Wednesday, June 10, 2015

On Writing Diverse Characters...and Moving Past Passive Aggression

What do you do when you stumble across a book that is so hurtful you physically recoil? These past few months, I've developed an almost pathological obsession with such a book. Every time I see mention of it, I flinch and my gut roils. I subtweet about it. I message friends and wonder what, if anything, can be done about it. And I tried to just grin and bear it. I know, I know, you're all thinking, "Suleikha, why didn't you just call this out publicly? That's what you do."

Yeah, that's what I do. And that's what exhausts me, what makes many label me as histrionic or one of those Angry Women of Color who doesn't want white people writing diverse books. Inevitably, one way or another, the hurtful book will still continue to hurt me. I will be the Bad Guy. Sure, sometimes it can be fun, even vindicating, to be the Bad Guy. But, mostly, it eats at you. Because you know that calling out race-fail is ultimately worse than writing something racist. That's the lesson we're taught. Being a whistleblower often means you get the blowback.  

So, I'm going to try and channel my anger and frustration into something more positive. Here are five basic things to keep in mind while writing a character of color, in particular characters of South Asian origin.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bollywood Confidentially: A Hard Look Back

Ever have one of those "If I only knew then what I know now" moments? Sometimes, it feels like my entire experience in romance publishing is that moment. More and more, I circle back to what was initially my great joy: my Bollywood Confidential novellas for Samhain Publishing. I was so proud to get these stories out there. And then so demoralized when they did poorly. But I learned a lot and if I could go back, there are so many things I would do differently. Here are just a few.

1. I would take the people off the covers. I mean, I LOVE these covers. They are stunning. Cover artist Angela Waters is a goddess. But POC on covers don't sell well -- particularly for authors of color. It's hard lesson to learn and a tough truth to swallow, but them's the breaks. Mainstream romance readers (by which I mean primarily white ones) take one look at these covers and go, "Oh, this isn't for me." Similar to why they won't hang a left at the African-American section at the bookstore. The sad-funny thing is, my books don't do well with Indian readers either!

Sometimes you just have to slap a piece of furniture and a puppy on a book to get folks to realize it is for them to read. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Depression Part Two: Electric Boogaloo

Editing to add/disclaim: This is probably a good reminder that you shouldn't angst and post. I want to assure people that I do manage my illness with daily medication and am doing better overall. This bit of navel-gazing and whinging is just another example of how depression narrows your world down to just you.

A fun (and by "fun" I mean "really not fun at all") part of living with depression involves low points when you least want them. For me, a terrible convergence of emotions happened during a particularly rough time in the romance industry's community relationship: when it turned out that Dear Author's Jane Litte was also author Jen Frederick and had been lying to her readership for years. Blame my hormones, blame my illness, but the same week the shit hit the fan, so did my paranoia. All of a sudden, I was convinced that my own community activism was poison, that what I frequently said as an advocate of diversity had made people hate me. I was DMing a fellow writer and friend frantically, worried that bestselling author and general badass Courtney Milan might be mad at me about something. What...? I have no clue. You laugh, but, dude, it's no fun. It's a guilt spiral you don't want to experience. And I made myself get off that Twitter account for a while and breathe. You know what? She might be mad at me. I say a lot of divisive, inflammatory shit. But do I need to be hyperventilating, crying, and taking Twitter breaks because of that...? Do I need to be that neurotic? No. Welcome to depression.