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 Susan Griner, whose interview I am very happy to share here today.
Susan Griner is a Japanese-American who grew up as the only Asian family in a small town in Tennessee—this somehow led her to be cast as a Mexican in school plays. She has a master’s degree in English and currently works as an educator at an elementary school. Susan’s work has been published in Cricket and Babybug magazines. She’s completing her first YA historical novel titled, The Hunt for the Heavenly Horse.
The author lives in the Seattle area with her husband and two children. She intends to give up being a Luddite any day now and start a blog. In the meantime she can be contacted at: email@example.com
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?
I’d like to believe there is a fair representation of minority characters in fiction, but the recent controversy over the film version of “The Hunger Games,” reminds me that it’s probably not the case. Some fans of the book were surprised that Rue was cast as a black character in the movie even though that was how she was described in the book. Why were people uncomfortable with the way she was depicted? It’s odd that some viewers could accept the bizarre characters from Capital city but not a character who is “unexpectedly” black.
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 tend to write for children and young adults so that’s the arena I’m most familiar with. Publishers for those age groups are interested in multicultural stories but writers should go beyond including an ethnic character simply because they believe it’s what the editors are looking for. When authors successfully present minority characters in their work it adds depth and texture to their stories.
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 would like to see more minorities featured as main characters instead of playing minor roles in stories. I’m a Japanese-American who grew up searching for people like myself in books. It used to be gratifying to read about a story that included an Asian character at all, but eventually it left me wanting more.
4. How do you decide what race your characters will be? Does it just come to you or do you purposefully choose certain races?
My stories often draw from my experiences as a Japanese-American growing up in a rural part of Tennessee. When I write from other points of view it’s usually with an interest in a character or a culture that hasn’t been widely represented before. The historical YA novel I’m completing is set along the Silk Road in Central Asia with a main character who comes from a nomadic tribe of horse worshippers.
5. What effect do you think reading books with primarily white heroines and heroes in them has on minority/mixed race readers, if any?
As a reader I’m interested in unique characters and environments I haven’t been exposed to, something that takes me away from the homogenized suburban life I’m used to. Stories with minority characters tend to resonate more for me because I identify with that sense of “otherness.”
6. If you could make one statement about the frequency/popularity of minority/mixed race characters in speculative fiction, what would it be?
When I used to watch “Firefly”, the sci-fi/fantasy TV show, my favorite character was a black woman named Zoe who kicked ass by day and melted hearts by night. She’s the kind of main character I want to read about, the kind of woman I don’t see on book covers very often. It used to be that books heralded change and TV followed.
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’d love to be a fly on the wall during an acquisition meeting! I’ve read that there is a decrease in sales when magazine covers feature ethnic models so along the same lines editors are probably taking that aspect into consideration when they look at the marketing success of a book. I imagine there are discussions about balancing their lists with minority characters. No matter the decisions they make it’s important that they are having the conversation.
It would be unquestionably awesome to get a glimpse into an acquisition meeting. I know sales and what drives sales are a big deal, but we have to hope that when they are considering the balance of their catalog, diversity matters at least a little bit. Susan, your interview has been the one I’ve related to the most personally. I appreciate your honesty and your willingness to share your thoughts. It’s been great to get a peek into your head. :) Thank you.