Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Guest Post: Krista D. Ball on Writing Authentically

Hello, evil writers! Today we have a special guest post from author Krista D. Ball.

Krista is not only a fabulous speculative fiction writer, but she also has multiple non-fiction guides for writers. One of them, What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank: A Fantasy Lover's Guide to Food, is currently on sale for 99c. And while you're picking up that one, check her latest release Hustlers, Harlots, and Heroes: A Regency and Steampunk Field Guide.

As an evil writer, accuracy must be important to your writing, because while we might lie for a living, we must make those lies believable. These guides are must-reads for fantasy, historical, and steampunk writers.

Read on for an excerpt from HHH by Krista!


Writing Authentically

When the movie, Belle, was officially announced this week, a lot of people complained about it. Jane Austen didn’t write black people. There weren’t wealthy black people in Britain. Nevermind that Belle is based on a real person…who had a black mother and a white father. I spent two hours explaining this to people before I rage-quitted the internet and opened a bottle of wine.

When I wrote Hustlers, Harlots, and Heroes, I wanted to include a chapter about the non-white experience in Georgian and Victorian London, and particularly Britain’s black population. Throughout the book, I tried to show that they weren’t only slaves, but also servants, businessmen, and even one was an aristocrat. It is tempting and easy to write an all-white world when writing history; it’s all many of us have been taught. Many of the famous paintings that I’ve seen in textbooks were all cropped, literally cutting away history until it was whitewashed.

Too many people justify the lack of people of colour in historical books for being “unrealistic” (nonsense in itself), yet they are perfectly okay with having a thousand single dukes roaming the British countryside. I think we can do better. But where to start? How do we write authentically about people who are cut out of the picture?

One of the most iconic moments in English literature is when Elizabeth Bennet visits Pemberley. She walks through a private gallery, depicting the various family members through the generations. If your heroine encounters such a scene, she will see plenty of great ladies and their young slaves painted in the background. Will your heroine side with the abolitionists? Will the rival anger her by laughing off her concerns about his aunt still keeping a black slave to comb her terrier?

Or what about people hiring the most qualified person, no matter their skin colour? What about let them be themselves and have their own friends? Samuel Johnson’s black servant, Francis Barber (a paid employee, not a slave), would invite his African countrymen over on a regular basis. Barber had an employer who treated him like a human being and this meeting was a sanctioned event within the house.1

One of the street performers interviewed by Henry Mayhew listed the jobs he’d seen worked by black people: errand-boys, coalheavers, shoemakers, tinmen, bricklayers. The list goes on and on; it’s quite extensive.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Racism existed and was overt. There were clearly opportunities, the colour of one’s skin did impact one’s future. One of Olaudah Equiano’s employers suggested he go to Africa as a missionary, but the bishop of London refused to ordain him. Another man was unable to find work as a Schoolmaster or teacher in any form in 1815 because of his “so dark a complexion.”2

How would your heroine react to her family taking her to see Saartjie Baartman? Saartjie was put on display for her large buttocks and Regency gawkers paid 2s a ticket in 1810 to view her. Would your hero agree with The Times when they complained she was being treated like a wild animal? Will your heroine be writing anonymous letters to the Morning Post, complaining Baartman was being displayed like “a prize ox?”

John Ocansey, a black travelling in 1881, said he was generally well-treated but that he understood there was a certain attitude towards Africans that was uncomfortable, sometimes insulting. He had no desire to be in a position where he had to defend his people.3

Diversity isn’t a dirty word, nor is it pandering or political correctness. Instead, it’s just correct.

Do better. Strive higher. Be authentic.


1 Peter Fryer. Staying Power. [New York: PlutoPress, 2010], 69
2 Fryer, 104
3 Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, editor. Black Victorians/Black Victoriana. [New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2003]


This is an excerpt from Krista D. Ball’s new novel, Hustlers, Harlots, and Heroes: A Regency and Steampunk Field Guide.

You can find out more about Krista's work at www.kristadball.com

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