Diversity In Young Adult Literature | Leviosa 2016

Lily: Um, to start, I’d like to let everybody introduce themselves and why you wanted to be on the panel. Lily Meade: My name is Lily I’m part of Leviosa’s staff, and I am very happy to be on the panel, but I’m on the panel because Alexa’s like, “Would you like to be on the diversity panel?” And I’m like, “Well, DUH.” (laughter) So let’s hear some more… qualified voices. Susan: You are qualified. Hi guys, I’m Susan Dennard, and I wrote some books, and I’m on this panel because I feel that I have a lot to learn. so I wanted to come here and learn. Maybe I should have sat in the audience for that, but I also felt like I could be that voice who asks the questions that maybe other people want to know So, yeah! Roshani: Awesome. Roshani: Hi, I’m Roshani Chokshi. I’m the author of THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN It draws on a lot of Indian mythology, and my dad’s Indian, so it was a big impact on my childhood. But I’ll be more eloquent later, that was pretty bad. (laughter) (inaudible) Thao: My name is Thao Le, I’m an agent at the Dijkstra Agency. I’m actually Roshani’s agent. Roshani: Yay!!! I love diversity, especially in YA, children’s fiction so I’m here to scout some new talent! (Woo! and laughter from the audience) Thao: Here’s a profiteer! (laughter) Mark: Hi, everyone! My name is Mark Oshiro. I go by markdoesstuff online. I run the blogs MarkReads and MarkWatches. I have a joke where if I’m at a convention, I’m on a diversity panel, it’s just sort of how it goes. But I do this a lot. I teach conventions—who are usually, by the way, way more white and male than this so it’s so refreshing to be here because I just never see this in the audience. It’s great. It’s awesome. And I just finished my first book and it’s done and I’m looking for agents Roshani: Oh my god! (laughter) And I’ll tell you more about that, because a lot of—I know— a lot of what I wrote into it is what I never saw growing up, and what I wanted as a book when I was a teenager. So I wrote that book for myself. Axie: My name is Axie Oh. I have a debut novel coming out Fall 2017. (Woo!) It’s set in futuristic Korea, and I’m Korean-American, so it was really fun to write, and yeah! (inaudible) Janella: Hi, I’m Janella Angeles. I’m a YA Fantasy writer repped by Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Agency Thao: I have two very awesome people on this panel Janella: I signed a few months ago, so I’m here because I think that I also have a lot to learn, but a lot to say. Lily: K, well I think I’ll start us off with a question that’s asked a lot on diversity panels but I think for good reason What was the first book that you truly felt you saw yourself in? Susan: We can all go down the line, or we’ll just jump in Mark: I’ll jump in. So I read a lot of science fiction growing up. Not that much fantasy because I wasn’t into white dudes as wizards, um it wasn’t until I was a freshman in high school, and it’s my favorite book of all time, THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET by Sandra Cisneros I’m Latino, and we just don’t exist in fiction In the high school setting and in junior high I never once saw a single brown person growing up in any of the books that I read And that was the first—I mean, it made me cry, because I didn’t— It was one of those moments when I realized that I’m allowed to be in books I’d read so many books from the perspective of one type of character that it was— it was almost shocking. I thought it was a practical joke That like, this is not a book that we could—so yeah, I’m very thankful that I got to read that when I was, like, 14 years old? (inaudible) Mark: Fast book. 120 pages. Read it. Roshani: I think one of the first books that I read that I really just had that similar moment “You can do this?” was Lloyd Alexander’s THE IRON RING (Susan gasps) Roshani: Love. (laughter) Roshani: This facial expression! That book was—I mean, it is phenomenal. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it And even though Lloyd Alexander is a white guy, I love that he addressed a lot of myths that I had learned growing up from my grandmother very respectfully. And there was this amount of magic that kind of made me feel like he believed it And I loved the female character in THE IRON RING. She was sassy, her name is Mirra, and she was dark-skinned. And it was like this beauty that you don’t even see championed in Bollywood. You don’t see it in a lot of stuff And it was just so refreshing and magical to read, and it was the first time that I ever saw anyone like myself or like the people that I loved being the heroes and heroines and having magic And it was wonderful! I’ve never forgotten that experience. Susan: How old were you? Roshani: I was like—I was 14. (sounds of surprise) Roshani: It’s a magic age! Lily: I re—I can’t think of the first book that I truly remember seeing myself in but I did have a dare with myself one summer to read 100 books and I didn’t even join one of those reading challenges you guys do I could’ve got so many free pizzas! (laughter) So I’m sure it was one of those But I remember the first book that, like, truly made me want to write diversely was when I read THE HUNGER GAMES, and I was talking to a friend, and I was like, “I really like that Rue looks just like me,” and she goes, “No, she doesn’t!” And I’m like, “Really, did we read the same book?” And I accepted her opinion. But then when the movie came out, and everybody was so angry that Rue and Thresh were black, and I was like, it was super obvious in the books I guess I need to make it more obvious! So maybe that should segue into a new question, of What book, if not the book that you mentioned, was the book that inspired you to write diversity? Susan: It sounds terrible, but, like, I never even thought about it. So in my first series I have in the main (character?) joins up with this team called the Spirit Hunters, and there’s an Asian-American, she’s Chinese, and they’re all immigrants, so that just makes sense, right It’s 1876, it was a world of immigrants. That was, like, the obvious choice, and it never occurred to me And actually in hindsight, I’m like, “Yeah, I hope I handled it right.” Because I did it just because that’s what the story asked for, and now I’m realizing more and more as a writer that, you know, you don’t want to offend or get it wrong. And I mean, obviously, look at me. My story is very different from your all’s story, and so if you guys read it, let me know! That’s how I learn! You know, I try my best, but I could do better, I think And so, yeah. TRUTHWITCH is a fantasy world, so I was able to really, really go have fun. So, yeah. Axie: Yeah, um I guess less books, but a lot of manga and anime actually made it seem like Oh, well, obviously the Asian’s the heroine (laughter) (inaudible) Axie: She’s not Serena, she’s Usagi So in that way, when I started writing, I was always like It was like fanfiction from, like, anime. So it became, it was natural to do an Asian protagonist because that’s what I grew up on. But also a book that I really loved is called DRAGON SWORD AND WIND CHILD by (Susan GASPS!!) Axie: by Noriko Ogiwara. YES! Susan: I’M SO HAPPY!!!!!!! Axie: It’s beautiful! It’s like a—it’s a Japanese book that was translated to English so you can read it. It’s a beautiful—It’s based on Japanese culture, even though it’s fantasy It’s like a fantasy Japan. And it’s just—It’s beautiful. Just read it. (inaudible) Janella: People might laugh at me for this answer, but It’s not necessarily a book that had me—made me feel seen, but in 2006 when High School Musical came out I was very moved that Gabriella was played, Vanessa Hudgens is a Filipina that was the first time I’d ever actually seen someone who looked like me and I went to a high school that was an all-girls private Catholic school, and we had all these musicals and I couldn’t necessarily go out for the leads, because they were all, you know, they didn’t look like me And so I always thought, “Oh my gosh, I can be Gabriella!” And so having that revelation was what made me want to write diversely, because if I can’t see myself I want to put myself out there I want to make myself more visible so that, you know young Filipina girls don’t need to wait until they’re age 13 to see themselves Thao: Are you familiar with Brandy’s Cinderella? Everyone: YEEESSSSS (general merriment and joy) (inaudible) Thao: …black mother and a white father. Amazing! (more merriment and joy) Thao: So it turns out that movie, since we’re talking a bit all over the place about movies that was kind of one for me. In terms of books, this sounds sort of cliché, but Amy Tan’s JOY LUCK CLUB which I read for the first time as a high school freshman and that was the day (it hit me?) so much, because everything these girls did was SO relatable especially the overbearing Asian mother (laughter) And I was like crying because IT WAS SO REAL! (more laughter) Thao: And then I ended up working for an agency that represents her, so Susan: That’s so cool, no way! Thao: We represent Amy Tan. She is one of our amazing Asian-American authors And for me, it was books like that resonated with me, apparently affected me so much that I ended up going into this profession and ended up working with you guys So yeah. Definitely overbearing Asian mothers Roshani: So inspirational
Thao: Yes Mark: I would say, at least in terms of what’s appearing in my own work, Octavia Butler was probably the biggest influence on my own work. If you’ve not read Octavia Butler, she wrote the best book in every genre and then never wrote in that genre again It’s amazing She wrote the best time travel book you’ll ever read, she wrote the best book about vampires in the history of the universe, it’s called FLEDGLING, you’re welcome She did alien invasion, oh man. It’s—and—and the thing that I like about her words, her worlds, is that they are naturally diverse without seeming like they’re checking off boxes on a list It’s that she makes all of them hyper-real. And that was something that I wanted to have in my own work where it never felt like I’m going out of my way to include people, I will instead writing the world as it is and then just adding messed up things on top of it Um, so, yeah, Octavia Butler’s a huge influence on me Lily: Okay, then, I think tying up the whole “talking about books that we really, really love,” why don’t we segue that back into how our books our diverse and, like, the intersection between diversity in our books and in our lives? Um, I know in my book, um, there is like this massive plague that takes away an ability that most people have— I have to be super vague about this because it’s really high concept if I say it out loud, and I have this terrible fear of someone stealing my idea—but anyways, I originally went into the idea of being with X ability is a cool, terrible thing, and the more I got into it, the more I realized that people without this unique ability could still live life completely fully. And it wasn’t like that they were living a lesser life, and so the people who were against that idea, it sort of became like a savior, like you’re less than, which is a problem in disability in diversity. So it’s something that I’m really excited to explore in my story. But now I want to hear about yours! Roshani: Um, so THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN is my love letter to fairy tales. And when I was growing up my mom is Filipino, my dad is Indian. And they didn’t teach us our, their native languages. They didn’t want us to get confused, if you’re a first-generation American, and yeah. My dad had been bullied a lot when he moved here, and had like an Indian accent and all that kind of thing, so he didn’t want that for us Um, and for my, my bridge back to my parents’ heritage, MY heritage, was fairy tales and world mythology And the more and more that I read, the more I saw that we’re just telling the same story over and over again That same story, you can find it across a cultural spectrum. And that was amazing. That was so freeing to be like, “Oh. I see what you did. And I think that I could do it too.” So when I wrote it, um, I wanted a story that had a heroine that looked like the people that I’d grown up with. I wanted something for my younger cousins. And I wanted to explore those similar stories Memory loss. Reincarnation. True love. That emotional core of every story is there. The bones are there. The culture and religion that informs the world building I think is what makes it seem diverse. And it is diverse but I’m not telling you about anything new. You already know it. And so that was really the fun part about writing it (laughter from outside the room) (laughter from INSIDE the room) Mark: It’s weird not taking turns. I feel like it’s on. So a big thing that I wanted to do with my, um, um, YA book is that I wanted it—I don’t see very many YA books set in San Francisco, period, or in the Bay Area, and specifically set in West Oakland Um, I lived in Oakland for five years, and I was desperate to find books set in that area, and it was very, very hard for me So I—my main character is black, and he’s also gay. And so he’s dealing with a very, very specific issue You know, West Oakland is where the Black Panthers were born. So I wanted to have a book that not only addressed the political history of the United States, but that puts it in a very modern sense I—I also—I guess I wanted to do with is is that I didn’t want to do the tokenism thing, because I’m just so tired of an entirely white cast with one of each of the other things, because it’s not really how identities work Many of us up here have multiple intersecting identities, so I wanted to build a community that felt real that was made up of people that seemed real. Um, and the other thing is that I had initially thought of the story is that I wanted to do a story that addressed something that I felt was just left out of the dystopian genre which is that no one’s—I described it as it’s the Divergent problem, which is that it’s happening to ten people in the middle of America, and they’re all white. And it seemed to me that in a dystopian world, they never seem like worlds, they feel like a tiny little city. So I wanted to address that idea that if a dystopian world were actually happening, who would it had actually affect first? And usually, and if you look at history, it tends to be people who are in marginalized communities So I wrote—my series is about a dystopian world forming, and it starts in one neighborhood in a city and spreads And so that neighborhood I wanted to build as realistically as possible. I—I—I—there’s actually a few people that have read the book, it’s—I do this thing that I call “uncanny realism.” I want you to get to a point where you don’t know when it’s science fiction until I hit the switch. And so for a lot of people who’ve read it they think the science fiction is a lot earlier, and it’s not. Many of the things in it are things that I did to represent this community and to represent futur—what seemed like “futuristic” ideas that are not futuristic at all They’ve existed for a long time. So, um, those—those are—so it’s not that I’m like diversifying the book, it’s that I set it in a place where it would be specifically addressing a culture and a group of people who don’t often appear in—in YA, if that makes sense? Like I didn’t write the characters and then go like, “You’re this race! You’re this race!” Like Oprah, and I’m handing out— (laughter) Mark: It’s more that I deliberately set it in a place where there was a vast majority of black characters and a vast majority of queer people. Because the Bay Area is such a hotbed for (political?) activity, so I’m like if I set it there, it’s realistic off the bat that most people are not white, and most people are not straight So that there’s not this idea of, “Oh, I’m just throwing them in there just to be diverse for the sake of it.” Janella: Uh, well I am currently working on a YA island-set fantasy. Um, and, that’s kind of like my love letter to all my parents’ adventure stories when they lived in the Philippines. My dad likes to call himself like a jungle boy I don’t know how true that is, but (laughter) Janella: But it really informed my imagination. I wanted to always write something with that sort of tone and an adventure! Um, and when I started writing, I had, um—I slipped in some inspirations from my own heritage, but when I was really revising it, I wanted to add in a lot more. And I realized that I didn’t know that much about my culture, because when I was growing up I lived in, um—I was one of the only people who identified as a minority in my town, in my schools, all throughout my life So that pressure to blend in kind of (rejected?) makes you different really had me very removed from my own culture And so I owe a lot to this story, because I feel like it’s brought me a lot closer to my culture and to my parents because I’ve always asked them about what their lives were like in the Philippines, and how I could insert that into my manuscript and really pay tribute to my heritage Susan: That is beautiful
Janella: Thank you! (murmurs of agreement) Mark: I mean, it’s hard. So one of the things that’s also in my book is I’ve never read a YA book with a transracial adoptee, and I am. So my mom is white, my dad is Japanese-Hawaiian. I’m Latino. My birth parents are El Salvadorian, Guatemalan, so it’s this weird experience in America where if you’re separated from a culture, you have such a different experience than a lot of people who get to stay within it. And it’s hard when you start to write—I have a character Esperanza, whose parents, she’s adopted, and her parents are white. And I start writing these things, and I realize there’s certain things about my own culture that I don’t know at all. And I thought I did. But when you’re getting the details, you’re like, “This is ME! And I don’t even know what I’m doing!” And it’s cool when you have to do research on yourself, I guess, in a way? It becomes this really transformative experience Lily: I agree. That’s something that I have to struggle with a lot because I am very obviously diverse but my mother, my single parent mother, is white. Like, very, very white. She has Elsa hair and blue eyes And I spent my elementary years living in this lake town where my best friend lived in a mansion with, like, a boat in the backyard So that’s how I sort of, like, learned my social cues, and then my mother moved me into a more diverse town and… the people who looked like me at school, did not… did not… we did not get along. (laughter) Lily: And it wasn’t that I was trying to be separate, it’s just that I felt so Other. Because it’s sort of like the whole white-is-default problem that we have in books. That can be a problem in real life, too. I mean, I was raised by a white parent. and she raised me really well. But I’m not that connected to my culture, and that’s something I had to really work on in the past few years, especially because being so disconnected from my culture brought up some racial issues with friends that I don’t know how to handle because I’d always let that sort of stuff, like, slide under the rug. So, um… Susan: That’s like a really good YA novel, by the way. I’d read that. It sounds amazing (laughter) Thao: Send it to me first, though (laughter) (inaudible) Mark: I mean, but, I mean, the whole white-is-the-default thing, and it’s funny, because you bring up Rue when you brought up Rue and Thresh, and how so many people read that where if you read it, there are amazing context clues that tell us that they’re not white, because so many people are used to the idea that everyone in a work of fiction is white that they don’t—they completely miss them. Um, a lot of people—if you’ve ever played the video game Portal, um, Chell, people think Chell is white, and she’s not, at all. Um, and it’s one of those things where even in video games, where you can be anything you want in the world, peoples’ default goes right to one thing And so, yeah, it’s a Thao: It’s usually the first color, too, that shows up. In skin tone, when you’re choosing the avatar. Susan: Yes, it is. I play a lot of games, and it is
Mark: Yeah, yeah Mark: And there even if—ah, I can’t remember the name, there’s that new game coming out—the one about the hackers? You can hack different things, and it’s— It’s called Watch Dogs, I think? Is it Watch Dogs? I don’t know, but there’s the second one coming out, and they made the main character black, and people are flipping out Susan: Yeah, gamers are like, eeerrhh Mark: Yeah, they can’t choose to be white for once. And they’re like, “But this isn’t fair! I don’t want to play as someone I don’t identify with!” And I’m like, “I wonder what that experience is like!” (laughter, inaudible) Mark: So, I mean, yeah, the whole white-is-the-default—Oh wait, how much time do we have? (laughter)
Others: We’re about half in Lily: Yeah, we could go on that for quite a while, couldn’t we? So Lily: But like, it’s not just race that’s the problem with the lack of diversity in books they also had an issue of, um, lack of different sexualities, um, disability, and also class. That is one thing that I really struggle—I really struggle with because I’ve been carrying my camera around to film every panel that I do to, not because I’m, like, trying to gain everybody’s expertise, but because I think it’s important that since I paid so much money to come here, I should document what I get to see for people who couldn’t afford the same thing Because I really love watching panels of places that I didn’t get to go to, and it helps me be a better writer Susan: You’re so generous! And so thoughtful Lily: It’s something that I’d like to see more in books because I am very poor. My family lives on less than $1600 a month, and we’re a family of four. And I spent almost that much coming here. This is the most expensive thing I’ve ever done for myself. And I’m trying to enjoy it. But I’m also walking around, like, “How do I make this worth what I put into it?” Because, I have spending money, but I’m trying to think, should I buy books, or should I save it to help my mom with moving costs Because we also have to move at the end of this month because the place we’re living in doesn’t want to do to rent through state-assisted living anymore But the problem is that it’s not just the people who have assisted living who are having problems finding places to rent, because right now my state is in a buying market, so the mortgages are like 3%, so nobody can rent. And by the end of this month, I might be homeless so it’s sort of (giant?) to be here, and Susan: You want to see that in books
Lily, group: Yeah Lily: I want the people I want to connect with, but I also do want to escape. I don’t always want to read about terrible lives, or very similar to mine (inaudible) Lily: So, um, has that ever been, like, a factor in including diversity, to escape things you’re struggling from in daily life? Thao: Do you mind if I jump in in kind of an agent point of view?
Lily: Yeah! I love that you brought up homelessness. Because I remember having applied working on a book that featured a homeless teen and having a lot of trouble, um, with editors telling me, “This is just not accessible to the market.” “People don’t want to read about homeless teens because most of the time, they can’t relate to that.” And I was like, but this is true for a lot of people And we actually ended up having to shelve that book. That was before, you know, this great, wonderful movement for diversity. That was, like, several years ago. But I love that you brought that up. Because for me, I was also thinking, like Well, even if those teens who could relate to this book can’t buy this book, that is why libraries are so frikin’ important! Those are how you get the books So I just wanted to jump in right there. The industry has changed a lot, but we definitely saw. you know, like a lot of struggle from the beginning, and we still probably are. No, we’re definitely progressing, but we’re not quite there yet But that is a real struggle that I see on the business side of things Susan: That’s good to know I do feel like—I mean, I’m in a different position than you, and I wonder if the industry actually is…
Thao: I actually—
Susan: …reacting Thao: Yeah. I think we definitely have had a major change of point of view, especially with so many great grassroots organizations and campaigns. I think people are just so, more aware of it, and editors are actually willing to fight for it more now I think because they always—they needed that audience to say, “We want it!” Because it’s really hard when we like, even with books that are—books are hard to sell. No matter what. So you already have so much stacked up against you It’s hard when you have to face the sales team, the marketing team, and they tell you, you know, like “Great cause, great message, but we can’t—yeah, we don’t think enough people will buy it” But the fact that people now, readers now, are saying, “We’re gonna buy it!” That—that means a lot So all the support, you know, that you guys do, panels like this—even though eventually I hope we reach a point where we don’t need diversity panels Roshani: Yeah Thao: That every panel is a diversity panel
(Mark slow claps)
(inaudible) Thao: The fact that we are doing this and that we’re kind of shining a spotlight on it does effect the business And I’ve seen it. Like, from my—from my experience working and pitching books throughout these years. It’s become easier to pitch diverse books now because people want it—or, at least they’re, I guess everyone has wanted it before, but now they’re saying so Lily: Um, this is a question directly for Susan And, um, I was researching you—I already know all about you (laughter) Lily: I was—I was trying to polish myself up, and I’ve noticed recently you mentioned at a signing that you took a diversity workshop before writing your most recent book? Susan: Yes! Lily: And I was wondering what…
Susan: What did I learn?
Lily: Yeah, what you learned from that Susan: It was really helpful Because, I mean, as mentioned, I have a lot to learn. And, um, I… you know, I… don’t have—I didn’t see myself necessarily in books because, you know, they’re usually male But I started to see more and more—Lloyd Alexander was the first for me too—but I don’t have the problem you guys have, I’ll be honest, you know, and I, it’s really good for me to hear that because it’s easy to be out of touch when you’re not in that situation, you can be completely out of touch you can see the (inaudible) books. People get mad because they’re—it’s new Um, and they don’t like being told they’re wrong. And that’s one of the great things about writing diversity when you’re not in that situation, that You need to be able to (be?) wrong Like, I want you guys to—you don’t suck, but I want to know if I did it wrong so I can do it right next time Um, so I took a diversity workshop. It was, um… it was just really, I don’t know, like one of the first things they talked about was like, you need to get rid of the stupid notion of color-blindness. That’s crap, throw that out. And, you know, acknowledge one or another character—acknowledge the sort of physical identity of every single character Don’t just say—don’t default to white, and then not describe them and assume readers will know they’re white. I mean, describe them Mark: Yup Susan: No matter what. Which was really helpful to me, because I am trying to build this diverse cast in TRUTHWITCH, and and not just, like, pick and choose with you’re one, and you’re one and you’re one (laughter) Um, and so, yeah, that was kind of what I learned. To just be—to ask, too! You know, like how— Like one of the questions I actually wanted to ask you guys was like, um, as, you know, people of color people with diverse backgrounds, how do you—
(video skips forward) (inaudible) Mark: I’m sure you knew that, but I just was like, oh, god— Susan: No, but I just—it’s one of those that scares me. I’m afraid I’m going to mess it up and offend someone, and I don’t mean to. And it’s (inaudible) Mark: There’s an awesome tumblr, and I wanna say it’s called writingincolor or writersincolor* (sounds of agreement)

*captioner’s note: It’s writingwithcolor.tumblr.com 🙂 Mark: Bless them, so much. But that—I mean, that’s a common thing, because it’s like, well, if you want to describe the characters, how do I do it in— the thing is, is like, is I tell people that you should be treating your descriptions of characters like you treat descriptions of other things It’s when you do that weird, extraneous, bizarre element of it where you’re like, “His smooth, almond milk skin…” Like, are you calling buildings, or hills with food colors? Why are you using food to describe people, then, you know? And so I was at a convention last week in Minneapolis—er, more of less Minneapolis—and I was on a panel about how to write, specifically how to write diverse characters And so the example that I–I’m just going to quote myself—I don’t—It’s so arrogant, but whatever Is that, you know, and I’m sure you know this writing fantasy, is that oftentimes people will spend so much time developing entirely fictional creatures or locations Susan: But not the culture Mark: But NOT THE CULTURES!! I mean—it’s so— Susan: That was one thing I really—Yes! We can discuss more of that
Mark: YES! (inaudible) Mark: So I would get this a lot when I teach workshops, or I do lectures, is, is, is people are like, “Well, I don’t understand why I should care about these things.” And so I, I specifically use dragons because of a workshop I did, where this guy just didn’t understand it And he had dragons in his universe. He set it in this weird version of Japan where he did that thing where he decided that if—”Since it’s Japan, I’m just going to borrow from all the Asian cultures, and just, you know” “Because Asian-American means all of them are exactly the same.” So I mean, it was a mixing pot of awfulness And so I was like, why is it that you decided to have this Japanese culture, but this one is Korean, but this one’s south Indian—and why are all of these things in here? And he’s like, “Well I’m just trying to build an exotic locale.” And I’m like, *covers face* “Okay” But, you have dragons in your book. And he’s like, “Yeah!” And I’m like, “How much research did you do for dragons?” And he was like, “You know, I looked up—I read a bunch of different books, uh, in, in the genre where they had dragons in them. I did a bunch of research on reptiles and how reptiles would look if they—if dragons were real, what would their skin look like, or what would their scales be like?” And he goes all in detail. And I’m sittin’ there letting him embarrass himself in front of the audience Because he’s going in so much depth, like “I know this,” and I was like, “Sir, if you can describe the 233rd scale of that dragon, but you can’t do the same for the person of color standing next to it, that is your problem. You are viewing these two things in completely different levels.” And that’s the issue, is that we just want to be seen at the same level as the other characters. It’s not that you need to go out of your way to describe us in like extreme depth. It’s just—we just want the same story. We want to be the people riding the dragon—I mean, I really want to ride a dragon, that’d be great—you know, we want to be the heroes. It doesn’t need to be about race It doesn’t need to be about being poor. Those can be elements. I just want to be the hero who, you know… roasts a bunch of slave owners in Game of Thrones (laughter)
Mark: Like, I just want that, I want that to be me, you know? Susan: (inaudible) ask another question on this? Janella—sorry to call you out—we were talking about this at lunch, that like, the line of cultural appropriation and how we walk that. How we know when we are going too far. And I would love to hear what you all think because we were really, sort of discussing what does make it, when does it cross, how do we know? Does she, with you—sorry I’m calling you out (laughter) Janella: So, um, I already mentioned how I felt very removed from my culture just due to my upbringing and my surroundings, and so when I made the decision to, you know, really put more, um, of Filipino influences in my most recent draft of my book, I had, like, this moment of panic thinking, “Oh my gosh, did I do it wrong? Is it wrong for me to, like— Is it considered cherry-picking?” Like, just a lot of panicked moments, and it’s funny because, like it’s good to be really aware, but even though I am Filipino, I am very conscientious about including more of my culture. So it was kind of like a vicious cycle I was having with myself of was I doing it right? How should I do it? And I wasn’t really sure if it could technically be called cultural appropriation, because I am a person of that heritage It’s a lot of conflict Susan: But now we want to know what everyone thinks. I would love to hear more… Axie: I’m still thinking (laughter) Roshani: I just want to say, I completely understand the struggle with that. Because I felt the same way, too, when I was writing THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN I think that Indian mythology itself is so layered and so deep, but also India is HUGE. One goddess worshipped in one place is not—you’re not going to find it the equivalent, maybe in a different part of India And somebody’s always going to be a little mad. That’s just how it is. And I think that when it comes to having a culture inform your world building, so much of what you as the author knows is probably not going to make it on the page Because nobody wants those infodumps. But I think it is really obvious to a reader when you know. Because you make those small, logical—you make those small, logical leaps in your head when you’re writing it And that, just having done the research, even if it doesn’t immediately manifest on the page, even if you know the entire history of a monkey kingdom, but I never—if you only off-handedly mention it or something I think it feels true to a reader, because you are conscientious about it as you’re writing. It’s like the tip of the iceberg, you know? Um, and for me, when I read books that I think have cultural appropriation, it’s because you’re using a culture as an ornament, and as a set dressing, you know? And I get it. That there are beautiful colors, and we’ve got great food. And our people are, frankly, like, pretty hot (laughter) But, um (laughter) Roshani: #BLESSED! But But, uh, we’re not all part of a harem And we’re not all part of a (laughter) (inaudible) But, we’re not Um, and it becomes obvious, I think, to a reader, when you only know something on the surface level So I think that the best way to avoid that is to really push yourself and ask, “Why?” “Why do you need this there?” Um, and, “Why do you need to have the world look a certain way?” “Why does somebody dress a certain way?” And even if those details never make it, the fact that YOU know it, I promise you is going to make a world of difference to a reader Susan: That was AWESOME (applause fills the room) 😍😍😍 Roshani: It was the—it was the sugar rush (inaudible) Lily: Yeah, that’s such a good answer, and I think a good way of revealing that is something I heard in a panel— I had to miss your Same Story panel for it—I was so bummed about it (inaudible) Lily: We’ll have to talk about retellings later Roshani: For sure Lily: I was in the fan-fic to pro-fic panel, and they were talking about how they try to avoid cultural appropriation with sensitivity readers. And I think that’s really important. Even as a diverse person, to seek out other viewpoints even from your own—even from yourself like, I mean, like I said, I don’t really fit in with a lot of other people of my race, so I need to be more cautious about how my upbringing has colored my worldview. Because you might not realize that the way you’re writing is going to offend someone if you don’t realize it’s offensive. And somebody else might not be—Like, I might not be the best reader for some person, but I might be the perfect reader for somebody else So I think that’s probably why it’s difficult for people to write diversely if they don’t socialize diversely (murmurs of agreement) Lily: Because they don’t have anybody to talk to. But Roshani: Make friends (giggles) Lily: People are willing to—People LOVE helping you create That’s the thing. Writers love helping other writers, so. It’s—all you have to do is ask and you’ll make new friends! (video skips) Lily: People are afraid of criticism so much that they don’t even want to risk it Mark: Which is… why publish at all? Lily: The reason—the reason readers or fans get upset is because they really want your book to be great I mean, they want to feel empowered by your book, they want to champion it And if it hurts them, they can’t do that, and they want you to be better. And I feel like, as writers, that’s what we want, we want to be better. And it IS scary. Rejection is scary. Criticism hurts. But I ultimately feel that working on yourself, even if it is like, a fundamental flaw that you’re gonna have to seriously change, is worth it in the long run And they—most people who… are… they won’t hold a grudge forever. If you apologize and you make steps to correct it, they will—they will probably actually be like, “This person? *snaps* Is frikin’ awesome.” Susan: “They listened to me!” Mark: Yeah. And I think—and I’m gonna get real awkward here, it’s great If you want a great example of why cultural ap—or, what cultural appropriation is and why it’s harmful we just have to look not very far at J.K. Rowling’s lovely, lovely North American magic Now, if you haven’t read a lot of stuff—now here’s the thing, I’ve actually read almost zero of the text. I’ve read all of the meta about this—well and part of it is just that I admit that I haven’t been super interested in post-Deathly Hallows canon that’s been being released Um, uh, but so why a lot of what she’s been doing with the indigenous population in America is cultural appropriation is that it’s—I don’t know who said it, but the surface level, the superficial. Here’s the—here’s a generalized idea of what indigenous life is like in America And then I’m going to create my own details from it So she borrows actual gods from indigenous cultures, but then just makes them cute little house mascots Which is not—you can’t—that’s not—the example is that would you make a magic society based on Christianity and make on the house mascots Jesus? (laughter)
Mark: Like, that just seems really offensive! So Um, I mean, I think for me, the thing that was the most egregious was the fact that she had boarding schools in the United States for indigenous folk—
Audience member: Oooh, yeah Mark: Yeah! And if you don’t know this, boarding schools were used to assimilate the indigenous culture to be white in Christian— Audience member: After they were stolen from the parents.
Mark: Yes Mark: So, that alone, I’m like—clearly you didn’t do your research at all, because you would’ve never said, “These kids in boarding schools…” So that’s the line there, is where it’s—I—she might be appreciating these cultures from afar, but she never bothers to get up close. She never bothers to say, “Hey, what would this actually look like if I’d done the research and examined how these communities interacted with white settlers.” Um, a lot of it just came across as like, “Oh, we’re happy the Europeans are here!” And I’m like……. Spoiler alert. (laughter) (some clapping) Mark: Why did I say that? (laughter) Audience member: I would really like to ask a question that goes with that. Audience member: So I’m a professor, and I teach people that are teenagers, or Mark: She’s also fantastic (inaudible)
Audience member: I—we love each other, so that’s—
(laughter) Audience member: I struggle all the time with teachers who have the best intentions, that say, “I want to bring diversity into my white classroom where there isn’t any diversity through books.” But then they don’t know, because they don’t know who to ask, what books. And they end up bringing in books that, in—what I, of course, and I’m so quiet—I’m like, “You just accomplished the opposite of your objective. You just brought in the most stereotypic, um, you know, Yes, it’s got authenticity, but it’s got the stereotypic authenticity. You didn’t bring it a book with…” So I’m just curious what advice you would give to educators—(Mark sighs)—I know, I’ve had Mark at my school. He yells at everybody, it’s awesome (laughter) Lily: That’s a great question, and we’re—we’re getting close to closing, but I think that’s a great question to end on. What you would like to see people looking for when they’re trying to champion diverse books? And what you would like to see, um, coming up? (inaudible) Mark: Just yell at everyone—no. (laughter) (inaudible) Other Audience Member: Like SHADOWSHAPERS? SHADOWSHAPERS* is a great book.

*Captioner’s note: SHADOWSHAPER by Daniel José Older Mark: I mean, there’s specific recommendations, but I think what Cathy’s touching on more is like there’s a systemic problem here. Which is that so many educators and in academia there’s just a refusal to do— which is so weird, especially in academia, because you can’t—I can’t imagine anything more niche than academia. And then they just—there’s like here’s the thing, where they’re like, “I’m not gonna go into any detail.” Um. Google is your best friend. And I say that not as a way to be condescending, but there are more resources than there ever have been available ever in our lifetime about how to write diverse characters, what book recommendation lists, things to do, things not to do—all of these things that are available for zero dollars on the Internet. That being said, pay us, by the way. Pay us, buy our stuff, support diverse creators as well. Hire us to work on your television shows, hire us to write your essay—essays, like. I need another hour. Okay. Someone else talk. Roshani: I’m just also gonna say, I’m— There’s… a lot of—I’m only speaking to the Hindu mythology stuff, but we’ve got some great comic books and they were the stuff that I grew up reading, it’s called the Amar Chitra Katha comic books, and I’m not—you’re nodding! Because, like, that’s the stuff that a lot of Indian-American kids and first generation kids, we read that Because we didn’t get our own stories And they were in English. They were really easy to understand, and there were… it’s own problems You know, the way the women are all dressed, or portrayed or something But I think starting with something that just—
Audience member: Great idea Roshani: Yeah, that you just want to read. That every kid could like reading. And then it’s—it’s great because it, um… it’s personal, and I—those stories were great, and wonderful But it also, I think, would start… I keep thinking about what something was like. Because there’s nothing more It’s just still a little annoying when somebody reads a diverse book, and they’re like, “I just found it weird.” And I mean, you can find anything weird, but why did you find it weird? Is it just because you didn’t buy into the magic system? You just didn’t—it didn’t jive with you? Identifying why you find something weird, and it’s just starting from early ages to… to look at the weirdness.
(laughter) See what you like or don’t like about it, yeah! (inaudible)
(laughter) Thao: I think that, you know, the thing that I see, and I see this a lot from the business point of view, so I apologize for that—I’m not a writer, so I can’t speak from that point of view—but for me, in terms of like, librarians, and like things that go with the library, that’s so important! When you’re a librarian, you’re the gateway to all these children discovering all these different perspectives So I think sometimes a lot of librarians have well-intentions, but they end up censoring a lot of things And I think that’s the problem why a lot of our—you know, a lot of the school systems don’t have great diverse books because, you know their librarian or their educators think a book might be too, you know, might be too much for the readership. Maybe (inaudible). You know, sometimes kids do need to get our of their comfort zone And so sometimes it’s not even getting out of their comfort zone. Some of these are realities for a lot of, like, they’re pupils So I think that is something that, uh, I think educators are starting to learn a bit more. I know ALA and their YALSA organization work—they’re definitely trying to talk about this a bit more. And I think that’s kind of the gateway to, kind of, you know, make it so that in schools, it’s integrated that, that you know, diversity is a normal thing And it’s not like, “Oooh, we have to be careful about this. Let’s pick like a ‘nice’ diversity book.” Like, what does that even mean? Lily: It is. It is truly a gateway. It’s really important to have those, those… just those, that representation out there I think, like, it already shows itself. Like, my brother is in high school, and he’s bisexual, and he has, like, no problem with that at school. It doesn’t affect his social life in any way at all And that would not have been the high school social current, and, like, just five years ago But it has a lot to do with representation of sexuality in the media So it really does create change. If people see that diverse people are people too, then they start treating them like people! WOW! (laughter) So that’s pretty much all we have time for—
Susan: Thank you so much
Lily: But we—I had such a great time with you guys! And I’m really glad you all came! (clapping)

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