… I can’t say. I will explain!
It is my new policy not to talk too specifically about representation in any of my future books. When they are out I will, but not before then.
When I was writing the Lynburn Legacy series (and was super excited about it, but didn’t know if it would ever be published, because… wow, it seemed long odds!) I went online and talked about the book. Unspoken was my favourite book to write and I was really happy writing it, and I just wanted to talk about it all the time. ;) This meant I mentioned in a few different places, among other things, that I was writing a book that included ladies who loved ladies, and that generally I wanted to see more of that in YA. I didn’t go into any details, I mostly just went ‘wurble wurble laaaaaadies.’
One reader who’d been very kind about the Demon’s Lexicon series assumed that I was talking about different characters in the Lynburn Legacy than the characters I was talking about. When she read Unspoken she was disappointed. She was hurt, and discussed that publicly, and I felt horrible she was hurt, and like I had done a horrible thing. I also believe she didn’t read the rest of the Lynburn Legacy, which is a shame as she loved the Demon’s Lexicon series and obviously the Lynburn Legacy has far more about ladies and ladies loving ladies in it (not that I don’t like TDL… because I do! My two serieseses are just doing different stuff).
I’m not sorry I wrote my story the way I did, because I like my story. But I blame myself for talking about the story to the extent I did. I’m really sorry I publicly talked about representation in any way more specific than ‘I try to write stories that have some’–because representation is a fraught issue, and so important, and when that collides with people having certain expectations of literature or characters it can get very messy, and people can get hurt.
I do not enjoy talking people out of reading, or into hating, my books. I enjoy hurting people even less.
I have a friend who vaguely heard about the racist outcry over Idris Elba being cast as Heimdall in the Thor movies, and he went into the movie confidently expecting Thor to be black. He was very excited.
His viewing experience went like this:
FRIEND: So, this blond guy gets thrown out, and they elect a new Thor. Black Thor.
FRIEND: This movie has been going on for a while. They are not going to have enough time to properly introduce our black Thor.
FRIEND: THIS MOVIE WAS RUBBISH! WHERE IS BLACK THOR?!
(I was sorry for his pain. I too think Idris Elba would be an amazing Thor. But the movie wasn’t ruined for me the same way, because I didn’t have expectations for something I didn’t get.)
I have thought about maybe being more specific, so there wouldn’t be misapprehensions, but I’ve seen that backfire with other authors.
AUTHOR: Character B will be gay.
READERS: Oh that seems bad. He seems very stereotypical.
AUTHOR: Well, I think he has many layers but you haven’t read about him yet so I understand that you haven’t seen them… crap.
I’ve also seen:
AUTHOR: Character C will be bisexual.
READERS: Character C is my favourite LGBTQ character.
(That seems actually way worse, because–oh wow, you’d be bound to let the readers down!)
There’s all sorts of specifics about your books you probably shouldn’t talk about before the books come out, and I’ve come slowly to believe representation is one of them.
I totally understand if people disagree with me. It does counterintuitive to say: I won’t talk about representation before the book is out, because I used to think I definitely should talk about it. I thought: oh, if I tell people, the readers I want will want to read these books. I myself am always thankful to get a heads-up about representation!
For instance, I remember watching the pilot of Teen Wolf. I guess I was having a bad day, because I had a tantrum in the middle.
SARAH: Turn it off! Turn it off, I dislike these werewolves, and that guy Stilo is unfortunate in the face!
I turned it off. Some months later, I saw on the internet that there was a cool gay character in Teen Wolf called Danny, who was not stereotypical and was cute. And because I do not get enough representation in my genre media, I thought to myself: ‘OK, self! Time to give those werewolves a second chance!’ And I did, and I liked the show, and Danny is very cute, and Stiles (OOPS) turned out to be one of my favourite characters and totally OK in the facialur region.
But you know, the showrunner of Teen Wolf did not tell me about Danny. Other viewers told me about Danny.
In the last analysis, it seems best (to me, your mileage may vary!) to leave it up to the viewers/readers to say what’s there, and how they felt about it.
Another way things get messy is not just misapprehensions that happen, but the fact that books change as you’re writing them. If someone had asked me while I was writing Unspoken if we would get a lesbian character’s PoV I would have said ‘Yes, absolutely, we’ll get the PoV of a lesbian character.’ I’d written it! But it’s not in the final books. (The PoV of a bi character, still in there, but they are different characters and one PoV doesn’t make up for the absence of the other.) If I’d done that, I would have lied to my readers in a really harmful way.
Writing books means taking the risk of hurting people–doing almost anything does, but minimising the hurt to others is my goal. And once I’ve hurt people in a certain way, I do really try to learn and not do that again.
This was a very difficult decision for me, because I LOVE telling people stories and I want to tell them every detail I think they might be interested in. Whenever one of my friends asks me what I am writing, they have to brace themselves for a play-by-play of the story, with acting out of my favourite scenes and word-for-word dialogue I’m planning to write and extravagant hand gestures.
SARAH: And then they suspect her of MURDER-
FRIEND: Stop everybody is looking at you.
SARAH: And the SECRET MONSTER-
FRIEND: We’ve been in this restaurant five hours. I have appointments. I have a life!
I’m sorry! I hope this is not a weenie answer! I really am thinking all the time about how to make my books the best they can be, and how to behave myself online in the best way I can.
I am SO HAPPY that you think I did a good enough job with Holly and Angela (Holla!) that you’d like to see more. I’m so grateful you’re interested enough in Tell the Wind and Fire to ask, because I know you all have to wait a super long time for TTW&F, and I am always dreading you will all forget about me and go away! I’m so glad you asked, and I reallio trulio appreciate it.