Friday, November 22, 2013

Culture: Too much, or not enough?

I was on NALitChat's audio show this month to talk about culture and diversity in New Adult Lit, with authors David Arney, E.J. Wesley, Kat Vancil, Amy Evans, and Victoria Smith. It sounds like serious business (and it was, in parts) but it was also a lot of fun, and an hour is apparently not enough time to exhaust the topic. I'm so glad that I was given the chance to share what it's like for me, as a Filipino author writing in English. Some things I want to bring up again, and with more words:

Does a book "have to be" diverse/culture-sensitive?
I'm not someone who says a book "has to be" anything. I've experienced this throughout my life ("you have to write in Filipino", "you have to write about the poor", "you have to write what's popular"). There's nothing wrong with what they want. I don't know how it affects you, but that to me is just a formula for NOT FINISHING ANYTHING.

That said, you may have noticed that my books have a LOT of Filipinos in them. I've taken the time (in recent books) to point out when someone isn't Filipino, or is Filipino and something else, just to illustrate that yes even in Manila there's a variety of cultures one might encounter professionally, socially, etc. I've also learned that some readers will see this as too much culture, or not enough.

What do you mean, not enough culture?
Because ebook buying hasn't taken off that much yet in the Philippines, it means most of my ebook sales come from OUTSIDE of the Philippines. And because I'm up front in my author bio and book descriptions that these stories are set in the Philippines, it's reasonable to expect that I get readers trying my books because they want to learn more about my country. But then they get a story about a young woman falling in love and finding a job in the city, and maybe it's not the kind of "culture" they were expecting to see. Stories are affected by their setting, and certain cultural quirks will influence that. How much though?

I try to have my covers designed and my book descriptions written so that they don't advertise an exaggerated "cultural experience" if there isn't any, but readers will have their thoughts and ideas about a topic, and they will decide (with or without my help) whether my book meets those expectations or falls short. There's a reason though that my books are still categorized in CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE, and not, say, SOCIAL SCIENCES. 

That said, I find it fascinating that other authors feel some pressure to remove traces of "culture" and others aren't "cultural" enough. 


  1. Interesting points, Yayie! My mind has been wandering down the same paths for a while now, too!

  2. I totally agree with you. Write what's real and don't worry if it's too much or too little for someone else's expectations. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and there are people from all over the world. I write what comes naturally, and the characters come from a multitude of cultures.