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Racism? You Don’t Say?

A discussion came up on Facebook regarding the apparent lack of diversity in publishing when Martha Boss, book blogger, educator, and model shared her opinion regarding the lack of diversity at book events. She explained that she had no desire to attend any literary events that didn’t have authors from all walks of life. And in the United States of America in 2017, one would think that such an opinion would be positively acknowledged and celebrated. Unfortunately, an uproar of finger-pointing and finger-wagging ensued by some disgruntled readers of her post. On a positive note, the conversation inspired me to write this post.

Before I delve into where I stand on this matter, I will first give some background knowledge and context.

Most of you may know that my husband is white. I bring up his skin color because of the nature of this post. You see, some time ago Marvel was relaunching Spiderman and making the hero that followed in Peter Parker’s steps a young man named Miles Morales, who is  half-Black and half-Hispanic.

spider-man-miles-morales-peter-parker

I was okay with this change. And as an advocate for diversity, I’m all about the inclusion of more and more people of color in all social constructs. On the other hand, my husband was concerned about this change. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Spiderman, he’s a young man named Peter Parker who happens to be white, like most of the comic book characters that have become not only popular, but also who have become mainstream due to aggressive marketing and appearances in movies (Batman, Deadpool, Superman, ad nauseum). All alternate personas of these heroes are white males. And all but two of them are filthy rich (yes, looking at you, Deadpool and Mr. Kent.)

Hardcore fans are all about staying true to the “canon”. And there are laws that must never be broken.

Two main “no-no’s” are:

THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE COLOR OF THE CHARACTER.

THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE GENDER OF THE CHARACTER.

My husband was concerned that the writers weren’t staying true to the canon by changing Spiderman’s ethnicity. My husband’s argument was logical especially when he supported it with this gold nugget: “The market should be actively looking for writers with new fresh faces and cultures to add to the Marvel or DC universe. Peter Parker should keep on being Spiderman.”

I agreed with my husband that the Industry or Market should be looking for new material from different perspectives instead of rehashing the same tripe year after year.  Moreover, consumers need to do their job by demanding what they want and if the Market isn’t giving it to them? Well, now. There’s this powerful principle called supply and demand and it’s a beautiful thing. If I don’t like a show, I won’t watch it. If I don’t like a restaurant, I won’t eat there. For example, even if McDonald’s were the last restaurant on the planet I REFUSE TO EAT THERE!

A few months after my husband and I had our third child, he turned to me and said, “I get what you’re saying. You know, about seeing more characters that are people of color. I don’t want our sons growing up not seeing that they’re important. That they exist.”

we need diverse books3

BINGO!

And the cry for diverse books wasn’t enough because then you fall into the bait-and-switch trap that it’s okay for white authors to write books that star nonwhites as the characters. Then, the #ownvoices movement was ushered in to stress how important it is for people of color to tell their own stories in their own voices and not having to fear that they needed to pander to or patronize a white audience or any audience (regardless of color) that didn’t understand where they were coming from.

Too bad these movements aren’t making waves on television. Yet. You see, over the past several months, my husband and I observed a disturbing trend regarding television shows for children. I’ll most likely go into more detail about that in a future post. 🙂

The conversation that my husband and I shared regarding the necessity for diversity in books and comics inspired me to reflect on my childhood as a reader and where I am now as an author and reader. My reflection motivated me to write this blog post.

Now, back to the main topic.

In one of my previous blog posts I discussed the deathtrap of stereotypes.  A common stereotype regarding Black people is that we don’t like to read. It was also one of the arguments that excuses the cold, hard fact that 88% of books reviewed by the New York Times are written by white authors. So, one could ignorantly draw the conclusion that Black people don’t like to write either. Or that they don’t know how to write. But, if they do like to write, they’re not very good at it because they don’t like to read and thus there’s no market for them. And that’s just the way it is.

Uh, no. Just no.

weneeddiversebooksbecause

Yes, indeed. 🙂

When I purchase books for my classroom I choose them very carefully. I want books that will not only keep my students engaged, but appeal to their gender, not only relate to their own experiences, but challenge, and build onto this foundation. My Black students, as well as White, Asian, and Latino students love reading a good book regardless of what color the main characters are . . . or whether or not the main characters are even human. However, there comes a time when nonwhite students wonder WHY their experiences, their truths, their very essence isn’t proudly shown on the cover of a book or even within its pages. I know because I was once their age and wondered these thoughts: Am I not worth writing about? Are people like me not worth reading about? (Well, unless you’re a slave getting the crap beat out of them). By the way, what is the USA’s morbid obsession with Black pathology? Yuck.)

We Need Diverse Authors

About eight years ago, libraries (some may still practice this, but I’m pleased to say my local library DOES NOT) shelved books based on genre in an obsessive compulsive way that would impress even this guy:

monk-logo

Back then, there were no cross-genres.

mixedupauthor

Dear heart, weep not. Tis 2017 and we live and breathe for literary mashups such as yours. 🙂

No, no, no. Every little book went into its own boxed off little shelfie-welfie corner. Oh yes, yes, yes.

So books like this:

black romance

 

 

 

or this . . . romance_black

 

 

 

 

 

 

wouldn’t appear in the general romance aisle, but be ghettoized or segregated from that oh-so lucrative and coveted section and placed in the African-American books, Street Lit, Urban Lit, or wherever library’s chose to place books with dark brown to light brown faces on the cover. Think about your local grocery store and how soy sauce, butter chicken, and curry are cordoned off in their own aisle labeled “multicultural or ethnic” away from the other condiments. Even poor sauerkraut and gelfilte fish has its place there. If I hadn’t watched the Food Channel or binge watched “Great Eats Around the World” I would remain culinarily (made that word up) ignorant! Now, regarding the segregated books: Was this practice intentionally racist? *Shrugs shoulders*. Not sure. But, one could see how this limits authors of color from being discovered from readers regardless of their color even though it fit in the “general genre”.

A couple of weeks ago while visiting my local library I noticed a lot of newer authors I had never seen before. I was so impressed that the library had become “integrated” that I had to take a picture of it!

libraryintegration

A Japanese author, a Black author, a White author, and even a Native American author all on one shelf! 😀 And all different genres! Ha! Impressive. 

Clearly, people and books don’t belong in boxes. Well, unless you’re dead and boxed in a coffin. Sorry, I digress.

In 2015, Lee & Low, a publishing house that prides itself on finding new authors of color shared the results of the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that overall the Industry is predominantly white and female. Bet you weren’t expecting THAT revelation. But, it’s true. And when I say overall we’re talking about all levels:

  • Executive Level
  • Editorial Dept.
  • Sales Dept.
  • Marketing & Publicity Dept.
  • Book Reviewers

Is this predominantly female white status quo deliberate and thus, racist? Well, if you consider the data . . . the other question is will it be kept this way and by design?

While I hunted for facts regarding the struggle many writers of color — Asian, Caribbean, African, South American — experience trying to get published, I encountered similar stories:

  • Mira Jacob, young author of the critically acclaimed novel, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, shared a powerful speech about her struggles as an (East) Indian woman dealing with ignorance and prejudice in the publishing industry. A MUST READ!
  • Jenny Zhang shares how a white poet, Michael Derrick Hudson, used a Chinese pen name, Yi Fen Chou.
  • Paul Langan, a white novelist writes popular series about Black students growing up in an Urban setting.
  • Brandon Tensley discusses America’s Problem With Writers of Color.
  • PP Wong, author and editor shares how many times her novel was rejected. One of the reasons is really, really, really stupid. And clandestinely racist.
  • Phenderson Clark, speculative fiction writer of Afro-Caribbean descent draws back the curtain regarding racism against fellow Black authors (and the lack of characters) in the science fiction and fantasy community.

To piggy-back on the final bullet regarding the science fiction and fantasy genre that I write and adore I come to a fork in the road. Lately, several of the Big Five publishers that are located in New York are requesting romance novels from Black authors. I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I mean, doesn’t it entail, you know, like a “formula” where handsome guy meets gorgeous lady and they don’t like each other at first until he or she does something and then the tide is turned and then they like each other, but not like that and then they fight and break up and then you know — heck, I DON’T KNOW! So, my point that I’m trying to make is do I just “sell out” and go to the “Crimson Wine and Chocolate Covered Cherries Side” of Le Force and write Romance because it’s popular and I’m more than likely to succeed since there’s an open call for it?

Like I said before, I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I need creepy scenes, an occasional vampire or demon to slay. I need undiscovered elements on the periodic table. I need a nod to the current status quo and how to change it. I need to believe that there are dragons to slay whether they be literal or figurative. I need to hope for windows, doors, closets, basements, or even dreams that lead to alternate dimensions.

I may not write Romance yet, but I could learn, if I feel so inclined, and not because it’s what a publisher wants of me to selfishly benefit themselves.  In other words, why should writers of color pigeonhole themselves? We should be able to write what we want.

This scenario brings this excerpt from Rachel Deahl’s Publisher Weekly’s article, “Why Publishing is So White”:

So how does the industry move forward and do better? Right now, publishing seems to be struggling with the difference between words and actions. Take, for example, a situation a publisher at a reputable Midwestern press recounted. Claiming he is “always trying to diversify our staff,” he brought up a recent editorial assistant search that initially yielded 250 applicants. The press narrowed its options down to eight finalists, five of whom were white and three of whom were people of color. Although all the finalists were “excellent” in his estimation, the position went to a white woman. The reason? “There’s no room for tokenism at [our press].”

Dude, there’s no need for tokenism! What a cop out!

There’s always going to be a first and you don’t have to stop there. A first — if that’s the intended direction you want to go — will lead to a second and a third.

It only takes one to turn the tide.

The need for diverse books from diverse authors with different stories to tell isn’t a trend and never will be.

I'mnotatrend

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet with me @moniquedesir

 

 

Quotes to Write By – Day 25

Last night, I stayed up until 1:30 in the morning. A picture book idea came to me and I simply had to write it! I completed the first draft within four hours at 1275 words. I’ve always loved picture books and adore the time I share with my two youngest sons reading them and reveling in the characters and stories. I’ve never had a picture book published and would love for that to happen.

Picture books aren’t easy to write though. I think they’re much harder than chapter books and novels. Why? Well, the word count can only be so much. Also, you must be able to engage your young audience from the first to the very last page all the while focusing on theme without being too preachy. It’s a tightrope act of balancing just the right use of precise words that keeps readers reading and wanting to re-read the book until the pages are tattered and the book’s spine is worn down from lovable handling.

So, take Shakespeare’s advice because “brevity is the soul of wit”. Use great thought when choosing your words whether or not it’s a picture book and your writing will improve.

Quote #25

brevityshakespeare

 

 

Had I But Known . . . Or, You Wrote it, Now Sell It!

circular stair

According to Mr. Wikipedia, “‘Had I but known’ is a form of foreshadowing that hints at some looming disaster in which the main character laments his or her course of action that came before some other series of unfortunate events or actions and classically, the narrator never makes explicit the nature of the mistake until both the narrator and the reader have realized the consequence of the error. If done well, this literary device can add suspense or dramatic irony; if overdone, it invites comparison of the story to Victorian melodrama and sub-standard popular fiction.”

And if I had but known that Indie publishing that would lead me on a roller coaster ride of euphoria, despair, anxiety, and relief (in no particular order) I most likely wouldn’t have bothered.

Most likely and yet here I am! 🙂

Dark Night of the Soul

The phrase, “dark night of the soul” has evolved into meaning the difficulties of life. And writers often use it to describe the hard time they’re having writing. And Indie authors like myself use it to reflect the struggle we experience trying to be recognized on the same plane as traditionally published writers.

Indie Publishing isn’t for the faint of heart. It isn’t for the hobbyists that dabbles in writing and doesn’t care about gaining readers and making money off of their literary works. And that’s fine. But I’m a believer that doing what you love for a living is the best of both worlds.

As I research ways of becoming noticeable and gaining more clout, I noticed that financially successful authors provide lots of gimmicks that have worked for them and share these tips with less prosperous writers (sometimes for a price):

Free book giveaways

$0.99 Book deals

Blog Reviews

Dedication and Drive

And so many more bits of advice. To someone new to Indie publishing, like me, it is overwhelming. Especially when you have to juggle important factors — family, a spouse, and a full-time job — to name a few.

But even after implementing these strategies, some authors still can’t sell a single book. Or even break even with how much money they had invested in their work. For example, I’ve invested close to $2,000 in my career as an Indie author. The dollar amount includes:

  • Book covers (custom designed)
  • Editing and proofreading
  • Marketing (business cards, flyers, promotions)
  • Author website (hosting)
  • Paperback copies of book

Self-publishing isn’t free and it most certainly isn’t cheap.

Which brings me to an interesting statistic. As of 2016, close to 40 authors on Amazon  have sold over 1,000,000 ebooks. Yes, you read that correctly. FORTY!

crying

“NOOOO! It’s too horrible! Damn lies and statistics! Lies!”

40 self-published authors “make money”, all the others, and they number in the hundreds of thousands, don’t. This interesting statistic, recently revealed in a New York Times article, applies to the Kindle Store, but since Amazon is in fact the largest digital publishing platform in the world, it is a safe bet that self-published authors are not doing much better anywhere else. (from https://claudenougat.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/only-40-self-published-authors-are-a-success-says-amazon/)

With statistics like this, one could just throw up their hands and give up. Statistics like this are demoralizing.

On the other hand, when you read articles like this, the future of Indie publishing looks more promising than ever. According to the linked article, almost a decade ago, writers who self-published were viewed as failures. Fast-forward to present day and now many of these Indie authors are making a fortune. Whether these authors have earned a quarter of a million dollars or even $10,000 they’re making more money doing it alone than relying on gate-keeping publishers and their contracts.

$10,000! Wow, I’d be happy if I made even $1,000. So, I shall carry on.

For Art or Money? Or Both?

Let’s revisit the argument on why writers write. Is it less noble to expect payment as starving artist believe? I write for pleasure. I write to vent. I write because I’m compelled to. If I don’t write, I don’t feel right.

Likewise, once I’ve published a book – one of my literary creations – and place it for sale, I expect to get something in return. I expect recognition in some way, shape, or form for all of the time I invested into that book. Money, for example, is a primary indicator of success in many societies. So, my motivation is a little bit of both – art and money. Nothing wrong with that.

Cave of Obscurity

caves

Amazon is like a vast rain forest filled with merchandise that consumers go spelunking for. As an Indie author, braving the cyberspace landscape, (most likely on Amazon.com) you want exploring customers (potential readers) to discover YOU and quit clicking for something else. Unfortunately, rain forests, (like the actual geographical Amazonian rain forest) also possess caves where explorers can get lost. And on Amazon.com, you’re competing with other books that have more marketing clout and exposure than you do.

It doesn’t take long to realize that due to the residual stigma of self-publishing, most Indie authors are at a disadvantage.

Giant_Competition

David and Goliath? Little dude, use your briefcase!

Forget the so-called gatekeepers of publishing. Flesh-eating trolls who stalk the many cave tunnels are a much bigger threat.

And each year, the amount of titles increases, thus raising the likelihood that your precious literary baby will end up in the cave of obscurity – a place where no one will find it. Ever.

Heck, all the hours of writing, researching, building a platform, etc. don’t mean much if readers can’t find the culminating product of your effort, and read it, then share it.

As of 2016, over 4 million titles are available compared with 600,000 (amount of titles six years ago). The market is overly saturated with books. Notice I didn’t say “good books”, but books in general. Not all books are created equal. So, in order for readers to discover your book, you have to stand out in the crowd! For example, I published my first middle-grade fiction book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I wanted to have it available with as many distributors I could gain. I plan to add more distributors and vendors in the months to come. To test Barnes & Nobles’ search engines, I typed in the key words I had laboriously chosen so readers could find my book.

Not one of the words worked.

Even when I typed in my author name with the title, I couldn’t find the book. 😦

And even when I typed in the title of the book, the subtitle, and my author name: nothing! I learned from other authors who published with B&N that the search engine is setup “like that” and I wondered why. I contacted B&N and asked for an explanation. I was given a sprawling response that went in a hundred different directions, but not an answer to my question.

Perhaps, B&N wants to keep Indie authors like me in the cave of obscurity.

descent crawler

Wow. Just wow. You’r really gonna do me like that?

There’s a good argument for that conclusion. I had planned on doing a book signing at the B&N close to my home and now I’m not so sure I want to commit to that. Why? Because after speaking with the manager of an actual brick-and-mortar store, I learned that as an Indie author, you have to sell your books on consignment. In other words, you purchase the paperback copies, bring them to the store and then have B&N customers purchase the book with a cashier at the front of the store. And this is the part that pisses me off. It can take up to six months for B&N to pay you the 40% that they OWE YOU. Sometimes longer.

Time will tell whether or not I will work with them. Will I recommend publishing books to other authors with Barnes & Noble? At this time, based on what happened . . . most likely not.

You Gotta Be . . .

On another note, I recently read a book on free promotion after seeing it on Facebook. And when I learned the author was an Indie author like myself, I felt even more indebted to help the said author out! However, when I read the first page, disappointment seized me and I had to set the book aside. For the past two weeks, I return to the book occasionally to remind myself of what not to do. The book was published in 2011 and has not a single review. I feel bad for the writer because I think he/she (I won’t specify the gender) thinks the book was publishable. Even though, there were hundreds of grammar and spelling errors. Even sadder, I think he or she was so excited to even have a book published that he/she threw caution to the wind and clicked the published button as soon as possible. I’ve been there! Done that! But, due to the amount of competition, readers will pass your book by and move onto one they deem better and worth an investment of their time.

Number of Book Sales doesn’t = Talent

The amount of book sales doesn’t reflect how talented an author is. If book sales were an indicator then the strange phenomena of crappy books selling millions of copies wouldn’t occur or wonderful books only selling few or none.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job. Yet.

Writing is a poor man’s job where only a minority of writers are able to pursue their craft full-time and make a living from it. I laugh when my students ask me, “So, are you rich now?” after they learned I’ve published two books. The first book I had to republish because I lost my publisher when they went out of business. My students assume that every writer can be J.K. Rowling, a rags-to-riches single mother who created a $15 million dollar brand and has a net worth estimated to be less than $1 billion.

rollingrowling

I can only aspire to reach that status.

reach for the moon

I love writing and will most likely continue to do so. However, “had I but known” that the art of writing would change, I would have focused more on creating manga and graphic novels. So, I may have to change venues and write for television series, video games, Netflix, et cetera. You know, societies latest panacea for their social ills.

In the meantime, I’ll keep my day job and work, write, work, write, work.

Get some motivation by listening to the talented and beautiful, Des’ree’s song “You Gotta Be“.

Books Transmit Values

Books transmit valuesI just learned about this event today and wish I could have attended.

The above quote by Walter Dean Myers, a children’s book author and best known for young adult literature reveals a lot about the way I started to feel when I realized that a lot of the books I read didn’t reflect me in a society that claimed to be diverse and tolerant. Myers died on July 1, 2014. And his books are still relevant to the lives of African-Americans. In fact, his YA book, “Monster” is being made into a movie.

xenophile

As you may already know, I’m a xenophile. I absolutely love learning about different cultures, languages, and people! So, it’s no mystery that I grew up loving to read. Reading was (and still is) my gateway to other worlds and food for my ravenously curious mind. One series in particular that I enjoyed reading during my preteen years was “Sweet Valley High”, which focused on two blonde hair and blue-eyed twins named Jessica and Elizabeth. Sweet Valley HighI don’t recall encountering any girls or boys of color within those pages. Besides, the main focal point was on those two twins who were as different as night and day. I loved the often good plotlines. Looking back, some were silly and over-the-top dramatic!

But, come on. It was high school, right?

Yeah, I really did love reading. And when my mother noticed that there weren’t a lot of books that featured characters that looked like we did (dark brown skin) or even came from cultures like ours – (Caribbean/West Indies) she got worried. My mom’s a wise lady. She started giving me books by Mildred D. Taylor. When I got older, she moved onto introducing books with more complex issues. I cried while reading both Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye”. In my high school’s Honors Reading classes, we were assigned to read “Beloved” and to analyze the characters’ motivations. I had no problem realizing that Sethe couldn’t simply be written off as a villainous character. I was hooked! I continued reading the remainder of Mildred D. Taylor’s series about the Logan family’s struggles and accomplishments. beloved2Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Now, back to Myers’ quote. My mother saw a voracious need in me that I couldn’t see. She saw that I needed characters to relate to. Characters that I COULD relate to. Sure, following the antics between twin sisters is entertaining, but the world of Jessica and Elizabeth from Sweet Valley High was as real to me as Barbie in her Malibu home.

Cast so white -- wait, there's a few token nonwhites for good measure

Sweet Valley High cast so white — no, wait! There’s a few token nonwhites thrown in for good measure. 😉

A lot of my students, Latinos and African-Americans are turned off to reading at a young age, and who can blame them? When you analyze the fact and consider that there aren’t many books that reflect their people in a realistic and beautiful way the reasons aren’t so hidden or hard to understand. And let’s not forget authentic as one of the necessary characteristics for diverse books.

The publishing industry knows that people want more diverse books. The rise in Indie authors who circumnavigated the gatekeepers is testimony to that. However, these gatekeepers choose to give us these “gifts” in a manner that cheats us of good, authentic tales. For example, most diverse books that I’ve encountered and enjoyed reading are written by non-POC people (“Full Cicada Moon” and “Seraphina’s Promise”). Regarding “Seraphina’s Promise”, I wondered how different the story would have unfolded if it had come from a Haitian person’s point of view?

Also, both of these books are written in prose. I love poetry. I truly do. But why do these authors have to resort to writing such deliciously complex stories in prose? Did the editors or publishers think that boxing the story within the often pedantic poetic style  would somehow give the illusion that the stories were more . . . dare I use the word — authentic? Soulful? Real? Organic? That prose would magically inject these stories with a je ne sais quoi that often only people who have experienced can personally write. Think of “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker. I find it hard to believe that a non-Black person could write that book with the same results. the color purplefull cicada moonSeraphina's Promise

Now, don’t get it twisted (as my students sometimes say). As a Black woman who has written about a 19th century, peach-skinned (well, when he’s been fed the right amount of blood) British vampire and aristocrat I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say that white women or men can’t write from the POV’s of nonwhite characters.

However, if the publishing industry thinks that this practice of exclusively having white people tell the stories of nonwhite characters is okay or is an answer to the desire for diverse books, then that’s ridiculous and needs to change.

Interesting quote

Revealing facts about the lack of diversity in literature.

 

 

It’s almost as if the publishing industry (which is a part of the “media“) want to keep the White Savior myth alive. For example, in the movie Hidden Figures, which tells the true story of three brilliant Black women who were the brains behind one of the greatest NASA operations in history, the director Theodore Melfi fabricated a scene for emotional effect that perpetuates the white savior myth perfectly. You can read more about it here.

White Savior

White Savior complex. Africa today. Asia tomorrow!

Readdressing Myers’ thought-provoking question: What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?

 

pecola breedlove.jpg

Pecola Breedlove of “The Bluest Eye” Learn more here.

The message isn’t a good one and any answers I have will most likely become another blog post. I live in a country that seems to embrace the message of diversity and inclusion when it suits itself.  I’m glad that there has been a rise in diverse books. I’m glad that untold stories and histories of all peoples are being shared. Now I have a question:

What took so damn long?