The Best Way to Promote Diverse Books (IMO)

In a society where internet is king and social media is prolific, you would think that the best way to promote diverse books would be obvious. Lots of people and organisations do it this way– We Need Diverse Books has an indiegogo campaign going on at the moment, bloggers talk about diverse titles in hopes of getting people to support and encourage diverse literature and here I am on WordPress and munching on butter cookies pretty much doing the same thing.

But is that the best way to promote diverse books?

Maybe. You might have a bigger reach in terms of audience, but how many people are actually going out there to borrow or buy these titles? Probably a disappointing few.

So my 2 cents? Start small. People don’t achieve world domination in a day and I’m not optimistic enough to think I can influence more than half a dozen people into thinking anything (actually, even six people is verging on optimistic).

Get out there and talk to your friends and family about books you love. Personally, I’m much more likely to read something based on a personal recommendation from a friend because I trust their judgment enough to give it a go. Do the same for diverse titles that you like- Read it, talk about it and pass it on.

Will it become a bestseller because you told everyone in your friend circle to read it? Probably not (unless you’re a mega celebrity and people take your word as law).

But even if it influences just one person’s thought on a topic or shows another different perspective, at least you have made a contribution and that counts for something.

So dear readers, have you ever successfully convinced a friend or family member to read a book you love? Was it well received?*

Till next time,

Not Another Mary Sue

* And isn’t it crushing when you ask them if they enjoyed it when they’re done and they say it was “ok”? Well do you know what else is ok? Me not talking to you for the next few hours. (This is not at all from personal experience…)

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A Brief Guide on How to Read More Diversely

In this aspect, I am a huge hypocrite. I am the number one fan of sticking to my favoured genres (sci-fi, fantasy and historical fiction FTW) and my favoured authors. I am hardly one to #readoutsidethebox but I sure would like to change it. If there’s anything other great campaigns on diverse books have taught me, it’s that there’s not necessarily an absence of diverse fiction, but rather it’s not being talked about enough which usually leads to them largely being unknown, which consequently sucks.

"What d'ya mean you don't read diversely?" ft. My Judgmental and Possibly Overweight Cat named Po.

“What d’ya mean you don’t read diversely?” ft. My Judgmental and Possibly Overweight Cat named Po.

So how can you and I read more diversely? Here are some tips (from a complete novice by the way):

  1. Don’t depend on Goodreads

I am an absolute sucker for this one. I read reviews and browse through ratings on Goodreads before purchasing books a lot of the time and it’s a terrible habit. What I should be doing is reading it and then making up my own mind but what I end up doing is setting up expectations pre-read and either not getting the book at all, or being judgmental and nitpicky throughout the entire reading. Of course, Goodreads is still a great site/application. For example, if a book has thousands of reviews and an average of 1 star out of 5, it probably means it’s not that great for a variety of reasons. I also personally enjoy reading hilariously angry reviews by other people but hey, that’s just how I like to spend my Saturday nights.

  1. Have a peek at smaller publishers or authors who self-publish

Many smaller publishers specialise in diverse books or just an array of titles that you may never have heard of in the mainstream book world. Also, many authors choose to self-publish these days to get their books out there without all the red tape involved – google search and have a hunt around blogs and writing communities!

  1. Consider picking up a translated story

Authenticity gets bandied around a lot when it comes to diverse books. Does this author write about this particular culture of group of people well? Is it inauthentic? Or is it *gasp* A STEREOTYPE?! To combat this problem, who better to write a story with a semblance of authenticity to a particular race or culture other than a person from that country/society themselves? It may be hard to track down translated stories but it’s doable and you might discover something amazing (which you can then recommend to me 🙂 )

So, what other ways have you guys found diverse books?

Till next time,

Not Another Mary Sue

Mary Sue’ism #2 – Weird Names ft. Cat Nip and Enoki Mushrooms

This is quite a genuine question – why do authors feel the need to have unnecessarily complicated names? While it is not immediately a hallmark of being a Mary Sue, the apparent need to draw attention to it seems to be an attempt to make the character sound interesting right off the bat.

For those who know me personally, you’ll know that I am one of those that have an unnecessarily complicated name. It phonetically doesn’t make any sense and 99% of the people I meet give me this queer little look as if to say “Are you sure that’s your name?” (Yep, I’m sure.). But rest assured, my parents did not name me oddly in attempts to be cool or to make me interesting. More likely than not, they spelt my name wrong on the birth certificate and just went with it.

Anyway, as I said before, having a different name doesn’t make a character a Mary Sue. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games may have a name that rhymes too much with Cat Nip (pretty sure this Harvard Lampoon parody called her that too) but I wouldn’t consider her to be a Mary Sue.

"The Hunger Pains" - A parody by The Harvard Lampoon

“The Hunger Pains” – A parody by The Harvard Lampoon

But once in a millennium (it’s more frequent than that – let’s be honest), writers take it way way too far.

For those who have lurked on the internet long enough, you might remember what is considered the absolute worst fanfiction in the history of the internet (and before then, probably fanzines too). “My Immortal”* by a user named Tara in the Harry Potter fandom (Surprise Fact: It had nothing to do with Harry Potter really) featured the most obvious self-inserted character I have ever seen. Besides the eyesore that was her spelling and everything else, her character’s name was Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way which she frequently misspelled as Enoby which then reminds me of Enoki mushrooms.

Let that sink in everyone.

Her name was Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way.

I get that the Ebony, darkness and raven bit adds to her character’s persona (I use that term lightly) but why the mention of brain disease? Normally I would insert a jab here about how the reader would probably be inflicted with some sort of illness from reading that story but I like to think I’m better than that (I’m not, clearly.)

So luckily, any name that crops up in YA fiction in comparison is really not that crazy. Sure you get names like “America Singer” (from “The Selection” for those wondering) or Renesmee (from “Twilight”) but I suppose at the end of the day, the name of characters doesn’t matter too much if you’ve got everything else going for you. But if you’re angling for that character to be exotic and “different” compared to the others just based on their namesake? Then nope, I’m not here for that**.

Till next time, #readoutsidethebox

Not Another Mary Sue

* The temptation to google this story to read may be strong, but do yourself a favour and just don’t.

**Obviously this is my opinion and I’m sure many people love interesting names and challenging ways of how to spell things in the most confusing way possible.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What is the most ridiculous name you’ve ever encountered in a book?

The Potential Perils of Writing Diverse Characters

Since it’s a Sunday (in Sydney), I’ll treat you all with a short blog so you can maximise the amount of time you spend in the glorious sun as opposed to laboriously scrolling through my posts on your smartphone/laptop/apple watch etc

So as you can see from the blog title, I’m going to talk about the potential perils of writing diverse characters.

First of all, I feel like I need to offer a disclaimer. I’m not the best at writing – I can come up with stories but implementing them into a cohesive narrative that people enjoy? Nope. In fact, when I took a creative writing class last year at university, I got a “pass” for the subject. A pass. I don’t have wildly high expectations of my grades but hopefully that gives you some idea of how much of an amateur I am when it comes to the whole creative writing business.

Nevertheless, I will endeavour to approach this topic with pretty much no grounds of credibility besides my observations through copious amounts of reading.

In my opinion, the number one reason for authors not writing diverse characters is because it doesn’t fit in with their own experiences. As a result, wanting to write diverse characters becomes a lot more effort and fear of getting it wrong takes centre stage.

This to me is quite understandable. If you asked me to write a books about a transgender character in ancient Egypt, I would have no idea where to begin. On one hand, I love researching history for the fun of it, but on the other hand, what do I know about transgender characters? And even if I did know a thing or two about transgender characters, would I do it justice?

Ramesses II disaproves of my story idea Source: Creative Commons/Flickr DuncanH1

Ramesses II disaproves of my story idea
Source: Creative Commons/Flickr DuncanH1

The answer is no. Well, more accurately, the answer is no if I put absolutely no effort into it.

Like many a lazy bones, effort is not something I exude naturally. But if I were to write a book so far outside my own experience, I absolutely would put the effort in because diversity in books is something I’m passionate about and is so so important. I’ll research the hell out of it, I’ll talk to people who do have these experiences who are willing to share so I can get the characterisation, In an ideal world I’ll even time travel to Egypt to get a feel of the culture and context.

I get that not a lot of people would bother writing something so far out of their comfort zone and that’s absolutely fine. You can still have diverse characters within a setting that you’re comfortable with. You don’t know the culture/background of a character you were planning to write about? Then ask somebody who does. You’d be surprised at how willing people are to share their stories and experiences if you just ask them (nicely. And throw in some free cake too).

As always, feel free to join in on the discussion using #readoutsidethebox and don’t forget to follow me on my Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr!

Till next time,

Not Another Mary Sue.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Have you ever tried writing a diverse character outside of your comfort zone? How did it pan out for you?

BONUS: Head over to my tumblr for this super cool character inspiration drag and drop thing. I take no credit for making it but if you feel like writing a diverse character but are a bit stuck on the specifics, this is great fun! Feel free to forward me the end product because i would love to read 🙂

“Not Being Like Other Girls” & Milk Crate Rage

Many moons ago (it was probably only one), I referred to this Tumblr user who vehemently believes many things such as the idea that Batman is a Mary Sue (I digress), Mary Sue’s are often targeted towards female characters (I agree) and that female characters are often classed as Mary Sue’s because they are feminine and they get what they want (I digress again).

A segment I want to focus on today is the following from the original post:

“Why does someone falling in love with her make her a Mary Sue? Well, she hasn’t “earned” this awesome dude character’s love. What has she done to show she’s worthy of him?”

To be honest, I understand where she’s coming from. A few scrolls down my Tumblr dashboard reveal random spouts of hate/vitriol/condemnation for female characters that have a relationship with the main guy and very rarely do I ever see a post where someone says that he doesn’t deserve her (and not in an angsty/romantic way either).

It’s a problem for sure but being the professional fence sitter that I am, I don’t believe that Mary Sue’s are Mary Sue’s because they haven’t “earned” love or proved that they are “worthy”.

Frankly, I often consider them to be Mary Sue’s because there is absolutely no substantial lead up to these so called “relationships”. She doesn’t need to earn his love or show she’s worthy but some sort of hint as to why the characters are attracted to each other is good. For example, maybe she’s a professional hyena breeder and her stories remind him of that awesome time he had in Africa to celebrate his wisdom tooth removal anniversary?

Remember, it’s also important to note that this is a two way street. Too often, guys in books settle for the “I don’t know why, but there’s something about you that’s different to all the other girls” line which I hate with a fiery passion that can only be matched by my intense dislike for café’s that use milk crates as chairs.

My heart knows rage when I see one of these at a café. Source: Creative Commons/Flickr

My heart knows rage when I see one of these at a café.
Source: Creative Commons/Flickr

First of all, not only is it biologically impossible to actually be the same as other girls (unless human cloning happened and nobody told me) but for goodness sake, WHAT IS THAT SOMETHING? In any story, whether it be in a book, film or television show, character and plot is what drives it. People need to take the time and effort to develop characters that actually have a personality with their own motives, interests and backstory that are not in direct relevance with their love interest. Simply saying that magical love-at-first-sight happened is not good enough unless a love potion is involved. I need to know enough about these characters to see what makes them tick and why they behave the way they do.

Loki wants to know why fictional characters do what they do. Source: gif-central.blogspot.com

Loki wants to know why fictional characters do what they do.
Source: gif-central.blogspot.com

In summary: A character is not a Mary Sue/Marty Stu if they fall in love with each other, but it does make me raise my eyebrows if there is no basis as to why the characters like each other.

As always, thanks for sticking with me and please let me know what you think about my rage with this “Not being like other girls/guys” BS. Is this just me? Am I crazy? (Check yes and yes for both)

Till next time #readoutsidethebox,

Not Another Mary Sue

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What other Mary Sue’isms annoy the hell out of you? Or like the Tumblr user I mentioned above, do you not believe in the concept of a Mary Sue at all?

Running the Maze and Making Waves

Yesterday, I just finished my second cinema screening of “The Maze Runner”. Was it that great that it deserves two (very overpriced – in Australia anyway) viewings? Yes and No. To be honest, I only went a second time because my little brother is on school holidays and he didn’t want to go with friends because they talk during movies and he can’t stand it (and yet is too nice to tell them to be quiet). So out of sisterly love and any excuse to munch on more calorie laden snacks, I agreed to watch it a second time.

"The Maze Runner" by James Dashner (complete with an accidental advertisement for Dymocks!)

“The Maze Runner” by James Dashner (complete with an accidental advertisement for Dymocks!)

The interesting thing I found was that even though it was the second time I was watching it, it didn’t diminish my sense of smugness surrounding the racially diverse characters in the film (and book) – Which sounds weird, but hear me out!

I was having this conversation with a friend the other day, and we were marveling at how surprising it is to see Asians in big films that are actual characters as opposed to caricatures. In Hollywood blockbusters I’ve come to expect ethnic characters to suffer some untimely death or to succumb to some stereotype that makes me want to roll my eyes so hard that it stays permanently at the back of my head. It sounds awful, but that’s what Hollywood frequently presents. Ethnic characters take the back bench. They are rarely the protagonist. If there are some deaths happening, they bite the dust first.

And it’s not fair, but more importantly, it’s a damaging mindset in terms of representing racial diversity.

Enter “The Maze Runner” – a book by James Dashner that has been turned into a film. It’s about a boy named Thomas who meets a group of boys called the “Gladers”. The general point of the film/book is that their memories are erased and they have no idea what’s happening but they have to get out using the only route possible – a gigantic maze filled with these mechanical spider monsters called “grievers” (probably aptly named since they are very intent on giving you grief. Through death and exercise mostly.).

Putting aside the plot for a second, I was extremely impressed by the amount of racial diversity in the cast (and how casting directors for the film kept true to the books in this respect!). I was even more impressed that ethnic characters were not type cast because of their race.

tmrphoto

Some of the cast from The Maze Runner

It seems like I’m a fickle person. On one hand, I want diversity in what I read and see but on the other hand, I don’t want them exhibit “stereotypes”. Can I have it both ways? You bet your sweet bippy I can.

Thanks to James Dashner (and the film makers), ethnic characters are not only being represented but represented well. It may not be a groundbreaking first but it’s definitely something (so don’t take this away from me!)

Exhibit A – Minho

Played by Ki Hong Lee, the character Minho is not sidelined because of race. The below picture of an interview with him explains it best:

Ki Hong Lee talks about why he liked the role of Minho (Source: Tumblr user 'awaitingideas')

Ki Hong Lee talks about why he liked the role of Minho (Source: Tumblr user ‘awaitingideas’)

He is his own character, and his character and actions do not depend on the protagonist of the story (aka Thomas). He is athletic, strong and sarcastic. At no point does he suddenly start doing kung fu (Transformers: Age of Extinction, I am glaring at you) or start speaking with an accent. To see an Asian being one the main characters of a big film makes me so happy it’s almost ridiculous if it wasn’t so valid.

Exhibit B – Alby

Alby telling it how it is

Alby telling it how it is

Alby is the leader of the Glades and as an African American character, I am 1000% glad that he was not relegated to some damaging stereotype that the media feed us. He isnt’t a baddie, a violent man (except when he was, because he was saving someone else), the sidekick or comic relief. He, like the other characters, were their own person outside of their race. He wasn’t a harsh leader, but a compassionate one who pushed for harmony amongst the Gladers but made tough decisions when he had to. You go Alby!

So while these are only two examples, believe me when I say that there was a whole melting pot of ethnicities in the movie (and book, although it doesn’t go too in depth in terms of character descriptions for everyone) and boy was it beautiful. While this is only one movie in the grand scheme of a million, hopefully it sets a precedent amongst Hollywood directors who make young adult adaptions and movies. If I were even more optimistic, I hope that authors of YA books are more willing to incorporate racially diverse characters into their books because they are seeing that not only does it sell, but it feels hella good amongst readers and viewers to see some realism in books and media.

Anyway, I am the worst at word limits but thanks for bearing with me! As always, you can have a chat with me about this post or anything else on this site, my Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter.

Till next time,

Not Another Mary Sue.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Have you watched “The Maze Runner”? Were you as impressed by the diverse cast as I was?