The boom in representation in our publishing landscape.

I was thinking over the BLM movement, and casting an eye back to an article I had written in 2014 regarding Indigenous characters in popular Australian YA fiction (you can read it here) and how the landscape has evolved recently.

This is not going to be an article on politics, or black deaths in custody, but rather what I have witnessed in the publishing landscape and my own personal experience throughout my reading lifetime around discrimination that has held back diversity.

It’s great to see POC representation much more prominent in today’s new releases. Diversity in race, gender, sexual orientation… it only serves to enrich and educate the reader. Which, apart from escapism, are the main reasons I read in the first place.

I still want to see more Australian Indigenous characters represented in our literature, particularly YA where we are introducing younger readers into literature.

In Australia, as in the US, only certain stories are allowed to take centre stage in our literary culture and the universal subject is still presumed to be a white, middle-class, cis-gendered, heterosexual and fully-abled male. The more deviations from this (limited and highly problematic) notion of personhood you possess, the more estranged from the centre you become.

“Thanks to a recent report from Macquarie University we know that within the genre of fiction in Australia, 65.2% of literary fiction writers, 76.2 % of genre fiction writers and 86.9% of children’s book authors are women. This makes those graphs showing that men get far more reviews than women all the more infuriating. But, as yet, we don’t have the figures for racial or ethnic diversity.

How many Indigenous writers are published each year? How many non-white writers are published? And what kinds of books are being published?

Part of this lack, I think, comes from constraints placed on writers who are “othered” by the industry. For example, I think that it is probably easier for an indigenous author to be published if they write about epic struggles, rather than breezy romantic comedy. Likewise, I think that migrant writers will have an easier time getting into print if they follow the well-established trope of the happy, grateful migrant.” Natalie Kon-yu Lecturer in Creative and Professional Literature and Gender Studies, Victoria University.

For a moment I want to take a short side trip to discuss the culture of discrimination, assimilation, and the Christianising of the indigenous population that I personally witnessed as a child. It may shine a light on the culture Indigenous people face in the community at large, let alone in the publishing landscape.

Police would routinely round up local aboriginals about our outback town of Alice Springs, (where there is an intersection of close to 60 tribal lands) because business owners would report them as a nuisance, (note: not breaking the law, but just a hindrance to them conducting their business, or an eyesore) then the officers would throw them into the back of the paddy wagon and see if they would bounce. I had friends in school who were of the stolen generation. The church would remove young indigenous children from their families to be educated (*cough*civilized*cough*) in order to save their souls. Because native Australians apparently had no souls. But what did all this assimilation really mean? It meant the indigenous population could then be cooks, cleaners, governesses, manual labour. No right to vote, to own property, just some form of indoctrinated slavery… short of being owned and sold off for money. I’d even heard first hand of how aboriginal women (and girls) were frequently raped. People held their breath when walking past them in public because they smelled awful. I won’t mention the names and slang parents and friends had for our native Australians. They were a joke, less than, diminished. And this is what they would let a child see and know about. Role models like police, priests and nuns, nurses, doctors, parents, business owners, they all exhibited this behaviour for children to see, out in the open on a daily basis. Think about that… this was deemed appropriate for kids; imagine the things that were inappropriate. It make me shudder.

Once I hit my teens, the culture was changing. Maybe it had a bit to do with the capitalisation of the Aboriginal culture through tourism. Aussies were proud to tout Dreamtime, tour sacred sites, sell dot artwork and digeridoos, spears, and wangaras… but you didn’t actually see an indigenous Australian running the show, or reaping the profits of such endeavours. In school we learnt Arande (an aboriginal dialect) as a part of our language course, bush survival skills and bush tucker from local aboriginal elders. The government were starting to offer benefits and handouts to the local aboriginals, and we never saw any more families being torn apart ‘for their own good.’ There were purpose built Aboriginal communities on the government dime… so some progress, but still a way off from the respect native Australians deserved as people. If you stood up for the Aboriginal population and the discrimination they faced, you were laughed at, dismissed, labelled a hippie. It was such a mixed message. So growing up in Australia, in particular, close to Aboriginal tribal lands and settlements, our native Australians were treated abhorrently… and this is firsthand knowledge, behaviour that was out in the open for everyone to see. Gosh I hate to even imagine the type of abuse and discrimination that went on out of the public eye.

Map of Aboriginal language dialects by region.

My friends (and now family members) are Aboriginal and people of colour, and I was so confused growing up. Why did we treat people that way? Why did grown-ups think it was okay to hurt someone else? Coming of age in a small outback town was intense tutelage in race dynamics. We were isolated. I’d only ever met German or Swedish back packers, a number of Vietnamese of Chinese locals (and they experienced the same discrimination) apart from the Aboriginals: when I finally left home and moved to the city and discovered the wider world, Torres Strait Islanders, Maori’s, my brain just about exploded. Why did we dismiss or exclude our immediate neighbours?

I don’t need to mention that women in the workplace were mostly relegated to secretaries and department store sales if they dare step away from child-rearing. Being gay was seen a weak and an anomaly; publically shunned, ignored, or turned into a joke. There was no diversity of the LGBTQIA+ banner. It’s sad to say but all those terrible ‘80’s movie stereotypes weren’t too far removed from my reality. And to be honest, I don’t think I ever met anyone confined to a wheelchair, blind, chromosomally challenged – those individuals were removed from mainstream schooling to a place with specialised services, or home-schooled. Effectively erasing their existence from the youth’s consciousness.

I was scared to say anything about my experiences, because even though I was a child, a spectator, what does it say about me? I witnessed this discrimination and, frankly, criminal activity and did nothing.

As an adult and teacher I try my best to be inclusive in my ethos – elements of feminism and Aboriginal culture in all areas of the curriculum. Fair representation in literature, history, culture, politics, role models. Teaching awareness and critical thinking. I act with my vote, I act with my dollar. I’m not able to take to the streets and scream about the injustices, throw controversial topics of conversation in the faces of my peers and bosses. That would put an end to my career, label me as combative. Instead, it’s about a balanced conversation, opening people’s eyes rather than an in-your-face confrontation. Maybe it’s a part of my upbringing. Learning to manoeuvre in the background. Instigate change in increments. There is also an element of not throwing stones at glass houses – an all-out assault calls for retaliation. I see it in our politics, in cancel culture… slow and steady stand of principles wins the race. We’re seeing many of those role models of my childhood being replaced with a more educated and diverse culture (or they are simply dying out.)

It gives me hope. Hope that our society is becoming more one. Human beings. Slowly removing bullying, hate culture, discrimination, racism. I’m starting to see reflections of this in literature. Representation like I’ve never seen it before. Old points of view in history challenged. Culture being preserved. Identity cherished.

Movements like BLM aren’t necessarily about literature and representation, they are about civil rights, abuse, murder, discrimination… but the knock on effect is that we are starting to see the rest of society take a good hard look at themselves. Am I participating in a culture that allows discrimination to go unchecked? What can I do to help instigate change for the better?

That’s what I hope most of us are thinking. It’s the world I want to live in. Granted not everyone has these views, and this discussion is only from my life’s perspective as Caucasian. But I hope it challenges you to think about the underlying attitudes behind the lack of diversity in popular literature. About not forgetting the past. About having the courage to stare the ugly truth in its face and knowing things have to change… and how to go about implementing that change.

My family in itself is diverse. We have people of colour, over 7 nationalities, diverse genders and sexual orientations.

I am seeing change for the better. Seeing diversity represented in the industries I work in, in literature. But every now and then the old attitudes raise their head… like when we were shopping, my friend a POC, the shop assistant hovering over him in the store like he was about to steal something. It’s not okay. Not acceptable. But thankfully in my community I see much less of this behaviour than from my childhood. I check people in their jokes or slang. Because those attitudes harm my family.

I hope we are going to start to see statistics on writers from diverse backgrounds – not just male and female. Witnessing the diversity trend in publishing at the moment warms my heart. It makes all those feelings of injustice from my youth have meaning. That I was not alone.

What is the percentage of your diverse reads? Look at the books you’ve read: how many are female authors, authors of colour, ownvoices authors, how many have a diverse main character?

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Without Merit’ by Collen Hoover

Messy can be beautiful… or just plain miserable. But there is also beauty in misery.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 385

From Goodreads:

Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.

The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

What a train wreck of a family! ‘Without Merit’ is all about keeping secrets and putting up a front that contributes to this family imploding. But you don’t get the info dump of all the elements that have built up this tension – Colleen Hoover reveals them like peeling back layers of an onion in an organic way through the perspective of our protagonist Merit. It is a moderately paced book with a slow burn romance. It’s not overly traumatic, and has a cute ending but is very engaging. I completed it in two sittings and found the characters – and their arcs – delightful. It is just another novel that adds to the proof of Hoovers’ deft writing and stylistic flare.

We’re introduced to Merit as someone who is angry yet hopeful… and then slowly shown why she is both of these things. I related to her because she is both flawed, intelligent, and resourceful. She questions and challenges the world in her loner fashion.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe rest of her siblings each have a different dysfunction – their mechanisms for dealing with the repercussions of their parents’ divorce and parental style. Utah, Honor, and Moby were still connected enough to be a family unit, but had their own story arcs going on. It was great to read that all the characters were so intricately crafted.

Two other characters of note revolving around the family: Luck seems like a bright addition to the family, but is soon discovered as the grenade that starts the inciting moment of self-inspection the family desperately needs. And Sagan, who comes across as the tattooed brooding love interest with a touch of mystery about him – and while he is all of those things we soon discover there is more: an artist, a compassionate soul. I really enjoyed discovering him through Merits eyes, though the whole quiet brooding thing was starting to get a little tired towards the end.

We also get the neighbour’s dog that Merit adopts; who is by far my favourite character and a wonderful symbol of moving on from a painful past.

I like how mental illness is represented and discussed in ‘Without Merit.’ It doesn’t necessarily paint a pretty picture, but once brought out into the open and dealt with, can be treated in a way that is not destructive.

The novel really deals with how perceptions and assumptions are continually deconstructed and the truth revealed.

The first half takes a while in setting up the characters and plot, so the pacing feels moderately slow, but after the halfway mark, things really get interesting and I did not want to put the book down. It’s not really an angsty novel. More one of uncovering one sensational thing after another, like some telenovela, it was tragically juicy and I was hooked.

Hoovers writing style slayed me yet again, and it was hard to predict what was going to happen because the predicament Merit finds herself in is just so deliciously messy. It all made great reading and a novel I’d happily recommend.

Overall reaction: Knock me down with a feather.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Without Merit Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Representation in Writing vs Own Voices

Representation in Writing vs Own Voices Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

Many of the novels I’ve read lately represent diversity or own voices, which I have loved. So let’s take a deeper look into how writing is evolving in today’s market, and how much of the market share they actually represent… or are they just the latest fad? Is this reflected in my personal library?

Firstly, let me state unequivocally that I do not lump diversity or own voices into a marketing trend. Granted, they are being used as just that at the moment, but trends are an unavoidable phenomenon in driving book and e-book sales. We saw a surge in YA after the success of Harry Potter and ‘Twilight,’ then erotica in the wake of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ followed by a push in non-fiction, primarily memoirs and autobiographies… and of late it’s been LGBTQIA+ and diverse characters (including own voices.) This observation has come from what genre of novels publishing houses are accepting for submission, and where I’ve seen the marketing dollars spent on for campaigns both online and in-store.

But I don’t want to get into a discussion on marketing trends and the publishing landscape, I’m more concerned with what we’re seeing in literature, and congruently, how is it reflected in my own personal library and shopping habits? I know the things I like to read, but am I a snob when it comes to novels that support diversity? People of colour, LGBTQIA+ characters, characters with a disability or mental illness, empowered female characters… I think it’s about time I survey my shelves and tally up just where I sit on the spectrum.

In addition to that, I grew up in a privileged household, am healthy, able-bodied, and only lived through some aspects of discrimination and illness. So it limits what literature is relatable to me personally. While I like to educate myself and take a walk in other characters shoes to experience walks of life differing to my own, it still needs to be something I can connect with on some level. So the results of this discussion are skewed because of my life experience. I can strive for political correctness and inclusivity, but by nature, I will never truly know what it is like for some minorities. But literature plays a huge part in breaking down those barriers. As a former high school teacher I can see the value in this.

Blond student looking for book in library shelves at the universityFirstly, let’s take a look at my own shelves to get a sample size. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. Though take into account that I’m only looking at novels that I have purchased and read myself over the last thirty odd years. So it’s encompassing a lot of marketing trends.

Here’s the results from a sample size of 400 novels:

Own voices                         12%    (including LGBTQIA+ and people of colour)

I feel it’s important to recognise an authentic point of view that’s come from a place of genuine experience. It shows not only diversity in representation, but also in that of authors. While I believe a writer can create any character they wish, I feel it’s important to acknowledge books that fall into the own voices category, because they did not have access to the publishing industry in the numbers they do today previously. It’s illustrating how reading and writing is evolving, and indeed humanity as a species. Maybe we’ll get somewhere closer to a Star Trek future than we think.

 

LGBTQIA+                           21%

(Representation in the main characters of a novel)

Disabled                               9%

(A physical disability of some description in one of the main characters)

Mental Illness                    20%

(One of the main characters suffers some form of mental illness and is one of the major themes of the novel)

Person of Colour              14%

(Representation in the main characters of a novel)

Gender Inequality           11%

(The major theme of the novel deals with female discrimination/inequality)

Body Shape                        9%

(Main Character has body size issues as a main theme of a novel)

 

 

A further breakdown of GLBTQIA+  – looking at representation in the spectrum of sexuality and gender identity of the main cast.

Representation in Writing vs Own Voices Pic 06 by Casey Carlisle

The main observation of these statistics, is that if I did not take into account the last ten years of reading, all of these categories would have a sum total of less than 5%. So there has been a massive explosion of diversity in recent years.

We’ve seen the trend of more intricate storytelling evolve throughout the entertainment industry. Film and television are exploring more developed characters and storylines, including diverse characters. Flashing back to some of the shows and books I’ve read in my teens, they feel stereotypical and tropey nowadays. At the time I felt they were amazing, but if reviewing today, I’d tear them to pieces.

Two things surprised me, and made me a little proud, upon looking at the statistics of my library, is that I have around 15-20% representation of most of the categories above. That means one in five books I pick up are representing diversity of some description. Which is statistically comparable to the real world population. I mean, I’ll be working on getting those numbers much higher, but for all the talk that the publishing industry was dominated by white middle-aged men in the 80’s, to being overtaken by women today, it says a lot about my attitudes towards inclusivity and humanity in general. It seems I sought out diversity even in my teens, despite it not really having become a movement for another twenty years, or much of a selection to purchase from.

One thing I want to touch on a bit further is that of own voices versus diversity. It’s kind of like saying only gay actors can play gay characters in film. Writing is using words as tools, just as acting is using expression as tools. It has nothing to do with the creator. I say you can do either. But. Where a person who has been discriminated against in the past has managed to break out and add to the wonderful world of entertainment, it’s important to acknowledge their struggles and change from that experience. Why should it have been a struggle in the first place? What can we do the make it more accessible in the future? It doesn’t need to get uber-political, it just needs to stay rooted in common decency and mutual respect.

Representation in Writing vs Own Voices Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Looking at my TBR, there will be a huge difference in the statistics in years to come. I’m seeing a lot of queer books, novels dealing with mental illness, disability, and people of colour. I might have to make conscience effort to include more dealing with gender equality and body image to round out my library. But it looks exciting!

What other genres or categories am I missing that you feel are important to note? I’ve thought about class and social standing, but that seems to be a very dominate storytelling tool. Maybe I can call out representation of fellow redheads in literature? Representation in Writing vs Own Voices Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

My Challenge to You:

Take a look at your library, how many novels have you read that fall into the above categories? What trends have you noticed in the publishing landscape? Do you even enjoy diverse reads?

Comment and let me know the results.

Happy reading Representation in Writing vs Own Voices Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

uppercase-lowercase-banner-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘November 9’ by Collen Hoover

Trashy tropes and shenanigans.

November 9 Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: N/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 310

From Goodreads:

Fallon meets Ben, an aspiring novelist, the day before her scheduled cross-country move. Their untimely attraction leads them to spend Fallon’s last day in L.A. together, and her eventful life becomes the creative inspiration Ben has always sought for his novel. Over time and amidst the various relationships and tribulations of their own separate lives, they continue to meet on the same date every year. Until one day Fallon becomes unsure if Ben has been telling her the truth or fabricating a perfect reality for the sake of the ultimate plot twist.

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

I loved reading this book. The Drama! I was hooked from the first line.

I think this book is great in illustrating that we are all fallible. Everyone makes assumptions, mistakes, and it is how we recover from these that defines our character.

All the characters are great: fully realised, they jump from the page, warts and all! You get clear character development from the cast too, so by the end you feel like you’ve gone through a journey, and it has changed you.

I really liked our protagonist, Fallon – her insecurities can translate to any girl with aspects of her body that she does not like. It was also great to see her get over her wallowing and deciding to make something of her career. That get-up-and-go attitude really resonated with me, and I instantly became invested in her story. That and the hilarious and sassy conversation with her father at the start of the book had me hooked.

As for the worst: I found Fallon’s love interest Ben to be a little long-winded, a little whiny, and a little over-expository. But I loved his character. I think the failings I had with his personality is another reason I deducted half a mark… Though he is tenacious, altruistic, and incredibly romantic. After finishing ‘November 9’ I decided his good traits outweighed the bad.

November 9’ is an easy read with some great wit. I did get a little annoyed and the small amount of swearing – and Ben calling Fallon ‘babe’ – but that is just a pet hate of mine and I didn’t let is sway my rating. Colleen Hoover weaves angst and tension in there as seamlessly as she always does, and one of the elements in her writing style that always has me coming back for more.

I would have rated this higher if something about the story didn’t creep me out a little. But that’s all personal. And I won’t discuss it here because I don’t want to spoil your reading experience with giving away the best part of the plot.

The discussion of ‘insta-love’ and other bookish elements was a great touch, using them as an underlying theme had me cheering. The pacing is well done too, even though it takes place over many years, you don’t get bogged down with too many irrelevant aspects not important to the main storyline.

I will say I did not see, or remotely guess the plot twist. I revelled in the drama. For me the ending was sweet, if a bit meh… but that is my personal taste given the situation, not the writing, how everything was brought to culmination. Again all of the issues I had with ‘November 9’ stem from my own reactions to the situations faced by Fallon. Another great title from CoHo herself and something I’d recommend to all faithful fans and lovers of contemporary romance.

Overall reaction: Messy people make for a great read.

November 9 Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

November 9 Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.