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 Jasmine Walker.
Jasmine Walker, who writes as J.S. Walker, is a full-time author of hot, steamy Paranormal Romance. She’s been enamored with reading and writing since she was a child living in Chicago watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with her mother. It has always been her dream to be a professional writer, and after winning the RT Convention’s American “Idol” VOICE competition, she’s that much closer. She is now represented by the wonderful Nicole Resciniti of The Seymour Agency and hopes of getting published very soon. She’s working on her first book Deadly Caress of the Deadly Seven series about the reformed demons personified by the Seven Deadly Sins that fight to protect mankind while the women they love fight to protect their hearts and souls. She attends Columbia College Chicago where she’s in her Undergrad majoring in Fiction Writing. When she’s not writing or reading mountains of books she’s spending time with her rambunctious, wiser than her years, three year old daughter.
Jasmine’s Contact Info.
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?
For someone who reads a lot of different genres, I can say that the presence of minority or mixed race characters is very limited. My favorite genres to read happen to be Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance and I’ve noticed that most of the characters are described as being Caucasian. And the authors are as well. I can say that out of my top ten favorite authors of speculative fiction, not one of them is a minority. That doesn’t say much to minority writers like me who only write speculative fiction. It’s good to have a role model to look up to when your dream is something that not many people can achieve successfully, especially role models that share the same background as you. It gives you hope that if they achieved their goals, so can you. I look up to many African American authors, but only a small few actually write the same genre of story as I do. I’d like to see that change.
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?
As an African American woman that writes PNR, I can say for sure that there’s a certain expectation from characters/authors of a certain race. Most books that I’ve read by African American authors were to me, stereotypical. When I first started reading such books I was thrilled to be reading books that featured people that I could relate to in it, but the more I read, the more I realized that these people were less like me and more like every Black stereotype out there. There characters all talked and acted a certain way. The plots were all centered around the same general thing, a hard life in the ghetto. When I moved on to reading Fantasy, I noticed that a lot of the authors of the genre were Caucasian and only a handful were African American. The saying “people write what they know” is true, which is why I think that most minorities write stories with characters and subjects they’ve dealt with all their lives. It would be great to see more minority authors writing more speculative fiction.
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 the volume of speculative fiction written my minority authors is low, at least in the African American community. L.A. Banks is the only one that comes to mind when I think of African Americans writing Fantasy. I’m not really sure why that’s so, but I know that it’s not because minorities don’t read a lot of speculative fiction. Most of the people I know read such stories. Many of the fiction writing majors that I go to school with are minority or mixed race and we all read books in just about every genre. I think that if a lot of young minority writers like myself would write more stories with minority or mixed race characters, the next generation of readers would have a lot more diverse characters in Fantasy/Science Fiction.
4. How do you decide what race your characters will be? Does it just come to you or do you purposefully choose certain races?
I don’t really decide my characters races. Mostly they just jump out of by brain and take over exactly how they want to. I’ll admit that a lot of my characters happen to be Caucasian, but I do have mixed race characters. I’ve always asked the question, “Why are most of my characters not minority or mixed race?” but I haven’t come up with a clear answer. I remember watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the show that got me hooked on fantasy, thinking that she was awesome and I’d totally love to kick some vampire…butt, but it never crossed my mind that I was idolizing someone who was of a different race. Of course in the show there were black slayers and Latino slayers, but I guess I was just used to seeing/ thinking of superhero characters as something other than African American.
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 think maybe it gives them thoughts that only characters that look a certain way can do certain things. I know that if Buffy was African American, she’d be just as kick ass, but does the next Black person know that? I’m not saying reading books with predominately white characters will scar anyone for life, but minorities need to see more superheroes/ heroines or characters like themselves. I can go to a bookstore right now and go to the Fantasy section and just about every single cover will have a Caucasian person on the cover. It’s not a bad thing, but seeing a few mixed race/minority faces on covers would be a welcome change.
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 that if there were more minority writers writing speculative stories with minority characters, there would be an increase of minority/mixed race people reading speculative fiction. In turn this would give the next generation of writers the wherewithal to write more stories with such characters and so on and so forth, kind of like a writing circle of life!
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’m not sure I’d ask them any questions about race. From the little I’ve learned about the publishing industry, the focus is more on what’s interesting/popular and what will sell rather than what the characters look like, though I’m sure it does play a little part. While I was pitching my PNR book at the RT Convention, the race of the characters never once came up. And I can assume that since I’m African American they would think there was a strong chance the characters could be as well. I do think that they should think of acquiring more diverse books, like not only pick stories that are amazing, but stories with characters that more readers can relate to.
* * *
That’s a good way to put it, Jasmine. What we’re looking for is not the specific inclusion of a specific minority, but diversity as a whole. Thank you again for taking the time to do this and I look forward to seeing your work!