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Writer, Messenger, and Professional Weirdo
Yay! Pictures! Pop Quiz! What do all these pictures have in common:
If you said:
The answer is D: All of the above, but before breaking out the pitchforks, I’d like to point out it’s the covers I’m on about, not the content of the books. Mercedes Lackey is pretty in your face about sexuality, Jim Butcher has characters from all over. Ditto for Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Pratchett (and I picked that book in particular for a reason) is pretty vocal about deconstructing racism in many of his books and he’s funny when he does it. Double win. So content is not an issue here.
What is an issue is that you can walk down the fantasy/sci-fi section in any book store and be hard pressed to find a cover that doesn’t feature that lovely Caucasian look. We default to it. Granted, you might find one or two and, as time goes on, you’ll find more and more and that is a good thing. Having a white person on the cover of a book isn’t bad. Having nothing but white people sorta is yeah – especially when other people exist in the world. Hello!
Like I said: we default to white. Especially if we are white (hi!). My leading lady, Sam? Her looks were based off of a mix of this lovely lady and this one – because I am no less susceptible to falling into the default rut than anyone else.
Then something weird and totally unintentional happened. I sat down to write the second draft. Joseph stopped being a priest and Sam’s hair got curly. A person whose intentions I’m sure were pure [sarcasm tag] pointed out that an urban fantasy novel with an obviously African American lead (that’s right: curly black hair = obvious African American) wouldn’t sell easily.
So what did I do?
Nothing, actually. It became a quirky side-story to tell and make people laugh or roll their eyes. I didn’t change her personality, her description, nada. She’s pure nut-bar pixie dream girl who will mess you up if you look at her boyfriend funny. She’s been that way since her initial makeover during that fateful November. If people wanted to see Sam as black I was totally okay with that. I couldn’t (and still can’t) think of a good reason why it would be a bad thing. Then the time came to describe her to my cover artist, because yeah, Sam’s going on the cover.
And while I realized that it didn’t matter to me what color her skin was, I could do one of two things: I could “correct” the assumption that curly black hair = dark skin, because that’s just a dumb assumption to make no matter what. Or I could jump in with both feet and go, “Yes, this creative, spacy, smartass hyperactive half angel superhero who is her boyfriend’s knight in shining armor is, in fact, a black girl.”
And if it really didn’t matter to me, then why couldn’t she be? We’ve got plenty of pretty pale girls in the genre and Sam is not herself if she isn’t standing out from the crowd. She usually does this by wearing Rainbow Brite arm warmers, mind you, but y’know: whatever.
And if having a black girl on the cover of my self-published e-book means I don’t sell a copy to someone, then gosh I …I just don’t know what I’d do! /sob
This happened unintentionally. At first, Joseph didn’t have a last name. When I actually needed to give him a last name it took me a very long time before (and writers will understand what I mean when I say this) he just sort of sat down in my head, exasperated, and said: Singh.
Well okay then.
I didn’t start out to make a statement with my characters. It sorta happened and I’m good with going with the flow. My first goal is to tell an entertaining story. If I manage that and just one person who hasn’t had much in the way of heroes to look up to finds one in Sam or Joseph (or Ben, or Gretchen, or Theo, or Simon – have I mentioned that the majority of the cast is not white?) then awesome.
I hold no illusions. This will never ever be my day job. My book isn’t going to end up in the fantasy/sci-fi aisle at your local bookstore so putting characters with darker skin on my cover isn’t going to make the slightest dent there. It makes my job more interesting because what does a white girl know about this sort of thing? How do you write a character of color?
Gosh! Turns out it’s not a whole lot different from writing a white character. You give them flaws and strengths and personality quirks, just like any other character. You make them as rounded and real as you possibly can while avoiding the landmine field that is offensive stereotypes which really isn’t that hard. And then you hope you did it right and if you didn’t, you listen to critique and then you apologize and change what needs to be changed. Chances are if you treated your characters like people you did mostly okay. At least, I hope so.
I also trust that if I hit on something offensive by accident, my friends would graciously beat the ever loving snot out of me until the stupid went away.
Here, have a bunny:
To the heroic doctors, nurses, funeral directors, plumbers, HVAC techs, and other emergency sort of workers whose lines it is my duty, honor, and privilege to answer:
I have read a lot of books on writing. In fact, for awhile I was one of those people that got so caught up on reading about writing that I didn’t get much writing done. I’ve heard it said that you need to write anywhere from ten thousand to a million or so words, burn them, and then you’re almost ready to start writing a story that doesn’t suck.
That’s pretty much true. My only problem is I didn’t keep track of how much I’d written before I decided this was it and lo, the holy grail of my efforts had borne fruit and it was good. Or at least slightly more palpable than its forebears.
When I say I’ve been working on this story for three to four years, what I mean is that I’ve been working on this particular incarnation of this story for that long. In all honesty, the “world” the current characters reside in has been in the works for about a decade, slowly being tempered and refined into what exists now. The original main characters have moved into supporting roles, one of the former supporting characters got a makeover and is now in the spotlight and several more didn’t even exist and only walked into my head when I sat down to bang out the first draft during the NaNo of 2010.
Oh, that’s right. I NaNoed this baby.
I went on to NaNo (this is a verb right? I can verb this?) two sequels. So yeah, this thing is a series.
I first attempted NaNo in 2003, got about halfway, and gave up. I went for it again and “won” in 2004. The experience was so soul wrenching and stressful because I did it for the wrong reasons that I pretty much left it at that forgot about it.
Prior to 2006 I was writing pretty much daily. If it wasn’t for myself it was online roleplaying (shush, that’s a thing and don’t you judge me). Livejournal was huge in my world back then. Words were everywhere. I loved reading and I loved writing.
Then life happened and they sort of took a back seat to other things. I went back to school, got married and then moving and job hunting happened. Also I discovered WoW at that time and that’ll kill any creative desires you might harbor if you’re not careful. I still loved reading, but I wrote a lot less.
Then this “nephilim” idea that had been bouncing around came back with a vengeance. The idea of half-angels (or demons), half-humans as superheroes was not going to go away. I had a friend that was an artist and the idea manifested as a potential web-comic (minus spandex). I got character outlines, a basic plot, a ten page treatment and the first chapter’s script written. The comic never went anywhere and that’s probably for the best. The story was still in its infancy and while it’s still got a ways to go, it’s not nearly as far as it had to go back then.
I continued to poke at it like a sore tooth. The artist friend disappeared into the ether and attempts to find a back up went nowhere because I had no idea how to sell this particular snake oil. I brainstormed and outlined and wrote a few exploratory things. Then October 2010 rolled around and I remembered NaNo. Having completely forgotten the gut wrenching hell I’d put myself through six years earlier, I tossed the nephilim into the wringer and, thirty days later, I had something of a beginning, middle, and end.
My main character, Joseph, also started existing, as did a few others. Joseph’s not what he started out as. It’s especially funny when you realize that Joseph in the first draft was actually a priest. My villain wasn’t my villain yet. Mal, Joseph’s best friend, was definitely not Mal as he exists now. Sam is pretty much the same. The three inch high book imp didn’t exist until rough draft round two.
Essentially what I’m trying to say is that the rough draft that existed in 2010 resembles the current incarnation about as much as a porcupine resembles a butterfly. And that’s okay. If you’re using NaNo for anything other than throwing ideas at the dartboard to see what sticks and what doesn’t, you might be doing it the hard way. I took what stuck, tossed what didn’t, and forged ahead trying to temper draft two into something workable. This is the part that actually took the longest because I did everything All Wrong.
I decided on the re-write that rough draft #2 would be The One. I set up a blog for it and started over from scratch, changing things as I went. I ended up with changes I didn’t like, an ending that didn’t get posted because it didn’t match the beginning, and a bunch of fluff in the middle that didn’t need to be there. Clearly, I was wrong about The One.
Back to the drawing board then.
I knew a lot about writing, but I knew nothing about structuring those words. Oh I knew beginning, middle, end was a Thing. I knew falling action came after the climax and I knew rising action came before that. The problem was that before all I’d ever really done, prose wise, was write short scenes that I figured would eventually magically squish into that story structure formula. Some of them did, but a lot of them didn’t and I while I don’t think I wasted my time in writing them because I got things like character development and ideas from them, I could have probably gone about it a lot better.
I’m still learning, but I’m better these days, I think. At least, it shouldn’t take me three…ish years to write a novel again.
(You can quote me on that when it’s time to have a joke at my expense.)
So books got bought, outlines got written, note cards got posted to cork boards and moved around and omg! That last bit was way more fun than should have been possible. The end result was something close to a novel. So while it’s far from done, I can look over the horizon and see the finish line.
I realize there has to be an easier way to do things. I’m all ears!
Author, ranter, dad
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