Happy New Year, everyone!Â I hope you had a really wonderful holiday. Hereâ€™s to the best possible year for all of us!
This article is about the little concessions that most writers make to have that contract that we all craveâ€”to see their work in print.Â How do we as writers view the choices we make?Â How do the readers view them?
This is an opinion piece. But itâ€™s also a topic Iâ€™ve wanted to broach for several months. Seriously, it has taken me longer to write this article than it has to write a book. Iâ€™ve rewritten it so many times because Iâ€™m fully aware of the implications of some of the things I wrote. Just this morning when I was reading the printed copy of this to edit for mistakes it just wasnâ€™t doing it for me.Â I then went to â€œMy Documentsâ€ to see if I had anything already written that I liked. I looked at a blog that I did for Parkerâ€™s blog last Feb, Why do Writerâ€™s Write? I still liked and agreed with what I had to say. I then reread an article Iâ€™d saved (probably from RAW) Are You Token Negro Romance Queen Material?
This was perfect. It was just what got me fired up again. It detailed all the reasons I shouldnâ€™t be submitting this article.Â First off, I really like the â€˜Tokenâ€™ article, or I wouldnâ€™t have kept it. But like my Parker blog post said, â€œI write because Iâ€™m contrary. Soâ€¦ remember that going in and treat this article like a buffet. If you like it fine, if not, ignore and see if what I write next is more appealing. I like a bit of dissension from time to time, something that makes you think.
Because I know that the members of RAW (and RAW4ALL) are members of every conceivable racial group Iâ€™ve tried to write this article being politically correct.Â My aim is never to offend. But in working so hard to achieve that goal the article was hard to write and Iâ€™ll admit it, it was downright boring. But I think Iâ€™ve figured out how to finally finish this.Â Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ll let me know later.
Since a good portion of the RAW family (specifically RAW4ALL) are writers Iâ€™m thinking that at least a few of you have had this issue. The idea for writing this article started at least a year ago when several friends said to me that they believe theyâ€™d sold out their muse for money. I just about had this article where I wanted it to be when I received an email from a friend yesterday saying the exact same words. Â So I threw out a lot of what Iâ€™d written and started over.
The message from the friend took me back to my original point for the article. I know dozens of writers who would give anything to be in this particular friendâ€™s shoes, me included.Â But that doesnâ€™t make her feelings on the subject any less valid. Yes, sheâ€™s having four books a year published by major publishers, but sheâ€™s not happy. Sheâ€™s had to make concessions in her work that warred with her inner spirit. In essence she feels sheâ€™d sold out her muse.
Several writer friends and I have discussed at great length writing under a pseudonym and writing about characters that did not resemble us or share our experiences. Weâ€™ve wondered how the work would be received and how it would affect sales. Would we in fact be selling out, or trying to make a sale? In other words we talked of writing strictly fiction.Â Would writing fiction move us into the sell out phase?
As writers are we under an unspoken obligation to tell the stories of people of color? Are we allowed the freedom of writing simply to entertain? What if weâ€™re writing to put food on the table?Â (Okay, for most writers thatâ€™s a big laugh) Still, the worry over what our peers and readers would think colored our conversation thus the talk of writing under pseudonym. That in itself produced another problem. If we started over weâ€™d have to start with building a new fan base. If we were in fact selling out would doing so in that instant to make a sale be worth it? Would we be stalling the progress other writers had made in staying true to their muse. Would we be selling out if we wrote something that the mainstream publishing housing would find acceptable? Â Is it our responsibility as writers to try and uplift people of color by the kind of stories we write? If we write to make a sale how much damage will we do to our own cause and to the cause of future generations? In 2010 and beyond is this the writerâ€™s burden to bear?
There was a time when many major publishers rejected out of hand stories from writers of color simply because the characters were people of color. It wasnâ€™t uncommon.Â Still, some writers were given a choiceâ€”change the ethnicity or forget it.Â Some did. Some didnâ€™t. Â Iâ€™m sure those writers wondered the same thing, is making concessions, even major life altering concessions selling out or making a sale? Now here we are in America with significant changes all around us. There is an African American family living in â€˜The White House.â€™Â Our president is a man of color.Â Yet and still, I find the need to ask the question: If the stories we write would become an instant NYT Bestseller if we changed â€˜Somethingâ€™ (Iâ€™m leaving that to your imagination) would we be selling out or making a sale?
We all know this isnâ€™t the first time this question has been talked about by a group of writers. Who knows maybe thatâ€™s one of the reason many writers have chosen in the past to self-publish their work. Perhaps it was in order not to make concessions. But what of the ones who have not chosen this path? If they make a different choice will they not only have to deal with their own conscience but the voices of their peers reminding them of the struggle? Will they hear words much to the effect that what harms one of us harms us all?
To be continued…