On June 13, 2013, the Census Bureau released an article that was eye-opening, but not necessarily shocking. For the past few years many of us have understood that the make-up of our nation is changing and shifting. Publishing professionals have followed the many news articles published in the last year that raise the subject of the evolving population of our country and observed that children’s books don’t reflect that evolution. As industry professionals, we read and we are listening. These issues are the very reason that CBC Diversity was formed. The CBC Diversity initiative was organized before the first controversial article with the tone of “wake up and see all the white kids on covers—not OK” in 2012 was written. The publishing industry gets it. But seeing change takes time (it takes about a year + to make a book) and it requires widespread collaboration from everyone involved in children’s books (librarians, teachers, booksellers, agents, parents, writers, illustrators, etc.) to solve the problem.
That being said, sitting around Diversity Dialogue sessions where industry professionals come together in a safe environment to discuss how to “solve the problem” can be frustrating at times. We all “know” that there are a whole lot of, say, Latinos who need good mirror books, but reaching that audience is easier said than done. We “know” the market is there, but is it really? Stupid question, right? Of course it’s there, but just so everyone is on the same page, here are some interesting tidbits directly from the June 13, 2013 Census Bureau report to really think deeply about.
Originally posted on the Diversity in YA blog by Brent Hartinger.
If you’re an author, how do make and keep your main character sympathetic?
You could write a whole book on this very topic — in fact, many have. I confess, I find it a fascinating one, mostly because it was exactly this idea of “likable” protagonists that made me start writing fiction in the first place.
Some writers reject the whole notion that main characters must be sympathetic (and to a degree, I would agree: jerks and anti-heroes absolutely have their place in the world, in certain kinds of stories).
But when I started writing back in the 80s and early 90s, I found myself completely frustrated by the main characters in so many books I was reading, especially the gay books. I was looking for characters I could relate to, and too many of the ones I was reading were way too whiny and self-destructive for my taste.
My partner and I used to joke that there was a name for the genre: *sshole fiction.
This, of course, was the trend in literary fiction at the time. To be considered “serious,” you had to shock people with just how miserable, jerky, and/or self-destructive your characters were. That meant you were really baring your soul and being “truthful.” (That hasn’t really changed in literary fiction — it’s just that literary fiction has become even more irrelevant than before.)
Originally posted on the Diversity in YA blog by Sarah Rees Brennan.
The Demon’s Lexicon series is all about roles.
I started the first book, The Demon’s Lexicon, thinking about the role of Mr. Tall, Dark, Handsome and Morally Really Freaking Dodgy, and how we almost never get that guy’s point of view, and what he’d be like from the inside. Almost unforgivably awful, maybe, because you know how bad he is from the start, and you aren’t distracted by his good looks and dashing ways. What’s it like to look into the abyss? And what makes an abyss, anyway?
That was the role that started the ball, ahem, rolling. (Everybody groans and tosses rotten fruit.) From there I thought about roles, and the different ways I could play with them, like genderswitching: what if the hero of an epic fantasy — you know the type, rash and brave and honest and initially clueless — was a girl, what if the Mother Who Would Give Up/Do Anything For Her Kid was a boy?
Some of my ideas were just about going beyond a role, because some roles are true as far as they go, but people are so complex they never go far enough. Such as the gay guy who presents as weaker than other guys — what if he was physically weaker and smaller, and also quite deliberately presenting himself in a certain way, and also a huge magical badass?
Soho Teen is publishing a novel in August—Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy by debut author Elizabeth Kiem—set in 1983. The novel begins on the day Leonid Brehznev dies, the same day the 17-year-old protagonist and prima ballerina, Marina Dukovskaya, loses her mother to the wiles of Soviet authorities. (Or apparently loses. There will be no spoilers in this blog post.) Marina and her father defect to the United States, where they take up residence in Brighton Beach, an area that was ethnically and socioeconomically mixed at the time.
The novel is written from Marina’s first-person point-of-view. The author is a Russian scholar, fluent in the language, and has expertise in both Soviet-era Russia and the burgeoning 1980’s Brighton Beach organized crime scene. Her prose reads as genuinely as any I’ve ever read. I’m not alone in that opinion; it has already been recognized at BEA for its accuracy, honesty, and beauty by the ABA as one six Fall 2013 YAs in the “Celebrate with Indie Debut Authors.”
All that said, a passage included in the galley was struck from the final after an in-house debate. The passage reads: “The Q train dead ends in Brighton Beach, also known as ‘Little Odessa’ or ‘Russia by the Sea.’ About a half a mile west of us, America begins, speaking English, Spanish, and Black.”
The last word raised red flags among several of my colleagues. The author did not choose it lightly. And as her editor, I felt it was authentic both to Marina’s experience–having grown up in a particularly closed world within the Soviet Union–and to the Brighton Beach times, where African-Americans might seem to speak a different language from their Caucasian or Latino counterparts. Marina is someone who hadn’t had a lot of experience with people of color, and whose grasp of English was tenuous. The word choice acknowledged Marina’s reality, as she saw it. But my colleagues raised the very good point that such a stark definition didn’t come up anywhere else, and that taken out of context, it might appear racist.
In the end, I acquiesced. We changed the word to “slang”–accurate, and true to the times, but perhaps not as powerful. Or perhaps better because of its broader inclusiveness. There was plenty of slang of all kinds spoken in 1983 west of Brighton Beach.
I am very curious to hear what other people think of our decision. Is the term “slang” better than “Black” in terms of authenticity? I’ve come to believe it is as far as Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy is concerned–and I also know the author wrestled with this decision as much as I did.