Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Diversity Through a Novel Lens

by Bethany Maines

Diversity and inclusion are words we hear a lot of these days. And they're also terms that get a lot of eye rolls. We already get bombarded with have-tos on a daily basis. Why should I have to think about including people that aren't like me?  I was recently working with a client in my day-job that's been propeneting diversity in their field. Their argument is that diversity leads to innovation. It's not simply a matter of moral correctness but that diversity, with respect and inclusion, creates a better product—no matter what the product is. This person also pointed out that usually we get stuck thinking about diversity in an extremely limited way—usually race or sexual orientation.  But what about age?  What about weight? Or background and class? What about any of the other metrics that we use to divide a group of us from another group of us?  There are many ways to incorporate diversity into a workplace, and the key take-away is to respect the differences of others and learn from their experiences. (I know.  Respect.  What a shocker.  If only we all just spent more time listening to Aretha Franklin.)

The argument for diversity has also been waging in the world of writing (aka Twitter, where novelists go for their social life) and publishing. The general argument is that diversity is good, but sales at the end of the day are what matter and we already know that people buy thrillers about white dudes who are avenging the hooker with a heart of gold, so that's what gets published. More writers of color would be nice, but they better write something marketable, possibly about white dudes because everyone knows that white dudes sell. 

In other words, novels are not meant to be real life. Whether that life is more exciting, in better order, full of magic, or simply cooler, people are reading novels to specifically NOT see their own lives.  Or as my brother once said about movies, "If I wanted to see real life, I'd go to the mall."  I get it. And it's true.  But it's not the ONLY thing that's true. The maxim of only publishing what we know works prevents innovation (the very thing diversity achieves!) and excludes a lot of readers—readers who are looking for themselves between the covers of books.  And as a girl who only had two action figures (Princess Leia and Lady Jayne from GI Joe) to my brothers army, let me tell you, representation matters.  You cannot win a war with just two, no matter how awesome they are. (Not that Leia and Jayne aren't totally awesome and would at minimum take out half an army.)  I would have paid a lot of money for another girl action figure and I'm willing to bet that readers would pay for books that showed more of themselves as well.

All of this is to say, I love the Stiletto Gang.  I love our diverse authors and their diverse characters. I'm glad to be a gang member and I'm happy to support them. And, after having looked at the the statistics on diversity and the creation of superior products, I'm absolutely convinced that our novels are some of the best around.

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Join twenty-something former actress Tish Yearly and her septuagenarian ex-CIA agent grandfather, Tobias, as they bicker, solve a murder and try and keep the dog from getting diabetes.


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Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mystery Series, Tales From the City of Destiny, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous short stories. When she's not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some serious butt with her fourth degree black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel. You can also catch up with her on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

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