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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Paige E. Ewing shares how she adapted her writing to be more representative, and why she felt a responsibility to create a diverse cast of characters in her Liliana and the Fae of Fayetteville book series.
Written by Paige E. Ewing
When I first wrote Precise Oaths as a standalone story, every character in the story was white. Every character was in a job that fit their traditional gender roles. Police and scientists and soldiers were men. Teachers and homemakers and soldiers’ spouses were women. Men did, women were, and everyone was white and straight, and so very bland.
The thing is, I’m polyamorous. My daughter is bisexual. My foster brother and uncle were gay. The first man I was engaged to marry was Sioux. My step-father as a kid was Cheyenne-Arapaho. My reality has never matched the whitewashed world that my creative subconscious built in my first draft.
Whitewash in Science Fiction and Fantasy
Some part of me, deep down, has this concept that science fiction and fantasy stories are supposed to be snowy white. I was raised on the classics. The worlds of Asimov and Niven and Howard were all white men’s worlds. There were rare gems on young Paige’s bookshelves like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover with its gay heroes and villains, intersex aliens and humans. There was Andre Norton’s Sioux Spaceman, and later Mercedes Lackey’s gay hero Vanyel in the Last Herald Mage. Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin had rainbow, gender bending casts in their books assaulting all kinds of assumptions including assumptions I see too often today about prioritizing profits over people. But those were isolated drops of color in a white sea of Anthony and Zelazny and Tolkien.
While my real life is filled with a full grand spectrum of humans, the authors who taught young impressionable me how stories worked were overwhelmingly white men writing about white men from a white man’s point of view. That deep-seated concept of how speculative stories were written overruled my own reality. A lifetime of indoctrination is a hard thing to shake.
To be fair, those authors were a product of their times. Their editors, publishers, and even their readers were a product of those same times. My times are different. Now, editors and publishers are at the forefront of change. They’re putting energy into creating opportunities for more diverse stories and authors. Readers are hungry for stories that are new and different, not another rehash of Tolkien’s elves and dwarves.
Keeping The Fun In Diversity
But my times are also filled with controversy over women destroying science fiction, and “wokeness” taking all the fun out of speculative stories and turning them into sermons.
For young people growing up now, reading the literature of the time, some of it my literature, I don’t want to perpetuate the idea that fantasy and science fiction is only for straight white men. But I also don’t want my books to become a lesson in political correctness.
The one character I got right from the beginning was Liliana, my off beat, Greek and Egyptian neurodiverse heroine who sees through everyone’s illusions. She was the perfect foil to spot assumptions and change minds, but she needed a world to live in that didn’t come out of central casting.
So, I changed the world, an author’s privilege. Some might even say, an author’s responsibility.
I made my story look like my friends and family. I randomly gender or race swapped the characters and something magical happened. They came from somewhere. They had life experiences. They had points of view and reasons for their actions. Their lives were complicated. They became … people.
I made my teacher a man, and my boy scout hero scientist, who was the teacher’s significant other, became a gay boy scout hero scientist. My police detective became a woman with an assertive attitude because it’s hard to excel as a woman in such a male-dominated field without developing some attitude. My handsome prince with a European Fae mother, as a black man, suddenly had a father with a history, and an ancestral tie to the green land of central North Carolina where I’d set the story. I asked my ex-fiancé if I could name a Sioux were-badger in my book after him, and one of my favorite characters was born.
The world came alive.
In seeking to be a more responsible writer, I became a better writer.
I set out to write a fun romp set in the near future with a hopeful climate outlook, and a what if concept. “What if we fixed the climate problems, and as nature resurged, so did the old nature-oriented fantasy races like the Fae and weres? And what about the North American native legendary nature creatures? Would they clash?” None of that screamed, “We must all be white and straight!” Making the changes I did in later drafts didn’t detract from that premise in the least. As much as some folks keep saying that diversifying the cast of characters will somehow ruin the story, that just didn’t happen. Rather than losing the fun, I think it gained an extra level of fun, although the readers will be the real judges.
For me, though, I feel like this isn’t just a fun book now, it’s one I can be proud to have written. This is a book that I will be delighted for my bi daughter, my goth nephew, and my trans niece to enjoy. This is a book that I hope my Hispanic bilingual grandkids get to read when they get older. This is one book in a growing corpus of diverse SFF books that I want the next generation of writers to read just for the fun of it, and remember as one more example of how good speculative fiction stories are written.
So, when they write their own stories some day, their first drafts will already be filled with color.
Find more from Paige E. Ewing now:
Universal buy link for Precise Oaths: https://books2read.com/Liliana1UBL
Universal buy link for Explosive Chemistry: https://books2read.com/Liliana2UBL
My website: https://paigeewing.com/
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