Thursday, June 13, 2013
I’ve been a reader all my life, across a wide range of genres. (And media; I’ve been a fan of comic books for decades). When I started writing, I gravitated toward my favorite genres, science fiction and fantasy. I’ve since branched out into other favorites, in particular paranormal romance. Maybe it’s the comic book influence, but I like playing genre mix and match in my plots. Over the course of my romance career I’ve written comedy, mysteries and suspense. I haven’t done a Western yet, but I’m a big fan of Louis L’Amour. Who knows what the future will bring?
However, that’s not the diversity I’m talking about. Spreading your byline among too many genres or even subgenres can actually hurt your sales, as I’ve personally discovered. If you’re going to switch genres, I strongly recommend you consider creating a pen name for the new one, especially if it’s a radical switch, like from SF to romance or romance to horror or M/F romances to M/M. Confused readers won’t come back to buy your next book. They’ll buy someone else’s book. If the someone else is still you but under another name, so much the better.
The diversity I’m talking about is with the characters—different races, cultures, backgrounds, sexuality, degree of physical ability. Groups formerly labeled as “minorities” are demanding their faces and forms be shown and their voices heard. This includes within forms of entertainment, like TV and movies and books.
(My favorite example of this is the “twofer.” Next time you watch a cop or lawyer show, count how many times the judge in the courtroom scene is both black and a woman. Kids’ commercials are great. There’s always three: a white boy, a white girl, and either a black or an Asian kid. If Kid #3 is a girl, you’ve got your twofer.)
(I did this myself at Shapeshifter Seductions, with my character Lamar. Lamar is both gay and Hispanic. That wasn’t intentional. Boa constrictors are native to Central America. Making him Hispanic seemed logical.)
I’m not saying you’re required to write a diversity of characters into your story. It’s your story. Write it whichever way makes you comfortable, and follow your muse’s demands. I’m just saying the world is changing, and a mix of characters from different backgrounds is a more realistic picture. If you find your story demands a paraplegic gay Pakistani, go for it.
Speaking for myself, I’m a white woman who was raised middle class. That’s my background and my comfort zone. I was born in a Jersey shore community, population white. I think the first African-American I ever saw was Uhura on Star Trek. (Hadji on Jonny Quest was Indian, so he doesn’t count.) I live in a part of Pennsylvania where the predominant ethnic group stems from German descent, but that’s changing. I’m seeing more variety in my neighbors’ faces lately. And more Russians in New Holland. Not quite sure why that is.
I also find myself adding more diverse characters to my casts, simply because that’s the way life is these days. If you set your story in Philadelphia or New York, you’re going to see a wide range of people, Friends notwithstanding. If you set your tale in San Francisco and don’t even mention the gay community, something is seriously wrong. I cited Disney’s Tarzan a couple posts back, set in an Africa with, apparently, no native human population. One white woman on the entire continent, and Tarzan finds her. He really is Lord of the Jungle. (To be fair, he does encounter natives in the book, but not women. By the time he ran into Jane, he must have been horny as all get out. Unless he and the she-apes—no. Not gonna go there.)
Over at Shapeshifter Seductions, we’ve got quite the mix going. Personally, I work on the theory that the animal form’s continent of origin determines the human form’s ethnicity. Therefore, horses are white (European or Arabian), wolves are white European or Native American, pandas are Chinese, and so forth. That’s how Lamar ended up a Latino, as well as jaguar-shifter Leona Sanchez (who’s also a twofer, with Native American ancestry). Had Leona been a leopard, her human form would be African-American. We’ve got gay couple Lamar and Jamie, Solara’s polyamorous family units, and Serena’s Mistress Penelope, who’s in a class by herself. Bighorn Mary Ewing is a deaf-mute, which is fine with her boyfriend, who has a severe stutter and doesn’t like to talk anyway. Fortunately, Lamar knows sign language. Being snakes, a lot of his family members are either deaf or hearing impaired. I’m guessing somewhere on his family tree is a Lou Ferrigno-ish bodybuilder/pro wrestler whose finishing move is the Big Squeeze. Ralph the bear would probably wet himself if he ever got to meet him in person.
In my own writing, I find myself slipping out of my Caucasian comfort zone from time to time and adding different characters because that’s what the story wants. Years ago I wrote an (unpublished) SF story with a black major character. That was deliberate; I based him on James Earl Jones because I wanted that voice and that presence for my character. The one in the M/M/M story I was fiddling with was an accident. I’d conceived of my three leads as all white guys. Then another character made an observation and I suddenly realized one of the men had brown skin. I have no idea how that happened, but that’s how it is now and that’s what I’m going with. If I ever get back to the story, it’ll be the blond guy, the brown-skinned guy, and the alien. My God, I’ve written a kid’s commercial.
My current WIP also includes some accidental diversity. I knew from the start my character Burne was a dragon. What I gradually discovered as I wrote was that he’s half Chinese. His dragon form is Asian, which gives him no end of trouble with the winged and fiery European variety who rule dragon society. In addition he’s dating Jase, a whitetail deer shifter, which I suppose makes Jase Native American, though I’m picturing him as white. So instead of a simple gay romance, I’m now writing a gay interracial romance. What have I gotten myself into?
Diversity, that’s what. Stepping out of my comfort zone and growing as a writer. Which, in my opinion, counts as a Good Thing. Here’s hoping I can do it right.