But first, Happy Friday, and HAPPY HALLOWEEEEEENNN, ooooooo!!!!
So, I'm black. haha (DUH, right?!). I don't call myself African American. I've often called myself an American of African Descent. That's more accurate. Africa's not even a country, so...anyhow.
Writing is already a profession/hobby/passion for which people give you strange looks when you tell them you do it. When I temped at Del State, an HBCU with a predominantly black staff, I used to work on my WIP at my computer. One of the ladies asked me what kind of stuff I write, and when I said fantasy, she was extremely confused (she kept asking me, "Like Star Wars?" which, duh, is science fiction). Black writers who do more than poetry and erotica? What?
Like, seriously, I had to Google black writers just now because the only one I could think of that wasn't Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, or the other classic writers was Zane. I know there are more because my cousin suffers through the WORST Netflix movies, some of which were based on books she'd read. I could be jaded, but in my opinion, black people tend to only read books that show them the "black experience": the streets, non-suburban, racial struggles, sex, hip-hop. I know that's partially untrue because my mother loves Shakespeare and Jane Austen, so I know there are more black people who do.
*raises hand* I didn't have the typical black experience, and I can't fit comfortably or truthfully into that kind of box, so I won't try.
There are 318.9 million people in the U.S. About 13% of them are black. About 190 of THEM (even though, some are probably nearly dead, and they counted Oprah, and I can't stand Oprah) are writers in some capacity. ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY! How many of THEM are speculative fiction writers?
There are 6 essential ones, according to Troy L. Wiggins. So that's 3% of black writers...What's the math on 6 out of 318.9 million? I feel like there will be an e next to the number (THERE IS! 1.880924913477454e-8).
So, prologue aside, when it comes to writing what I love, fantasy, I feel like I have a double-edged sword to battle: how can I be accepted by black readers who may not even read speculative fiction (though I know they're out there because I'm one), and how can I be accepted by non-black speculative fiction readers of a world dominated by non-black writers, agents, and publishers?
Just read an old review that said moving epic fantasy away from medieval Europe makes it hard to relate to the characters. Harder for whom?— Debra McKellan (@DebraMcKellan) October 17, 2014
That was in response to a review I read about Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I think has been taken down since I tweeted...I tried not to respond in a way that seemed attacking, but it was a serious question I had.
My WIP isn't set in a medieval European world, and when I had tried to do it even a little bit (Ghuli spoke straight out of King James's world), it sounded horribly forced. So there are elf-like people and giant-like people, but the world is an American Progressive Era world. The ones who lived in what would probably be considered medieval European were wiped out before the story began. You see mules and steam-powered vehicles more than horses and only one actual castle. The characters speak differently depending on their nationality, but there are no forthwith's or Your Grace's (though I do use howbeit and my lady). Will readers who love Euro-centric fantasy be okay with that? My main character is a young interracial (by our definition, but not by their world) woman whose main issue is borderline (or just completely) existential, but not because she is a person of color. Will black readers be able to understand her inner plight without needing her to be worried about her color?
Mercedes Lackey & James Mallory created a WONDERFUL non-medieval European world in their Enduring Flame Trilogy (it had dragons, but there were ZOMBIES, too!). I related so well to the characters and loved that trilogy so much that I penned myself after their legendary hero, Kellen the Poor Orphan Boy.
I want people to read my book and not be put off that they don't see what they're used to seeing. There are no knights and dragons and fair maidens that some relate to fantasy. The black and blackish people aren't oppressed or living in neighborhoods to which others relate. But I want PEOPLE, not just black and not just white, to be able to relate to the big picture. I want them, like we all do, to like my MC just for being her, and I want them to appreciate this new world I'm presenting to them without feeling isolated because of what I didn't do in the story.
I also want to be an inspiration to upcoming writers who, like me, want to be a voice that can break through the tropes and trends and do it successfully. SO, here's to hoping!
Thanks for staying so long, if you did. I hate long posts.