“Minority Report” with Cecy Robson

When I started reading Fantasy, I started with Tamora Pierce, Madeline L’Engle, Mercedes Lackey and Jane Yolen. I didn’t  think of the characters of those books as any different from me, except that they were in way more fantastic situations. But as I grew into an adult, I started to notice that there was a pointed different between me and the characters I was reading about.

Almost none of them looked like me.

I wasn’t sure if that mattered until slowly I realized I’d like to see more diversity (and admittedly, more of me) in what I was reading. So, I wrote it. And sought it out in new authors. A very wonderful list of authors can be found here. It’s so comprehensive, I’ve barely scratched the surface.

But the point is that all of this thinking has been circling around in my head for years, and I’m sure I’m not the only reader who likes a little diversity in her literature. So, when author Cecy Robson got into contact with me and we started to discuss the lack of minority/mixed race in Fantasy, I knew it was something I wanted to further explore. And what better way to find out what other people think than by asking them?

So, I asked a few authors if they’d be willing to share their thoughts and they said yes! Which is how the “Minority Report” was born. This week features Cecy Robson.

Cecy (pronounced Sessy) Robson is a full-time writer, wife, and mother living in the Great Northwest. She attributes her passion for story-telling back to the rough New Jersey neighborhood she was raised in. As a child, she was rarely allowed to leave the safety of her house and passed her time fantasizing about flying, fairies, and things that go bump in the night. Her dad unwittingly encouraged Cecy’s creativity by kissing her goodnight wearing vampire fangs. Gifted and cursed with an overactive imagination, she began writing her first Urban Fantasy Romance series, Weird Girls, in May 2009. WEIRD GIRLS, the novella, debuts Dec. 4, 2012 followed by SEALED WITH A CURSE, Book 1 of the Weird Girls Series on December 31, 2012 with Penguin’s SIGNET ECLIPSE.

Cecy’s Contact Info.:

Thanks to Cecy for being willing to take time out of her schedule to do this! 

1.     How do you feel about the presence of minority or mixed race authors and characters present in fiction, specifically speculative fiction and all its varied genres?

The more I read, the more I notice that there are few mixed race or minority characters as protagonists in Urban Fantasy and PRN, which is my favorite genre to read. I’m not quite sure why that is, but one’s upbringing may play a part—at least it did for me.  When I was about four years old, Mr. Harte, a gentleman of Irish descent, and very close friend of the family, introduced me to several books on Irish Fae. So my interest in fantasy began at a very young age.  The boy who lived next door to me collected Marvel and DC comics and we’d often read them on his front porch for hours.  Most of the kids in our minority-filled neighborhood demonstrated very little interest in reading for pleasure, preferring to ride their bikes, play ball, etc.  My parents rarely allowed me outside since the city I lived in wasn’t safe.  Reading became my escape from the boredom and violence around me, and also what I did for fun.

2.     Why do you think the presence of such authors and characters is at the point that it is? Meaning, are there certain attitudes, stereotypes or expectations that accompany such authors and characters, or maybe that don’t accompany them that make the prevalence what it is today?

I don’t believe it’s intentional. The MC in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs is half Native American, as is her MC, Charles, in her Alpha Omega Series.  I’m not sure what Ms. Briggs’ exact cultural background is, but in providing her characters with that particular heritage, she was able incorporate Native American folklore and magic into her storylines. A super cool and unique twist as far as I’m concerned.  For the most part, though, I believe people write what they know and are familiar with. My Latina heritage influences my characters, as do the Central American fables my father would tell me as a child.

3.     Do you feel like something should be done about the popularity/frequency of minority/mixed race characters or do you think how it exists now is an accurate depiction of the audience of such fiction?

I think in order for there to be me more minority / mixed race characters, there needs to be more minority / mixed race authors.  Authors come from readers. I’m not sure how popular UF, Sci / fi, etc. is among minorities in general.  If you asked me what genre is most read among Latinos, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.  The majority of Latinos I know work several jobs and don’t have the time or desire to read in their downtime.

4.     How do you decide what race your characters will be? Does it just come to you or do you purposefully choose certain races?

Like I mentioned above, I think most people write what they know and are familiar with. I’m familiar with the Latin culture, the language, and beliefs.  My over-active imagination takes it from there. The WEIRD GIRLS in my series obtained their powers as a result of a backfired curse placed upon their Latina mother for marrying outside her race.  I came up with the concept based on a personal experience. When I was about fifteen, my parents and I were visiting a relative in California. Before I could step foot into her trailer, my father clasped my arm and said, “Try not to piss her off. She’s witch, and she doesn’t like you. I don’t want her putting a curse on you.” He walked in ahead of me. It took me a few minutes to join him. I proceeded to spend the next two hours refusing to speak, eat, or drink anything in said supposed witch’s home.  The incident terrified me at the time. Now it just makes for a good story and is the event that sparked origin of my “Weird Girls’” powers.

5.     What effect do you think reading books with primarily white heroines and heroes in them has on minority/mixed race readers, if any?

I hope if anything it would encourage the reader to write his or her ideal hero.

 6.     If you could make one statement about the frequency/popularity of minority/mixed race characters in speculative fiction, what would it be?

I think it would be fun to see more culturally diverse heroes and read how their backgrounds affect their decisions and play a part in the storylines.

7.     If you could ask successful editors one thing about their acquisition of books and if race plays into it at all, how would you ask it? Or rather, what would that question be?

I have recently become acquainted with a couple of successful editors in UF and PNR.  I wouldn’t ask them if race plays a part in their acquisitions, mostly because in my conversations with them, I think they would be thrilled to have more diversity.  They are actively searching through their agent submissions for something new, exciting, and different.  And if they’re searching for it, it’s because readers are too.

* * *

I couldn’t agree more. I think readers are searching for diversity, because they’re frankly, tired of seeing the same old thing. Not in race, necessarily, since that’s just what’s on the surface, but in cultural differences, which just happens to often accompany race. 

Thanks again to Cecy! I really appreciate you being willing to share so much. And I can’t wait to read your Weird Girls work. Next time Tuesday’s “Minority Report” will feature writer Lane Heymont, and following that Cecy’s agency sister Jasmine Walker!

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30 thoughts on ““Minority Report” with Cecy Robson

    1. J.M. Blackman says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed, Kait. Cecy’s great to interview! And me, too! I’m just sorry we’ve got to wait till the end of this year! Argh! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. :)

  1. And I couldn’t agree more about writing what we know. I find myself writing Caucasian characters because I am Caucasian and that’s what I’ve known my whole life. It’d be great to have some more racially diverse authors so we could get that variety in what we read. I also know that personally I would feel intimidated about writing in the point-of-view of a minority character since I’m not a minority–I’m sure other authors feel the same way. My greatest fear would be that I would offend someone or get some aspect of the culture wrong, and obviously, I wouldn’t want to do that.

    1. J.M. Blackman says:

      No, that totally makes sense.

      I think we all write what we know and who we are, so getting more diversity spread around would seem to naturally come from diverse authors. And I think the more readers want, seek, buy and support that, the more we’ll see! Thank you so much for coming by and sharing your thoughts!

    1. J.M. Blackman says:

      Of course, Cecy! Thank you so much coming. Already, it’s been so great to hear the thoughts of readers and writers on this topic.

  2. Charlotte Buchanan says:

    I think you and Cecy make good points that apply more widely than just the fantasy genre. what you both say reminds me of my own utter inability to engage with the Color Purple, for example! I also think the issue of needing more writers from diverse backgrounds in an important one. I think we all have a responsibility to write, to some extent, about what we know and the background we come from – that is one way we can keep our cultures alive and honour our diversity.

    1. J.M. Blackman says:

      I agree with both you and Cecy. We have a responsibility to represent ourselves in our fiction, no matter the genre. And hopefully, when we talk about it like this and share our thoughts, we’re opening people up to looking for more diversity in their reading.

  3. It’s so exciting to see the increasing diversity in Urban Fantasy and PNR and to have the opportunity to fall in love with characters from all cultures. Awesome interview, Cecy!

  4. J.M. Blackman says:

    Thanks to everyone who stopped by for the discussion and to who stopped by to support Cecy! :) Awesome.

  5. This is such an exciting interview. Thanks Jalisa and Cecy! This is a really important topic and opening discourse about it in this way has to be such a good thing. Hopefully this type of discussion will encourage authors to consider the race of the characters, how they are written, how this is affected or not by their race, and whether this is something they need to reassess.

    The importance of representation of all types of people and minorities, cannot be underestimated. Visibility or invisibility of different groups in popular culture has an immense power to affect readers. I feel so passionately about increasing broad societal representation in a positive and productive way. How to achieve this, though, is a difficult question and something that will hopefull become more apparent as the topic is approached more openly – as you are doing here!

    Thank you so much. And Jalisa, prepare to have your email bombarded.

    1. J.M. Blackman says:

      Well, you’re welcome of course Holly. :) It’s because of you that I finally decided that I should pursue this topic on my blog, because it IS relevant and it’s OK to talk about. I agree that we should have representation of all different types of people, because all different types of people read and for us all to feel a part of the same thing–this reading/writing/learning/discussing—community is important. We all come together to make it and we all want to be included.

      And now, I shall go roll in the yum that is your email insanity. ;)

  6. Loree Huebner says:

    Great interview, J.M., and Cecy!

    Diversity is extremely important. Our world is multi-colorful and beautiful! Can’t wait to read your book, Cecy!

    1. J.M. Blackman says:

      I’m going to echo Cecy and say thank you. Appreciatr you stopping by and glad you enjoyed the interview. I can’t wait for Cecy’s book, too!

  7. Karen Pipersburgh says:

    Great interview. Great topic. There are so few minority authors and/or main characters in both sci-fi and fantasy. All minorities need to break out of the genres we’re normally associated with to show that we too battle vampires or alien species come to take over planet.

  8. Marvelous interview! I found myself nodding along, “yes, yes, yes!” though of course you’re preaching the to the choir here. The other side of the equation is to deeply immerse yourself in stories, novels, etc. from other traditions and cultures. It will change your eyes, regardless of your culture of origin; to name just one example, the USA looks very different seen through the lens of African-American literature, genre or literary–and sometimes they’re not too far apart. (Toni Morrison’s Beloved reads to me as a brilliant ghost story–and ghost stories are about the unresolved past, of which there is no shortage on these shores.) … oh yes, and did I mention Octavia Butler? Tananarive Due? both of whom are wonderful writers whose ‘fantastic’ work vibrates with truth. If I were teaching a class in artistic lineage, I’d assign Due’s Joplin’s Ghost, and I’d certainly include Butler’s Parables novels in the reading list for an urban studies class. Sometimes the hardest truths are best conveyed in stories. Due’s The Good House and Butler’s Kindred between them open the doors of possibility for time travel stories as an exploration of karma and historical inheritance…

    Currently I’m reading up on multicultural steampunk, so if that’s your cup of tea, check out the following blogs: Beyond Victoriana, Silver Goggles, Balogun’s Chronicles of Harriet (yes! the author writes Harriet Tubman as a superhero, which doesn’t require a lot of fictionalization, and he’s a professional martial artist and offers excellent insights on fight scenes), Valjeanne Jeffers’ blog on Goodreads, which highlights an author who writes gritty but soulful steampunk complete with realistic class, racial and gender politics. All of the above have lots of additional links, so you can educate yourself (and buy lots of books!) along the way.

    As writers, it’s important to diversify our beta-reading circles as well. It’s hard to hand your work to someone and say, “Let me know if I got something wrong,” or “Tell me if this doesn’t ring true,” but it’s thoroughly necessary for artistic integrity. Our job is telling human truth, and we owe it to our readers to give them characters not props, and to let our characters bring their full selves–historical, cultural, emotional, sexual–to the energy of the story.

    And you might be pleasantly surprised. One of my betas rejoiced to see significant parts of herself in one of my stories (African-American comics nerd from a Rust Belt town). We are all impoverished by stereotypes, and enriched by characters who bring another face of reality to the great city of Stories.

    … oh wow, and this is a super-long comment. I got carried away by enthusiasm, I guess. :)

    1. Let your enthusiasm cary your away. These are the subjects where we should let our hearts and heads abound. And I completely agree with what you said–there’s a lot of pieces to this puzzle and we’re just now figuring out (at least I am) how to put them together. I think you’ve got it spot on with the fact that “our job is telling human truth” and the truth of it is a much larger picture than I think any of us can see by ourselves, which is why talking like this is such a great thing. Thank you so much for coming by, E.P.

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