Sometimes I try to explain to people that where I grew up, I wasn’t necessarily the majority.
They tend to look at me funny, taking in my red hair, fair skin, and blue eyes. I can see the skepticism, hear the derision in their voices when they ask the inevitable question: where did you grow up?
“A suburb of San Francisco.”
“But that’s in the U.S.”
Yes, yes it is.
Now look, I’m not going to pretend that I was the only white, Catholic kid in my Bay Area home town. There were plenty of us. But let me give you the ethnic breakdown of my tight group of friends senior year of high school:
- 1 (one) white Catholic girl (that’s me!)
- 3 (three) Chinese girls
- 1 (one) Korean girl
- 1 (one) half-Mexican, half-Scottish girl
- 1 (one) half-Irish, half-Filipina girl
- 1 (one) Pacific Islander girl
- 1 (one) Vietnamese boy
- 1 (one) white Jewish boy
- 1 (one) white-ish boy (he always referred to himself as “white-ish” because he looks Caucasian but he’s one quarter Filipino and one sixteenth Native American, among a variety of others)
This is pretty typical of the area where I grew up, and I remember not realizing until much later – until I started auditioning for graduate schools across the country – that this kind of diversity was uncommon in other parts of the United States. To me, it was status quo. I never felt “different.” I never felt “other.” And I never felt “less than.”
Sadly, that’s not everyone’s experience. Not everyone who is in the minority due to their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or even economic status feels included, and I try to be incredibly mindful of that in my writing. I want to show a world that reflects my reality, and I can’t imagine writing a novel that didn’t reflect the diversity not only of my childhood, but of my daily existence as an adult.
In Possess I wrote a half-Chinese, half-Irish main character with a Hispanic gay best friend. In Ten I wrote a multi-racial cast and an African American love interest. Again in 3:59 I wrote a multi-racial cast. And now in Get Even, I’ve written four main characters: two white girls, one Chinese girl, and one Hispanic girl.
Is it important to the plot that these characters are POC? No. My characters just are who they are. Kitty Wei and Margot Mejia in Get Even aren’t characters of color for a reason. They just are. Because where I grew up, I didn’t see my friends in the same way I itemized it above. They weren’t my Asian friend, or my half-Mexican friend. They were just my friends.
Someday I hope that’s how we all see each other — where you notice the person before you notice the color of their skin. We’re getting there in publishing, slowly, but it’s a long road to hoe.
Gretchen McNeil is the author of YA horror novels POSSESS, TEN, and 3:59, as well as the new mystery/suspense series Don’t Get Mad, beginning in 2014 with GET EVEN and continuing in 2015 with GET DIRTY, all with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins. Gretchen also contributed an essay to the Dear Teen Me anthology from Zest Books.
Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4’s Code Monkeys and she sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk. Gretchen blogs with The Enchanted Inkpot and was a founding member of the vlog group the YARebels. She is repped by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
Get Even is now available.