Layers upon Layers: Using fiction to talk about issues

The goal of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is to get people thinking. And I’ve been thinking a lot.

The characters in Asylum come from a pretty diverse background. Nica is the child of a European settler and his Native American wife. Kain is from Africa back when it was the cradle of life (though he’ll never let on to being THAT old). Naj and Seth are Northern Indian (I think. Indian at least). Rook is Roman/Celtic (Rook is something, at least). Jon, I’ve had a harder time pinning down. I thought maybe Berber at one point, maybe a general Persian (based on his accent), possibly Pakistani? The older generations are picky about divulging their true origins, if they can avoid it.

Their sexualities are just as diverse. Zig will spend most of his married life teasing his wife about wanting a four way with her best friend and the man her mother wanted her to marry. Lena is the hinge of a V with Chris and Jon, after having a much more casual V with Chris and Travis. Nat and Marie are dating, though Nat is also occassionally with Gwen, and Kain. Kain is with everyone that strikes his fancy. Rook and Jon are platonic dedicated life-partners, at least according to Rook, since Jon won’t let him call him a familiar.

And then there’s all that can of worms. The supernatural element add a whole new layer of interactions and backgrounds that mirror the diversity issues in the mundane world. Zig struggles to overcome the anti-witch racism taught to him by his time with the vampires. His witch girlfriend, Jules, fights to express her own individuality in a staunchly traditionalist witch culture at home. The Asylum itself is an unheard of amalgam of shifter races, a chimera nest in a world where each breed of shapeshifter was taught to distrust and fear one another, sticking closely to their own kind. The raptors in the town live in their own gated community for crying out loud.

The idea that’s trying to form in the thought-soup of all this is:

What does a fantasy setting mean for diversity in writing?

I’ve seen a lot of “Elf doesn’t have to mean White” on the Tumblr feed, but I think it’s more than that. I remember the science fiction of old being used as allegory, cautionary tales of where mankind was heading, couched in a fantastical setting to be better received (If you don’t believe me, just take one look at Star Trek with a critical eye). I think the fantasy setting gives us a chance to talk about things that bother us, without having to look at them head on. I can’t tell if that’s a good or a bad thing. On the one hand, these ideas are getting talked about, on the other hand, if we don’t actually face the reality of them, what good does it do?

My thoughts are only half-formed on all this- I think my head is too full with the entirety of Asylum to zero in on one idea. So what do you guys think? How does a fantasy setting affect how we look at mundane issues like race and sexuality?

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5 thoughts on “Layers upon Layers: Using fiction to talk about issues

  1. I am currently wrestling with that question with my own story. How does a fantasy setting affect how we look at mundane issues like race and sexuality? My story is going to be Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Post Apocalyptic. There are going to be issues dealing with Religion, sex, and race. I want to explore how you could even think of creating a new society with all of the issues we currently have with these topics. It would be easy to write that there was some fighting then we all get along. But, humanity isn’t known for easy fixes. I want it believable, realistic. But, not a downer to read either. I have an outline, but have to admit I am afraid to start really putting it down on paper. Very cool post. Enjoyed reading it.

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    • Thanks! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one with doubts.

      Yesterday at the gym, Cait and I chatted about how to write diversity into our characters without harping on those differences. For example, Zig is mixed Hispanic, and I doubt that’s ever come across in the writing, because its not a big deal to anyone telling the stories. But that means that the reader has no idea either. I’m still struggling with how to make those differences noticeable but seamless.

      My best advice to you is just to start writing! Editing has given me nothing but faith in the “shitty first draft” approach. Get it out, fix it later. You can’t fix what you don’t even have written.

      Good luck!

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  2. You can always use actions or observations to bring the character’s race into perspective. Food choices or cultural influences in the family dynamics that can hint or be overt in the description of his race. Sorry don’t remember Zig’s complete heritage, but you could write it as “Zig preferred to add spice to his food. He stirred the pot on the stove, reminiscing about his hot tempered Hispanic mother and his equally irate Irish father. They were passionate people who loved each other and fought with each other in the same moment.” Hope you don’t mind the suggestion. Thank you for your suggestions as well. I think I will give it a try.

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    • That is a wonderful suggestion – if Zig had any memory of his past. 😛 But it does give me a good idea of jumping off points to keep in mind when writing him. Thanks. 🙂

      Also, if anyone’s curious, Zig and Tripp’s father was Hispanic. Their mother was German. Or least Zig’s was. I’m not 100% that the boys are full blood bothers.

      Liked by 1 person

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