Tuesday, May 6, 2014

#WeNeedDiversityinBooks & #BeingGenuine

Recently, everyone connected to publishing, it seemed, posted and tweeted photos of books and handwritten signs for the campaign to make people aware of the lack of diversity in children's books. If you're a writer or reader of books for teens and children, you already know this sad truth.

I didn't do much for #WeNeedDiversityinBooks because I assumed you had to be a writer with a current book to flog, money to buy books, and/or influence to talk to kids and parents and the general public, of which I have none. Besides, I'm a middle-aged white woman - who wants to hear what I have to say about diversity? I'm about as average as they come.

But then I realized I do have 2 published novels with prominent Latino characters. In LOVE, MEG, the main character's love interest is Puerto Rican; in ALL ABOUT VEE, the main character's best friend is Mexican (and for those of you who know about that novel, I had intended to write 3 books in that series, one of which would have told Val's story). The diversity came from the circumstances: New York City in the first and an Arizona border town in the second. The backgrounds of the characters just seemed natural to me, much as in my own life, and their Latino heritage influences their actions, dialogue, etc. In stories that I have not published, my characters are routinely Latino, African American, gay, as well as straight and white. Some characters are rich, some poor, some solidly middle class, some working class.

I didn't set out to "create" diversity, only to reflect life. Forcing diversity will never come off as genuine or sincere. So while I think it's a great idea to promote diversity of race, gender, and sexual orientation, I think it has to arise naturally from the story. As writers we must not be afraid to populate our stories with characters who might appear to be different from ourselves. We are, for the most part, adults writing in the voices of children and teens. If we are trying to tap into those psyches for a commonality, why wouldn't we seek out similarities between ourselves and characters of different races or religions or gender?

You can't force a reader to choose a book that includes diverse characters but if you create stories that naturally include them, they won't marginalize the books in their minds ("that's a gay book," "that's a black story," etc.). They will simply all be stories - good stories, please, exciting stories, ones without stereotypes and boring parts. Make them fun and silly and poignant and touching; make those characters angry and sweet and conflicted and jealous and able to grow and change - just like your readers. Then we will truly have diversity in books.