Friday, April 5, 2013

Sidekicks: Editor Sarah Hans on a Quest for Diversity

I’m really thrilled to be writing here on Denise Verrico’s blog, my very first attempt at guest blogging! Denise asked me to talk a little about the process of selecting stories for the anthology I just put together, a discussion of the genres represented by the stories I chose, and my personal quest to include diverse stories about characters of many genders, races, and sexual orientations. So here goes:

The hardest part of being an editor is deciding which stories to buy and which to reject. While rejecting an author you’ve never met is not fun, it’s truly difficult to reject a story from someone you know and like, and whose work you enjoy.

This is the position I found myself in during the story selection process for my editorial debut, an anthology called Sidekicks! As you’ve probably already guessed from the title, the anthology is about...that’s right...sidekicks. When I say the word “sidekicks” the first person you think of is probably Robin of “Batman &”. If you didn’t think of Robin, you probably still thought of a superhero sidekick (and if you didn’t, have a gold star for Thinking Outside the Box). Most likely, he’s a white male sidekick working for a white male superhero. It’s not your fault that this was your first instinct. White males make up the vast majority of comic book content creators, even in 2013. So naturally a lot of their stories, and the subsequent movies, reflect this. Our culture is permeated with images of white male heteronormativity.

It’s paramount for authors, however, to fight against the tide and write about the idea that is not the most obvious one. So in general, unless you’ve been writing for many years, it’s a good idea to toss the first and maybe even the second idea you have. Work with the ones that come after that. The obscure ones. The unique ones. The ones that make you really excited.

That, as it turned out, was the key to having a story published in Sidekicks! I asked for stories from a variety of settings, about characters of color and LGBTQ characters. I received a number of these, and I’m proud to say that the book contains three stories with gay or lesbian protagonists (we would have had four, but I asked one of my authors to change their protagonist to a male--more on that in a minute) and three stories with protagonists of color. Sadly I didn’t receive any stories about trans characters, and I think that six total stories out of twenty is not really enough total representation. So while I’m proud of this first anthology, and the broad spectrum of characters it represents, I have a personal goal to do better in future where minority representation is concerned.

I was also interested in stories outside of the superhero genre. I wanted a range of good guys and bad guys, settings and locations, themes and styles. So I purchased only a handful of superhero stories and filled in the rest of the anthology with tales from other genres. Those who sent me science fiction, westerns, fantasy, etc. had an edge. Their stories stood out in a sea of superhero tales. Even so, some stories just weren’t the right fit for one reason or another. And two stories were submitted about characters based on Igor, that most classic of sidekicks. Both were good, but again, diversity won out: I picked the one with the gay romance.

That’s right, Igor gets his gay romance on in Sidekicks!, courtesy of author Kathy Watness. Am I making you want to read it yet?

Anyway, you get the point I’m making, right? Should I beat you over the head with the DIVERSITY SELLS STORIES stick some more, or shall we move on?

Interestingly, after the first wave of submissions, I had a gap in the anthology. I had 18 stories and not a single one was about a male sidekick with a female...we’ll call it a “dominant” person, because not all of the characters in the book are good guys, making the term “hero” inappropriate. (Let’s just get the “OMG dominant, that’s kinky” snickering out of the way, shall we? I’ll wait.)

I asked one author to change the gender of a particular protagonist to male (I’ll give you a cookie if you can guess which story) and commissioned three other stories with male protagonists and female dominants, two of which I purchased, rounding out the anthology with a tidy 20 stories, and giving me three with male protags and female dominants. One of these has an alien protagonist, which still makes me grin--thanks go to author Neal Litherland, who deserves a gold star AND a cookie for really stepping it up.

I hope that after reading this you’ll give Sidekicks! a try--it’s on sale at right now for less than $10!--and also consider reading (and writing) more diverse fiction. If you’d like to hear Sidekicks! authors read their work live, we have events coming up in Dayton, Ohio at Epic Loot Games and Comics (4:00-6:00 pm on Saturday, April 6) and in Madison, Wisconsin at A Room of One’s Own (6:30 - 8:00 pm on Wednesday, April 24). If you’d like to discuss the contents of this guest blog post, you can find me on my blog, twitter, or facebook! Thanks for reading!

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