Thoughts on Diversity

I was reading a post on Twitter this morning by Nic Stone, whose work I adore. I think it was part of a larger conversation but what came through my feed talked about her not giving her children books about black characters written by white people. A white person had taken umbrage with that.

I understand where she’s coming from – under #ownvoices it’s about authenticity of experience, not just accuracy of reportage. And I don’t think (I could be wrong) she was saying that white people should never have minority characters in their books, but that she would PREFER to provide her own children with books about characters like them written by authors who have actually EXPERIENCED the things the characters do.

I get it.

I’m a white woman. But I teach in a predominantly minority school, and have for my entire teaching career (both of the schools in which I’ve taught over the past 15 years have been high minority population). I hear my kids in the halls. They share their stories with me. But I would never dream of trying to write a main character who was black – only because i would NOT be able to give it authenticity.

Can I write about a white girl who has a black boyfriend? Considering the first boy I ever made out with in high school was black, probably. I still remember at the end of my sophomore or junior year in high school, I was saying goodbye for the summer to a mixed-race male classmate and we kissed (we were drama babies – kissing was common!). Two girls walking by had been horrified to see “she’s kissing a black guy!” (And this was in 1986 or 87!) I had a friend down the street growing up whose father moved her into a predominantly white neighborhood, but didn’t want her playing with the white kids. (She did anyway and we’re still connected through social media all these years later.) I don’t believe in the term “color blind” but I have had friends from all walks of life throughout my lifetime. I often tell my students that I see the color of their skin, but I judge them on the character traits they present, not the melanin they contain. (They LOVE that, by the way.)

So Nic, I see you. I understand you want your children of color to see AUTHENTICITY in the books you share with them. And I hope you will also share books by white authors who have characters with POC friends and/or family when you are sharing good reads with your children.

Bad Author

So I guess I’d completely forgotten I had this blog until I got the email a few days ago that my site has renewed. Have to love auto-renew billing, right?

Since I was reminded, hey, you have a website devoted to your author’s journey, I figured I’d go ahead and update any readers I might still have on what’s up with my writing life.

I just completed revision number I’ve-lost-count and sent it back to my agent. Tweaks, mostly, thank god, but I admit the process of pursuing traditional publishing can certainly be long and drawn out! It’s been almost two years since I signed my contract with my agent. And I had already done one revision for her before she offered me representation. We did a second after the contract was signed, and then a third after getting some feedback from editors. Last month she sent me more feedback from a beta reader to do one more push before she sends the book out on round two to editors. I gave that feedback to my favorite beta reader/mentor, and revised again using her line-edits and editorial letter. And today, the latest revision went back to my agent.

I’m glad that my agent gets me and loves my book, even if it means tweaking and editing and revising until we make this book completely irresistible to an editor. Which I really hope happens on the next submission round. As much as I love my book, I know once I get the deal there will be another set of revisions, and I don’t want to have to do ANOTHER one BEFORE inking a publishing contract!!!

But if I have to, I will.

And in the meantime, November’s right around the corner which means it’s National Novel Writing Month. Think I’m going to try my hand with an adult romance for a change of pace.

Write What You Know?

Today, I awoke to posts on Twitter once again arguing against white people writing stories with POC characters. Several POC authors insist that if white people write stories about marginalized cultures, it’s stealing voice from actual POC writers and we should not oppress and suppress POC writers’ stories.

While I agree with the second part of that (oppression and suppression are bad, ‘k?), I feel that in today’s inter-sectional society, NOT writing diverse casts into a book is a travesty.

As a white, cishet Jewish woman of a certain age (can I combine that? Cis, Hetero . . .), I don’t believe I should only be restricted to writing books about cisgender, heterosexual Jewish women of a certain age. “Write what you know” is advice I’ve heard given to writers for as long as I’ve been writing. But if I limited myself to writing only what I know from personal experience, I seriously wouldn’t bother. My life is not that exciting.

Writing in and of itself is about the art of creative exploration. In the real world, my friends circle is wide and diverse. I have friends who fall under the LGBQTIA umbrella. I have friends of color. I have a Trinidadian ex-boyfriend (with whom I am still friends). I have friends with disabilities and medical conditions. I have friends older than I am, and friends who are younger. So why shouldn’t my characters also have diverse friend groups?

Absolutely write your stories – the ones YOU know about. But make sure that if you’re going to include diversity in the cast, that you do it with fidelity. Don’t throw in a stereotype just to have your token “x” character. The most important part of writing, to me, is authenticity. If you are going to put characters in your novel that are something you’re not, whether it’s race, sexuality, gender, etc., make sure you’re doing your due diligence and research to put REAL people on the page.

Write what you know, thoroughly research what you don’t. And if you’re not sure you’re being authentic, that’s what sensitivity readers are for.

Fear and Loathing

Stealing my title today, because that’s kind of where my head is at.

I’ve always thought of myself as a writer. Since the first stories came out of my head in elementary school, I wrote whenever I found spare time. Poetry, essays, short stories, eventually novellas and novels. Words were my escape, my sanctuary, my safe space. One would think that the validation of being signed to an agent, having one’s book shopped to editors in the industry, would only generate more words and more stories.

Not for me.

Right now, I’m in a strange and unusual place. I have some ideas, sure – I keep a small notebook in my purse to scribble down book dreams that come to me whenever and wherever. But I’ve had a really hard time putting butt in chair and actually writing stuff.

Logically, now is the best time to write more – when my agent sells my book, it’s important to have more waiting in the wings. However, I have two – one completed and revised and possibly ready to go (the last agent that requested a full on it told me she loved it, couldn’t sell “sick lit” in the wake of The Fault in Our Stars), and the other, first draft done, my mentor’s notes ready for the revision process – so I don’t feel any pressure to be writing a new book right this second.

But there’s a part of me that worries about the fact that I’m not wanting to write at the moment. I mean, I WRITE – I have a weekly YA review blog (sharemyya.wordpress.com if you’re interested), and I write here once in a while. But as far as sitting down and creating worlds and bringing new characters to life? It’s not there.

Hence the title. I hate myself for not writing, and I am afraid I may never have what it takes to write again.

Someone please tell me this is normal?

YA is Not Dumbed Down Writing

Yesterday, I clicked on a link to a debut adult romance novelist’s book, and in reading one of the negative reviews, the reviewer suggested that while other people obviously enjoyed the book (most of the reviews were favorable), it wasn’t for her and perhaps better suited to a YA reader.

This made my BLOOD BOIL. It is not the first time I’ve seen adult readers of various novels indicate that YA is a less-than category, not as “good” as books written for adults. Similarly, I’ve seen reviews of YA novels where adult readers quantify their reviews with “For YA, I guess it was good,” and go on to say things like the protagonist seemed immature (yeah, Karen, she’s SIXTEEN and in HIGH SCHOOL, what did you expect??) or denigrating a plot thread because THEY think high schoolers wouldn’t do things the characters do.

As both a high school teacher and a YA novelist, I’m appalled by how people really don’t understand what today’s youth goes through. Most YA authors (and ALL the ones I know, personally), don’t just assume teens have certain behaviors. They RESEARCH. They ask questions of the Twitterverse and on their Facebook statuses. They are sometimes, like me, high school teachers who are in the trenches with teenagers EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Some are parents of teenagers.

YA is not a “lesser” category. Yesterday, I tweeted about my outrage and YA author Sarah Darer Littman replied that it reminds her of the people who always ask her when she’s going to write a “real” book. YA BOOKS ARE REAL BOOKS. I have a classroom library of YA novels three bookshelves strong. And every year, I have the pleasure of replacing books for the next year’s students because some students borrow my REAL YA books and then don’t return them for one reason or another. Their struggles are real. Wanting to read books about teenagers like themselves who are experiencing things they experience is REAL.

Let’s stop looking at YA as the redheaded stepchild of the literary universe, please!

What I Don’t Know

Yeah, there’s a LOT I don’t know about this crazy industry I’m trying to break into. I know it took many novels, taken through many drafts, critiques, and agent queries to finally find a match for the book of my heart – it was the fourth book I put through the submission process, but the only one to get an offer of representation.

And even then, it took a YEAR between signing with my agent and actually getting a polished up manuscript out to editors. That’s where I am right now. Last fall, my agent took my book out on first rounds. As is normal, a few editors passed right away. As of last update, she was still waiting on responses from the rest, and anticipated another round probably now.

I like that my agent doesn’t update me too often on what’s going on with the book, or I’d be more crazy than I already am. I want my baby to find a home. There was a Twitter thread last week talking about how long the process took for various writers. Some agents shared that it took literally YEARS and four to five rounds of submissions to get a deal for some writers.

So it’s all about patience, and working on the next book in the hopes that once book one sells, book two will be on the back burner and ready to go.

But what I really don’t know right now is what I want to be working on next. Sigh.

What to Write

Last year, I participated in StoryStorm. For those not in the know, it started off as a way to generate picture book ideas – the goal being to come up with at least one idea a day during the month of January. I tweaked it, since I don’t write picture books, and came up with more than 30 ideas for both YA and adult novels, which I wrote down in a 3 1/2″ by 51/2″ notebook that I keep in my purse. I still have it and a second one of the same size in which I jot down ideas as they come – and they have been coming lately.

So now my problem is not ideas – I have at least fifty potential story ideas, as well as several partially-written manuscripts I could go back and finish. So my problem now is deciding WHICH idea to work on. (Plus I have a completed novel with revision notes from my mentor/beta reader I could be working as well.) What do you do with a plethora of ideas and no earthly clue where to begin?

I made a goal for myself at the beginning of the year to develop a regular writing routine by April 1. I decided this year that quarterly goals were stronger for me than New Year’s Resolutions. Sadly, so far, I’m not on track to achieve any of my quarterly goals, but I still have five weeks to get something accomplished. I think between today and next week, the last day of February, I’m going to select a project and then spend March developing that writing routine I wanted to accomplish.

Will be nice to be able to say I achieved at least ONE of the goals I set for myself.