Today we have a guest post from Laurie Boris, an indie author who has just published Playing Charlie Cool, book 3 in the Trager Family Secrets series.
Laurie tackles a pretty controversial subject who can, and should, write what when it comes to marginalized identities. It’s something Erin and I don’t have a manifesto on, in part because our feelings about it change a lot, and in part because we both often encounter assumptions about who we are (and what that entitles us to write) that just aren’t accurate to our lived identities.
What matters, in the end, of course, is doing your research, telling a story, honoring your characters and realizing, especially when you write identities that aren’t your own, that your words can and do have real life impacts on people.
This is Laurie’s approach:
I Can’t Write What?
I really love when readers contact me. Aside from the actual writing (and claiming books as a tax deduction), that’s one of my favorite parts of being an author. A reader once emailed me after she finished The Picture of Cool. She asked—in a very nice and curious way, not accusatory at all—what qualifies me to write in the point of view of a gay man.
I knew I’d face this at some point, judging from the curious looks and awkward silences I received from loved ones when I told them what I was working on.
And it’s also a question I’ve asked myself at many points while writing this novella and Playing Charlie Cool, its sequel, just released. I even asked Charlie, my protagonist. “Me? Seriously. Look at me. You really trust me with your story?”
He downed his virtual scotch and said, “Hell, yeah.”
But I wasn’t writing “a gay man.” I was writing Charlie. To me, that’s a huge difference. I’ve had writing teachers who shook fingers at me and said it was inauthentic, wrong, and in one case, actually a criminal abomination for a writer to get into the head of anyone outside of his or her own “identity.” I agreed to disagree. She didn’t. Bless her heart, I adore her, but we haven’t spoken much since. And I’m good with that.
As a writer, especially as the kind of writer who likes to drop deep into a character and tell an organic story, no matter who comes knocking on my door, I don’t like to hear that I’m only qualified to write in the point of view of a left-handed, childless Unitarian woman of Eastern European extraction up to and including the age of fifty-three.
It makes me feel limited. Hamstrung. Like the world thinks I’m lacking in imagination. If we all believed in this tired canard, would there be science fiction? Harry Potter? Twinkly vampires? Hobbits? Narnia? Had A.A. Milne ever been a stuffed bear with a honey fetish? I don’t think so.
I didn’t write these books to prove a point. I didn’t write Charlie’s story because of an agenda. (Although I do believe in marriage equality, and I’ve seen friends who not only bore the pain of keeping their identities secret, but also those who suffered the devastation of coming out to family members who then disavowed them.) I wrote it because Charlie asked me to listen. And for me, that’s a higher calling.
This is how I replied to the reader:
“I’ve written in the POV of many people I am not, but I was extra-sensitive about this story, as a female writer. I do a lot of deep character work when I write and really try to get out of my own way and let the characters be authentic. But I also pulled in some personal experience. I was raised in a very liberal household and met a lot of different kinds of people as a child. I’ve shared apartments with gay men, grown up with a few, worked alongside them, been involved in the community and had and still have some great friendships. Still, I know full well I am only slipping into these characters’ shoes as a writer. I try to do that respectfully, without stereotypes, and let them be people, first and foremost. Like we all want to be, right? I also depend on beta feedback, as I do with all of my stories, especially when I’m writing from a male point of view, gay or straight.”
She liked the response, and I didn’t mind explaining myself, not at all. But I wonder if J.K. Rowling ever gets these questions.
Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of five novels: The Joke’s on Me, Drawing Breath, Don’t Tell Anyone, Sliding Past Vertical, and Playing Charlie Cool. When not hanging out with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she enjoys baseball, cooking, reading, and helping aspiring novelists as a contributing writer and editor for IndiesUnlimited.com. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley.
You can connect with Laurie at: