Representation as a Mirror

There are a number of reasons I care about diversity in fiction. One reason is that having diverse characters leads to more interesting stories because there’s more variety. Another reason is because fiction can act as a window, letting us seeing other countries and cultures, letting us experience the struggles others face, letting us look through the eyes of people who are different from ourselves. If people read books from different perspectives and see people from other cultures or in other situations as diverse and interesting and as human as they are, that’s got to be a good thing.

But for me, the biggest reason I support diverse fiction is that books (and other media) can act as a mirror. People can see themselves reflected in the characters of a story. They can see that people like themselves can be heroes, can get a happy ending, can play an important role. In some cases, they see that someone like themselves exists.

I had a conversation a few days ago with some people at work. Somehow, the subject got onto sex education and one of my co-workers talked about how sex education lessons should include discussions about different sexualities. I said that they should include mentions of asexuality because there are a lot of people who don’t even know that asexuality exists. Naturally, another co-worker asked what it was because she’d never heard of it before. I gave a very short definition and her reaction was, “Oh my god! I think that’s me!”

She was thrilled and excited because suddenly she had a label for things she’d felt (or not felt). This wasn’t the first time I’d had a conversation like this. A month or so ago, I was talking to a woman about sexual attraction and her comment to me was, “I always just assumed I was broken.”

This was a woman in her fifties, who’d spent decades believing she was broken, because she’d never come across the concept of asexuality.

But books can help. People can find themselves between the pages and understand something about themselves that had always been a mystery. I read an autobiography by an autistic woman who was undiagnosed until well into adulthood. The first time she realised she was autistic was because of a book. She and her husband were reading a book with an autistic protagonist and they both recognised some of her thought and behaviour patterns in that character. Because she saw herself reflected in a character, she understood what she was.

This is why representation is important, because books can help us understand ourselves. I think representation is especially important in children’s and young adult fiction, because no one should spend decades believing that they’re broken.

Author Interview: Corinne Duyvis

Please share a little bit about your books.

On the Edge of Gone coverRight now, I have two books out. My first book, Otherbound, came out in 2014. It’s a young adult fantasy novel which is about a boy from our world who witnesses the life of a mute servant girl from another world every single time he blinks. She has no idea—until they learn to communicate, and they have to work together to discover what binds them together.

My second book, On the Edge of Gone, came out in March 2016. It’s a young adult sci-fi novel about an apocalypse-in-progress: a guarded, autistic girl tries to keep her family together in the immediate aftermath of a devastating comet impact.

Do you have a favourite character in your books?

Ohh, choosing favorites! That’s always hard. I think I’d have to choose Cilla from Otherbound, as I found her an unusual and intriguing character to write—that balance between sweet and haughty, well-intentioned but clueless, made her very appealing to me.

From On the Edge of Gone, it’s Denise herself. I just related to her a lot—which probably isn’t surprising, since a large part of the reason I wrote her was because there were so few autistic characters for me to relate to!

Could you explain a little bit about the Disability in Kidlit program?

Disability in Kidlit is a website I co-founded alongside author Kody Keplinger in 2013; it was originally intended as a sort of temporary blog fest but turned into an actual resource. We post reviews of the portrayal of disability in MG/YA novels, write articles about tropes and stereotypes, and discuss representation from various angles. All of our contributors identify as disabled themselves. I’m so very proud of what we’ve accomplished over the years. A lot of people have expressed gratitude and stated how helpful the website is to them, which means the world to me.

Your books are great examples of diverse fiction. Could you tell us why you feel so strongly about diversity in fiction?

Once I started seeing (a) the extreme imbalances in both the real world and inOtherbound cover fiction and (b) the results in society, I found it impossible not to care strongly about this topic. After all, these imbalances didn’t appear out of nothing. They’re a result of an unjust system, which doesn’t go away by simply waiting, hoping, or asking. I don’t want to support that system.

My thinking is: If I’m a writer, I have to make a choice—whether conscious or unconscious—about who it is I write about, and how I do so. Will I perpetuate the problems and imbalances, or will I try to do my part in combating them?

That doesn’t mean I should arrogantly try to “fix” everything myself and tell stories that aren’t mine. It means is that I try to be aware of my choices, and make those choices conscious ones. Sometimes, the best choice is to step away from a certain character and story, as I’m not the right person to write it.

Instead, I should listen to those who are the right person to write these stories, and do what I can to help their voices be heard.

What has surprised you most since getting published?

I think the ups and downs and backs and forths. It’s not like you’re just taking a step forward. Instead, one part of your life shifts, and the rest doesn’t necessarily shift with it.

So on one hand, your life is completely different: you’re put into different situations, you worry about different issues, and you have different concerns to keep in mind. Being published is such an entirely new set of experiences.

At the same time, nothing much has really changed. You’re still thinking up stories, you still have to do groceries and scoop out the litterbox, you still geek out with friends and eagerly anticipate the next book in someone else’s series.

Sometimes, you’ll pause during the cool parts of being published and realize, wow, when did this start feeling so normal? Or you pause during the regular everyday things and think, wow, I’m actually balancing this average life with signings and book deals and interviews?

It’s a constant seesaw. After several years, I’m still figuring out how to incorporate and balance it all.

What advice would you give to someone just getting started writing books?

As corny as it sounds: just keep going.

I must’ve written over ten books by now, and I still find myself constantly procrastinating, constantly doubting myself, constantly comparing myself, constantly getting distracted. Life throws so much your way that can distract you from writing, whether it’s obligations or brain chemistry or rejections from literary agents or more.

But if you just keep going, you can’t go wrong. You’re always learning and developing as an author, and the more you write, the more material you have to work with. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t use preparation as a means of procrastinating. Don’t linger on the rejections. Don’t spend years on the same project if you aren’t making actual progress on that project.

Just keep going.

If you want to find out more about Corinne Duyvis and her books, check out her website at http://www.corinneduyvis.net or you can connect with her on Twitter or Tumblr. You can find her books on Amazon and I have reviewed On the Edge of Gone here.