There are times I stand upon my soapbox and roll out the words about stereotypes. Usually I discuss ageist and sexist stereotypes of women. It’s easy for me to do that because I’m a middle aged woman and I see the rampant sexist and ageist bullshit all around me, but truth be told I’ve been championing women over 40 before I was even 40. I’ve been at it for so long that it’s second nature for me to be anti-ageist and anti-sexist, for me to present an accurate portrayal of a woman in her 40s, 50’s and beyond in the stories I write. But this time, in writing my forthcoming novel Next to You, I faced three additional challenges with stereotypes.
Challenge One, the hero: William Murphy is in his mid fifties.
I tend to focus on the older heroine, but OK, right. He’s middle-aged. Boom. I’m all over that mid-life thing. I’ve got that covered. I know how to do that. He’s a human being and I tell his story. Simple. Only…my battle with a persistent stereotype comes from how William Murphy looks.
Challenge Two: William Murphy has albinism. In other words, he’s albino. Uh-huh. How do I present a realistic very un-stereotypical portrayal of an individual with albinism unlike all the usual bullshitty evil albinos and bullshitty comic relief albinos, and bullshitty magical albinos one usually finds onscreen and in fiction?
There was a very nice man named Mike in the UK. Mike’s beautiful daughter Bianca has albinism. Mike and Bianca were both very kind in answering my questions and teaching me about albinism. As I wrote Next to You, I tried to be as accurate as possible while presenting an “Adult Contemporary Romance” (sounds better than a Mature romance). I also tried to be respectful of people with albinism. And now that the book is about to come out in July I am having a quiet panic attack, which for me means I pour a cup of coffee and only drink half whilst staring at my computer screen thinking, ‘what will Mike and Bianca think of me if I really fucked this up?‘
Challenge Three: Mental illness. How does one write mental illness and address the stereotypes and stigma associated with mental illness in a romance novel??
It helps (I hope) that I have a shrink husband and know lots of mental health professionals. I consulted them–and others who have experienced mental illness–for insight. As I wrote, I made sure to point out the stereotypes and stigma associated with mental illness. I avoided Fatal Attraction boiling bunny mental illness and Jane Eyre Mr Rochester-keeps-his-looney-wife-Bertha-Mason-in-the-attic mental illness. I tried to be accurate, respectful, and have a sense of humour.
Whether I pulled off these challenges will come to light in July, when Next to You is released. Maybe by then I’ll have drunk a full cup of coffee.