The Romance Writers of America has released the names of the nominees for their yearly RITA Awards, and, you guessed it, they’re about as diverse as a glass of milk beside a plate of sugar cookies with white chocolate chips. So all of us writing and publishing types have taken to the Facebooks and beyond one more time to discuss the diversity problem. Even among those of us nice white cis straight folks who have stopped twitching every time we admit it exists, there’s a lot of panic, anger, and confusion when we start trying to decide what to do about it.
Like most of the RITA nominees, I’m a middle-aged straight cis white woman who writes books. In my current romance WIP, the heroine is Persian. In the Southern gothic I finished earlier this year, the protagonist is a Black woman. In the next book I’m scheduled to write, one of the main background characters is gay, and I’ve written multiple gay characters into books in the past, from medieval romances to urban fantasy. Having even this much diversity in my work does great stuff for me as an artist, assuming I do it right. It makes me step out of my comfort zone and enriches my narrative voice in everything I write; it broadens my market for the finished product.
For the cause of diversity in publishing, it does dickory do.
Even if I do my research, get every detail as right as it’s possible to get it, my non-white, non-straight, non-cis characters are never going to be drawn with the same authority a writer who shares that identity could give them. And at the end of the day, my success with these books, artistic and otherwise, is success for yet another white straight cis writer. And don’t get me wrong; I am all about succeeding. Nobody is asking me or expecting me or wanting me or any other white straight cis writer to be otherwise, and I wouldn’t oblige them if they were. But if I honestly give a shit about creating a level playing field for all writers, I have to work beyond that, outside it. I have to get past my own fear of failure and focus that part of my energy on people who aren’t me and work that isn’t mine. I have to stop thinking like a writer and think like a reader instead. And as a reader, I have to actively seek out diverse voices. And when I find good reads from those voices, I have to make sure other readers know about them, too.
Every time an award-nominating body or a publisher or a whatever gets accused of lack of diversity in their choices, their first excuse is always, “We would have been diverse; we wanted to, really, really, but we just couldn’t find anything to read at the level we were looking for that wasn’t written by a white straight cis person!” That’s bullshit so blatant, it’s laughable on its face, but still, my purpose here is to be helpful. So in addition to the amazing work of already-famous people like N.K. Jemison, Michael Cunningham, and Colson Whitehead, let me recommend a kind of Whitman’s sampler of fiction from various genres written by amazing writers whose work I happen to know. As a reader, I would recommend any and all of them without reservation—this, my kittens, is the good stuff. If you want your own reading and publishing in general to be more diverse, this is a great way to start. Click on the links to buy. Read them, review them, tell your friends. Be part of the solution.
Sisters of the Wild Sage, a collection of weird western short stories by Nicole Kurtz, a Black woman. Nicole also writes horror, science fiction, and urban fantasy, and it’s all well worth your attention.
A Fall In Autumn, an amazing new science fiction novel by Michael Williams, a gay man. Futuristic noir, first in an on-going series.
Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters, an anthology of horror short stories written by Black women. I have already gnawed the ears off everybody who will listen about how great these stories are, but if you haven’t read them yet, DO IT NOW.
Girl In the Gears: A truly fun steampunk adventure by E. Chris Garrison, a transgender woman. First in an on-going series.
And finally, dear ladies of the RWA RITA-nominating committee …
Passion and Ink: The latest bestselling contemporary romance by Naima Simone, a Black woman with multiple series on-going and a voracious readership of romance lovers of every ethnicity.
And so many others I could happily mention if I had the space. If you can’t find the best work in your favorite genre being written by writers who break the white, straight, cis mold, then I’m sorry; you’re just not trying. And if anybody has other recommendations for me, by all means, add them to the comments!