As I neared completing edits to my fiction manuscript last summer, I took the advice of a published author and convened a group of beta readers to identify call-outs on plot pacing, narrative flow, and character development.
At the outset, I took pains to define the group as a reading (as opposed to an editing) group: “Put your reader’s hat on, settle into your favorite chair, and tell me what jumps out at you, good or bad,” I told them.
That step proved a huge emotional risk for me. We Are the Love Gods pushes the envelope on race, class and gender power struggles. It rips the veil off what is and isn’t “appropriate” sex. And, in presenting characters stripped to their marrow, Love Gods reveals thoughts, feelings and imaginings of mine that I do not express in any other way, in large part because society doesn’t condone such unbarred expression (though it may certainly exploit it), or, if it does, it does so primarily for white men and white women; far less so for people of color and the disenfranchised.
More to the point, I don’t relish baring myself to the inevitable criticisms that come from throwing one’s voice “out there,” which is one reason it took nearly two decades to complete the book.
Little did I know when I began recruiting readers for Love Gods that I would discover as much about my readers as they would about me.
One of the unanticipated of benefits of being privy to readers’ psycho-emotional experiences is that I learn about the people in my life more than I would in any other context. For example, I expected European American readers would relate more to Stephen, the privileged son and heir to the Langhold family fortune, than to David, who, earlier in the book, refers to himself as a “sorry, black-ass little nigger.” Or I expected women readers, black or white, to relate to Zoë, who, as a brilliant and educated African American woman, must still, despite her achievements, fight her way through regurgitating layers of “isms” and petty jealousies, day in and day out.
However, to my surprise, two readers—one a white male, the other a black female—told me that they related immediately to David and the abuse he suffers growing up. Their revelations reaffirm for me how powerful are family of origin issues, and that, in some cases, class can and does transcend race, in profoundly fundamental ways.
The unique and collective struggles of David, Stephen and Zoë represent the ceaseless interplay of these forces—the assumptions and expectations each character take on, the limitations they all overcome, the psychic imprints they can never completely escape—and remind us that to be flawed is to be, as David reflects in the Love God, the very thing God has made: human.
Death of the nefarious nigger: America's hate-obsession for Black men