Guest Post: Diversity in Pantomime & Shadowplay by Laura Lam

Today I have a special guest post from one of my favourite Authors Laura Lam. Laura was put on that list as soon as I finished her debut Pantomime as I loved how diverse and different its characters were to anything else I had read, this is why I asked Laura to write a post about diversity in her books and I hope you find this post as interesting as I did. 

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Diversity means that not everyone in the stories I write are straight, white, and able bodied. I tried to make Pantomime diverse, though I’m also conscious of the fact that I could have done more. Pantomime has an intersex and bisexual protagonist, another few other GLBT side characters, some characters from other countries of other ethnicities in the circus, as well as people that aren’t stereotypically able-bodied, some of whom work in the circus freak show.
I did a lot of research into intersex issues in particular for Micah Grey. For historical context, I read Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex by Alice Domurat Dreger, and for a more contemporary look I read books like Intersex by Catherine Harper and watched documentaries like the BCC’s Me, My Sex, and I. I researched the history of the circus, paying close attention to how those who ended up in the freak show got there and what it was like for them. Many ended up in the freak show because they had little choice in a day filled with more prejudice than we have today – it was one of the few ways they could make money, and some of them ended up making a comfortable living, too, but often their lives were dogged by tragedy. “The Elephant Man,” aka Joseph Merrick, is one such man. In many ways, the circus was more progressive than the rest of society – barriers between gender, race, and disability were thinner, but it still had its own fair share of problems.
When I moved from the circus to the magician’s stage, I had a smaller cast of characters to work with. Only a few people live in the theatre where they perform magic. It’s again not as diverse as I’d like, but Ellada is a predominantly white country with immigration only recently on the rise. There is a girl, Cyan, who was born in Temne (she’s the girl on the cover), and half of the core characters are GLBT. There’s also a character with a clockwork hand prosthetic. The research for the second book was a bit more open. Every time I go to a museum, watch a documentary, read a non-fiction book, the writerly part of my brain is paying attention, taking little facts and details and hoarding them, like a magpie with shiny things. They come out in my fiction in unexpected ways.
I didn’t set out to create a diverse book and come up with a checklist and tick them off one by one by any means. The story grew and diverse people populated it. I grew up in San Francisco and was often surrounded by people different than me and never thought anything of it. I found it weird when I moved to Scotland and suddenly everyone was pale and pasty like me. 😉 

At the end of the day, with each character, I think about where they come from, what difficulties they face, and how they’re each the protagonist of their own story, even if I’m only writing from Micah’s point of view. I may not get everything perfectly, but I’d rather try and do my best than not try to include diversity at all.

If you’re interested in more of the research I’ve done for my books, please see the Works Consulted & Resources page on my website
Bio: Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside of the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams.
She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.

Pantomime was released February 2013 through Strange Chemistry, the YA imprint of Angry Robot Books. The sequel, Shadowplay, will follow in January 2014. You can follow Laura on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Tumbler
  • I loved Pantomime for many reasons and one of them was its diversity so this was a really interesting post for me. I can’t wait to read Shadowplay!

  • I have yet to read Pantomime, but it’s high on my tbr. Can’t wait to get to it! Thanks for sharing this v. interesting guest post! 🙂