The first real literary love I had was Anne of Green Gables. The second was C.S. Lewis. Later, Tolkien. I think I read The Lord of the Rings four times through before I graduated from high school. I was one of those people who felt betrayed that there was no Tom Bombadil or Goldberry in the movies. (Still. What? Why?) The things we spend our time on as children shape us. Experts say that reading stories improves empathy. Reading so much Anne of Green Gables formed how I saw the natural world, that trees could be friends. Those books gave voice to the fact that beauty fed my soul. I still consider them a kind of home.
And fantasy formed me. Fantasy was was huge part of how I saw the world, how I formed my thoughts about God and the inner beauty and majesty of people. Some things are invisible in the real world. There are emotions and realities that go deeper than we can know in our everyday lives, there is meaning that can be expressed so well in fantasy. You cannot read these things in the bills, the dishes, or reality TV. (Heavens no.)
When I was older I discovered more and more fantasy. I became one of the biggest Harry Potter fans ever. I loved all of Robin McKinley's books. I was delighted, later, when my children became avid fantasy addicts as well. And yet I was disappointed. Because something I hadn’t noticed when I was growing up (I hadn’t needed to) was that all the protagonists I loved looked a little bit like me. They were white. And it was noticeable with my kids because none of the protagonists looked like them. We couldn’t find a lot of fantasy about black protagonists. (I mean protagonists, main characters, not the supporting characters-- and I do know about the Kane Chronicles.)
Though my kids can identify with anyone—they are empathetic creatures, as all kids are, and can put themselves in the shoes of anyone with blood and a heart (even old men and dragons)—it was still disappointing because we are over fifteen years into this millennium. I got online and looked around and I saw a lot of stuff about marketability and the fact that publishers change even the way black characters look, making them white on covers, because a black person on a cover doesn’t sell. What. The. hell.
Okay, so I know nothing about big giant rhino marketing, really. And maybe adults with all their years of ingrained philosophy and separateness are like that. (I hope not, and I don't really think they are.)
But kids are a lot smarter than that. This I know. They’ll connect with anyone, especially another human boy or girl who has darker skin or lighter skin than they do. (Or is a fairy! This is fantasy!) And I think everyone should have heroes that look like them.
So. Combine a love affair with young adult fantasy and a frustration at marketing trends. What did I do? I started emailing publishers... just kidding.
I'm a writer. I started a series of books, a series that's been rolling around in my brain for years. And I’m self-publishing this series, starting this year, because I don’t want anyone with marketing on the brain to mess with my words or my covers. Because reading kids are of all races. And they’re very, very smart. Smarter than we take them for. And adults who love fantasy of all kinds, or even just books of all kinds, are also smart. I hired a friend who is an illustrator to create the art for my cover. Meet Isika.
This will be the cover art (done by my talented friend Tom Li) for World Whisperer, which is set to be launched on April 15. (You can reward yourself for filing your taxes.) Here's a blurb:
Years ago, after Isika, her mother, her brother and two sisters came wandering out of the desert, the priest of the Worker village had pity on them and took them into his home as his family. For half her life, fourteen-year-old Isika has tried to fit in as a Worker, to live up to her role as the Worker priest’s daughter. Though something inside her has always longed for freedom from the strict, unmerciful ways of the Workers, she has been powerless to get out from under them. She was helpless when her sister was Sent out, killed in the village custom of sacrificing children to the rough waves. She couldn’t stop her mother from dying of grief two weeks later, leaving Isika’s little newborn brother, Kital behind. And the four years since, Isika has done her best to cause no problems, to watch her step, and to care for Kital, who she loves more than anything.
But now Isika’s stepfather has chosen the next child to be Sent Out. It is Kital and this time, Isika will not be helpless. She resolves to save her brother, no matter what it will cost her. Together, Isika and her two remaining siblings make a heroic attempt to rescue their little brother, launching themselves into a journey outside of the walls of the Worker village, where none of them know what to expect.
So tell me. Is this exciting to you? Do you read fantasy? Do you have kids who do? Did you know that 55% of people who read Young Adult fiction are adults? (Hint, it's because it's amazing.)