The Elephant in the Room: Race, Sexuality, and Social Mobility in my YA High Dark Fantasy Novel

My post today is about topics I’ve chosen to represent in my high dark fantasy novel. I would love to say this was all my own decision and I was brave enough to write this character on my own. However, a friend challenged me and I’m very glad she did.

The Challenge (this was months ago but the conversation went something like this):

Indian Friend: “… you know, I didn’t have an Indian heroine in fantasy stories when I was a teenager. Could you write one for me?”

Caucasian Me: “I don’t know a lot about your culture, I wouldn’t want to do it injustice.”

Indian Friend: “That’s like saying because I’m Indian I can’t write a white character. I’ll help you research and I’ll beta read. Give it a shot and see what you can do.”

Caucasian Me: *thinks*. “Okay, I’ll give it a shot.”

Weeks later looking at my novel, “Okay, if the main character is Indian I can’t just change her name and physical description. I don’t want to white wash this….”

Lots of conversations with my friend later and the things I changed included: some customs, fashion, naming conventions, character descriptions, actively describing various races throughout the story, and things I probably can’t even remember anymore.

This challenge has been very rewarding and helped me expand my characters in my story and in helping me represent the diversity I want in the story. I always had a multi-cultural world, this just helped give me the confidence to expand it to the main character.

The world tropes I didn’t want in my story:

Here are a few things I actively decided to avoid:

  • Everybody is straight
  • A social norm is being gay has to be hidden
  • Everybody is white or race isn’t mentioned
  • The world is basically medieval England renamed with magic

My main character is an Indian sixteen year old girl who lives at the top of a mountain, socially and economically the worst place to grow up in her community. She dreams of moving down toward the Valley Settlement and up in the social structure.

Although the book is fantasy, I’ve been trying to have Indian culture and fashion significantly influence the country.  I’ve been doing a lot of research and I have a friend coming over today to help explain traditional Indian fashion (South Asia not Native Americans). She and I had many conversations about Indian fashion and today she’s bringing her Sari to explain how it works and the differences. I owe her!

Discussions I wanted in my story:

While writing I’ve been pushing myself to have a high fantasy story that has multi-dimensional characters who deal with many of the same common issues we do:

  • Social mobility
  • Race and Racism: although instead of being based on skin color, it’s based on the long-lived races versus the short-lived races.
  • Having homosexuality and asexuality represented without or with minimal social stigma
    • Part of this is giving me a headache because there are all new tropes I needed to familiarize myself with. I’m happy I did because it’s letting me see the potential pitfalls.
  • Teenagers who don’t always trust that adults know what they’re talking about
    • I was a teenager once! Adults are fallible so I’m trying to show both kinds of adults.

When other people have asked what I’m focusing on or working on in term of cutting edge topics I mention the list above. I was speaking with a woman who is probably in her forties and talking about this. When I mentioned the main character was Indian and the parts of the story which focused on LGBTQIA social norms in the world, she didn’t ask me if I’d researched Indian culture. Instead she focused on whether or not I’d researched LGBTQIA cultures.

The answer to both is yes, I don’t rank one above the other. Both elements influence a core piece of the world but neither are exactly the same as we see them here. There is a history in the real world we must take into account, luckily in Fantasy I create that history.

So, this is what I’ve been doing while working on my novel. What have you been doing to expand you world and enrich the lives of your characters? Do you feel this kind of research and attention to detail is hindering or helpful in your own writing?

I’d be happy to expand on any of these topics if anyone is interested.

White Rain

Hold me close as white rain falls from the sky
Burning holes on cheeks and parching mouths
Tongues stretched to taste the first signs of winter
The ash falls from above, a reminder of snowflakes
Voices raised, ideals straining to be heard
Silenced by virulent tweets gas lighting thoughts

I reach for the arms of family who came before
Ancestors who fought through famine and war
Parents who taught me to raise my voice, to roar

White rain falls from the sky, pouring over flesh
Vesuvius but a warning long forgotten
Hiroshima a reminder gone unheeded

Education once a right, now legislated by hate
Not just hate but ignorance and fear
Those without money made to wait, futures unclear

Snowflakes line the streets, looking toward the sky
Ignoring the toxic rain, they raise their voices and cry
Words stumbling, choking on smog, they continue
Struggling to be heard, they speak until hoarse

Hold me close as ashen remains fall from the sky
What gleamed in health now destroyed by ignorance
Fleshless hands grasp at decayed signs and destroyed ink
Burned out eyes stare ahead seeing nothing in death
Toungeless mouths soundlessly forming words
Even in despair the snowflakes whisper verses of hope

Pick Your Poison

We the people
 
Pick your poison
Fast acting
Slow
Slow acting
Fast

Of the United States

3 million
Fraudulent
Lies or facts
Alternative facts

In order to build
A more perfect union

What’s the alternative
Fires burning with hate
Voting rights suppressed
Tyranny

 
Establish justice
Insure domestic tranquility

 
Don’t tell me to leave
When I say this is not my America
 

provide for the common defense
promote the general welfare

Listen to words
of hope
not fear
I don’t mean I don’t belong here
I mean that protest is a right
Immigrants are welcome
I believe in unity not division
I reject suppression
Of the media
Of the news
Of voters
Of dreamers
Of Americans
Of tolerance
Of freedom

Secure the Blessings of Liberty
to ourselves and our Posterity
 
My America is welcoming
To nasty women
To quiet women
To those looking for a home
To those whose first language isn’t English
To men
To the non-binary
Your sexuality is your right
So is marriage
 
Perfection is unattainable
Together we stand
Mending divisions of injustice
A history of inequality
 
We
Build bridges
to create hope
And walls
to hide bodies
Torn apart by hate and fear
 
Atrocities

I will take my privilege and build a ladder
My religion and register as Muslim
I will open my house in asylum
My heart will hold hope
Until it is the only safe place left
I will cry out
when your rights
Are
abridged
threatened
destroyed
 
Not just mine

It isn’t just white or black
Or Christian
or Islam

It is together

The melting pot dream
Where a hijab is as welcome
As a cross
a star
a wheel
or nothing at all
 

That is my America
The dream
I still hold
even
as
Pen meets paper
And open borders disappear
 

As lies become alternative facts
Friends become unwelcome
As rights become privilege
Divisions become craters
 
my America is
Built on hope
Built on the bravery of the founders
Maintained by the sacrifice of uniform
Built for freedom
 
We are not perfect
Perfection is unattainable
But
We
Can
Do
Better
 
Pick your poison
 
 
 
 

Queries, Novels, and Sequels…

I’ve nearly finished my first novel. Two friends and looking it over for any remaining grammatical uncertainties or any story issues. For better or for worse I’ve finished a query letter and a synopsis. I have a “submission package” document ready to go. To wrap this novel up I just need to look through the edits once they’re sent back and start the query process. Over the last months I’ve taken some time off of writing stories and worked on the submission documents. Anyone who tells you writing a query or synopsis is easy is lying. Or, at least in my case they are. I found creating these documents really difficult.  The multiple POV issue didn’t help! Which stories and intrinsic? What can be left out? What are preconceptions a reader might have? So much to juggle and think about…. ugh.

A few weeks ago I started outlining the sequel.  I’m using Scrivener to outline this novel. That’s something I didn’t do for the first and in hindsight I regret.  That being said, I don’t know if I would have known how to outline a novel. I never did it for papers in school so I think I needed to work through the process. For my first novel I shot from the hip and had to rewrite and reorganize. I had to create an ending, to revamp the middle, to cut and rewrite thousands of words. I want this to be more focused. I want to do half my brainstorming up front. Then, I want to hide and to write. I want to return to Agrini and my lords and ladies. I want to watch characters fall in and out of love, to see the machinations of gods and goddesses, kings and paupers, come to fruition or fail. The Shadow of the Labyrinth (oooh! title perhaps?)  is going to cover this novel. Sebelina will be stronger than in the first novel, she will rise, get knocked down, and come back all the better.

And now, a bit about our antagonist Edric and his first taste of magic from his sorceress Shira:

Shira’s already pale skin shone white as pulse after pulse of red energy shimmered down the ribbons, circling her flesh, and then reaching out toward him. He gasped, his own pale flesh stained red from the scalding touch of magic burning its way up his arm. After long moments of agony, the pain faded and he began to feel stronger, better, more. He could think of no other word. He could scarcely think. He was more.

Anyone else struggle with query or synopsis? How about a title for your novel? Do you outline or shoot from the hip?

Transported

Every time I sit down to write I’m transported into a world that I’ve created. For those minutes (sometimes hours) I allow myself to be swept away be an imaginary character I’ve created. Along with the joy of spending time with these friends and enemies, is a sense of responsibility to find and tell their stories.

My current story is older YA. A person at a writing group asked if I ever considered writing an adult story. My mind strayed to the unfinished manuscript I have saved to my computer. That story is 100,000 words that never quite became a full story, which never built a grand arc of tension, and which will eventually require massive rewriting.

I told him I had and mentioned the other story. It’s adult fantasy with sinister villains, sword fights, sex, magic, and death.  At some point I’ll finish that story. But for now? Now, I’m enjoying the world of monsters and teenage angst.

What genre and age range do you write and why are you drawn to it? Answer in the comments!

Pushing through

So, I’m pushing through the tension section that’s leaving me nervous. I guess I can come back and refine it later. I also started an overall motives outline of the story to track the two different goals the protagonist will have. I realized that I needed to flesh out some supporting characters and figure out who they were and where the fell in the great scheme of things. I cut a subplot because I felt it detracted from the tension. I can always resurrect it but at this point I think it would only work if I cut the horror element of this story. That’s not something I’m currently willing to do. 

Tension and Contests

I might not have posted since October, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. In February I entered a flash fiction writing contest. It’s the first contest I’ve ever entered and I’m nervously/excitedly waiting for feedback from the judges. Women on Writing (wow-womenonwriting.com) hosts quarterly contests, the entry fee is only $10 to cover their costs and prizes. You can also buy a critique of the story which is another $10. So, for a grand total of $20 I’ll get feedback on my story and it’s entered in a contest.

In other writing news, I put my rough draft fantasy novel on the shelf and I am expanding the flash fiction story into something longer. I’m not sure how that’s going to change the story but it has psychological thriller tension that I’m cautiously outlining. I’m nervous about getting too hopeful because I’ve had issues with tension throughout an entire story before. It seems to be going well so here’s hoping.

When you write tension how do you track it?  I’m working with outlines but I’ve heard about people using spreadsheets and sticky notes. What works for you?