Thursday, September 22, 2016

Writing in color & S.A. Hunt

I've been rolling this post around in my head for days because I'm not sure how to say it properly. I've decided to just say it because I think it needs saying.

I'm reading Malus Domestica by S.A. Hunt and really enjoying it. According to my kindle I'm exactly halfway through it. It's a horror novel, it says so right on the cover. It's reminiscent of early Stephen King to me... along the lines of say, Pet Semetary. It's not the same kind of scary, yet. But it's building nicely. I'm really enjoying it.

While I'd always assumed that Malus Domestica meant something along the lines of Ordinary Evil or Evil in the Home or something like that I was quite wrong... humorously wrong in fact. In fact it means Orchard Apple. I'm not even kidding. The Mal in Malus isn't bad at all! Apples are about as pure and wholesome as... well... as apple pie! What could be wrong with an apple? Nothing! (Please don't ask Snow White how she feels about apples. Her opinion is biased by the lone interaction with a witch and an apple. How often could that POSSIBLY come up?)

I'm not here to talk about apples though. I'm here to talk about reading. I've been reading for years, over 40 years and I read several different ways. I read for entertainment. I read to learn new things. I read as a writer to see what I like and don't like in a story. That's part of what I'm going to talk about here. First some background about me.

See that? That's me according to my DNA. What do those places have in common? White. I'm incredibly white. If I'm not careful on a sunny day you can see straight through my skin to the muscles underneath.

Why does this matter? Because I read a lot of books. I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, and adventure fiction, a LOT. Those books are primarily written by white guys for white guys and tend to be populated, oddly enough, by more white guys. Even fantasy settings. Elves? Check. Dwarves? Check. Owl headed monsters leaping from closets? Well, sometimes. White people? Oh hell yeah! They're like EVERYWHERE! Just relax gentle reader. As foreign as these fantasy and science fiction worlds may be you may rest assured you will always feel at home as a 99% white guy because everywhere you look will be tons of other people JUST LIKE YOU!

As a white reader I don't even notice. Honestly. I don't. I don't pay any attention. The default for me is "white guy protagonist." I'm not saying it to be proud of it or anything I'm just saying that's my reading world and I am mostly not even aware of it. It just happens.

So, when I pick up a book and it has a person of color in it I notice. I don't object or recoil and throw the book down but I notice. That's a recent thing and it's because I've started writing. Want to read my book? Cool. Go get it and read it. I'll wait here. But about people of color in books. Sometimes they're there to die as in the "black guy dies first" trope. Sometimes they're the "magic negro." Sometimes they're sort of a side character we don't really get to know but the author wanted to be inclusive and diverse so (s)he made sure to have a non-white person in there. A lot of times diversity for the sake of diversity, in books, doesn't work. Either the writer doesn't know what they're doing, or they're trying too hard, or sometimes it's just a weird sort of "I don't know anybody who is from India so I'll make them like Raj from Big Bang Theory" kind of thing going on. It's jarring.

Which is what made me nervous when I saw that S.A. Hunt had included multiple races and was using not just a token person from each race he wanted to include, but actually had a black father & son as main characters. There's a "Juan" whose country of origin I don't know so won't guess, but i'm pretty sure I know. There's women all over the place, well written ones too. That's another thing, sometimes men write women badly.

I'm happy to say S. A. Hunt writes both really well. I was afraid he was going to botch it or get preachy with things or go too far but he didn't. He's hit exactly the right tone. Now, I'm saying this as white guy. You've seen my DNA so you know. But my point is. Here, here's an example. The point of view character here is a young black boy. Something S.A. Hunt is not, according to his author profile on amazon at least. But he handles the casual day-to-day racism that I KNOW really exists because I see it. And he doesn't go into what's going on in the boy's head as a result. He doesn't try to guess is he hurt, resentful, angry, what? He puts it there and moves on. Because that's what life is like on the daily for people of color.

Racism is bad. We can all agree on that. And when someone says "racist" or "racism" I think lynch mobs. I think throwing people out of a diner or off a bus. But that's not all there is to it. There's this here. There's the ignoring them unless forced not to. That's a big deal. It's a daily, constant, "You don't matter" that they deal with and it never goes away. How would that feel to be treated like that day after day after day? What would that do? Here's a thought experiment. Ignore your kid for say, a week. Like unless they demand your attention don't pay them any at all... you're already thinking, "WTF is wrong with you Rich?" Exactly. That's exactly my point and it's exactly what happens and it's insidious.

In another place in the book there's a group of white people discussing the new neighbors and one of them casually drops the N-word. Nobody blinks they just go on as if he'd said "cabbages are green." Why? Because it was just them. Nobody was hurt by it... It happens all the time. It's casual. It's made okay because nobody else heard it. It's there. I see both of these things constantly in real life.

S.A. Hunt has written a really enjoyable book that is a supernatural horror thriller that has characters in it I really enjoy and like. I didn't mention the handicapped man who doesn't define himself by his handicap... mainly because I strongly suspect he'd take his leg off and beat me with it then put it back on and walk off. I didn't mention him because it's not WHO he is. He's not a HANDICAPPED man. The other characters aren't a BLACK family. They are not defined by their adjective as so many authors do. There's a man who has a prosthetic leg. There's a family that is also black.

So, what I'm saying is if you're writing, include some "other" in there. Something besides white men or white folks. And if you're wondering how? Do it like S.A. Hunt does because he does it really well, and does the interactions between them really well. I can't say enough good things about it.

Without being a screed or preachy manifesto it's made me think and that's what good fiction does. This is really good fiction.
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