10, 9, 8… This marks day three of my ten-day countdown to the release of my novella Mama, Me, and the Holiday Tree. You can read more about #HolidayTreeNovella at the bottom of this post, but today I’m discussing something I often address in my writing, and even in the subtitle of this website, diversity.
Yeah, you’ve heard it all before. We need diversity.
And we do, more so now than ever.
Spare me if you disagree.
Spare me if you’re tired of hearing it.
Maybe if more authors listened, authors like me wouldn’t need to keep repeating this.
Diversity means a lot of different things but for the purposes of this post, I’m talking about diversity in fiction and what we, as authors, can do to make it the norm. I’ll save you the spiel as to why we need diverse books. Rather, I’m going to share some simple tips to help you be more inclusive in your stories.
- Know you can’t cover all the bases in every story. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to. Go for an overall arch. A diverse MC (main character) would be nice but please don’t try to do so if you’re relying on what you’ve learned from popular media and/or stereotypes for your character development. That said, if you do have a diverse character who’s also a minor character, don’t have them drop in for one or two pages then disappear. That is not diversity. Rather, that’s a token. And it certainly doesn’t give you the right to call your work diverse.
- #Ownvoices (writing characters that you in some way, through race, religion, sexuality, etc. identify as) is a thing, and it’s a highly respectable way of approaching a story. For example, I am currently writing Appalachian Contemporary Fantasy with a genderqueer (AKA nonbinary in some circles, but genderqueer can also refer to trans people if they choose), pansexual protagonist. Guess what? I’m enby (not trans) and pan. I’m also from Appalachia. Small world, eh? And who else would be able to get inside the mind of such a character than someone who lives the life? If you don’t feel you have anything to offer in the #ownvoices category, think about it for a while. Are you the spouse, family, or caretaker of someone disabled? Do you come from an unrepresented or misrepresented geographic area? Are you part of a unique culture or subculture? There are many ways to approach #ownvoices but make certain you’re authentic in doing so. If in doubt, ask someone… better yet, ask lots of someones within that identity, and research within that identity so you can sort things out.
- If you’re in doubt about the diversity of your writing or characters use a sensitivity reader. Yes, they do exist. A simple Google search will lead you to them. But please, oh, please, know what a sensitivity reader’s job is before you use one. They’re not your manuscript editor, so don’t ask.
- Work outside the trope box. Seriously, if I read one more story with a damsel in distress or an LGBTQ+ character’s death to save the straights theme, I’m going to scream on a primal level. Here’s a link to some common LGBTQ+ tropes that need to go away. Yes, I’m guilty of one or two, but so be it. It happens. The problem arises when your story is smothered in them or your entire plot hinges on one or (cringes) more. If you’re afraid of falling into tropes concerning Appalachia, you can drop me a line via my contact box on this site. I will at least send you in the correct direction, and I promise not to bash you over the head unless you really, really, inbred hillbillies in bare feet and rope belts level, deserve it.
- Don’t be afraid to double or even triple diversity in a character, but don’t try to do so with every character within your story. For example, I’m a disabled, enby, pansexual, Appalachian person, and I’m also a solitary witch (meaning I work alone and follow no tradition). Yeah, I’m pretty unique. My protagonist in my Appalachian Elementals series is also all those things aside from disabled. That last one isn’t part of how she identified when we first started talking. Identities change over time, BTW, but she hasn’t said anything about it, so I’m saying no.
- Do your research. Do your research. Do your d%^&$ research! No, WebMD isn’t enough info for you to write about a medical condition in an MCs life. Read scholarly articles. Take notes. Talk to people with the condition. Talk to their assistants and families (with the disabled person’s permission, of course). Read. Read. Read. And understand the ins-and-outs before you plop a single word about the condition into your story. Side Note: I hate the term disabled. I truly do, especially when so many of us can do most things, we simply have to go about them in a different manner.
Lastly, know I’m barely skimming the top of the diverse writing issue with this post. Each and every point I broached could be expanded into a master’s thesis or dissertation, but I’m not inclined to do either because I try to incorporate all the above. I research. I ask. I write my known. I try to appreciate and respect other perspectives. I try to avoid tropes. And, above all, if I ever make a mistake, I plan to apologize profusely. Admitting and promising to do better goes a long way, but getting defensive brings a sour taste and carries with it the smell of BS.
Next week, I’ll begin sharing snippets from Appalachian Elementals #1.5 – Mama, Me, and the Holiday Tree, my upcoming holiday novella. Cent and Betty are there, along with the rest of the crew from Cleaning House. You’ll find even more magic, haints, fey, and wonderful Appalachian queerness inside the pages and a huge helping of holiday cheer.
A dozen handmade holiday ornaments, that’s all, but it might be an impossible task.
Centenary Rhodes and her mother are at constant odds. It’s one of the many reasons Cent left home when she was eighteen. Mama’s difficult for anyone to manage, but now that Cent’s back home, she has to try. Mama, however, won’t acknowledge who Cent’s become, even though she’s repeatedly been shown the truth.
It’ll take more than popcorn strings and paper snowflakes to heal the rift that’s formed between Cent and Mama. It’s going to take bushels of patience, heaps of magic, and assistance from everyone on both sides of Embreeville Mountain to reset the Balance between them.
But with Yule and Christmas just around the corner, it might already be too late.
Mama, Me, and the Holiday Tree is available for preorder in both print and ebook formats.