This year’s Bouchercon totally rocked. I expected to hate it, I really did, but instead I loved it. I know that folks first question will by, why did I think I would hate it?
I mentioned last week why, but I am going to expand on it today. I’m an introvert. I’m pretty sure you all know that already. Here are things many introverts don’t like: crowds, small talk, being the center of attention, no quiet time or space alone, hugging, etc. Ok, I will totally cop to being ok with hugging, as long as I know and like the person. But the rest – yes, all of that. At a fan conference I don’t get pitched that much. I do get some pitches and I am ok with that – it’s part of the reason why I am there. The exhausting part is being “on” and “available” the entire time. People want to talk to me and I don’t always know why. It could be that they want to pitch me. Or they want to get to know me or Midnight Ink better so they can have their agent pitch me later. It could be a seasoned pro looking for a new house or a new writer that likes what we have done. It could be an agent or fellow editor. Or it could be because I’m single. (Hey, a girl can dream, right?) The fact is, not knowing why someone wants to talk to me is exhausting. I don’t know which hat to put on. So right there is my nightmare – a big crowd, small talk, and being the focus of someone’s attention and me not knowing why. This year I didn’t have much time to recharge either. I tried to visit with all of the Midnight Ink authors, but sadly I was not successful on that front and I do try to make myself available to anyone who wants to say hi. Personal exhaustion and discomfort aside, it’s my job to be there and to be charming.
As taxing as it sometimes is, I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t want to be there. That is the farthest from the truth - because the crime fiction community is my tribe. I get to hang out with amazingly funny and witty folks who make me laugh until I cry. I can lament about the publishing industry and hear gossip about what is going on at other publishing houses. I have so many friends in the crime fiction community that I would be in despair if I had to miss a Bouchercon or Malice. So as much as Bouchercon takes out of me, I am replenished in other ways. I absolutely love it and every year I go home with a new group of friends.
Now I am going to focus on one thing that kept coming up at Bouchercon this year. Diversity in crime fiction. I was lucky enough to participate in the workshop hosted by Sisters in Crime. (I was also very proud to see so many Midnight Ink authors in attendance.) Since forever, it seems, the mantra has been, write what you know. Makes sense in a way, right? If you are cop, you know what happens in an investigation. If you are a baker, you know what goes into baking. But as a white person, can I write an authentic person of color? Can a straight woman write a gay male character? The consensus of the presenters was yes. *Yes, you can.
Hey, what is that asterisk all about? Yes, you can write a character that is outside of your comfort zone/base of knowledge/whatever, as long as you do it respectfully. While there is a seed of truth in every stereotype, if you write all stereotypical characters, you will be called out on it. (And you should be.) Not all gay men are hairstylists and into fashion. Not all lesbians are butch and manly. Not all black people are criminals or drug dealers. Not all Asians run laundry mats or Chinese restaurants. Not all Native Amercians are drunks. You get the point, right? I don’t have to go on naming various groups, right? Those of us who fall into a minority group really just want to see our lives, whatever it is, to be represented authentically and respectfully. I think we have taken political correctness too far in that writers (and publishers) are afraid to offend readers so we have gone so far as to eliminate all diversity in our books. Nobody wants that. And it isn’t accurate. I can’t think of day where I haven’t interacted with a person of color. So why are so many books filled only with white people? Or straight people? Or abled body people?
My advice to writers – write that diverse character and if you are worried about it, ask someone else to read it. I have offered to read manuscripts or partial manuscripts to give the author feedback on lesbian characters. I know many writers who have done the same thing. Our world is not an entirely white male, cis gender, able-bodied world. It may seem that way in crime fiction because that is dominating publishing right now, but we owe it to ourselves and to our readers to do better. Just come from a good place and it will all work out.
As an add on to that, I would also like to say that those of us in publishing need to do better as well. I can only acquire what comes across my desk. I can’t magically make a series with diverse characters appear. But what I can do is say to agents – hey, I’m looking for diverse books. I’m not afraid to acquire a book with a (fill in the blank) character. When I go to writing conferences, I can encourage writers to step out of their comfort zone a little bit. Cause hey, our world is diverse. It is fascinating and heart breaking and scary and kind. Our genre should reflect that.