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Sexuality and the Dragon Kaseraak Series

I want to write a little bit more about representation.

In my last entry on representation, I indicated that I thought I didn’t do a very good job with regards to representation of race. All of the main characters, as they are described in the book, are white. It takes until the fourth book in the series for someone to be specifically identified as non-white. While I had no intention of writing about race in the Dragon Kaseraak Series, the lack of identifiable non-white characters is something I regret.

One can contrast this with gender. Here, if anything, the Dragon Kaseraak Series plays against the typical fantasy in that most of the characters are women. Unlike race, I did intend to write about gender issues—gender comes into play in many ways throughout the stories. I feel that I did well with regard to representation of women.

This brings me to a third classification of representation: sexuality. Here I had a problem that was a little different from race. I did not set out to write about issues of sexuality—it was not a topic I felt appropriate for me to write about in a book I was writing for nine and ten year olds. This is not to say that no one can or should write such a book—I believe that’s about the right age for parents to start thinking about it. I just didn’t want to write about it.

Yet sexuality is introduced in small ways in the stories. I will try to avoid spoilers here, but if you’ve read the books, you know that sexuality is introduced in some ways. It permeates Sycosina’s character. Starting toward the end of Runaway Necromancer, I think it’s pretty clear that it becomes an important issue for Jana.

The approach I took with regard to most things in the Dragon Kaseraak Series is that things that are not relevant to the plot are not mentioned. In this my writing style differs from a lot of fantasy works, in that there is no grand world building written in the books. Jana does not tell Jamie about the political structure of the Kingdom of Westvalia because neither of them cares. We don’t find out about the Vaspen until The Taconite Problem because only then do they become relevant to the plot. In the same way, I didn’t write about the sexuality of the characters except to the minor extent that it was necessary.

Which in some ways is a shame, because as I imagine the characters, there’s over-representation. Jana is bisexual. Tybilt is bisexual. Anna is homosexual. Sycosina is…well, I’m not exactly sure how one would classify her, but given her pathological nature, “heterosexual” isn’t it. Jamie hasn’t yet discovered herself.

I’m not sure any of this matters, though, because the extent of discrete sexuality in the series is limited to not much more than a couple kisses.

A while back, Blizzard caused a bit of a stir by announcing that Tracer, arguably the most identifiable character from its Overwatch game, was homosexual. To me, this announcement seemed rather hollow. Yes, it’s nice to get a nod for the purposes of representation, but unless Tracer’s homosexuality had some effect on the game itself (my understanding is that it does not), the notion is easily forgotten. Similarly, in the Dragon Kaseraak Series, does it matter that I, as the writer, think Jana is bisexual if there’s no actual scene in which she has sex with a woman? Or, for that matter, if there’s no actual scene in which she has sex with a man?

I’m not sure. Perhaps I should have specifically mentioned something about the characters’ sexualities in the series. Perhaps I did so unintentionally! It just struck me that without some payoff or consequence, such things would be empty tokens. I’m not sure, though.

Struggles with Representation in The Dragon Kaseraak Series

Hello and welcome to the journal for Dragon Kaseraak Books. One of the things I’m going to try to do a bit more of is blog about my writing—I want this to be a relatively active journal, at least something more active than I’ve made it so far.

One of the things that I think holds me back from blogging about my stories is the fear that my opinions are going to put people off from reading my books. This is especially true for this particular entry, in which I admit some of my flaws! I think it’s important for me to get over this fear. If nothing else, I want my blogging here to be real, and that starts with acknowledging my faults as a writer.

The first topic I’d like to delve into is representation. Representation to me means having a diverse set of characters within the story as to allow a good chance for any particular person to have a character with whom any individual reader will connect, because that character possesses some individual quality specific to the reader’s sense of identity. In specific terms, for instance, representation covers spectrums of gender, of race, of religion and of disability, among other things.

I didn’t pay much attention to representation in the Dragon Kaseraak Series for several reasons. The first and foremost, when I started writing the series, was that I intended it as a story for my daughters. In Jana I created a character with specific aspects I thought would be relevant to them—she is tall, she is a woman, and she is big. Other characters were, frankly, inspired by the creations of other people I had met, and to the extent they provided representation it was by happenstance rather than deliberate.

I want to focus a bit on race, because I think that’s where fantasy in general seems to fall down, and where I don’t think I did particularly well in the series. My approach to characters is that, to the extent a particular aspect of a character was not relevant, I didn’t specifically mention it, in the hope that the reader could supply that information. I didn’t want to write about race, so at least in the first three books, I didn’t place any character that differed from Jana in terms of race. (Jana, at least in my imagination, is white, though if a reader wanted to imagine her as a different race, I don’t think that would be invalid.)

The problem with this approach is that it falls into the fantasy trap of making humanity lily white. With the possible exception of Kaseraak, I imagine all of the main characters of the Dragon Kaseraak Series as being white. Again, I justified this by thinking to myself that I didn’t want to write about race. I have come to believe that this approach is wrong, and in that manner I view this as a weakness of the series.

I tried to correct this starting in The Taconite Problem, the fourth book in the series. In that book I introduced a minor character named Reggie, who I specifically identified as having dark skin. I also took the characters to a town named Theoton, one I imagined to be populated by a majority of people with dark skin. I’m not sure this helped the issue—whereas before I could plausibly claim that some of the characters had dark skin because I didn’t say that they didn’t, by virtue of creating someone with dark skin I effectively implied everyone else wasn’t.

I’m not sure I was entirely successful in this regard. Reggie only appears in The Taconite Problem.

I think the problem I had with representation is that I wanted to create a world in which race didn’t matter—there is no racism, or should be no racism, in the Dragon Kaseraak Series, at least not with regard to humanity. The problem with this approach is that it makes it hard for a person who identifies as a racial minority to connect to any particular character within the story.

I think it’s especially important, given the very poor record of fantasy with regard to race, to have some racial representation within one’s created fantasy universe. I struggled with this because I did not want to comment on race. I don’t think I’m particularly qualified to do so—it’s not something I feel like I have a lot to say about. Yet I think I failed in providing something for a diverse readership.

This is something I struggle with, and I’m not sure what the solution is. My hope is that I can do better as I develop as a writer.