Friday, December 16, 2022

The Ethnicity of Characters, and The New Novels

For a long time, I've been reluctant to depict people too far from my own cultural/ethnic stock in my novels, for fear of getting the details wrong, and making essentially a 'blackface' character—an unintentionally (in my case) racist parody. I really try not to offend people accidentally with my work, and making a character like that would be a humiliating failure on my part.

An online friend of mine (Dale, lookin' at you here,) who is Black, set me straight. He said he would much rather see someone try and not necessarily get the 'details' right than not see characters who looked like himself at all. The implication was that the 'details' that worry me so much assume a monolithic culture of a given minority that isn't really there.

It's taken me a while to digest this.

But I'm trying.  The protagonist of the novel I just finished, The Silent Dust, and indeed the whole series, is Nina Cohen. She's Jewish, born in Romania a very long time ago, and her family came to the United States when she was 14. It's part of the plot, part of the character, so I picked her background for her. As the series is set in a fictional city in Minnesota, however, the question of 'what do all the people around Nina look like?' became critical. In The Silent Dust, I tried to keep an even hand. A lot of the characters came out White. I don't think that's necessarily a problem, given the demographics of Minnesota, but darn it, I want to be fair. I keep thinking about what Dale said.

For Dead of Winter, I've a new method. I took the demographics for St. Paul, Minnesota, and made a chart. For any character I don't have a good reason to make them any given ethnicity, I get out my much-worn D&D percentile dice, and roll against that chart. Now, my book will reflect reality. There's a fifty-one percent chance any given character not already assigned an ethnicity will be White. There's a seven percent chance they'll be mixed-race. Culturally, all the characters I know about so far except Nina herself are Minnesotans, the way I remember them from when I lived there. One of the main characters is Black. One is of mixed ethnicity. Is it a challenge for me? Yes it is. But hey. Without challenges, one does not grow, right?


 Does this mean I'm writing again? It does. 

The Silent Dust is complete. I'm in the process of my final edit. The Dead of Winter is started. They're paranormal detective stories. Above all, the stories are small. Nobody's saving the world, particularly, it's just a poltergeist in an abandoned human body trying to make a living using her abilities to solve difficult cases. There's a lot of humor involved, but I'm trying to write well constructed mysteries, and "because it's funny" is not a good solution to a mystery, in my opinion. The humor is part of the telling of the story. It doesn't control it.


What about the other projects?

Right now, I'm kind of done with steampunk. I came in late, and it seems like the genre is dying out. Also, the other steampunk stories I've read really haven't been to my taste, so it's kind of hard to want to chase that audience further. Brass and Steel: Inferno's sales were disappointing, to say the least, so there's that, too, and that book took me five years to write. I don't want any more five year missions. that result in epic 'save the world' plots. I lose touch with the characters over that kind of time, and good sequels are practically impossible.

What about cyberpunk?

I still love cyberpunk. I still love reading it, it still fires my imagination, and it's very likely I'll revisit cyberpunk at some point. The LookingGlass world is probably a dead end at this point. We now live in the timeline I was talking about when I wrote it.


No comments:

Blog Archive