The Boy in the Coffee Shop

There’s a little known coffee shop down the street, hidden within a busy plaza. He’s there just about every day with his laptop pulled close, sitting quietly by the window. He minds his own business, giving a smile here and there as people walk by his table. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of his warm brown eyes, fixating on something outside.

The Barista brings over his coffee–which some would say is just milk and sugar–and a freshly baked slice of carrot cake. “There yah go Owen. Let me know when you need a refill.” She cocks her head, scrunching up her face as he lets one of his earbuds dangle down onto his neck.

“Pardon?”

“Your coffee,” she says, turning from him. She glances back briefly to find him sitting cross legged on the chair, the coffee cup nestled gently between his fingers. A little grin crawls between her lips as she goes back behind the counter.

“You ever wonder what he’s working on?” Ike asks, popping up beside her. He hands her a slip of paper with the next order.

“Not really.”

“I bet its a novel. He looks like the type. He could be writing the next big series or something.”

Naaz looking over at Owen, furrows her brow. “Maybe he’s a genius hacker?”

“Judging by his orders, I’d match him up with Keisha. You know, soft spoken, colourful braids, wears Billy Talent t-shirts?”

“For the last time, Mimi said no more match making!” Naaz clears her throat. Customers direct their attention to her. She ducks down, her brown cheeks burning as she pulls her large bun over her face. “Don’t you remember what happened last time with that married woman?”

Ike looked down at her. “Gladys or Rhonda?”

“Gladys left her husband and ran off with that Librarian!”

“Then what happened to Rhonda?”

“How should I know?” Naaz peers over the counter at Owen. “Look, it was all fun and games before but I think these magic beans are going to your head.”

Ike pulls her up by her shoulders and smiles. “What’s the fun of working in a magic coffee shop if we can’t use a little magic?”

“We’re not supposed to know Mimi has–”

Naaz and Ike turn their heads as Owen approaches the counter.

“Did you want a refill?” Naaz asks quickly.

Owen grips his throat. “N-no actually…I forgot my phone charger and–” His face slams down onto the counter.

The customers rise from their seats, gazing over.

“Owen?” Ike pokes him in the middle of his head. He turns to Naaz. “I think I gave him the wrong beans.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means he’s dead.” Mimi sigh, waltzing in from the back room. “Sleep!” She shouts, snapping he fingers.

The customer shut their eyes and lay their heads on the tables.

Naaz’s eyes widen. “Dead?”

“I swapped his drink when you weren’t looking.” Mimi tells them, running a hand through Owen’s hair.

“What? Why?”

“He knew too much.” Mimi turns his head and squishes his cheeks between her fingers. “Don’t worry detective, your life source should return in a couple of hours. Now, the question is what to do with you two.”

“Please don’t kill me, I was just trying to create the perfect ships and make the world a better place I swear!” Ike cries, hiding behind Naaz.

Mimi gives each of them a smile. “I’m aware of your curiousity human. Though I do wonder, how curious are you truly?”

Naaz and Ike glance at one another.

“If you dispose of the detective, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

Naaz inches toward her. “Wait…like actually kill him or?”

“Oh no, just dump him off someplace. I don’t want him waking up here.” She reaches into her apron. “Here I’ll give you each five beans. Take my car and deliver him to Bianca’s. She’ll know what to do with him.”

“Wait, who’s Bianca?” Naaz asks.

Ike goes around the counter and yanks Owen off. “And to think I was gonna pair you up with Keisha.”

“Funny you should say that,” Mimi says, handing Naaz her keys. “Bianca is Keisha’s older sister. They live just a couple blocks from here by the convenience store on Orchard Street.”

“Small world.” Naaz whispers.

“Small indeed. Now get that corpse outta my shop.”


About the Story

This is just a little freestyle piece I decided to write…for absolutely no reason other than to entertain myself. I hope you enjoyed reading it though.

I also tried writing in a tense I never use just to switch things up and challenge myself a little.

Help! My TBR list keeps growing!

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen the following tweets:

On top of this spontaneous haul, I’ve been trying to catch up on my TBR pile, one that has been accumulating over the span of about 3 years now. In university my sister and I would go buy new books just about every other weekend…just to get out of the house. At the time I also was blessed with many, many gift cards from my family members so that I could indulge in this ever growing obsession.

If not, it is my pleasure to announce that I went on a bit of a book binge…and the books I purchased had not initially been on my wishlist. My ever growing wishlist.

Sadly some books I purchased during my studies I never got around to because I was busy reading for school.

One thing they don’t tell you about studying literature is that it can make you hate reading. At least periodically….

What happens is you’re no loner reading for fun or being allowed to choose what you want to read…you have to read whatever is on the syllabus and some of it is the absolutely most boring, drab, dull pieces of literature in the entire existence of the written word.

Wow…that was really shady of me…but it’s honest.

My friends and I all expressed our disdain usually near midterms or examination periods for reading. Trying to force yourself to read books you absolutely hate can be just as stressful as writing essays on said books for your final.

My solution however wasn’t to stop reading altogether. I adore books. I adore reading. I used to spend hours in books stores browsing…which really annoyed my family but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become the “designated book person” where I basically buy books for them that I think they’ll enjoy or help them find ones that they’ve had their eye on.

I’m also the one who picks books to give my niece for her birthday and Christmas gifts. I always go for something I think she’ll actually get a kick out of. She likes books with a lot of crazy shenanigans so I actually have a lot of fun choosing them for her. It also gives me an excuse to randomly read children’s and MG fiction again (and honestly a lot of them are brilliant!)

Sorry I got a bit off topic there…but basically my solution was to read comics and manga for fun and read the novels I had to read for school. Thus my comic and manga collection grew immensely and in turn rekindled my love for reading.

This form of literature reads a lot faster, so I had time to read them between completing my assigned readings for class. On top of that, because of the artwork they were barely boring (even in some where the plot got a bit dry at times).

Anyway, I’ve been desperately trying to catch up on these books during quarantine and as a result I reached my 2020 reading goal very quickly…and decided to increase it. Which I’ll probably do again because I just bought a bunch of books and have a lot more I’m planning on reading.

As you saw from my Tweet I bought the first three books from the series Nana. I also bought Paradise Kiss (I got the 20th anniversary edition!) and the first book to a manwha I read in high school called Chocolat.

However on top of those I have several books on my wishlist that I’m planning on getting in the very near future:

The first being Love in Focus Books 2 and 3. As mentioned in my review of book 1 I’m really looking forward to continuing this series. I instantly felt drawn to the characters!

I’m also looking forward to reading A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. So many people have recommended this book to me and the reviews have been fantastic. I’m really excited about it.

I also have Mexican Gothic on my wishlist along with The War Widow. Some of my favourite reads in university were in the American Southern Gothic genre (I’m Canadian). So Mexican Gothic got me very excited by the synopsis. I really want to read this book. I haven’t heard any reviews on it yet either…so I’m extremely curious!

As for other manga (aside from Love in Focus) I’ve been looking forward to getting the new releases from the series Love Me, Love Me Not, and Daytime Shooting Star. I’ve also had a book from this series called Living-room Matsunaga-san that keeps popping up in my recommendations, so I’ve added book 1 to my wishlist.

I plan on reviewing all of them, which seems a bit ambitious at the moment since I’m currently reading 4 books and am planning on starting several others later this week.

What I’m Reading Right Now:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Takane and Hana Vol.2

Papillon Vol. 3

The Girl From the Other Side Vol. 2

I just finished reading Monster Vol. 3 and I plan on starting Second Best, Anna Blue off the Record and A Girl on the Shore as well. So…yah. I’m basically going to have to force myself not to binge buy anything on my wishlist else until I’ve completed my current TBR list. To have so many unread books accumulate like that…at least in my opinion is a bit silly. I try my best to be responsible when buying books, since I know I tend to buy a bunch at one time…but last month I actually managed to only get what I needed. I bought I think 3 in total back in July. August I’ve purchased 5 thus far…and have others I’d like to get, but I’m going to wait and save up for them. I try to limit my book budget to around $40 at a time…but as one of the greats said:

“Everybody makes mistakes, everybody has those days.”

Hannah Montana

What Are We Allowed to Write? – An exploration of writing diverse characters and stories outside our own experiences

I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion in the writing community lately in regards to “what characters” and “stories” we are allowed to write. This has been an ongoing conversation for years but lately, I’ve been seeing this come up again and again since May and it is pretty obvious that it stems from topics and issues being expressed by minority groups (in Western Countries).

Many seem to respond to this discussion with their guard up, rather than approach it with a level of understanding. I get it. I do. However, I think that it is important to have these conversations and learn from one another, versus brushing them off and going, “Well I’m gonna write whatever I want because it’s my story! Screw you!”

Approaching it with that attitude will not make you a better writer. I understand being protective of your work, but if you plan on sharing it someday you need to be aware of what you are presenting to your audience.

After seeing these Tweets, it came to my attention that many people aren’t aware of the articles which address how to write COC (characters of colour) when you aren’t apart of that group. There are a lot, in fact I myself am going to be reviewing seven of them. Many of the comments on these articles held that same hostility towards the subject.

I want to be very clear, that this is in no way an attack on your writing or on you as a writer, but instead a means of education which I think we can all benefit from as a community.

The first article I am going to be reviewing has a more controversial title:

It’s 2019. Why are white writers still writing black characters?

The author of this article, Fiona Snykers, begins by talking about an article they wrote back in 2013 regarding the same subject: should white writers be writing POC? Their original article titled, White writers writing black characters – a form of literary blackface? is also relevant to the conversation, and although there may be a few of you who feel these titles are a personal attack, it is important to understand where Fiona Snykers is coming from. There is a reason that they chose to write not one, but two articles on this subject, one in 2013 and another six years later in 2019. So, let’s delve into their thoughts about this subject by starting with a brief summary of their earlier article from 2013.

White writers writing black characters – a form of literary blackface?

The article begins with Fiona Snyker addressing this topic, as being redundant, since it seems as though it is always popping up in the writing community (in this case specifically among South African writers).

“When white writers are questioned about this issue, their reactions range from the exasperated to the downright tetchy.”

Snyker, 2013

I myself have seen similar responses to this topic, where some either shy away from having diversity in their work at all, and others argue that because writing is a creative process, they should be allowed to include whichever characters they want, and tell whatever stories they please.

“The standard liberal response is that fiction by its very nature is an exercise of the imagination. Writers make imaginative leaps all the time to create the characters they populate their fictional worlds with.”

Snyker, 2013

Snyker then adds one of the most popular answers to this discussion, that I myself have seen:

“Taking this prohibition to its natural conclusion, no writer would ever be permitted to create a character outside of his or her precise social, political, racial, cultural, economic, religious, and gender circumstances. This would obviously be undesirable, and lead to boring, one-dimensional books. Therefore writers should be left in peace to create whatever characters they like.”

Snyker, 2013

In summary, the most popular argument is, “If we can’t write what we want then books will be boring. Just let us do our thing!”

Snyker however, goes on to talk about how white South African authors go about creating black characters in a way that they believe “is a form of literary blackface” and gives an brief summary on the history of blackface. They then go on to, what I believe is the main point of their 2013 article.

“Black stories are best told by black writers — this needs to be said. Whites already dominate nearly every aspect of South African cultural life, so for them to be putting words into the mouths of black characters seems like an act of arrogance.”

Snyker, 2013

Statements like this seem to cause a lot of discourse within the writing community. I’m sure a few people tried to pitch the old, “but men write women and vice versa” argument to themselves when reading this quote. However, I think it is important to try and understand Fiona Snykers thoughts and feelings, even if you disagree with her statements.

The emphasis in this quote, and something that I think people tend to misinterpret is “Black stories are best told by black writers.” Stories that belong to POC, meaning their experiences.

I had this conversation the other day with my sister, where I used a book that I read back in elementary school as a way of explaining this discussion. This book was written by a white, adult man and in it, the young female character gets her first period while at school. The novel talks a lot about male and female puberty, however I have always found it bizarre that an adult man was writing about about periods as if women are excited to get them. I had already had mine the year before reading this book, and I can tell you I was not in tears because I was “excited” it came. I was upset, I felt sick and I ruined my white leggings forever. He got that and many other experiences very…very wrong.

Did he write female character’s incorrectly? No.

Did he incorrectly tell a story about getting your first period? Heck yes!

This is exactly what people misinterpret with these statements. There also seems to be a misconception that these arguments are only coming from white SJW (social justice warriors) and that is not the case at all. In fact, I would argue that if you have been told something is problematic in your writing or about your character by a white person, they might have already educated themselves on the subject and are honestly just trying to educate you as well. Now, of course I believe that there are proper ways to provide others with constructive criticism, but that is a tale for another day.

Going back to Fiona Snyker’s 2013 article, they go on to talk about how they view the race relations in the US and how they feel it is much further along than in South Africa. They bring up early 20th century American authors like Herman Melville and Mark Twain, who wrote black characters in stories that are widely remembered to this day. They then go on to discuss the Black Consciousness Movement, in which white writers were heavily criticized for attempting to write “black voices.” This movement however, seemed to die down not long after, according to Snykers, who provided two examples of works that came out soon after these discussions.

“More recently, it has become acceptable for white artists to depict blackness again, as novels like The Help and films like Django Unchained demonstrate. Kathryn Stockett and Quentin Tarantino hardly got off scot-free for their presumption, however, but the public outcry was more muted.”

Snykers, 2013

They end this first article of theirs with this lovely quote:

As Zukiswa Wanner, one of South Africa’s most prominent young black writers, has said, “No-one should tell a writer when to write, what to write, how to write, where to write or indeed, who to write. It only ever becomes a problem if your character does not sound genuine to people of his/her demography, which is just a mark of bad cultural research or writing on the writer’s part and can’t be attributed to race.”

Snyker, 2013

Ending on that note, I am now going to move onto Snykers 2019 article, It’s 2019. Why are white writers still writing black characters?

In this article, Fiona Snyker reveals that they themselves are a white author, and have recently released a book with a black character, “It is 2019. Why am I still writing black characters as a white author?” They discuss how many works have been pulled before publication due to discourse around this subject.

Let me start by repeating a point I made in my piece from 2013 – the best people to tell black stories are black writers. This is at the heart of the #ownvoices movement in YA fiction. It makes intuitive sense. Someone who has lived through an experience is always going to have a more authentic insight into it than someone who has picked it up secondhand through research.

Snykers, 2019

If you are unaware of the #ownvoices movement, I think it is important to do a little research on it and see what people using this hashtag think. Here is a definition of what the hashtag means:

“#OwnVoices is a term coined by the writer Corinne Duyvis, and refers to an author from a marginalized or under-represented group writing about their own experiences/from their own perspective, rather than someone from an outside perspective writing as a character from an underrepresented group.”

Going off of this point, Fiona Snyker then goes on to discuss the intimacy that comes with writing a first person narrative. They argue that although some writers believe their characters take on a life of their own, that writers need to be aware of what they are putting on the page.

“Writers can (and undoubtedly will) continue to write what they like. But they will have to accept the consequences of the choices they make.”

Snykers, 2019

Snykers then adds, “In this age of social media, readers are no longer the passive consumers of content they once were. They now have the ability to let writers know instantly and in no uncertain terms what they think of their work. If a writer has misrepresented some cultural issue, or trodden clumsily on someone’s sensibilities, they can be called out in the most public way possible.”

This is something that I feel we have seen happening a lot between the end of 2019 and going into early and now mid-2020. Authors like JK Rowling being called out for their tweets, or Amelie Wen Zao who was accused of all kinds of problematic behaviour on social media before her debut novel even released.

Fiona Snykers statement, resonates heavily with our current situation as a community.

“If readers or reviewers come back to tell us we have got something disastrously wrong, we have to be prepared to take it on the chin, and resolve to do better next time.”

Snykers, 2019

This last statement in Snykers article, is something that I think all of us in the community should remember, no matter what story we are telling. We should look at the constructive criticism we receive and try to do better next time.

Now moving on to the next article, by Benjanun Sriduangkaew,

How to Write Characters of Color as a White Author: No thanks

This article just so happens to have some very critical statements about earlier mentioned author JK Rowling:

“Really all I know about her these days is that she’d hop on twitter and come up with randomly generated factoids, like how that guy who played Harry in the films was Chinese all along, Hagrid has joined ISIS, and the snake? She’s Korean now and Joanne K.”

Sriduangkaew, 2018

Yikes.

They go on to talk about, the very reason that I am writing this post, this ongoing discussion of if people should and how they should write POC characters. They then go on to criticize the way in which these discussions go about on social media:

“They want simple resources: they want blog posts and easy rules (‘Don’t compare skin colors to food items!’). They won’t read post-colonial theory or race theory, because that can’t be boiled down to ‘Don’t do X, do Y!’ and those texts might force them to confront uncomfortable subjects. They’ll also regard ‘POC characters’ as interchangeable, such that they ask Asian people for ‘permission’ to write black American narratives or they throw Japanese and Chinese and Korean cultures together into an orientalist fantasy mish-mash (the name ‘Cho Chang’, anyone?).”

Sriduangkaew, 2018

All points that I feel are valid when it comes to this subject, especially since the first articles I reviewed were written by a white South African author about this topic. I myself have also witnessed some of these poorly executed forms of “research” among the writing community both online and in person. Although I myself have never read Harry Potter, I am familiar with the examples they give from Rowlings work and have seen extensive complaints about it from a variety of different people of ALL races (especially in recent weeks).

Sriduangkaew then goes on to make a point that I think is very crucial to their argument:

“And they will never read fiction by a writer of color. At the very first sign of being asked to do so, they will clam up, disengage, or go on racist rants about being abused.”

Sriduangkaew, 2018

If one does not even attempt to engage with fiction written by those who have experiences different than our own, how can we expect to write an authentic portrayal of said group of people in our own work. How often have you seen others go on the defensive, versus being open to discussion about this subject?

From my experience, I have been in threads where there is a great about of hostility versus actual listening, engagement and willingness to understand. Again, this is not to attack anyone, my goal is to help educate others on this subject and provide them with articles that they themselves can and I believe should be reading. Why avoid this subject or be hostile towards it, when it is so crucial to how you perform your craft? Instead of approaching these subjects with hostility, perhaps take this criticism into consideration.

Should we read works by people who do not look like us, or share different world views/experiences? Absolutely.

Do we actively seek it out? No, I don’t believe we do…much of the time it is a conscious decision.

I know for a fact that I probably wouldn’t have watched Bollywood Films or Asian Dramas and anime if it hadn’t been for the friends I had growing up. I probably would have still watched Bruce Lee films with my Dad, but these other genres, and stories that I grew to love, were introduced to me by childhood friends. I tried different types of curry, not just West Indian, and learned that patties, samosas and perogies are all delicious, and almost variations on each other. I would not have learned these things or been as open to these discussions in the writing community if I had not been friends with people who were different than I was.

Although this is a very simple example, it highlights Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s point. Sriduangkaew then goes on to argue that the reason why some writers become so hostile toward this discussion, especially when asked to read works by POC, is because “deep down, they don’t actually see people of color as people […] when told ‘Try reading this author of color’, they feel cornered. Minorities are supposed to be lesser, not their equals or, god forbid, more accomplished than they are.”

They then share a Tweet from JK Rowling to emphasize how a lack of engagement and understanding is extremely problematic within creative communities:

This makes me very uncomfortable, and I definitely agree with the response from Ken Cheng.

“There’s probably something to be said about the way fandom has idolized Rowling herself for so long, even though her racism has always been blatant in the text […] It’s just that, for whatever reason, people wanted to believe Rowling was a great ally, a true champion of minorities, even if evidence for any such thing has always been at best tenuous and at worst outright imaginary.”

Sriduangkaew, 2018

They go on to further elaborate on why it is important for authors to read works by POC, stressing how a lack of understanding can create problematic narratives.

“Another factor that contributes to these writers’ refusal to read authors of color, I expect, has to do with authenticity or rather lack thereof. Writers like to feel original, profound, insightful, and white authors want the most to feel that about what they believe is their insight into racism,” Sriduangkaew writes before giving an example of a non-Muslim person attempting to write what they believe is the experiences of a young Muslim woman and then giving another example of problematic behaviour.

What happens when something they read by an author of color doesn’t at all align with the racist stereotypes they know and love? Pasty Becky insists all Dominican men are wife-beating alcoholics and all Latinas are fiery-tempered in her Young Adult book; books by Latinx authors that don’t follow the same line will of necessity disturb her, upset her racist notions, and most likely she’ll call them inauthentic — that she is more objective, somehow, and knows their culture better than they possibly can.

Sriduangkaew, 2018

They use this “Becky” as an example throughout, with another example, where Becky attempts to write a novel about growing up in Singapore, going over how some choose to ignore the stories already written by POC about their own experiences, and instead refuse “to recognize that Singaporean writers know anything more than she does, because conceding to writers of color as a greater authority about their own culture impinges on Becky’s very sense of self.” (Sriduangkaew, 2018).

Sriduangkaew calls out the writer’s ego, without holding back, and although some may take offense to some of their statements, I think that it is important to reflect on them and ask yourself, why such statements are being made in the first place. If this subject continuously emerges, then clearly there is an issue that needs to be addressed within the community.

They finish off with this, which I feel really hammers in the overall purpose of their article:

It’s not that white authors should never write characters of color, period. But if you have to pester people of color for praise and attention? If you refuse to ever read authors of color? If you demand free research and free resources and never actually follow up on doing your own reading? If you aren’t humble enough to recognize that you have a lot to learn and that people of color will always know better than you? If the only thing you can think of is that Pakistani girls are defined by honor killings and Latino men defined by being domestic abusers and black people defined by the ‘inner city experience’ and Chinese women defined by foot binding? If you don’t understand why some stories are not yours to tell?

Don’t bother. You’re not doing anything good and you’re not bringing anything new, and self-respecting people of color have no reason to read your fourth-rate racist sludge.

Sriduangkaew, 2018

At the bottom of their article they have linked further reading for anyone who is interested.

Their final statement is one that I have seen a handful of white writers make, however I feel that they may have misinterpreted the difference between telling someones story and having a diverse set of character’s. If you look closely at the examples Sriduangkaew gives, they very clearly highlight problematic behaviour, and the authors ego which, I would say, all of us in the community have some form of. No one is perfect, and we all are capable of making mistakes, however by not even trying to better ourselves, we remain ignorant, and that is when people dismiss apologies made by authors or celebrities who continue to display poor behaviour, despite claiming that they have changed. Audiences now have more ways of publicly calling out ones poor decisions, and can even provide several examples from the past and present, as to why they believe someone has or has not changed their ways. It is important to take careful consideration when crafting our characters, regardless of their race, gender, religion etc. It always has been important, but previously it was much more difficult to hold others accountable. Now, they end up on “trending pages” and with things like cancel culture, most of us know that seeing someones name appear in the “trending” page is rarely a good sign.

Now, lets move on to the next article…er book actually.

Writing POC 101

This non-fiction book was posted to Wattpad by talkthepoc, which highlights problematic behaviour within the Wattpad writing community when it comes to writing outside ones race, and how certain characters are portrayed.

The book is divided up into chapters which cover specific stereotypes that have been attributed to different races by the media, specifically in literature. Each chapter heading indicates which race they will be discussing, and the tropes within them, all written by members of those groups. I didn’t read the entire book, but I will be going through a few chapters to summarize them, as well as looking at the comments.

Mainly I am interested in who chose to engage with this book, especially after reading the last article by Sriduangkaew.

The introduction to the book begins by highlighting the fact that many books that try to include a diverse cast, seem to do it as an afterthought, and that POC in these books often feel like stereotypes versus people.

After reviewing the comments, many of my fears seemed to be true, much of what is said in writing community groups (in person or online), flood the comments.

Some comments are the age old:

I just want to know why poc authors can write stories with white characters but white authors can't write stories with poc characters? They all say they feel uncomfortable...

And others are more honest:

*nervous laughter*


I literally came here because I friggin do that
*Looks at all the chapters* 

*Cries bc I'm everything* 😭😭

I personally appreciate the honesty. These people came to read this book because they clearly know that they need to be open to educating themselves on how to portray these types of characters in a way that isn’t harmful or problematic.

Many of the things highlighted in this book remind me of the article that was written by Asha Bromfield, where she talks about how POC are written off as the “black friend” or simply put in as an afterthought to meet some sort of diversity quota. I have seen her in several shows, and much of the time her character along with other characters of colour, are merely written as accessories. A lot of the recently conversation surrounding Riverdale, which Asha was on, highlights her points and the points made in the introduction of this book very well. I recommend looking at the portrayal of POC in popular shows like Riverdale, and which negative stereotypes have been attributed to them.

As this book, Writing POC 101, points out very early on, writing a diverse cast is not about meeting a quota, nor should it be an afterthought. This comment highlights that well and compliments the opinions many have on the subject:

It's not an excuse to not write POC characters because you're scared to portray them incorrectly or in a racist manner. If you can't do the small amount of research required to write a non-white character, you're not doing it because you don't know how, you're doing it because you don't want to.

There is a wealth of information out there. If you're serious about writing, you have to get serious about research and character development too.

The next article we will be looking at is from Vulture’s, Lisa Shapiro, written last year in 2019 titled:

Who Gave You the Right to Tell That Story? Ten authors on the most divisive question in fiction, and the times they wrote outside their own identities.

This article is similar to the first that I read, where one discusses this topic, who is not necessarily a member of the group they are portraying. I think that it is an interesting read, because it offers several different perspectives on the subject, highlighting both successful attempts and utter failures.

In the young-adult fiction world, a number of books have been pulled in advance of their releases for clichéd and problematic portrayals of minorities.

Shapiro, 2019

Shapiro goes on to write how this argument continues to go back and forth, with one side claiming “that only writers from marginalized backgrounds should tell stories about people who share their cultural histories” (Shapiro, 2019), while others feel that this would be a form of censorship.

Again, I would argue that there is a difference between telling the experiences and stories of another group versus having a character who is a member of that group. As we saw before, without doing any research at all, these portrayals can be harmful, and more often than not receive a lot of backlash.

The authors interviewed for this article each gave their own thoughts and perspectives, such as doing things like sensitivity reads, looking through tumblr and blog posts for information, and even wrote about things like “cross-racial longing.” Is all of this good advice, not necessarily, but are these experiences which people can learn from when approaching their own work? Definitely.

An excellent quote to ponder from this article comes from Monique Truong,

The tension is, why do we do it? Do we do it for ourselves? Does it make us feel better? Are we rescuing a bird or something?

Monique Truong

If people choose to write outside of their race, why? Does it contribute to some sort of savior-like notion, that we are doing a great justice by including POC in our narratives? Are we simply writing these characters to get a pat on the back or are these characters present because that’s simply who we chose to write about?

I find some of the comments made by the authors in this interview odd…for example, describing writing other races as a supernatural experience, because to me that sounds like, someone doesn’t think POC are human. The statement is merely dehumanizing, and problematic as it does fall under a form of micro-aggression. Do I believe this author or authors in this article who made similar statements are suddenly evil racists? Absolutely not. They are simply growing, and learning, and I believe by participating in this interview and sharing their experiences, they help educate others on this type of thinking. They are allowing for others to realize perhaps, things that they themselves have thought when writing outside of their own race.

The next article we will be looking at was featured in the Washington Post by author Laura Lippman:

Is it ok for a white author to write black characters? I’m trying.

Laura Lippman a white author, had read aloud from a book they had written which included a black character, who happens to also be a ghost during an event. They go on to discuss how surprised the audience was when it was revealed at the end of the passage that the character was black, and if Lippman had received permission to write such a character.

“The issue of writing across racial boundaries had been very much on my mind, but I didn’t know how to answer those questions, questions not unlike ones I had asked of several African American writers earlier that year.”

Lippman, 2019

Lippman goes on to talk about current issues over the years, where books have been pulled from publication because of appropriation, especially in YA genres. They go on to discuss how “Publishing is disproportionately white” referring to a 2015 survey that was done on the industry, where 80% of employees across the industry identified as white.

American fiction, like American film, has a “magical Negro” problem, in which black characters often exist primarily to encourage the white protagonist to realize his or her potential, as in “The Help,” which Roxane Gay memorably described as “insulting to everyone.”

Lippman, 2019

This goes to say that there are similar tropes with POC being otherworldly or supernatural beings, something that I pointed out earlier when reading the last article. It dehumanizes POC, and adds to this idea that people who aren’t white aren’t people. I often think about the blind-black or Asian character’s who seem to be all knowing, or that one woman from the Matrix that tells Neo his destiny. These character tropes, as Lippman states, are problematic and harmful.

Lippman then goes on to talk about their experiences when engaging with POC when going about writing their newest book. Lippman says that they regretted making themselves “the centre of the discussion,” when approaching the black community. Despite people being mostly polite when answering her questions, Lippman soon came to a shocking realization:

After years of mocking stories that assuaged white guilt, I became as ridiculous as the protagonists in the books I had derided. Here I was, an earnest white lady, asking outstanding writers — writers working at a much higher level than I’ll probably ever achieve — to comfort me, to tell me I was one of the good guys.

Lippman, 2019

This self-realization is extremely important, and really emphasize what Monique Truong was getting across. It also adds on to points made in earlier articles as well as the honest comments circulating the Wattpad book Writing POC 101. When someone realizes their own thinking, and how it contributes to an issue at hand, they finally open themselves up to a willingness to learn. It’s important to remember that no matter how old we get, we are capable of learning, of engaging in thoughtful conversation and of changing our perspective. Yes, social media does allow for others to hold us accountable, but our flaws are what make us human, and by accepting them we can learn from them and change for the better.

Sure, white novelists could “stay in their lane,” as I saw one social media scold frame the issue, but given the overwhelmingly white state of publishing, won’t that mean more overwhelmingly white stories? Surely that’s not the solution. The long-term fix, instead, is a more diverse publishing industry across the board, which should give rise to more diverse writers and more diverse books.

Lippman, 2019

This statement, is in fact one that I am seeing more and more, and as Lippman pointed out earlier in the article, their novels are Baltimore based, an area which is predominantly black. They cannot ignore an entire group of people, who make up the majority of the city that they both live in and write about.

In creating this wide-ranging cast, I took a lesson from one of my heroes, Donald Westlake, who once said, “I became a novelist so I could make things up.” So I did that — but I also asked that my novel be assigned to a sensitivity reader.

Lippman, 2019

Lippman finishes the article with the fact that, although she believes authors don’t need permission to write from other perspectives outside of their own experiences, they should however “be open to being told that they have failed and, in the worst-case scenario, caused real pain.”

The next article that we will be exploring is,

7 Casually Racist Things That White Authors Do

written by Mya Nunnally. In this article, posted on Book Riot, Nunnally begins by commenting on the backlash they received from how the article was titled, “yes, I realize it is not all white authors” before continuing on to the main article.

I’ve been reading for a long time. Before I committed to reaching out and finding more authors of color to read, I read a bunch of white authors. Heck, they make up the majority of published writers.

Nunnally, 2018

Nunnally then goes on to talk about the lack of representation in books as a whole, especially when there are novels that take place in settings like New York City, which has a diverse demographic. It is something that in 2018, when this article is written, is shocking to readers. It doesn’t reflect the world around them.

It’s hard to explain the importance of representation to someone who doesn’t understand. But it’s like not having a good parent to look up to. You don’t have a positive image of what you can be. When you’re a young child of color and all around you are stories and movies and television about white children, you internalize the idea that hey—maybe my story isn’t as important as theirs.

Nunnally, 2018

They talk about novels were, POC are introduced using the colour of their skin, which contributes to this false idea that being white is the default position, when in fact this isn’t true. This contributes to the quote above in a different way. A person is not their skin colour, and often this thinking is what creates such harmful stereotypes in the media.

Nunnally goes on to talk about how many authors describe people of colour by using food, don’t research peoples dialects or culture, write stereotypes and include characters like “the white saviour.”

I really could do without another book/movie/anything where the white person saves “the Natives” because they can’t fend for themselves. This notion has a long, bloody history. This was the idea that many oppressors subscribed to: that it was the White Man’s Burden to save the savages. It led to assimilation and colonization across the globe.

Nunnally, 2018

This quote is actually something that was discussed in a couple of my university courses. We talked a lot about The White Man’s Burden, and the effects it had on peoples perception of others. As Nunnally says in their article, this way of thinking has done so much harm and damage. Nunnally gives film examples which play into these ideas, ones that were made very recently, such as The Avatar, Pathfinder, The Last Samurai, and many others.

It infantilizes people of color and gives them no agency or respect.

Nunnally, 2018

The final article that I will be reviewing is by Mo Black titled,

Yes, You Should Be Afraid to Write “Diverse” Characters

This article begins by talking about the two-sides of the argument.

Mo Black summarizes them into two bullet points:

  1. It is MANDATORY to include at least one character in your main cast of every identity that exists otherwise you’re a racist, sexist, homophobic bigot literally enabling fascism and strangling puppies!
  2. If you’re not a certain identity, you are disallowed from ever writing a character of that identity in any of your work, and if you do you’re a racist, sexist, homophobic bigot literally enabling fascism and strangling puppies!

Although, they approach these perspectives with a bit of sarcastic humour, they are aware of the seriousness within the topic. They give an example of how people react to this discussion…one that I have seen more times than I can count in Twitter threads:

People are so sensitive these days that someone is always going to find a reason to get offended over your work. Forget identity and just write characters as you see fit. If anyone gets offended or approaches you with reasons why your work is “problematic” you can tell them to go right to hell.

Black, 2019

They go on to talk about how writing has a direct effect on readers, readers who come from all different backgrounds, with their own experiences and world-views. When authors don’t take any of that into consideration, it is as if they are choosing to completely ignore their audience.

Writing is a transfer of an experience, from you to your audience. It makes no sense to focus on your side of the message and not care a single bit about the receiving end.

Black, 2019

They go on to say how, authors cannot be there to explain each and every single one of their intentions to their readers. That the only thing that matters in the end, is how the readers interpret what is on the page.

You should be writing your characters as if each one is a fully fleshed out human being. Never include a character in a piece to fill some sort of quota, act as a token for a larger group, or act as a mouthpiece for large sections of the population. Diverse characters don’t need a “reason” to exist in the story at all, as diverse people don’t need a reason to exist in real life.

Black, 2019

This is something that I myself have written about on my blog. Writing people and not stereotypes. As Black states in the article there are men who write wonderful female characters, and women who write wonderful male characters, and includes a great quote from George R.R Martin, “Strangely, I have to say this as sort of a weirdly radical statement, but women are people and they’re driven by the same desires that drive men.”

Black goes on to explain that “[our] idea of what a person is is shaped by [our] experiences, and [our] experiences are shaped by [our] place in society, [our] life, and [our] identity.” By acknowledging this, we are able to deconstruct our thinking and learn from it.

Black then goes on to create two fictional authors in order to provide some examples. Both authors are the same age, one is named Lisa and the other is named Todd. Their lives are fundamentally different, however on the same day they both decide to write a novel, and write all their characters as “people.”

“But Todd and Lisa have vastly different ideas of what people are like. Todd wouldn’t be faulted in thinking that the human experience is cynical and isolated and that trusting others is dangerous and hard to do. Lisa meanwhile couldn’t be faulted for thinking the human experience is social and warm, that friendships and connections are a given in life, and that it’s these that protect us from the cruelty in the world that lies beyond our bonds.” (Black, 2019).

Black uses this example as a way of explaining that

simply “writing humans” is not enough to fully understand how to write diverse characters

Black, 2019

Black continues using both examples, and elaborates on if Lisa were to write about a black boy, being a white woman, “she runs the risk of at best misrepresenting life for people in that situation and passing that misrepresentation on to an audience that doesn’t know any better, or, worse still, codifying the harmful misconceptions and biases readily available in the world around her into her book. Again, she wouldn’t need to be a Nazi or a bad person to do so, but it could still happen unless she’s aware, honest, and makes an effort to not let that happen.”

Black then goes on to explain how if a character doesn’t necessarily meet certain expectations, that it may not be an issue, however this can still falter. Many of the examples Black uses relate to men writing women and vice versa, but the same ideas apply to writing outside of ones own experiences. Mainly it goes back to that example I gave earlier about an adult male author, writing about a girls first period inaccurately.

This isn’t about dipping into to stereotypes. Rather, it’s about understanding the types of experiences people in marginalized groups share….Getting this balance right is what creates authenticity.

Black, 2019

Black then goes on to give advice for authors on how they can approach this issue, suggesting beta readers and also stating that there may be times when a certain story isn’t yours to tell. In this instance Black means that, the experiences might be too far removed from that of the author, and therefore, it may be best not to write at all. Black explains how readers can clearly see when an author is in over their head, and that beta readers can help an author when it comes to avoiding problematic tropes and other issues in their work. They also include one poor and one excellent example of how to write a diverse cast of characters, from works they’ve read.

This was the last article I read, and as you can see, there are many different views on this topic however the majority of people writing about, writing POC in fiction, seem to have one thing in common.

Many believe it is important to educate oneself, research and engage with works written by POC. All points, that I myself agree with. It is important to be willing to set our egos aside as writers, and to learn about other peoples experiences. I have seen so many poor examples of representation across the board, whether than be film or books. These poor examples, should and can be used as a means for learning to do better. By not having characters present to meet some sort of quota, and by not generalizing a group of people.

The entire conversation is controversial simply because no one seems to actually want to engage with it at all. Instead of reading more books by POC, some authors continue to write poor representations of POC in their work. Instead of learning from mistakes made by others or being open to criticism, some authors brush it off entirely, and go on the defensive.

In order to grow as a writer, one needs to be constantly learning both from their own mistakes and from those made by writers they read or read about. In order for the community to evolve in a positive way, we shouldn’t just tell people to, “screw off” when they point out issues with certain portrayals in our work, especially when it comes from a place of concern. Instead, we should listen to our readers and be more aware of our decisions and our own experiences, and how those have an effect on the ways in which our work is interpreted by our readers.

Book Talk: Writing Diverse Characters

I came across this video, which relates to a few conversations I’ve seen circling the Twitter #WritingCommunity in these past few weeks regarding writing diverse characters (specifically POC).

This video is about 20 minutes, but I think that regardless of your race, it highlights the key issues regarding representation in media and how to do it properly.

When I saw certain threads regarding this topic, and please note that I am not calling anyone out, I was a little disappointed in the comments people made about why they avoided writing characters outside of their race. Many people felt it would be inappropriate to attempt writing a character outside of their own race because “they don’t understand the experience.” No one is telling you to write a story about racial prejudices. The questions were often simply, is your main character a different race than your own, or do you include other races in your work. The colour of your characters skin doesn’t have to be the main focus in your story.

In fact, I find it annoying (not always but a lot of the time), when a show or book put so much emphasis on the race of a character, versus their actual personality. It stunts character development and shows a lack of understanding.

I believe it was an interview that I watched this Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie, back when I took African Lit’ in university, who talked about how as she was a child she would read western books and all the characters were white. So she thought, that that was how it was supposed to be. Characters in books were white.

Here’s the video here:

As she states in this Ted Talk, it really shows how impressionable children are and also highlights and issue that I remember another author, Jenna Moreci mentioning on her Instagram, when she discussed some of the fan art she had been receiving of her characters. She mentioned in the post, that it frustrated her when people drew her characters who she described to have a deep tan and thick curly locks and brown eyes, were being drawn as pale, blonde-haired and blue-eyed. She was baffled by how readers completely ignored the character descriptions, and automatically interpreted the characters as white. She posted beautiful illustrations that she had created by an artist, showing how the characters looked based on her descriptions. Many readers were shocked to see that this character wasn’t white, and were confused because that wasn’t how they pictured him. Jenna didn’t want to make a big deal about race in her novels because the characters race was not essential to the plot. However, and this is just my interpretation as someone who participated in this conversation on her post, she and many others in the comments seemed disappointed by the fact that when an author doesn’t shove “otherness”…and I hate using that word in this case, but I will…and cram it down their readers throats, it goes completely over peoples heads because “western books are about white people.”

Unfortunately this isn’t uncommon. I myself grew up reading books about white people aside from my favourite Robert Munsch book and the ones I was forced to read during black history month.

Yes, I said forced, because growing up the only books at my school with black or mixed main characters were about slavery. Yep. You try being the only “black” person in your class during black history month, while your class is reading about slavery and relearning about Harriet Tubman for the millionth time. The teacher just turns to you and goes, “So what do you think about this?” as if you were paying attention. Dude, I’ve heard this same lesson for the first 8 years of my education. I tuned you out when you started saying “coloured folk.”

I’m backtracking a bit here, but I want to talk about the Robert Munsch book because honestly, it meant so much to me as a little girl. I saw myself as the girl in that book. The book was called Wait and See. The girl in the book, although both her parents were black (unlike in my own family), had bubbles in her hair and it was braided in two like Pippi Longstocking. She styled it just like me! I loved it so much that every time I would read it, I would pretend that I was her and I was making all sorts of birthday cakes and coming up with these absurd wishes. I’d even read it to my little sister and tell her that the baby in it was her.

Simply having illustrations with a character that looked like me, made me feel so happy, during a time where I honestly didn’t pay any attention to race. At that age race honestly wasn’t something that I paid any attention to unless someone asked me why one side of my arm was white and the other side was brown…to which I answered, “Because my Daddy has white skin and my Mommy has brown skin.”

Also, if you don’t know what bubbles are, because my sister and I realize that they’re no longer in style, here’s what they look like:

Honestly, I’m surprised these haven’t made a comeback. They’re so fun and cute! I loved doing mismatch colours. One side had orange and the other blue, or pink and purple.

Anyway, when I started to write my own stories, I like Chimamanda, wrote about white people, unless of course a character was loosely based on one of my friends. I honestly didn’t see a problem with it at the time, until my brother asked why everyone I drew was white. The drawings in this case, being of characters from the book series I wrote when I was in seventh grade. My only response was, “I don’t know…?” because it wasn’t something I did unconsciously. I simply wrote a story and imagined the cast of characters as white people. They could literally be any race at all, but they weren’t.

It wasn’t until I heard Chimamanda’s Ted Talk in University that it all came together.

Initially I don’t think I noticed it because I’m half-white and half-black. I don’t look at myself as a singular race. I never have. I embody two races and two cultures. Growing up I watched Full House and I watched Fresh Prince. I loved The Proud Family and Kim Possible.

One thing I often thought was strange was how in movies where characters had relationships like my parents, the two families always fought about race…that…that was just…honestly films with interracial couples that only focus on racial issues bother me. I haven’t read a novel with an interracial couple yet, but I have heard that sadly…it is often the same. I’m not saying that we should ignore these experiences, I’m just saying why can’t we have a romance where two people are of a different race or culture and not make the entire thing about race and culture. Why can’t it be your typical person A meets person B and they fall in love kind of story?

The other reason why I don’t think I noticed the lack of diversity in literature, and also the reason why I myself mainly wrote white characters growing up, is because that is what English literature looked like. As I said before, the only books aside from the Robert Munsch one, that I read about black people were about slavery. The only books that I read about Asian people…well at least here in Canada…were about David Suzuki. I’m not joking. It sounds absurd now with all the sudden representation in literature and film in the last 5 years…but seriously. Unless it was like manga, I didn’t read anything about people who weren’t white.

Now like I said, I’m not here to call anyone out. I’m guilty of doing this, but I am also fully aware of why people subconsciously write their characters this way. I can understand the concept of not wanting to tell a story that isn’t your own experience…however, being of another race doesn’t make your character who they are. There are so many different layers to this.

The hopeless romantic is still a soft hearted, falls hard, lives in their own fantasy world type of person.

The warrior is still strong, fighting to survive and constantly adapting to their situations.

Their race has nothing to do with these aspects of their personalities.

I also don’t think it is necessarily appropriate to purposely fill your novel with a diverse cast of characters, for the sake of it, or because it is currently “trendy” or what literary agents are looking for. And yes…I have seen literary agents and publishers specifically say they want stories with POC main characters. Being inclusive shouldn’t be a way to make money…but whatever.

What I’m saying is, by trying to force diversity into your work, you will end up taking away from the story. I’ve seen this happen and it completely blew up in the authors face.

What happens is you end up with a bunch of dangerously problematic stereotypes, which takes away from your writing and shows a lack of creativity.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, but how can I write people outside my race? And even if you aren’t thinking that, well…you’ve probably seen that question come up in writing circles or across the web.

The answer is simple, just write a character the way you normally would. Don’t suddenly make them crave fried chicken, or be obsessed with bubble tea, or love na’an bread. If you are writing a character, you write them as a person, not as a stereotype of a group of people.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend watching both of those videos along with videos about literary tropes and misrepresentation all across the board.

I also hope that you do understand that just because it seems “trendy” right now to have a diverse cast of characters, doesn’t mean you should write diverse characters for the sake of being on trend. In my personal opinion that can be even more problematic than not being diverse at all.

A favourite artist of mine, Shiroi Room isn’t black but she draws black characters. I have two of her illustrations and they are beautiful! The one I have in this collage is the “Party” one.

What I mentioned above still applies to other forms of art, not just literature. Just because you don’t know how to draw braids or twists yet, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. How will you learn if you never give it a shot?

All in all, I wanted to discuss this topic in regards to literature (and media as a whole), because representation does matter, and to me it is baffling that myself and other authors like Chimamanda fell into this subconscious mindset that all western literary characters have to look a certain way.

As I told my niece in a drawing tutorial I made for her, you can make your characters look however you want. They can even have purple skin and green hair.

Just treat your characters with care and consideration.