Musing 03/19/21 – Diverse Writers: Still a Long Way to Go.

Still waiting, but this is common for us writers. I’m not saying anything new. It’s tough, frustrating, but you keep at it. It’s the same for artists–I’m looking at YOU, Robin Brantley. But we keep going because we love what we do. Even when we want to quit. Even when we say we’re going to quit. If you genuinely love the arts, it sticks with you, you can’t leave it behind. My record is two years, but even then I still thought like a writer. It was annoying. But I came back, wrote, and got an agent. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait too long.

While we wait, we sometimes try other things. I’ve tried getting a couple of essays published. No luck yet. Sometimes, I don’t understand the rejections. Things seem perfect for the venue, but still it’s not right for them. I wrote the following for the SFWA, which I thought was an important topic. Feel free to skip, but it’s related to this musing:

Diversity in Publishing: Where are the Others?

Diversity in publishing. We hear it often, almost daily. The fast definition is works specifically by BIPOC authors. Many people like me grew up with a love of books and reading, but no books where the characters resembled us, especially not in the fantasy and science-fiction genres. The lack of people of color addressed recently. The first time I saw a book with people of color as the focus was Octavia Butler’s, Parable of the Sower. From there came Nalo Hopkinson, and Tananarive Due, followed by somewhat of a drought: at least I wasn’t aware of any other BIPOC authors writing about BIPOC characters. 

Now, a sort of renaissance has occurred with the number of BIPOC authors are steadily climbing and filling the shelves with works starring people of color. Publishers are realizing there is a large untapped market, like the video game companies, finally realizing that girls and women play video games. My Amazon Books Wish List is steadily filling. I’m hoping to join the ranks of my fellow authors soon. It’s good to see BIPOC works on my bookshelves, patiently awaiting my perusal.

We’re not there yet, we can do more. 

One thing I am noticing is that publishers seem to ask primarily for books either about speculative fiction based solely on various African folklore or the problems of BIPOC in an urban setting. Now don’t misinterpret my words, that’s wonderful, but sometimes I would like to see more books that cover those of us, who are not first and second generation African or who don’t live in an urban setting. We exist. The publishers seem to think all BIPOC’s just recently emigrated to America or live in crime-ridden cities. Yes, these stories make a lot of money, so it’s no wonder that publishers want more. 

I understand wanting to write about where you came from and basing your works on that folklore. But for me there is a disconnect. According to Ancestry, my long-ago ancestors were from Nigeria, or at least that’s what my DNA test revealed at twenty-five percent Nigerian and twenty-four percent Cameroon, and Congo & Western Bantu Peoples. I don’t know if my family has relatives in those countries. I have serious doubts. Yes, I can do research and find subjects to write about but there are so many other authors who are closer to those places, who do have family that they interact with that I feel as though anything I write might have a ring of falseness to it. 

My family is American. African American, of course, but I’m several generations of American, also according to Ancestry. Much of my family were born, raised and lived in the South, the Carolina’s, Virginia and Maryland, specifically South Carolina until finally some settling in Delaware. I’m researching to find out more about the stories my family may have told and passed down. I hope to contact someone still living there. What history that could be fantastical and how I can give them an epic fantasy feel or maybe turn them into a paranormal.

My sub-genre of choice is epic fantasy, although sometimes, I like a good contemporary or historical if there’s an element of the fantastic. That doesn’t mean a writer has to use the old medieval Europe trope. I can write an epic with a distinct flavor, with a complete author-created world. It’s very possible. I’ve done it myself. So have my fellow authors, like N. K. Jemisin, Evan Winter and L. Penelope, to name a few but we need more. 

My current works take place in a fantastical Old West. I based on one of my favorite fables, The Tinderbox, by Hans Christian Andersen. I’d love to see more speculative fiction books taking advantage of the things they taught us in school and turning them on their heads, besides the fairy tales we’re all familiar with. There are so many other stories out there besides Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast. Things that Disney haven’t yet gotten their hands on.

If publishers look beyond the usual, they may find a wealth of books by BIPOC authors that are being overlooked by the industry. Think of how many more readers you will have purchasing your works. 

*****

What do you think? I thought it was perfect, of course, but don’t we all think everything we do is perfect? At the very least it’s an important topic, IMHO. I’ve always been a lover of epic fantasy. This is before, as you saw above, I was before any of these wonderful authors appeared. I genuinely believe we need more writers of epic fantasy. Is that not an important topic? Even as important as other genres written by BIPOC authors? If we say, BIPOC writers can only write contemporaries focusing on the struggle–which is NOT a bad thing — or books based solely on a certain time in history, from the writer’s country of origin or ethnic background–also NOT a bad thing—aren’t we just putting certain BIPOC authors back into the box, for want of a less cliched term. Shouldn’t we have ALL the speculative fiction genres and their offshoots being written? Otherwise, the purpose has suffered a crushing defeat. Yes, I know, purple prose, I’m trying to make a point here.

So, agents, editors, publishers, I’m willing to wager I’m not the only one who would love to see more books in those untouched genres. Think of the profits. And I’m trying to re-do my book collection after losing nearly four hundred books. So, you will not have to fight for my shelf space.

Peace~

Wendy

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