The Problem with “Natural Diversity”

Today I read this opinion piece on why diversity in books is often poorly mishandled and encountered a quite familiar mantra that has never sat right with me, and that we’re gonna discuss today. I’d love to hear your opinions and urge you to read this piece for yourself.

Before you start throwing rotten mangoes at me, let me explain. I don’t think diversity in books is WRONG. NOT AT ALL. I just think that the way some authors and readers go about it is wrong. NOW THAT THAT’S CLEARED UP, hello! Welcome to yet another discussion in which I am more rambly and […]

 

via Diversity in Books // Why We Need it But Also How it’s “Wrong” (I’m Not Crazy, I Promise) — Forever and Everly

My first instinctive reaction to this piece as a #blackgirlnerd #blackauthor #femaleauthor #contrarianPOS was “What the hell is “natural” and how do we know what “natural” is?” It is often one of those I-know-it-when-I-see-it scenarios, but the whole concept of natural v.s unnatural diversity is laughable to me.

Let me tell you a little story, recently I was on twitter and came across a woman I’d been aware of before. She’s a white nationalist mommy blogger, who hopes to use her promotion of motherhood to prevent “white genocide” and she posted an image of the countries of the world. On this map were white figures to represent population density of white people and black figures to represent population density every other ethnic/racial group in the world. The captions basically were “Do you believe in white genocide now?”. When I first saw this image I wasn’t even upset or bothered by it. All I could think was “Did you…did you honestly think most of the world is white?” and instantly my mind was flooded by examples across my 25 years that confirmed that yes, a lot of people do.

And why shouldn’t they if they’re in the western world?

This isn’t exactly a common scene

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Flipped and Switched art exhibit.

Television, books, radio shows, newscasts, newspapers, and even the toys sections of children’s stores are dominated by the imagery of white people to an excessive degree. As a kid it was a struggle to find black media in North Carolina, and even when the X-Men movie came out I spent at least a half hour going through the action figure section, filled with Rogue and Jean Grey, until my mom asked a salesperson to go in the back and see if they had any Storm figures. That was a blockbuster film and still not all of the characters were available based on the perception of what people wanted and who could buy.

HumanaeDiversity as a concept is deeply influenced by individual perceptions of the world even if they are not accurate. As a result the whole concept of “natural diversity” is buggered. What is natural diversity in a world where writers of color are told their minority characters aren’t realistic for not conforming to stereotypes, when constantly imagery exists predicated on the belief that white is universal and in high quantity. It simply does not exist.

With that said authenticity does and it isn’t limited to people of a character’s background being the only ones to write it. The above piece makes an excellent point, and I’ve seen much of the same where people struggle with including minorities of any kind into their work. While I sympathize with trying to create a character and struggling this is an excuse. What is it an excuse for? Bad writing at best and someone’s unconscious biases at worst. Why do I say this? Because I’m a person who is also black, and while that impacts my perception of the world it doesn’t not negate that I’m a person. I talk a hell of a lot about race because it impacts my life, because of the rise of nationalism, and honestly because I’m in an interracial relationship and if he can’t take me at my Angela Davis he can’t take me Marcus Garvey. But I remain a person, and I have friends who are gay. They are not just my gay friends, but my friends who are gay. They are people.

If you have problems with a character because they are not like you then you need to do research, and if that’s too hard for you then you need to just write something else. Find beta readers like your characters, email other authors for advice, and don’t get upset if someone says “How you asked that question and wrote this character is fucked up”. That is a question of authenticity, of whether the character sounds natural. If it is easier for a person to write dragons than asians…something is wrong, and I extend that to white people as well (but that’s not as big of an issue because white is used as the universal story).
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The idea of natural diversity is an admirable one, and yes I do believe it makes sense to reflect the realities of diversity in context. While I enjoyed the black victorian soldier in a recent Doctor Who episode, the unwillingness to acknowledge that he was a black victorian soldier and just make him a soldier is problematic. To me it signals avoidance, but it still was nice to see. It was a clunky aspect of that episode’s casting that did feel forced, and it felt forced because no one wanted to deal with it. When The Doctor brought black woman, Martha Jones, to meet Shakespeare she addresses it directly and part of what makes it work is…characters respond to her race. Even in being flirted with she’s treated as an exotic dark woman. It wasn’t just glossed over. That felt natural. Not every setting, character, etc. will address race, but pretending it doesn’t exist is unnatural. In fantasy settings, and Americans have trouble conceptualizing this sometimes, ethnicity matters too. Race is noted because physical differences are noted, toted, and demonized. Over that? Ethnicity. Historically we know that is natural to people. That is an issue of authenticity.

The problem has never been that there are all white settings. I’m from the south where in the 1990s and 200s my family was often stared at in restaurants.  Two years ago I was on vacation/research with my mother and a white woman did a fucking double take. She was tall like me, and she looked from my mom to me with utter confusion because two black women were in the nice part of down town because that usually doesn’t happen there. There are neighborhoods I know of that a white person gets stared at because they are so not common. At black BBQs I’ve been to a person’s white partner is accepted but also exceptionally rare. Majority asian, white, black, latin, etc. settings and places exist, but that isn’t an inherent problem. That is equally natural.

The problem has been that majority to all white settings have been unequivocally accepted as natural for centuries, creating a belief that white is the majority, which then feeds back into “It is natural to have majority white character settings as the relatable settings and cast”. The default is white, natural is white, in the west, to such a degree that people are uncomfortable with the modern reality of globalism as “white genocide” when what they’re experiencing is population reality. So this idea of natural v.s unnatural diversity is a big farce in the context of reality.

What is natural to write isn’t always actually natural, and the assumption that this would be the case or can be the case is one done with a lot of optimism, as the blogger of the piece reflects, or in more negative terms, as has been my experience.

Response: Alpha Level Support

When I send my work to an alpha reader, on the other hand, what I’m looking for is encouragement. I’m looking for someone to read my work and tell me it’s fantastic, amazing, enthralling, the best thing they’ve ever read, and could they please read some more of it immediately, if not sooner.

Read More at Writer Unboxed

Jo Eberhart makes an amazing point about the need for encouragement in pursuing our passion projects and work. This doesn’t just apply to writers, but anyone pursuing their work. Alpha level support doesn’t mean blindly praising people, but pushing them towards seeing their goal to the end and then developing that end further. No writer just sits down and does draft one perfectly. No dancer automatically performs choreography perfectly from the first try. As we learn we cannot simply critique without the support of those who encourage us and highlight what we can do well.

People say that encouragement can be too much, but I disagree. Encouragement is about pushing people to do better and supporting their triumphs no matter how minor. The baby boomer generation, unintentionally, has eliminated “average” and trying to develop as acceptable standards while regarding my generation as entitled. I believe this is due to a gross misunderstanding of what encouragement is. Encouragement isn’t demanding the best. It isn’t disregard the middle ground. It is praising the best of what a person does and still acknowledging the trials and talents of those who do alright or even poorly, so we can push them to analyze where they failed or can improve. Encouragement, regardless of age, is what makes us more likely reach our goals.

eBooks aren’t a Get Rich Quick Scheme.

As some of you may know, I have been publishing for over a year (under a pen name) and in that time I have done better than most authors without 100+ page books or an editor. Even the reviews that comment on my editing have been more than kind about the stories themselves. So far I’ve made $60-$100 with no real advertising and just using my other(more popular) blog. It isn’t much, but let me tell you it is better than most indie authors out there who have just gotten started with putting in exactly $0.

And I am happy with this because after a year of lurking, and preparing books/short stories for release under my name I have learned one solid fact…self-publishing eBooks is not a money making scheme. Data Guy of the Author Earnings Report had an interview with  the Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast in Feb. 2016 that broke down the difficulties and successes of the market brilliantly. One comment he made really stuck out to me, however, because he recounted how the media seemed totally uninterested in the AER’s discovery that a large number of authors were getting by fine with their writing. They weren’t making millions, but they weren’t making cents. The stories people were interested in, and the stories I kept/keep finding when I first began researching self-publishing were the million dollar success stories or the failure stories.

These people had one thing in common…they couldn’t possibly be the majority of self-published authors. There’s two groups in those who “fail” at self-publishing. The 1st of those who claimed to fail? They’d written books purely to get rich off a market, usually erotica or romance. They rushed a book, published it, and though any schmo would buy it because why wouldn’t they? They didn’t have a real long term plan. They were hopeful or desperate in a way most of us have been in our lives. But they had no heart in their book and sometimes no respect for their genre or audience. They listened to the people whose only advice was “write a thing. Hit publish.”.

Elsewhere the successful indies all have a variety of stories, and the most authentic were often the most unique and inexplicable. Their situations were happenstance. The right person read, word of mouth, and they struck at the right moment. There is talent involved, but the reality is plenty of talented people in this world don’t get a damn lick of attention of praise. Remember Van Goph was pretty much only known by other artists until Johanna Van Goph, his sister-in-law, refused to let his work be forgotten after his suicide. These people are not common and their books might not even be that well written (which is fine the goal is for people to enjoy them)

While every other no name blogger may include “write an ebook” as an easy way to make passive income the truth is nothing about ebook sales or writing is easy. The truth is most of those bloggers began with a large audience they could sell to, and that’s why they made what money they did. Book quality aside they had buyers before they thought of a book. More seedy individuals have turned kindle, kobo, and smashwords into a means to get you to give them money. These individuals may have written a handful of actual books, but their main skill is marketing. While they can have very useful advice attached to that advice is convincing people that ebook sales are easy. You will look at their backlogs on their blogs, on amazon, or their websites only to see how they’ve made their money is convincing people like you to buy their book, course, etc. Every blue moon you will find someone like Mark Dawson who actually walks the walk, and loves the craft of writing. One thing that differentiates him and others like him from the former? They will tell you how to do better, write more, and become a better marketer for your writing. They don’t promise you instant sales. They don’t belittle legitimate ebook authors. They will tell you this can be fullfilling, but full of hard work. That said there’s something about people, even Dawson who I’ve interacted with and who is a nice man, whose fortunes are spent on marketing you techniques perhaps more than their actual writing.

If you notice I didn’t mention the other half of those who feel they “failed“. The reason is the second group is far more common, and unfortunately is the majority of us self-publishers. For the rest of us authors, both successful and not, the trouble is we’re all trying to get noticed. With hundreds of books being released every month every author is tasked with the torturous task of pimping themselves, and we don’t even get a pimp cup for it. The sad thing is here is where a lot of authors struggle. Those with the mean green to buy $300 worth of facebook ads or use ad services have an upper hand over those of us who simply can’t. This is a tremendous problem for black authors who traditionally face both prejudiced gate keeping, the racist belief that black books have no value for black people, and who don’t always have the social or economic capital to spend $300 or make that $300 really turn into sales.

A bit of advice, the best way to spend $300 is to find an editor and someone who knows how to put together the cover you want. I’m cheap, artistically inclined, and honestly hate 90% of covers in the genres I write in. So I make my own covers. However, I am preparing to send my proper novels to an editor once they’re complete and I find one who understands my work. My 99c story, Mind and Frost, will be self edited, and released in the next three weeks or so because I just don’t see the benefit in paying for the short story with experimental tense use. But perhaps I’m dumb as rocks because those who receive any sort of help on book production see a spike of around 34% in sales.

Despite that we can work our buts off instead, really making constant mistakes and correcting in order to find the best marketing tactics for our audience. We just have to market differently, be more aggressive, and more clever. It’s not that simple by far, but that’s the long and short of it.

Book marketing, book writing, and taking the time to create your brand isn’t something you can just throw together. Story after story after story gets published about authors who break the bank only because they’re extremes. Humans like extremes because they make for eye catching stories. The reality is most self-published authors don’t quit their day job unless their partner has a stable job or, I suspect, they come from money. The reality is most self-published authors of any quality with a good cover sell, based on observations over the last year, about 20-50 copies on average depending on the genre, and supposedly make under $500. But that’s money you didn’t have before, and money that if you hit critical mass (let’s say 3+ books in a series/world)  you can make twice over that, take what you’ve made, and reinvest in your passion.

But you will not get rich quick.

Instead focus on getting your book done in a way you will be happy with.
That’s the first step to making your life richer.

One of those articles I sort of trash has some good advice.

Reblog: How NOT to start your novel

Reblog: How NOT to start your novel

This is the classic trap most new writers fall into. I know I did. We get into storyteller mode: “once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there was a____ who for many years….”

Great for fairy tales. Not so much for modern novels. In a contemporary novel the reader wants to be in the story, not outside telling or hearing about it.

If this is sci-fi or fantasy, your job is tougher, because you have world-building to do, and there’s going to be a huge amount of history to get across. But you don’t have to do it on page one. Slip in the world-building on a “need-to-know” basis.

Damn this article is both hilarious and thought provoking as a writer. No matter the genre some of these themes bring me back to my high school composition class, but many crop up again and again despite writer experience. This article captures both why they don’t work and is a damn funny take on the omnipresence of Disney princess sheets. Take a look over at:

Anne R. Allen’s Blog: How NOT to start your novel

Whose Genre is this Anyway?

Whose Genre is this Anyway?

Genres are probably the most useful and arbitrarily frustrating aspects of books, films, movies, podcasts, art, or anything you could possibly make creatively. No creator really wants to think about where their products will go. Most of us just want to create and put something we love out into the world. Yet we all know the frustration of the customer, searching and searching through the weeds for the product they want to spend money on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “Why can’t I find that kindle category. It was there yesterday and I wanted to find more books there! Damn you Amazon!” While Amazon, Kobo, and other search engines are constantly tinkering algorithms and site design unless something hits all the standards of a genre we can struggle to find it.

Example? I love romance in my fantasy and I love romance in general AND I love fantasy in general. If I want to find a book where the romance is a central, but not the central aspect of the plot in a unique fantasy world with a plot arising not from the romance, but something else…I have to weed through so many shifter romances and random books. The core of what I want is a fantasy book with a strong romantic through line. In fantasy I can click romance or non-romance, but both rarely find me what I want.

The books I’ve found? Generally came from fantasy sections, but outside of Kushiel’s Dart most were still buried.  This is most evident in ebook stores, but its always been a problem. As a self-published author, I have struggled with classifying my stories. However, my erotica/romances are relatively easy to categorize once I figured out how most readers did. The problem with Science Fiction or Fantasy is they’re loaded with useful sub-genres and then you have Science Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Contemporary Fantasy, Contemporary Science Fiction, Space Opera, Magical realism, etc. etc. When a story crosses genres you’re pretty much left saying a hail Mary and hoping things work out.

So how do you find books you like? Fellow authors, how do you classify your books so people  can find them, and know what they’re getting?

Poem: Glass

Poem: Glass

Bitter memories frolic across my mindscape,
Filling it to the mid point
And then threatening to raise the tide over full,
Overflow,
Love and love’s past explode between my ears,
With fears materializing into loneliness,

But hey the glass is half full,
Loving many means loving alone,
Because no one wants a beggar,
“Alms! Alms for the poor”
And love. Don’t forget love.
No one wants.
No one wants to look through the colored glass of your soul,
And see pity.
Pity
Pity
Pathetically crawling, scratching,
Spilling everywhere over all your insides,
On
to
Them.

Dark Literature, Somber Stories, and the Innate Appeal of Melancholy.

Dark Literature, Somber Stories, and the Innate Appeal of Melancholy.

Literature is about experiences and being able to experience the depth of human feeling, and because of that there is this sensual appeal of the darkness. There is something uniquely human about exploring the darker aspects of humanity that I only find in literature (and very rarely film and television). As a person who likes to explore society and the human conscious, works with dark and somber tones have quite the appeal. Maybe part of this goes with my suffering from some form of depression or my temperamental upbringing, but I think it is more than that. In my perfectly normal childhood I still found myself drawn to the darkness and its inherent drama.

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From Edgar Allan Poe to he works of Shirley Jackson; from the longstanding popularity of shows like The Wire to Game of Thrones darkness reigns. These works and authors carry depressing, and even shocking themes for their time and in general. Yet these themes are handled with care, resulting in a legion of loyal readers. They are talked about and gushed over despite containing themes that, if oberserved in real life, make us not just uneasy, but queasy. Themes, which haunt our nightmares. Themes which haunt our waking hours. Themes we always fun back to for more, so much so that I simply do not have the capacity to understand people who don’t want any type of darker media ever. It is simply beyond my understanding, but that media is simply undeniably part of what I and so many others thrive on.

There is something irresistibly sensual about the feeling a melancholy ending gives you and the way somber scenes flow from one to the next. This is the underside of seduction. It gives you a taste, a lingering desire for hope, and then like a lover’s teasing it leaves you wanting what you may never have. Sometimes it can still end in a cathartic release, but so often we are left ruined, unsatisfied and yet satisfied in the strangest paradox we can fathom.

 

dark_romance_wedding_51pp_w880_h880I often say the reason I write great sex scenes is because I write great food scenes, and have since I was young. I’ve always found eating and cooking an intensely sensory experience that evokes elements of the intensely sensual. Smooth textures along the tongue, sharp and juicy bites into fruit, chocolate drizzles, and more are inherently physical acts calling for physical descriptions that evoke the same mental dance as anything else. Conveying it is a matter of capturing feeling. In much the same way, darker stories lure us in and then begin to court our sensibilities like Fabio circa 1997 or Ryan Reynolds circa his whole existence. The torture of living, loss, and the drudgery of unhappiness are experiences that captivate your whole being. Like eating or having sex, dreadful bouts of ennui, of unreasonable and frightening anger, and wrenching sorrow evoke an intense emotional response that captures the physical, the pain of what we experience. The rush of chemicals to our brains is the opposite of a high, and yet no less enjoyable, no less sensual.

Yet unlike eating or having sex, the vicarious nature of it makes it so much easier to experience the feeling without a total emotional drop off or consequence. For me, it isn’t that I don’t feel a character’s hurt, but that I do feel it and can recover. Dangerously empathetic people may fee it too much even, and sometimes you get so invested you never recover. Regardless it triggers this romanticism, a feeling that great nobility, sympathy, and empathy comes in those situations of great tragedy; the feeling that uncontrollable rage is igniting our most human and primal fires; and that crippling ennui or melancholy evokes a languished truthful beauty in an otherwise over reactive world.

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The amazing thing is this isn’t unique to adults. Youth exhibit this instinct towards the darkness as well. It’s not so strange one of my favorite movies was Robocop…

This isn’t all blood stains and scattered roses. Sometimes people take the romanticism too far and make genuine personal problems, such as depression and a lack of satisfaction in life, into grand dramas and sour the lives of all around them. I’ve been that teen and I’ve been that friend to those young adults. Both are equally flawed and equally self-harming. Those individuals should get help. I hope that they do. However this fact won’t stop human nature. We make the dark romantic, enticing, wonderfully dramatic. 13 Reasons Why made be a poor reflection of suicide in some ways, but it helped many…and provided that melancholy darkness humans seek out to others. Black Mirror is viciously dark in critiquing modern society, but it sates our deepest need to romanticise the dark, tragic, somber, melancholic, and just plain terrifying aspects of human life.

For better or worse, humans like to explore.
It is simply what we do whether it is on the page or in our lives.

Top 10 Most Depressing Books