Mo*Con is a gathering of writers and fans in Indianapolis that’s put together by my friend Maurice Broaddus. This year’s theme was writing the other. I had a wonderful time and was anxious to have the discussion about writing the other, because it directly impacts my original work. You see, this has always been important to me for many reasons, and I’ve struggled with the conversations that have been happening on the internet. There’s a lot of anger, hurt feelings, and strong opinions that come from many different perspectives in circulation, and few solutions. There are people who believe that I (meaning writers who share a similar background to myself), can’t and shouldn’t write characters who hail from different ethnic heritages or cultures. There are folks who think that I should step back, and just let a person of color write the story I want to write, and take a safer route.
I’ve heard a lot of arguments against writing the other. Too many. It’s forced me to freeze up on occasion, because what if I get it wrong. What if I piss somebody off. What if… And that anxiety that I have comes from a very personal, very challenging set of experiences that I have with the subject in general. Experiences that spur me to write about all different kinds of people, to spend the time on research and reading, to read and continue reading unique perspectives in storytelling, to pore through lots and lots of history books. Though all that may be true? None of that means anything because the most important thing — in fact the ONLY THING — that matters is how the other is reflected in the stories I write. All the research in the world doesn’t mean crap unless I’m applying that and, in the absence of telling stories, that’s what I do. Obsess and research and obsess some more.
What Mo*Con did for me, was to say: “Yes, write the other. But be considerate.” Okay, I’m pretty sure I have the considerate part down. “And, that includes thinking about your audience.” That little gem, which came from Chesya Burke, really nailed it for me. Who your audience is explains a LOT about the response. It isn’t just a story, mind, it’s a story that different people will identify with. This is what the internet has done. It’s highlighted that not all readers hail from the same demographic. If I am writing, and I picture my audience is mostly readers like myself, then I don’t have to worry necessarily about how an Italian-American woman will respond to a Jamaican character. I do, however, need to worry about how a Jamaican reader might react to seeing a character like her in my stories. To figure that out, it’s as simple as finding beta readers who can read those stories and tell me what I did right or wrong.
Avoiding stereotypes, to me, is just common sense because that’s the least I can do. But the idea that I shouldn’t write other and diverse characters because I don’t share someone’s cultural background is ludicrous. I am not afraid to write the other. I am afraid, however, to get it wrong — and guess what? I will. I will screw that up, just like I’ll screw something else up in my stories. Maybe I get a fact wrong or a translation or a character description. I’m not writing to be perfect, mind, I can never be that. Never. And I’m okay with that, really. I just don’t want to deeply offend anyone, but at the same time I’m not going out of my way to piss people off.
Having positive, supportive people around me does help, too, which is another reason I am deeply grateful for the Mo*Con experience. If anything, that’s quite possibly the most important thing to take away from this. It’s having the right people around me, to support my efforts and my writing, to not be so negative or dismissive. The internet can be a wondrous thing, but especially when it comes to topics like this? Comments (from both strangers and people you know) can introduce insecurity and more reasons not to write — and I think there’s quite enough of those, thank you. Instead, I seek reasons to say “YES!” starting with one story (and one reader) at a time.
- Mood: Blargh.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Um… Well, there was that one.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Snoring.
In My Ears: Noise-cancelling headphones are glorious.
Game Last Played: Ninjas versus Zombies
Book Last Read: A book I put down. It suxx0red.
Movie Last Viewed: Nine
Latest Artistic Project: Art classes. SON OF A BISCUIT! That reminds me…
Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last
Latest Game Release: Mortal Remains
What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, short stories, and novels.