Friday, May 2, 2014


Yes, #WeNeedDiverseBooks.  What's sad is that this is even an issue--that it requires a #hashtag and a Twitter campaign (you can read about the campaign HERE) to get people talking about it.  But the truth is, we do need to talk about it.  It all began when BookCon announced an upcoming "Blockbuster Reads" panel of YA/MG authors, with the panel comprised *entirely* of white male authors.  Yes, you read that correctly. All. White.  Male. Authors. You can read the details HERE.

And so, a campaign was born.  There are some fabulous books out there that celebrate diversity, including my BFF and critique partner Amalie Howard's ALPHA GODDESS, an Indie Next pick and an all-around fantastic read; Ann Christopher's upcoming YA novel MONSTRUM; Eve Silver's THE GAME series.

But here's something a lot of authors aren't comfortable discussing:  As a white author, I've often grappled with the idea of writing a book featuring a protagonist who is a person of color.  I'd like to, but worry that I might be perceived as trying to "appropriate" someone else's culture/conflict. I might be accused of writing inauthentically, because, after all, how can a white woman authentically tell a person of color's story?  I would counter with the fact that I've managed to write a vampire's story without being a vampire myself, but I'm willing to concede that it's not the same (since, you know, vampires don't really exist).

Still, that doesn't mean I people my novels with an all-white cast.  Why would I do that?  I don't live in an all-white world, and a simple glance around my own circle of friends would tell you that that doesn't reflect my own experience.

And, more importantly, it doesn't represent my kids' experience--and my kids are teens, just like my books' characters.  I've included some photos of my daughters with some of their closest friends.  Yes, my daughters are white, but their friends are white, black, of Asian and latin and Hawaiian descent, both boys and girls.

This is the real world--the wonderfully diverse world that my daughters live in.  Why would I want anything different for my books' protagonists?

When I include characters in my books who are people of color, they are not there as "token" diversity.  They're there because, when I envision a circle of friends for my fictional characters, I naturally see a circle as diverse as what I see in real life.

Sometimes, I'm perhaps not as explicit as I should be.  For instance, I've known people who've read the entire Winterhaven series without realizing that Violet's best friend and roommate, Cece, was black.  The color of her skin wasn't an important plot point--what was important was her character. Her loyalty, her intelligence, her friendship.  In retrospect, I wish I had made it a little more apparent.  In my mind, Marissa is also a person of color--half Asian-American, half white.  Again, her race wasn't a factor in the plot and therefore not explicitly discussed, but if you read closely, the clues are there.

In my upcoming novel, MAGNOLIA, I felt it was more important to address race more directly.  After all, the book is set in the state of Mississippi (where I attended college).  There are many wonderful things about the state of Mississippi, but to ignore the fact that racial tensions still exist there would be very short-sighted on my part.  The book's protagonist, Jemma, has two best friends, Lucy and Morgan. I chose to make Lucy a black girl whose mother is a pediatrician.  To pretend that this wouldn't be an issue for some folks in small-town Mississippi would be, at the very least, highly inauthentic, so I included a character who refused to take her precious babies to "one of those people" and allowed my characters to react--hopefully authentically--to this type of unacceptable racism.

Folks, we do need diversity in books.  We need protagonists who are people of color, of diverse racial and ethnic and religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.  But even in books with white protagonists, we need world-building that reflects the real world in all its diverse glory.

I pledge to do my part.  Let's get this discussion going--how do you feel about white authors writing protagonists who are people of color?  Can it be done authentically?  Should writers be more explicit about characters' race/ethnicity, even if it isn't important to the plot?  Should it always be important to the plot?  Discuss, and help spread the word: