I’ve probably started this post a half-dozen times, but deleted it every time. The problem is there are too many feelings involved for me to make proper sense of things. But writing is how I do that, so I’m going to give it a go.
The WNDB movement had me optimistic, but the truth of it a few years out is not so encouraging. I’ve seen authors being abused, and having #OwnVoices weaponized against them when it was never the intent of the hashtag. I’ve seen teenaged book bloogers harassed by grown adult authors. THAT is F* messed up. I’ve seen agents say they want diverse submissions, yet all the books they love or comp are written by white authors. People are still fighting for a space (any at all) to be seen and heard without being shouted down, ignored, folded away, or having their existence questioned. It seems just as daunting now as it ever was.
Look here: everything I write, whether you could call it #ownvoices or not, is filtered through a very specific cultural lens. You may not get it, and I don’t expect everyone to get it, because people are so unaccustomed to engaging with it, that they can literally NOT SEE the culture, even when it’s there on the page without apologies. When getting feedback for my latest manuscript, other people with Asian backgrounds would tell me “That is the most Asian thing I’ve ever read.” Culture is in every character interaction, seeped into every societal level of the story, but because the story is stripped of exotic words or descriptions (this is deliberate) I’ve had non-Asian readers say “I didn’t see the Asianness of it.”
Writing is where I get my truths out. The fiction I write more real than the real I present in real life, even though the characters I write can be nothing like me. (It’s fiction, not autobiography). Real people are messy, and perfect characters are not very interesting to write or read about. Real people are complicated and mired with contradictions. They can be terrible to some people, but sweet and loving to others. No one should have to out themselves, or explain, in order for their fiction to be judged as valid. It’s the reader’s job to bring themselves to the works they read. I think this takes an open mind, and a lot of empathy. These days it feels like both those things are lacking.
And it feeds right back into the hopeless fight. Every screaming area of my life asks me to be more. Tells me I’m not enough. I am a non-white woman working in software. When I interviewed for my job, the receptionist asked me there if I was in for a sales position (not development). Even my parenting is up for question, because I work full time (I can’t afford not to). I’m not even going to talk about my family and their expectations. Sometimes it feels like every other minute of my time requires me to justify my right to exist, take up space, and questions my value in the world. And perfect is a moving goal post. If you lay down on the ground to let people to walk over you, someone will say you’re not thin enough.
I am not perfect, but neither is the world. Neither are my characters. The whole point is: you shouldn’t have to be perfect to succeed, or win the right to exist. We do exist, whether or not anyone gives us permission. That’s real life.
It’s just so tiring. Sometimes I wonder why I even want to bother trying to write novels, when I know being published will open me up to the pile-ons. The racist trolls. To have my character examined – instead of the work.
But I keep writing, because I know what it’s like to be a lonely teen desperately in search of something (anything) to identify with. I know what its like to need hope for the future, like plants need water. The books I read when I was a teen broke my heart instead of building it up. I wouldn’t wish the same on anyone now.
Maybe I’ll be throwing my heart at a closed door for all my life. Maybe everyone else’s voices will drown out mine, but at least I will have tried.