MUSINGS OF A MIDDLE-AGED WHITE GUY

NOTE: The following piece serves as the Introduction to THE DAUGHTERS OF INANNA, a limited edition hardcover anthology (edited by me) featuring four original novellas by Chesya Burke, Rachel Deering, Amber Fallon, and Livia Llewellyn. That book has now shipped to customers. This Introduction is offered in the hopes of convincing those who didn’t buy the anthology to go out and buy something else by these four authors.

As a kid—growing up in the late Seventies and early Eighties in a small, rural Pennsylvania town dominated by a paper mill and surrounded by forests, fields, and isolation—I assumed that all kids pretty much had the same sort of life I did. I assumed they were white, had white parents (including a father who busted his ass seven days a week at the paper mill and a mother who stayed at home), listened to country music or rock, were Methodist or maybe Lutheran, took a family vacation every year, and existed in a comfortable blue-collar middle class household.

Sure, I saw diversity on television. Sesame Street had Black and Latino kids, but the set of Sesame Street looked nothing like what was outside my window. To me, it was as unrealistic as an angry green guy living in a trash can or Bert continuing to put up with Ernie’s bullshit instead of stabbing him to death one night. And yes, I saw diversity in comic books. Ms. Marvel, Red Guardian, Falcon, She-Hulk, and Luke Cage were there every week when I rode my bike down to the newsstand for a new batch of twenty-five cent Marvels, but again—the world of the Marvel Universe looked nothing like my world.

It never occurred to me that somewhere, there was a black kid my age watching Mister Rogers or reading an issue of Justice League of America and saying, “This white person’s world looks nothing like my world.”

Let me tell you what my world looked like. I didn’t meet my first, live, in-the-flesh African American until 1983—which is not so long ago, kids. His family moved to our small town when we were sophomores in high school. To the best of my knowledge, they never experienced any sort of blatant racism—no crosses burning in their yard or epitaphs hurled at school—but they were outsiders all the same. They were curiosities. Something new had moved into our world, and none of us knew quite what to expect, or quite how to react to it. I was no different. I befriended the kid (Mike) but my conversations with him were primarily me asking variations of “So, you’re black? What’s that like?”

I graduated high school at seventeen. One week later, I was off to boot camp in San Diego. That was my first time truly seeing the world around me for what it really was – and seeing the people who inhabit that world for who they truly are. Boot camp was a mixing pot—Asian, Latino, White, Black—you name it, we were there, all occupying a small barracks no bigger than a two car garage, and learning to live with each other. And learning about each other. I quickly made friends with a guy from Compton and a guy from El Paso, and I soon learned that they were as curious about my world as I was theirs. Their conversations with me were primarily them asking variations of “So, you’re white? What’s that like?”

For four years, I traveled the world, and saw five of the seven continents. More importantly, I experienced different cultures and different people and different religions and different ways of living. I learned about poverty and wealth, and fairness and privilege. I learned that not every mother stayed at home—and some of the ones who did had no choice in the matter. I learned that not everyone was Methodist or even Lutheran. And I learned that my world—that world I’d grown up in—was just one small part of a much bigger, diverse place, and all of the people who inhabited that word had their own stories. And while all of us, as human beings, had things in common, those commonalities were shaped and informed by our different, unique experiences.

Everyone knows what it is to love, or to lose, or to hope, or fear. These are commonalities. But does a straight person know what it is to be LGBT? Does a white person know what it is to be black? Does a Muslim know what it is to be Jewish? Sure, maybe in an academic sense. But in a human sense, not so much. What we know is what we are exposed to. What we know is outside our window.

And in the entertainment we consume.

I am neither a Social Justice Warrior nor a Sad Puppy (if you don’t know what those are, then you haven’t been on the Internet in the past year, and for that, I fucking envy you). In truth, I find both groups equally annoying. In my opinion, both groups engage in the same false Left-Right/Conservative-Progressive dogmatic bullshit that has brought real and meaningful discourse in this country to a grinding halt.

What I am, is pro-diversity. Diversity should be championed by all, regardless of your political affiliation or any other identifier you and the social media tribe of your choice choose to use. Diversity informs. It educates. It helps us understand the other inhabitants of this planet—the people who don’t live outside our window, but are just as much a part of things as we are—a little better.

And in the entertainment we consume, diversity offers unique perspectives and fresh takes on tired, worn-out old tropes. As a white kid, I read about and identified with a white kid named Peter Parker who was secretly Spider-Man. Today, black and latino kids can read about and identify with a black and latino kid named Miles Morales who is secretly the new Spider-Man. The stories remain the same. There are the same struggles, the same villains, the same archetypes. But they are informed by a new perspective, a new view of the world, and that makes for invigorating reading.

In our own field, horror fiction has been way ahead of some our related genres in terms of diversity—both in the stories told and in the authors writing those stories. “But Brian,” someone is shouting from the back, “if we’ve reached the point of true diversity in horror, then why publish an anthology with only women? Why no men? That doesn’t seem fair.” Well, because I’m Brian Keene, and I’m lucky enough to have some power and a voice in this field, and I enjoy using that power and voice to support things I believe in. In this case, I believe in these four authors. Once you read them, I think you will, too.

Chesya Burke and Livia Llewellyn are undoubtedly familiar to some of you. Both have been writing and publishing in the genre for about a decade now, to considerable critical acclaim. Rachel Deering is known for her work in comics, where she’s earned several award nominations. Amber Fallon is a newcomer, with a handful of small press appearances. All of them deserve a wider audience. And you, dear reader, deserve to be reading them.

I mentioned earlier that in the entertainment we consume, diversity offers unique perspectives and fresh takes on tired, worn-out old tropes. That’s what happens in the four novellas you are about to read. All four authors have delivered uncomfortable, harrowing, gut-wrenching works of horror fiction, and each one has been informed by their own individual experiences and their own unique voice. Each one is the world outside their particular window.

That’s what good fiction is made of.

Take a look, if you dare…

Brian Keene
August 2015

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