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Writing is Not About Equal Opportunity

I read a lot of reviews. Not just for my books, but reviews in general. I find them interesting. One review I read recently mentioned that the author had introduced some great new characters and some were finally non-whites. Okay, I admit I don’t notice this sort of thing very often when I read. Usually if the characters are fleshed out and “real” I don’t care if they are white, black, Asian, or whathaveyou unless it happens to be pertinent to the story somehow. When I’m done with a book, I almost always have to look up the NAME of the main character. It doesn’t occur to me to look up whether they were a certain ethnicity. In short, I simply don’t care. If the character fits the story, I don’t notice.

I sometimes will notice if character(s) are of a certain religion. It’s noted in passing because religious affiliations can determine some actions or personality. For example, if I’m reading about an atheist I wouldn’t expect him to run to a church for protection. If someone is described as Jewish, I expect various eating and/or ceremonies to correctly depict the upbringing (or at least mention deviations from it). I don’t expect a Jewish character to start attending Catholic Mass halfway through the book, at least not without a reason.

But here’s the thing. One review I read suggested that to be a perfect series, the writer needed to include gay/lesbian characters next and also some disabled characters. Huh? Why? I’ve nothing against any character, but the idea in writing a book or series is not to cover every religion, every ethnic background and every pet topic of every reader. We can’t. We probably don’t WANT to. Most of us aren’t trying to be “fair” or politically correct. We don’t set out to give equal time to every topic under the sun. And in truth, not every neighborhood happens to have one Canadian, one Italian, one white guy, a dog, a cat and a hamster.

So why should every series worry about whether every group gets equal page time? We’re depicting some segment of life at a given place and time. And what might be “handicapped” in real life, might be depicted as a magical “handicap” in an urban fantasy (I’m not like the other children. Everyone else clicks their fingers to make magic work, but I have to sing before my magic works). So does that count as disabled or do we have to cater to every known handicap known to man? Does a gay vampire mean we’ve covered two minorities or just one?

Sure, some writers are more skilled at including a broad range of characters. This is a bit easier if the setting is LA or London or New York. It’s not so easy if the setting is rural Colorado or backside of nowhere, Texas. It may not be PERTINENT to include a bunch of unnecessary characters just to meet a quota.

I love to read. I love to write. But I don’t read to keep score, nor do I write that way. I don’t want to read a book and tally up the sheet that says, “Okay this writer gets one less star because he did a good job overall, but he has only ever written dogs as the pets. I happen to like zebras and dang it, he just isn’t covering my favorite topic.”

Everyone reads for different reasons, and if you look hard enough, you can find a book on any topic you love, depicted nine or ten different ways. If you’re looking for a particular type of book, find that type, but don’t expect the topic/area to be covered in every series.

I love to analyze books, but I hope I always remain “color blind” especially when reading.

And don’t think this review influenced me. It’s completely unrelated that my next main character is a fat, gay Jewish Indian who owns a three-legged sheep. He was a former drug addict, but he’s moved to Texas to join the rodeo. His best friend is a Catholic nun who is secretly a single mom.

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Posted: March 24, 2013


  1. I agree with you up to a point. I think a lot of it depends on what genre the book belongs to. If I’m reading Urban Fantasy, I expect to encounter an Elf or a Vampire, or a Werewolf, or at least a magical practitioner of some type. Doesn’t matter if they are gay/straight; Jewish/Catholic/atheist; black/white/green with pink and purple polka-dots; blind/deaf/mute/one-armed. If the book is supposed to be a slice of life about someone living in NYC, it’s unrealistic if every person they encounter is white, straight and Protestant.

    Comment by Dee(Book lover) — March 24, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

  2. Well, sure, but I don’t read slice-of-life books and since I don’t tend to notice these things when I read, I might not notice if the story itself were compelling enough. What I might notice more is that I was reading a “slice-of-life” book and wonder where I got it… 🙂

    Perhaps more to the point, when talking about a series, I don’t think an author has to cover a new minority in each book. Or add a new race. New characters, sure, but not in a score-keeping/obvious manner that shows the author is thinking less about the plot/story and more about a, what to call it–political correctness?

    Comment by Maria — March 24, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

  3. Yes. THIS.

    I just hate the fact that so many people are counting.

    Comment by Gustavo — March 25, 2013 @ 10:34 am

  4. I read for the story. I’m also color-blind unless the character description includes the race. Even then I tend to forget it if the character is alive enough to me. Having to include every race, gender, affiliation, religion, etc is way too PC for me. You lose the story if you’re trying to appease everyone. Writers should write whatever they want (unless it’s non-fiction and pesky facts are required). It’s their story. No one puts Baby in a corner.

    Comment by A Voracious Reader — March 25, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

  5. Yes, those pesky facts are sometimes required. 🙂 It is a shame so many people are counting.

    Comment by Maria — March 25, 2013 @ 6:01 pm

  6. Of course you have a point, but speaking as a disabled lesbian, it sure is nice every once in a while to see people like me in the worlds brought alive by authors.

    Comment by Elisabeth — March 29, 2013 @ 2:26 am

  7. So many people only became in favor of civil rights for gays when it was THEIR son, THEIR daughter, THEIR cousin. It doesn’t seem to beenough that I am. As long as we were iinvisible, people got to think we didn’t exist, that hatred of us didn’t matter. Now I know that visibility was our responsibility too, so I came out at work in 1982. Back in the bad old days when I was literally the only gay person most people knew they knew. But of course, all of them knew many more they didn’t know about. And the motto of one disability activist group I belong to is “Fighting for the right to go where everyone else has gone before”.
    So I understand the desire to be as represented in stories as we are in the real world. By being an everyday occurrence in books it hopefully doesn’t require that we be everyone’s personal relative to be important enough to grant rights to. I don’t want special rights, I just want the rights that everyone thinks I already have. When I’m invisible to authors, I’m invisible to the wider audience.
    So maybe you don’t have a responsibility in my struggle to be accepted as an equal citizen. But I can dream can’t I? Of a day when we are such a part of society that it isn’t a stretch to be included in stories because we are a natural part of the environment.
    I’m sorry for going on and on, but the more I thought about it, the more I had to respond.

    Comment by Elisabeth — March 29, 2013 @ 8:04 am

  8. No need to apologize, and of course, you have a point. My point is that no one should ask any author to start covering every single current pet project of the reader. Stories of ALL PEOPLE need to be written and SHOULD be written. But not every author CAN write the story of growing up black in the South. Not everyone can write about being disabled and not every series should touch on potentially serious subjects when the original intent is to entertain. In other words, if a writer goes in after entertainment value, the series has to stay within certain bounds or you alienate fans–because they aren’t looking for a political message or possibly even a valuable one.

    There’s a time and a place–and a talent. If any author feels they can write well about an XYZ character, by all means, the author should do so. It’s a review site pushing the idea that an author NEEDS to write XYZ to attain some level of excellence that I have an issue with. It’s also very, very sad to me that someone is spending that much time *counting.*

    We do not attain equality if we go into a room insisting that one of every kind be present. We attain equality when we go into a room and NO ONE NOTICES OR CARES that there are blacks, Jews, Indians and a couple of aliens. We attain equality when we stop ASKING, “are you gay, religious, American or ?” Because it doesn’t matter.

    I don’t include or exclude certain character types from my writing because I don’t think they deserve a spot–I generally either flat out don’t THINK of adding XYZ or I don’t feel I have the knowledge or talent to pull it off. When I wrote Tracking Magic it is from the viewpoint of a guy. I have had at least one reader write and say, “You didn’t pull that off. The guy should be doing X more often.” Maybe. Maybe not. Whether I pulled it off or not, it requires a certain empathy and understanding of human nature. Every author has a comfort level with which characters they feel they can represent fairly (or well).

    In Sage, you may have read the story, Dungeons and Decay. You’ll notice that in that story Demetria learns that her sworn enemies, the rats, might actually (as a country/race) have more than one or two “good guys.” There’s an analogy there. More than one. It’s not deep literature, nor is it intended to be, but there’s still an analogy there.

    In many works, the “werewolves” serves as an analogy for “unaccepted citizen.” Part of it is about accepting yourself even though you have this beast inside that isn’t human. Patricia Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series touches on bringing weres “out” and into citizenship and society. It’s an analogy for all the “citizens” the world over who have been pushed aside. The third book even makes a wonderful point at the end about just who is more human–for me the analogy covers gays, blacks, Jews, women, etc.

    Sci/fi and fantasy are full of such analogies and I really felt the review in question was COMPLETELY missing the “disabled” people littered throughout the books. The main character starts out as an outcast.

    You aren’t invisible to authors. You are, in fact, every outcast, every hero fighting to save the world–fighting to save those who don’t appear to matter. That’s very often what the story is all about, but rather than cover a particular issue of today, the story covers the fight that has occurred and re-occurred throughout the ages.

    Comment by Maria — March 29, 2013 @ 8:43 am

  9. I’m not suggesting that you personally need to include more gay or disabled characters in your stories. Abd frankly, I didn’t read carefully enough to remember the exact circumstances you were initially responding to. I’m just commenting on the fact that a request for more gay or disabled characters is not a priori a quota. Unfortunately the only UF I read is yours. My bread and butter is cozy mysteries. Now, you will see a gay side kick from time to time, but the normal people who populate the majority of characters are rarely gay or disabled. When do I get to be part of the background color. One deaf list serve includes uplifting stories of ablebodied people overcoming adversity. You don’t hwv

    Comment by Elisabeth — March 29, 2013 @ 6:46 pm

  10. Sorry my phone crash ed. I came back and finished the thought, but it crashed again. Unfortunately now I’m too tired to type it in again. Perhaps later. Again, sorry

    Comment by Elisabeth — March 29, 2013 @ 7:02 pm

  11. Have you read Mercedes Lackey Magic’s Pawn?

    I think I have the right series. The main in it is gay (he’s male though.) I read it eons and then some ago so I don’t remember a lot of the details. It’s fantasy and probably not entirely cozy. I recall a rather violent scene in one of her other series (Same world, different characters) and while I don’t recall any in the book above, I didn’t pay as much attention to violence when I was younger.

    There was a cozy I started not too long ago about a deaf detective (almost deaf, really. She could read lips and could hear some things.)

    I also read another mystery series where the main characters were lesbians. But I cannot for the life of me remember the author or name of it. It was too long ago. I do recall one of the characters made a snide remark about Regan…I’ll see if I can remember the author/series.

    I looked through this list, but there isn’t enough info for me to figure it out:

    I do hear what you’re saying–we all want to read about characters who are like us and sometimes an analogy isn’t enough. My beef was with a reviewer creating a quota for a series.

    Comment by Maria — March 29, 2013 @ 7:12 pm

  12. Came over to this site looking for Under Witch Curse, and was interested in this topic. Maria, your comment #8 is excellent. For me, the “counters” can do more harm than good.

    Elisabeth, you said you came out at work in 1982. Good for you. That must have been so very difficult. I first bumped up against the fact that there was even such a thing as homosexuality in 1971. It was not family nor friends. It was a hot guy who wasn’t interested in me. I tell you this for two reasons. First, to let you laugh at young ignorant me, but more importantly to remind you that “we” are out there. People who do not now, nor have ever had a problem. People who are supportive. Know this doesn’t make up for the hurt you go through. Just wanted you to know.

    Also, you perhaps know this, but I just looked it up. There is a Gay and Lesbian discussion forum on Amazon that has activity and book recommendations.

    Know I’ve gotten way off topic, but back to why I came here in the first place. Maria, where’s da book? Have I just gone totally brain dead or is it not out there? Thought today was release date. I reread the first two since it’s been a while, and enjoyed them even more than the first time.

    Comment by afb — March 30, 2013 @ 8:34 am

  13. Hi AFB, thanks for stopping by and for your comment!!!

    Under Witch Curse will be up on my site for purchase today, probably by noon!!! 🙂

    It will be on Amazon, B&N and possibly Kobobooks around April 2 (there appears to be a glitch in kobo at the current time. It’s giving me trouble so there may be a delay on kobobooks.)

    Comment by Maria — March 30, 2013 @ 8:53 am

  14. I thought I had commented on this already but can’t see my comment? I am one of the “counters” in my RL job, I work with gender equality. And the point of the counting is that research has proven that up to 20% representation, the individual who is different will be seen as “different” and an individual. Only at more than 20% representation are you “normal” and at 40% true equality comes into play. Letting people be “normal” is the point of the counters, although in this case I completely agree – nitpicking and way beyond the point.
    I too love the way “otherness” is often portrayed in UF; I read Ilona Andrews’ “Magic Slays” a couple of days after the Utøya killings in Norway and it just about broke my heart. The motivations were so similar to the madness we had just experiences here. Great literature can do that, it can make the hatred and fear more understandable, and perhaps make otherness less dangerous?
    So please, keep including non-mainstream characters when it comes natural:) It’s good for us!

    Now I am off to read “Under witch curse”…

    Comment by Northern Lights — March 30, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

  15. You may have gotten caught in the spam bucket; I’ll check. Thanks for writing in again. I think literature is a great tool for making a point. I think it should be all inclusive as well.

    I hope you enjoy Under Witch Curse!!!

    Comment by Maria — March 30, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

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