Happy Monday, friends! Today, Matt Mikalatos is sharing why diversity is so important – in life and in fiction. His newest book The Crescent Stone features diverse characters, humor and an intriguing fantasy world.
Diversity – Why We Need Each Other
by Matt Mikalatos
When I first started writing my fantasy novel, The Crescent Stone, I knew a key theme was going to be about privilege and ethnic diversity. My main character, Madeline Oliver, was well-off, white, well-educated, attractive and intelligent . . . privileged in nearly every way you can be in our culture. She did not, however, have great health: she had a terminal lung disease, and even though she was young she was dying.
One of her classmates, Jason Wu, had fewer of the same privileges, but still was doing pretty well for himself. He had a personal tragedy in his recent past that he was working through, and had decided he would only tell the truth no matter what happened. He would, in fact, volunteer the truth when it wasn’t strictly necessary.
In my first few chapters, the plan was to keep Madeline as the main character, and Jason as one of a host of other characters around her in her journey. But it became clear, part of the way through, that we needed Jason’s point of view, too. Madeline by herself wasn’t seeing everything she could.
My editor suggested making Jason and Madeline both point-of-view characters, with alternating chapters, and I agreed to try it. The book came alive in a new way! Here are three things I noticed as I wrote the novel this new way.
- Diverse points of view help us to see things we miss.
Early in the novel, Madeline and Jason are walking through a tunnel that leads them into a magical world called the Sunlit Lands. In the first draft, from Madeline’s point of view, we’re told how the tunnel gets increasingly older . . . from concrete to brick to very old brick and eventually to stone walls. When I retold the same moment from Jason’s point of view, he noticed something that Madeline had not: Chinese characters etched into the oldest bricks. Jason stopped to think about something that never occurred to Madeline: who built this place? He stopped and read some of the names etched there, and he talked to Madeline about his own ancestors, who had come to the United States and worked on things like building the railroads. This was something that Madeline missed completely, and I, as her author, didn’t notice until I was writing as Jason. That was a weird feeling!
- We learn best in diverse settings.
Madeline and Jason arrive in the Sunlit Lands to discover that the people of the Sunlit Lands are dizzyingly diverse . . . not just the “magical races” of other creatures, but also a variety of ethnicities and nationalities from Earth. Madeline’s roommate is a Syrian Christian, and Jason’s two roommates are Hawaiian and Native American. As Madeline works to unravel the mystery of the Sunlit Lands, each of these people contributes along the way. If it had been (like my favorite fantasies of my youth) all white British kids, they would likely never discover the answer to what is happening in the Sunlit Lands, because it wouldn’t occur to them to ask.
- We make better decisions with diverse advisors.
Once Madeline realizes what is happening in the Sunlit Lands, she’s struck with a nearly impossible choice . . . one that requires either enormous sacrifice or the harm of many other people, or possibly both. I don’t want to include any spoilers, but through the relationships and help of the people with her, she’s able to find a third choice . . . a hard decision, still, but something that lets her be true to herself without harming innocents. She wouldn’t have found that path on her own, because she wouldn’t have seen it.
In the “real world” we need each other, too. Our diverse points of view and experiences help us to see the world, to learn better, and to make better decisions.
About the Book
A girl with a deadly lung disease . . .
A boy with a tragic past . . .
A land where the sun never sets but darkness still creeps in . . .
Madeline Oliver has never wanted for anything, but now she would give anything just to breathe. Jason Wu skates through life on jokes, but when a tragedy leaves him guilt-stricken, he promises to tell only the truth, no matter the price.
When a mysterious stranger name Hanali appears to Madeline and offers to heal her in exchange for one year of service to his people, Madeline and Jason are swept into a strange land where they don’t know the rules and where their decisions carry consequences that reach farther than they could ever guess.
About the Author
Matt Mikalatos writes books (surprise!). In the past, Matt worked as a high school teacher and a comic book clerk, but currently focuses on nonprofit work devoted to helping people love one another despite their differences.
He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife, three daughters, two unicorns, a gryphon, a dragon, and three brine shrimp.