Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Where Have You Been?


Hi! Terry here, with our question of the week: 

We're seeing more diversity offered in reading these days and am reading a lot more diverse protagonists and subjects.  What trends have you noticed in the last year, for better or worse? 

 Back in my college years I took a literature course where we read several books by gay authors. You might think that I, a straight, white, middle-class, woman would feel a little timid about taking a peek into a part of life I knew nothing about. But I wasn’t. Having been a reader since the age of four when I begged my dad to teach me how to read, I was used to entering worlds I knew nothing about. In small-town Texas I was unfamiliar with the drawing rooms and cultural norms of the type describe in Jane Austen novels. I never had a horse, so the “horse” books so popular with young girls, including me, opened a world I knew nothing about. I didn’t know any teenagers like Nancy Drew who drove a “roadster.” Her world seemed as exotic as Zane Grey’s wild west. To me, it was all “diverse,” in that it did not reflect the everyday world I lived in. 

 So in that way, as an avid reader, I was ready for even great diversity in literature. I could be drawn into the world of Toni Morrison, Zora Neal Hurston, James Baldwin, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Naguib Mahfouz. I could appreciate the way they opened my mind to what other people were up to, for good or ill. I read Paul and Jane Bowles, Truman Capote, and Gore Vidal. Every one fascinating and outside my every day experience.

 Meanwhile, I had always read a lot of crime fiction. And to my ever-lasting annoyance at myself, it never occurred to me that in the huge body of crime fiction there were few diverse voices. Oh sure, I read all of Joseph Hansen’s books. What an interesting curiosity Dave Brandstetter was in the crime world. Imagine, a gay detective! I read Walter Moseley. Wow. Who knew the world of Black people included detectives? And so it went. Every now and then there’d be a diverse character in a crime novel—a gay friend, a Black or Brown friend, or maybe someone with a serious disability. But by and large, it was all about white people. Straight, white people. 

 But, just as forty years ago women crime writers started poking at the publishing establishment that favored men, insisting on being heard, so writers of color and writers of different sexual orientation began to clamor that their voices were under-represented and that they deserved better. And there were many crime writers who heard their lament and supported them.

 We all know that the publishing industry consists of a lot of dinosaurs. People who are adverse to change. People who hate to take a chance on something new. People afraid of failure. But just like chicks emerging from their shells, little cracks started appearing in the world of published books, and slowly new beings emerged. New voices. Voices demanding to be heard. Voices deserving of a platform. Which has brought the world of crime fiction amazing new novels. 

 I shudder to think that thirty years ago manuscripts by authors like S. A. Cosby, Wanda Morris, Kwei Quartey, Colson Whitehead, Kellye Garrett, Gigi Pandian, Naomi Hirahara, Angie Kim, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, and Abir Mukherjee would have been tossed in the slush pile. That gay authors like John Copenhaver, Cheryl Head, J.M. Redmann, and Greg Herren might have been squelched. 

 So I celebrate these voices that have been there all along, but are just now being recognized. If you haven't read them, I urge you to do it now!


there’s another celebration today. The debut novel of my new Jessie Madison thriller series is out today! It’s an exciting step for me, leaving the safe place of my small Texas town and going into the wider world. Welcome….Perilous Waters.

1 comment:

Susan C Shea said...

Amen to all of that! Brian Shea just gave me a book by Mahfouz, new to me. One culture that is coming into bloom is Native America's and it is diverse in itself. We're lucky to have these voices.