I’ve known Shira for years and I’m very exited about the release of her first novel, The Second Mango. When she told me about a blog post she was working on on the need for diversity in genre fiction, my ears perked right up, I asked her if I could run it here. So, with no further ado:
The plea for diversity in fiction in the meta-narrative of The Second Mango
The present-day setting of my novel is a tropical country populated by people of color. The two principle characters and most of the speaking roles are women, and the plot is about women, too — looking for a girlfriend, trying to help women who have been harmed, or just the bonding of the two leads. And the lead is not only gay but lives with two debilitating food intolerances (although her world lacks the technology to know it by those terms.)
The main setting also includes bisexuality, attempted sexual assault, and lead characters with sexual experience outside of marriage.
However, the book also contains a four-chapter foray into the romantic backstory of the heterosexual secondary lead character, the warrior Rivka. The backstory takes place in a temperate setting where farmland grows beets and potatoes (compared with the banana groves in the present-day), the native language moves from Hebrew to Yiddish (thus bringing the action back to somewhere vaguely European), and all the characters are white, heterosexual, and if they have disabilities at all, they are the result of military injuries. There are more men in the backstory than in the present-day action, and it’s the only part of the book where two men have any kind of transcribed conversation with each other.
In other words, Rivka’s flashback, as related to Shulamit, takes place in a more traditional fairy-tale setting. And since the conceit is that she’s telling it to Shulamit–although it’s not written in the first-person, that’s what’s going on in the background–I want the audience to think about not only the story but also Shulamit’s reaction to it while she’s hearing it. This is a young, brown-skinned gay woman with health issues listening to the story of white, mostly able-bodied straight people. In fact, most of the food references in the flashback — even those that are only components of metaphor — are things that Shulamit herself cannot eat.
What is she feeling, as she hears all this? And what do those of us who aren’t like most of the characters in traditional fantasy and fairy-tales — because we aren’t straight or white or able-bodied or more than one of those or whichever — feel when we hear those traditional fantasy and fairy-tales in which people like us are completely missing?
Naturally, she’s not going to get angry because people like her are left out of a story that has nothing to do with her. But that’s why it’s in the meta-narrative, not the real narrative. It’s just something I want the audience to think about — not an element of the story. In a way, Rivka is very much a fantastical character from the fairy-tale world — a five-foot-eleven warrior woman who rides a dragon — come into the life of this more realistically painted young woman in her time of need. Shulamit’s grief is messy and real; so are her feelings of isolation and the nature of her relationships.
I’ll leave you with this — only in the story’s present-day can Rivka find happiness — not in her fairy-tale backstory, but in the “real world”.
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