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Author Topic: #Ownvoices  (Read 286 times)
debbie.rosenberg58
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« on: October 25, 2018, 07:35:46 AM »

I'm currently in editing rounds with a small independent publisher for my debut novel. Really excited about finally being published. In between editing rounds, I'm have another WIP, which is very different from the first novel. I plan to query this WIP to agents.

Among the cast of characters, some are diverse. One of the MC is Korean, another character is deaf. Deafness is integral to the plot since one of the themes is communication. The Korean character is from Queens, New York, where there is a thriving Korean community. I used to live there, so this character evolved from that experience. I did quite a bit of research of course, which is still ongoing and plan to have sensitivity readers to ensure authenticity. My Korean character is complex, and a combination of her culture, and the influence of her best friend, the American MC.

I asked an agent on a forum about writing characters such as these (not as specific as mentioned above). I'll paraphrase the answer: "You already know the answer to this if you're asking." She also said any agency interested in the manuscript would probably want to know if it is #ownvoices.

So, putting it out there: Should we, as writers have the artistic freedom to write characters as we imagine them, regardless of their ethnicity, ability and gender? Or, are we expected to stay within the confines of our experience? I'm not comparing my writing ability to the author of Memoirs of a Geisha, but that was written by a white guy.

Thoughts?
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jcwrites
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« Reply #1 on: October 26, 2018, 08:14:45 PM »

"...but that was written by a white guy."

There's your answer.

If artists are "...expected to stay within the confines of our experience...," as you so adroitly put it, we become no more than scribes, recording what we see and hear. #ownvoices is no more a guarantee of sensitivity than #myvoice is a guarantee of a lack thereof.
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kaperton
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« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2018, 10:50:16 PM »

Memoirs of a Geisha was a long time ago. I was just told by an agent that publishers would be wary of a white author trying to write a person of color, and probably wouldn't want to touch it. It doesn't mean you can't have diversity in your characters, but you should probably stay away from writing an MC whose ethnicity/identity is different from yours, unless maybe you had really close ties to that community somehow...even then, it's risky.
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koji
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« Reply #3 on: October 28, 2018, 02:32:32 AM »

There are definitely agents and editors who will prefer #ownvoices work to non-ownvoices. There are also some who are willing to risk on non-ownvoices. The thing is that the trend in the market is towards #ownvoices- you have to not only think about what the agent and editor wants, but what people are wanting to read and much of the reading market is supporting #ownvoices right now.

Again, that doesn't mean if you write something absolutely amazing/fantastic that you won't find a home for it. But if your writing is on the same level as an #ownvoices writer, (and you're writing about an #ownvoices issue) then an agent would pick the #ownvoices over you. Usually. It's just a safer bet for them in today's market.

That being said- it isn't that white-cis-hetero people CAN'T write diverse characters. In fact, we should because the world is diverse. Being friends, having deep, authentic connections with the people you are writing can make your writing shine. And especially if it is not your MC and is a secondary character, I think you would be fine.
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debbie.rosenberg58
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« Reply #4 on: October 31, 2018, 07:29:05 AM »

My (non-writer) support group of family and friends were astonished #ownvoices is an issue, and say go forward with the character as she is. This character is Korean, and one of four POV (the others are white) in the novel. I didn't conjure her ethnicity purposely, it's the way the idea evolved. I'm originally from the location where this family lives, which has a dense Korean population and culture. I've done my due diligence with historical and cultural research. The next step is a reading list of novels by Korean authors.

Another of the minor characters has a disability which is central to the story. My plan is to reach out to a prominent member of this community and see if he can connect me with a sensitivity reader.

I think I'll move forward with the book as is and see what happens.

Thanks for all your input.

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