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October 15, 2008

Comments

Mark Troy

I've seen much more diversity in mysteries in recent years. Joe Lansdale and Robert Parker aren't afraid to create villains of color. And what can you say about Leonard and Hawk? They're not always the most admirable of characters. Other authors have increased the diversity in their stories by bringing in characters with varied backgrounds and abandoning old stereotypes.

I think the question of portraying characters, especially villains, from diverse backgrounds without falling into dangerous and degrading stereotypes is one that most authors struggle with. It takes some skill to do it well and new authors probably tread more carefully than established authors.

Your example of Moseley and Morrison suggests that it's okay to stretch the bounds of ethnicity as long as it's the author's ethnicity that is being stretched. I think authors grow in putting themselves inside the heads of people different from themselves and in turn help readers grow by putting them inside different points of view. Ken Kesey said, "Don't write what you know; what you know is boring. Write what you don't know." Take risks, get away from what you're comfortable with. I hope publishers aren't backing off of new writers who attempt to do that. They ought to be encouraging authors to get out of their comfort zone and explore these issues of race, ethnicity and religion. Diversity shouldn't be limited to sidekicks but should include protagonists and villains.

delta dupree

I'm totally against being "politically correct" in any arena.

As a new author, my characters cross ethnic boundaries--the good, the bad and the ugly. Characters created for books are generally a conglomerate of people we've met or heard about in the media. The problem I've seen for new writers is when a critique group decides the characters are too stereotypical. All I have to say to that is, "Huh?" Who makes the final decision on stereotyped? The writer? The critique partners? The agent? The publishing house? Will changing a character's questionable background make the story better or more accepted? Maybe.

We know The Jewels of the Medina has sparked controversy--even fire--but does that mean writers and publishers should back away from a good story? Don't get me wrong. I haven't read Jewels. Probably won't because it's not my cup of tea.

It's unfortunate we must be careful so damn careful about what we write and what will be published.

Mack

I'm in the reader category of subscribers to this blog.

It is interesting to read about this topic from the publishing viewpoint though I don't fully embrace the three reasons you give.

Lee Child, in his introduction to Die Twice (two of Simon Kernick's crime novels in one volume), says that we are in the fourth age of English crime writers and that "Their elders put people of color and non-English ethnicity into crime fiction from the start, but mostly as curiosities, often as villains, and never quite to be trusted. Fourth Age writers are past all that. Their casts of characters are as instinctively multicultural as the London phone book." I'd say that this is true in the U.S. as well. I live in the South and it is commonplace to find a family from Pakistan running a store or motel in rural areas.

I also don't categorize all the mystery/crime fiction I read as escapist. Books in Joan Hess' Maggody series are a light, fun read. Books by James Sallis (I just finished Cypress Grove) are not.

I would also say that a lot of mystery/crime fiction occupies a blurry area between genre and literature. In fact, when I look for a title at Border's or Barnes & Noble often I have to check both the mystery section and literature section.

I've babbled on too long for a comment and I'll close by saying that it depends of the skill of the author and the story he/she is trying to tell. In a multicultural society it is unrealistic not to involve characters with different ethnic backgrounds in good or bad roles.

Leslie

The question seems to me to be why is this member of a minority community the villain--is it because "well, he/she's (Muslim, gay, black, fat); everyone knows (Muslims, gays, blacks, fat people) are eeeeeeeeevil" or is it because this character's experiences have made him/her villainous? Is he/she the only member of that community in the story, are all members of that community in the story eeeeeeevil, or are there enough other members of the community represented to show that this person is the villain, and incidentally is also (Muslim, gay, black, fat)? Frankly, Muslim terrorists are so overdone at this point that one in a story would seem to me to be a sign of authorial laziness rather than prejudice.

Leslie

The question seems to me to be why is this member of a minority community the villain--is it because "well, he/she's (Muslim, gay, black, fat); everyone knows (Muslims, gays, blacks, fat people) are eeeeeeeeevil" or is it because this character's experiences have made him/her villainous? Is he/she the only member of that community in the story, are all members of that community in the story eeeeeeevil, or are there enough other members of the community represented to show that this person is the villain, and incidentally is also (Muslim, gay, black, fat)? Frankly, Muslim terrorists are so overdone at this point that one in a story would seem to me to be a sign of authorial laziness rather than prejudice.

Leslie

The question seems to me to be why is this member of a minority community the villain--is it because "well, he/she's (Muslim, gay, black, fat); everyone knows (Muslims, gays, blacks, fat people) are eeeeeeeeevil" or is it because this character's experiences have made him/her villainous? Is he/she the only member of that community in the story, are all members of that community in the story eeeeeeevil, or are there enough other members of the community represented to show that this person is the villain, and incidentally is also (Muslim, gay, black, fat)? Frankly, Muslim terrorists are so overdone at this point that one in a story would seem to me to be a sign of authorial laziness rather than prejudice.

Jolie

I have a solution!

Making a villain out of a minority character doesn't have to be a problem, as long as at least one of the good guys is also a member of that minority--or even of a different minority. Make the hero[ine] AND the villain gay, for example. Or one is black and one is Hispanic. Problem solved. (You get that I'm not serious, right?)

But in all seriousness, an author or editor does need to give careful thought to how various demographics are represented in fiction. I'm guessing a lot depends on the writing itself, not just on the character profiles.

Ruth Converse

I have noticed that there seems to be a "checklist" of PC and wonder if this is just the authors' choice or mandatory from the publishers. Examples; must have shout outs to environmentalist causes,gays,animal rights,minorities, etc. Greedy corporations are #1 as bad guys. It is getting silly. Readers do not have candy floss between the ears. Get real.

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