I was reading an interesting blog today. This topic of conversation seems to crop up here and there in the Facebook groups I tend to participate in (not as often as it should in my humble opinion). Why are persons of color, older women, persons with disabilities, etc so under-represented in lesfic (or in literature in general). I was absolutely flabbergasted by one remark in the blog. Apparently, one of the readers did not provide feedback to the author on a book featuring a person of color because she couldn’t relate to the character (she was white).
That got me thinking…I know very, very dangerous. Many of the popular lesfic books feature beautiful, rich, powerful women. Famous women. Women with abs of steel. Women with smoldering eyes and animal magnetism. Women who are exquisite and twenty or thirty-something. Women who walk into a bar, pick up a woman and get laid every night of the week. Well…shit…I’m not any of those things, so by that logic, I shouldn’t enjoy those books because I can’t relate to those characters and their experiences. Now, I admit, I do like to read about those perfectly chiseled characters. But, I wondered…What do I really need to relate to, for me to enjoy the book?
For me, I like to connect to characters who struggle with common human emotions. Love. Hate. Injustice. Karma. Fear. Bravery. Failure. Success. Loneliness. Belonging. Anger. Joy. Frustration. Satisfaction. Self-doubt. Confidence. And on and on. There is no end to the common emotions and yes, experiences, we can all relate to. It does not come in one color, one socio-economic status, one physical ability, one age range, one country, one gender, one religion or spiritual belief, etc. Variety is truly the spice of life. Come on people, let’s expand our horizons. Go outside the norm. Try it, you might find those books you don’t normally try are beautiful gems. I guarantee…human emotions are universal.
The blog also mentioned the controversy with Riptide Publishing which I’d just recently learned about. Apparently, Riptide Publishing would not use persons of color on their covers because “we like the book to, you know, sell”. This revelation was so disheartening to me, I can barely keep myself from a rant on that. That topic alone probably deserves an entire blog. I mean, what the f%$#. I rather love the cover for my most recent book that was a collaboration with Ali Spooner. I’d like to think the sales have been slower for that because historical romance is a tough sell in lesfic (even though I swear it has a nice contemporary twist at the end)…because I cannot even stomach the alternate possibility.
Long story short…Readers have said I often go outside the norm with my characters and the topics I’ll tackle. I dare you to give my books a try! He he he….
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11 thoughts on “Relateable Characters”
You ALWAYS come up with the most interesting things!!!. Loved cultural anthropology and sociology in college. I “get” relatable characters. If I can’t relate to them in some way, right off the bat, I’m not going to be into the story or the characters. I just started reading a story in which about 30 pages in, I had to quit because I just couldn’t relate. I’ll eventually read it, but it’s in the bottom of the TBR pile.
Food for thought:
Harvard professor of political science Robert D. Putnam conducted a nearly decade-long study on how multiculturalism affects social trust. He surveyed 26,200 people in 40 American communities, finding that when the data were adjusted for class, income and other factors, the more racially diverse a community is, the greater the loss of trust. People in diverse communities “don’t trust the local mayor, they don’t trust the local paper, they don’t trust other people and they don’t trust institutions,” writes Putnam. In the presence of such ethnic diversity, Putnam maintains that:
[W]e hunker down. We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it’s not just that we don’t trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don’t trust people who do look like us.
Ethnologist Frank Salter writes:
Relatively homogeneous societies invest more in public goods, indicating a higher level of public altruism. For example, the degree of ethnic homogeneity correlates with the government’s share of gross domestic product as well as the average wealth of citizens. Case studies of the United States, Africa and South-East Asia find that multi-ethnic societies are less charitable and less able to cooperate to develop public infrastructure. Moscow beggars receive more gifts from fellow ethnics than from other ethnies [sic]. A recent multi-city study of municipal spending on public goods in the United States found that ethnically or racially diverse cities spend a smaller portion of their budgets and less per capita on public services than do the more homogeneous cities Ref: Wiki: Key word: multiculturalism.
Interesting…I wonder if the study did further research comparing those homogenous cities. I’ll bet the cities or counties that had an overwhelming number of POC did not fare all that well. The whole point of desegregation was to try to develop a more level playing field. Personally, I’d rather live in a diverse place. I don’t want to be a turtle! When we someday get to a point where we are all very diverse…we will all be better for that diversity….see the five monkeys experience…that’s the way we’ve always done it sucks as an answer…change can be good!
dont disagree Annette. History is replete with examples of how intolerance is bred through segregation. Free to Love shows it with slavery. The Holocaust of Genocide of Jews ( 6 million) and 5 million other undesirables including those like us shows it, the Witch Trials shows it with religion , as just one example. But further, history also shows that exposure to other cultures bring so much more advancement, in all facets of society.
I love social psychology as well and I love that you tell me about this research….so fascinating. I think those that still hand on to their belief that Trump is a good president illustrate classic cognitive dissonance theory…Look up the research on that!
This is a very important topic. Currently, I have a WIP about an older woman and I’m going to finish it so I can share it with you. I am very proud of the character. I like to include diversity in my books. I am also writing about a black woman who plays a big role in part of the story. I’ve been thinking about covers and I’d love to include her on the cover. It’s time for us to step out of ‘what sells’ and show the world that all are important. Thank you, Annette.
That’s awesome Lynn…I am seeing more characters that are older and that is great. There are more characters that don’t fit the typical, but I find that I have to dig for them sometimes
Great both! You drew me in with the cat pics!
Just a clarification on the Riptide thing. The quote you mentioned is from an email sent by an editor who’s since been fired/forced to resign by Riptide. They did actually have some characters of color on book covers at the time the editor said that, so no POC on covers certainly wasn’t their policy. That isn’t to say they couldn’t have been doing better. Having someone on staff who says things like that is a definite problem. In fact, they’ve stopped their production schedule in order to figure out how they messed up so badly in the first place so that they won’t do it again. I hope they come out as a better, more representative publisher on the other side of that process instead of disappearing like so many LGBT+ presses.
Ah yes. You are correct. That was a quote from a person at Riptide who has been let go since. This notion of not putting persons of color on covers is an ugly truth for more publishers than Riptide, the other publishers just weren’t careless enough to put it out there for people to see. I’ve heard this on more than one occasion, so I suspect, there is an underlying truth to this notion, whether blatantly said or not. In my trailer for Unconventional Lovers, Danna from TGS studios included pictures of young women with Down syndrome because one of the two love stories was about two young women with Down syndrome who fall in love. The other love story had equal billing and was about their aunts. But I suppose I fell into the same biased trap as well because the cover I chose did not include one of the young women with Down syndrome. I think the cover was a representation of one of my favorite scenes, yet I could have easily chosen something else that would have aligned with one of the major themes in the book. The reality is that the sales numbers do not lie and biases play out in those numbers.
Do you think part of it could be the marketability of the themes in the different stories? If I were to make a guess, my two favorite stories are:
The Actualization of Potential: young love, adventure fiction, the building of new technology
Protection: Superheroes saving the day, thrillers where one person defends against the odds
I don’t know if it’s fair to say that diversity is the issue in all cases. The new movie Black Panther is turning out to be one of the highest grossing movies of all time and it’s got an almost all black cast.
So take a character with a major disability, like paralysis of the legs. Make them middle aged. If all I know about the character is that they are middle aged and in a wheel chair, my bias is that the story is not going to be any of those stories I mentioned. I’ll be expecting something different, artistic, and maybe I don’t feel like reading that.
Now take the middle aged wheelchair bound character and make it about his daughter and her boyfriend trapped in the house during a home invasion. The guy in the wheelchair gets held up at gunpoint and told his daughter will be killed if he doesn’t give them access to a bank vault. One of the bad guys is a police officer. Now we’re getting somewhere. That sounds like a great book. I’d read about him all day, especially if I have it on good authority that it is dramatic and violent.
I know there are a lot of racist, homophobic, sexist people out there. I’m not denying it. But a lot of people aren’t strongly any of those things and will buy media with a diverse cast as long as they have some kind of reassurance that it is the kind of story they want to read. It’s a subtler, sinister bias to assume that a 48 year old woman in a wheelchair can’t be the POV character of a thriller, or a legal drama, or hell a superhero story. She could have powers.
Good points. Yes, I do believe that marketing plays a role and can help to overcome the inherent biases that exist, but that does not really answer the question of why there is such an underrepresentation or the factual data that is presented time and time again regarding what sells and what doesn’t. We don’t like to be faced with our bias, because it is not a pretty sight, but the first step in recognizing the bias is admitting its existence. I have bias, just like every other person out there. The trick is to recognize it and actually look for ways to combat those biases and open myself to different ways of thinking.
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