Recently, I found myself engrossed in a Twitter conversation about authors writing across divides, such as racial and ethnic. The oldest writing adage in the book is to “write what you know,” but if authors only write about what and whom they know, their characters and stories will all look and sound alike, and they will soon run out of material. In SO SHELLY, there’s a scene with a group of young African-Americans. I remember how difficult it was to give voice and action to those characters without perpetuating stereotypes. I so worried that my portrayal would be unintentionally offensive, but there was no way of really knowing. In GOODNESS FALLS, there are several Mexican-American characters, and once again, I hope that I have provided an accurate portrayal.
The conversation also got me to thinking about how difficult it is to write across gender and generation gaps. As a male writer of young adult fiction, it is especially difficult because I know that an overwhelming percentage of my readers will be women or teenage girls. Although, I recently came across a statistic in Publishers Weekly that fifty-five percent of readers of YA novels are adults, and I know for a fact that the majority of my readers are adults. So, imagine the difficulty for me, as a middle-aged male, of tapping into my inner adolescent female. I bet you didn’t even know I had one. This conundrum becomes even more dicey when, as my stories are wont to, sexual situations arise, and I am challenged with presenting an accurate rendition of the complex concerns, expectations, motivations, and reactions of my female characters. Oh, and compound the delicacy of it with the difficulty of pulling it off while not sounding like a pervy old man when those female characters are teenage girls. Fiction ain’t easy!
In the end, the best that an author can do when crossing racial, ethnic, and gender divides is to be particularly sensitive; to maximize his empathetic powers’ and to draw from his observations, his own life experiences, and from those life experiences that have been shared with him by members of the subset of which he writes. At the very least, his portrayal should avoid the perpetuation of stereotypes.