Meg Collett wrote: "Hey Ksenia! Fellow indie here. I wanted to know your take on culture appropriation and diversity within literature, i.e., if there are some stories that we simply cannot tell because they do not belong to us. I would love to know your thoughts or if you've already put them into a blog that I might have missed. Love what you do and how you do it. High fives to you lady."
Hey Meg! Thank you for this wonderful question. I did blog on diversity once, and it yanked me out of my ignorance and sparked a heated conversation, which was a good blow to my head to realize the sordid state of acceptance in America, regardless of your gender, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, class, disability, and so on. It tore the pink glasses off my face. You see, I came to America believing I have escaped a cesspool of human misery, but I was wrong. Our misery is everywhere, in every country.
The bubble burst when I understood that I was protected by my white privilege, my pretty looks, and my small circle of friends and acquaintances, mostly Russian. It's when I started writing that I saw what lay beyond this little world I lived in. My first reaction was, disbelief. My second reaction was, rebel (which you see in this post). My third reaction now is, add to the voice of change by staying true to my art. I do it by writing what moves me, and not because I try to make my books diverse—what moves me might not be accepted by majority. For example, JANNA (or ZHENYA, if I decide to change the title) has a black protagonist. I'm white. I got some early backlash about this on Twitter from some black writers, telling me they've had enough pain, and that I shouldn't add to their pain by writing about a mad serial killer who is a black woman. I hear their pain, but I will still write that book because it will help me understand what it's like to wear a black skin in America and relate to that pain, though I will never fully know it. I can only hope to come close. The same way someone black and born in America will never know what it was like growing up as a Russian girl in Soviet Union, but I would love it if they wrote a book about it and tried to come close. This is what humanity is about, wearing each others shoes. (By the way, I'm making JANNA, or ZHENYA, come from Soviet Union to America for this reason, you'll see.)
In writing JANNA I know I will help someone else, not just myself. And that will bring us closer together, in our pain, not divide us further. I've seen flame wars online, slamming some white male author for writing about a pre-teen girl being raped. "How dare he?" people shouted. "He will never understand!" Of course he will never understand, but the fact that he is trying to understand is gold, it shows he cares, and so I disagree with folks saying he shouldn't. He should. The more stories like this we write, the more tolerant we will become, the more love we'll be able to give each other, the more diversity we will have, miraculously, never specifically focusing on it as an end goal, but by simply being ourselves, writing about what bothers us, staying true to our art.
However, JANNA became black in my mind due to the above-mentioned conversation. A fellow writer Janna G. Noelle (who has inspired the title) asked why I wouldn't write about a black character, and I said, I had no idea what it was like to be black, and she said, but you wrote about a dog! Do you have any idea what it's like to be a dog? And I said, right, I don't know. So she said, see? You can write about anyone. And that got me. I started thinking about it, and because of this human interaction, because of Janna's question, JANNA in my mind started forming as black, because my eyes opened to my blindness, because I started to care, and that is how it happened.
So to answer your question, Meg, no, I don't believe there are stories we cannot tell because they don't belong to us. Everything belongs to us. We are one and we are everyone. I am you, and you are me. Your stories are my stories, my stories are yours. Write anything you want. Be anyone you want on the page. By doing this, you will help those who don't dare to write what they want, and together we will come closer to one another, and closer, and closer, and one day we'll see that we're the same flesh and blood, and our differences will stop bothering us. Instead, we will celebrate them. Perhaps the word diversity itself will cease exist and will be replaced with something new, like lovity, as in love and unity rolled into one. That is my hope. That is why I write, to share my humanity with you, in all its glory: the bad, the good, the ugly, the pretty, the disgusting, the amusing; everything. Only by doing that will we learn how to love ourselves, how to accept ourselves for who we are, and only after we learn to accept ourselves will we be able to accept others.
I love you. Onward.