Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Home for Latina Writers

Is there much of a market of Latina writers? I should clarify that I do not write chicano literature nor do I write my stories in Spanish. I don't write "chica-lit," either, a la Dirty Girls Social Club. I do not have a political or social agenda, and my writing reflects that. I am not interested in advocating immigrant rights; if I did, I'd be a sociologist or a politician--and I still probably wouldn't know what the right solution is. All I want to do is to take my readers to another country and introduce them to another culture and its people, while we're there, we'd enjoy a story with Latin magic. We would remain in Central America until the story ends, of course. If we talk about genre, foreign culture not withstanding, it would probably fit in General Fiction--or Women's Fiction. FYI, while immigrants do bring some of their culture with them, we must remember that with time it loses its authenticity as it melds with other cultures--they don't remain pure for very long. I'm not interested in telling stories about this process. I find it boring. I like to tell about the 'real' people that live their lives in oblivion of the United States. No offense meant. And, since you are on the other side of an agent's desk, I'd like to ask if this is a bad time in the market for Latin stories and their writers. Are the editors you know even remotely interested in this kind of fiction? How about editors in general?

Oh my goodness, yes! Absolutely. I meet with editors all the time who are actively acquiring Latina lit in all varieties. While some are looking for books set in Central America or other Latin countries, I believe a huge number of them are looking for books featuring Latina culture here in the United States, and that doesn’t mean it can’t be very cultural. I think the challenge you’re up against is that most editors are looking for stories of Latinas here in the U.S. Does that mean you can’t set it in another country? Not at all, it just means that the job you are facing might be a little more challenging and that the writing might need to be a little more literary.

And don’t discount Latinas here in the U.S. Writing a story of the culture clash many have faced and continue to face can be just as interesting as the “real” people you’re talking about.

Multicultural fiction is always very popular. I speak with editors regularly who are looking for it and the genre you’re targeting—general fiction or women’s fiction—is perfect.



Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Well, this is good news. I've been worried that my voice is too "African" for the international market and too "international" for the local market. But if multicultural books are popoular maybe one day I will find a publishing home for it!

Kimber Li said...

Oh, I love multi-cultural fiction. We live in a multi-cultural country! It's really kind of creepy and bizarre when a book has all-white characters. Even if they're from another planet, they all look like Caucasion humans! Maybe with funny ears.

You know what I'd like to see, as a reader and book reviewer? More stories with multi-racial casts of characters, but which are not segregated. They're just mixed in there with everyone.

Anita said...

Last night I read about an editor who is actively looking for "new Latino authors and books with multicultural themes." I'm so excited about the possibility of one day finding a home for my Latina heroine, and it's thrilling---honest to God, THRILLING---to know other people are interested in the niche, as well.

Anonymous said...

I routinely write multicultural books. I think maybe it's because I'm Latina and was raised in a bi-racial family. I enjoy the mix and feel comfortable writing a mix of characters as well. Strictly speaking as a reader, I'd love reading more books like that.

Although I do agree with Jessica that writing about Latina's in the states wouldn't dilute our culture. Come to some of our fiestas, they look the same here as they do in Panama. ;)

Melanie Hooyenga said...

This is good to know. I'm white but I live in Mexico and I plan to start querying my novel about a Mexican trying to get into the US. I've included a lot of the details I've learned about the country since living here.

About Me said...

In all of my writings, I have consciously included people from various cultures, including mix-race folks, because, I live in Chicago and that's what I see everyday and I think a book can reflect society in many ways. None of my stories focus on 'racial identity', rather, it's sort of a matter of fact that the characters are all over the map race-wise.

ryan field said...

I love latina fiction and never see enough of it.

Dal Jeanis said...

"Creepy and bizarre". Hmmm, well, thanks Kimber An. Nice to know where us white folks stand with you. Just kidding; I thought Seinfeld was creepy and bizarre, and not just because it was a bunch of white people...

I know what you mean about works that have a bunch of Hollywood white people in odd-colored makeup in space. (You forgot the weird thing on the bridge of the nose.) I swear, 80% of humanity (the humans alive now and in history) are more alien than anything you'd ever see in Star Trek. "Alien" in the sense of having a different thought process than typical modern Americans. If you want really alien aliens, read C.J. Cherryh.

I'm fine with books that present single-culture or cross-cultural casts, or even really alien casts, as long as the characters are believable and not too annoying. Culture clash can be fun and illuminating about both cultures, but it's certainly not the only fascinating story to be found, not by a long way.

I do have to admit that the words "authenticity" and "pure" and "'real'" in the original question struck a very discordant note to me. Everyone I know is authentically whatever they are, even the poseurs. The concept that living in ignorance of the U.S. is "purity" seems to me to be another incarnation of the "Happy Savage" mythos that pops up every few decades among the intelligentsia.

No offense, Latina.

Kate Douglas said...

I totally agree with Kimber An--I think stories with entirely Caucasian casts are dull--that's not what our world looks like, so it's not how my books appear. I make a point of writing stories with characters who cross the color and cultural spectrum, but I never make an issue of race, I just make it who the characters are. The only time race actually comes into play in any of my books that I can think of is in Wolf Tales IV where my black hero was raised in a white foster family and has issues of not feeling as if he truly belongs in either black or white culture--he does, however, fit 100% as Chanku, so that information was necessary to explain a lot of his motivation throughout the story. I think a book with monochromatic characters is missing something important.

PatriciaW said...

I love multicultural fiction, especially Latina being bi-racial myself.

I think authenticity is the right word. Kimber An's point about an all white world, makes perfect sense if you're writing a story set in New York City, for example. Don't care what part of the city you live in or how much money you have, you're going to see folks of other cultures, even if they're only in supporting roles. Anything else would be "creepy and bizarre".

I'm sure there are parts of America or the world where the converse is true too.

So it's all about being true to the story. Unless you create your own world and are true to that world in a believeable fashion.

Anonymous said...

What seems wierd to me is that any of you notice what culture the characters in a book are. Despite the authors description of characters I picture them the way I want them to look. Now that I've thought about it I realize unconsciously my book has many cultures. I think it's pretty natural to write about your own race and to write about what you see in every day life. I don't think anyone should find a book boring because of an authors description. Maybe they should be faulting their own imagination.

Dal Jeanis said...

Well, obviously, race and/or culture are part of characterization. I'd be interested in what books you might be reading that had interesting characters who didn't belong to any particular culture.

Usually authors who try to write characters and situations that don't have any particular setting or cultural background only succeed in creating mush. "To create every-man, you must create one specific man."

On the other hand, if your own cultural assumptions in writing are that each individual has a unique viewpoint, and you know the cultures of your characters at a deep level, then you don't have to hang a sign around their neck that says "Latina" or "California suburban white boy".

There's another issue, though. Those of us who write historicals and/or speculative fiction have to be precisely aware of the cultures of our characters, how they lead to assumptions that may or may not be true, how they dress, how they decide things, and so on.

When you have non-human characters, the basis of differences in personality may even be biological rather than cultural. James White's classic Sector General series had a nurse, shaped like a centipede, whose fur constantly moved according to her thoughts and mood. Needless to say, verbally she was quite blunt, since everyone (of her species) knew exactly what she thought about anything and thus "tact" wasn't an available concept!

The flip side is that we can't assume that our readers will know the culture involved - especially fraught with problems in a historical - so we have to carefully lead the reader to understand the characters' world, or else populate the past with mental clones of 20th-century liberal Americans (or whatever your own default culture is).

ggwritespoetry said...

I'm a Latina poet/writer... and I'm sooo glad to hear this. Thanks for the post.

Yamile said...

I'm so happy I came across this post. I'm working on my first novel about a Latina woman. My second novel is set in Argentina, where I am from. It's funny that even though I've lived in the States for over 12 years, my best stories always take me back home. I'm so happy there is a market for these stories! Thanks for the post.