I do not want to ignore the new law in Quebec saying that when using public services a Muslim woman cannot wear an outer layer that completely covers her--the Burka and the niqab. I love the protests: non-muslim women wearing face coverings, and the bus driver wearing a surgical mask. But it is too easy to stand by and piously condemn the law, as if there are not issues of prejudice and cultural hegemony here.

As I've attended conventions for speculative fiction writers and readers, I have become aware of how extensive the conversation is about including diversity, in all its aspects, in our writing. While my first two novels only have hints, when I came to my Grey County novel--Fractured: When Shadows Arise-- I built diversity with intention.

One of the main characters, William, has a Metis father and an Ojibway mother. His presence in the story gave me a chance to explore racism and cultural hegemony. In this scene, Dara arrives with her long-time friend Korina and William. Stewart, an alchemist, is her father.

"And he joins you again today making for the perfect alchemical triad." Stewart smiled. "The father and the mother and the third. Though who will end up the third is perhaps not yet decided between you."

"What is it with you Christians and your preoccupation with threes?" William folded his arms across his chest. "Don't you know that there are four seasons, four directions, four colors."

On the street in a small town, classmates of Dara make a rude and racist comment about William. Several times, he talks about how he deals with his dual heritage.

The book is a fantasy story. Therefore, mythic elements like alchemy and elves are treated as real. One of the traditions around elves is that they cannot be trusted. In the sequel to Fractured, an elf takes an active role, but each time people meet him, they express distrust. Siofra begins with this prejudice, though over the course of the story will get beyond it.

On the winding path back from the pool, Belanior never said a word. When he tripped over a tree root, Dara glanced over. He was watching the stars through the narrow gap in the leafy canopy above, not looking where he walked. When they reached the edge of the woods, Dara saw shock on her friends' faces. They look how I feel, she thought. Still, the elf said not a word, waiting beside her.

"Um, did you see your mom?" Korina met Dara's eyes briefly then studied the elf.

William folded his arms. "Who's this?"

"He is fey," Siofra said, deep lines crossing her forehead.

Back in Fractured, there are a number of vignettes where we see people other than the main characters. Diversity in the main characters was more important, but these scenes gave me scope to broaden representation, adding texture to the novel.

It was Saturday morning, and they had made it out of Toronto for a weekend getaway. Still, Amanda talked her partner Jillian into waking early for their daily bike ride. It would just be too hot if they slept in.

In the second book, I found a spot to talk about assumptions around ethnicity. This scene takes place in a geology class in Scotland where, because of the conflict that drives the story, earthquakes have become common. The two characters the reader meets here are seen several times in the story as they try to figure out the cause of the earthquakes. The professor, Dr. Sam Nishikori, introduces this class by saying that only his TA Chandra Dasgupta has experienced a major earthquake.

Chandra wondered if someone would ask what seemed an obvious question: if the professor came from Japan, how had he missed a significant earthquake. She glanced back, but no hands were raised. Just as well. Dr. Nishikori got more than a little annoyed when people assumed he was born in Japan. In fact, he was fourth generation Japanese-Canadian, and in Canada, earthquakes were rare.

I once sat on a committee with a Chinese-Canadian woman who is fifth generation Canadian. I'm only third. Absorbing her story made me wonder why we claim British and French cultures are the only proper foundations for Canada.
Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.


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