NaNoWriMo: Day 19-21 (Except Not Really)

SO BEHIND IN WORD COUNT.
10K BEHIND.

I am both figures pictured here.
Created by Lucile Patron.

One day there will be a blog post about how I am on word count and everything is wonderful, but that day is not today.

Instead I have been on a reading sprint this week to start queuing up for reviews over at OKPotato, Cya’s and my new blog about diversity in (YA) lit. Young Adult literature is far from my favorite genre these days, half due to the general writing technique and half to do with the lack of diversity (both representation and general story lines). HOWEVER, YA is such a portal into the wider world of fiction for so many teenagers who benefit from media representation in much different ways than younger children.

As a young, gay Asian teen, I scoured the library for all LGBT books and usually ended up more satisfied with gay and lesbian couples in manga than in any Western YA lit. I don’t know if what I read in high school has shaped what I read today, but Cya and I are looking back at YA particularly because of the lack of diversity in all of its subgenres (fantasy, science fiction, supernatural, modern/contemporary). There seem to be more titles available now than when I was in high school (and I’m not that old, guys; this was back in the early 2000s), but those numbers are relatives. There are still pretty slim mainstream pickings.

In any case, Cya and I went on a book spree this past weekend, journeying from a library book sale to Barnes & Noble.

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We did our best to look for female protagonists and non-white main characters, although the book sale was basically a rummage sale. You can read my review of Benjamin Alire Sanez’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which features two queer Mexican cis male main characters, at OKPotato. (Although I think Ari can be read as transgender.)

I also had the opportunity to borrow Cya’s newly acquired used copy of Grace Lin’s Newberry award-winning Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. It’s an illustrated novel that repurposes traditional Chinese folktales into a young Chinese girl’s fantastical journey. I’ll probably be reviewing it at OKPotato some time soon, but thought I’d mention it here to justify my time away from NaNo.

There are less than ten days left in NaNoWriMo. It will be interesting to see if I can catch up to at least the 50K, if not Cya’s 75K challenge. Update you all on Monday. Have productive writing weekends!

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NaNoWriMo: Day 14 & 15 (Diversity in Stories)

Today and tomorrow are more marathon writing days, but for now, let’s talk about diversity in stories!

Yes, good. Thank you, Mulder.

Granted, The X-Files is not exactly a shining example of diversity in media, but Agent Scully is a fairly fantastic example of women’s representation in media, which is part of what I want to talk about today. The irony that I used the picture of the white male character to lead into this post is not lost on me, but look at that tumblr text post caption. Let’s fix that:

Taken from here. Rad.

That’s better.

The novel I’m currently working on for NaNoWriMo has been a long time coming and centers on a group of entirely mixed races, particularly mixed Asian Americans. Five of the six characters are female and my male character, Gregor, is treated deliberately as a token male. Much of this was decided in reaction to the representation of diverse characters in the books, movies, and TV shows I consume.

I love stories in all incarnations and I things are generally starting to get better in terms of media representation — sort of. Different races are at least kind of present in most media, although very rarely as main characters, let alone speaking characters. (I am forever upset at how Glenn Rhee is being used in The Walking Dead. WE COULD HAVE HAD IT ALL. ROLLING IN THE DEEP.) Different sexualities are becoming more present, especially in TV, and I can sort of think of a few examples of disabilities and representation of various body types. Asexuality and intersex genders are still conspicuously absent but Laverne Cox’s new The T Word series, focusing on transgender youth, gives me hope that audiences are being primed for true diversity in media.

Michonne and Glenn from AMC's The Walking Dead.

Michonne and Glenn from AMC’s The Walking Dead.

However, you will note that all of my examples are based on visuals — television and film, even music videos. Literature is the trickier subject. Certainly you can easily find nonfiction books on people of color or different genders and sexualities. Rifling through fiction to find specific types of diversity can be frustrating and, often the ones you do find focus specifically on the Otherness of that character or use diversity in supporting characters, not main. I can easily find fiction with Chinese main characters set in China (especially historical fiction), but finding Chinese American characters in modern settings outside of Amy Tan books? Very hard. Especially if I want to read about steampunk Muslim girls battling mechanical cephalopods or 60s Japanese biker boys wooing the black girl in the poodle skirt at the local malt shop. Even just a book about the Okinawan girl battling depression and anxiety in high school in America — where does that exist? (Sorry for all the Asian examples, but I am Japanese-Okinawan and deeply, deeply deprived.)

These stories matter, too, and waiting around for someone to provide me with those books hasn’t done me much good in twenty-five years. I took on a science fiction novel as my first challenge in order to use a diverse cast, as science fiction generally seems more receptive to that kind of representation. My niche is modern, realistic fiction, so it is a bit of a stretch for now, but I want to eventually move into basic representation — the everyday lives of characters that aren’t white, able-bodied, middle-class people in dire love triangles, who consider themselves Special Snowflakes that have led them to be “outcasts” their entire lives. That is all well and good, and those stories can matter and make an impact, but we as readers need more than just the same stories that have taken up our bookshelves for years and years.

Cya and I are launching OK Potato: Diversity in Media Reviews on a quest to seek and promote media representation in books and to discuss these issues more in-depth than this single blog post. I will still be discussing NaNoWriMo and basic writing progress and tips here, but I hope you’ll join us on our journey to bring diversity in media into the mainstream!

More on NaNo next time, guys. Thanks for reading!