Last week, someone started a discussion thread over on SFFWorld.com about short story markets. The original poster felt, or implied, that inclusiveness (representing different voices, as in, non-white voices) might be heralding the demise of the science fiction/fantasy/horror short story fiction market. Further, he thought most editors out there wouldn’t be interested in his stories because he refused to pander to said inclusiveness.
As you can imagine, the discussion started out fairly well but soon devolved to flinging out racial slurs. (sigh)
What’s wrong with inclusiveness?
I don’t see the problem.
Maybe because I am a person of color (light to dark brown, depending on the time of year, in case you were wondering) and naturally include people of every ethnic background I can think of, and that my imagination can conjure, into my stories, but it honestly is not a consciousness decision on my part to be “inclusive”.
When I go out in the world to do my business (go to work, get groceries, shop for gifts), I encounter all manner of people. From the white homeless man, to the African-American bank teller, to the Middle Eastern mailman, to my Spanish-Chilean co-worker, there are many many different ethnic people in my life. Why wouldn’t they crop up in my fiction?
After thinking about it for some time, I realized that wasn’t always the case.
When I first started writing, all my characters were white. They just were. It was my default. I didn’t know any better. I wasn’t a very good writer and when I thought about what background to give my characters, it invariably migrated to things I’ve read countless times in the fiction I’ve read all my life, which happened to be white farm-boys who got to go out and save the world from the dark, evil overlord. I distinctly remember one of my writing instructors nudging me to write from a different perspective. One asked me, “What if you made him a her?”
I was a bit stunned by the question and squirmed with the idea for some time. I had to force myself (I’m a woman, in case you don’t know) to write stories from a woman’s point of view.
And it was hard.
Guys always get to do the cool stuff. I wanted my characters to be cool, too. A woman can’t leap buildings in a single bound, right?
But then I realized, men can’t either! This is fiction, people! If I wanted my heroine to be able to leap buildings in a single bound, I had to give her that ability.
The revelation was so astounding, for a time, all my characters became female. I’ve tamped that down and now include a nice mix of sexual orientations in my pieces, but I had to consciously think about writing from a different perspective for some time before it to became second nature.
The same thing happened with ethnicity and/or cultural backgrounds. I had to explore what it would be like to grow up with a different belief or moral system; a narrative different from the one I read all the time. It meant I had to not only look to myself for inspiration, but also read fiction that did the same.
Again, it is not easy because when one understands where the “other” comes from it produces empathy, understanding, and it might even change your mind about long-held prejudices. Damn, sort of like growing as a person.
And you know what? My writing improved. A hundred-times over. Writing from a place of diversity does not mean you are pandering to inclusiveness. It means you are reflecting and understanding what is truly in this world that might be slipping your notice.
So what do you think? Is the short story market dead? Is it changing? Do you think inclusiveness is hurting anything?