Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Vacation Time!

I'm so excited!!!!! 

I'm off on a two-week vacation to Peru where I'll be hiking and walking pretty much everywhere and seeing Machu Picchu. I got two Peru guidebooks from the library which I'll be reading pretty much the entire time I'm there. Hopefully it will be a good break from whatever cold will soon hit this Chicagoland area (Decembers are always warmly deceptive here).

I'll see you guys back after Jan 6th! Hopefully this vacation works its wonders.

The year has ended, and what a year it's been. I'm so so so thankful for you guys. I seriously cannot say just how much you all have impacted me and helped me with your support - so thank you, thank you so much.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year's, and most of all, HAPPY DAYS TO ALL! Make sure to spend time with your loved ones if you can, but more importantly, be happy. Spread love and joy and everything else! 

*ho ho ho* (I feel like Santa.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Why I Write Inclusively as a White Woman" - Bronwyn Deaver

Happy Monday everyone!

Today we have the amazing Bronwyn Deaver with a guest post on Writing Inclusively (#WriteInclusively). Seriously, I'm in love with this post. As I am also writing a book from the first-person perceptive of a man of a different ethnicity than mine, Bronwyn's words speak volumes to me - and hopefully, to you too.

Take it away!

Books are gifts. The words contained in them can carry someone through a rough time or open his or her eyes to a world that has never been experienced before.

Children's literature is even more special. The characters that you read in childhood often help shape a piece of who you become. You can stick those characters right in your backpack and carry them around - revisiting their words over and over again. They're frozen in time even as your own sense of self changes.

Fondness flutters around a whole cast of characters in my memory. I love them all! Anne Shirley and her temper, Jo March and her writing, Ramona and the pink worm ring, Kristy Thomas and her leadership qualities, James and his adventure in a peach. I could go on and on and on. Do you see a pattern though? They are all white. That never stood out to me as a child. My world was a white world. So, they fit. But I think I deserved more and my friends who were not white definitely deserved more.

When I started writing, I had every intention of writing books that children could pick up and connect with. If you are writer of children's literature, you have the same goal too. You want your story to stay with a child forever.

With that in mind, I need to write for my audience. My audience is not just a bunch of white children. I write for all children. I can't promise that in every book I ever write any person will be able to find a character in them that looks just like they do. But I do need to write so that more than one set of people can find themselves across my work.

I'm not going to say that writing characters from other racial backgrounds doesn't intimidate me. I want to get it right. I want to give respect to culture and heritage and I want to stay away from stereotypes. But it is my duty to the children who might pick up my words one day.

The first novel I wrote had a whole cast of characters from different backgrounds. It's a YA fantasy novel and crafting those characters and their personalities was immensely fun. When I write picture books, I tend to write characters that could be drawn any way possible in regards to race, ability, socio-economic background, etc. But I also think it is important that since there is not a lot of diversity in books, that I write characters whose race cannot be ignored or changed.

A while back, I had a character get stuck in my head unlike any I had written before - a biracial male teen. I let him sit in my head for months. Could a white woman of privilege write a biracial male teen whose story isn't one of privilege? The words "write what you know" kept circling in my brain. I didn't know anything about being male or biracial – not in a first person sort of way. But I wanted to write this story.

At first I found myself writing in third person. I realized that I was keeping distance from my main character. It wasn't going to work that way. I had to let the main character, Reece, tell me about his life. So, I switched to first person and it worked.

Then I came across this by Keesha Beckford [please do read it, it's incredibly powerful - SC]. Her words just twisted my heart. I was angry that my fellow mothers had to have such fears. And they have every reason to have those fears. She solidified my resolve to "write what you haven't lived but are willing to learn about". Parents have so much on their plates these days. They deserve to be able to send their kids out to play and not worry that they will meet disaster for any reason. Skin color should never be a reason for disaster. And writers can help change that.

White kids need black role models. Make sure you read that sentence correctly.  Yes, black kids need black role models, but non-black kids do too. Children deserve safety and love and good books with characters that are similar to and different from them. We can't expect them to change the world if we don't give them stories that will help them learn what they don't know.

Our society is so divided. I think whites sit on the sidelines a lot because we don't know what to do. We think we will be seen as "invading" if we speak up. We don't want to intrude. It is the whole "I support you, but this is your thing and I don't want to get in the way." As writers of children's books we all have a right and a calling to provide the best stories possible for all children.

Books stick with people. The power of your keyboard could change perception. One character, one page, one story at a time – you could have the power to help change racial attitudes. You could help people feel valued. There may be a child right now just waiting for one of your stories to touch his or her soul in a way that nothing else will all because you decided to write for them. And maybe you will be teaching that child what he or she will need to know later in life to keep a tragedy from happening.

I am an ally. I will do what I can to promote diversity in books because that mirrors real life. The children are my audience. The children deserve no less.  

Bronwyn Deaver is a writer of children's literature. She is currently seeking representation for her work, but as she queries and stalks her inbox for positive news, she continues to write. She is currently working on a retelling of a YA classic as well as various picture books. She is a member of SCBWI. She Tweets.
YES. What an amazing post. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Bronwyn!

These discussions aren't just for minorities, they're for everyone. It's not taking a 'stand' on the political spectrum - it's a human rights issue, since when did that become political?

How do you approach these issues?

(This guest post is part of a series of #WriteInclusively guest posts. If you would like to subscribe to the Write Inclusively monthly newsletter, feel free to sign up!)

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Debra McKellan on Writing Inclusively

As part of my pact to Write Inclusively, I've started a blog series where guest bloggers come and talk about writing inclusively. It's time for to sit back and just listen.

We've got a great writer to start this series off - the incredible, generous, and supremely warm-hearted Debra McKellan, someone I've known for years through Agent Query Connect.

Take it away Debra :)

I will:

1) actively write, edit, and revise to challenge stereotypes that may be present in my writing;
2) actively work against the normalization of a single identity;
3) actively work towards the normalization of diversity.

SC Author started this pact for diversity in books, which you can follow on Twitter under the Hashtag #WriteInclusively. If you’ve noticed on my blog, the emblem above is the symbol for this pledge: A white flag with a gray circle. The blue rose icon is just something I use in signatures, but it’s also from one of my favorite screenplays “The Glass Menagerie.”

By the time I graduated college I'd had many instances of uncomfortable racial prejudice from both black and white people, but before that I grew up fully believing in equality for all. I’m not a big fan of culture shocks, so I still have trouble handling and understanding the deeply ingrained stereotypes of people of different races.

Racial hatred occurs not only because of those still ignorantly passing down their hatred from generation-to-generation (my cousin is a teacher, and a little girl told him she doesn’t like him because he’s black. I don’t think he teaches any higher than the 2nd grade), but because it’s been thrown in our faces as early as Antebellum America. Look up “Stereotypes of African Americans” on Wikipedia, and you’ll get part of a couple of things I learned during a couple of my history classes in college. (Side note: I’m pretty sure some people think we’ve been living in Birth of A Nation for the past term and a half. Thanks (?), D.W. Griffith.)

What's on your television? My mom just recently stopped watching Hallmark because she realized they never feature any black actors as the main character. God bless "Law & Order: SVU" and their 2 million episodes, because that might just be the most diverse show on TV today. Black reality shows are: "Love & Hip-Hop," "R&B Divas," "Real Housewives of Atlanta," etc., shows that glorify the most hood of black people who seem to reduce themselves to fights and cursing people out on an episodic basis. Rap & Hip-hip videos portray “gangsta” lifestyles that millions like to emulate but wouldn't actually last a minute living in.

Society has been trained to look at the “others” (black people in this instance) as interesting and entertaining people, but not valuable human beings (athletes, actors, comedians, musicians). So when injustices happen to black people, there is a huge apathy. When I say this, I'm focusing on the Eric Garner incident, because a cop who was supposed to uphold the law BROKE the law (and apparently Eric was selling loose cigarettes, but two negatives don’t…you know) which resulted in Garner’s death. And it was recorded. And the coroner ruled it a homicide. And there was still no indictment. And a barrage of people blame Garner.

When people get mad because a protest ruined their Christmas Tree Lighting experience, or they’re threatening to shoot protesters if they can't make an Eagles game, or the first thing they say is about a victim of an unlawful police death, “Well, what did the person do?” the love or compassion for someone else's humanity can’t possibly be there.

So how does this relate to writing inclusively? Back to my mention of Birth of A Nation. Fear is created because people take what they're given at face value and walk away believing it's true. Leave your boxes and GET TO KNOW PEOPLE. Walk into a bookstore and head on over to the "African-American Literature" (I wrote a post about that issue, too, don't remember when) and pick up a book that you find intriguing. Then, actually, pick up one that has totally different content by a different A.A. author. And keep doing that. Because black people are also diverse.

As a writer, if you really want to know how someone of another culture speaks, acts, lives, don't just place a person in your story molded by what you think you know. LEARN. Good example, Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. Fat Charlie is a black man from England, Spider is his brother from California, if I recall. You don't see Gaiman perpetrating black men. You see Fat Charlie and Spider. I imagine Gaiman took time to learn about black cultures (because there are more than one), and he did it brilliantly. It can be done. Write inclusively. Write diversity, and be real about it.

I have been a writer for most of my life. I've been a GOOD writer for much, much shorter, but that's neither here nor there. My first story was for a class project where they gave the class a blank book. I wrote about my older sister. My next story was based on the X-Men cartoons because they were popular at the time.

I love fantasies, superheroes, a little sci-fi (I'm a trekkie and a brown coat!). I love television. I live for Final Fantasy video games. I have most of them. I've read a myriad of authors from Arthur Miller to Christopher Pike. My favorites are currently George R.R. Martin, Robert Olen Butler, and the late Octavia Butler.

Follow her Twitter and blog!

Thank you so much for sharing!!!! It's a great  post with a HUGE message: diversity within diversity exists and is true. People of color have differing ideas on their own identity as well, something that is sadly overlooked much too often.

Again, THANK YOU!!

If you would like to guest blog, please send me an email.

On Monday, Bronwyn Deaver has a simply incredible post on "Why I Write Inclusively as a White Woman." Make sure to check it out! As I am also writing a book from the first person perspective of a character of another race, her post spoke volumes to me.

How would you like diversity to be seen in literature?

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Friday, December 5, 2014

The Pact for Writing Inclusively - Please, We NEED Diverse Books

I haven't been quite bloggy these past few weeks. 

It's hard to admit, it's weird to admit. 

The live stream of Michael Brown's verdict played as I sat in my chair, and then the aftermath of these two non-indictments (Michael Brown's and Eric Garner's) followed soon after. It's odd because in just over a week, more frustration, anger, and hopelessness than I ever thought possible seeped into me - which is a privilege of my Indian ethnicity, because I can feel frustrated instead of afraid.

One of my friends - usually so happy and bubbly - descended into something dark and hopeless. In her words, "I am hurting. I hurt so fucking bad right now.'

And I've been exercising self-care. I needed time to deal with it all, and - recently - to realize what my place is in this discussion. Do I have a place?

It's a myth that non-blacks and non-Hispanics have no place in this dialogue on racism. One of my favorite quotes of all time has guided my action:

Let me reiterate: non-black and brown people have a place in this dialogue, namely, to acknowledge the privilege that comes with not being perceived as a threat everywhere we go and then to work against the systems that don't afford that privilege to other people. EDIT: I erased a group from the discussion. Muslims and people who look Muslim (people with brown skin, turbans, hijabs, burkas, etc.) are also seen as dangerous threats.

Firstly, we must come to terms with our privilege. Accept that it exists, understand that it exists. 

The media portrays blacks and Hispanics as looters, threats, and criminals - and when a black or brown person succeeds, it is in spite of their race, their race 'doesn't hold them back,' as if being successful is not a black or brown thing to do. Their race has been erased.

The system is not fair or just (I've done so much research on this - I didn't want it to be true - but quite simply, it is true; if you want, I can talk to you one-on-one about it). Learning about the extent of its unfairness might put you in the same state I was - and am - in. 

With what little influence I have, I'm on my knees and begging you, please, change this. 

No more dead innocents. No more corpses due to our racialized fears. No more throwing people into jail simply because we're scared. No more seeing people as threats simply due to their race. We are destroying lives people simply due to our racialized fears.

Most of those who are reading this blog are writers. We are WRITERS. Many of us are YA writers - which is great, since I have more hope for today's children to solve race problems than today's adults to solve them. Use the power of the pen, use what amazing gifts you have. I am begging you. Our 'normalization' of one race, one gender, one sexuality, one religion, same physical/mental ability, etc. is destroying us. Our silence is murder, for our silence normalizes oppression. Please please please please, don't ignore this blog post, don't ignore this message.

Diversity is not political - and if it is, that's sad. Diversity is truth. Since when did championing for human rights ever become politicized? Fear of being 'political' has led us to quiet our tongues (we are writers). Few of us speak about these issues because no one wants to be labeled as a 'liberal' or a 'Democrat'. Is anyone not disgusted by this? Since when did empathy become a stance?

Empathy and free speech are our fundamental tools of trade! How can we have lost them? Since we create writing that enters into mass media, we must responsibly portray the subjects of our novels in a realistic way and fight against the normalization of diversity-less communities or stereotype-riddled character tropes. We must portray the truth.

Our silence is murder.

It'd be foolish to ignore the cultural impacts our words have - and how that relates to the cycle of racism and oppression. The habitual instinct to make every character white since it is 'normal' or a 'blank slate' ties in directly with the lack of nuance in society's perception of people of color. To make a character colored, for example, is a 'big deal'. To make them have problems that don't relate to their race: an even bigger deal (although, since many colored characters' biggest problems deal with their race, doesn't that prove that racism isn't over? Maybe we do need more race-dealing novels).

We have to change the portrayal of minority groups.

(I use the word 'minority' quite ironically, since globally, many Western minorities are in fact majorities.)

We are allies, not leaders. Remember to make space for those writers who have dealt with these issues: they know more about it then the rest. For the writers who have dealt with these issues: please, take space. No matter who you offend with your truths, take space. 

I can't sit here and do nothing anymore. I'm sick and tired of it. With the little influence I have, I'm begging and I'm going to try and be an ally.

I'm asking whoever wishes, minorities and majorities, to join me in a pact to write with an active goal for diversity:

The Pact to Write Inclusively:

I will:

1) actively write, edit, and revise to challenge stereotypes that may be present in my writing
2) actively work against the normalization of a single identity
3) actively work towards the normalization of diversity

This does NOT mean every single character in your novel has to be a minority at ALL! That would be the erasure of the white race (which is not our intention). It doesn't even mean most or any of your characters have to be minorities. It just means you will work towards diversity however you choose to interpret that.

This pact is NOT only for black and brown folk and anti-racism issues. It encompasses LGBTQ+ representation, Native Americans, abelism, ageism, non-USA populations, and every single other underrepresented group. You can bring to this pact what you want!

This is a solid pact. Make sure you know what you're signing up for - to actively work towards the three objectives. Meaning, to look for the generalizations in your writing and then to work against it. 

Below will be the symbol of everyone on the pact. I've been searching for universal and simple signs for inclusion and diversity; the circle seems to pop up very often.

A circle of inclusion will be our symbol.

Once can easily, with some picture manipulating tools, overlay it on top of their Twitter/Facebook icons:

For example, mine! (Dang, I really should change my icon. So unprofessional! Ah well.)

If you need help overlaying the pact onto your Twitter/Facebook icon, PLEASE TELL ME! Send me an email SC_Author (at) yahoo (dot) com with your picture attached; I shall send you back the edited one :)


If you want to join the campaign, please subscribe below. I'll be sending out a monthly newsletter (monthly! I'm super super concerned with making sure I never over-email you) which will cover issues pertaining to Write Inclusively, such as related campaigns, important articles, etc. It'll include information about possible campaigns and social media 'blitzes'. The newsletter will also have information about writing contests and other publishing fun stuff that might be exclusively available only through the newsletter!


If you've subscribed, please please spread the word! I can only do so much alone - it's all of you who I need help from. Tweet with #WriteInclusively about what writing inclusively means to you, why it's important, how it relates with Ferguson and Eric Garner, and the power of writing to change the world. Why did you decide (if you decided) to take this pact? Then, please share the pact with this quick and easy link: 

This is what I came up with. This is what I can do at this stage of my life. All I know is, I'm done doing nothing or only ranting on Twitter. I'm sick of ranting. Everyone rants. I want action.

On a separate but related note, I also would like guest posts on the intersection of diversity and writing from writers of underrepresented identities, no matter what that identity is. If you have a good idea for a post and want to guest post, please send me an email (SC_Author (at) yahoo (dot) com) about your possible post. To writers that do not identify with underrepresented identities, it's time to simply read the posts. Make space instead of take space.

It's time we put our money where our mouth is. Too many promises have been made.

If you have anything to add to the pact, any ideas you think I've not incorporated, please comment and tell me! But please please, we're begging you, be an ally. Work in solidarity. Silence is murder, and people can't breathe.