Something interesting has been happening on Twitter over the past couple of weeks. Of course, I’m sure something interesting happens somewhere on Twitter at any given time, but let me (try to) summarize this one.
Query Kombat is an annual contest among writers, described as a brutal elimination match but has little potential for bloodshed with it being online. The contest is based on query letters (those letters we send to agents begging for representation because our books are just that damn awesome) rather than actual writing samples. I’ve heard of the competition before, but never entered mainly because of timing and never having a query letter ready to compete at the time it’s held. After the past week, I’ve decided never want to enter.
QK had three judges: Michael, Michelle, and SC. I don’t know of the first two, but I’d followed SC for a while. One day out of the blue, SC received a message from his co-judges that he’d been dropped from QK. Why? SC also runs a contest called Write Inclusively, encouraging writers to create more diverse stories and characters. As an author of color himself, the issue is personal for him. The other two hosts decided he was too zealous about his movement.
This is the point where I include their sides of the story, because they can tell it better than I can:
(At this time Michelle does not appear to have a post on her blog, and my computer had difficulty loading her page.)
News went to Twitter. Cue lots of outrage over the reason, and overwhelming new support for the Write Inclusively movement. I watched much of it unfold as an observer.
Truth is, it’s been hard for me to organize my thoughts on what happened. As a white author writing mostly white characters, I felt I had no place speaking out about the lack of diversity in the traditional publishing field. Hell, Jasper‘s cast is dominated by white men. I’m part of the problem, right? But I’m writing what I know well, and it wouldn’t do for me to write about experiences I don’t fully understand, right? This has been my dilemma. But this shouldn’t be an issue of us vs. them, in my opinion. It isn’t about kicking characters out of the spotlight, it’s about widening that scope so that we get more diverse casts of characters and experiences.
And that’s fantastic. Reading about the same types of characters can get dull. And as authors, we generally want to reach out to all kinds of demographics. That’s hard to do when we’re only writing about one kind of character.
So what’s the problem?
The publishing field has a huge bias. Gatekeepers filter out characters of color, female characters, or GLBT characters all the time because “nobody wants to read about them.” And we all know that’s not true. But it’s the same time-honored business tradition of churning out the same old safe product because they know it will sell. Thing is, diversity is seen as a risk when it shouldn’t be.
It’s not just with characters. I found this article not too long ago about the struggles of female fantasy authors. This is definitely something that will affect me, as a female writer with interests in fantasy. Publishers tend to stereotype female authors as writing YA or romance, because that’s the business model that’s been working for them so far. But could you imagine Jasper as a romance story?
WriteInclusively tends to focus a lot on race, because racial issues are what SC knows best. But it’s expanding. Women and GLBT individuals are finding their voice in the movement. While I’ve missed the boat on this upcoming WriteInclusively contest on Sept. 4, I’ll be here supporting the movement.
Because above all, we should have access to all kinds of stories and characters.