Diversity Across Genres

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I attended primary school in an institution predominately comprised of white, middle to upper middle class students. As such, most of my entertainment choices were filtered though this lens, including what I read. When I was little, I joined The Baby Sitters Club (BSC) reading group. Every month 4 paperback books (in sequential order) accompanied by a newsletter arrived to my mailbox. I snuggled in bed or on the couch and read for hours. If it were the weekend, I’d read until my little eyes were tired and strained. Now, this was the early to mid 90’s. I’m not sure if there was much diversity in kid lit during this time period. In fact, I’m not really sure if there were many other options for kids to read aside from perhaps the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary (some of which I read) or the Nancy Drew series (which I could never get in to). Then again, I read what I was exposed to in the school library or book fair. Anyway, once I collected and completed the entire BSC series, I graduated to the Sweet Valley High and subsequent Sweet Valley University series, then eventually to the Goosebumps series (the prelude to Stephen King novels for me) and so forth.

It wasn’t until middle school that I became more diverse in my reading interests. Coincidently, middle school was also were the Language Arts curriculum became culturally inclusive. I can specifically recall reading a bit of Maya Angelou’s work and Anne Frank’s Diary for class. Middle school is also were I realized I was black (I think most kids become consciously aware of race around this age, at least I did). When one of your peers questions why you sound white, you start to do a little introspection. Perplexed, I wasn’t sure how to respond to that question. Instead, I became self-conscious and purposely gravitated towards my fellow black peers, growing distant from my white ones over time. Eventually, my social circle became increasingly homogeneous.

So, equipped with my new social circle, high school was when I really delved into fiction written by black authors. I started with Omar Tyree’s Flyy Girl before jumping over to Sister Souljah’s The Coldest Winter Ever (and let’s not forget about those racy Zane novels!). Now, those two novels weren’t the only ones I read, they were just the first two that popped into mind. These stories, and those like it, were entertaining and enjoyable to read, mainly because they were drastically different from anything that I’d ever previously read or experienced in my own life. They were both set in northern urban areas and dealt with urban issues. At the time, it was refreshing to read about other worldviews aside from anything I’d ever known or read before.

By the time I got to college, I wanted to get other black perspectives aside from the urban perspective. That’s when my sister introduced my to the works of Eric Jerome Dickey. Now, for anyone who has read novels by Mr. Dickey, I’m sure they will notice that his earlier novels are drastically different from the latter ones. I loved the earlier ones like Sister Sister. I even believe Friends and Lovers made me tear up a bit at the end. However, after Waking with Enemies I started to gravitate away from his stories, seeking something fresh.

By the time grad school rolled around, I really didn’t have much time for recreational reading. Yet, I managed to squeeze in a few books here and there. For starters, I loved Stephen King’s Cell and got a little lost in his Dark Tower series. I wasn’t really feeling Meyer’s Twilight, but I thought Collins’ The Hunger Games was compelling. However, once again, after reading a few stories about teens and their supernatural or dystopian struggles, I was on the prowl for something new.

That’s when I stumbled upon diversity in the romance genre. What is most appealing to me about this subgenre of romance novels is the mixing and matching of different races and cultural backgrounds. Although the characters are physically/culturally different, they are people, meaning they don’t fall victim to narrow stereotypical archetypes (at least not in the well written ones). The novelty of it is downright enthralling! I tried seeking out other genres that encompassed mixing different races or cultures, but to no avail. (If you know of any good ones, outside of romance, please let me know.)

Why should we limit ourselves to diversity in romance novels? Why not spread diversity across all genres? I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  As always, leave a comment by clicking on the comment bubble next to the article header or find me on social media!

– Stephanie

 

Twitter: @twistedgreenz

Google+: https://www.google.com/+SMDahman

On Twisted Greens…

Twisted Greens 3D Render

Around 2013, job furlough was imminent and I was stressing about what to do. As a stress reliever, I dived deeper into writing. Let’s face it, writing’s one of the healthier means of escape as opposed to other options. One source I drew inspiration from was cable news.

I believe that around this time, legalization of weed was a hot topic on just about every cable news cycle because Colorado was set to legalize the recreational use it. That got me thinking: Man, if I had some weed to sell, I could make a good chunk of change in Colorado. Hmm, what if someone had access to a ton of weed? They’d make a killing! What if they grew it, say in their backyard? Ah ha! I coalesced those two ideas and out popped a rough sketch of my protagonist, AJ. Ok. Cool, but how can I make him more interesting? I wanted to throw some complexities in the mix. So, I made him young, fresh out of high school and on the cusp of beginning his adult life. Instead of having him pressed for cash, let’s make him rich and come from an affluent family. Great! So, I have AJ and I know a little bit about his background, now how can I complicate his life? I know! Let’s have his father stumble upon his weed in the woods behind the house! Upon finding the stash, instead of admonishing AJ, he does something unexpected because he’s harboring a secret of his own. Bam! Now we have the makings of an interesting story.

After I had the general storyline mapped out, I decided that I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted to add more to it. I wanted something more than just a flat out thriller centered on a father and son dynamic. Once again, cable news was inspiring. This time, race relations was a hot topic (and continues to be so). I already knew I wanted to make my weed dealing protagonist a young white male since he would be (stereotypically) unassuming to law enforcement and could conduct “business” unimpeded. However, I didn’t want to write a story where all the characters were physically identical. That’s boring and not representative of society. I wanted something more dynamic, more colorful.

Granted, almost every character in Twisted Greens is relatively of the same racial/socioeconomic background; mostly everyone is white and rich. That makes sense. Folks interact with others who are similar to them. With that being said, that trend breaks down a little when you dissect society by class; affluent black and brown families exist just as do poor white families. In order to highlight this point, I decided to make his girlfriend (Savannah) black and make his good friend/business partner (Ethan) Asian. I consciously wanted both of these supporting characters to emphasize class distinction. Let’s take a closer look.

Savannah lives in AJ’s subdivision. Both of her parents are corporate lawyers and she attends the same private school as AJ. They have access to  similar resources and are both set on pathways toward successful futures. Essentially, the only difference between Savannah and AJ is their skin tone. Now Ethan, on the other hand, represents another socioeconomic strata, arguably one to which most could relate. Ethan is a college student trying to make it without the financial help of family. In order to survive, he sells for AJ in addition to living off refund checks he receives from excess financial aid. The fact that AJ recruits Ethan to sell for him raises a bunch of other implications that, if you really want to dig deeper, you could. But, I’ll let the reader mull over those possibilities.

Now of course, you could completely ignore all the aforementioned stuff above and take the story at face value; it’s a thriller about a young rich man who sells weed and subsequently gets caught up in some drama. But, for those who would like to dive a little deeper, perhaps knowing my inspirations behind the story are a good starting place. As always, let me know your thoughts by clicking on the comment bubble next to the headline above.

 

– Stephanie

How Did I Wind Up Here?

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I’ve always enjoyed writing. When I was a little girl, I’d have loads of notebooks that told a never-ending story, mostly about how I envisioned high school to be. Back in the early to mid 90’s, most of my imagination was shaped by what I read in the Sweet Valley High series or what I saw on TV. I’d share my story with friends and they all seemed to enjoy it, providing girlhood critiques or asking questions about the plot or characters. Somewhere along the line, my zest for writing fizzled. (I think the middle school years zapped my enthusiasm. It’s not really cool to tell your peers that you enjoy writing and reading during those transitional years.) It wasn’t until I was fresh out of grad school and working at a crappy job that I rediscovered my love of writing.

I was living in Nashville, TN and just finished my Master’s in the winter of 2012. I was fresh out of school, broke, and with a shitload of student loans to repay. I had no desire to do anything with my degree. In fact, I didn’t know what I was going to do. However, I did know that I REALLY didn’t want to move back home to Atlanta, at least not just yet. I’d been dating a great guy (now my husband) and I liked living away from home, therefore, I did what anyone else in my position would do; I scrambled to find a job. Fortunately, I found one working for the Feds.

Fast forward to spring of 2013 and I was OVER my Fed job. Listening to people complain day in and day out was not my idea of a rewarding and fulfilling job. I’m sure that if you’ve ever worked in customer service, you could relate! Out of boredom on my breaks at work, I started writing “what if” scenarios, some loosely based off what people complained about over the phone. Before I knew it, those scenarios snowballed into short stories and…Voila! I rediscovered my love for writing!

When I first picked up the pen, I realized that I was shy, and self-conscious about every little thing I wrote. Every self-deprecating thought crossed my mind. What if people hate it? What if people think my premise sucks? What if people don’t like what I have to say? Etc. However, the more I let my ideas flow, the more confident and comfortable I became. Eventually, I thought, fuck it. The world is huge and readers are interested in various things. Someone out there (aside from family and friends) is bound to think my story is pretty dope; I just have to find them, or, get them to find me somehow. By the summer of 2013, I had a rough manuscript, Twisted Greens, on my hard drive. But, life got in the way (e.g. furlough, car accident, move back to Atlanta, marriage, etc.) and I tossed the manuscript to the side, until I resurrected it earlier this year.

And now, here I am. Initially I planned on publishing Twisted Greens for shits and giggles. But, the more I started researching on how indie authors actually can make a living doing what they love, the more I decided to take things seriously. I’ll talk more about Twisted Greens in a subsequent post, but for now, I’m interested in hearing from you all.

For all you indie authors out there (and even those who just write for fun) who stumble upon my blog, I’d love to know what your journey has been like.  Please feel free to share your story by clicking on the conversation bubble at the top of the post. You can find me on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook!

Twitter: @twistedgreenz

Facebook: facebook.com/twistedgreens

Google+ : google.com/+SMDahman

– Stephanie