Diversity in YA creator Malinda Lo is currently doing a great blog series on how reviewers often betray underlying biases when reviewing books about characters from marginalized groups. Highly recommended read.
The topic is also a big jumping-off point for me re: some of the issues I’ve faced with my own writing. Part two of Lo’s series covers reviewers having a problem with intersectionality, and that’s definitely a big one I worried about with both Thunderstone and Harper. Thunderstone is primarily rooted in feminist issues, but also has a minor side plot involving a gay couple shunned by their community. Harper’s protagonist is both bisexual and biracial, though the former is a slightly bigger deal for him, and both identities are secondary to the rest of the plot. I worried that readers from non-marginalized groups, or who experience only one axis of marginalization, would find the stories “too focused” on issues they don’t personally experience, and therefore dislike them. So far, most of the feedback I’ve gotten has been positive, but I also suspect I’d have a hard time trying to publish either of them via traditional channels simply because of that.
Back to part one, however, which is that reviewers sometimes consider diverse casts “implausible.” That one’s biting me at the moment, as I’m finishing the stage-two revision for my next novel, a light-SF romance set in a theoretically realistic near-future Seattle. Of the six main characters–the ones who get the most page time–not a single one is a straight, white male. There are two SWM secondary characters: one is a family member, the other a villain. There are also several named but not developed incidental characters (co-workers, bartenders, etc.) who could be straight or white but it’s not clear one way or the other.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband finished his alpha read of this story. He’s a voracious SFF reader, so I trust his opinions on my storytelling. He’s also queer, feminist, etc. and therefore likely to appreciate that my stories include unconventional women and queer folks. But one of the first criticisms he gave me of this one was that it seemed unrealistic in the first several chapters, because virtually everyone with more than a few lines was queer or a person of color, and several checked multiple boxes. The word he used–unconsciously, I’m sure–was “normal.” Yikes.
Frankly, I was unpleasantly shocked by this, as it really didn’t seem like something he’d think. We’ve been together 20 years, and though he grew up in a conservative family, he’s very progressive-minded–and, well, he lives with me–so I didn’t understand how he could hold the same kind of opinion that more-clueless people do. It took an awful lot of intense conversation to dig down to the underlying reasons why he felt this way, and I discovered some interesting things. Continue reading