Thursday, January 27, 2011

Can they sell the color of her skin?

Hey guys, this one’s going to be a long one.  So I thought I would update you all on some interesting info.  So I have still not cracked open the “Jumper” outline yet.  Why?  Because I got to reading writer’s blogs last night.  But I’m so glad I did.  I think in reading them I learned why I am having such a problem with “Jumper”.


In my novel, Andrea is a biracial female of both German and African American descents.  She lives in a fairly diverse town and works at a café that is fairly diverse and is run by a woman who in my eyes resembles Paula Deen…love you Paula, and she kind of mothers her and she also has a biracial grandson that comes to work at the cafe.  Well in this café Andrea meets Maxwell who is a white English man.  Throughout the story Andrea and Max, what Maxwell prefers to be called, form a strong friendship that eventually turns into love.  Seems ok, right?  Well not really.

I’ve had some things reaffirmed that I already knew basically.  For one, it is hard to sell a story with a protagonist that is non-white.  I knew that, and I understood it.  I didn’t see a problem with that since I planned on trying to tell the story where it hints at Andrea’s racial background, but doesn’t out right say “SHE’S BIRACIAL!!!”.  However, that’s not even where my problem lies.  See, I feel that if my work does get published, it should live on the shelves with the other YA novels.  Mainstream YA at that.  I don’t want it put in urban just because of Andrea’s racial mix.  I also have two other main characters that are biracial in the novel, and none of which are urban.  See I based these characters more off myself.  *sigh* So I guess I’ll go ahead and admit that I got Andrea’s German and African American mixture from myself as well as some of her personality.  And this is where I get a little irritated by automatically placing books with non-white characters in other sections.

I’m so far from being urban it’s crazy.  The definition of urban is: emerging and developing in densely populated areas of large cities, especially those populated by people of African or Caribbean origin. Umm yeah, no, so not me.  Until recently my city was more of a town.  We weren’t even legally part of the city where I live until a couple of years back.  We were basically just county land out here.  I mean we had horse ranches on either side of our neighborhood and famer’s field surrounding the neighborhood.  Then they started building up the area, and now most of the field is sold, one big ranch was closed to make apartments, and while the one small field still has horses, the world of yesteryear is long gone.  Heck the thick woods behind out house as been rezoned and it will now become apartments in a couple of years.  Meh.

But the main thing I was trying to get at is that I do not live in an urban area.  My city is very diverse and it’s kind of like a little melting pot here.  You can find all kinds of races and nationalities here.  So, can you guess where Andrea’s town is based off of?  Yep.  My town.  So she’s not urban.  Then coming back to me and Andrea’s similarities, I’m oddly enough more valley girl than most of my Caucasian friends.   No, seriously.  Think Lisa Turtle from “Saved By The Bell” and you’ve got a close picture of my personality with about half of the spoiled brat she loved to use to get her way. Smile  I have a love of all things and all cultures and I don’t see color in my world and neither does Andrea.

So where was I going with this big explanation?  Well I’ve been noticing in Walmart that if the main character is of color and the author is of color, then the novel was not placed on the main shelves but on the works of color shelves.  The shelves tend to be tucked away in the back of the book section and I NEVER see anyone standing there looking them over.  For one thing I don’t think that it’s fair to just have a section for the “black” books.  A good story is a good story no matter the color of the character’s skin.  Now I understand why there is a section for Spanish language books.  It makes it easier for those who want those kinds of books or can only read Spanish to have easy access.  But, do you notice there is no actual Latino section in Walmart?  The books in the Spanish section tend to be mainstream books written in Spanish rather than being novels about Latinos written by Latinos.  Now I know there are not a lot of books about minorities out there so that may be why the Spanish section doesn’t have more books with Latino characters, but do you kind of see where I am going with this?  Why have a section just for African American when those books should just be in with the mainstream romance novels or whichever genre they fall under?  That’s where my fear comes in.

I don’t want my work to be placed on a certain shelf just because my characters and I have a darker tint to our skin than other writers.  I mean a Caucasian can write a novel with non-white characters and be placed in mainstream.  Would I get that same respect or would my work be destined to be placed on an hidden urban shelf that is neglected and quickly passed by because my “tan” is a little darker than another author’s?  And the thing is I don’t want to conform and have all my characters be white.  Nothing against those novels, just the world isn’t like that.  I’ve always had problems with novels, tv shows, and movies where everyone in it is white.  That’s not how the world is.  I read somewhere last night where a blogger wondered if our novels are destined to be like the show “Friends” where all the characters were white and lived and worked in a completely white New York City.  I just don’t want to see the world like that.  I think that’s why I got attached to things like the “Babysitters Club” books, and really loved the ones with the Asian character Claudia Kishi.  My sister and I both loved the books with her because while she wasn’t our nationality or race she was a minority.  And I loved “Saved By The Bell” because of Lisa Turtle.  It made me feel more like I belonged and could be accepted anywhere to see these main characters accepted for just being them and awesome.

But now we’ve gotten so PC where someone is so quick to yell racism over the simplest of things and it is just a pain.  Then you run into the expected stereotypes that I really don’t fall into when it comes to my races.  I know that these issues should once again not keep my from writing the story, and if I believe in it, my future potential agent believes in it, and my publishers believe it then it doesn’t matter what shelf the book ends up on, it will sell.  Ok, I don’t know if I fully believe that.  I still want any potential works I sell to be on a main shelf with all the other mainstream YA writers out there and not be destined for a shelf just because I have “coffee colored” skin.  Read up on “coffee colored” skin if you are confused by that.  I think that’s why working with the other novels seemed more inviting because in those novels my main characters are actually white.  Not because I’m conforming, but just because they popped up in my head and started “telling me their story”.  There was no need to go into what race they were, I could just tell their story.  So it just seemed easier to work with them than try to do this awkward dance of subtly telling the world about Andrea without being so in your face about it that she automatically gets put on a different shelf.  And I’m not the only one worried about this.  I’ve talked to other gals like me that feel the same way about their writing and the destine location of their works.  Sure, maybe I don’t need to tell the world about Andrea’s race, but I want the world to know about her beautiful naturally curly hair, and her smooth warm burnt sienna skin.

In another blog I read last night, one of the bloggers who is also an author mentioned how whenever we read a book, for the most part, we assume the characters are white.  At first I didn’t think so, but then I decided to check Amazon for one of the author’s books and started reading the excerpt and automatically I pictured the characters white.  But here’s the thing, I had just read on her blog that none of the main characters in that novel where white.  And it wasn’t until I read a single line the novel that read that the character was not like the wide-eyed, small nosed salesgirls at the shop they were at that I remembered the characters are not white. Now I’m not sure what race the characters are.  I believe I read they were black and Hispanic, but I’m not sure.  But I found it so interesting that I did automatically assumed that they were white.  It was just my instant reaction.

I read an article last night that went into a lot of detail about this and it just all made sense to me.  Check it out if you are interested: Straight Talk on Race: Challenging the Stereotypes in Kids' Books, by Mitali Perkins.  Now how I ended up at this article was because I found my way to a blog post about the YA novel “Liar” and the controversy over the original cover on the ARC copy.  The character in the story is clearly biracial but the woman on the cover is clearly not.  It sparked this whole debate that non-white characters on a cover do not sell and especially if the character is black then they can’t even give the books away.  Yeah.  You see why I have been torn over my novel?  I’m still going to write it.  And I’m going to write it good.  And hopefully by the time I am ready to submit it and by the time it gets published the world will be a tiny bit more accepting.  Hey, weirder things have happened.  Winking smile

Writing away,

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