Covers and POCs

This isn’t going to be a rehash of… brown people on the cover of a book means no sales. I can’t answer that. I don’t think that it’s true but I also don’t have any evidence one way or another to speak about it with any sense. So… I’m going to leave that to the side.

What I have noticed is the discussion about the Asians in my books and how some people view them. I’ve heard for years Asian men are read as “feminine” by US readers and to some extent, I guess? I don’t know about that either. I usually try to make sure I hit the cultural notes of writing an Asian character and I have noticed one thing… if the character is depicted as Asian on the cover, this impression seems to carry through.

Case in point… two very different characters; Cole McGinnis and Miki St. John.

Both of them are mixed. Literally half Asian and half European. Both of them actually don’t have an Asian upbringing although Miki has more Asian influences from living in Chinatown but neither one of them is culturally Asian. Cole is depicted as more Anglo-featured on the covers whereas Miki is more Asian looking. This was done because of choices available and well, how they appear. Cole is bulkier and there was only one stock model that came close to what Miki could look like. Don’t get me started on trying to find Asian men in stock photography.

Now, if I had to talk about which one of these characters I would not want to meet in a dark alley while pissed off, it’s hands down Miki. While he’s probably more broken than Cole, he’s a hell of a lot more street smart and well, can be as mean as junkyard dog. Okay probably meaner since he literally has a junkyard dog named Dude and that pupper is very sweet.

Cole’s more of a white knight and well, is cowed by a tiny black cat so there you go there. Cole would save you from Miki. And probably break his nose while doing so.

So here comes the discussion, what leads to this “femme” impression on an outwardly Asian character? Or at least a main character depicted as Asian on a cover but isn’t written as being culturally Asian.

Cole’s lover, Jae-Min, is also framed in these terms and he’s very culturally Korean. So let’s toss that into the mix.

I think a lot of it has to do with someone’s idea of what masculine is. That a man can’t be emotive or reflective in any open way without having his masculine identity taken from him. We see this all the time in how writers and film makers treated the “pansy” stereotype of a gay man in the past and to some extent, this transfers to the Asian man because often times, their body shape is less bulky, less hairy and definitely not fitting into the archtype of a manly man as seen by the West.

Mind you, this is spaghetti against the wall talk. I have no idea. I’m trying to make some sense of it only as a way to see someone else’s perspective because I don’t see any of these characters as feminine. I see them as people I’ve created who have different ways of reacting to things.

Am I offended by someone calling my character feminine? Truth? No? Yes? I don’t know. I think it does minimize the character, shoving them into a gender box no man should belong in. So much of today’s society really could use a little bit of what traditionally is called feminine energy but in reality, it’s just being human.

Men shouldn’t cry. They shouldn’t show emotion. They shouldn’t hug. Or care for another man as a friend. Their relationships should be couched in grunts and manly hugs. The only time tenderness should be shown is if it’s to their kid and only when it’s small because hugging your grown son is just weird.

Just weird.

I’m guilty of thinking this. I have in the past. It’s hard to change what we’ve been taught and I’m not even a guy so I can’t even begin to imagine how fucking hard it is to deal with being told you can’t do these things that show how you feel just because you have a dick. Women are now being told it’s okay to be strong. Well, guys… it’s okay to be strong and cry. Or laugh. Or hug. (Preferably with the consent of whomever you’re hugging).

So… what’s your take on this? Think on stuff and let me know. I’d like some opinions. Mostly because I really want to hear other people’s perspectives on this. Phone lines are open. Keep it civil and most of all, decide if you want ketchup on your eggs or not. But… if someone does and you don’t, just pass them the bottle.

14 thoughts on “Covers and POCs

  1. AliciaF

    Ketchup is only acceptable on eggs if there is also bacon and/or sausage. But heck, you can put ketchup wherever you want it.

    I have heard those things about Asian men. I’ve seen articles about how they tend to be picked last on dating sites because they have the reputation for being nerdy and effeminate but none of your characters (either on the page or in the cover art) convey those stereotypes.

    1. I think it depends on how that person is themselves? Does that make sense? Because guys are just guys. Some are nerdy. Some are more engaging. I dunno 😀

  2. JR Weiershauser

    Because of the way we have been taught here(America), I believe Asian men are seen as more feminine because they are usually smaller and quite frankly their facial features are more refined, delicate, and also less hair. I was lucky in that I was raised to see each person as an individual, rather than as a group with characteristics that are only found in that group, e.g. race, color, creed, and so on. Why it affects books, book covers, I can’t answer. I only know that looking at a person as an individual, is the hardest thing for Americans (and I am sure other parts of the world) to do. As Richard Rodgers wrote in South Pacific “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”. “You’ve got to be taught to be afraid, Of people whose eyes are oddly made, And people whose skin is a different shade, You’ve got to be carefully taught”. Speaking only for myself, I welcome characters, stories dealing with any race, color, culture, etc. No ketchup on my eggs, but I don’t hold it against anyone, cause I like mayochup.

    1. It’s an interesting discussion to have because I’ve got two guys… who are pretty much the same ethnic mix but one skews more Asian…and he’s tagged as “femme” and he’s the more dangerous one *grins*

  3. Cole is just Cole to me; really sweet with a side of clumsy and entirely different from any stereotype, although he’s not thinking about that. Miki is definitely dangerous but he’d better watch out for Jae if he tripped Cole in an alley because there’s deep water there.
    Personally, “muscle” covers give me pause because sometimes the quality doesn’t match the quantity (415 Ink series is exceptional, however). Covers with POC signal something that’s taking a strong left turn and needs investigation. I suppose at some point it will all be commonplace but for now it marks the book as unique. Woe to the author who’s story doesn’t meet the level of the cover!
    Back when I ate eggs, there would be Cholula sauce or green chili or salsa. Ketchup is, um, ok on French fries but spicy is better.

  4. MaDonna

    This discussion is why I would prefer a book cover sans character depictions. A classic cover of the novel’s other character – the setting. Or the mood or atmosphere, or something symbolic to the book. I know what Miki, Cole, Jae and all Rhys’s other terrrific characters look like from the author’s description, the characters’ dialogue. They’re Asian, or part Asian/European, or North American or whatever perfectly in my mind’s eye. I try not to let character depictions on covers influence those that the author creates in my head. Oh dear. Does that make sense? Oh, and characters on covers have been a pet peeve of mine since I was a very young reader.

  5. Niyx

    (Eggs; no katsup plz)

    I don’t pay much attention to the cover art after the initial “does this look interesting enough to read it?” phase, though it probably does influence me unconsciously a bit.

    The main difference in how I perceive them is their narration. Cole is written in first person, so there’s no one really commenting on his appearance, and he only mentions it a few times, and never really enough for me to get a good mental image of him. When he, Jae, and Wong go to the Korean club, it actually took me a few minutes to realize that Cole would fit in because half-Japanese. Whereas Miki’s story is wound about with him and Kane’s narrating. Kane’s POV paints a pretty strong mental image of him.

    Overall, Cole reads very American to me vs Jae who definitely codes Asian. By which I mean, he was raised differently, which is something Jae pointedly mentions in the first book. Cole may be half-Japanese, but he never knew his mother. He wasn’t raised with any understanding of Japanese culture; he was raised as a military brat by his white Irish-American father (and then his white stepmother). He never really mentions his ethnicity coming up as an issue growing up; certainly not the way being gay has affected his life and his story.

    For Miki, he grew up in an entirely different situation from Cole. He was an orphan who was named after a kanji character on his arm. He never had strong family ties to draw him one way or another, so he was heavily influenced by the community surrounding him, Chinatown.

    It is really hard to compare them much further than that because Miki grew up in a truly heinous situation while Cole’s childhood seems to have been fairly smooth sailing.

    I think their names also play a good part in offering up small reminders of their ethnicity, and it’s pretty telling that Cole doesn’t like/use his Japanese middle name at all. (I’m putting that down to mama issues and how he was raised.)

    As far as them reading masculine or feminine, I have no strong opinion. They’re all very strong characters in very different ways. Jae may not be as overtly assertive as Cole, but that’s not a weakness; it’s simply how his culture works.

    Ichirou is another really good example of differences in upbringing. He and Cole are half-brothers, but Ichirou was raised in Japan. He and Jae are able to understand some situations on a different level than Cole simply because of the similarities within their cultures. We also get some stark contrasts between Cole and Ichi when he first witnesses a shooting. It’s so far out of his cultural understanding, he lashes out at Cole over it.

    Anyway! The differences in the character’s personalities and developments are far more important to me than any preconceived ideas of what is “masculine” and what is “feminine”.

    I’m rambling so I’m going to stop now. o/

  6. El

    Dear Rhys,

    Love your newsletter, but then you asked about ketchup and when I think of ketchup I think of rats (obviously read way too many Terry Praychett’s..)

    I do love your covers and I like them best when they (more or less) reflect the way you as an author believe the characters look like. Your covers are very typical for you. I am not a native English speaker but what I am trying to say is wiith most authors the covers are a bit generic, but not with your books. I can see at first glance of the cover that it is one of your books. And I love them!

    That being said, the cover and title could play a role in whether or not I will give a book by a new author a try, but once I like an author I just buy them all even if you would wrap them up in a newspaper.

    But it is true that the picture of the character on the cover plays a great role in the way I see that character (and Miki is way more viscous than ‘labrador’ Cole). But I can’t say much about the feminine aspect (or not), that’s just something that doesn’t pop into my head when I see a cover, Asian or not.

    I am sorry, this is not very helpful in choosing your cover. But the fact that I can recognize them so easily make me reread them more often 🙂

    Kind regards El

    Op dinsdag 5 februari 2019 schreef Rhys Ford :

    > Rhys Ford posted: “This isn’t going to be a rehash of… brown people on > the cover of a book means no sales. I can’t answer that. I don’t think that > but I also don’t have any evidence one way or another to speak about it > with any sense. So… I’m going to leave that to the ” >

  7. Paula

    This post and some of the points you raised really reminds me of a youtube series by Justin Baldoni that I have actually watched a few times, it’s called Man Enough. I’ve never been one to try and label people and their characteristics. Everyone is just a human and as a human they all have the right to be able to express themselves as they see fit without being put in any kind of box they don’t want. I don’t feel like there are any traits that are feminine or masculine, just people traits.

  8. A good book can overcome a bad cover, but a good cover doesn’t make up for a lousy book. If it is an author I haven’t read previously, I look for covers that give me an indication of the book contents. Then, I will read the excerpt and see if I want to buy. If it is I author I love to read, Rhys for example, the cover is just a pretty wrapper for me, I know the book will be excellent.’

    As for the type of man portrayed on the cover, I never really thought about femme or masculine, just whether or not I recognized the person on the cover as a character in the book. If the look fits the description of the author, I am happy.

  9. Aethena Drake

    I have trouble seeing Asian men as femme. I guess you could relate certain facial shapes as feminine. I have a brother with the sharp cheekbones and large eyes that some people view as feminine. He does get ‘pretty boy’ comments often enough. My brother gets his features from northern European ancestry. Ironically, I get mistaken for being a boy from time to time, and I have similar facial structure. (I don’t take offense to being mistaken for a guy. )

    I think most people instinctively relate muscle mass with masculinity. Anyone genetically capable of building extreme muscle mass is automatically considered masculine. The above mentioned brother has lean muscles. He is pretty strong, but his muscle definition isn’t obvious. I have more muscle definition than he does. Muscle definition = Manly. Refined features = feminine. Or not. Just takes time to break stereotypes.

    One of my favorite comic book characters is Daken(Akihiro) of Marvel Comics fame. He is Wolverine’s son, and his mother is Japanese. Daken is not drawn, portrayed, or referred to as feminine. Ichi kinda reminds me of Daken. Tattoos, bisexual, bad@$$, difficult relationship with dad… Anyway. Characters like Daken and Ichi help shake up the stereotypes. Just takes time. I still see the phrase ‘run like a girl’ being written by women authors. As a female former endurance runner, I usually equate that phrase with ‘ tireless, efficient, running form’. I know that’s not what was meant, but whatever.

    I can’t say I would feel diminished by being considered feminine or masculine, but I did hate being called a tomboy as a child. My name isn’t Tom, and I am not genetically speaking, a boy. Wouldn’t have minded being called tough, or bad@$$, or strong, or fearless, or … Just hated the phrase tomboy. My guy friends did the same stuff as me on the playground, and they weren’t called janegirl. Sigh…

    On the subject of book covers. I just wish more book covers were a reflection of what was inside the book. I work in a comic book store, and I hate the fact that most of the comic covers have nothing to do with the story. I prefer a cover that at least captures the feel of the book.

    My favorite covers from the Rhys Ford universe are from Ink and Shadows, the Kai Gracen series, and the most recent covers from the Hellsinger series. Half naked boys on a book cover is nice, but I really appreciate the effort to ‘set the scene’ for a well written book. I am also a sucker for a bit of artwork on a cover versus a photo image. There’s This Guy was a great cover though.

    I say we work on shaking up the stereotypes, use the cover images that feel right, and I don’t use ketchup on my eggs. I am allergic to tomatoes.

    Keep on writing. I promise I will keep on reading.

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