Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Problem with POC Characters #amwriting #scifi #romance

Now, before you think this is some kind of complaint against POC characters, bear with me. It isn't. But it'll take me a while to get to the point.

Back in the summer of 2014, I went to see a film at the cinema a record three times (well, a record for me. I only saw Return of the Jedi twice because my local cinema did a special re-run of the whole trilogy when I was a teen - I was too young to see the first two at the cinema when they originally released). The film was Guardians of the Galaxy. I. LOVED IT! So it wasn't especially deep or thought provoking or hard scifi, but it was fun, spectacular, funny - for me, all round entertaining with explosions, spaceships, aliens, a kickass heroine looking for redemption and a reluctant, somewhat klutzy hero. Perfection! Aside from the problems with getting Gamora merchandise (oh, Disney, really...), I didn't have a single complaint about the entire thing (apart from that killer opening scene, which I now skip every time).
By Source, Fair use,
And it inspired me to write a story. I wanted to write a heroine based on Starlord, and what's more a POC heroine. At the time I'd planned to do it as a novel...eventually. But I was already busy preparing Keir for re-release in 2015, and was in the midst of a chaotic and demanding schedule of edits, tours and releases for five titles with my now ex-publishers Breathless and Lycaon. I just didn't have time to get sucked into a novel, so I tapped down a few notes that looked suspiciously like an outline (nope, not me, I'm a pantser, NO outlining!!) I put it aside and got back to work.

Then I spotted a scifi romance anothology call - Touch the Stars. I really wanted to submit to it, but I didn't have time to start something from scratch. What I did have was a 3K sketch of a potential novel.

Lightbulb! It wouldn't take much work to expand the 3K into a 10K short. Then if readers liked it, I could come back to the novel idea later, right? During the expansion, my heroine decided she didn't like much about Starlord other than his outfit and his guns and started nudging me toward Zoe from Firefly as character inspiration (at this point I'm going to admit I've only watched the Firefly series once and the film Serenity maybe five times, so in no way is my heroine claiming to be Zoe nor am I claiming her to be in any way an accurate representation!). The intended humorous play on a cheesy scifi name also wasn't going to work out in the space of 10K, so I dropped it.

Since the anthology hadn't yet found an editor, and Dani and I were already extremely busy with multiple editing projects, I turned to Diane Dooley who had edited my short story Imprint for the Tales from the SFR Brigade anthology. The two stories were similar in style and feel, and I felt Diane had done a fantastic job kicking my butt helping me get Imprint into excellent shape, so I had no doubts she could do the same for this short. At least that way no matter who eventually edited Touch the Stars, I was handing in a polished piece of work. She also helped me pick a better title for it now I'd thrown out the pulp scifi name for my character.
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So Quickshot was submitted to the anthology by the December 2015 deadline. Then on the 10th January, I received the disappointing news that the anthology had been indefinitely postponed due to too few submissions.

Bummer. But as you know I'm not one to stay down even when knocked down. Dani and I were still working on edits for two projects, and I'd decided to re-release Zombie Girl, my last BP/LP title that I hadn't put back up, for which she did the cover, plus a robbery put a huge spanner in her workload. While I waited for a suitable breathing space to commission a cover, I went searching for stock photos myself.

And here's where the reason for the title comes in. I see a huge number of complaints about lack of diversity in books. But the lack is everywhere, at every level of writing and publishing. Do you know how hard it is to find non-white model stock images, let alone ones that are dressed/posed/armed the way you'd like? And especially for speculative fiction? Bloody hard, that's what. I knew I had a pretty big ask for my heroine - I summed it up to Dani as Zoe from Firefly dressed and armed like Starlord from Guardians of the Galaxy - but even just finding a headshot that would fit was tough going. Even a visit to Mosaic Stock, who specialize in POC models, didn't give me much. I came up with a grand total of five headshots and one potential full body shot that would actually take quite a bit of work to turn into my heroine as I saw her. And the hero was just as bad. I resigned myself in advance to not getting anything remotely close, especially when Dani confirmed the difficulty in getting suitable POC stock images.

But Dani is a miracle worker. As you can see, she came up with something that not only fulfilled my wishlist but surpassed all expectations, that I never thought I'd get (and now I'm sorry I didn't write the whole novel!). Isn't it glorious?! (BTW, you can check out all her work and services HERE.)

A Space Opera Short Story
Goodreads | Webpage
Amazon inc KU 
After investigating the interracial categories on Amazon, I realize I'm even more lucky than I thought. The lack of POC characters on the majority of the covers in that category was frankly depressing. It's not that the books aren't being written or published from the looks of things (though from conversations on Twitter, I believe they're still a minority when it comes to publishing). It would appear it's more the lack of stock images available, a problem I know Greta and Donna have also run into for their books. While I know Mosaic Stock are committed to their vision of providing a wider range of diversity in their stock photos, it's clearly going to take time. I wish the current stock image providers would do the same.

Sal, a legal carrier (just about) of whatever comes her way, puts her trust in just two things: her guns. 

Keeping out from under Imperium eyes—especially those belonging to a certain Ehi Wahu—while making a living, and trying to keep a lover who can tolerate her twitchy trigger fingers, are the extent of her ambitions.

Then a kiss from a passing stranger, and a promise of the biggest score in a long time, tempt her. Devin fulfils more than one need, but he comes with more trouble than one woman can handle. And this time it'll take more than her guns to save her. She'll have to trust a man again.

Quickshot is a space opera short, available for pre-order at Amazon only, with a release date of the 31st March. Warning: over 18s only. Adult content including explicit sex, bad language, and implied violence.


You've got just six more days to get Keir for free to read and review from NetGalley HERE.
And six more days to enter the Goodreads giveaway for Keir's Fall.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Keir's Fall by Pippa Jay

Keir's Fall

by Pippa Jay

Giveaway ends February 29, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway
From the 1st March you can get Keir's Fall from NetGalley HERE to read and review.
Zombie Girl: Dead Awakened is now available to buy from most online retailers, and you can find the links in the right hand side bar.
And lastly, Quickshot is available for pre-order exclusively at Amazon. In 90 days time I'll have to decide whether to go wide or stick with Amazon.
Chook update!
Sadly over holiday, we lost our Leghorn bantam Eowyn (my eldest's chicken, and the white one in the photo). It happened suddenly in the night, so at least she didn't suffer. We're not sure exactly how old she was and there's a huge variation in the predicted age of domestic chickens, so it could have been that - we just don't know.

However, we'd already been looking at more chooks, and this Sunday we picked up four new girls, bringing our total to eight. Mine is the dark brown one with the ruffled feathers (a chocolate frizzle), and I've named her Fizzgig. The 'ginger' one (a buff Pekin) belongs to youngest and got christened Spaghetti. The other two are yet to be named (my older two monsters are still trying to decide). Our original chooks go by the names of Scoop, Chiana, Kyru, and Rush, in case you hadn't been introduced before. :P

Status Update
Rather than reading over my nine days of no social media, I worked on revising and editing Reunion at Kasha-Asor. I really want to hit my deadlines on this one (unlike the last minute chaos of getting Keir out on time and releasing Keir's Fall a month late. Ugh). I am struggling with it. In fact, I've been struggling full stop. I've had another 'why am I doing this?!' phase because every day seems a battle with writing, publishing, and especially marketing. So I'll continue for now with blogging and tweeting, but cut anything else including Facebook. I'll continue writing, but I'll probably publish less. And I'm more set on job hunting. I hope to be back at a non-writing job by the end of this year.
The June project is in first round edits - I made a start on it last week as a break from Reunion, lol. I spend more time editing than anything else, and right now I'm looking at pretty much nonstop editing for the rest of the year. The June project may or may not release in June, but I hope to have print editions for BristolCon in October.
In the meantime, I'd love to know what you think of the cover and blurb for Quickshot. Or maybe you could help suggest some names for our two nameless chickens!
Pippa Jay signing off...


  1. It's a classy cover and the blurb promises an interesting, action-packed, spicy read. And I know all about trying to get diverse cover models. It's probably one reason why people give up.

    Actually, I recall seeing a review a few years back where the reviewer complained the cover models didn't look remotely like the characters in the book. That might well be a good reason why.

    Sad about the job hunting - but economics is a hue motivator. I know I'm lucky in that respect. Retirement rocks. (Except you usually have to be old - which sucks)

    1. Thanks, and yeah. Dunno where my cover designer pulled those two from but I was super happy with them!
      I've been lucky in having time at home with my kids when they were little, and to see school performances as they grew up. I've had six years working on my writing (gosh, hadn't realized it was quite that long), so I can't complain. Well, I *can* but really it's more than some get! I've another 20 years before retirement, but the idea of getting older really does suck. Where's that immortality and eternal youth stuff?!


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