We are so excited to welcome a new regular contributor to our blog. The wise and wonderful, just-recently-sold, beautifully talented, Nicki Salcedo. Welcome, Nicki!
By Nicki Salcedo
I have lots of secrets, but one is bigger than the rest. I hesitate to tell you them because you won’t believe me:
I like lists
I’m a writer
I’m a book whisperer
The last one is my big big secret. You can’t tell I’m black from my picture. I look like a Starfleet Academy dropout. I’m from the future where there is no color.
You can’t tell I’m black from my stories. My characters make mistakes, fall in love, and fight zombies exactly like you do.
You can imagine that being from the future, fighting zombies, and secret blackness has greatly impacted my road to publication.
Kathryn Stockett wrote about black maids in The Help. Suzanne Collins had a character named Rue in the Hunger Games. The characters in these books were controversial to some. Should white authors write black characters? [Yes] Must black authors only write stereotypical black characters? [Of course not, you silly goose.] How does our historical perception of race impact how we view the future? [We, all of us, must write characters that defy stereotypes.] What has happened to me and my characters as I’ve tried to navigate the world of commercial fiction? [It’s been a roller coaster ride!]
Once upon a time there was person who wrote a novel. This person joined a writing organization. Eventually, she was brave enough to send her book out to the publishing world. The stories were in varying stages of needs improvement. So the writer keep writing and revising, and one day she heard from an agent interested in her work.
“Are these characters black?” the agent asked.
“Some of them are,” the writer said. “Does it matter?” the writer asked.
“Yes,” said the agent.
The writer kept writing new stories and revising old ones. When she got brave enough again (I mean dragon fighting bravery), she sent her stories out again.
A different agent liked these stories and asked, “Could you make the characters blacker?”
The writer got out the suntan lotion first. She taught one character to cook. She taught another one to sing in the church choir. She let another character join a sinister street gang. Of course the writer didn’t know how to cook and had been kicked out the church choir for not being able to carry a tune. She’d see graffiti on buildings as she took the train into work each day. Surely this made her an expert on urban literature.
But the characters revolted. They insisted on being lawyers and housewives and high school students. They opted for sunscreen and felt their hues of brown – from golden to mahogany – were black enough.
The writer continued to write new stories and revise the old ones.
What had she learned? What was she supposed to say when people asked her about race and the publishing industry? She didn’t know the answer. She wasn’t “the publishing industry.” She was “writer.” Her only job was to make her stories interesting, her writing better, her revisions stronger. Now she happily writes stories about love and gender, culture and relationships.
When I read about a heroine with blonde hair, freckles across the bridge of her nose, and green eyes, the purpose is to give tangible details. The rest of the words are supposed to transport us into that story. I’m not supposed to become that blonde-haired, green-eyed woman, but I am supposed to feel what that character feels. I am supposed to fall in love when she falls in love. It doesn’t matter how white she is, or how thin, or how perky her parts are. Characters should have universal flaws, strengths, and journeys regardless of their race and culture.
Some days I am Huckleberry Finn and Harry Potter. Other days I am Cleopatra and Beloved. I might even be a vampire or a Valkyrie when the story is right.
I become the characters when I read. When I write I hope my readers will do the same. My first book comes out next year. It is a contemporary romance. Are my characters black? Some of them are. Could I make them blacker? Nope. They are black like me. They are flawed and fall in love and have strengths, like me. It probably helps that I’m just a little bit from the future.
Nicki Salcedo has a pay job during the day and a write job at night. She’s the mother of four little kids and the wife of What’s-his-name. She has received the Maggie Award of Excellence twice and was a 2012 Golden Heart finalist. Her debut novel “All Beautiful Things” will be published by Bell Bridge Books in 2013. When given the opportunity, she travels through time. You can find Nicki on facebook, twitter, and online at www.8headedhydra.com.