Transracial Writing for the Sincere

Award-winning SF author Nisi Shawl discusses transracial writing (authors who write characters of races other than their own) on SFWA’s web site, and she includes an extensive critique of the work of our own Sarah Zettel.

An excerpt:

“I’d never write about a person from a different ethnic background. The whole story would probably be full of horrible stereotypes and racist slurs.”

Amy closed her mouth, and mine dropped open. Luckily, I was seated when my friend made this statement, but the lawn chair must have sagged visibly with the weight of my disbelief. My own classmate, excluding all other ethnic types from her creative universe!

I think this sort of misguided caution is the source of a lot of sf’s monochrome futures. You know the ones I mean, where some nameless and never discussed plague has mysteriously killed off everyone with more than a hint of melanin in their skin. I wonder sometimes what kind of career I’d have if I followed suit with tales of stalwart Space Negroes and an unexplained absence of whites.

But of course I don’t. I boldly write about people from other backgrounds, just as many of the field’s best authors do. Suzy McKee Charnas, Bruce Sterling, and Sarah Zettel have all produced wonderful transracial characters, as I show in examples below. Before getting into their work, though, let’s discuss how to prepare for your own.

Read the full article here:

Fools War, the book Nisi discusses, is available here:



Transracial Writing for the Sincere — 2 Comments

  1. I bought Fool’s War as the first book from BVC once I’d read the opening excerpt and realised that one of the main characters was a female muslim in space!!

  2. Nisi’s POV is interesting … and completely opposite my own take on transracial writing. Maybe because I’m a Baha’i and interracial harmony has been woven into the fabric of my life, but I’ve always taken “write what you know” to mean “know it; then write about it.”

    To me, writing is exploration, and I am fascinated with the exploration of other people’s experiences. So most of my protagonists are transracial, and often multiracial. All the characters in Laldasa are Indian; Taco Del (of TD and the Fabled Tree of Destiny) is a young Latino and his love interest is a red-haired Chinese girl who’s surname is Flanigan; Gina “Tinkerbell” Miyoko (of Tinkerbell on Walkabout” is Japanese/Russian/American, her love interest (in the novel I’m trying to sell) bears more than a passing resemblance to Antonia Banderas.

    Now, it has been suggested to me that this is why the novel has not sold and why at least one marketing director has said she didn’t know how to market it—transracial characters are feared not to to be “of interest” to the reading demographic—that is, white American females).

    I sincerely hope this is not the case, because I have always written transracial characters and have every intention of continuing to do so.