Authors write what they know. So the own voices movement within publishing makes sense to me. An author of color should be free to write stories unique to their perspective. Likewise, stories about religious affiliation, sexual orientation, and other ethnicities should be told by members of their communities. This is the way, as is right, and good.
So what does that leave on the table? I’m a middle aged, white man with an overactive imagination. Unlike many other authors, I don’t write what I know, I write what I imagine. The main characters of my debut novel, Fantastic America, are a woman, a black man, and a serial killer. I have little or nothing in common with these characters, except that we are all human, live on versions of the same planet, and they sprang to life from my imagination.
I don’t feel like I’ve appropriated their stories. I’m not writing about Ashley’s religion, but I do write about her faith. I don’t write about Daniel’s struggle as a black man in America, but I do write about his effort to safeguard a country that has persecuted black people for generations. I don’t see ghosts or kill people, but I write about Jerry’s psychotic urge to kill.
My argument for writing these stories is simple enough. I write fiction, specifically fantasy. No one expects authors to stop writing about aliens, dwarves, or superheroes, those own voices don’t exist. They are make believe people, performing heroic make believe acts, in wildly different make believe worlds.
The characters I write about are all make believe. Fantastic America is an invention of how I imagine real people would react to fantastic situations. Not grounding those stories in an attempt at real people would undermine the premise of these stories. I’m still the only person who can write what I see in my mind’s eye.
So I’m going to lean into writing characters to be inclusive in my worldbuilding. I’m going to keep focusing on how they react, not the community they come from. I have no pretense about belonging to these communities. From my perspective, as simple-minded as it may be, we’re all part of the human community anyway. I refuse to white wash my characters to fit some preconceived, if well intentioned, notion of how I should write.