I’ll answer one more question about writing as a single woman—actually, as a single black woman—to wrap up the Writing when you’re single series...
#3 How is being a black woman writer different? You’re the one who said it was, so no chickening-out, now.
So, some things are common to the human experience and to a woman’s writing experience, of course: wishing you were published like any writer, concern about being taken seriously within your genre (I think Anne McCaffrey is a good example—a woman writing what folks realized was science fiction in the 70s), and so on. But, has anyone here ever tried to write a fantasy fiction story for their favorite video game, did decently well, drummed up a good fanbase, and then wondered whether your fans even knew if you were black? Wondered if that would cause them to question what they’re reading, whether her characters in a fantasy universe (when these are predominantly white) really were so well-informed, or wondered if it would just be safer to keep your racial identity to yourself, or simply not bring it up so that you can keep focusing on enjoying the story? Can you even call that enjoying the story?
|Black Wonder Woman returns! (And it’s an ass-shot,
so you know she’s not playin’ this time.)
I’ll raise my hand here. That was me.
If you’re not writing online and using a pen name with the goal of staying anonymous like I used to, the issue may never occur to you. If you’ve never played a video game with others and felt it would be the right thing to do, to out yourself as a person of color when the racist jokes among some of the immature gamer sorts started to fly across chat… And, offline too, I worry about people deciding that the black characters in my fantasy fiction story must all be gangbangers for them to be interesting (so far, a couple people have asked me this—one a family member, bless him), or how I’ll effectively explain that race or the experience of being a person of color in the U.S. fits into a story about talking horses. I will grant people that last one, my novel manuscript about horses and race-relations is not easy to figure without you actually reading it or me pitching it to you… but for the rest of that stuff—geez!
As a single black woman writer back in my fantasy fiction days, there were some advantages I saw after I made peace with the decision to “just keep writing online because that’s fun, don’t change anything and don’t worry about it.” When I had first filled out my profile on fanfiction.net, there wasn’t exactly a slot for “please enter your race in the box, and add a picture too so that people don’t forget that you’re a black writer, since that is normally a part of what people also sign on to when they decide to pick out and read a story.” I only realized that there might be an identity gap later, after once my series got a little popular.
As for the story itself, the particular group of videogame characters I wanted to write about weren’t black; and looking back, none of the main characters in the game as a whole were. However, I chose to be “out and proud” about these characters in my own way, deciding that they would (and really, should) have thick cultural or other “the other” identities as members of their particular kingdom… I wrote an entire reverse-world from the perspective of that kingdom which was considered a villainous one. So, they were villains and they had strong villain cultural values, experienced bias and were discriminated against for being on the wrong side of the war and so on… identifying as the other and experiencing bias and discrimination in society are elements of the black experience that are very translatable. People loved how complicated and vivid it felt. The heroine fangirl valkyrie type tried to save the villainous hero when they were under siege, by taking him to the “enemy” base that touted itself to all the world as a sanctuary. Her goal was to shift their position in the war and end it. But these good warriors just stood in the road and watched her die. After knowing what all the villains had really been through, having it end sharply like that enabled the reader to experience the pang of bias, and let’s also say, some element of racial discrimination too. Whether they knew I was a black author or not… muahaha…
I communicated my romantic longings as a single woman through the story. I let that fangirl valkyrie character do all kinds of needy ish that I used to do when I wasn’t being pretty at all. It was healing, I enjoyed it. Now, I’m wondering if there were any crazy racists reading under their monikers who loved my story and loved the romantic and sexual scenes, especially, but never knew this sexy, savvy authoress was black! Hahaha!
But, ultimately, I loathed writing in a genre (after all I learned and went through, I do consider fanfiction to be a separate genre) where I couldn’t own anything that I created in addition to not feeling comfortable with putting my “hey, I’m a black person” headshot up next to my cute moniker pen name, and so ruining my anonymity… I ended up just making Randitty and posting my real picture on this blog. Which… ultimately… I guess… means I lemonaded that experience as folks, especially we black folks, tend to do when life is unjust. I let the frustration empower me. If not for that experience, now that I look back, I don’t think that I would have thought to create this blog.