What is it?
Why does it exist? And what does it mean? What does it mean to authors of color? All authors? Is it good? Important? Is it fair?
#ownvoices came about as a Twitter hashtag to draw attention to the lack of authors of color in traditional publishing.
It exists because publishers may hesitate about producing books with what they fear is a narrower focus. Will white people buy books with black characters?
Of course not. That’s silly. Just as silly as me saying black authors can’t write white characters because people are people. God made us all and just changed the wrapping from time to time. But what’s been lacking is opportunity, and that’s clutch. So talking about #ownvoices helps open those doors of opportunity and for the next two days we’re conversing with four great gals, Belle Calhoune, Stacy Hawkins Adams, Toni Shiloh and Patricia Woodside… And anyone else who stops by! This is Ruthy talking. You hear from me all the time… for the next two days, it’s their turn.
Belle Calhoune is a Publisher’s Weekly best-selling author of inspirational and heartwarming romance. Raised in a small town in Massachusetts, Belle had the pleasure of growing up right across the street from a public library. Married to her college sweetheart, Belle has two lovely daughters and two very spoiled dogs. She is a member of the RWA Honor Roll and a recipient of the Angeline Bishop award for multicultural series. She’s published 40 novels with four additional books being released in 2020 and 2021 from Harlequin Love Inspired.
For me, own voices means I can write characters who reflect my own diversity as well as being able to present a snapshot of the world I inhabit. It’s an opportunity as an author to represent people of color in my romance novels. It’s important that readers see and understand that diverse people love just as hard as the rest of the population.
I’ve been fortunate in that Harlequin Love Inspired has allowed me the freedom to write diverse stories. In my current series, three of the four books have diverse main characters. With my Indie books I’m able to write diverse characters to my heart’s content. Thankfully, things are changing in the publishing industry and more doors are opening for diverse projects. I am personally experiencing this (as well as a host of my diverse author friends) and I’m really excited about this trend in publishing. I’m seeing lots of new contracts and wonderful opportunities emerging for diverse authors.
Ruthy note: One of Belle's opportunities included THIS! Seeing one of her books be made into a movie! Love, Alaska premiers later this month, one of the first Harlequin movies from Brain Power studios!!
And from Toni Shiloh:
Toni Shiloh is a wife, mom, and Christian contemporary romance author. 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.
The first time I saw #ownvoices a feeling of excitement flew through me. And yeah I may have did a fist pump. I'm all about the writing community coming together to show the diversity of the world. I love seeing that unity, but there's something special about #ownvoices. Of seeing covers with ethnic people written by an ethnic author. It's not something that's prevalent in the world which is disheartening in of itself. So when I see #ownvoices, when I see authors of color writing characters of color, I know we're one step closer to closing the gap between how the world is presented to us to how it truly is. Diverse.
Two people can be sitting side by side in a classroom, work setting, social space or airplane seeing and hearing the same message, yet experiencing it in different ways, based on their life experiences, their socioeconomic status and yes, often their race. Because in our nation, race does play a factor in how life is experienced.
All that said, those same two people can be reading a great book, caring about the main character’s arc of growth and how she (or he) pushes forward or prays her way out of a challenging situation and feel the exact same way about that character when they reach The End – feeling satisfied with her growth and or her happy ending. Suppose this book featured a character whose hair color and skin hue wasn’t immediately defined? Suppose the two people reading it didn’t even care by the time they read far enough into the novel to realize that while they were Caucasian, they were reading about an African American protagonist, or vice versa?
This supposition isn’t far-fetched. During the season in which I penned seven novels and one nonfiction book – 2004-2016 – I often heard from women readers about how connected they felt to the characters I created and how surprised they were to learn that the lead character was of an ethnicity different from their own. The richness of the plot and transparency of the character’s journey had pulled them in, and by the time they realized the difference, it didn’t really matter. A few also candidly shared with me that the covers of my first six novels, which featured African American men women or men, had caused them to hesitate before borrowing from a library or buying the books; but the plots had intrigued them enough to try.
I share this not to cast judgment or cause consternation, but to point out the fact that when given a chance to focus on one’s humanity and on issues that are common to all, readers can and will find a common reason to keep reading and cheering on (or lecturing) characters, until journey’s end. Because of this, I’m an advocate for ensuring that diverse stories and characters are published widely and widely read. For, the more we’re able to show how much we have in common through the power of storytelling, the more we can build bridges and connect more fully with each other in reality. That’s a worthy goal for those of us committed to writing about faith.
My publisher and I wound up listening to readers’ feedback, and my seventh through ninth novels featured covers that reflected the themes of the book without showing faces – allowing readers to “see” themselves in each story in some way. The characters were indeed African American (mostly), with other ethnicities featured as warranted; yet as with my previous books, the character-driven plots carried the story, and readers were willing to go along for the ride.
Therefore, my #ownvoices desire is that even as we acknowledge the publishing industry being a business, where bottom-line sales figures matter and drive the charge, we consider ways to elevate stories and publish writers who reflect humanity, in all of its shades, hues and cultures. Given that we each have distinct experiences with individuals within and outside of our race or culture, we writers have unique opportunities to dissect those experiences in our own unique ways and stories – ways that I’m confident will help readers learn, grow and consider their own journeys of intersectionality – faith-wise and beyond.
And from editor/author Patricia Woodside:
And from editor/author Patricia Woodside:
anthologies, including How I Met My Sweetheart, The Motherhood Diaries 2 and All I Want for Christmas. A longtime book reviewer and blogger, her reviews for Fresh Fiction, SORMAG and her former blog, Readin N Writin with Patricia, continue to be quoted. She is a freelance editor and owner of Story Dazzle Editing and Publishing Services, using her talents to help new and published authors of fiction and non-fiction polish their work to a dazzling shine. In her spare time, Patricia is an avid reader and the administrator of the Facebook writer accountability group, Writers Writing Forward.
What #ownvoices means to me is telling and receiving the stories of those who have been marginalized as told by them in their own words presented through their own lens. It means not having to jump extra hurdles to be seen and heard. Having doors open wide for us to enter and present our authentic selves. Not tailoring our message or presentation to meet anyone else’s expectations of who we should be, what we should say, and how we should feel, but saying what we need to say the way we need to say it. There has always been literature by and about people of color. #Ownvoices allows us to pursue mainstream opportunities while also creating our own arenas, not because we have to but because we choose to. To my mind, #ownvoices doesn’t mean others can’t imagine, envision and create characters unlike themselves, but it does mean the creators do their homework—researching, observing, questioning, exploring and collaborating in support of the development of genuine, realistic art.
Let the conversation begin. The gals will stop by and answer questions and share more thoughts today and tomorrow... And we have two giveaways. Belle and Toni have both donated a book to give away. From Belle we have this:
And this beautiful just-released anthology from Toni Shiloh:
And the donuts/doughnuts are on the back table.