Thank you, Colette!
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Along the same lines as above, some links y’all should be aware of if you haven’t seen them already.
N.K. Jemisin gave an excellent GoH speech at Wiscon this past weekend, and posted the transcript of it on her site here. Jemisin is calling it like she sees it in re: racism in SF/F, and she’s not wrong. It’s ongoing, it’s horrible, and it needs to stop.
Likewise, I’d like to call out Hiromi Goto’s GoH speech from the same convention. Pretty much her entire speech resonates with me, especially the closing where she talks about the Japanese word kotodama. We are, in SF/F, writers and readers. Words are powerful to all of us. They can effect change, and as both Jemisin and Goto so passionately proclaim, there’s much our words can do if we let their spirit move us.
Just before Wiscon, too, Mary Robinette Kowal put up an excellent post on the need for diversity in SF/F over here. I’d particularly like to point out the discussion in the comments, wherein the question is raised by a straight white male writer about what he can do to promote diversity. It is very, very important to note that in the replies he got, one of the big points made was that diversity does not mean that straight white men have to shut up or stop writing. Or that they even have to stop writing about characters like them, i.e., straight white men. Diversity includes SWMs too.
Diversity isn’t a zero-sum game. It doesn’t mean that just because minority writers are getting more of a voice, majority writers have to stand down. It does mean that those of us who enjoy majority privilege–whether because of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or whatever–need to have the grace to let others have their say too.
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And this also applies to sexism. Like many of you, I’ve seen the horrible news going around about the shooting in California, and the virulently misogynist motives of the shooter. I’ve seen the response of #YesAllWomen springing up on Twitter, and roundup posts like this one on The Mary Sue, featuring some of the most powerful tweets with that hashtag.
I have seen men I know posting their bemusement about what “rape culture” means, and what on earth they can do in the face of such vicious hatred. I’ve seen other men I know, however, posting their sentiments that they need to stand up and say enough and this is not okay. They’re right. Because women keep screaming this–and mind you, we’re not going to stop–but the simple bitter truth is that there are a lot of men out there who aren’t going to hear us simply because we’re women. Men need to say it too–and turn their gender privilege into a force for good.
I’ll close this post with a pointer over to this post of Vixy’s, in which she lays down a lot of words of wisdom on this very topic. Go listen to her.
Then go speak, too–because we’re all stronger when we’re speaking together.
ETA: Adding this link because thank you, Arthur Chu. Who uses his aforementioned gender privilege as a force for good.