I’d like to take a moment to clarify that while including diversity in my books has always been important to me since I was a child, it has never been with a selfish or disrespectful intent; rather, quite the opposite. I don’t do what I do to make money or because it’s what’s “in.” My stories are all about inclusion and acceptance and equality, because I believe people from all walks of life should see themselves represented in fantasy and to go on grand adventures.
That being said, as a white woman, I would never presume to know what it’s like to be African American, Native American, Hispanic, Asian, or any other race or ethnicity. That’s where the beauty of fantasy comes in, to help me fulfill my purpose and inspiration in a respectful manner. I can create my own fantasy races who physically represent real races and ethnicities, but since my races are fictional, I also create my own histories and cultures for them. In this way, I aim not to disrespect any real cultures or undermine the importance of African Americans writing African American protagonists or Asians writing Asian protagonists, etc. I’m still able to include diversity which is important to me on a personal and moral level. African Americans can experience characters who look like them through the Carmennans or Water-skipper Elves, two of my dark-skinned races with similar features. Hispanics can see themselves represented in the Spaniños, who likewise have Hispanic features. But since these races are of my own creation, I’m also not presuming to understand what it’s like to grow up as an African American or Hispanic or be in their shoes. I’m constantly interested in educating myself, but I acknowledge that I can still never “be” them.
This past weekend, I attended a craft fair where I had a table signing and selling my books. A lady came up to me and said, “I teach a twelve-year-old girl who doesn’t have the best self-esteem on her looks. I’d like something that helps show her how pretty she is. She’s Hispanic. Do you have anything?” I was pleased to show this lady The Crystal Rings and explain that in the first story, there is a princess who goes on an adventure, and while all of my races are made up, her race and look is inspired by Hispanics. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable directly calling my character Hispanic, because my character really isn’t Hispanic. But it felt great knowing that perhaps I had created a story and characters that could help someone see the beauty of their own ethnicity. I really hope that girl finds at least some inspiration and encouragement from reading my book.
I’ve since also become more passionate about including characters who have disabilities; I’ve been inspired to do so by my day job at Trinity Services in Mascoutah, IL; there, I help folks with autism and other disabilities live more independent lives. I would never presume to understand what it’s like to be blind or deaf or autistic or in a wheelchair. But I do believe it’s important to include these characters in fantasy to show others how they are just as capable as anyone; if they can go on grand adventures, they can do anything in the real world. But I would still not seek to take away from their power; they should be empowered to do their own writing and creating and tell their own stories.
I hope this helps my readers understand who I am as an author and what my purpose is: to represent people of all backgrounds and include characters that many different people can relate to, without causing any offense or disrespect. I absolutely think that other races and cultures should be the most prominent voices when writing about their own cultures and races. In the meanwhile, I can embrace and support acceptance and equality for all through the creation of my fantasy worlds.