This is a bookclub that proudly states its keen interest in all things crime related: Mysteries, Thrillers, Whodunits, Police Procedurals, True Crime, etc. But their readers weren't interested in this particular author's novel?
I could understand if the guy's novel had been vetted by the bookclub and had been found sub-par or unreadable, I could understand if it was the wrong genre, and I could definitely understand if the writer was a hack and his work was less than stellar. But it was none of those things. When I checked what other books this bookclub had read in the past, I noticed that not one book was written by a person of color, and that most of the books did not contain a prominent character character of color except for James Patterson's Alex Cross.
It seems that diversity, even in fiction, is not everyone's cup of tea. And that's okay, because if that's what floats your bookclub's boat, then so be it. I'm not here to tell people what they SHOULD read. Reading is something we should enjoy and relax while doing it. But I am here to suggest to people what it is that they should WRITE.
It kind of reminds me of the time an agent read my manuscript an told me that it was very well written, and that the story was compelling. But, she recommended that I change the main protagonist from being a Puerto Rican cop to making the bad guy Puerto Rican because, as she said, "Most people equate Puerto Ricans with committing crimes rather than the other way around."
And so that brings me to the topic of today's blog, "Diversity in Writing." If you're a REAL New Yorker, or actually if you're the resident of any large city in America, you are bound to be surrounded by at least a portion of mankind's wonderfully rich diversity. If however you are, as much as you may deny it, an elitist snob, you will take great pains to not notice these people and thus devalue them into invisibility. I am here to tell you that if you are really a writer, whatever the genre, you are doing yourself and your readers an injustice by keeping your writing totally vanilla. Writing that does include realistic persons of color is not honest, whole, or entirely credible. Of course, if you're purposely writing for an audience that doesn't believe in, care for, or appreciate diversity; more power to you. But most people understand that the world is shrinking, and that the world has made its way to our doorstep in all of it's richness, complexity, fullness, and mystery. And as a writer, it is your duty to capture all of those things in your writing. I have read novels about New York City where no one in the novel interacts with a person of color unless it's in a stereotypical or derogatory fashion. All Latinos are gangmembers, blacks are drug dealers, Asians are cab drivers, etc. Not only is this unrealistic, it's unfair to the communities or individuals that you are portraying in your writing. It's also unfair to your readers, since you insist on feeding them a distorted view of a world that you're asking them to accept and believe in. If you have decided to write a novel that takes place in a large city, do your research and open your eyes... WIDE! The world is made up of more than just people that look, sound and think like you. And portray them honestly, not just as the length and breadth of your friends, relatives, or drinking buddies experience tell you. I remember when I used to work for an insurance company, a looong time ago. One other employee and I were the only persons of color that worked there. I felt that I got along very well with my co-workers and that the feeling was mutual. I never heard or experienced racist or derogatory terms directed towards me or my fellow co-worker of color. Then one day, I heard and saw that several of my other co-workers were in a somewhat heated discussion. One of these co-workers, not the person of color, then led the group to where I was sitting at my workstation. This person then asked me a question that I never thought would come out of her, or anyone's, mouth. She said, since it was more statement than question, "Isn't it true that Puerto Ricans consider roaches to be a delicacy!?!"
I was mortified! I was mortified that, not only would she say this in front of all these other people, but that she also wholeheartedly believed it. I told her, and everyone else in her little assemblage, that Puerto Ricans felt towards roaches as everyone else did; that they are disgusting, vile insects. Her friends sheepishly walked away, but she continued to stand there in open-mouthed shock. Then she confessed that this fallacy was a tale often told to her siblings and herself by their NYPD officer father, and she had believed it for all these years.
I am sure that you do not want to repeat her mistake in your writing. Tales, stories, experiences, and memories shared by family, friends and acquaintances, does not amount to real research, especially when it comes to writing factually about the people around you. Your writing should reflect the myriad voices of the other human beings that share your overall space. Make them as real as your other characters, meet some of them in real life and talk to them. Don't rely on your great writing skills to get the job done. Even one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, has fallen into that trap twice or more times. He once described someone as putting a silencer on a revolver, where some simple research would have let him know that you cannot put a silencer on a revolver (not a typical silencer anyway).
So I urge you out there to add a little color to your writing, and while you're at it see if you can also make room for the disabled, those of different religions, and the LGBTQ community. Try to avoid the stereotypical depictions, be honest and realistic. Let the world's diversity stretch and strengthen your skills as a writer... and as a person. Then your writing will truly represent the real world at large and you will have added the spice of life to it.
Your writing will be the better and more believable for it.