From Author Stacey Berg
If you’re reading this blog, you’re almost certainly aware of the ferment around the topic of diversity in books, especially science fiction and young adult literature. Ample data shows the underrepresentation of minorities as authors, award winners, and industry professionals; but to me, what matters most what happens inside the books. Without diverse characters, many readers find no room, no possibilities for themselves within the stories they are told.
Like many authors, I started writing to tell the stories I wanted to read. When I was young, I didn’t particularly notice that in most books, the boys did all the serious adventuring, and the girls, even if they got to shoot arrows or take sword lessons, usually settled down to mind the castle by the end. If I did notice, I didn’t much care. In those days, I didn’t know yet that those stories reflected limits I would run up against one day too.
As I got older, though, I did care. I wanted to read novels that showed girls as heroes. And I wanted to imagine the girl flourishing after the book ended, not retiring into domestic life with all her adventures behind her. Books like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders series or Robin McKinley’s Blue Sword, with heroines I could trust not to let me down, became friends I turned to over and over. They told me a story I wanted to hear.
And eventually I wanted stories that showed me other possibilities: girls who could be the heroes and live happily ever after, without ending up with the boy. Better yet, women who ended up happily with each other. It’s not surprising that I found most of my favorites in science fiction and fantasy, where an author could create worlds with, if not broader, then different horizons from our own. Some of these books presented fiercely political contrasts to “real” life, like Joanna Russ’s Female Man. Others, like Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite, told stories that focused on women’s relationships with each other because, well, that’s who lived in those worlds.
My novel Dissension is about a clone created solely to protect the survivors in the last human city. When rebellion threatens to bring a final dark age, the clone must decide the fate of the rebel leader, with whom she has fallen in love. My agent told me that the “diversity” aspect of Dissension snuck up on her, and I think I understand why. That the two main characters are women in some ways doesn’t matter at all. The plot’s logic would work with two men, or a man and a woman, or possibly with genderless aliens if you transposed the setting to an alien world.
But the book I wrote was the one I wanted to read. I wrote about women, strong, conflicted, frightened, brave. I gave them hard choices with dire stakes. I put them in a world where no one even notices their gender, only that they’re in love. I didn’t set out to write a “diverse book,” even though I did. I just wanted to tell myself a story. One with room for me. I hope that other readers also find inside it possibilities for themselves.
Check out Dissension, on sale 3/15/16, here!