Thursday, December 5, 2013

Aliens? Stars? And Books?-A sit down with Diverse Book Blog Creator, Ruth De Jauregui

When we first started this blog, we looked all over the internet for blogs similar to the idea we had in mind for a multicultural book blog. If you didn't know, it's much harder to find books with diverse themes when you don't know what you're looking for. Fortunately for us, we were introduced to this website/blog just a little before we started and were so impressed that she had taken all this time to chronicle the books she found that featured diverse characters in Science Fiction and Fantasy. It really helped start our search on some great books to review. We've always considering having her on and now we finally gathered up the nads to ask her :) She's pretty awesome and very active in her cause. Let's take a few moments to get to know her and her amazing blog, Alien Star Books!

1. First off, in your words, tell everyone more about yourself.

I’m a California kid, born and raised, but my family is from all over. My father was first generation Welsh/Native/White, his father came over as a child from Wales. His mother was mixed Native and German and, well, who knows what else, but back then it was a matter not to be discussed. They lived all over the Pacific Northwest. My mother’s family is from North Carolina and Tennessee. She’s White and 1/8 Cherokee, per her father. So I’m totally a blue-collar mutt. *Smile*

Because I grew up in a very small California town, where you were an “outsider” unless you were from one of the old, multi-generational families, in my own way, I was alienated from my classmates. Unlike most, I didn’t have any relatives that lived in that town, it was my parents and siblings and that was it. I went to school with these interrelated families, Air Force dependents and the kids from the Pomo reservations in the surrounding area. I was never, ever marginalized like my friends from the reservations (called Rancherias), but I never quite fit in either. 

And then, when I was 15, we moved to San Diego, which changed my entire world. Thank goodness, because I believe that I’m a better person today. The exposure to diverse peoples, oh my goodness. It changed me and my worldview from an insulated small town to a huge city filled with people of not just different Colors, but different nationalities, different cultures and different politics. I look back and realize just how much it affected me, forcing me to grow into a better person.

When I went to college, after getting married and having my oldest son, I studied commercial art, fine art and Spanish (still not fluent) and have three AA degrees. I worked at a variety of jobs, including as a club DJ for a little while, 10 years as a book designer and 15 years as a gov’t employee, where I took early retirement and ran like a rat leaving a sinking ship. So here I am, now self employed and writing instructional and informational articles for a variety of online publications. 

2. You created a website called "Alien Star Books". When did you start this, and what inspired the move behind it?

Alien Star Books all started when my youngest son needed a book to read for his Language Arts (aka English) class. He was looking through my massive collection of books (16 bookcases and running out of room), and he caught my attention. He hates to read. So I offered several books. Nope, he wasn’t interested. Finally, with a heavy sigh, he said he’d try “that book with the Black guy in it.” It was Robert Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky and yes, the main character is Black, but Heinlein never says it right out, you have to figure it out for yourself. (And the main character in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is Filipino, but you don’t really have any clue until pretty close to the end of the book, when Johnnie’s having a quick conversation with another trooper.) 

Anyway, my experience with my son set me on a search for more books that he might enjoy. I’m afraid that despite being a huge Science Fiction and Fantasy fan, I was oblivious about the vast wasteland of Science Fiction and Fantasy -- IE, the stereotypical White guy saves the world or universe. And then, looking not just for protagonists of Color, but also books appropriate for a teen or young adult audience? Oh my! After my own search, I realized that if an experienced researcher like myself had trouble finding good, age-appropriate Science Fiction and Fantasy for my own teen, what about other parents who might not use Google every single day?  

I decided that somebody needed to do this. And as my Pastor told us, if you think “somebody ought to, then that somebody is you (me).” Thus, Alien Star Books was born.

3. We know that you've had a great response from promoting books featuring children and young adults from marginalized groups. But have you received any negative feedback for doing so?

Honestly, when I first asked for references for books with main characters of Color, I received a very negative response. My question was completely misinterpreted. I was actually accused of wanting books with NO White characters at all! 

I was stunned by this response. 

But along with the negative replies, I also received a number of encouraging responses, both in the forum and by private messages, encouraging me to continue my search for good books for my son. And when I went on to start the website, I was also encouraged by readers and authors to continue to post good books for teens and young adults of Color. 

I’ve only had one person contact me who had an objection to the website, because I put “Black” instead of African, Afro American or African American. After an informal poll among some friends and the Black Science Fiction Society, I left the page name as Black, but rewrote the opening text to be more inclusive of African American, African, Aborigine and other “Black” peoples. I think, I hope, that he/she was happy with the solution; the response was quite gracious when I emailed my changes. 

4. What do you find are the pros and cons to managing a website that promotes diversity in books?

Time is always a factor. It takes time to locate the books, get the links to the various vendors, copy and paste everything, move the new books to the appropriate pages after a couple of months of being featured on the New Books page. I squeeze this between my daughter’s job and singing, my youngest son’s hockey (if you’re interested, he plays for the West Sound Warriors in Bremerton, WA), my own non-fiction writing and the rest of a busy Mom’s life. I feel like I don’t spend as much time as I should, adding new books and promoting old and new authors.

But, I take great satisfaction in knowing that if there’s another parent, caregiver, teacher or homeschooler out there looking for diverse books for a teen or young adult, that I’ve provided a place for them to at least start their search. 

5. In your experience, with books vs authors, do you find that diverse authors, or diverse books are better at providing multiculturalism in books?

Six of one, half dozen of the other. I think that authors should tell the story that’s in their hearts and minds. Naturally, I want to promote authors of Color and those who’ve been marginalized. Definitely! I do think that all authors should naturally include characters beyond the stereotypical grey-eyed hero or heroine, with blonde, black or red hair, too-often based in Celtic mythology or European or Western technology. Not every hero has to be John Carter of Mars or Flash Gordon. Some main characters can be of Color, or in a wheelchair, or gay. That’s real life and we should reflect real life in our fiction so our teens can read and relate to it -- even if the actual story is set in Atlantis, Africa or in a galaxy far, far away. A good book is a good book.

6. I’m sure many find that while diversity is nice, through the promotion of it seems to be on an agenda itself. That it shouldn't be forced upon people, that if it happens, it should just happen naturally. Do you have any response for individuals who may not be initially aware that their reading lacks diversity that perhaps need better convincing?

I’m not sure that you can convince anyone of anything. A lot of people simply don’t “get” that White is the default, so if there’s no indication of Color or culture, the character is usually White. Or to put it another way -- Is a fish aware of the water it swims in? -- and likewise, is a person truly aware of the society and culture they live in, when they’re part of the mainstream and not of Color or otherwise marginalized? 

The brutal reality is that only a fraction of children, teen and young adult books feature main characters that aren’t White. A recent NPR story, “As Demographics Shift, Kids' Books Stay Stubbornly White”  points out this disparity. 

Alien Star Books is all about inclusion, not exclusion, so there’s a place for books that feature White main characters as well as those of Color, non-human, genetically enhanced tigers and aliens. There is room for everybody on my website. It’s only limited by my ability to post new books. 

If that’s an agenda in some people’s minds, well, I’m going to let the blue collar out for a minute and say, “That’s on them.” I’m all about good, age-appropriate books for teens and young adults, that feature main characters that my own kids can relate to and enjoy. 

7. What was the last book or piece of literature that you read and felt was not only well written, but reflected our society the way we see it now?

Oh my! That’s a good question, since I read voraciously but it’s almost all science fiction and fantasy. Among my favorite authors and books are Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series and the classic sci-fi/space opera author, Andre Norton and her many novels. In both authors’ books, the main characters are often misfits in mainstream society. Today, many of our young people simply don’t connect. They’re alienated from their own traditional cultures, pressured to fit into the mainstream American culture and yet not welcomed by that same society as equal partners. It’s not just Color and culture, it’s also socioeconomic -- two sides of the same coin.  

8. We just have to ask, what draws you to Science Fiction and Fantasy so much? It's a genre that at one point had such a narrow way of looking at women and other marginalized groups, but so many people still love it. So what draws you to it enough to promote books in those genres featuring children and young adults of color?

I’ve always read everything I could get my hands on, and my parents had a bookshelf with a number of classic novels, including Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books. I think the first one I ever read was The Cave Girl. But in the school library, I discovered Andre Norton. From there, it snowballed. Norton’s books took me past the small town where I was born, to a vast universe peopled by aliens and humans who battled against all odds despite being outside the mainstream -- and won. While most of her main characters were male, in time there were female characters who were also strong. There were also diverse characters, like the Beast Master, Holsteen Storm who was Navajo and led a team of intelligent Terran creatures, able to connect telepathically to work together. There was also the diverse crew of the Solar Queen -- while the main character was White, the crew was Black (Negro at that time - it is an older book!), Japanese, Martian born, big and small. 

And then, in the 8th grade, our teacher read to us for a few minutes every day after lunch. It was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Again, I was through! Between Tolkien and Norton’s Witch World series, I plunged into fantasy. 

I’ve never looked back. 

I want to share this diverse world of the future with my own kids, and other teens and young adults who might need to see an optimistic future, where their own talents are valued and they’re the strong main characters who can save the universe, or at least their little piece of it.

9. We see that you're an author as well. With two non-fiction books and a cookbook in your arsenal, what can we expect to see in the fiction world?

I’m very, very slowly working on a four-book series featuring a Native, Black and Fae main character. It’s not exactly a paranormal or urban fantasy. I’m not quite sure how to categorize it. There’s no vampires, not even cute, sparkling, blood suckers. She’s something different, native to this world. I’ve got about 23,000 words in book one, and a few thousand more in books two, three and four. I don’t write in exact sequence, so I have bits and pieces of the four books waiting to be knit together. 

I’ve also started an alternate history Steamfunk novel, where the Moors were never driven out of Spain, the English never got a foothold in the Americas and Pio Pico is the governor of Califa (from central to southern California and maybe northern Mexico). The vast African empire that incorporated the Moors, Spain and northern Africa discovered the New World, and the game’s afoot in the Barbary Coast of the San Francisco Bay, with pirates and steam technology and more. It’s set in approximately 1849, and the main character is a young woman, Governor Pio’s half sister. 

And, LOL, I’ve also got a few thousand words written in a Christian disaster novel. Not based on the Rapture (which is a recent invention and misinterpretation of Scripture -- but that’s a rant for another day). It’s more of a Christian-based, liberal preparationist, back to the land, alternate energy and what happens when nature strikes back at humanity. It needs a lot of work, but it’s on the back burner for now. 

Oh, and last, but not least, while I’m not really an editor, I’m working on my niece’s second book of her epic dark fantasy, Demona. I’m hoping to have it ready for her final review by Christmas and hopefully published by January 1, 2014. The first book in her series is Demona - Book One by K.R. Hulsey. 

10. Lastly, where can readers find everything Ruth de Jauregui and Alien Star Books?

Oh, come on by the website, Alien Star Books and check it out. I also have a Facebook group by the same name where authors and readers can post new projects, great books and whatever else that fits.You can visit that here

My personal blog, which I neglect terribly, is @ Razzberry Jam. I’m also working on another website about books and other stuff that’s focused on my extended family’s writers, photographers, singers and more, but it’s not quite ready for the public yet. 

I also have a twitter account, alienstarbooks. Unless you send me a direct tweet, I don’t look at it much, it’s how I announce that I’ve made changes to Alien Star Books. 

Don't forget everyone!We're hosting a giveaway of most the authors we're hosting on Twinja Book Reviews this month! Of course because it's the last month of the year, we're ending it with a bang!Be sure to enter, with so many prizes, You can't lose!!!

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  1. Thank you so much for featuring me on Twinja Book Reviews! I'm honored and excited!


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