Look of colour

Characters of color are crucial but are not a replacement for creators of color — Saladin Ahmed

The first time I became aware that I was deliberately including a character of colour in my writing was when I started writing The Raven Sonata.

The female lead character is Chinese/French-Canadian. Another female character is Chinese/Scottish-Canadian. Yes, I have a thing for interracial or biracial characters. I just naturally lean towards them.

Maybe deliberate is a strong word when it comes to my first fiction novel. I didn’t set to deliberately, to purposefully choose to have one of the lead characters be a character of colour. It just happened. 

After that, I became more aware of the issue of representation in the arts and entertainment industry. I’m not sure what category writers/novelists fall into within the industry but I made a point to tell the stories that included characters of colour.

It was also during that time I became aware of how I really felt about representation. How representation affected me when I was growing up. I grew up in a neighbourhood and in schools where ethnicity was everywhere. But on TV and in movies, ethnicity in lead characters were slim to none. 

Anyway, I won’t harp on that. I’ll leave that to those who know the history of representation.

During the writing of the second novel (don’t worry, I will reveal the title of the book when the time comes), I realized that none of my characters are ‘white’. But given the storyline and the setting, its not surprising that there isn’t a caucasian character. I suppose you could insert one, but why? I didn’t think it needed it. Also, it was a question that never came up.

I’d rather not think about the ethnicity of my characters but it seems I eventually have to. But I don’t think about it until I’m well into writing the story. That’s what happened when I was writing the second novel. My reaction to what I had done? I shrugged my shoulders, thought it was interesting and went back to writing. I didn’t care to ‘whiten’ anything. And in the same token, I didn’t vigilantly stay ethnic to avoid ‘whiteness’.

I think, for the most part (but I could be wrong), readers don’t notice these things unless they’re wired that way or taught to notice them or someone brings it up and then it becomes a footnote or a trivia question somewhere down the road. 

I don’t put extra emphasis on ethnicity when I’m creating my characters. To be honest, my characters decide their ethnicity and who they are. They tell me and I roll with it. I may refine the small stuff but, on the whole, the question of the ethnicity of a character has already been decided for me.

Other factors go into creating a character, ethnicity is just one piece of the puzzle. But it is an important piece that shouldn’t be overshadowed by everything around it or overshadow everything else. There is a balance. What that balance is, I have no know idea. I go by instinct.

The stories I tell and will tell in the future, and the characters who inhabit and will inhabit these stories, are framed by my experiences, my hopes, my dreams and my desires. They won’t be to everybody’s liking. And I really don’t give a shit.

But as a person of colour (if one wants to think in those terms), I believe my voice should be out there, along with other creators of colour. How loud my voice will be depends on who is willing to listen. I can’t make people listen to me. I don’t plan on making grand statements. Too much responsibility. Plus, I’m not narcissistic enough for that bullshit.

I just have stories to tell. I have characters whose voices want to be heard. Like me, they’re happy to have the ear of one person or a hundred people. 

Art is…

All art is political. All art is philosophical. All art has a message Scott Derrickson

Just because art — whether it comes in the form of a painting, a photograph, a sculpture, a piece of music, a film or a novel — is meant to be enjoyed by the viewer/reader, it doesn’t mean it can’t be political, philosophical or carry a message at the same time.

The photographs that I’ve created may be pretty and even interesting. But my choice in photographic subject matter is deliberate. How I shoot it is deliberate. What is omitted from an image is deliberate.

The same can be said about my fiction writing. My choice of writing in the first or third person, my choice in story setting, my choice in topics to tackle are deliberate. Who my characters are, are deliberate. Everything in my storytelling is consciously and subconsciously deliberate.

The decision to be deliberate comes from an accumulation of life experiences, my morality, and a reaction to and manifestation of what I consider to be fundamentally important to me.

Art is a reaction to the world that surrounds the artist. Creativity stems from the relationship a person has with the world he or she functions in. Art is not separate from the rest of the world. Art is not created in a vacuum. It is a reflection, a reaction to the world.

So when entertainers, actors, filmmakers, writers and artists are told to go back to what they do best and keep their noses out of politics by those who have very compartmentalized ideas of what artists and entertainers should be, the hair on the back of my neck stands up.

It is complete bullshit to tell a particular group of people that their opinion is unwanted, that they’re not capable of wading into politics and current affairs. An invisible hierarchy is at work here. Those who go into the arts are not as smart or intelligent as a business person, an academic or a politician. Or maybe the artist is seen as being more vacuous, vapid or flighty. Head in the clouds instead of feet on the ground. Classism. Right brain folks vs. left brain folks.

Anyway, there goes the idea of having a healthy discussion. Down the fucking toilet.

As an artist, everything I’ve created visually or in the written word is a reaction to the time in which it was being created. My work is a reflection of my mindset during that period of time. It is a reflection of the music, the people and the visuals in other mediums that have inspired the stories I have told so far.

My personal politics and philosophies are in my work. Sometimes it’s blatant, most times it’s subtle. But it’s there. You can ignore it but you can’t hide from it. You can’t hide from me.

So, yes, all art is political. All art is philosophical. All art has a message.

Going the distance

After finishing the first draft of my second in the wee hours of Tuesday morning last week, I told myself to take at least the rest of the day away from the manuscript. I was successful. Mostly.

I didn’t look at the manuscript but I was thinking about it. Four hours of sleep doesn’t make you lucid enough to think about your writing in any critical manner. So, I spent the afternoon emailing, texting and messaging folks about the first draft.

And the next day, as in around 12:30am Wednesday morning, I was writing a new opening scene for the novel. The original opening scene now becomes the second scene. I know… I couldn’t stay away from the manuscript for 24 hours. I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t shut down my brain for 24 hours.

My brain moved into polishing mode without any effort on my part. It’s still in polishing mode even though I still believe I’m working on my first draft. But if I’ve added a new scene and I’m tightening up some of the dialogue, does that mean I’ve now started on my second draft? I’m thinking I’m still working on the first draft. I’m still operating as if I’m working on the first draft. So, I probably haven’t left first draft mode.

Well, I’m calling it now. First draft. Don’t tell me otherwise. It’s my novel so bugger off.

To be honest, I probably think I won’t be in second draft mode until after my writing mentor and my technical advisor have read the manuscript. They’ve both been notified that it’s done. They also know I’m currently going through the manuscript again before they get to read it.

There’s the belief that writing the story is the easy part compared to what needs to be done after you’re done writing it. I haven’t decided one way or the other.

If you’ve mapped out the scenes you want in the novel, the writing part is easy.  Even then, you won’t necessarily follow what you’ve mapped out because a better idea about a plot point comes up and you end up shuffling things around or getting rid of some things altogether.

I actually find the stuff that comes after pretty interesting. Being in polishing mode isn’t bad. It’s about getting the manuscript in the best shape possible before you hand it over to an editor. Quite honestly, I’d rather not have the editor be distracted by easily correctable spelling and grammar when they should be concentrating on more pertinant aspects of the story.

Figuring out the book cover will be fun. I cringe a little when I say that. Figuring out a title for the novel would go a long way in figuring out the design of the book cover. Well, good luck to me in trying to come up with a book title because I suck at it. Maybe an idea will pop up as I go through the manuscript a second time. I can only hope.

Regardless of what’s easier, the writing or the stuff after the writing, the story is still with me. And it will probably be with me until it’s published. Even then, I have plans for my characters after they come alive in book form. Yeah, this story will stay with me for quite some time. I won’t be discussing what those plans are until much later in the year or maybe after the new year.

Yeah, the light is at the end of tunnel. I walked out of the tunnel and into the light. And I see a whole set of other challenges in front of me. This is not unexpected.

It never ends. It’s about going the distance. And I don’t mind it at all.