Why I Chose to Write My Books with Diverse Characters

Some people view an all white able bodied cast of characters in a book to be pretty normal. I guess to them it’s pretty normal, a reflection of their daily life, and not an active artistic choice. Or perhaps it is purposeful, and meant to illustrate some truth of the culture or experiences of that group.

You can find that kind of mindset in books from every country though- all Japanese cast in Japanese books, all white Dutch people in Dutch books, all ethnically Middle Eastern people in a Middle Eastern book.

My books aren’t diverse because that’s the thing that sells best in YA. They’re just diverse because my experience of the world has always been a mix of perspectives.

It’s not always a bad thing- Persepolis, a graphic novel written by an Iranian woman who had been a teenager during the rise of the Taliban, depends on all the characters being Iranian to bring the story across.

Then there’s other books where you can get a feeling that the homogenous cast is due to the author wanting to cut out characters of different perspectives and backgrounds, just like they cut the same people out of their real life.

And there’s the third type of author who, funnily enough, is scared to write books with a diverse cast. They are scared they won’t portray the characters perfectly, that they’ll accidentally slip into stereotypes or they’ll make a minority group feel Other with their portrayal of them. I get that. Fear of wanting to be perfect, fear of hurting others, is definitely something I share.

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But I grew up in place where a group of friends like this looks normal. I grew up with a tight knit group of friends in High School that were disabled, gay, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Polynesian, African American, and white bread American. I grew up receiving New Year’s money in a little red envelope, eating larb and pad prik khing as my comfort foods, taking my shoes off at the front door of most houses I’d visit, hunkering down for a five hour Bollywood movie. For me, a diverse cast of character is just the way I think of characters.It’s not something I have to tweak afterwards because I know how much that means to people in less represented groups, it just happens that way for almost all of my books (except for Family Inflamed, where the choice of having the abusive family be white and the healthy loving family be mixed race was on purpose.)

For the most part diversity isn’t something I think about, because it just is my particular reality. I don’t go through my character lists and try to make sure it is perfectly split between genders, sexuality, race, or anything. I do try to avoid representing characters I know nothing about, but that is only because I am putting those perspectives on hold to explore in future books after I’ve gotten a better understanding of them rather than throwing them out altogether.

So, to sum it all up, my books aren’t diverse because that’s the thing that sells best in YA. They’re just diverse because my experience of the world has always been a mix of perspectives.

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Men and Domestic Abuse

pexels-photo-626164I know, that’s a super cheerful title, huh? Sarcasm aside, I really do think this is an important topic. Well, I guess you can kind of tell that, the whole crux of the plot of my first book was a daughter dealing with parents that involved a female abuser married to her male victim. Because of that, I ended up doing a lot of research on adult men in abusive relationships like the character suffered through, and I found that it’s actually a very common (though silent) problem.

It’s not a very fun thing to think about, but sometimes I like to read about things that are important too, and I think my readers feel the same way.

According to the CDC (as reported by Huffington Post), one male is the victim of domestic abuse every 37.8 seconds. And they aren’t the only ones who think it’s a problem. So if it’s one in four American men being abused at least once in their lifetime, what about the rest of the world? The Guardian reports that 40% of all domestic abuse victims in the UK are men- and that’s not including underage boys in their teens, just full grown being abused by their spouse, partner, or other person they are living with. The Toronto Sun goes so far to say that “Domestic violence against men is frequent and significant, and a rarely acknowledged fact.” And there’s Australia, where the campaign One in Three for male abuse victims claims as many as one in three Aussie men are victims of abuse.

Probably the most disturbing reality of male abuse victims is that most of us haven’t heard of them. You probably can’t name a male abuse victim safe house in your state, or even your whole country, while shelters and safehouses abound for women who have suffered the same life threatening fear and abuse. Male abuse victims can be maimed by revenge acid attacks, and beatings, and castrations, and even rape or murder- all of it not because they have done any crime or wrongdoing but because they started a relationship with an abusive terrible human and now that they’ve become a target. It’s not so easy for any abuse victim to leave their abuser.

If you follow discussion boards online set up for abuse victims you may hear stories of men wanting to leave, but their girlfriend or wife or stalker threatened to call the police and claim the abused victim was actually the one doing the same things, and when faced with the chance of going to jail for something they are innocent of doing they have another incentive to stay and continue to be a punching bag.

It’s also easy for anyone to say that if a man is getting beaten up or otherwise hurt by their partner then they should defend themselves. If you think about it though, if the victim can be charged for assault for just standing there and taking the abuse and attacks, they definitely can be charged for protecting themselves or fighting back.

It’s a hard topic to talk about. I’ll leave out links to more graphic resources, but if it’s a topic that’s of interest to you there’s plenty more material you can dive into to learn more about male domestic abuse victims. In the meantime though, if I can leave you with only one sentence on the topic it would be this, “When we talk about domestic abuse, please remember to categorize abusers as abusers and victims as victims instead of painting it as men are always the abusers and women are only ever the victims.”

Now if you or someone you know is suffering from abuse, keep in mind that there are resources out there for any gender or sexuality of victim: emotional support, and even financial support, is out there for you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch puppies and kittens online now. I’ve had enough of reading and writing about abusive situations for now.

 

Spooky, creepy, and a little dark: Family Inflamed

NIKON D5100Family Inflamed is my first book. I wrote it when I was frustrated, and scared, and mostly very frustrated being sick and stranded sitting in my chair staring out the window at the world just living life while I barely had the strength to walk over to pick up some snack bars every few hours instead of walking over and getting a good hot meal at the dining hall every day. I was grumpy, and a little dark, and I was too tired to do anything and couldn’t really even think straight but I could still get very very bored. So I explored the dark side of the internet a little. I thought a bit about not so pleasant things in the world.

The truth is I’m kind of famous in my social circle for being a bit of an optimist. My first book is definitely not cheerful in any way though. There’s a lot of dark themes going on in there. Full trigger alert: there’s rape, and domestic abuse, and death, and murder, and mental illness. It’s a dark kind of story. I think it’s interesting and my beta readers thought it was interesting and a book definitely worth reading- but don’t read it if you are in the mood for something fluffy and cheerful where the good guys save the day. I was a little tired of all the books aimed at teens that talked about dating and popularity and were just kind of silly when I was a teen, so this is a book that fulfills that craving for reading about real people with real issues. Don’t worry if that sounds too harsh for you though, it’s not all bad- after all, the dog lives in the end.