If you are one of those poor souls who has had to listen to me babble on about my novel, Encantada, I apologize. It's been a few years since that story struck me, and a few months since I've started to try and get other people excited about it. Unfortunately or, more likely, fortunately, I started shouting from the rooftops a little late. Call it terrible timing, or the best timing, but my novel is struggling out in the world in the middle of the #ownvoices movement. Encantada is a mythology novel in a contemporary setting, and initially I didn't think this movement applied. But when the lore in question is tied to a particular culture, it definitely does.
I'm not about to say the movement is a bad thing - because it is awesome and long overdue. But I admit it would be easier for me right now if it never existed. I'm a terrible writer who has had to have my hands slapped in regards to cultural appropriation. The phrase "It's not your story to tell" now has special meaning for me, and it's cruel. It's hard to imagine that the story you spent a few months (read: four years) writing and editing isn't your story to tell. The characters feel real. Their story feels important. You've done the research and you feel this plot, despite the background, is truly global in scope and applies to everyone. Heck, no one is a goddess, or Hades, or a siren - how does #ownvoices apply to mythology at all?
When I first queried E, I asked my writing group if they knew of any other novels out there that I could compare it to. An editor had compared parts of it to Red Queen (Victoria Aveyard), but only based on a few scenes. I could hardly say my novel was great for fans of the latest YA bestseller-about-to-turn-film with such a flimsy excuse. One group member, who had beta-ed for me, said one of the things she loved about E was that it felt so unique. Was it possible I had written something no one had written before? Nowadays, when every story feels like a retelling (or actually is a retelling), hearing someone say my book was unique felt like being named queen of the world.
And it is true. Encantada is based on a legend no one really talks about on this side of the world. This myth is new to the market and the available information is sparse, so we have problems. Being nowhere near the source of the legend, how can I possibly understand it or the impact it actually had throughout history? It is true that I could have ditched the specific legends that inspired my story. J. R. R. Tolkien created hobbits - I could create a new species that did what I needed and didn't have a lot of historical baggage to go with it. But my inspiration was so clear, and how could I ignore that? That certainly isn't justice. And yet, if I had done that, I wouldn't be hitting the wall I have smacked into now. By attempting to pay tribute to the source, I feel like I've dug a hole and tossed my manuscript in it.
I'm still trying to figure out if there is any hope for E. Currently, two wonderful ladies who actually do have ties to the country in question have agreed to be sensitivity readers. Is it enough? I guess we'll see. While we wait, I keep thinking of something a school friend said last year in regard to something else entirely, wondering if it applies. She said that we have two major movements in society now: one to be diverse and to encourage individuals to promote their own culture, the other to focus on what makes us all human and the same. We cannot be simultaneously similar and different, she explained. She probably said it all with much better language that I'm currently butchering, but in terms of E I think it boils down to this: the real plot of this novel is about Analyn. Not that Analyn is a goddess or Hades or a siren, but that Analyn thinks and feels like any one of us. Regardless of culture, what happens on the inside is the same for every person on earth. Love lifts us up, loss tears us down, and betrayal rips us apart. I could tell Analyn's story without the myth, locations, foods, or skin color. I couldn't tell it without the loss, the violence, the friendship, and the love.
Encantada is my story to tell, because every smile, quickened heart beat, or sigh was carefully placed by me. The rest is no more important than the outfit I designed for Analyn in the novel; it serves a purpose, but it isn't critical. You can run in pants, but it made more sense to have a skirt so her legs would be free to be slapped with tall grasses. You can run in a Oxford shirt, but if her dress was sleeveless it would be so much easier to feel the blowing wind.
You can stand guard over nature and protect the planet - humans do it every day - but it made the plot so much richer to include the legendary deities a nation believed served such a purpose.
I really can't wait to hear what my new sensitivity readers have to say about E. I hope this doesn't add to the offense even more, but I would love for them to suggest ways for me to actually increase the cultural aspect of the novel, so the dress can be less Cinderella pre-Fairy Godmother and more Belle at the ball. Until then, I write long blog posts about my thoughts on the matter, and hope I don't earn scathing comments or tweets. Thanks for reading!
With love and hugs and giraffes,