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White author writes novel with mainly African-American characters


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#1 jvr

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 01:36 PM

Hello,

My name is John Van Roekel. I’m a 62 year-old white guy who in 1994 read a biography of Teddy Roosevelt that described his experiences with the African-American 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments during the Spanish-American War. I was so impressed with the story of these men that I naively decided to write a novel about a young black man serving in the 9th Cavalry. After years of research, writing classes, and trips to Fort Robinson, Nebraska, the Wounded Knee site in South Dakota, and to the San Juan Hill battle site in Cuba, Braver Deeds is the result.

So, what do African-American readers think about a well-meaning white man writing a novel mainly about African-American characters?

More information about Braver Deeds is available at http://braverdeeds.com, including the first chapter and information on purchasing both print and Kindle version. By the way, I make no profit on the sale of Braver Deeds.

John
Author of Braver Deeds, a historical novel about Buffalo Soldiers, http://braverdeeds.com

#2 Linda Chavis

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 01:53 PM

I think its fine because a good book, is a good book no matter the author. I look forward to reading. Sounds very interesting.

#3 Cynique

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 02:18 PM

I'd actually have to read the book for an in-depth response, but I think it would be safe to say that if you portray the black protagonist sympathetically, depicting him to be an individual with emotions that transcend color, black readers will give you a pass.

Your acceptance will be even more if you expose Teddy Roosevelt as a racist aristocrat. It also counts for something when you acknowledge that a white guy writing about a black one is presumptuous. Most resentments about such endeavors stem from the idea of white people telling black peoples' stories, as was the case with "The Help". It smacks of paternalism when the implication is that benevolent white writers have to step forward to do what poor ol mistreated black folks can't do for themselves.

Bottom line, truth and honesty, like justice, are color-blind. In a perfect world.

#4 Troy

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 03:44 PM

Here is a link to a chapter from John's book. http://www-personal....edsChapter1.pdf (from his website).

I'll print it out and let you know what I think. John, thanks for sharing information about your book here.

Peace
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#5 richardmorrisauthor

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 04:53 PM

I can't answer your question as an African American, but I can share my experiences with you as a white author with an African American protagonist. Here's a blogpost I wrote on this topic http://richardmorris.../into-the-mind/.

Richard

#6 Troy

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 05:45 PM

Hey Richard thanks for your comments. I read your Blog post. You, like John, seem to be interested in creating authentic characters. If you do this well, where is the justification to complain?

Much of the controversy surrounding books like <strong>The Help</strong> have to do with characters whom some feel were not authentic (read related article), propagating stereo types for monetary gain when continue to marginalize a group of people in the mass media.

Further, when these insensitive stories are published while overlooking work from Black writers, with more accurate portrayal of characters, then people get really bent out of shape.

But it is a new day. Anyone can publish a book or make a film.
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#7 ChickenBones

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 07:09 PM

It is not about the color of skin. I'd place Harold Courlander's "The African" in the Top 10 of fiction books. The recent book by Foster, a black female gospel novelist, I'd review it as reactionary and a book to avoid, maybe 20,000 on my fiction list. This fellow may indeed have done well. But I suspect he has not by how he has already identified himself. Never say goodbye to Truth. Loving you madly, Rudy

#8 JeniseR

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 08:09 PM

GE, and this has been done numerous times already: Uncle Tom's Cabin (Stowe); Nigger Heaven (Van Vechten); The Help (out now in book AND movie form!); and of course in various movies and TV shows from the last century to now. If book is handled humanly as opposed to stereotypically, shouldn't be an issue. Would of course have to read for myself to judge, and sure everyone here has come to the same conclusion:-)

#9 gwenrichardson

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 09:32 PM

I agree that a good book is a good book, no matter the ethnicity of the author. If a white author can write a book with mainly black characters, making them multi-dimensional rather than stereotypical, then I don't see it as a problem. However, it would be wonderful to see the day when black authors can write books dominated by white characters and have their books accepted in the mainstream. Then we'll know we've made progress.

Black authors are usually forced to write only about black characters, with a few rare exceptions; otherwise, their books won't get picked up by major publishers. I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule, but none readily come to mind. Perhaps Troy can think of a few. When I think of the fiction writers who have had major breakthroughs -- Terry McMillan, Walter Mosley, Carl Weber, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Stephen Carter (who may be the exception) -- their protagonist is almost always black.

Now, I don't want to take away from the joy found in writing about African American culture. And, as a reader, I appreciate having a large number of books from which to choose that reflect my culture. But writers -- all writers -- should have choices and options. That's what freedom is all about.

#10 jvr

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Posted 29 August 2011 - 10:18 PM

Thanks for all the great comments. Some responses:

Cynique hopes that I expose Teddy Roosevelt as a racist aristocrat. I think that just like we want our fictional characters to be complicated and multi-dimensional, we need to view historical figures the same way. It's a truism that we should judge people in the context of the times in which they live. Of course, that can be used to rationalize all kinds of bad actions, but I think it's appropriate for TR. For his time, and especially during the period of Braver Deeds, he seemed to be a positive influence on the condition of African-Americans. His very popular memoir of the Spanish-American war, The Rough Riders, informed many white Americans about the bravery and competence of the black regiments. And as president, he shocked many by inviting Booker T. Washington to the White House, who ended up staying for dinner. There are other examples. However, by any measure he failed African-Americans during the "Brownsville Incident" when he gave dishonorable discharges to 167 men in the 25th Infantry Regiment for a racial incident with townspeople. He knew at the time that most, if not all of these professional soldiers, where innocent.

Cynique says that I've acknowledged that "a white guy writing about a black one is presumptuous." Not surprisingly, I don't quite see it that way. I am uncomfortable with the fact that some people may feel that this book is presumptuous, but I also believe that at the end of the day, an author can write about anything he or she wants to. That doesn't mean that we don't have a responsibility to our readers. For example, it's morally wrong to reenforce stereotypes, especially hateful ones, and I know in my heart that I have not done this. But as others have pointed out here, there's nothing inherently presumptuous about an author of one race writing about characters of another.

Cynique and Troy both mention The Help. I have not read the book or seen the movie. Thank you to Troy for referring us to the "An Open Statement to the Fans of The Help" by the Association of Black Women Historians. One of the points made there concerned the use of "child-like, over-exaggerated 'black' dialect." I must tell you that as a white man with no great exposure to African-American speech, I worry that my efforts here were inadequate. I read several books on African-American dialects and some great literature (I found James Baldwin's Got Tell It on the Mountain to be particularly helpful). But I fear that to many African-American readers, my character's dialect may seem inaccurate and exaggerated. If that's true, I'm sorry. I did the best I could.

Finally, thank you to ChickenBones. I just ordered The African from Amazon.

Oh, and by the way. Has anybody decided to read Braver Deeds? Any feedback yet?

John
Author of Braver Deeds, a historical novel about Buffalo Soldiers, http://braverdeeds.com

#11 Troy

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Posted 30 August 2011 - 08:28 AM

John, I read the excerpt. The story sounds interesting and I'd be curious to see how it pans out. Regarding the Black dialect of the period; you would be a better judge of it that I.

What I read sounds reasonable, but I have now way of judging. Obvously I'm not from the period and have not I studied it. What you have written works for me, however The Association of Black Women Historians may diagree ;)

As with The Help most people really don't care must about that, they really want a compeling story. As long as the dialect is good enough and does not get in the way, readers will be fine -- which is why the vast majority of people enjoyed the book and film. Beside It is fiction, not a documentary expectations.

Thanks again for introducing yourself here.
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#12 Cynique

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Posted 30 August 2011 - 10:47 AM

Well, John, since you singled me out in your response, I'll make my previous remarks a little clearer.

It seemed to me that because you felt the need to seek out the reaction of black readers to your book about black characters, implicit in this gesture is the idea that you, yourself, feared writing such a book was "presumptuous". Hence my comment.

Where Teddy Roosevelt is concerned, may I remind you that racism is not always aggressive and inflammatory. It can be benign. White people can be so steeped in their sense of entitlement and superiority that they can condescend to be civil to Blacks in spite of the fact that they don't consider them equal. That's why racism still exists today. Teddy appreciated educator Booker T. Washington because where the races were concerned, Washington favored racial separation, while encouraging Blacks to excel in the fields of agriculture and mechanics. This was why he was such an anathema to W.E.B. Dubois. Abe Lincoln freed the slaves not because he thought they were equal, but because he hated slavery. To expose Teddy as an "aristocratic racist" would not necessarily make him a villain. It would, indeed, make him a man of his times.

I read the excerpt from your book and had no problem with its use of dialect.

Cynique

#13 careycarey

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Posted 31 August 2011 - 06:41 AM

John writes: "So, what do African-American readers think about a well-meaning white man writing a novel mainly about African-American characters?'

Okay John, since you asked the question I have to say I smelled game. Well to be honest, as a black man who has felt the sting of the white man with a fork tongue, that's my first natural reaction/response. I have to question you because my history tells me that the overwhelming majority of whites could care less about the ways and means of POC, so I'd be a fool to open my arms to you, even though YOU said you're a well-meaning white man. In fact, since that was in you're opening sentence, I am more prone to question your motive and agenda. I mean, what if you would have said "I am a racist, and I'm writing a book about a black man who served in the African-American 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments during the Spanish-American War"? I mean, what's the purpose of telling us that? We've heard the "talk". Why didn't you tell us you have a few black friends?

Okay, I am not going to go on about this b/c from the jump your post didn't set well with me. For instance, they were not called the "African- American 9th Cavalry.

Then, after telling us you were a "good" white man, you decided to share this: "I make no profit on the sale of Braver Deeds". Why did you think you needed to tell us those fine details?

Well John, in short, I think the home team took it easy on you. They treated you like a guest, you know, with respect, but I'm gonna tell you right now, all closed eyes were not sleep.

#14 breathebooks

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Posted 31 August 2011 - 04:24 PM

Hello,

My name is John Van Roekel. I’m a 62 year-old white guy who in 1994 read a biography of Teddy Roosevelt that described his experiences with the African-American 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments during the Spanish-American War. I was so impressed with the story of these men that I naively decided to write a novel about a young black man serving in the 9th Cavalry. After years of research, writing classes, and trips to Fort Robinson, Nebraska, the Wounded Knee site in South Dakota, and to the San Juan Hill battle site in Cuba, Braver Deeds is the result.

So, what do African-American readers think about a well-meaning white man writing a novel mainly about African-American characters?

More information about Braver Deeds is available at http://braverdeeds.com, including the first chapter and information on purchasing both print and Kindle version. By the way, I make no profit on the sale of Braver Deeds.

John


The underlined portion of the quote above came across similar to the phrase "She is not like other blacks" or "He is so articulate". As if "impressive" behaviour is or was rare among blacks.

That said, the quality of the novel is of greater importance. Would a black reader enjoy reading the novel without previously knowing the race or motivation of the author?

#15 jvr

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Posted 31 August 2011 - 08:33 PM

John writes: "So, what do African-American readers think about a well-meaning white man writing a novel mainly about African-American characters?'

Okay John, since you asked the question I have to say I smelled game. Well to be honest, as a black man who has felt the sting of the white man with a fork tongue, that's my first natural reaction/response. I have to question you because my history tells me that the overwhelming majority of whites could care less about the ways and means of POC, so I'd be a fool to open my arms to you, even though YOU said you're a well-meaning white man. In fact, since that was in you're opening sentence, I am more prone to question your motive and agenda. I mean, what if you would have said "I am a racist, and I'm writing a book about a black man who served in the African-American 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments during the Spanish-American War"? I mean, what's the purpose of telling us that? We've heard the "talk". Why didn't you tell us you have a few black friends?

Okay, I am not going to go on about this b/c from the jump your post didn't set well with me. For instance, they were not called the "African- American 9th Cavalry.

Then, after telling us you were a "good" white man, you decided to share this: "I make no profit on the sale of Braver Deeds". Why did you think you needed to tell us those fine details?

Well John, in short, I think the home team took it easy on you. They treated you like a guest, you know, with respect, but I'm gonna tell you right now, all closed eyes were not sleep.


Hi careycarey,

I'll let some of your more acid comments pass.

Just for the record, you're right about the name of the 9th Cavalry. In my post, I meant the 9th Cavalry, which was also African-American. The formal name was 9th Cavalry Regiment (Colored).

I mentioned that I don't make a profit on sales of Braver Deeds because I didn't want people to think I wrote the book and am participating in this forum because I want to make money.

John
Author of Braver Deeds, a historical novel about Buffalo Soldiers, http://braverdeeds.com

#16 jvr

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Posted 31 August 2011 - 08:50 PM


The underlined portion of the quote above came across similar to the phrase "She is not like other blacks" or "He is so articulate". As if "impressive" behaviour is or was rare among blacks.

That said, the quality of the novel is of greater importance. Would a black reader enjoy reading the novel without previously knowing the race or motivation of the author?




Hi breathebooks,

I'm sorry to hear you interpreted my words as you did. The fact is that the accomplishments of the 9th and 10th Cavalry as well as the 24th and 25 Infantry Regiments during the Spanish-American War are impressive. Right? Don't you feel that way? I was impressed. And inspired.

John
Author of Braver Deeds, a historical novel about Buffalo Soldiers, http://braverdeeds.com

#17 Xeon

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Posted 01 September 2011 - 07:49 AM

I'm sorry to hear you interpreted my words as you did. The fact is that the accomplishments of the 9th and 10th Cavalry as well as the 24th and 25 Infantry Regiments during the Spanish-American War are impressive. Right? Don't you feel that way? I was impressed. And inspired.


Well, good luck with your book. I think you have seen a cross section of views and opinions of what you are trying to do. Personally myself, I welcome any literature that illuminates the often overlooked involvement and contributions of blacks in the American military. I think your effort should be encouraged since there is no overwhelming public interest in literature that documents the history of blacks in the military. If you peruse the major popular non-fiction top sellers listings, I don't think you will find historical books about blacks in the military cracking the top ten week after week. Obviously, hoping for fame and fortune could not be a major factor for writing about such a topic. So, your interest seems genuine and sincere to me. And yes, the accomplishments and dedication to duty of these black soldiers warrants exposure. These men existed and performed admirably in one of the most discriminatory and racist periods in American history. Again, good luck with your book……
“ I will live down the prejudice. I will crush it out. I will show to the world that a man may spring from a race of slaves and far excel many of the boasted ruling race….” –Charles W. Chesnutt

#18 Cynique

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Posted 02 September 2011 - 08:32 AM

I find it puzzling that Carey, who was such a staunch defender of "The Help", would be so derisive where this white author is concerned.

#19 careycarey

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Posted 02 September 2011 - 03:56 PM

Cynique, it was just the way the man came through the door. He came in with a setup question. He didn't have to tell me the color of his skin. To that point alone, that's the same way I felt about The Help. The author of The Help didn't ask... "hey y'all, what do you guys think about a wellmeaning white woman writng a book about some dark women?"

#20 Jackie

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Posted 28 September 2011 - 04:27 PM

John, I will check out your book. My great grandfather was a veteran of the Spanish-American War, a member of the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry known as The Rough Riders (recruited by Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and commanded by Leonard Wood. He fought at El Cana, near the famous battle of San Juan Hill, his unit was a part of Roosevelt’s 71st New York Regiment. He served under General MacArthur, the father of General Douglas MacArthur, He was a member of the Chinese Expeditionary force that mapped trails and navigation channels through out Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. He re-entered the service as a National Guardsmen during World War I. There was a profile written on his 90th birthday by the Fresno Bee in Fresno, CA.

#21 jvr

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 08:14 PM

I am happy to report that I've been able to reduce the price of the print version of Braver Deeds to $10.54 (plus shipping). You can purchase the print version from Amazon.com or CreateSpace.com.

The Kindle version price remains $0.99 from Amazon.com.

John
Author of Braver Deeds, a historical novel about Buffalo Soldiers, http://braverdeeds.com

#22 Troy

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 07:41 AM

That is good John a lot of authors get killed because the price of their book are too high.

Do me a favor and read this article about selling books via Amazon and let me know what you think.
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#23 jvr

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Posted 19 January 2012 - 10:28 PM

In order to expand the distribution of the print version of Braver Deeds to bookstores, libraries and academic institutions, it will soon be necessary to increase the list price from $10.54 to $15.80.

If you want a copy of this 450 page epic at the current low price, please order now.

http://www.amazon.co...l/dp/1463633378

The very low price of $0.99 for the Kindle version is not being changed at this time.
Author of Braver Deeds, a historical novel about Buffalo Soldiers, http://braverdeeds.com

#24 Anonymous

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Posted 20 January 2012 - 01:07 PM

Hello John,

At the end of the day, it's not about the color of the writer - rather, it's about whether or not the characters (all of the characters - white, black, whatever) are presented authentically. Are they believable? Are they genuine? If they are, then it's all good. If they are not, and the writer is white, then get ready to hear about it. Here's why:

If the black characters are not believable and the writer is black, well then the reader would probably want that writer to review his/her history or broaden those horizons a bit. Slap on the wrist - go to your people and get your facts straight brother/sister. Tsk. Tsk.

But if the black characters are not believable and the author happens to be WHITE? Well then it just gets annoying AND to be quite honest, it does feel like a set-up. (Why would someone bother to write a book about a group of people he/she knows nothing about or has no real connection to? Is the writer viewing them as some type of special project? Is it akin to writing about lions and tigers and bears? Oh my! Or does the writer simply see that our stories are AWESOME and decides to cash in?)

And if that book sells big time and hits the big screen, and those "non-believable" characters are suddenly seen by the vast majority as true representatives of who black people are (or who we were during a specific time period), then we have a HUGE problem.

The problem becomes this: the only people who realize that the story is a bunch of crap are those that KNOW. Who are the ones that "know"? Well, that would be the black people who lived through it (whatever "it" is) or those who were at least very close (through face to face or passing down of stories, for example) to the ones who lived through it. The rest of the world, however, will read the book or watch the movie and think, Oh wow...I learned something today about black folk.

Like I said before - ANNOYING. That's how I saw "The Help." Well, actually, I didn't see it. I didn't watch the movie. And I only read the first two pages of the book. I was done after that. But I can tell you that at least two of my friends called me raving about that damn movie..."Oh you must see it! Oh it really shows how things were back in the day...blah blah blah"...Seriously? Knock it off!

p.s. I think the same rules apply no matter who is writing the book. Feel free to switch around and substiute other races for "black" and "white" and see if it still doesn't make sense.

#25 Cynique

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Posted 20 January 2012 - 06:11 PM

"The Help" 's white author did give a fairly accurate portrayal of the white characters, but I would agree that she only succeeded in making the black protagonist sympathetic, an obligation she fulfilled by portraying her as humble and long-suffering, the kind of black person white people love to relate to .

Now, Viola Davis is being showered with awards that will probably include an Oscar nomination for her role in "The Help", a part which was really nothing more than that of a latter-day mammy. This is no reflection on the talent of Viola who is a fine actress but I do think it's kinda patronizing to pat her on the head for doing an adequate job with a role that simply required her to repress her fortitude and exude meekness.

Critics and audiences also appreciated supporting actress candidate Octavia Spencer's feisty black woman character, another way Hollywood likes to feature actresses of color. Oh, well. That's what the powerless have to deal with. I suppose we should just be grateful for how the bad ol white antagonist got her just desserts in this movie and the god-fearing black maid survived to endure another misty-eyed day.

#26 Anonymous

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 07:09 AM

"The Help" 's white author did give a fairly accurate portrayal of the white characters,


This is just as I suspected. She is able to portray the white characters accurately because that's who she identifies with - she wants to make sure she gets it right...Indeed it's easy to get it right because unless she has isolated herself from white family and friends, she's going to know "their" story.

And I'm glad you brought up the Oscar nod. This doesn't surprise me either. Hollywood will reward black actors and actresses for staying in their places; for accepting roles that re-enforce stereotypes. For black women, they love to see us in the mammy role, or in a position with our legs up (Halle Berry in "Monster's Ball"). For black men, they love to see hoodlums and disgraces to our race (Denzel Washington in "Training Day"). Good job! Good job! This is what we've been wanting out of you. Now here's your prize.

smh.

#27 Troy

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 11:39 AM

2011 was a shitty year for Black film if you ask me. The characters in The Help, caricatures or not, it is about as good as we got, and the Academy has to have some Black faces or else they risk being seen as overtly racist.

I just Published Kam's annual Blacktrospective which is his annual list of the best of Black film. The Help tops the list of Black feature films: http://www.aalbc.com...rospective_2011

As far as white people getting Black characters right, the reaction is purely subjective. The story trumps everything.

A Black writers spawns Precious or For Colored Girls and many Black folks get tight with the portrayals. A white person pens The Help and most Black people are weeping in the aisles. Those that complain are really on the fringe.
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#28 Anonymous

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 01:27 PM

2011 was a shitty year for Black film if you ask me. The characters in The Help, caricatures or not, it is about as good as we got, and the Academy has to have some Black faces or else they risk being seen as overtly racist.


I would rather see no black faces at all than to see them nominate some bs. But my opinion doesn't matter. I don't make enough money to be relevant in that arena. Now if I was Oprah? Hmmmm, maybe I could stand stronger on my soap box. Such is the world we live in.

p.s. Yes, 2011 was a shitty year for black film...hell, I can't really recall the last "good" year now that I think about it...and that's regardless of who wrote the script. We've got to do better...

#29 Felipe

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 01:47 PM

I really don't understand the focusing on the fact that the author is white or why that even needs to come up. I targeted the black audience because I like them and their characters fit so well in my books. The characters took on a life of their own to me after a while.Still i don't see it as "Hey, I'm a Spaniard but wrote about a lot of black characters" as much as I lament the lack of black characters portrayed well in many other books, other than the Alex Cross series by James Patterson.

#30 Anonymous

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 02:11 PM

I really don't understand the focusing on the fact that the author is white or why that even needs to come up.


The guy who started the post wanted to know how black folks feel about a "well-meaning white guy" writing a book w/mainly black characters - something to that end. Well, if you ask a question, you'll get a bunch of different viewpoints. And for whatever reason, he felt the need to ask how ppl felt about this.

Honestly, if it were me, I would have just written the dang book and called it a day. Clearly he's already written it. It's on sale now. So why ask now what black ppl think? Just see what happens. If the book is amazing, then nobody is really going to even ask whether the writer is white or not.

I remember reading the first book in the Alex Cross series & I never even thought to question James Patterson's race. Shoot, I still don't know "what" he is; don't even care. I liked his book and the main character and that was the end of it. Conversely, "The Help" came out and I picked up the book and tried to read it and couldn't make it past the first two pages. And then when it became a movie and I found out that the writer was white, well let's just say I wasn't surprised to see some of the backlash. You can read my earlier post (in this thread) stating my opinion on why that happens.

#31 Troy

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 02:44 PM

Again the story trumps, race for reasonable people when reading a book. Even some of my favorite book were written by people who are not Black.

There however another level of complexity introduced by our racist culture. Black authors are often relegated to (unable to get published) writing books with white characters. How many novels were published by a major house, written by a Black writer, that contains white characters? Zero*.

Further, Black and white writers are forced (unless they want to get published) to write characters that conform to degrading stereotypes; characters who embody a handful of the most negative archetypes.

This is most evident in major motion pictures. Of course there are exceptions, but there are always exceptions and exceptions.


*Honestly I don't know that stat is true, but I suspect it is and I'll resort to making unsupported claims from time to time to make a point ;)
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#32 Anonymous

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 03:10 PM


Further, Black and white writers are forced (unless they want to get published) to write characters that conform to degrading stereotypes; characters who embody a handful of the most negative archetypes.


Troy you bring up an interesting point. A writer who wants to sell books is naturally going to think about his or her audience. She may start off writing her book the way she sees fit. Who knows what that initial draft looks like -- it could be filled with character roles that challenge stereotypes. But by the time she's on her third round of edits, for example, she may start changing things to meet what she anticipates are the demands of the audience. She may anticipate such demands by looking at her competition; reading other books that are out there in connection with her subject matter. Before you know it, she is tweaking this, adjusting that, and the book is totally different than how it started...all because she wants people to be comfortable with it; to accept it.

When looking at it this way, it becomes easy to see how books filled with stereotypes continue to be produced. The writer is looking at "what sells" and may even be afraid to go against the status quo. Unfortunately, the status quo is "busting" at the seams with stereotypes. Racism and American go hand in hand.

For a new writer, and I guess even the veterans, stepping outside of the box may sound good theoretically, but when you're trying to get picked up by an agent or land a big deal with a publisher, the brutal reality of where we stand with each other sets in. So what do you do? Take one for the team and tell it like it is - keeping in mind that your intepretation may very well differ from other people's? Or focus on your personal survival, by writing what is safe and acceptable ("believable") to mainstream America, thereby making that money?

p.s. I keep putting "believable" in quotations because (as Troy said --- I think that was Troy who said it...), whether or not something is believable is subjective. So already, we as people are in trouble in terms of trying to relate to one another. What may be believable to one person, is nonsense to another.

To that end, going back to my original response to this post, if I, as a black reader, come across a book about black ppl that I find to be totally off the mark & stocked full of "unbelievable" characters, I'm going to call that book crap. If I find out that the writer is white, AND cashed in big time on the book, then yeah, I am going to have something negative to say. Real talk.

I will NOT be happy about it and I will NOT pretend to support it because at that point, it's all over the big screen showing a story with characters that I don't think would have really acted like that (putting *ish* in a pie? seriously? We had way more dignity than that! --- or did we? How would I know...I wasn't there...maybe I'm wrong, but that's my story & I'm sticking to it: again, subjective). And yet, as opinionated as I am about this whole "The Help" issue, there are ten people to my one that love the movie and find it to be a fascinating true-to-life portrayal of great black women and mean old evil white ones in a time period from back in the day.

(Btw, I haven't thought about how I personally would feel if a black person was the creative genius in that same scenario....let me watch a Wayans brother movie tonight and then maybe I'll come back tomorrow and let you know how that went.)

#33 mzmina

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 01:57 AM

Sorry, I forget to respond to these discussions here on our forum and not on Facebook. So, I'm repeating my comments here. The so-called good point I was referring to was Troy's comment about "black folks weeping in the aisles about the white writer's portrayal of Negroes in "The Help." Yet, we chewed out Perry for his portrayal of African American women in "For Colored Girls." I hated the trailers on "Precious." I feel that poor young actress was thrown to the wolves. BTW, where is she now? Who will pick her up in another movie? But that's another story. Back to "Braver Deeds."

I knew I was not going to the movies, paying my meager pennies to see an exchange between black maids and white ladies/housewives. I didn't see enough Negro history in the motion picture's blurb to legitimize the story. This is a must for me. I am an African American writer, age 75 and know a lot of facts about Negro-Master's relationships on Southern Plantations.

Troy, in my opinion we want our brothers and sisters of color to write us in a perfect light because we are brothers and sisters. We say, "Don't bring us down any lower than we are today."

As an African American writer, I'm still climbing the mountain of acceptablity of my work by all races. My last novel is multiracial. The characters are African American, Native American and Polynesian.

Of course, non-black writers have a headstart on us.

To be fair, I'll read Braver Deeds.
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#34 mzmina

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 09:50 PM

John's story including Negroes was, may I say, soft. In my opinion, Sammy the horse stole Chapter One.
In that chapter, Matt wasn't that impressive. Stories about the Army or war is not my favorite read, and what I know about boarding horses I could write in 30 words or less. But John's writing skills are very good. I guess you can say this is the subjective side of my brief review.

Usually Chapter One briefly lays out the book's premise. I see the possibility of several precursors there, however: Matt's promotion as a Negro commander, will it go good or bad, and how will his brothers-in-color take it. His relationship with the Mrs. teaching him to read could signal problems down the line. His troop may use that against him (among each other), and his letting Virgil off and not arresting him as a possible deserter. These are all possibilities to strengthen the story. The Indian fight looming could give the story a kick--more tension. But, if I were writing this I'd be as careful with Indian history as with Negro history. Cultural-wise, they are very close to each other.

IMO, John you were wise to bring the novel before an African American audience for a review. It shows you care about how all people will take your story.

If you want to know about me visit my website at http://www.millerscribs.com
Peace.

(Minnie Estelle Miller)
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#35 Troy

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 01:36 PM

Minnie, thanks so much for sharing your words on this platform. Facebook is cool as a tool to help support our platforms -- but become our platforms. I see far too many authors, in particular, giving Facebook everything -- to our collective detriment.

Gabby Sidibe my actually have a little career for herself, so i would not count here out yet. She was in the film tower heist: http://www.aalbc.com...ower_heist.html

Glad to read your critical analysis of Braver Deeds. This is really the spirit behind why this forum was created over 10 years ago.

Maybe John will be inclined to check out your work as well ;)


Writergirl your analysis of the art of writing as it relates to the business of writing is on the mark.

You can, of course, you can write to a known formula which has proven successful, and many writers do this, but unless money is your only goal, you won't enjoy the work as much as you would if your wrote what was in your heart and spirit.
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#36 Anonymous

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Posted 24 January 2012 - 09:55 PM

You can, of course, you can write to a known formula which has proven successful, and many writers do this, but unless money is your only goal, you won't enjoy the work as much as you would if your wrote what was in your heart and spirit.


I completely agree!

#37 Anonymous

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 10:22 AM

I have one more thing to add to this thread. I am trying not to beat a dead horse, but this point is bugging me, so here goes nothing:

John, I think if you had come to the board BEFORE finishing your project and said, "Hey I'm thinking about writing a book with mainly African American characters, etc...and I'm white...how do you think Black readers will react to this...etc..." then it would have been easier for me to accept your motives as sincere. Under that scenario, logically, it would have made sense to come to a board like this. Indeed it would be wise to do so...get some feedback, show you care about what your potential audience will think...get some constructive suggestions about how to respectfully handle your characters & portrayal of historical events.

But since you already wrote the book, published the book, and started selling the book, and THEN you came looking for feedback, it makes me think you are simply trying a new marketing strategy. I have no problem with you marketing your material. But don't insult me by acting like you're just curious to see my reaction to your color. Be real about the situation. If you're coming to the board to broaden the exposure of your book, then just say that: "Hey, I wrote a book about Black characters...here's the synopsis...check it out..." And if you feel you must include the fact that you are white, then say that too..."oh, by the way, I'm white...do you care?"

I could respect that.

#38 Cynique

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 11:20 PM

What a compelling discussion this thread has turned out to be, mainly because the subject is so timely. I just wish that my attention span wasn't so short, contrary to way it used to be when I was a young avid reader. Which is to say, I now have a difficult time getting through long books, particularly fictional ones. So, I certainly appreciate Minnie E. Miller's review of "Braver Deeds", and envy how, as a woman in my age bracket, she read this book so fast. You go, girl! As usual, Writergirl's incisive input was on point, and of course Troy’s contribution gave a spin commensurate with his expertise. Kudos to everybody who participated in this debate.

The question that has lingers in my mind in regard to this discussion is that if I criticize a white writer for writing about blacks, could a white person criticize a black person for writing about whites?

Maybe. But in my opinionated view, I tend to believe that black people know white people better than white people know black people. Why? Because for 400 years Blacks have had to operate at a disadvantage when interacting with Whites, and in order to cope with the entitlement and assumption of superiority that white people don’t even realize they have, Blacks have had to figure out the white psyche, and come up with ways to manipulate it. Hence our double consciousness. White people, however, are in many way clueless when it comes to scoping out Blacks. So, yes, when it comes to fiction, the story transcends the ethnicity. But when it comes to portraying characters of another race, black authors have the edge.

As for the Alex Cross character in James Patterson books, I haven’t read all of the entries in this series but I was never completely impressed with the handling of him. The aim came across as a token gesture in its attempt to cast Alex as a guy whose race was incidental. Doing this, however, requires no writing skill and does nothing but rob Cross of his uniqueness.

#39 jvr

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 07:40 PM

Wow. I haven't checked in on this board in a while (since posting the note on the price change for the printed version), and I just now got caught up in all the latest comments.

writergirl870 said lots of interesting and thought provoking things. One question she asks, and it's been asked by others on this board: "So why ask now what black ppl think?" What is my true motive? Is it a "marketing strategy"?

Well, it's not simple. First, I did truly wonder what people, especially African-Americans, would think about this question. All during the years I worked on this and since, I asked myself whether I was doing something wrong, or at least inapprorpriate. I had a Native-American woman tell me in a writing class that I shouldn't be writing about Native-Americans and Wounded Knee. Ultimately, I plunged ahead because I loved the characters and the story, and I wanted to tell it. But it does occur to me that maybe one of my motives for posting this question was that I was seeking some sort of absolution. I think we can all agree I didn't get it.

Money is not a motive. I've made that point before. I make no real profit on this book. Any minimal royalties that come from Amazon do not begin to cover the on-going costs (mainly modest advertising).

But there is a related motive. In retrospect, I think I should have been more straight-forward about this. I want readers. By posting my provocative question, I did hope to stir up this kind of discussion, and maybe this would lead to more readers. So that's a question for you: Have any of you read Braver Deeds in its entirety? What do you think of the full story?

mzmina, thank you for your comments about the story. I think you only read chapter one, right? Yes, I agree that in some ways Sammy steals the show, but that's fine. (Sammy is Matt's horse.) Ultimately Sammy's role is to help us to understand the main protagonist, Matt. I think when we read a novel, what we really care about are the relationships, and Matt's relationship with Sammy is provides much of the heart of Braver Deeds. I hope.

I checked out your website and it looks great. I should have used the cover designer you used for your books.

FYI, I finally put up a Braver Deeds facebook page: http://facebook.com/braverdeeds
Author of Braver Deeds, a historical novel about Buffalo Soldiers, http://braverdeeds.com

#40 jvr

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Posted 05 February 2012 - 04:15 PM

What to read Braver Deeds for free?

If you own a Kindle and have an Amazon Prime account, the Kindle version is currently available for free as part of Amazon's Kindle Owners' Lending Library. Just go to Braver DeedsKindle edition to check whether you qualify.

Don't own a Kindle or have a Prime account? You can still read the entire book for just $0.99 on any smart phone, tablet or computer by installing a free Kindle application from Amazon, available at: Free Reading Apps.

Finally, you can read the Kindle version on your computer by online using the Kindle Cloud Reader.

In these cases, of course, you do have to pay the $0.99.

I hope this is helpful.
Author of Braver Deeds, a historical novel about Buffalo Soldiers, http://braverdeeds.com



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