Writing what you know

Been thinking a bit about themes and purpose in my writing  Anyone who’s read my books knows I do have a couple recurring themes in them; racism and corruption.

As to the corruption, well, I am alive in the year 2016, as are you,  my readers, so that is just part and parcel of our world  Racism, however, has been a personal experience of my life, despite my race.

The place where i grew up was central to the civil rights movement and southern by culture with all that entails, and every year as a child we would be taken to see the Hunter Dawson home, a grand old house where the union camped during their battle here. Of course, you can’t live here without seeing racism first hand. It is the South. The inequalities were unmistakable throughout my childhood.hunterdawson20home20inside

My friends were both black and white, and the differences in their lives were striking. I’ve always been an observer, and what I observed was a world that offended my every sense of justice and fair play. I saw people I’d been raised to look up to and respect treat others differently based on nothing more than the color of their skin.

When I grew up, I married a man of Filipino descent. My children are multi-racial, and it’s something I was especially mindful of when we moved back. Because I’ve lived long enough to know that people sometimes only see difference.

In a way, I’m writing what I know, but my point in writing these characters is this; color doesn’t matter in the racist mindset. Green is the same as brown to a racist. The issue is difference. The issue is that the thing they fear is not like them.green-163507__340

It’s not a new theme, especially in scifi, but it is what I know. I know the pain that comes from being treated differently. I’ve had to raise my children with a whole different training than I had growing up, including a handbook on how to deal with racist bullies and the police. I’ve answered the question more than once, “Mom, why do all the kids say I’m Chinese like that’s a bad thing?”

I’d rather face a firing squad than explain what all that means, but I’ve had to do it. I’ve had to teach my children to value difference in themselves and others, so that those who devalue it cannot steal their sense of self-worth.

It’s made me write differently, as well as parent differently. Diversity and difference isn’t something I just throw in for effect. It’s not PC. I want it. I long to see difference in each character I write, to explore a world full of remarkable, crazy different cultures and colors and ways. I want that world where everybody is different to be the norm and to be celebrated the way I celebrate it.

This is how I read as well. Just this week, I finished Susan Grant’s The Star King. When I got done, I ran straight to Susan on social media, and said, “I LOVED his faith!” That’s what got me thinking about this post today.

Her MMC worships a female goddess, and has the most amazing prayer ritual. I read that passage as though I was a visitor in a foreign land, and he was my guide. I’ve always loved the myriad ways we all find to do everything; worship, build families, make money, build societies. Guess I’m an anthropologist at heart.

So, I encourage every author I know to write what you know, but also, write every possible thing you can imagine. Fill the world with so many different ways to be different that one day different can be the new normal.


5 thoughts on “Writing what you know

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  1. Great post. As you point out, racism isn’t only a matter of black and white, though it’s often portrayed that way in the States — and even whites can feel its sting. Racism = tribalism. Science fiction is well positioned to address the issue, since alien races are, by definition, “other”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a wonderful post, Jolie. I appreciate hearing more about your family experience, and how it’s affected your stories. I try to write the same way – building the world I want to see, in the midst of the unfortunate way it actually is. If enough dreamers get together, we can make it happen!

    Liked by 1 person

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