The human experience

January 26, 2014

When I am asked why I self-published (a fact that has recently changed. You can read about it here), my immediate answer is generally my desire for control. I want my books to be a true representation of my vision and not a giant publishing house deciding everything beyond the words on the page. Who am I kidding? Sometimes they decide those too. No this isn’t a post about how big, bad and evil the Big 5 is. I don’t think that. I just know that it wasn’t for me. There are real reasons I chose to not even try to go the traditional publishing route. Yeah, that’s right. I didn’t even try.

Control was the first reason. Truthfully, the second reason had me wary of traditional publishing from the start. A recent post by Jenny Trout revitalized the reason why I was leery to look for an agent and eventually a publishing contract within the folds of the Big 5.

decorative-lines-17_large2“The fact that there are so few celebrated authors of color in YA is also a sign of Green’s privilege as a white male author; his books, no matter how groundbreaking or well-written, would not have received the support or acclaim they received if they had been written by a person of color. It’s very likely that they would never have been published, but dismissed as “ethnic” or “urban” and therefore deemed an unacceptable financial risk by traditional publishing. Through self-publishing, more authors of color have been able to find a voice and a market for their stories.” -Jenny Trout, Why our exclusionary attitudes toward self-publishing must change.

decorative-lines-17_large2Race. Yes, my race was the secondary reason I avoided even looking into traditional publishing. Sad right? I am black (African-American if that offends your sensibilities less) and yes, I write. That in no way means I am an African-American author, nor does it mean that I subscribe to the idea that I belong to a group of writers who write African-American fiction or Black Speculative Fiction(BSF), which is more inline with the fantasy element of my stories.

decorative-lines-17_large2“Labels are mentally lazy ways by which people assert they know you without knowing you.”

-Dr. Neil de Grasse Tysondecorative-lines-17_large2

Until I attended a conference last year, I honestly hadn’t heard of BSF. A cool African-American BSF author said she thought I might want to consider my work as BSF. When I said I that I write paranormal romance, she countered with the notion that my experiences “color” the interactions of my characters. Let’s just say that I couldn’t disagree more.

The heroine of my debut novel is a female with terrible parents and I do mean terrible. As a result of a highly dysfunctional relationship with her parents, Alexis James is emotionally closed off. It’s up to my hero to help her experience all the emotions she has denied herself just so that she could have some sort of sanity.

Crappy parents aren’t exclusive to my race. Finding someone to love you through the pain is a human experience. I write human experiences even if I don’t necessarily write humans. Also, I make an effort to write my characters racially ambiguous, because to me, race doesn’t matter.

That’s my belief and I’m sticking to it.

My books do not speak on a so-called “black experience”. Truthfully I don’t even know what that means, because beyond my skin tone, what about me denotes me as “black”? I’ve had one experience in my life where I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the person I was dealing with regarded me as less than based solely on my race. With the exception of that experience and any time I fill out an application, the words I use to describe myself aren’t based on my race. I’m more than that. I’m Kelsey, author, mom, wife, gamer…There are so many other interesting descriptions that I can use to describe myself beyond the color of my skin.

Still I find myself wondering: What is the “black experience”? Mistreatment, oppression, slavery, etc are not solely “black” experiences. I can’t claim ownership to a history of injustice as if I (based on the color of my skin) and those who share my racial background are the only ones who have suffered injustice. If someone treats me as less than because of my race, what I take away from that is not the racial component, but the understanding that another being is trying to make me feel small or somehow insignificant. Yes, my initial experience may derive from that individual’s arbitrary idea that my skin color is the defining factor of my character, but the intent-the notion of trying to make me feel insignificant-is an experience that just about anyone can empathize, or at the very least, sympathize with.

Injustice has no borders. In a world made smaller by the internet and the increased capabilities of technology, restricting my scope of understanding to my limited experience fails to do what I believe fiction should do. Fiction should be able to reach everyone. It should stroke emotion in anyone, even if a person that has yet or will never have that experience. Books should make you feel, make you care, even if only for a moment in time. My goal as a writer is to create empathy for the human experience.

When I look at my characters I never see race. I see the traits that make them up. Those traits may derive from experiences that they have gone through on their journey to my muse, but I don’t use race as a defining factor of those experiences. Even if race was the catalyst of my character’s experiences, it is the intent, or the lingering feeling of the experience that matters to me.

If I was to be forced to determine what kind of experiences trigger my character interactions and general story line, I’d say that I write human experiences. A vast majority of my characters–if I were to classify them as having a race–are Caucasian or of some European descent. This is not an intentional thing, as in, I didn’t set out to write only “white” characters with some misguided attempt at ensuring I avoided being shoved into a particular genre. My characters are who they are. I don’t get to  mentally color them in. And as an added note, yes there are other “races” in my world, just as there are other species.

Fiction should be able to stretch across racial boundaries. I shouldn’t be limited by some so-called belief that my life experiences are viewed through race-tinted glasses.  When I look at my life, my experiences have allowed me to meet and have meaningful relationships with people. Yes, simply, people. I’m a military brat. My exposure to a variety of people is where I get my inspiration.

The worlds of the Gardinian universe have wars on just about every planet. If anything, humans seem to always be fighting for or against something. In that regard, the creatures of my worlds are no different. They fight oppression, they fight for land, and for the love of family and country. Gardas and all its inhabitants are a written expression of my view of a world that is far beyond the limitations of my own experiences.

I’m an author and I write about mythological gods and beasts. Beyond that I am only worried about telling tales of love and lust, destruction and creation, and the experiences that unite a universe. This is the reason I decided to forgo traditional publishing. I get to tell the stories I want to tell with no hidden agenda beyond making my readers feel something, if only for a brief moment in time.

3 responses to The human experience

  1. 

    This is one of the most well reasoned ideas I’ve ever read on the logic behind self publishing. Quite possibly the answer I will have to point to everytime I’m asked the question. Well this and my writing is so poor I don’t think a publisher would touch it with a ten foot pole 🙂

    • 

      Thank you! And don’t be fooled. I originally wrote this in December, but set it aside so that I could think on it. I had to tweak it a bit and edit it enough that it didn’t come off (hopefully) as a rant from an angry black woman lol.

      • 

        I don’t think it came off that way at all. 🙂

        Sometimes we, as writers, have to sit on our work and let it broil. It’s like maturing a fine wine in some instances. This post was perfectly aged.