Thursday, April 16, 2009

Racially blind


I am committed to the craft of writing. Each book or story that I write is better than the last. My dream is to create unforgettable characters and to make a living spinning stories. There are plenty of barriers to this dream, but I persevere.

One of the thing writers are told is to "write what you know." At times I agree, but often writing what you know can be limited and tedious. I could write about the daily struggle to get my kindergartener dressed and onto the bus. And I could write about the nightly struggle to get her into pajamas and to sleep. We have our challenges, to be sure, and I try to use creativity to overcome them, but I'm pretty sure the mundane aggravations of my "real" life would never translate to exciting reading.

It's much more fun to write about what you want to know.

And herein lies my current challenge... In DeVante's Coven I send Daniel to San Francisco. He's a young gay male from a relatively small northern Minnesota town. Of course he wants to go to San Francisco. What young, gay male wouldn't want his path of self-discovery to lead to the city hailed as the Gay Mecca?

I have never been to S.F. And I doubt that I will get there in person before DeVante's Coven comes out in print. So I've done some research from my chair in Wisconsin, and hoped it would suffice.

A discussion with an Oakland resident who knows well the city of S.F. led me to a disturbing conclusion: I am the whitest white girl in the whitest white town in America. Possibly in the world. There are few people of color even in the background of my novels. My writing is "race blind" - coming from a point of view where all human landscape is assumed to be white.

The omission, the fact that I am essentially blind to racial diversity in my writing, makes me ashamed.

So I examine my life. Two black boys in junior high. Maybe four in high school. I came to know some Native people in college, but only peripherally. All people currently on my social radar are... get this... white. I have a black co-worker, but we don't work together very often. I've worked with Black, Native, Hispanic, and Hmong mentally ill people, but contact is brief and then it is over.

It is no wonder I am racially blind. I live in a freaking bubble. This must change, but I don't know how to go about it.

My latest work involves an Ojibwe character who grew up far from the Rez, and returns seeking only information, but finding Native Pride. I think (I hope) I wrote his story well, and I hope to continue his story in other books.

That is the extent of diversity in my writing. I am making an attempt to add another character of color to this latest book, but honestly, I have no idea how to go about it. It is beyond my world, which means my world needs to expand.

I have a lot of learning to do.

~SM

2 comments:

  1. I grew up in Wisconsin, too. Being a college town, Madison may have been a little more diverse than where you live (unless you live near Milwaukee), but I clearly remember that yearning to broaden my horizons (we also didn't have many out gay people there back then). It's one of the reasons I moved away. But also, one of many benefits of seeking out books by diverse authors. :-)

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  2. Heh-heh, WI is awfully white in my neck of the woods. More diverse than when I was a kid, but still.

    Production of DeVante's Coven is, perhaps pushed back, enough for me to think about a trip to California. Why? Well, because my publisher is going to release DeVante's Children in paperback first, so I will have a coordinated, stagger release of all 3 of my vampire books in paperback. Yay!

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