Why #WeNeedDiverseBooks

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Why #WeNeedDiverseBooks

“Let’s go fight the good fight.”

By Bryce Leung and Kristy Shen

We were sitting at a lunch table at the Javits Center in New York, May 2014. All around us, in that manic swirl of Book Expo America (or BEA, as the cool kids call it), is where we first met Ellen Oh and Lamar Giles, two of the original founders of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.

It was a fledgling little operation and they had just finished speaking to a packed conference room. A friend had introduced us, and we happily volunteered to help man the main exhibition hall booth. “Let’s go fight the good fight,” we joked, figuring it would be more fun to experience BEA from behind a booth than in front of one.

Little did we know that this was the birth of a movement.

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign started as a response to BEA’s decision to include only white males in their keynote “Author Breakfast” panel. As newly published authors, this annoyed us enough, but we had no reason to believe it would affect those outside the publishing industry. We had no idea how important our fight truly was.

That changed on August 9, 2014. In a little-known middle-America town named Ferguson, Michael Brown, an unarmed eighteen-year-old, was shot dead by a white policeman, and the world watched as Ferguson and discussions about Ferguson quickly and angrily became divided along racial lines.

That’s when we finally realized how important this campaign was.

WNDB is not just about helping diverse authors or supporting diverse titles. It’s about creating the world we want our next generation to live in.

We are not in a post-racial world. Not yet. Racial prejudice and racial discrimination are still around us, simmering below the surface. And when it erupts, it often erupts violently. On the streets of Ferguson. On the avenues of New York. On the sidewalks of Washington DC.

But the nasty thing about clashes that feature riot gear, and batons, and Molotov cocktails, is that they are not the real battlefields. The best-case scenario is a ceasefire. That is not the same thing as peace.

The real battlefield is in the classroom, and in the hearts and minds of the next generation. The real soldiers are the teachers, the parents, and the librarians.

If we could convince kids that diversity is not something to be feared, but something to be treasured, they would react not with fear, but with curiosity. Racial and sexual discrimination would be something the last generation did, something they have no interest in perpetuating, and they would succeed in creating the post-racial world we’ve always dreamed of.

One way to do it is with diverse books.

As authors, the most powerful ability we have is creating worlds. Worlds in which African American characters can be first-page heroes rather than front-page criminals. Worlds in which Hispanic characters can represent social change rather than social problems. And worlds where people of color can be just…people.

These should be the stories the next generation grows up with.

We can’t all face down baton-waving police officers, but we can put a book in front of a child. And maybe, just maybe, we can change their world. And in doing so, we can let them change ours.

This is why #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Let’s go fight the good fight.

* * *

LittleMissEvil-finalcoverforwebKristy Shen & Bryce Leung are senior members of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, a grassroots organization dedicated to increasing diverse representation in children’s books and promoting the works of diverse authors. Their role in #WeNeedDiverseBooks is Directors of Technology, which includes running the official website, the official Twitter feed, and the official Tumblr account. Their debut novel LITTLE MISS EVIL was released by Spencer Hill Middle Grade in March 2015, and they are represented by Jamie Drowley at Inklings Literary. Twitter: @kristyshen

 

Go Ahead Punk, Make My Day– The inspiration behind Little Miss Evil

LittleMissEvil-cover.indd

Go Ahead Punk, Make My Day

The girl with the flamethrower you’re looking at? That’s Fiona Ng, the protagonist of our debut adventure/thriller LITTLE MISS EVIL, coming out in March 2015. She hurls fire, she hurls insults, and is generally someone you don’t want to mess with. She was also a TON of fun to write.

I have to admit. We love villains. Every time we watch a movie or TV shows, it’s always the villains that mesmerize us. Whenever we go back and re-watch our favorite movie, we constantly find ourselves fast-forwarding over the scenes where the hero is doing good-guy stuff to get back to the scenes where the villain is stealing the show.

The thing is, most heroes share the same traits: bravery, selflessness, and always standing up for what they believe in. But what makes a good villain is completely different from character to character. There’s no pattern. And that’s what makes them so interesting.

For example, Prince Zuko, from Avatar starts off as a single-minded assassin with an inexplicable hatred of Ang. But as you learn more about him, you realize he’s just a broken, battered kid trying to earn his Father’s love. And then you find yourself almost rooting for him, something you totally weren’t expecting.

And then there’s Elsa from Frozen. The cool (pun intended) thing about her is that she becomes the film’s villain unintentionally. She imprisons herself in an ice castle because she’s afraid of hurting anyone, so her intentions were good. But then in the process she nearly kills the entire town.

And finally, there’s our personal favorite villain—Joker from The Dark Knight. He’s so unpredictable that the entire time you’re watching him you’re on the edge of your seat wondering what he’ll do next.

Betcha weren’t expecting THESE three to show up in one place, INTERNET.

Betcha weren’t expecting THESE three to show up in one place, INTERNET.

In short, we just love a good villain.

But the other half of Fiona comes from us. They say write what you know, and a big part of our character comes from our upbringing. We’re both Asians who grew up in stereotypical Asian households. You know, the whole “Get straight A’s or get disowned thing.”

highexpects

Incidentally, we’re both engineers in real life. Yeah…

So we thought “how cool would it be to twist this Asian parent thing on its head?” What if the protagonist was Asian and already wants to be a doctor, but then the Dad wants them to be an evil super-villain instead?

From there, we created this girl who lives in a volcano, rides to school in a helicopter, and her Dad’s a cackling super-villain who wants her to take over the family business, so to speak, while she just desperately wants to be normal. This created a really wacky dynamic where the Dad is constantly trying to strap weapons onto her and she’s like “Dad! I have to go to school!!!”

But then when her Dad goes missing, she’s forced to take over her family’s evil empire, and she gets shoved into a world she’s been trying so hard to avoid. But what really shocks her is when she finds out that she’s terrifyingly good at it!

So that’s the story behind the creation of Fiona Ng, reluctant super-villain extraordinaire. Again, you can see her in LITTLE MISS EVIL, coming out in March 2015. She was so much fun to write, and we hope you love her as much as we do.

Just remember not to get on her bad side.

KBphoto(2)Bryce and Kristy are a tag-team writing duo with way too many voices in their heads. As engineers living in Toronto, they can’t be safely contained by mere cubicle walls, and therefore must spend every other waking moment writing to keep the crazy from leaking out at the office. When not writing or working, they spend their time parachuting into volcanoes and riding polar bears while tossing dynamite at rabid kangaroos. Yup, that’s right. Sometimes they can’t even believe how awesome their lives are.

You can pre-order Little Miss Evil from :Amazon, B&N, and any fine bookseller near you!