My Top 5 Reasons for Writing an #Ownvoices Novel
#Ownvoices has become a hot hashtag this past year. It applies to any novel with diverse or marginalized characters written by authors from that same marginalized group. It was created to help identify authentic diverse books within a publishing world where #ownvoices stories were often overlooked.
Soulmated, my debut teen paranormal romance, falls into the #ownvoices category. My heroine, Laxshmi Kapadia, is an Indian-American, and since I myself am one, who better to give my character’s voice the authenticity it needs than me?
While my reasons for writing an #ownvoices novel weren’t always conscious decisions, they were always there in the back of my mind. So, in no particular order, here are my top five reasons for writing an #ownvoices novel:
- I was born and raised in the United States, and I’ve wanted to see a character like me since I was little—no wait. That isn’t true. I couldn’t have wanted that because it never occurred to me that there could be a character like me in a novel. I grew up in a white world where I simply accepted I wouldn’t see anyone like me in what I read. It’s the very reason diversity in books is so important. How can they accurately reflect the diversity that is America without representing it in the very books we read—in the very books our children read?
- Writing it for myself is one thing, but I also wrote it for the other Indian-Americans who need to see a character like themselves, dealing with every day issues like falling in love, struggling with their dual identity and parental expectations, and finding their place in the world.
- One of the main reasons reading diverse fiction is so important is because it’s a way to create empathy, by helping all readers understand that regardless of religion, race, or color—or any other differences—people have some of the same emotions, fears, goals, and needs as the rest of the planet. Placing this “lesson” in an entertaining fictional backdrop might make it more accessible to certain readers than a serious literary tome. If I’ve made even one non-Indian-American realize we’re just like them at heart, I’ve made a small positive contribution to the world.
- In the current political climate, I feel more determined to show that diversity is here to stay, whether or not it’s accepted by all. If I’m lucky enough to be successful, it can signal to the publishing world that readers are buying books with characters who look and seem different than them. If the demand for books like mine increases, then it might help other marginalized voices find a market. And while it might feel like we’re heading backwards as a country and culture, we’d really be taking our two steps forward—and hopefully our step backward is only a small one.
- And finally, writers are always told to “write what you know.” In truth, writing any other type of heroine wouldn’t have felt right for my first book. In so many ways, she’s who I was as a teenager, and her voice simply needed to be shared.
About the Writer:
As an unabashed lover of all things happily ever after, Shaila Patel’s younger self would finish reading Cinderella and fling her copy across the room because it didn’t mention what happened next. Now she writes from her home in the Carolinas and dreams up all sorts of stories with epilogues.
Soulmated, her debut paranormal romance, won first place in the Young Adult category of the 2015 Chanticleer Book Reviews Paranormal Awards. A member of the Romance Writers of America, Shaila is a pharmacist by training, a medical office manager by day, and a writer by night. She enjoys traveling, craft beer, tea, and loves reading books—especially in cozy window seats. You might find her sneaking in a few paragraphs at a red light or connecting with other readers online.