Is your hometown diverse? What about your books?

I’m in the final stages of preparing my new novel, Hangar 18: Legacy, for release. And here in the U.S., it’s Dr. Martin Luther King Day, where we celebrate the life of Dr. King and his fight for civil rights–equality for all people regardless of race or gender. As I worked through the final proofread and formatting of my book, I noticed it had a fairly diverse cast.

Teenagers JumpingDid I do this intentionally? Yes and no. It was something I thought about, for my book takes place in Dayton, specifically at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. And neither would be accurate if it wasn’t racially diverse.

Lisa Stark, the heroine of Hangar 18, is Asian.This was intentional: as a child adopted by white Americans, in an all-white small town, she looked different, but really wasn’t–she’s as American as I am. In contrast, my hero looks like a typical military guy, but he has unique, psychic abilities. But with other characters, I didn’t necessarily plan them to be black or Hispanic, I just imagined them that way. And no, they aren’t all in stereotypical, subservient roles, but do a variety of jobs–just like in real life. I’d like to think that I imagined a diverse cast of characters because this mimics real life.

My Saturn Society books are similar. Some characters just appeared to me as non-white. For example, the head of the Dayton Saturn Society House, Chad Everly, is Hispanic. Since the time-travel ability originated in Latin America, this leads into some interesting backstory for him, which isn’t in any of the books (yet). Theodore Pippin, who ran the Dayton Saturn Society House in the 1930s, is black, and that was done for a reason. At first he wasn’t, but I had a problem: he was in pursuit of Tony, the main character, but I needed a reason he couldn’t just walk into the restaurant where Tony was eating and apprehend him.

TimesEnemy211The solution was perfect, as it fit into the time period. It also emphasized how monumental a thing Tony had done by going into the past. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Tony hesitated as he reached for the door handle of Irving’s Restaurant. The narrow, old frame structure and its hand-lettered front window reminded him of the tobacco shop where he and Charlotte had found refuge during the flood.

But it was the sign above the door that made the enormity of what he’d done hit him like a sucker punch to the gut: Whites Only.

He’d gone back a century in time by will alone. A time where men still tipped their hats to women—ladies—and offered them their seats on the bus, and no one got offended. A time before civil rights, when it was acceptable to deny someone entrance to a public establishment solely on the basis of race. Even an honest, respectable businessman like his friend Bernie.

Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of people like Dr. King, it’s hard for me to imagine this kind of discrimination, as I can’t remember a time when it was allowed. As Dr. King said, we’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go. Discrimination was real (and unfortunately still is, albeit to a lesser extent), it was historically accurate, and giving my book a diverse cast helped me to lend this extra little bit of historical authenticity to Time’s Enemy.

What about you–have you read books where everyone was white-bread American, or were they diverse? If they didn’t reflect reality, did you notice? Have you read any good, racially-diverse books lately–or any where the historical lack of civil rights was a key part of the story? I’d love to hear from you!