The Black and White of Writing
Recently as the guest author at a Los Angeles book club, I was asked if I write for a black or white audience when penning my novels. I have to confess, I was a bit thrown when the inquiry was made, because I was in the company of a room of entirely African-American women. I took a moment and gave an answer from my heart. The most important aspect of writing a story for me is the story itself. A story usually rises up within me and I have to give it life. At the time, I’m not thinking about who the audience will be. There’s a baby that has been conceived and it’s going to be born! Once I have the story, the characters, the outline, and the other facets of the book, I begin writing. Once the work is complete, I think about my audience. Obviously, at this phase in the process, the book is written and therefore, the audience it resonates with will be because it just does and not due to any manipulation on my part.
Curious I pressed the questioner, and she revealed to me that when reading my new novel “Married in the Nick of Nine” she felt I had purposely written the novel for a black audience because in her opinion one particular character was ‘ghettoized.’ Needless to say, I was taken aback because the character in question was not ‘ghettoized.’ Granted, the character in a few scenes was irate and spoke with less than perfect English, but I did not write the character thinking that black people will be able to relate to this character because of her behavior and the way she speaks. Like the other characters in “Married in the Nick of Nine” her spirit rose within me and I wrote her how she spoke to my inner being. The questioner did not seem to remember that there were other scenes that featured the character where she did speak well and behaved appropriately. In essence, the character was not one note. Moreover, one character who has serious issues in a book that features a dozen or more characters, with varied educational and socioeconomic levels, does not translate to a book written for black people and why should one belief black readers will identify more easily with an irate person who doesn’t have a command of the English language, than a character who is well bred and well-spoken. African-Americans are a varied people.
I was pleased that my conversation with questioner remained respectful and that I was able to agree to disagree and applaud her right to her opinion. However, for the record, I did make it clear that “Married in the Nick of Nine” will resonate with women of all ethnicities and backgrounds. The only race issue in “Married in the Nick of Nine” is Cassandra’s race against time to meet, fall in love with, and get married to “The One” in nine months!