Thursday, March 3, 2016


As discussions at Janet's community tend to go, today's post brought on a rangy, tugging, distractable, and bracing chat as much like a cute and strong and happy puppy on a leash as usual. I need to quote Janet Rundquist in full on one of her comments today, with thanks for her permission to use this ...

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...
"It doesn't help me to understand the Mexican experience, or what it's like to be Latino/Latina if I'm constantly drawn out of the story because sections of important dialog are in a language I don't understand,"

This statement is where my point is. This assumes a lot about our readers. And while it can obviously apply to many populations, I'm going to go out on pretty solid limb and say that your statement above assumes that "most" readers are white, European, English-only speakers. It also assumes that when I put Spanish phrases into my novel, you are assuming that my purpose is teach about Latino culture. It's not. My native language is English, but I speak Spanish. I am not pulled out of a story due to Spanish phrases. Maybe I am if there's lots of Amharic, but I go with it because A) I am not the only one reading that book and B) that's the nature of the story and those characters.

Malinda Lo has a fantastic series about how this kind of thing impacts diverse voices from becoming part of the mainstream. It's our ("our"=we white people in the publishing biz) unintentional bias that gets in the way. It seems like a little thing, but it actually has more impact on the systemic issue than even I realized until recent years.

Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews

ie: as white readers and writers, we often make the mistake of making "white" and "English" the default. For the writer who had full paragraphs of Spanish followed by English... while I agree that his approach is misguided, his motivation behind it seems legit.

And now I've veered further away from the topic of this post, prune it all to Carkoon.

I snip this out of the fuller conversation because it stands so beautifully on its own, even if you never click to see the whole thread today. Little in-jokes about prunes and Carkoon aside, this is a delightfully stated point. The Malinda Lo link (Perceptions of Diversity link) is also, as Janet sometimes describes good things, a sox-knocker too, unpacking the theory that diversity in novels is "contrived" or implausible. To which I say: sigh. However, to the shout-out to Meg Medina, an author I know personally, am honored to consider a friend, and admire both as a writer and as a woman, I say: huzzah!

Diversity is not “praiseworthy”: It is reality. 
--Malinda Lo

I have to be honest. Almost a year on ... I actually feel better and better about putting The Ax and the Vase down for a nap. I *still* think the thing is a damned good novel. But it is ever more clearly, to me, an obvious result of my own blindness and privilege, curvatus en se, a learning tool.


Colin Smith said...

Umm... since this snippet of conversation critiques me, to be fair I should point out that ProfeJMarie was chiding me for assuming an English-speaking audience, when I stated quite clearly in my premise, "IF we assume an English-speaking audience." Otherwise I agree with what she says. That assumption itself is a problem. There's nothing wrong, I don't think, with knowingly writing for a particular audience, but we shouldn't kid ourselves that our audience is the norm or the default. My only disagreement with what Janet says is that I think she misrepresented what I was saying.

I don't mean to take away from ProfeJMarie's eloquent statement, but I do want to be sure those who only see this much of the conversation understand the context.

DLM said...

That is fair, Colin - I meant to focus on the comment alone, and didn't edit; would you rather I snipped a bit?