Monday, November 2, 2015

Katherine Memmel: "We Write Diversely. We Fail. We Write Again."

We've got another #WriteInclusively guest post in line! :D I love these posts, and am actively looking for more. Especially if you are a writer of color, please please contact me! I'd love to have you guest blog.

Take it away, Katherine!


Let’s get this out of the way—I’m a white writer who thought I could write diversely and failed. Here’s how:

I was raised in a liberal household in the greater San Diego area, where over a hundred languages are spoken and white people are less than half the population.

I grew up watching Sesame Street and The Cosby Show and I spent more time singing along to Boyz II Men at middle school dances than actually dancing with anyone.

I don’t have many friends but I’ve had acquaintances of all races throughout my life. One of them, a high school colorguard teammate, used to let me ask her anything I wanted to know about being black on the long bus rides to competitions and parades.

When I moved to Wisconsin for a few years in my twenties I called out relatives left and right over their nakedly racist comments (the 2008 election was…fun).

There has never been a time that I didn’t consider myself progressive and open-minded, but most importantly, I’ve long been aware my place in the privilege pecking order—I don’t have it the best, but I certainly don’t have it the worst.

So when the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign started trending on Twitter last year, I charged into it with that righteous sense of sincerity tucked in my back pocket. I watched as pleas from writers and agents and editors and librarians and parents gathered into a great chorus, amplifying the ugly truth of fiction’s diversity problem: it’s not simply the lingering effect of tradition or an innocent oversight. It’s a tragedy of human potential.

Because diversity isn’t a movement or an agenda or a phase. Diversity is inevitable. White people only make up about 16 percent of the world population but control every pillar of power: politics, business, religion and entertainment. Think of how fast civilization could progress if all the ideas and wisdom and stories of the remaining 84 percent were just as welcome.

This cry for representation is the backbone of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and as the campaign gained steam, I sympathized with the participants, retweeted them, nodded my head in solidarity. And when the time came to apply diversity to my own work, I assumed I was beyond ready for the task. But white privilege is almost invisible to those it benefits, and sometimes it reveals itself in unexpected ways.

Like writing dozens of characters in numerous short stories and novels that are uniformly white, not from some conscious decision but because, well, I’m white too. It’s an utterly weak excuse, which is why I tried to rectify it when I embarked on my third novel. It wasn’t easy, but after half a dozen revisions and two passes through my critique group, I thought my first attempt at writing believable people of color was a success. This confidence lasted through the first six months or so of querying, boosted by a relatively high request rate. It didn’t even tarnish when almost every pass was attributed to a lack of connection with the main characters because that’s allegedly the most subjective—and thus best—reason to be rejected.

And then #WriteInclusively came along. Reading through SC’s tweets and conversations, it became clear that I had fallen into the tokenization trap. There’s no other way to put it: my characters, while lovingly rendered, are POC on the outside but not on the inside.

Their appearance and other surface details reflect diversity, and although their struggles revolve around the main plot, not their identity, that’s not really the problem. It’s that I missed an opportunity to incorporate all the struggles POC face on a daily basis into the layers of their characterization—the microaggressions and fears and compromises that could have made my thriller that much more thrilling.

Alas, that manuscript is already out in the world, in the hands of agents, one of which was active in SC’s Query Kombat tweetstorm—I might have cringed permanent wrinkles into my face. But I’m eager to discuss a revision strategy in the event I get The Call, not that I’m entirely sure what that strategy will be.

Because the easy lesson in all this is to be more thoughtful and respectful when blending diversity into my stories. The harder lesson is to understand that I’ll never get it right due to the myopia inherent in white privilege. Diverse characters in a white writer’s novel will never have the impact on #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #WriteInclusively that diverse characters from a diverse writer’s novel will. And that’s fine.

So what can I do? I’m tempted to stay in my lane when it comes to main characters, especially when writing in third-person-limited POV and absolutely when writing first-person, because when I write white characters I don’t have the specter of inauthenticity hanging over me. I feel much safer incorporating diversity into the supporting cast, and I will strive to write them with the care and consideration they deserve.

How? By opening my eyes and ears and heart and imagination. By listening to POC and reading their stories. By following them on Twitter and engaging in conversations. By learning, growing, trying harder, writing better. No doubt I’ll stumble more along the way, but there’s nowhere else to go but forward. And there’s no excuse not to try.

Katherine Memmel is Fiction Editor for Black Heart Magazine and content manager for an international trade publication, with short stories featured in various online venues and an erotic romance novella trilogy (under the pen name Katrina Sparks) available soon from Enamored Ink. Tweet her!

Thank you thank you so much for the post!!! Some key points in my opinion were the idea that We Need Diverse Books (instead of a focus on diverse authors) has led to tokenization of people of color in literature. It is so so important to realize that people of color aren't just a change of skin, but have different experiences all together.

What were your thoughts? Comment below!

If you want to get more involved with the Write Inclusively campaign and be up-to-date with it, sign up for the newsletter. We do not email much - in the last 11 months, only two emails have gone out.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Should the Privileged Write From the Marginalized's Perspective?

I got an email a while back from an author concerning a topic that has been quite prominent in writing circles today: Should white authors write people of color narratives?

I don't have the answer, mostly because I do not speak for anyone other than myself. I'm not going to give my opinion, either, because I know  people will assume I do speak for more people -- even if I say many times that I only speak for me. So, this is a discussion for you.

Here's the letter:
Hey there,

I found your blog through a Twitter rabbit hole that started with @tehawesomersace feed. She linked to some important pieces about the need for diverse writing but how we need to de-center whiteness in this discussion, which I get and agree with. Here's my problem though. I'm white, mostly (my father is mixed race with non-African American heritage, but I look white and benefit from its privileges.) I'm also a writer who has found that my passion for stories is two-fold; 1) YA characters and genre, and 2) Books that are based on real events that deal with heavy issues. My first novel is currently in the query process and was inspired by a story I read in the news about a religious fundamentalist family. And the idea I want to pursue for my 2nd book is based on this news story about a small town that of last year STILL had a segregated prom. 
So the reason I'm writing you is, before I start, I want to get the opinion from a few writers of color if me pursuing this novel is something a white writer can do well. I've been outlining/writing character profiles while I decide, and I plan to make the MC a black student who moves to the town from a bigger city, to help her father care for her ailing grandmother. She'll befriend a white student and convince her to help her fight to desegregate the prom. The "best friend" will be white, and the protagonist will be black. It will not be a white savior story. I also plan to be very, very careful and do a ton of research to make sure the MC isn't a) basically a white character that I claim is black or 2) a conglomeration of stereotypes. I'll also make sure to have as many POC beta readers as possible, prior to trying to get it published, should I get that far. 
I should also clarify that I'm not just a white writer who wants to tell a story with black characters because it's a good story, or because I want to be "inclusive." I'm someone who is extremely passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement, pretty much since it started, and has worked hard to educate myself on how to be a better ally to POC. I read POC, I follow activists on Twitter, I try to educate my white peers on ways their thinking/speaking is problematic, I'm a Ta-Nehisi Coates fan-girl, you get the idea. Black Lives very much matter to me and I want to honor them in my writing. 
Basically, I want this story told. If I knew that a black YA writer was already telling it or working on it, I'd drop it immediately, because I wouldn't want my work to overshadow theirs, as their perspective would almost certainly be superior. But if no writer of color (that I can find) is interested in telling this story, do you think it's possible for me to do it, in a respectful and powerful way? I've been ruminating on this question for about a week, and it's keeping me from starting it. I figured it couldn't hurt to ask someone else whose perspective I value. 
Anyways, thanks for your site, and for being open for questions and interactions. I'm glad you're a resource for writers like me. 
- Anonymous

Here are some points I have that hopefully lay a platform for the discussion (and please discuss in the comments).

  •  A fiction writer's job is inherently to express and convey realities outside their own realities.
  • But this gets troublesome when a person writes from a privileged position (for example, non-black people writing about black people).
  • Writers do not exist in a vacuum outside of society, and neither does their work. Writers' actions have an impact on society, whether for positive or negative.
  • I'd like to push back on the idea of "If we get a lot of beta readers of color!" If you have 16 people of color read your novel, it still doesn't guarantee that your book with a character of color is "okay". People of color are people, not magical "Not Racist" stamp-givers. The onus is on you to be responsible for your own book. 
  • Your beta readers of color are probably not going to share your royalties. There is very little you can give them in exchange for what they can give you. Seeking betas of color is a messy business. You don't exist outside a power vacuum.
  • A book concerning race written by a white person is almost guaranteed to be of lesser quality than a book on race written by a person of color. Yet, these books will be promoted, propped up, and celebrated more than books written by people of color.
  • People have written from the perspective of characters with marginalized identities well before. It is very rare, but it happens. (I am thinking of Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun.)
  • ^This is very rare.
  • Books concerning race written by white people are allowed to have a few mistakes because "how would they know otherwise?" Meanwhile, all books written by all people of color (and especially Black and Latinx people, and even more, women of color) are expected to reach a much. higher. standard and even then, will not get the praise they deserve.
  • Writing from a position of privilege about marginalized people is almost, by definition, cultural appropriation (since you will get the royalty money/fame/recognition). 
  • Can this be avoided/done justly? 
This is what I mean when I say writing and publishing doesn't exist in a vacuum outside the racist systems in the USA today. Things. get. complicated.

Disclaimer: the above letter discussed only race as a marginalized identity. I'd like to open up this conversation to writing about all marginalized identities, centered on people of color with intersecting marginalized identities (because, you know, there are queer, disabled, low-income, women, trans people of color too).

So this is a discussion for you. What's the point of this discussion? Not answers, because I doubt we'll come to an answer. The purpose is to centralize this discussion in one forum to make a resource for writers wanting to learn more about this. Ultimately, each writer by themselves will make their own decision about their books' substance.

Here's a list of things I'd like you to follow as you write and discuss:
  1. Take Space, Make Space. If you have lived experience with a marginalized identities, you are encouraged to take up space in this discussion thread. If you don't, you are encouraged to listen, ask questions (please do!), and not expect answers.
  2. What Do We Need From Allyship? Writers with marginalized identities: this is a space to make your demands. What do we expect out of allyship? What can writers with privileged identities do to help us out? (I think we can expect more than simply buying/promoting our books, which is literally the bare minimum to be considered "not racist". Because if they weren't buying/promoting our books in the first know what I mean?)
  3. Share Yourself, For Yourself. I'm talking to writers with marginalized identities: you are not obligated to partake in this discussion. I do hope you do (because I want to make this a space for our empowerment) but share yourself only for yourself, only if it empowers you. You can drop out any time, pick up any time.
  4. Use "I" Statements. We all speak only for ourselves. Make sure that is reflected in the way we discuss. For example, instead of saying, "Apple pie is awesome," say instead, "I think apple pie is awesome."
  5. Listen, ask respectful questions. This is for writers discussing marginalized identities they don't hold. Writers with these identities should take up the most space, and others should listen, ask for clarification, and not speak over them. This doesn't mean go silent - this is a discussion, and it'd be so so awesome to see a ton of comments being generated! Start off by asking questions (but please don't expect writers with marginalized identities to console or comfort you).
  6. Self-educate. The writers with marginalized identities that will partake in this discussion do not have to teach. First use Google with your questions. If you still are confused, feel free to ask, but don't expect an answer. These are tough issues. If they all had answers, we'd be in a much better place.
This is the first #WriteInclusively discussion. So please: Discuss! 

If you would like to stay updated on Write Inclusively (I'm in the process of building a platform from which we can do activist work), please subscribe. The subscription form is at the bottom of this link. I rarely ever email!

**I reserve the right to delete comments if they get hateful. It's up to my discretion (but honestly, I won't do it often).**

**this space is unapologetically centered on writers of color and writers with marginalized identities**

**like, it may seem like it, but I honestly don't have an answer/opinion that I believe in because this is a hard topic, please trust me**

Friday, October 23, 2015

B R Sanders: "My Stories Will Be Intersectional Or They Won’t Be Worth Writing"

We have another Write Inclusively guest post in store!!!!

I'm really excited by this one - it involves intersectionality. This is basically the idea that many people can/do have multiple marginalized identities. For example: a Black gay woman. These three types of oppression (racism, sexism, and heterosexism) can not be separated from each other to describe this woman's life; her sexism is informed by racism, vice versa, and including heterosexism.

Take it away!


When I pick up a book, I don’t expect to see myself reflected. I’ve been an avid reader literally as long as I can remember--I taught myself to read at three--but between being genderqueer and growing up poor and grappling with mental disabilities portrayals of people like me in literature are practically nonexistent. I see myself written in piecemeal: here is a character with a classed existence to which I can relate. Here is a genderqueer character with a fluidity like my own. Here is someone whose constellation of mental demons echoes mine. But they never come together.

This summer, the New York Times was rightly called out for publishing a recommended reading list that was entirely penned by White people. This is, after all, an ecosphere in which the We Need Diverse Books campaign has gotten impressive media coverage. But it is still an ecosphere where the Sad and Rabid Puppies, feeling that diversity had gotten out of control, tried to stage a heist on the Hugo Awards in the name of setting things right for cishet White men everywhere. It is still an ecosphere where one particularly entitled white man appropriated his Asian classmates identity in order to give his poem what he perceives to be an extra edge.

Too often in writing social power (i.e. privilege) is presented as a zero-sum game. This is a side-effect of tokenism--oh, look, I included a Black character! There you go! My book is diverse! But this ticking-off-the-boxes diversity is not what makes a book good. That’s just surface diversity. Nowhere is there an acknowledgement of the sheer breadth of the multifaceted nature of the Black community: that Black men and Black women experience the world differently, that Black queer people exist, period, that Blackness may intersect with ability status in unique ways. When we, as writers, do not dig into these complexities we are failing our readers. We are not doing our homework.

It is key to realize that no one group is homogenous--not all genderqueers are like me. I don’t speak for all of us. Not everyone was poor the same way I was growing up. Life plays out at the intersections of identities. Drama occurs at the fractious tensions between our privileges and marginalities. It is easy to write a simplified character—one who is marginalized along just one axis—but to do so flattens the richness and tensions of most people’s real lives. To do so would be to flatten the richness and tension of my own life. As a writer, it’s important to me to push through that, to articulate characters who live and breathe and struggle at the intersections. To do otherwise would be a disservice to a reader who exists in this web of identities, some person who, like me, has long been rendered invisible by the general body of literature.

I write fantasy novels. That in itself has the potential to be a radical act, which is one reason why I write them. I love the radical potential of speculative fiction to portray the world as we would like it to be. As we could imagine it to be. What would it be like if we dismantled the oppressive structures we suffered under? How would we do that? What would we erect in their place, and how might they accidentally go awry? What would a society with a wildly inclusive understanding of gender look like—one where all gender expressions and identities are validated? How would that shape the way families form? How would that change the way children are raised? These are the kinds of questions fantasy and science fiction can tackle. But only if we are brave enough to ask these questions to begin with.

As I write my own stories, I strive to be as intersectional in crafting my characters as possible. There is no true diversity without intersectionality. There is no veracity without intersectional characters who inhabit (messily, simultaneously) spaces of both privilege and marginalization along different societal axes.

I hope that by writing with an intentional focus on intersections that readers at multiple points of marginality might pick up a book and feel, for once, seen. Acknowledged. Humanized instead of Othered. That’s the power that art and literature has--to be inclusive, to recognize others, to create community. My hope is to do that for someone, and one day, for someone to do that for me.

B R Sanders

Pronouns: they/them/their. B R Sanders is a white, genderqueer writer who lives and works in Denver, CO, with their family and two cats. B’s latest novel, Ariah, is about queer elves carving out lives of their own in a hostile culture. B’s previous novel, Resistance, is about lesbian elves overthrowing a city. They write about queer elves a lot. Stay in touch with B with their newsletter, their blog, or on twitter.

Thank you thank you so much!!! Make sure to Tweet them, share this post around, and comment in the section below.

If you want to get more involved with the Write Inclusively campaign and be up-to-date with it, sign up for the newsletter. We do not email much - in the last 11 months, only two emails have gone out.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Indigenous Peoples' Day - Sign This Petition

It is October 12th, federally celebrated as "Columbus Day." But on this blog, in this sphere, it is going to be celebrated as "Indigenous Peoples' Day." Nine cities have already made the name change, and it's time to make it federal

This post will be long, but important. So buckle down, and get reading!

(The apostrophe placement in "Peoples'" is important to note. There is no one indigenous "people" because there are hundreds, if not thousands of individual tribes. It is more accurate to say "peoples" when describing them. Putting them into one group erases their distinct cultures and enacts violence through stereotyping and marginalization.)

Reconsider Columbus Day

*Trigger warning: facts of Native and indigenous peoples' genocide and the brutalities committed against them in the past, by Christopher Columbus specifically, and in the present*

I'm not going to spend much time in this section because this day is a celebration of Native and indigenous people. This day is also a celebration of their past and ongoing resistances. So: one must know why they resist.

Columbus should not be celebrated, and no day should be his namesake. He was, by all accounts (except of those who promote colonial and race-based oppression), a horrific man.

As Native American Netroots asserts in "Christopher Columbus & His Crimes Against Humanity" (please click and read the entire article):
"Greed for gold, capitalistic greed through the potential of wealth through the slave trade, and the religious beliefs of Apocalyptic Christianity were three primary motivations Columbus had for setting sail...."
Christopher Columbus kidnapped Taino people, taking their kindness for weakness. He raped and murdered Native peoples and asked the governor of Hispaniola to cut off the noses and ears of Native peoples resisting slavery.

His journal reveals the satanity of his character, with lines such as: "They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” And: “As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts."

Christopher Columbus, through his attempts at enslaving Native peoples, set up the preemptive framework for the African slave trade. Natives were used to gather gold and if they couldn't find enough, their hands would be cut off or they would be killed.

It is estimated that 100 million (yes, one hundred) Native and indigenous peoples in South, Central, and North America died at the hands of European invaders and diseases.

In modern times:

Brutalities against indigenous peoples have not ended. The stealing and desecrating of Native and indigenous land continues to this day.

These are the facts. I can go on, but I won't. Educate yourselves and understand the brutality that this man enacted upon millions and millions of peoples, being the catalyst for the largest genocide in all of human history, and being the catalyst for ongoing oppression.

*end trigger warning*

I want to take this next section to talk about Popé and how amazing he was, his iconic rope, and his legendary story. I get excited just hearing about him.

From Matthew Martinez and Ohkay Owingeh:
Popé is revered as the leader of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Pueblo scholars refer to him as the one who carried out the first successful American revolution against a foreign colonial power, Spain. Popé (Ripe Pumpkin) was from Ohkay Owingeh (known today as San Juan Pueblo) and, as best can be determined, was born around 1630. Little is known about the upbringing of Popé. Though, there is no reason to believe he did not grow up like any other Pueblo Indian boy of his time who strictly followed the customs of his community. Religion was inextricably woven into the pattern of pueblo life. Young Pueblo boys were taught the ways of being and becoming a young man both in a secular sense and through a religious understanding. 
Popé’s presence was first recorded in 1675 when he and 47 other Pueblo men were prosecuted and indicted in Santa Fe for the alleged practice of sorcery. As a result of the trial, four men were sentenced to hanging. The remaining men were rounded up and publicly condemned to lashings and imprisonment. The Pueblo villages sent a delegation to Santa Fe to protest this treatment and threaten war. Fearful for his life, Governor Juan Francisco de Treviño released the prisoners and allowed them to return home. Upon being released, the Pueblo captives were told to give up their idolatry and iniquitous ways. This was a time of intense hardship for Pueblo people under the Spanish regime. Popé grew up seeing his people forced into the Spanish repartimiento system. Under this system Pueblo people served as slave labor and were required to provide food and supplies to the Spaniards. 
Pueblo scholar Joe Sando writes that the Spaniards constantly harassed religious leaders and that a Tewa kiva was filled with sand so the people could not hold their nightly dances. In Pueblo thought and culture, when religion is suppressed, the natural order of life is disrupted. Suppression of religion, according to Pueblo worldview, means a threat to the livelihood of the people 
It was against this background that Popé and other Tewa war captains began discussing what might be done to rid the country side of the invaders. Several Pueblo leaders gathered in Taos Pueblo to plan the Revolt. Popé emerged as a key organizer. It is suggested that he was an important individual because he had access to the inner religious circles of Taos Pueblo. It took a unique individual to orchestrate the Revolt across two dozen communities who spoke six different languages and were sprawled over a distance of nearly 400 miles - from Taos at one end to Hopi villages at the other. Pueblo people were prohibited from using horses. Moreover, during Spanish rule they were not allowed to use guns of any kind. 
Pueblo people come from a running culture. It is no surprise that Popé and his followers agreed that runners would be sent to each of the pueblos. The runners carried a deerskin strip tied with knots. Each knot represented the number of days remaining before the campaign against the Spanish would begin. Each morning at every pueblo a knot would be untied. When all the knots were untied, the uprising was to begin in all of the pueblos. This plan almost failed because several sympathizers notified the Spanish of the plan. Thus, the revolt began two days early and, on August 10, 1680, the Spanish were caught
by surprise. They retreated to Santa Fe and were eventually overpowered by a large number of Pueblo warriors.

On May 21, 2005, after a long struggle, the unveiling of the Popé statue for the National Statutory Hall took place at Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo). This unveiling was in remembrance of the event that took place in 1680. Popé was the earliest individual to be honored in the collection of the U.S. Capitol. Cliff Fragua (Jemez Pueblo) was the first American Indian artist to sculpt a statue for the Statutory Hall. Popé joins the figure of the late Senator Dennis Chavez as New Mexico’s two contributions to the U.S. Capitol. The addition of Popé to the National Statutory Hall completes the group of 50 individuals chosen to represent the United States.

In the seven and a half foot marble rendition, Popé holds a knotted cord in his left hand, which was used to determine when the Pueblo revolt would begin. He holds a bear fetish in his right hand which symbolizes the center of the Pueblo world and religion. There is a pot behind Popé, which signifies Pueblo culture. The deerskin he is wearing is a symbol of his status. The shell necklace that he is wearing is a reminder of where life begins. Popé wears Pueblo moccasins and his hair is bound in a traditional Pueblo style. On his back are the scars that remain from the whipping he received for his participation and faith in Pueblo ceremonies and religion. Herman Agoyo, San Juan Pueblo, succinctly states the following about the importance of Popé:

“To the Pueblo people here, Popé is our hero. Tribes were on the verge of losing their cultural identity when the Pueblo Revolt brought everything back on track for our people.”
This is just one story. One person, from one tribe, amongst the hundreds and thousands of tribes and millions of Native and indigenous peoples. Queer Natives, women Natives, so many other Natives who haven't been in the spotlight (did you know some Native and indigenous peoples had a Two-Spirit term to identify non-binary peoples in their community? By non-binary, I mean people with genders that can't be described as either male or female). Please take this time and this day, especially, to learn about indigenous history, indigenous peoples, and their stories. Revolt against Columbus in your own minds.

If you are non-Native/indigenous and live on Native/indigenous land, consider what that means, and critically consider what part you (we) have to play in this oppression. How have we benefited? We play a role. Use this knowledge as an incentive for action.

Their stories, their existence, their fight, and their celebration exists to this day, from their protests of Pope Francis's canonization of a genocidal Catholic priest, to their fight for the sovereignty of their lands.

I haven't written about the individual cultures outside of resistance. It is not my place to "share" these cultures, given that I am not Native/indigenous, and given the violence of cultural appropriation that occurs to this day. Those "sexy Pocahontas" costumes you see perpetuate violence against Native peoples. According to Amnesty International:
Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the USA. Some Indigenous women interviewed by Amnesty International said they didn't know anyone in their community who had not experienced sexual violence. Though rape is always an act of violence, there is evidence that Indigenous women are more likely than other women to suffer additional violence at the hands of their attackers. According to the US Department of Justice, in at least 86 per cent of the reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women, survivors report that the perpetrators are non-Native men. (emphasis, mine)
Yea. So if you see your child, your friend, of you wanting to dress up as a Native for Halloween, STOP YOURSELF, STOP THEM. Enact allyship: stop them, and make complaints to any store you see that sell these costumes. The costumes promote the rape of Native women (and Native men aren't doing most of the raping...the fetishization of Native culture and women lead to race-based violence).

That's why I don't want to talk about individual Native and indigenous cultures. These cultures are not mine to share, and sharing them might perpetuate cultural appropriation and violence.

Well, I can't say Happy Indigenous Peoples' Day - yet. Hopefully that day is coming soon. Sign on to this We the People petitionlet's get this name changed. Doing so will lead to educational initiatives in our schools, and in mass media, about Native and indigenous peoples, their histories, and their ongoing movements.

What are your thoughts? Share them in the comments below. And please, sign, share, and spread the petition! If we get 100,000 signatures, we are guaranteed a response from the federal government. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hidden Voices: How Being a Teen in the At-Risk School System Almost Silenced Me

We've got another #WriteInclusively guest post. It's incredible. Buckle down, you all. Take it away, Kara.
Education is important. We spent a good amount of our lives in some type of school or class and then still learn long after we’ve grasped that shiny diploma and thrown our cap in the air. We learn not just about math, science, art, and history, but also social interaction, self-image, and confidence. We are held to standards (whether that be getting A’s, behaving in class, or getting on the basketball team) and expectations (going to college, graduating with honors, getting that scholarship) that can shape the way we think and we feel.

I went to a high school for at-risk kids.

There were a lot of us thrown in there by the public school systems that didn’t want to take the time or the effort to help us through whatever problem we were having. There were a lot of problems. Many kids grew up in bad families, in bad neighborhoods, in gangs. Others were children of illegal immigrants or young, single mothers who lived under the poverty level or were even drug addicts. Some of us, like me, had autism or other “emotional and/or behavioral disturbances” and the public school system decided that it would be easier to send them away than tailor to their special needs. We were a potpourri of different races, genders, sexualities, backgrounds. You name it.

The school system didn’t want to deal with us; honestly, they probably didn’t have the budget to. But neither did the at-risk system we went into. It’s advertised by concerned social workers as a place where you can be accommodated to your needs; in reality, we all were blurred together. To them, our problems were all the same, our stories were all similar, and our voices all didn’t matter.

Many of our voices were silenced in that school.

In a normal high school, you probably expect the textbooks to be up-to-date, the classes to be adequately challenging, and the teachers to have a degree in their area of expertise. We didn’t have that. Our textbooks (if we had them) were fifteen years old, the classes were dumbed down to the point where I was learning fifth grade level English and Math in twelve grade, and our teachers only had special education degrees and no outside education on the subjects they taught. As I quickly found out, those teachers could get nasty if you happened to know more on a subject than they did. I was personally removed from class, mocked by teachers, and set up by myself because I corrected my teachers when their facts on government, or literature, or even math, my worst subject, were wrong. When I asked my counselor at the school why my teachers seemed to hate me, she said: “It’s not that they hate you; you just intimidate them. You’re smarter than them and they don’t like it. That’s not how it’s supposed to work here.”

But, while that was a factor in our silent voices, you may be surprised to know that it wasn’t the main reason for the silence.

There was a terrible secret about that school all of us students knew: You were expected to fail. In a normal school, if you hit below a certain level of grades, you might be put on academic probation, you might be talked to by a counselor. In this school, none of the above happened. No one cared. The main mindset was that we were a group of future dropouts, criminals, and leeches on society that they had to watch. We weren’t going to go anywhere.

When we filed into school, going through a security system similar to the ones you’d find at an airport, they didn’t see us as human students. They saw us as statistics. They saw the black criminal and the white drug addict. They saw the violent teenage boy and the emotional teenage girl. They saw the pregnant whore and the gangbanger father. The illegal immigrant and the child of a family that couldn’t afford the cat-food they called lunch. And slowly, we began to conform to those statistics. Because when someone says you’re broken, or stupid, or dangerous, or irredeemable enough times, you begin to believe it. Slowly, we were molded into the mindset they had for us. Our voices, once loud, were getting softer and softer.

We were told not to expect college. We were pressured to attempt workshops that specialized in getting us “experience” that had many of us working half the school day at odd jobs for no pay instead of attending classes we “didn’t need”. Behind our backs the teachers and aides would make comments on the kids; how they would never go anywhere. They would mock the turbulent relationships the students formed with each other. We were compared to dogs doing tricks for treats when we behaved.

The environment of belittlement and negativity that surrounds at-risk children is dangerous. It cuts off many voices that don’t fit the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Heterosexual Rich Male ideal. It makes us, the victims, feel like our stories are not important because why would anyone want to listen to us if we are just going to fail? Many of us internalize the negativity until we truly believe our stories are not worth anything.

But they are.

We were a diverse, living, feeling group of teenagers whose stories were shocking, terrifying, and maybe even heartwarming. There are thousands of us in your towns and cities whose experiences are as different as snowflakes and like snowflakes, are looked over when spread apart, but unable to ignore when banded together.

This problem goes deeper than schools and teachers, it goes deeper than report cards and minimum wage jobs; it goes deep into the norms and constructs of our society where a single role and stereotype is held as the be-all, end-all. These social constructs that teach us that because we are from problem backgrounds we are unclean, unwanted, and undeserving feed into an endless cycle that perpetuates the feelings of inadequacy and our often violent lives.

Look closer at us and you’ll see that the “black criminal” is actually incredibly smart and wants to be an engineer, the “white drug addict” has abusive parents and trust issues that he covers up with weed and pills, the “violent teenage boy” was terrified because he was about to leave the school he’d come to rely on, the “emotional teenage girl” had autism and could write wonders onto a page, and the “pregnant whore” resolved to be a better mother than her own while the “gangbanger father” that impregnated her was risking his life to escape his gang and take care of his new family.

Before we learn to #WriteInclusively, we must also learn to #ThinkInclusively about others and ourselves. We must not negate the importance of our own stories or fall prey to a society that waves away uncomfortable, unsettling viewpoints as “something we don’t talk about.” We must learn to see the worth in every story. Especially those that tend to go unheard. Many of the voices from my school are silent now; I don’t know what happened to the kids I’ve been around for so long. Honestly, I don’t think their stories are any brighter than mine is. But right now, I’m the one talking. That needs to change. We need to realize that everyone’s voice deserves to be heard, whatever the expectations put in place. Those expectations must always be defied.

Kara Barbieri is a nineteen-year-old graduate from the Illinois at-risk school system and a Sociology major at her local community college. She is currently seeking representation and enjoys writing about kickass pirate queens, huntresses, and other diverse, complex women. She has Autism, likes goats, and can write wonders onto pages. She can be found on twitter at @Kara_Barbieri.

Kara is one of my close friends, an incredible person. I'm so so happy to have her on this blog. THANK YOU so much for sharing your story.

Everyone: PLEASE comment and discuss. Share this on Twitter. Thank/talk to her on Twitter. Be sure to engage and discuss, that is one of #WriteInclusively's main goals. What did you think?

If you want to get more involved with the Write Inclusively campaign and be up-to-date with it, sign up for the newsletter. We do not email much - in the last 10 months, only two emails have gone out.


Friday, September 25, 2015

The Need for Real, Honest Diverse Books: A South Asian Perspective

A WRITE INCLUSIVELY GUEST BLOG POST IS HERE!!!!! The fantastic Meghana Ranganathan is here to speak. Take it away!


In fifth grade, my history classes focused on ancient Rome and Greece. In sixth grade, we learned about medieval and renaissance Europe. In seventh grade, we learned about United States history. Ninth and tenth grade, we learned about Europe and the United States in the 20th Century. After that, we no longer were required to take history classes.

Six years of history, and we spent one year on the Eastern half of the world. In one year, we jammed the entire continent of Africa, and China and India into nine months. And of that year, we spent most of the time discussing what those countries were like after colonialism. Our few months of learning about India were based on how the British affected India. Because these countries needed the presence of white people to make their history relevant enough to teach in a typical school.

Looking towards college, I wanted nothing more than to break out of this cycle of focusing on the West and learn something – ANYTHING – about some other part of the world. I was so looking forward to learning the history of my ancestors – India – as well as the histories of South America, more about Africa, and Southeast Asia. I’m currently in college and out of about 80 history classes, 17 are based in countries that aren’t in Europe or North America. And from those, only 6 are about the country before colonialism.

Now, I’m not trying to write off these classes or the importance of knowing the history of the West. To be fair, a fair amount of those college classes were about the experience of minority groups in America over the last century, which is really important stuff. But those numbers just show the gaping hole we have in our education system. I’m set to graduate college in two years, and yet I can say that I know absolutely nothing about South America. Literally nothing. I haven’t sat in on one lecture or one day in school where we’ve talked about the history of South America. I can’t tell you much anything about Southeast Asia, the vast majority of Africa (though I can point to the countries and name them), and all of Asia except China and India. It’s embarrassing.

#WriteInclusively means so much to me because books and movies are the way that I learn about the experiences of people from all over the world and the way that I spread knowledge about my experiences as a South Asian female and my family’s experiences. And it’s so important to have those experiences be real and true, otherwise it’s functionally the same as teaching incorrect history, or the wrong formula for the quadratic equation. It gives an incorrect vision of the world and the people that make up the world.

And yet, this happens all the time. For me as a South Asian, I pay particular attention whenever Hollywood comes out with a movie set in India, or whenever a book about India or Indian people comes out. But as I’ve come to realize, most of these movies and books end up being about white people experiencing India, not Indians sharing their experiences (e.g. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Outsourced). There are exceptions, but I remember my first picture book about India when I was little got me so excited in the bookstore, because it was a book about someone like me. I took it home and opened it, only to find it be about a white girl going to India on vacation and her experiences. If that’s the only perspective people get on India, it creates stereotypes. Like India being this crazy country that white people have to struggle to navigate. Some part of that stereotype is true (driving in a car in India is horrifying), but we need more depth in media. I remember my mom getting so excited whenever she saw an Indian person on a television show, only to have that character be a silly stereotype of a nerdy guy with a “funny” accent who smells like curry.

The intention for my writing is to show people another side of India and the Indian people. To show people the amazing villages, the strong people who fought for Independence many decades ago, Akbar the Great and his rule over India in the 1500s, to explain the experience of a second-generation Indian female living in the United States. My parents grew up in the United States, so I’ve been called “basically white”, “whitewashed”, “only Indian by blood” and told by other South Asians that it would “do me good to take a class on India.” I grew up thinking I was the only one to experience that. In fact, I still haven’t met another second-generation person of color with whom I can share that with. I want the things that I write to tell other second-generation people of color growing up that they’re not alone, and that no one can tell them what they identify with.

And I want to learn about other identities and other countries through others’ writing. I want that to be my continuing education, and I can only do that when we support those writers who are brave enough to tell their stories and tell the stories of their countries. I will continue to support #WriteInclusively in hopes that these amazing stories start showing up on bookshelves.


Meghana Ranganathan is a writer and a student specializing in applied mathematics. She is passionate about writing important stories from new perspectives and spreading facts about science issues like vaccines, climate change, and evolution. She runs a science blog dedicated to discussing the science behind these issues and others.

Things she thinks are genius: Jurassic Park (the book), Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, Dollhouse, cheesecake, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, apple cider, the humor in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gus and Shawn’s relationship in Psych, most M.I.A. songs, the combinations of spices in Indian food. She strives to come up with something about a quarter as amazing as most of these things.

Follow/tweet her on Twitter and visit her blog!!!!

Thank you so much for being a guest blogger!! As an Indian American myself, I can relate so well to what you have brought up.

Some of my favorite quotes:

1. "And it’s so important to have those experiences be real and true, otherwise it’s functionally the same as teaching incorrect history, or the wrong formula for the quadratic equation. It gives an incorrect vision of the world and the people that make up the world."

2. "But as I’ve come to realize, most of these movies and books end up being about white people experiencing India, not Indians sharing their experiences."

3. "But those numbers just show the gaping hole we have in our education system."\

4. "Because these countries needed the presence of white people to make their history relevant enough to teach in a typical school."

Writers: what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments. And be sure to tweet and share this post. If you want to possibly be a guest blogger, email me.

If you want to get more involved with the Write Inclusively campaign and be up-to-date with it, sign up for the newsletter. We do not email much - in the last 10 months, only two emails have gone out.



Friday, September 18, 2015


****The Write Inclusively Contest for unapologetically diverse novels is OPEN!!!***

Agents/editors will be dropping by until Sunday to make requests. Some will be coming after, but don't worry; I'll email you to let you know if you get a request after Sunday.

Comments section open only to agents/editors making requests!

Ninja agents are welcome! Even if you are not on this awesome list of agents/editors that are participating, if you want to make a request, drop a comment!

 If I made a formatting, editing, any mistake on your entry, drop me a Tweet or an email. I'll fix it as soon as I can. Any questions? Ask below.

TWEET AWAY!! #WriteInclusively is where the party is at!!! Prompt: "Are you excited?!?!?!"

WI #20 - THE CAMBRIDGE CLUB, Adult Thriller

Word Count: 99K
Genre: Adult Thriller

System of Oppression:
Author Identity: Middle Class


Devon Wang is a MIT student with a supercomputer for a brain. She’s also a member of the most elite gentlemen’s club in Boston. When bodies start piling up around the Cambridge area, and fingers start pointing back in Devon's direction, there’s not a book in sight that can get her out of her mess.

Born into a life of prostitution, Devon financially supports her siblings so they won’t face the same ill-fated lifestyle that’s been passed down in her family for decades. But when Devon flees from her troubles in Boston, she’s horrified to find out things are much worse at home. Her sisters are missing, and sources on the street lead to a dangerous biker gang notorious for child trafficking.

Devon is distraught, but refuses to give up. She has a plan to rescue her sisters, until a Boston cop, Michael Cooper, tracks her down in her sister's Queens, New York apartment, offering to help her in exchange for testimony in court against the gentlemen’s club. Devon’s skeptical of Michael’s motives after he reveals his romantic involvement with one of the women linked to the club. With all of Devon’s street smarts and book smarts, she can’t figure this guy out. She just hopes she can solve the equation and save her sisters before it’s too late.

First 250:

I never looked at their faces, because they were always easier to forget that way. His whiskey breath and soiled laundry smell wouldn’t be as easy to dismiss, alcohol and filth rising up to greet me with every motion. This one didn’t move the entire time I rode his lap. I focused on the wall over his head. Hanging there was a broken crucifix and a paint-chipped Jesus.

After he was finished, I quickly slipped on my black wrap dress, the silky fabric chilling me to the bone. The chill wasn’t from trading the sweat off one man’s back for some cash so my siblings and I could eat—that was my everyday. It was the foreboding feeling in my belly that something else bitter and dark was coming for us.

I carefully strapped my holstered knife back around my thigh and slipped on my knee-high boots. The tens and fives were wet and bundled at my feet in a wormy rubber band.

“Ugh,” my customer grunted, rather than spoke, as if the very act of tossing the wad of bills at my feet had been taxing to him. He pointed to the door, so I slammed it in his face as I exited.

An icy rain began to pelt. The drop in temperature and bruised-colored clouds had been threatening to downpour all day. It was time for me to get out of there, but something stopped me.

WI #19 - THE PERFECT WIFE, Women’s Historical Fiction

Word Count: 70,000
Genre: Women’s Historical Fiction

Systems of Oppression: racism, sexism
Author’s Identity: South Asian female


Shanta Deshpande grew up sheltered. Her father, a high-ranking officer for the British, protected her from any unpleasantness exposed by politics and ensured that she had an idyllic childhood. Thus, her desire in life was simple: find a husband to love and take care of her.

Gandhi’s declaration of India’s independence and the onset of World War II shatters these dreams. Shanta starts to face an unhappy reality: she notices the disgust in the voices of the British when they talk about Indians and she sees Indian protests turn violent. “Put your country before all else” becomes the Freedom Fighters’ mantra, and her husband does so. He quits his job and leaves her, with two children and little life experience, to work with Gandhi. As the British fight for their occupation and the Indian men fight for India’s freedom, she finds herself left with no one to fight for her. Without income, her family, or a precedent of female independence, Shanta is forced to find in herself a protector and provider to survive in a way she never thought she would: on her own.

THE PERFECT WIFE is the story of a woman’s personal fight for independence in the midst of a broader struggle. This story is particularly important to me because it is heavily based on the life of my great-grandmother. It tells a well-known story, that of the freedom movement in India, from a new perspective of the wives of the men who fought for their country.

First 250:

Bangalore, India 1939

On April 3rd, Mahatma Gandhi began a three-day fast in protest of British rule and this had very little impact on Shanta. She spent those three days wandering the town with her little sister, Mangala, collecting snacks from street food vendors and playing games. Shanta paid no notice to the whisperings in the streets, the concerned faces among her neighbors, and urgent discussions between her father and British visitors. She easily dismissed these anomalies, as they did not pertain to her. More important decisions lay ahead for her.

Her father, J. Deshpande, honorary Deputy Commissioner in Bangalore, leaned back on his elbows, resting on the long arms of the dark rosewood planter’s chair, his hands folded over his belly, and pondered a significant marriage proposal. Shanta trusted Appa to choose a man for her - a man like him, with a delicate balance of frivolity and practicality and an abundance of kindness and generosity.

Shanta peered into the drawing room, where Appa sat near a grand wooden desk piled high with papers and statue of Ganesh peeking out from the corner, delicately close to the edge but never having fallen off. The rest of the room looked like an intellect’s heaven; the walls were all dark with wooden bookshelves built into them, full of books, paperbound with the stitching pulled tight on the spine and Shanta was sure that Appa had read them all. She used to stare up at them as a child and wonder if she could read them all too, one day.

WI #18 - A LINGERING SORT OF MAGIC, Adult Historical Fiction

Word Count: 90,000
Genre: Adult Literary Historical Fiction

Systems of Oppression: Homophobia, Classism
Author's Identity: [removed]


For twenty-year-old Mason Elliot, the wedding between his twin sister Melissa and Thomas Grady, the mechanic's son, is nothing more than an annoyance. To their small English town, it's a momentary reprieve from the Second World War that has drafted so many of its young men.

And while Mason is excused from war, thanks to his father’s clout and reading medicine at Cambridge University, getting out of his sister’s wedding is another story. Helping Thomas finalize last minute details seems a waste of his time, until a series of events leads to a brief dalliance in the barn with his sister's husband-to-be.

Desperate to keep their confusing and accidental moment a secret, Mason and Thomas go their separate ways, never to speak of the incident again. But even though both boys never speak again, the lingering effects of that moment in the barn shift their trajectory for years to come. And not only changes their own lives, but the lives and their relationships with every person they touch, in ways no one could imagine.

Following Mason and Thomas' life through alternating perspectives, A LINGERING FORM OF MAGIC intertwines a story of class, secrets, and repressed homosexuality with the chaos and carnage of WWII.

First 250:

The manor—which lived its previous lives as a plantation with just as many mysteries and sins as it had overly ornate rooms—was nothing less than gargantuan. Its size gave off an inaccurate assumption. An assumption that the manor was a labyrinth so complex even the Minotaur himself would need a ball of yarn. But Mason Elliot had learned at a young age that the building should be more accurately described as stout, rather than sinewy.

Until the day he died, he would remind his parents what a poor investment such a building was. It didn’t even provide good alcoves for him to hide. How selfish of it.

But Mason was resourceful, if not anything else. From the age of five he meticulously examined the blueprints of the building, mapping out all possible nooks and crannies, and used his eagle eye to justify scrutinizing any possibly hiding place with a physical visit. Settling on his own microcosm of tranquility wasn’t an easy feat, one he would neither rush, nor compromise on. It was why even now, fifteen years later, living in the same house—living in the same room he had imprinted on years ago---he decided to smoke his blunt against the rust strangled truck in the backyard, rather than somewhere more private.

Each sweet drag of grapefruit laced smoke calmed him in a way nothing else could. Nothing besides a deafening silence, perhaps. That might be a more healthy solution to calming the constant knuckle rapping against his frontal lobe.

WI #17 - HAPPILY EVER AFTER, Adult Fantasy

Word Count: 101,000
Genre: Adult Fantasy

System(s) of Oppression: Sexism, homophobia
Author's Identity: Female, [removed]


Lavie Streaver has many identities: castle troublemaker, reluctant bride, knight. When the war she started ends with her enemy’s unexpected surrender, Lavie obtains a new role: Hero.

But while the kingdom is at peace, Lavie struggles. She panics in crowds, she sleeps on the floor rather than a bed, and every day brings her closer to losing her temper and drawing her sword on someone who doesn’t deserve it. The only person who understands her is her friend, Harry, but he has his own troubles. The new king’s love affair with Harry puts him in conflict with his duties to the throne, and Lavie is caught between supporting the stability of the kingdom, and standing up for her closest friend.

Lavie finds herself questioning more and more of the king’s decisions. And like a scab she can’t stop picking, she returns again and again to the usurper she defeated, trying to understand his motivation for surrender. When raiders attack the coast and assassins threaten the king, Lavie must discover who is trying to bring down the kingdom or lose Harry, her home, and her identity.

Beginning where most fantasy novels would end, HAPPILY EVER AFTER is an adult fantasy of 101,000 words featuring a strong LGBT+ cast, including an asexual lead.

First 250:

Today, I take back my home. Today, I kill a man and end the reign of a tyrant. The idea makes me tingle. Everything ends today. Either we defeat the Usurper and set the true prince on the throne where he belongs, or we fail and nothing matters anymore.

The sea-warped gate in the bailey opens with a squeal, dusting me in flakes of rust. I cringe, hoping the keening seagulls cover the screech. Salt in the wind mixes with the scent of blood and anticipation as I slip into the narrow space between the inner and outer wall, then signal my team to follow me.


I start at the sound of my name, and curse under my breath. One of my soldiers points past me. Footsteps echo from the stairs ahead.

“Sir,” I correct the man sharply as I draw my sword. “Wait here.”

I slip into the inner bailey and press my back against the wall by the steps. The footsteps grow louder, and my fingers twitch on my hilt. As the figure emerges, I step out and drive my sword into his belly.

Our eyes meet in the gloom and I feel sick. He’s not a soldier, just a runner. He’s also barely more than a boy. His pale hands clutch at his stomach, as if trying to push the blood back. A gurgling cry spills from his lips. I give him mercy and put my sword through his heart. He doesn’t even make a sigh as he falls, eyes now glassy, to the ground.

WI #16 - GATEKEEPER, Adult Fantasy

Word Count: 110,000
Genre: Adult Fantasy

System(s) of Oppression: Abelism (Deaf protagonist), xenophobia (handled allegorically)
Author's Identity: Neurodiverse with Deaf family members, immigrant grandparents.


A Deaf woman lost in a magical otherworld must defy the Gatekeepers guarding her reality to return home, not to mention stay human.

Hearing-impaired Elle Tanning wanted a normal life after college. Instead she got conned into buying a statue from Jonah, an eccentric antiques dealer, who didn't warn her the statue might come to life and start cleaning her apartment. Things get even weirder when the statue drags them both into the Other, an alternate dimension filled with creatures from nightmare and fairy tale. It’s a good thing Jonah is a Gatekeeper, a magician who keeps the Other and the human world separate. As a Gatekeeper he is duty-bound to escort Elle safely home.

Or rather, he would’ve been duty-bound had Elle not worked magic in a moment of crisis and sprouted horns.

Gatekeepers like Jonah are forbidden from guiding magical beings out of the Other. Thanks to Elle's unexpected transformation and magical abilities, she's looking less human by the hour. In fact, Jonah suspects she's an inhuman creature called a Stanchion, and he isn't above violence if it means keeping her away from the human world. And this is bad, way bad, because every time Elle is exposed to magic she becomes and more like the creatures that populate the Other.

If Elle can’t convince Jonah to take her back to her world, she might lose her humanity for good—or worse. She could die in the dangerous Other before she gets anywhere at all.

First 250:

Grandmother braided my hair before bed like always, unaware I meant to steal her car as soon as she fell asleep. I would’ve found the tugging at my scalp soothing on any other night. My fingers twisted the hem of my shirt until Grandmother covered my hand with hers.

“Something bothering you?” she asked, signing over my shoulder in the vanity mirror. She signed with American Sign Language grammar but spoke aloud in verbal English. When I shook my head she signed and spoke: “Cherry picking the truth won’t do you any good, you know.”

I didn’t answer. I tugged the hearing aids from my ears, instead, and set them on the vanity.

After she bound my hair in a tight plait she kissed the crown of my head. Her amber pendant bumped my nape, the resin sphere in its silver band cold like a January night. I studied her in the mirror, cataloguing the crow’s feet around her eyes and the furrows at her lips. She wasn’t as old as other grandmothers but silver hair marked her age. Though we both had blue eyes she had sky-colored irises with a midnight rim, mine were dark throughout and not nearly as expressive. We had the same oval face, though, and the same sharp nose. It comforted me to know when I looked in the mirror I could see her—even in small ways, like the curve of my jaw or the way we braided our hair.

Soon the echoes of her face in mine would provide my only way of seeing her.

WI #15 - JAILBREAKER, Adult Sci-Fi Thriller

Word Count: 92,000
Genre: Adult Science Fiction Thriller 

Systems of Oppression: Homophobia, Racism
Author's Identity: [removed], Black

Twenty-year-old Jason “Jay” Cunningham never concerned himself with the crime reports his parents read religiously over the dinner table. He heard of people getting their Neural Chips hacked, forcing them to do things against their will, but thought it would never happen to him. That was until a night with the mayor’s son, Asher West, ends with him wakes up covered in Asher’s blood & his chip recalling him brutally killing the man—a memory Jay has no conscious recollection of. Jay has become the thing he never thought possible: a victim to the rising epidemic of Thought Crimes.

Proving his innocence won’t be easy. With the mayor letting his personal opinions of his son’s sexuality and choice in romantic partner cloud his judgement & no evidence supporting Jay’s claim of innocence, his case is as good as lost. Until a mysterious savior ventriloquizes Jay’s arresting officer & gives him a way out—find a Jailbreaker to undo the limits preset by the neural chip on his brain & fight back. By any means necessary.

Though Jailbreaking is highly illegal, Jay knows his options are slim. Weighing the odds, Jay ventures into the criminal underworld of Philadelphia in hopes to find his own innocence. But what he finds instead will make him question not only himself, but the system, & most importantly, the value society places on free will.

First 250:

With Jay’s first and only request, granted to him by the legal system, he asked for a glass of water. If he had another wish, he would have asked for a lawyer, but his priorities were slightly out of whack.

The scratching at the back of his throat, just out of reach of his tongue, was distracting. The tightness of the metal cuffs, teetered somewhere between irksome and painful. He had every intention of telling the guards he lost sensation in his rubbed raw wrists about twenty minutes back, but again—priorities.

But when he got the chance to speak, the moment the guard returned with his water, Jay opted for another declaration.

“Is that sparkling? I specifically asked for sparkling.”

The square jawed guard barely made eye contact with him. Jay narrowed his eyes, attempting to see himself in the curved reflection of the man’s black shades. He had to be a comical sight—just barely under twenty-two, arrested in only his tee shirt and black boxer briefs, chained to a Philadelphia Police Station chair, at 4 am, asking for sparkling water—while speckled in blood that wasn’t his own. At least he was confident (truthfully, only relatively confident) it wasn’t his own. It had been a wild night, after all.

'Note to self when I get out of here, flush out that joke. There’s certainly one there,' he thought.

WI #14 - JACKED, NA Contemporary

Word Count:
Genre: NA Contemporary

System(s) of Oppression:
Homophobia and classism
Author's Identity: [removed], Grew up in poverty


Jack thought his freshman year of college would help him escape from his parochial, poverty-stricken hometown in Appalachia. That is, until his mom tried to commit suicide right before the start of the first semester. If she hadn’t found him in bed with Casey—the only boy from home who ever came close to understanding him—Jack could’ve left town and never looked back.

Fitting in with strangers in a college town isn’t as easy as he’d hoped, especially when the only money to his name is his scholarship, and the only calls he receives are from his unforgiving mom. It doesn’t help that he hasn’t slept since his mom kicked him out of her room at the psychiatric clinic, or that Casey hasn’t returned any of his calls since the “incident.”

Overwhelmed with guilt, and desperately trying to understand why he needs a guy who’s too stubborn to open up about what he wants, Jack finds his mental state heading in the same direction as his mom’s. Jack must learn to set boundaries between the life he’s been dealt and the life he wants before he can patch up the situation with his mom and win back the guy he might love.

First 250:

I wouldn’t have recognized Mom if a nurse hadn’t led me to her room.

The first thing I noticed was her head. Her bushy hair was haphazard and choppy, like a careless nurse threw a chainsaw in her general direction. Her neck kinked to the side, and her tongue sagged out of her mouth as she snored. Mom’s wrists hung from the cuffs pinned to the bed rail, as if to show off her filed-down fingernails. The sheet tangled ’round her ankles like she’d tried to kick it off before the drugs took effect. I did my best to ignore the gauze coverin’ her left forearm.

She wasn’t goin’ anywhere.

I stared through the glass door leadin’ to Mom’s room. The nurse said I’d be allowed in when she was more responsive, probably in a couple days. God, I wouldn’t’ve wanted to talk to her even if I was allowed. I could already hear the conversation: “Hi Mom, how’s it goin’?” “What do you care, Jack?” “Nice talkin’ to you too, Mom.”

I helped myself to the coffee and Styrofoam cups at the end of the hall, even though I wasn’t sure if they were free. I paced in front of Mom’s glass door and waited for my coffee to cool. The nurses whispered to each other and stared at me with scrunched-up faces, never once thinkin’ to offer me a chair.

It wasn’t long before I realized I didn’t need to linger; if no one would let me inside, there was no reason to stare at mom’s patchwork head and dried-up tongue.