#WW Tackling Diversity in YA

11 May

Recently, I wrote the article Diversity is VITAL, But Be Genuine, and I received a lot of questions about my personal experiences with tackling diversity in my writings. What better way to show examples than by discussing my upcoming release? I’m going to talk about three examples from my book.

Illiteracy:

Serena—one of my protagonists—is illiterate. In fact, most of my characters are, but writing from Serena’s perspective was SUPER difficult. That sign over there? Yeah, she can’t read that. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know what it says. I think a HUGE misconception about illiteracy is the belief that literacy is associated with intelligence…meaning if you’re illiterate, you’re dumb. Not only is this insulting but it completely negates the fact that there are different “types” of learning. I, for one, have a problem remembering anything when I hear it. I’m not an audio learner. I have to read everything. But my brother is the opposite. If he heard it, he knows it. If he reads it, he forgets it, yet we both have a way of figuring things out. Serena may not be able to read that sign, but she knows the road. She’s probably heard people talk about the road or refer to it. Think of little kids who can’t read but still know their name. You don’t have to be able to write your name to know it. In fact, most people might not know she’s illiterate by talking to her, which brings up another misconception: Being literate doesn’t mean you’re automatically well-spoken. I read all the time…and I stumble over my words all the time. The same goes for those who don’t read. Many illiterate people can speak very well. There are many spectrums of reading and writing and speaking. Assuming everyone is on the extreme of any given scale is silly. Think of ancient storytellers before we had a written language. They still told the story so well people later had the memory to write it down.

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Disabilities:

One of the oldest characters is a veteran named Calhoun Wilson. He is big, strong, and loves to cook. He also has one arm. You see, I knew a woman with one arm…and I didn’t even realize she had one arm until the fourth or fifth time I met her. She often folded her sleeves so you couldn’t tell from an initial glance, but the other reason I believe I didn’t notice was because she was extremely talented at cooking. I think the average person thinks of cooking as a two-armed activity. You know, hold the bowl with one hand, stir with the other. But we’re wrong. People who have one arm can be just as capable—if not MORE capable—than those with two, so I wanted to tackle that with Calhoun, and his hobby became cooking in honor of her. Disabled does not mean “unable to do everything you do.” It just means they do things differently than you. And oftentimes, they do it better.

People of Color/Cultures:

Niki, Tessa, and Briauna are the first characters that come to mind. Originally, none of my characters had physical descriptions of their ethnicity, but when Bad Bloods was first published in 2007, I heard THAT question. “Why are all of your characters white?” I had never pictured all of them as white, but readers white-washed them. So, I added some information I may not have had the abilities to add when I was a first-time novelist. (Fun fact, all their names changed. Niki was originally Daisy, Tessa was Marisa, and Briauna was Brianna.) As an example, I want to discuss Niki. Niki is creole, but creole is never actually mentioned in Bad Bloods. Why? Well, we first have to take in the overall setting. It’s not America how we know it. In fact, it’s a city-state called Vendona, and the entire city is made up of a huge French population. That being said, Niki never speaks or alludes to speaking French. Why? Because her character was homeless and then raised by non-French speaking citizens. But Ami, another character, does speak French, because she was raised in a French household. We also see this from Serena’s perspective when she refers to men as brunet (not the female “brunette”), when Daniel does not. Fun fact, American English doesn’t support “brunet.” It prefers we call men brown-haired or dark-haired and only women brunette. I stood by brunet for the language, and I used blonde/blond differences throughout the novel as well.

In Bad Bloods, mental health is a huge aspect of both of my protagonists’ lives—so much so that I could probably write an entire article on it—so I will save that topic for another day. One of the characters is also deaf—a topic I tackled after I met a family’s friend’s family, all of whom were deaf—and most of my characters’ abilities cause them some sort of disability. Example? Briauna, as mentioned above, has scales. This is her only “power.” There is no rhyme or reason to it, but she is constantly scratching them off, like psoriasis, which runs in my family. She struggles with how it makes her look and feel.

I wanted to explore various issues and diversity as it is—as part of a person, not the entire person. So while my cast is diverse, what makes them diverse does not define them. Niki, for instance, is defined by why she is loyal to Robert, the leader of the Southern Flock, but has disdain for Serena, the second-up in the Southern Flock. Her red eyes are seen more than her skin or hair, and her abilities to hear a pin drop from a mile away is worried about more than the fact that she can’t speak French. So, while you can expect a diverse cast in Bad Bloods, diversity alone does not define them. Their character and choices and aspirations will, and I hope you enjoy their lovely, messed up, conflictions and desires.

In the end, Bad Bloods is about a city eradicating a type of people—bad bloods—because they are different from the majority of the population. This is a terrible tragedy we see happen far too often in real life. Hopefully, by focusing more on the importance of diversity, we will have a day in the future where we accept all types of people without question, without war, without hate, without fear.

Until then, books like Bad Bloods will have to be written to remind us why it’s important we love everyone.

Teaser7~SAT

Did you see this week’s #TeaserTuesday? If not, now you do! You can also pre-order BOTH Bad Bloods books. A newsletter will go out later this month with more details and prizes, so I hope you’ll sign up for your chance to win. I may or may not be about to announce another Barnes & Noble book signing, so stayed tuned. 😉 

November Rain, Part One, releases July 18, 2016

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November Snow, Part Two, releases July 25, 2016

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You can officially sign up for Bad Bloods Book Blitz through Xpresso Book Tours! I hope you’ll sign up to support this little author out. (You might also win some awesome prizes while you’re at it!)

Don’t forget! There’s also a FREE Bad Bloods Prequel releasing on Wattpad, and you can now read Adam’s origin story as well as Michele’s. I hope you’re enjoying it!

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22 Responses to “#WW Tackling Diversity in YA”

  1. Susannah Ailene Martin May 11, 2016 at 12:50 am #

    Great post. I think from a practical perspective, diversity is a must. If all of your characters are the exact same, then you can bet that they’ll be pretty boring. I’ve never thought of it in terms of “diversity” before, though. I just considered that good story writing.

    Also, isn’t it interesting how people read into your stories in a way that you never anticipated? A lot of writers probably wouldn’t even think about it because we know our own characters so well.

    • Shannon A Thompson May 11, 2016 at 12:55 am #

      Exactly! It is definitely necessary to have diversity in your books, because diversity makes up the world. I never wrote how I tackled diversity in fiction until recently, but #DiverseYA and #OwnVoices and other topics have shown we need to discuss it more and openly, especially for aspiring writers who might not be sure where to begin or how to go about it. Thank you for adding to the conversation!
      ~SAT

  2. HUGE NEWS AHHHH ⚡ (@DrewsClues) May 11, 2016 at 5:04 am #

    OMG THANK YOU for what you said about illiteracy! I’m literate enough, but damn am I bad at speaking…. and I also struggle to remember what I hear and my parents always assume I “don’t listen” which is kinda insulting to me. I end up feeling like a dumb person.

    I brought a disabled dude to my school when I was in charge of Diversity Programs and he was better than me at stuff with NO LEGS.

    I think it’s pretty weird that English doesn’t allow men to be called brunettes – I’ve considered this before (as a brunette, go figure).

    You just brilliantly sold your books. *applause emoji*

    • Shannon A Thompson May 11, 2016 at 5:16 am #

      I’m so happy to hear this! These are important topics to me, so it’s really nice to read your stories regarding them. You can call a man a brunette (though it’s brunet), I believe, it’s just sort of frowned upon, which I think is strange, too. Thank you for reading and commenting.
      ~SAT

  3. Charles Yallowitz May 11, 2016 at 5:38 am #

    Excellent post. The illiteracy part is something I never considered. In fantasy, the illiterate tend to be dim-witted or at least uneducated. So there’s a lot more missing from their skill set, but that might be due to it typically being a medieval setting. I’ve actually never touched on this since I made reading a rather common ability even among the peasant class. To be honest, diversity is a tough one for me since I’m looking at it differently for fantasy. Many people look for real-world diversity while I’m focusing on the fictional one. For example, a reader will see ‘race’ as black/white/etc. while I see it as human/elf/dwarf/etc. So there’s an extra step that I have to consider when adding diversity. I guess it’s species and then race? Not really sure how to describe it.

  4. Jonas Lee May 11, 2016 at 9:23 am #

    Many moons ago when I was going to become a teacher, we had classes teaching us how to understand diversity, teach alongside it and guide all students as best we could. Shadowing other teachers, I could see differences in learning. One in particular was a student I had seen in two different classrooms. He sat close to the windows in each classroom and as the teacher would go into the lesson, he’s just stare outside. Naturally I asked and both teachers explained he had trouble when it came to reading notes on the board and writing them down. Instead, he had a way of listening and retaining everything as long as he focused elsewhere. He’d come in the next day with the majority if not the entirety of yesterday’s notes down on paper.

    I think we all have our own ways of doing things, whether it’s how we take our coffee, our nighttime rituals, our author habits or how we interact with certain people in our lives. Putting it out there in literature is a brilliant way to allow people to both escape their daily lives and not feel as though they are the only ones living it.

    Plus, as an author, diversity plays out in a way that ensures we have at least one protagonist and antagonist. We can have the main ones like Harry Potter v Voldermort as well as the subtleties of Muggles, socio-economic, intelligence in books v intelligence in life, slavery, etc that continues to play out a thread of its own.

    Now that I’ve written an article, I’ll end it by say, great post!

    • Shannon A Thompson May 11, 2016 at 3:05 pm #

      Thank you for sharing your story! I think it’s great to hear how different we all are and how we can showcase those differences in our writings. Thank you for reading and commenting. 😀
      ~SAT

  5. migueltio May 11, 2016 at 10:13 am #

    Wow!! How amazing you are!!

  6. Ciara Darren May 12, 2016 at 8:28 am #

    You’ve touched on a topic near and dear to my heart. I grew up in a very white community but when cousins and siblings and I started to leave, meet people, and marry, our family started to look more like the song we sang as kids, “Red and yellow, black and white” and we stopped using terms like red and yellow! Now, my sister and I look for books that the kids in our family can read that reflect our realities. It’s still difficult.

    There is some assumption though, going into a book, that characters are going to be pale or white. Even if we don’t say what a character looks like in our writing, depending on the location where the reader finds the story, the book cover or magazine cover and name of the characters are going to suggest certain profiles.

    There are a lot of other diversities beside race to explore. Thank you for bringing so many of them up!

    • Shannon A Thompson May 12, 2016 at 2:49 pm #

      Yes! There are many types of people and situations to explore, along with ethnicities. Thank you for sharing your story!
      ~SAT

  7. tayefosterbradshaw May 12, 2016 at 9:04 am #

    Interesting advertisement for your upcoming book. A question in YA writing and the interest in multicultural books is are we getting Diversity or Inclusion?

    This is Important especially if writing or adding characters of color. If they are American black, African American, and the writer does not have experience with people outside their white or Caucasian community, the effect can be a stereotype. A black girl can be named Daisy, for instance. She can be from well educated, wealthy parents, and living in the suburb (like a lot of people I know).

    People of color are also very diverse, for instance, one of my daughters wants to be a Marine Biologist and battles a hidden disability.

    Good luck with your book release. And great advertisement.

    • Shannon A Thompson May 12, 2016 at 2:47 pm #

      I definitely agree that a diverse life is the key to writing a diverse book. (I actually said that in the article linked at the top of this one.) In regards to the name change, it actually had nothing to do with their backgrounds. I only added that information for fun. Their names were changed in the editing process (like most of my characters’ names) because of various reasons. Ex. There were too many D names: Daniel, Drew, and Daisy. So Drew and Daisy were changed to Floyd and Niki. I wasn’t so much as trying to advertise as legitimately answer a question many readers have asked me since my last article regarding this topic – Diversity is VITAL, But Be Genuine – where I don’t focus on my books, but it definitely gives a sneak peek into what readers can expect. In my other article, I list a series of websites writers can use to better themselves to prevent stereotypes and other harmful/misguided information while creating a diverse cast. I hope it helps aspiring writers find a place to go to. Thank you for reading and bringing up such great points!
      ~SAT

      • tayefosterbradshaw May 20, 2016 at 6:53 am #

        SAT – All the best on your work. It is always a challenge to be authentic when viewing the world through your own cultural lense with little interaction of other cultures. This is even true intraracially. Thanks for the response and for the resources. I also get the name change, happened to me for my book. I loved the names I gave the sisters, but they couldn’t both be “K” names. Let’s keep hoping for authentic voices and space. I also hope that there is publishing space opened for Latinx peoples to write their own stories, Asian, and African-American to add to the landscape. All the Best. TFB

      • Shannon A Thompson May 20, 2016 at 11:47 am #

        Yes, definitely! I absolutely agree. We need more diverse books and voices.
        ~SAT

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