Okay… While my Goodreads M/M Don’t Read in the Closet story is getting squished through the meat grinder, I mean editing process, I thought I’d write about the plot bunny torturing me with his sharp little teeth and claws. It’s a story I want to write it, but I probably won’t.
The basic set-up goes like this… A gay, black man in his mid/late thirties raising his adopted foster kids (of varying race, ethnicity and disability) with his ex-husband meets his younger, gay, white neighbor with no experience with kids and a romance ensues. Lots of points of conflict… black/white, older/younger, kids/no-kids, divorced/never married…
“Sounds great. Why not write it?” you ask. Because it has to do with race.
I’m a white, middle-class writer living in diversity-challenged Maine. The very idea of writing a black main character terrifies me. I’m afraid I’ll get it wrong somehow–either by ignoring the fact that my character is black or, even worse, for lacking any authenticity in the way I write about it. I have POC friends I can lean on for help and I’ve lived all over the country so it’s not like I haven’t had exposure to racial differences, but it still feels dangerous somehow.
Race is complicated. It is a mash-up of culture, ethnicity, language and socio-economics that is unique to each individual and universal at the same time. It affects every part of a persons understanding of the world. I don’t think I have ever met a person of color who doesn’t have this litter kernel of rage at the fundamental unfairness of racism that like a pea under the mattress keeps them from being comfortable in the world. And it operates on every level from the obvious to so subtle it’s almost invisible.
My best friend tells me I’m overthinking. She doesn’t understand how I can write about gay rodeo cowboys without being one and not be able to write about a guy, a lot like the divorced guys we actually know, who happens to be black. I don’t understand either, but it is different. The risk of getting it wrong feels greater than any reward for getting it right.
Usually, when I get this scared of a story it means I’m headed in the right direction. That visceral fear makes the writing better. It’s not like race is even the central issue of the story. I dunno maybe that’s enough of a reason to start writing and see where it goes.
In my head, Marcus, the dad in my story, is bugging me about how awesome his kids are and what broke up his marriage. He looks a lot like Boris Kodjoe, but he wants me to point out that he isn’t balding, nor has he completely shaved his head. Marcus’s a little vain and sensitive about his age apparently. His love interest, Wade, who looks kinda like Ben Elliot, is still kind of amorphous, but he talks to me a lot about his bulldog.
Marcus, aka Boris Kodjoe
Wade, aka Ben Eliiot
Yes, I frequently have entire conversations with imaginary people. Writing is a lot harder when the characters don’t talk to me.
I’m not sure what all this says about me other than I’m a little chickenshit around the edges. I can tackle suicide, domestic violence, and addiction and all sorts of delicate topics, but race pushes me beyond the pale. I know it is a little white, liberal guilt coupled with a deep need not to be eviscerated in public. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I’ll let you know when I figure it out.
As always, your thoughts are always welcome.