As most of my readers know, my books feature diverse casts facing real-world issues while falling in love along the way. I've covered everything from the grief of losing a parent and the longstanding wounds that come with watching a parent be murdered in front of you (The Ragnarok Prophesies & Stricken) to domestic abuse (All Falls Down) and stalking (All Cried Out) to gang crime and human trafficking (Her Best Friend's Father Saga, Fight for You & Kill for You) to drug addiction and living with a disability (The Teplo Trilogy).
I don't shy away from painful subjects because those are the things I know. I write diverse characters because that's the world I know.
I spent my childhood years in California where most of my friends were Hispanic and my parents spent most of their time fighting. From there, I moved to Arkansas. My mom, sibling, and I lived in a poor community in income based housing. For a long time, my sibling and I were some of the only white kids in the area. Our friends were black. Some were in gangs. Others were gang-affiliated. Many were just kids like us, trying to make it in a poor community.
We congregated in my mom's apartment, watching TV and playing video games because that's where we were welcome, no questions asked.
At fourteen, I was labeled a slut because most of my friends were boys. I was a "trouble maker" and "white trash". They were labeled worse, often simply because they were black. I lost count of how many times my mom would have to tell the complex manager or the police that our friends weren't involved in whatever situation of the day had happened because they were in our living room with us the entire time.
When we went out, we were routinely deemed suspicious. If trouble happened, it had to be one of our friends behind it (though it rarely ever was). This became a fact of life. It wasn't right when we were fourteen and fifteen. It isn't right now.
As a teenager, I quickly noticed that the books I read didn't reflect the world around me. The books on my shelves were full of straight white characters dealing with first world problems. There were no interracial relationships. No gay characters. No black heroes or heroines. No Hispanic heroes or heroines. There were very few who knew what it was like to live in a poor neighborhood riddled with gang crime, or who had a parent grappling with a drug addiction, or friends who died too young, or families torn apart by crime.
There were no characters like me. More importantly, there were no characters like my friends who had hopes and dreams and aspirations just like I did.
And those characters deserve representation. I don't know what it's like to be black or Hispanic, so I don't write books about what it's like (because I can't and that's not my story to tell). But I do write books about people who grew up like I did, in communities where everyone else didn't look "just like me". In neighborhoods grappling with crime and addiction.
My characters fight and fall in love and overcome the things that touched my life or the lives of the people I love. And I think those stories are important.
People in those communities, just like in every other community, fall in love. They laugh, cry, build memories, and mourn. They grow up to be cops, teachers, dancers, preachers, parents, etc.
Diversity in fiction is incredibly important…but we're not even remotely close to where we need to be. Most authors are white. So are most editors, agents, and publishers. Most stories feature straight white characters.
But that's not representative of the world we live in. It's certainly not representative of the neighborhoods I grew up in, the neighborhoods I serve now, or my family.
So my books feature gay characters, Hispanic characters, black characters, interracial couples, disabled women, and curvy women. So my characters are brave, beautiful, bold, and willing to go to extraordinary lengths to make a difference.
Because those characters, just like the people in my life, matter. Their stories matter. Their voices matter. Their communities matter. And they deserve representation too.
I can't tell you what it's like to be black or Hispanic. I don't try to. But you will always see diversity in my books because that's the world I live in. You will see normal people overcoming painful situations because that's the world I know.
And I will always, always support authors from minority communities as they tell their own stories.
Because those authors deserve to be heard too.