Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Shades of Diversity


With guest blogger Toni Shiloh!

Y’all, I can’t believe I’m here on Seekerville. I’m so excited to be rubbing virtual elbows with some great authors. Thank you, Ruth for inviting me here to speak.

When I got the invitation, I immediately began to wonder what on earth I’d talk about. It’s a little intimidating when you know so many people will be popping in to say hi. So after praying and talking to some trusted friends, I decided to go with what’s been on my heart: diversity.


The word itself is quite broad and can mean a wide range of subjects, so just so you know, I’m talking about racial diversity as well as the lack of it in the publishing world of Christian fiction. It’s been my heart from the moment I opened my laptop to write my very first story to bring diversity between the pages. In fact, I started a group blog with that thought in mind. I wanted to show the readers that books featuring people of color (poc) are out there. I wanted to show the publishing industry that the books are available and what the readers are looking for.

In my journey of bringing more diversity, I’ve had many Caucasian authors come up to me and ask if they’re qualified to write a novel with a poc hero/heroine when they aren’t one. I know that fear can debilitate a person and bring on the dreaded writer’s block, but writer friends, 9 times out of 10, you don’t even have the same occupation as your hero/heroine.

As we do with anything, we must do our research. But when it comes to writing a poc hero/heroine, I would caution you. Not about researching, for it is best to use sensitivity readers (readers who are same race as your hero/heroine to ensure no offense is made), walk in the shoes of your reader, etc. But if you aren’t friends with a diverse group of friends, how can your work reflect that?

Now I know it’s hard if you live in a town that has a low percentage of ethnic diversity, but that’s what the internet is for! I’ve met many writer friends around the world who don’t look like me. What was an initial meeting of like-minded individuals has turned into a friendship I treasure. As believers, we have an even greater call to unite with our fellow man. So please, find a friend who’s not like you. Do life with people who aren’t in the same station as you. Your world will grow organically and automatically flow into your writing. 


Now for my reader friends, I’ve heard so many of you ask where are the diverse characters? Why can’t I find them? I’m so glad you ask! It does my heart good to know you want the stories so many authors are putting out. Unfortunately, not all Christian fiction is labeled as such when it comes to the bookstores or even the library. Often times, when a book is featuring a poc, the book is labeled under that ethnicity. It can be difficult to weed through the sections in brick-and-mortar stores trying to find that inspirational book written by a poc or featuring a poc, but never fear.

I do have some tips.

1. Do an internet search. A quick search will pull up the bestseller lists from your eBook retailers, giving you a starting point for names.
2. Ask an author. I love helping readers find new authors and other authors do as well. We are aware you read faster than we can publish, so you need to have other authors to read. We’ll happily connect you with other authors. It’s no different when you’re searching for diversity.
3. Ask a librarian. This is especially helpful. Librarians are aware of what books cross labels, like which poc writes Christian fiction or other inspirational reads.
4. Ask a friend. If you’re friends with an poc avid reader, ask them! Find out who they’re reading and why. Not only will you get a recommendation, but this is a perfect opportunity to open the flow of conversation. Sometimes we’re not aware of what’s going on in the background.

So now that you know how to find them, I feel it’s important for you to know how to support authors. Not just the authors of color who are writing hero/heroines of the same vein, but for those writers stepping outside their race lines and bringing diversity to the forefront. Again, I have some tips. J

1. Review. Beth Erin did an excellent post on do or don’ts for reviewing. I’m sure you remember how helpful it was, so I won’t say more.
2. Request. Request your local book store to purchase the books. Request your library to buy these books. Request your friends and family. Get the word out so that publishers and others will join the boat.
3. Follow. Please follow the authors who are bringing you diverse reads. We need the support so much! When we’re down and wondering why are we writing, a like, comment, or message from you bolsters us and keeps our eyes on the prize: readers.
4. Read. Perhaps the best and most enjoyable tip yet. Read our books. Knowing readers are picking our books up from the massive selection that is out there is the best thing you could ever do. Because our hope is you will become a fan for life. 


 I just want to thank y’all for stopping by and listening to my heart’s cry: diversity. I’d love to offer an eBook of my novel, Returning Home. It’s book one in my Freedom Lake series. Please let me know, what’s the last book you read where the main character was a person of color? If you haven’t read one, tell me which book you’ll pick to read that features one.

Bio: Toni Shiloh is a wife, mom, and Christian fiction writer. Once she understood the powerful saving grace thanks to the love of Christ, she was moved to honor her Savior. She writes to bring Him glory and to learn more about His goodness.

She spends her days hanging out with her husband and their two boys. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and president of the Virginia Chapter.
You can find her on her website at http://tonishiloh.wordpress.com. 

74 comments:

  1. Good morning, Toni! Thanks so much for being here today... I have a near and dear spot in my heart for telling stories in the most real way possible... and that means with real people. :)

    I'm so glad you had time to come chat with us today!

    COFFEE IS ON!!!

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    1. Thank you so much for having me here today! I look forward to the great conversation!

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  2. Yay! Toni is here! You're such a positive voice in the author community and have encouraged me many times personally. Much love to you, beautiful friend!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and encouraging me today!

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    2. Keely, first: Great name! Second, I just took some fresh triple berry muffins out of the oven... and soft butter.

      Life doesn't get much better than that!

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    3. Yum! Fresh muffins and butter sounds amazing!

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  3. Toni, welcome! We're so glad to have you today!

    I loved this post! I'm about to run out the door to the dentist's office but will definitely be back more to chat later!

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  4. Well said, Toni! Thank you for sharing what's on your heart. Like Keely mentioned, you are a positive voice in the author community, and that is a beautiful thing. Blessings!

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    1. Wait. These people really LIKE YOU!!!! #sweet #whoknew #laughing

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    2. Lol! I'm thinking the same, Ruth. :)

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  5. Toni! I'm so delighted to see you in Seekerville today, friend!

    The last book I read with a POC main character was actually an entire series, California Rising by Paula Scott featured a melting pot of backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities.

    Upcoming diverse reads I'll be featuring, reading, etc. are If Spring Comes by Amy Leigh Simpson and The Underground Railroad Brides collection from Barbour.

    As a vanilla gal from a vanilla town in a vanilla county, I love reading about different perspectives, cultures, and experiences through fiction and it is my hope that doing so increases my compassion and understanding!

    Thanks so much for sharing your heart, Toni! I heartily agree!

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    1. Love that list, Beth! I can't wait to read Amy Leigh Simpson and The Underground Railroad Brides. So exciting!

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    2. This isn't me advertising, but we're re-releasing "The First Gift" as an indie in about a week, and that book embraces its diversified cast in a very real way. And then (to further not advertise!!!) my Love Inspired series debuts in July with multiple diverse characters... I'm so happy to be on book 4 of this and having them love it. A bi-racial child, an African American hero and Caucasian heroine, a Onondagan/Iroquois heroine at Christmas and a new proposal for a Nez Perce hero (stories are set adjacent to the Nez Perce/Nimiipuu reservation...) and then possibly an African American heroine if we can move the series that far.

      In any case, I'm thrilled to be able to do this! And make folks so happy! :)

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    3. That Love Inspired series sounds amazing, Ruth--how can one find it? :)

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  6. Thank you so much for facilitating this discussion, Toni! This is something you know I’ve been striving toward in my own writing.

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    1. You're doing great! Wait until the world reads Freedom's Kiss. :)

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  7. Hi, Toni! How awesome to see you here! And thank you for talking about this topic! I need someone to read my new story that I'm hoping to self-publish really soon--my first self-pubbed book! It is set in 1880 Alabama, and how can you possibly write a book in that setting without talking about racial issues? It's virtually impossible, if you want to be realistic. I wrote this book about 10 years ago but have been revising it. In it there is a biracial couple. They are secondary characters. Also, there's a person who is persecuting people of color--which is very accurate to the time period. But in the last year, when I've been revising the book, I've found so much more information about that. But it's really hard to write those things, as historically accurate as they are. And I definitely don't want to offend anyone. I'd rather err toward the side of historical inaccuracy than be offensive. I feel like it's a fine line. I do need to connect with Piper Huguley, because we talked about this at the little mini-conference that was held right before the Christy Awards in November and she offered to read it for me. I hate to bother a fellow author, but if she's able, I'm hoping she'll read it for me and help me see if I've got anything offensive in there.
    But as for historicals, I think it's even a little bit harder. Still, I don't want to ignore the issues that people had back then, any more than I want to pretend people don't have different colors of skin, or that racial prejudice doesn't exist. I like facing reality in my stories.
    Anyway, thanks again, Toni, for talking about this! Very much appreciated!

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    1. So glad to see you here, Melanie! Your book sounds exciting and Piper is definitely a great source to read it. I could always read it as a reader if you need another pair of eyes.
      Also, as a reader I'm fine with being a little historically inaccurate if it is to ensure an offensive-free reading environment.

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    2. Melanie, Piper is great! Be sure to take her up on that.

      Toni, thanks for your comment on ensuring an offensive-free environment. That's really good to know.

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    3. Thanks, Toni!!! I'd so love to have you read it!!!!! If you had the time and wanted to. :-)

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  8. Toni, this is so true and so necessary. I live in small-town New Hampshire and it's hard to meet people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, but it's easier than it used to be. The world is coming to us and that's a good thing.
    The last story I read with a POC POV heroine was one in Belle Calhoune's Alaska series. Obviously I need to ratchet it up a little.
    One series I loved, and yes it's old, was Bodie and Brock Thoene's Shiloh series, which followed three World War I vets back home after the war. One of them was A POC, son of a sharecropper, and Thoene dis a masterful job of showing how he served with honor in France, yet came home to Jim Crow.
    I wrote two POC couples into the sequel to my Oregon Trail story and thought I did okay with it. She's a former slave, he's a free black who was educated by Quakers in Massachusetts and bought his wife's freedom. They crossed the country on their own because no wagon train would take them on, and they battle prejudice in the small Oregon Country hamlet where they end up. Unfortunately, I am probably going to have to cut them because my editor doesn't seem to like multiple POVs, or at any rate didn't in my first book. But I am planning to keep them and spin them off into their own story.
    Meghan Markle (the chick who married what's his name_ did a lot to promote awareness and equality.
    Toni, you have convicted me to try harder on this.
    Kathy Bailey

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing with me, Kathy! Belle Calhoune writes great stories and has so many more for you to read. I think I'll have to check out the Shiloh series since we share a name. :)
      Praying for your work and writing journey!

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    2. I have a couple of Belle's stories on my Kindle in my TBR list now!

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  9. Good morning, Toni, and welcome to Seekerville. I definitely fall into that category of people who feel they're not qualified to write a POC. Though on the flip side of that coin, I have a desire to write a h/h who is a POC. So where do I start?

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    1. Hi, Mindy! My first question is are you a pantser or plotter. If pantser, try and get in the mindset of the character. Depending on your story and what you're trying to write, the skin tone may not be a prevalent issue. If you're a plotter, talk to people of color. Talk to those who have the same occupation as a h/h. Find out if their ethnicity factors to anything in your story line. Make sure you utilize sensitivity readers to ensure you haven't written anything untrue to the race and/or offensive. And of course, pray. God will guide you. :)

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    2. Mindy, thanks for your comment. And Toni, thanks for the suggestions.

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    3. Happy to give suggestions. :)

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    4. Thank you, Toni. I’m going to print all of this out. And I tend to be a hybrid of both panther and plotter. Whatever suits me on any given day. Or as the contract dictates. :P

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  10. Stopping by to say “hello”!! I’ve really enjoyed reading your books, Toni!

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    1. Thanks for saying hi and all the support you've given me. :)

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    2. Trisha, we're glad you dropped by!

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  11. Hi, Toni, I enjoyed your post. I am not sure if the last book with a person of color was yours, or Elizabeth Maddrey or Jan Thompson. I know I definitely love your books and I have some of yours on my TBR pile. I do enjoy reading a wide diversity of characters.

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    1. Great to hear, Wilani! I appreciate the support you've given me and other authors.

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  12. So glad Seekerville was blessed to have your voice and knowledge on this important topic! I read Children of Blood and Bone by Nigerian-American author Tomi Ayedemi a few weeks ago and want more glimpses into beautiful cultures ❤️ Thanks, Toni!

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    1. I haven't read of her and the book looks amazing. Requesting it now from my library. Thanks! :)

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    2. Laurie, I'll be sure to check out that book!

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  13. Great post, Toni! In Christian fiction, we're often told that the faith elements should be organic - they shouldn't feel forced to the reader. I think the same applies when it comes to writing poc characters. When we try too hard to write a poc character, it comes across as forced and seems more like a caricature than a character. Letting our characters develop naturally and introducing elements like faith and diversity organically is key to writing believable characters.

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  14. Hi, Toni! Thanks for a great post! My husband and I are not the same race, so I am particularly drawn to interracial couples in fiction (and do have plans to write my own someday). Deborah Raney's "Home At Last" is definitely an inspiration in that department!

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    1. Hi, Amanda! I haven't had a chance to read Deborah's book yet, but we did feature it on our diversity blog. Isn't it great to see a little of ourselves in books?

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    2. Amanda, thanks for the recommendation!

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  15. Hi Toni! I'm so glad you're here on Seekerville today!

    Since I write historical Amish stories, my characters tend to be of one ethnicity - Swiss German. That fact doesn't allow for a lot of variation in my characters' outward appearances! :-) But I try to make up for it in my secondary characters, as long as I remain true to my setting, both in time and place.

    Like Heather said in her comment, the hero's or heroine's race should be organic and natural to the story, just as their religion is. I hope that when I have people of color in my stories, they are natural, believable characters rather than caricatures.

    But that's hard to do when the only POC readers have encountered in the past are caricatures...and that's why diversity in literature is so important. Readers need to see that people are people with the same needs, desires, and problems in their lives no matter what their skin color is.

    Thanks for what you do with your blog and your writing! I'm looking forward to reading "Returning Home!"

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    1. "Readers need to see that people are people with the same needs, desires, and problems in their lives no matter what their skin color is." Love this, Jan! Sums it up perfectly.

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  16. Welcome to Seekerville, Toni! Fiction has so much power to change people's perceptions and broaden their minds, and I'm glad to see more diversity in story-form these days.

    And your book cover is gorgeous! Very romantic!

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  17. I'll be honest, I don't read enough diverse books. I grew up as a military brat, so I had a lot of friends of all different colors growing up, but setting in South Dakota I don't have the opportunities to meet a lot of different people. I don't know that I would ever feel comfortable writing people of color, but I would love to read more diverse books. Thanks for coming by and for sharing with us. And I'd love a chance to read your book!

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    1. Expanding your diverse book collection would be a fantastic start, Glynis! What genre do you read? I could recommend some authors for you.

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    2. I read romance, women's fiction, some fantasy. Any recommendations would be great. Thanks, Toni.

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    3. For contemporary romance: Kim Cash Tate and Stacy Hawkins Adams. Historical: Piper Huguley, April Gardner. Suspense: Tyora Moody
      Women's fiction: Katie Ganshert's No One Ever Asked, D.L. Sleiman's Deep Within Series, and Francine Rivers' The Masterpiece
      Fantasy: Sara Baysinger's Black Tiger series

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    4. Thanks for the list. I actually did just read The Masterpiece last week and loved it. Maybe my reading list is more diverse than I thought :) And I've only read one Katie Ganshert book and loved it too. This is a great topic. Thanks so much!

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  18. Thanks Toni for bringing this subject and for including my book :) The last book I remember reading with a really strong POC heroine is Legend of Sheba by Tosca Lee. And one of my all time favorites is Zora and Nicky.

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    1. Sure thing. It's my current read. :)
      I need to read more Tosca Lee! Her covers are amazing.

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  19. I'm back from the dentist and finally catching up. :)

    This is such an important topic, Toni. Thanks for sharing with us. Our family moved to one of the most diverse counties in the U.S. (Gwinnett Co. Georgia) a couple of years ago, and we love it! It's been eye opening and inspirational. As my life is enriched with more new friends and neighbors here, I'm thinking it may inspire some diverse characters in my stories.

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    1. That sounds great! Our life has a way of spilling over into our stories. :) Thanks for coming back.

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  20. Um... last book that I read where the main character was a person of color...? Does Julius Caesar count? If not that then Reclaiming Shilo Snow by Mary Weber. The main guy was Spanish and I'm pretty sure the girl was Hispanic or something close to that, but I can't remember.

    My books have actually been getting a lot more POC characters. In my story League of Thieves, everyone but one character are colored.

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    1. Reclaiming Shilo Snow is a great example!

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  21. Hi Toni, This is an excellent and very timely post. I have an idea for a book with an ensemble cast that's been rolling around in my brain for a while. I imagine it with a diverse cast, but am paralyzed by the thought of inadvertantly 'getting it wrong'.
    And another roadblock for me is how do you even introduce the chracters in a way that lets the reader know an individual is a POC? In my head I just see the characters interacting naturally, without references to race or other diverse characteristics...

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    1. Sometimes name choice can help alert readers of a person's ethnicity. You can also just organically mention the color of their skin. Read books with people of color to see how it's done.

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  22. One thing I've done in stories is the color test. If I wouldn't call the Caucasian hero's arm "white", then I don't call the African American hero's arm "brown"...

    And I break the food analogy color rule on purpose, because it's kind of silly to discourage the use of common terms the reader will be familiar with. So I do use things like cafe au lait, rich chocolate just like I use peaches and cream complexion or cinnamon-toned freckles... I want the reader to instantly visualize the character as created and words like cream, mocha, milk-white, peaches, etc... they do that. Toni, I guess this caused a conversation at RWA and made editors nervous... Any words of wisdom?

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    1. I personally use the food analogy in my own writing and I use it for all the characters, Caucasians included. As a romance writer, we often think in terms of food. It seems to go hand in hand with romantic thoughts. :)

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    2. I'm so glad you said that... because I don't mean to offend, but it makes sense, doesn't it? Whatever we do as authors to give the reader the immediate impression of emotion, action, visuals, plot twists is what makes a book readable and keepable... although I love when folks share my books because that's what I do with authors I love! Toni, I'm so glad you were with us this week!

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  23. Toni, you encourage me. I purposely put poc as minor characters in my books. My second novel has a Hispanic heroine with an adopted Chinese sister who owns a beauty shop with stylist of various races. I've thought of stories with African Americans as the main characters but I hesitate because I am white. I've heard poc criticize those who tried saying the characters sound too white. But you inspire me to pursue those story lines in the future. Thanks for sharing.

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  24. hullo Toni - and so awesome for you to guest on Seekerville! if memory serves, it was a discussion you were part of that even had me thinking of having poc characters - it just hadn't occurred to me before! (i think we tend to write who we know, and for caucasian writers that would caucasian characters)
    my new series had a few poc who showed up (all my characters introduce themselves to me, just like meeting a person in real life!) and i was happy to discover the diversity. a favorite character was Hannah Wisely, wife of a successful black architect - in the 1890's!! she was so gracious and kind. i enjoy writing the variety, and always [try to] keep in mind how readers will perceive the characters i've written - regardless of their race!

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  25. I loved this post...thank you so much for sharing your heart and wisdom with us, Toni, and with so much grace. This is a topic close to my heart, yet one for which I'm definitely still on a journey of learning! The book I read most recently with a main character of color wasn't actually Christian fiction...Jodi Picoult's Small Great Things. I'm so glad to find more suggestions through this post (and now I want to go check your books out!). Blessings!

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