Friday, December 27, 2013

Everyone knows the hashtag #DiverseCanLit! Meet the creator!-Blogger Leonicka Valcius sits down with Twinja Book Reviews

Met this awesome lady during the twitter hashtag #DiversityInSFF discussion on twitter a few months back. She is a blogger that goes against the grain. While everyone is discussing their favorite mainstream books in the book blogger world, she continues to discuss diversity in fiction on her own blog. In fact, since there are so few, her blog is one of the several that come up in your search for such a blog. It's great for us @ Twinja Book Reviews to stay connected to outlets like hers, so we hope you all out there find a good home at her blog!

1. Why don't you tell us a little about yourself, your website, and how you're connected to the publishing industry.

I’m a young black woman. I was born in Canada but spent eleven years of my life in the US before coming back. I’ve always loved reading and working with words. I am passionate about art, culture, politics… basically everything to do with people and the way they interact. Words are my favorite form of expression—I get so excited over a well-crafted sentence!

I started to unify my various online platforms and to have a central hub for all my opinions. Because of the nature of my work (I’m a children’s book buyer) many of those opinions are about publishing.

2. You're way up there in Canada. Being that were neighbors, from our side of the pond, it seems as though the promotion of diversity is much more prominent in your country(from the outside looking in). Do you feel as though there is indeed a difference between diversity in fiction in Canada versus the United States?

It’s that funny you should say that! In a Q&A with author Zetta Elliott, I discussed how it seems to be just the opposite: book lovers in the US seems to be more insistent on promoting diversity than those in Canada. 

My perception and experience is that the conversations weren’t happening in Canada until the US started to talk about it widely. In many ways multiculturalism is such an integral part of the Canadian imagination, that people erroneously assume everything (media included) is already diverse. Of course anyone who is paying attention knows otherwise. 

But the Canadian publishing industry is much smaller than the American one, so I feel like once we get the ball rolling we may see change much faster.

3. On your website, you blog about social issues, especially those effecting black women. Do you find that writing about social issues are connected to what you look for in books?

Absolutely. On the site, I write about issues that inform who I am and that I meditate on regularly. This in turn affects the type of books I am drawn to.  As I develop my career, I always think about the kind of books I want to champion. For me, the book can’t simply “do no harm.” I prefer books that do good.

My natural inclination is for words and images that uplift black girls (for example I love love love Doc McStuffins!) but I actively seeks work that uplifts other marginalized groups as well.

4. Where do you think the disconnect with diversity/multiculturalism comes from more? The readers, or the people in charge of publishing books?

We are all complicit in the perpetuation of the status quo. And the status quo is that the dominant groups are at the centre of every story. For there to be real change there needs to be a shift in everyone’s behavior. My “Increase Diversity in Publishing” series attempts to give everyone three easy steps they can take to change the norm. So far there’s a post for readers, literary agents, and parents and there are more to come.

5. You recently wrote a blog post on crowd funding projects promoting diverse fiction. One of your concerns were rooted in the lack of marketing for these types projects. In your opinion, what are some missteps authors make when it comes to the promotion of their products?

I think the biggest mistake is just what I outlined in my post: not having money set aside for the marketing. Releasing art into the world with no promo may work for Queen Bey, but the rest of us need to generate buzz. 

I wrote about marketing in the context of crowd-funding, because that is an instance where the person is specifically raising money to finance their project. People have a budget for the editing, printing or ebook production, design of the book because they are important; marketing is important too, so it shouldn’t be left out of your budget.

I don’t want to make suggestions here because I don’t want to make presumptions about what resources and skills people have. Plus there are no hard and fast rules. But some basic rules of thumb include knowing your audience and understand how your book fits into the market.

6. In your opinion, what creates a diverse book for you? Is there anything you would like to see, that you haven't seen already?

Diversity is variety. In the case of diverse literature it would be a variety of writers, characters, and narratives instead of the normative ones we have now. For practical reason I label book “diverse” if the author and/or the protagonist are from marginalized groups. 

I want more of everything. I want authors from every walk of life and I want books that portray every walk of life. Will I read them all? Probably not. Will I like them all? Definitely not. But they need to be available. 

7. Do you read books that dont incorporate any obvious diversity? Why or why not?

Using my definition above, the question becomes do I read books where both the author and protagonists are members of the dominant groups. The answer to that would be not really. I don’t actively avoid them, but they simply don’t interest me. Daniel José Older wrote a great piece about lack of diversity being boring on TV and I think the same goes for books.

8. Who were the last three authors you had the opportunity to read, who you felt got diversity right?

It’s hard to talk about a single author getting diversity right since the goal is as many points of view as possible. I made the point on Twitter that if all types of writers had their fair share of the market, diversity would be a less pressing issue. 

That said, the majority of the books I read this year were incredibly refreshing in their departure from the norm. These three are only the tip of the iceberg!

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
Cold Fire (Book 2 of The Spiritwalker Trilogy) by Kate Elliott

9. There are so few blogs and websites promoting diversity in books online. There's yours, Alien Star Books, Twinja Book Reviews, Rich in Color, Diversify YADisability in KidLit and several others, but still not as much as the cascades of blogs that ignore the need for diversity. Do you think that websites that promote diversity in books are just as important as the books themselves?Give us your reasons for why or why not?

Websites are part of the buzz and publicity a book gets. Even traditional publishers are increasingly turning to bloggers to generate excitement for their books. After all, the more people talk about a book, the more others want to read it. 

These websites are also an important part of the literary community and the popular discourse around literature. Blogs and independent websites are a ways of democratizing literary criticism. Discussions about what reading means to us, how literature impacts our understanding of each other and what narratives we value is important cultural work.

10. Were hooked on wanting to know everything Leonicka. Now where can we go to get updates?

I blog at Leonicka , tweet at @leonicka and, starting in 2014, host #DiverseCanLit chat on Twitter every Wednesday at 8pm Eastern Time.
Leonicka and all her greatness! Love the box braids!

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  1. I was lucky enough to go to publishing school with Leonicka and be able to call her a friend. I think it's awesome how she's educating the world and even me about diversity (or lack there of) in literature. Looking forward to attending more #DiverseCanLit chats with her. Great job on the interview!


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