Monday, July 25, 2016

Yes, This Again - Writing Outside Yourself

So one of the recent RITA winners included a book featuring a main character of color written by an author not of color.  There's been a lot of talk about this, including this post by Deborah Mello, and I don't want to repeat a lot of it, but there is a thing that we have to think about as writers.  Particularly when you are writing people that are not like you. 
I am multiracial, but one of those races is white and I read as white to a lot of white people.  But being multiracial doesn't mean I automatically know how to write all multiracial people or even all multiracial people who happen to be the same mix as me authentically without doing any work.  Just like I took psychology in college, but would need to do research before writing a character who was a psychologist. 
Julia Quinn said in the historical chat at RWA, that writing contemporary is a lot of work, because people may tell you they didn't think Regency England was like that, but people will absolutely tell you that no Wisconsin isn't like that, or no, in Maryland no one takes Biology in tenth grade*. 
Malinda Lo wrote a post about how writing contemporary caused her to really take a hard look at how she represented gender in her books which has stuck with me.  Writing a story of any type means you are creating a world.  It may look like a slice of our world, but there's still a lot of responsibility because in our current world we have a patriarchy problem, a homophobia problem, a racism problem, and a transphobia problem, just to list a few.  I recognize that in short romances you often have a small cast because you are dedicating most of your words to the main couple.  But if you have only one character in your book who is of X marginalized group, then that character represents a lot of things.  This book may be the first book by you a reader ever reads.  They may not know you have this or that book where you have more people from that group.  And also, your book should stand on it's own.  If a reader dives into this book and says wow, that was a stereotypical representation of that group, why would they trust you as an author to try another book?  
And look, you cannot please all the readers, you just can't.  But as an author there need to be really good reasons for creating a character who may actually cause harm.  Because in the end, writing a story that some people don't like is pretty low on possible harm.  Picking up a book you were hoping to provide you an escape only to be hurt by the representations it includes, is a really big deal.  
So, if you are writing a character who is part of a marginalized group that you are not a member of, what should you do? 
1. Read books written by authors of that group.  
2. Talk to members of that group.  Real talk.  Not, hi, teach me how to write you, please, and thank you.  
3. Reach out to trusted friends to read drafts.  If you have no friends of this type, there are sensitivity readers and sensitivity databases.  Many of those will ask for either money or other type of reciprocity. (This is not a complaint, strangers who work for you should get compensated, you should probably also do something nice for the friends who work for you too. This is just preparation.)
4. Work to expand your circle, in life and online, so that you are listening to more marginalized groups, especially those you are planning to represent.  
5. When you get feedback listen.  Yes, just like all feedback, you are the author.  But as with all feedback, think about why you are resisting.  And if you get conflicting feedback, again think about how that might point to a deeper issue and not just mean that you can ignore all of it. 
6. Be willing to scrap the story.  Or make huge changes.  Or both.  Can you do something the experts tell you you can't? Sure.  But if a firefighter said, hey, that wouldn't happen like that, you'd probably figure out another way to write the fire.  Fire is inanimate.  People should get more consideration. 
7. Accept that just like any writing you put out there in the world, there will be feedback.  You cannot please everyone, but if there is a case where if you have caused harm, not just I didn't like it, but that was harmful, you may need to listen.  You can't change the published book, but you can learn, grow, and do better.  It won't just make your writing better. 


*I took biology in tenth grade. In Maryland.  I have no idea if that's still common, so again research. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Big Muddle

I recently saw a former police officer talking on Twitter about how the don't-get-involved-just-dial-911 way of thinking has exacerbated things in the US.  (Probably other countries too.) So, if someone calls the police to complain that their neighbor's music is up too loud, and then the police - who in many jurisdictions are required to follow up on all complaints - show up, and knock on the door. That neighbor is then startled to see police on their doorstep, and now irritated to discover someone reported them to police instead of just asking.  Now, sure, it's never that simple.  I had a friend who tried knocking on her neighbor's door over and over, and the neighbor would turn it up louder.  Some people are not good at living places where your neighbors can here you. 
But when we look at cases from the free-range children in Maryland, to Tamir Rice, a lot of this starts with people dialing 911.  
So this recent case in Florida I think is in many ways an example of how many aspects of this are a problem.  Someone dialed 911 and said they saw someone acting strange with a gun, possible suicide.  So, of course, the police rolled up, prepared to engage with a possible shooter.  As it turns out, the man in question was an autistic man who had wandered away from his caretakers, and at the time that police arrived, the caretaker, who was black, was already trying to talk to him and get him to get out of the road and come with him.  The caretaker kept his hands in the air, and explained to the police that the autistic man did not have a gun, he just had a toy truck, and well, this ended with the caretaker being shot by police.  And then being handcuffed. 
The good news, if we want to call it that, is that the caretaker is alive.  (I have no idea what happens with medical bills and lost work time when the police shoot you while you are doing your job, here's hoping worker's comp covers that.) 
So. 
1. People who see a man acting oddly in the street are pre-disposed to dial 911 rather than get involved.  I recognize that if you think a person might be armed, getting involved is not a good idea, which brings me to the next point. 
2. People assume anyone acting strangely might be armed.  This is not necessarily a bad assumption given the number of guns in this country.  But our unwillingness to do anything to reduce the number of guns, means people are acting as if everyone is armed and that has consequences. 
3. Police are trained to deal with shooters more often and more frequently than they are trained to deal with mentally ill people or even people who are just having a day.  And as anyone who has dealt with autistic or even just excited or agitated people knows, adding people with guns to the situation often escalates rather than de-escalates. 
4. Racism is alive and well.  And that's why, in a moment of heightened agitation, a police officer shot the black man* who was trying to calm the white man down.  I watched that video and there was nothing in there that suggested either man was a deadly threat, but if they were acting on the assumption that the white man was armed, then that's who should have been their priority. 
So, to sum up.  There are too many guns.  We are asking police to be involved in things that should not require police.  We are not allowing police to back down.  We are adding police to situations where they only have the training to escalate and not de-escalate, and when you add in structural racism, people get shot.  This is a lot of things we need to work on.  
I have started conversations with my city council member about this, since many of these things are based on local procedures.  But there's a lot to be done. 

*After I wrote this post, the North Miami police indicated that while the investigation of the incident is ongoing, the officer intended to strike the white man and missed.  I am not sure that's terribly credible, it sounds very much like what you say after the fact to make it seem not like a racism issue. I am not always so suspicious, but given the fact that the police responded by handcuffing the man they shot, I am not clear how they are now saying we shot the wrong guy, we meant to shoot the one we didn't then handcuff. I don't think this changes the core issues, but I wanted to note that they have said that. 


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Three Interesting Things

1. Mikki Kendal wrote about how the harassment Leslie Jones received on Twitter reflects a larger cultural problem. 
2. Apparently 1984 (the year) was more of a cultural touchstone than we realized. 
3. I appreciated this nice write up of the RWA conference

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

RWA 2016 Recap

So I went to San Diego for RWA, and the accompanying Day of YA, and had a great time.  It becomes difficult to talk about these things, not because the information becomes any less great as the years go by, but it gloms together with the info you picked up other places and then you have a sort of giant sticky ball of great writer info and the individual pieces become harder to isolate. 
San Diego itself was lovely if the tiniest bit chilly. (Not just in the conference rooms, I wore light sweaters in the morning, in the evening, they all got worn.) The food was great and it was fascinating to watch the city slowly transition into the place that Comic Con happens.  
I walked over to the conference hotel the first day to check that it really was as close as I thought, and saw Silvia Day's face across the street right as I was reaching for my phone to double check the address. (The bigger poster on the hotel transitioned from an athlete - baseball All Star I assume to Conan O'Brien over the course of the week.)
I grabbed dinner and ended up at the bar next to a gentleman who was in town for an aerospace conference.  His wife has just started reading romance, to, he mentioned, the exclusion of other things, like, talking to her husband.  (This was said in a way that indicated amused frustration.)  I told him there were quite a lot of them, so she might be busy for a while.  
For Day of YA, Patty Blount talked about teen voice, in particular talking about how working on a multi-national day job project had solidified for her that voice isn't just about sprinkling in slang, that people have all sorts of things that factor into to the way that they talk.  She also talked about how people think making characters snarky makes them sound more teen, but that your reader needs to know what the snark or sarcasm is hiding, just as they would with an adult character, so that they can hook into your character. 
There was an agent and editor panel.  And then Robin LaFevers gave a keynote speech, which was wonderful about how writing is hard, not just because you will face constant rejection, but because good writing comes from peeling back and looking deep inside yourself. That we tell ourselves that we go to things like writer conferences for sensible reasons, like netowkring, or to learn about marketing, but really we go to be in a place with people who get it and that's okay.To be with people who get it that you have to write, that even when it's hard and you don't want to, a part of you cries out to be heard.  
I got to help hand out certificates to the winners of the YARWA Rosemary contest which was fun. 
Shelly Bates talked about revision. In particular she said fully formed characters will do a lot of the plot and revision work for you.  
Then there was the Literacy Signing.  I swore I was just going to pop in and wave at a few people (one hour later). 
Thursday I went to RWA workshops, including Being Prolific and Staying Sane and the chat with YA authors.  The luncheon involved awards for the Librarian of the Year, and Beverly Jenkins excellent keynote.  It was periscoped and Live Facebooked across the land, so go look it up.  She talked the history of African American literature, and also being a present day writer and it was great and my whole table teared up. 
More workshops - including It's All About the Audience, where there was discussion about how to be authentic on social media, and how that isn't the same as being boring, or never having opinions on things.  I moderated the chat with New Adult authors. This was also the day the Yarnover truck came to visit us an while that is not the reason I enjoyed San Diego so much, it didn't hurt. I also snuck out (I mean, I guess we were allowed to leave) and went to see "Ghostbusters" with a friend.  Highly recommend.  
I went to a cocktail party and we kinda Kinneared Nora Roberts into our selfie.  (We took a for real one with her the next night, because she is wonderful.) I also heard several RWA board members say that next year...oh wait, I heard nothing.* (Kidding.)
Sherry Thomas spoke at breakfast and was just amazing.  I had heard her speak before about how she used romance novels to help learn English when they moved to the US, I had heard her hint about how racy they seemed to a teen from a communist country.  I had not heard her talk about giving up law school to be a mom, how reading a bad romance snapped her out of post-partum depression because she felt so betrayed by having wasted her free time on a book that didn't make her feel better.  And that that was how she decided to become an author.  Trying to be another reader's happy place.  She ended by saying, "Romance owes me nothing.  I owe romance everything." 
I then went to the Historical Romance Chat (I know, the chats were especially working for me this year) and the "Hamilton" sing-a-long.  Then there were awards, and oh, I know that just being nominated is a treat, a joy, but I had fingers crossed for quite a few stories, and was happy to see some of them win.  The puns and such in the awards script were especially groan-y this time around, but the happiness of winners, and the chance to be a little more sparkly than usual, is good stuff.  
I then spent my last day checking out the things visible or accessible from the trolley.  And despite some rain in the DC area managed to make it home mostly on time. 
It was a great time. Looking forward to doing it again. 

*I am being silly.  One board member misstated something, I, because I am a JOY!, threatened to tweet it, and then another board member (totally jokingly) threatened to end me.  So yes,fun was had. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Eleven!

I had noticed last year that I had been blogging in this space for ten years.  And then I figured I would save that info for July when I officially first posted.  And then July swept me up in a whirwind and it kind of never happened.  
But eleven is a lot, especially when we consider I've managed to keep finding new things to talk about, or old things to rehash.  
So given, travel this week, I thought I would point you to some old posts.  
My first post was in the wake of the 7/7 bombings in London
I also had a period where I posted football predictions. (Note: Those posts contain references to the Washington football team. 
I got on my soapbox when a school took away prom
I talked about book banning
I talked about Spong's assertions that prejudices under debate are dying
And I talked about "Project Runway"
Those are all from the first year.  I'll revisit some others later.