The last edition of Australian Author had an interesting article about Sensitivity Readers. These are people from a certain background or minority that will read your manuscript and give you feedback on the character that represents them. For example, if I wrote about a transsexual, I would offer my work to a transsexual who would advise me on what could be an issue with trans readers.
So I’m really glad my guest blogger, Charli Coty, has tried this for the novel Speedbump. And I’m glad to have Charli here at my site to talk about the experience.
Thanks for having me, Kevin!
I wrote a lot of Speedbump from personal experience—the bikes, Ezra’s garden and obsession with firewood, having a friend who was mixed-race white and Native American, and growing up with Latino friends. So, when I wrote it I didn’t think much about sensitivity reads.
No. I didn’t think about them at all, because in 2015 I didn’t know about sensitivity reads or why they’re important.
Most of the book is about a bisexual genderqueer person finding love with another bisexual. The Bi + Bi Romance is one of the main reasons I wrote Speedbump—because I wanted to read a book like that and couldn’t find one that I could identify with.
As usually happens when I write, a few characters showed up without any planning or prompting and introduced themselves. Brett Corona, one of Ezra’s best friends, was one of those. Brett is a tall, sexy lesbian who runs her own biker bar. I love her. She has characteristics from a few people I’ve known in my life, but wasn’t modelled after anyone in particular (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it 😊). The reason I mention her is that she calls Ezra Latinx instead of the singular they. Back when I was in high school I was practically adopted into a Latino family while I dated one of the kids, so I based that on the way they had treated me.
I might have grown up in racially diverse neighbourhoods, but I’m white. I don’t have a lot of privilege in my life, but I am very aware that I do have white privilege. I don’t want my words to hurt anyone, so I was concerned about whether it was appropriate for me to write a Latina character who gives a white person the nickname Latinx. So I asked for a sensitivity read, and when the reader came back and told me one sentence was problematic, I re-wrote that entire paragraph. Reading those comments was a sobering experience for me. I’ve done (and continue to do) the work to be aware of my own privilege and to minimise the impact of my blind spots on others, and it scared me to think of someone reading the original passage and feeling hurt or insulted. I urge all authors to seek out readers so they can avoid mistakes like the one I almost made.
Any excerpt containing the re-written paragraph would be spoilery, so here’s one from the first time Brett appears in the story. Maybe this is obvious, but it’s from Ezra’s point of view.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think ESP was real. Or maybe telekinesis.
The night before, riding in that GTO so near a man I wanted to…do things with, made me think of other people I used to feel the same way about. Especially the two I was still friends with. When the roar of a Harley interrupted my morning coffee, I wondered which one I’d brought by thinking about them. Then I wondered which one I hoped it would be.
Before I could figure that out, I was crossing the front porch, watching the most beautiful gal I’d ever seen in real life dismount. She leaned the black and chrome Shovelhead on its kickstand and stood in a single practiced motion. Brett towered over me—even more than most men, at six feet—and when she took off her helmet and freed her long black hair, it was all I could do not to sigh out loud. How she could look so strong and so feminine at once was beyond me, but nobody could ever mistake that Brett Corona was all woman.
She looked me over for a few seconds, smiling like she was thinking something good, and then walked around the bike to the porch. She stopped at the bottom of the steps and waited.
“What’re you doing here?”
Brett looked like she wanted to laugh but thought better of it. “Just stopping by to say hi. It’s been a while. Tray around?”
“Why?” He was always around now, but I didn’t want him to hear me say that.
“I’m holding. Thought we could get ripped, like old times.”
“I need to get wood today. Got some yesterday, but even if it’s still there, we’ll need more.”
“Yeah. I saw the truck.” Her dusty black boots landed on the first step and then the second, bringing our faces as close to the same level as they ever got while we were vertical. “Need a ride out to it?”
“I’m offering. We can get the truck today and more wood tomorrow. I’m offering to help with that too.”
I couldn’t take that kind of kindness and charity overload on a good day, and so far, the day hardly qualified as good. I’d spent the whole day before filling the truck and had no doubt it sat empty where I’d been forced to abandon it. My cold little heart clenched—it could have been because all of yesterday’s work was gone, but it probably had as much to do with staring right into the sultry dark eyes of my most recent ex.
Thanks Charli for sharing your experience and your own self reflection. If you’d like to pick up a copy of Speedbump, check out these links:
And if you’d like to spend more time with Charli:
NineStar Press Author Page: http://ninestarpress.com/authors/charli-coty/