Author Sarah Raughley wants to break down race barriers in literature
Sarah Raughley grew up on a nerdy kid’s diet of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, fantasy novels, cartoons and video games. She loved anime and Star Wars, monster movies and The Matrix, all of which infuse her action-packed fantasy trilogy, The Effigies, the second instalment of which is now out with Simon & Schuster’s YA imprint Pulse.
“I never really let those things go,” the Hamilton-based author says. “I still really enjoy those narratives.”
Siege of Shadows, which takes place immediately after the series’ debut, Fate of Flames, is set in an alternate version of Earth filled with familiar pop-culture touchstones.
Raughley envisioned a world besieged by giant monsters called Phantoms, who terrorize the streets of major cosmopolitans like shadowy Godzillas. The only hope to destroy these beasts is a quartet of superhuman young women named the Effigies, each of whom controls a natural element.
Although our feminist heroes are as celebrity-famous and beloved as Beyoncé, fighting Phantoms is a deadly business. When Natalya, the fire Effigy, is killed suddenly, 16-year-old Maia automatically inherits her role, and the awkward video-game fanatic and Effigy fangirl is quickly thrust into kickass battles while learning how to control her new powers.
While the four Effigies represent various backgrounds, their ethnicities are not central to their characters or the plot.
Early in her writing career, Raughley, who just completed the dissertation for her PhD in English lit, wrote a fantasy story in the vein of Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, but with a Nigerian protagonist. When trying to sell the story, she was told by editors that the character didn’t seem “authentically” Nigerian, a criticism she is still trying to understand.
“Reading between the lines, the idea is that if you’re an African author writing an African character, there are only certain kinds of stories that you can write, but they have to be Afrocentric,” she says. “I think the problem is that authors of colour are told that these are the kind of stories you have to write. I can’t write a story like Twilight and just happen to have the characters be black.”
Raughley applauds the push toward greater representation of marginalized groups in YA literature, and online campaigns such as #OwnVoices, started in 2015 by sci-fi author Corinne Duyvis, which encourages authors to write characters who reflect their own backgrounds.
But she also hopes the current demand for diverse stories allows for creative freedom.
Once Raughley finishes the final book in the Effigies trilogy, she has an idea for a more Afrocentric story she’d like to pursue, but wants that decision to be her own and not dictated by narrow perceptions of what sells.
“The most important thing of #OwnVoices should be allowing marginalized writers to write and publish what they love. I want to hear different histories from black Canadian and marginalized authors. I want to see and feel who they are, how they grew up,” Raughley says.
“If anyone picks up my books, they’d see me in them. Regardless of who the main characters are, or the setting, my stories will always reveal who I am as a person.”