|The Secret of Obedience - Coming November '15|
One of the questions the moderator asked the panelists was, "What kind of character would you be frightened to write?" The first to respond, an articulate, successful author of f/f romance, said that even though she'd been married for fifteen years to an African American woman, she wouldn't write a black character, because she might not get it right.
And I thought, "well damn...
If SHE'S not going to write a black character, when she's got an in-house (in-bed?) expert to check her facts, where do I get off doing it?"
Another panelist said that as a trans-man with some economic stability, he wasn't qualified to write about the experiences of trans kids who were living on the street. The other panelists made similar statements, and their rationale went along the lines of, "if we don't get it right, it'll be hurtful."
To which I thought, "but if you don't even try, they'll be invisible."
True confession: I just signed a contract with Evernight Publishing for a short piece entitled The Secret of Obedience. One of the heroes is a white, twenty-two year old gay man from Ellensburg, his best friend is a black football player, and his love interest is a twenty-one year old Vietnamese man who works for a clothing designer and spends a fair amount of time in dance clubs.
Am I any of those things?
Do I know people who are similar to these characters?
Do I think I do a good job of telling their stories?
Maybe I'm arrogant, but yes, and here's why. The story's about a young person who's had to make compromises to feel accepted by his friends. He moves to the big city and struggles to feel connected with the people he meets. He falls for a young man who's brilliantly talented, but who has been rejected by his family for who he is.
I know what it feels like to make compromises to feel accepted by the group. I know what it feels like to walk into a big, new place and feel overwhelmed by it. I know what it feels like when my true self doesn't align with my family's values.
And I know what it feels like when fear is the primary motivator of my decisions.
That's all in my story.
I don't mean to make this all about me, but at the same time I don't want to potentially bring criticism to others by using their work as examples.
Here's one final question. Do I feel like I got the details right?
To the best of my ability, yes. Do I think I perpetuated any negative stereotypes? No, but one of the risks is that by putting this story out there, I'll reveal my own prejudices and blind spots. I may get feedback, though reviews or on-line comments or email, where people point out what I got wrong. If that happens, I'll take those comments and learn from them and let them guide my approach for next time.
Because there's going to be a next time. I try and write the world as I see it, and that includes people of all different races and genders and sexual orientations. I'll probably get things wrong, and I'll probably make mistakes.
But I truly believe visibility, even if it's imperfect, beats the alternative.
What do you think? I'm open to any comments, as long as they're constructive.