Today I’m excited to have Author Laura Templeton visit Creatyvebooks. Everybody give her a big and warm welcome. She’s written the lovely book Summer of Oak Moon. Which you can purchase at any book retailer or your local bookstore. I mean can you resist that beautiful cover? I know I can’t. This is one book that is on my list and I can’t wait to read. I hope you do as well.
Now before you get to Laura’s post which is important, I must thank Tamara from Traveling with T. She is truly a rock star and if you’re not following her blog you are definitely missing out. She hooked a sistah up with this amazing author. Make sure you visit her blog and give her a follow. Now without further ado here is Laura Templeton post on diversity and why it’s such an important topic and movement. Please read and share and add your thoughts. That’s what blogging and writing is all about.
As a reader and/or writer, you may not give much thought to diversity. Sure, we talk about diversity in politics, in religion, in society, but we don’t often talk about it as it pertains to literature. First, let me be clear. When I say diversity, I’m not really talking about including works by ethnically diverse authors in school curriculum—although this, too, is important. I’m thinking more about the characters within the books we read and the ways authors choose to portray those characters. I’ve often heard the comment that the only place segregation is still prevalent is in our churches (something I’ve observed to be true … at least here in the southern U.S.) But I submit that it’s often rampant in our fiction as well. Today, I’d like to explore this issue a bit. And for the writers out there—at the end of the post, I’ve offered five tips for diversifying your characters.
Let’s talk about my life for a minute. As I look around at my coworkers, I see the proverbial melting pot of backgrounds. Bosnian. Puerto Rican. Panamanian. Taiwanese. In the past few months, my company has entertained visitors from China, Peru, and Chile. When I go shopping and out to eat, the clerks and restaurant workers include young people of Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European descent. My family has hosted dinner guests from Pakistan and Kazakhstan. Wherever I go in metro Atlanta I see the faces of people who are different from me.
It wasn’t like that when I grew up here. Then, my neighbors were mostly white, some black. One of my friends in school was from South America. She was the only Hispanic student in my large high school. We also had one German exchange student. That was the extent of the cultural and ethnic milieu. Maybe that’s why I embrace the changes sparked by cheap travel and Internet connectivity. For many of us, the world now has an international flavor. This is good, in my opinion. There is strength in differing viewpoints, heritages, and traditions.
Hold this view of an ethnically diverse world in your head for a moment and think about the last novel you read. How diverse were the characters in it? I read a good bit of women’s fiction, and while I love all my favorite authors, I often find these books populated by an assortment of very-white characters. Conventional romance novels tend to be the same. And I’m not even talking about mixed race couples – it seems rare that a protagonist has a best friend who’s of a different ethnic background. Or maybe you read African American romance novels, a genre that seems to be growing in popularity. But here segregation rears its head again. Kind of like church, huh? Is it really necessary to have “white fiction” and “black fiction”? The separation feels like a baby step to me—a small move in the right direction that still leaves much to be desired.
There are exceptions to these observations, of course, and we can all name authors who strive to create more culturally diverse worlds for their fiction. But that diversity remains the exception, not the norm. For me, when writing my recent book, Summer of the Oak Moon, cultural diversity was something to be celebrated. Tess and Jacob’s biracial relationship (Tess is white, Jacob black) pushed buttons in the 1980’s when the story is set. And while today, mixed race couples are common, fictional characters haven’t quite caught up with reality.
If you’re interested in adding more diversity to your books, I thought I’d share a few tips I discovered when writing Summer of the Oak Moon.
Only use culturally diverse characters if they are appropriate to the time period in which you are writing. My novel is set in the 1980’s (and 1950’s) South, where racial issues were pressing. But if you’re writing a story set in Victorian England, I’m not sure how culturally diverse you’d want to be. (Although I don’t write about Victorian England, so perhaps I’m wrong!) In other words, don’t use diversity just for the heck of it, out of a sense of social justice obligation. Make it meaningful to your story.
When doing research for your book, be open and aware of different cultural groups who may have been impacted by the story’s events. History is ripe with interesting footnotes. You might get an idea for a great supporting character that would add historical and cultural depth to your story.
Be careful with dialect, which can be tricky. In Summer of the Oak Moon, Lulu, my main character’s herbalist mentor, tells her part of the story solely in dialect. I made that decision with much trepidation, as we writers are typically advised to avoid dialect completely. However, rules are meant to be broken, so I went for it. I worked hard to create consistency in the portrayal of the dialect so that readers could get a sense of Lulu’s voice. If you decide to use dialect, consider using it sparingly. Having your character repeat just a few words or phrases in a distinctive manner can be enough to give readers a feel for the character’s voice without going full tilt with the dialect.
Avoid stereotypes in your portrayal of diverse characters. I worried about this when I choose Jacob and Lulu (they both are black) as main characters in Summer of the Oak Moon. Could I write convincingly from the standpoint of an old, black, root woman? I wanted my depictions of these characters to be accurate, and I tried to give them interesting and multifaceted personalities. Once I was finished, I was careful to put the story out in the world for lots of people to read (contest judges, critique partners, beta readers, agents). No one commented that I’d done my characters a disservice or said they were offended by my depictions, so I felt fairly comfortable that I hadn’t made a gross error in this department.
Have fun with your characters. Diverse characters don’t have to be heavy or serious—you aren’t trying to make history or even a point. Give your characters—whatever their ethnic background—life, personality, quirks, a distinctive voice and vision. Your stories will be enriched when you portray characters that embody the full spectrum of ethic diversity.
In closing, let me point out that as readers we can demand more culturally diverse books. Ultimately, we speak with our purses and wallets. If we buy the diverse books that are out there and beg for more, eventually publishers will listen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Templeton lives near Athens, Georgia, with her husband, son, and a menagerie of animals. She spends her days heading operations for a laboratory equipment manufacturer. When she’s not working or writing, she enjoys gardening, kayaking, ice skating, and taking long walks on the quiet country roads near her home. Laura is the author of Something Yellow, published in 2013, and Summer of the Oak Moon, released on May 5, 2015.
Social Media Links:
Facebook: Laura Templeton Writer
Goodreads:Add Summer of the Oak Moon