Friday, September 23, 2011

The Inevitable #YesgayYA Post - but its not what you think, honest

No, your eyes do not deceive you, for lo!  I have returned from blogging hiatus!  (We're gonna pretend that was an official 'thing' and not like, me utterly FAILING on the regular updating thing.  Okay?  Sound good?  Thanks for playing along, guys.  You're all aces in my book.)

So, speaking of books - yeah, you know you liked that segue - how about that whole yesgayya hoopla from last week?  Oh YA.  We do love our drama.  Course, you know me being me, I have A Very Important Opinion on it, so despite being a day late and a dollar short, I'm going to drop my two cents down right here.

BUT instead of talking about this instance in particular, let's talk about the greater issue.  And about diversity in YA in general.  I'm sure most of you following this have seen all the relevant posts like Malinda Lo's charts demonstrating that less than 1% of YA books have gay characters at all.  I know!  Crazy, right?  And I think we all remember the whole white-washing thing with the cover of Justine Larbalestier's novel 'Liar'.  We've come a long way in the publishing industry, where today books like Scott Tracey's 'Witch Eyes' can wind up on shelves next to every other YA paranormal, not caring that the MC's Romeo and Juliet style romance with a witch from another family is with another boy.  But the way we got to this point, and the only way to get to MORE such books on the shelves, is not by writing blog posts or arguing for better minority representation via twitter.  It's simply by WRITING MORE MINORITY CHARACTERS.

Eureka.  Pretty self-explanatory, right?  Except it's not so simple.  Because no single author can make up for under representation of any given minority.  When an author tries, the effort tends to stick out amidst all the other books featuring a cast of straight white teens across the board.  And I can't speak for everyone, but I know when I examined my own works and my own motivations in writing this character this way and that character as a member of that demographic, I discovered a personal fear of mine.  A fear of being labeled - as That Author.  The One With the Agenda. 

I'm ashamed to admit - I have in the past made the conscious decision to straighten or whitewash my OWN characters - because I was afraid of being perceived as the author who always had gay or minority characters in his novels.  That readers would perceive it as filling a quota, or pushing an agenda.

But you know what?  That's just silly, boys and girls.  That's hogwash.  And there's a lot worse things to be known for.

The thing is, all writers are readers, first and foremost.  And reading a book is a HELL of a lot easier than writing one.  So when we writers write, we usually do it to fill a lack.  We write the stories we want to read, but can't - because they're in our heads, and nobody can put them to paper but us.  We write the characters we want to see in other books but don't.  Doing the things we wish the hero of this book would have done, or making the choice we wish the heroine of that one had made.  For me, a lot of the time that means the characters I want to write are minority characters, a bi-racial heroine, a predominantly Hispanic main cast, a gay hero having fantastical, non romantic adventures.  Because these are the stories and characters I can't read elsewhere.  Because they don't exist elsewhere.  Because there's a lack.

Writing to fill a void is not the same thing as writing to fill a quota.

Intent matters.  Your reasons for making this character black and that one gay matter - but the only one they have to matter to is YOU, the author.  Everyone else will think what they want to think regardless.  If you have a formula, and after writing a book full of straight white teens sit down and make one of them multiracial, one of them LGBT, etc...yeah, that could probably be construed as agenda.  But if you're simply writing the characters as they pop into your head, who cares if every single one of them happens to be black and transgendered? 

I'm bisexual.  My older sister's Jewish.  My younger sister's Vietnamese, my little brother's Mexican.  We're a weird family.  It's a long story.  But if a family lineup like that can come about naturally in real life, then surely you can make any assemblage of characters work in a fictional world of your own making.  I grew up used to being around people who are different from me.  That's my normal.  So yeah, the books I write are pretty much always going to have more minority characters than most - because that's what's normal to me, and that's a part of my life and my world I don't see adequately reflected in fiction.  It's silly for me to be self-conscious about it, just because it sets me apart from books with no minority characters and risks me being labeled as an author with an agenda.

Yeah, I'm a minority writer and I have an agenda.  My agenda?  To write what's inside of me.  To write and let it out.

More people should try it, honestly.  Saves truckloads on therapy bills.


  1. aww Kalen <3 you're such an inspiration :)

  2. Kalen, I just finished reading a book that is YA, has a bisexual character, a Polish girl bestfriend, just basically an assortment of characters. It is beautifully written, and even though it's not your typical YA contemporary, nothing feels taboo about the story. It doesn't feel forced, or has an agenda, except maybe to show us what love and acceptance is. I loved it.

    Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff. It can be done.

  3. LOL thanks Lori.

    And ooh Cherie, I'd never heard of that one but I just looked it up on Amazon. I'm gonna have to check it out, thanks for the recommend! And yup, it absolutely CAN be done.

  4. 'Writing to fill a void is not the same thing as writing to fill a quota.' Yes to this. I mean, yes to the whole thing, but that line just sums it all up so perfectly.

  5. "So when we writers write, we usually do it to fill a lack." Bravo. Isn't that what we were told from the very beginning? Write what you want to read.

    And you, my friend, are doing just that. Anyone ever pigeonholes you for following your heart, they'll have to answer to me and all of your hoards of crooning fans. :)

    I admire you so much for always being true to YOU.


    P.S. Nice to see you back from your meanderings of a clandestine nature. Secret agent man. (◕‿-)

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  7. (shh...Bethany can't type today ^^^)

    *Stands on chair, clapping hands, shouting, "YES! That's my Kalen!"*

    My book is full of disabled kids--BIG SHOCKER--I have one of those little beauties hopping around my house. The beauty of being a writer is you can't do it wrong...there aren't rules. And what is normal anyway?! Phhh...doesn't exist.

    Awesome post! Hopefully I'll get to tell you that in person very soon ;)

  8. You are back! How nice. I was wondering where you were hiding, plotting and planning (no doubt). I like this part; I think you have a memoir in your future? "I'm bisexual. My older sister's Jewish. My younger sister's Vietnamese, my little brother's Mexican. We're a weird family."
    I want to hear that story!
    But anyway, I had some of the questions you do here--so I decided to write a completely off-the-grid fantasy in which our traditional man-woman sexuality has been changed/erased by the course of evolution. Boo yah! Yeah, it'll probably get banned in 18 states.

  9. Thanks Sophia! I've missed ya, girl!

    Thanks Anita, you bring a smile as always.

    Rookster! Yes! Soon we will do the in person meet and greet and tell each other all sorts of things!

    Shh, Jenny, the location of my plotting and planning is Top Secret. As is my Shady Past - there shall be no memoir, I fear, its best if I appear to the eyes of the masses as springing forth fully formed from obscurity to dazzle them with my brilliance, like some mythical personage. Or something. I'm not sure where I'm going with that.

    But here's to writing books that get banned! Is there any greater ambition for the likes of us?

  10. HOGWASH! Yes!

    Writing to fill a void is not the same thing as writing to fill a quota.

    See, totally. One piece of really good advice I've seen a few times now is "Write the stories you want to read."

    Mmmhmm. You got it. <3

  11. YAY! Kalen's BACK!!!! And I second Anita's line: "Anyone ever pigeonholes you for following your heart, they'll have to answer to me and all of your hoards of crooning fans."

    You always inspire me, and--shall I say this again--the YA world NEEDS YOU!!! :)

  12. Awesome post (<--I feel like I need to say more, but that pretty much covers it).

  13. Well said, young sir. Inspiring as well as handsome with an agenda? Woo hoo!