Monday, August 31, 2020

Who Tells the Story?

Years ago, I pitched a YA to an agent that involved a multiracial Hawaiian, Chinese, and white girl investigating the Fall Queen election at her school and well, accidentally unraveling a few conspiracies. The agent asked me if I minded sharing my own ethnicity. I responded that I am in fact Hawaiian, Chinese, and white. The agent then told me a story about how she had once acquired a story about a non-white or not just white character from an author she suspected was not of a similar background and so she just didn't ask. That way if acquiring editors asked her, she could just say she didn't know.
I smiled and nodded. 
That agent ultimately did not acquire me and honestly I should look at that story because I think it had the bones of a great idea but I wasn't quite there yet.
I bring this up now to say that specific portion of the exchange stuck with me. I was always able to identify the mercenary nature of it. I do understand that part of agenting is mercenary. 
And I mention it was years ago because it's quite possible that agent has learned and changed her viewpoint on this. 
I will also tell you I also got a rejection from an agent who specifically requested stories about Pacific Islanders who did not ask for my ethnicity and took time to tell me that my story was not about Pacific Islanders (it was indeed about Hawaiians) and that she had family who lived in Hawaii. (Me too!)
So I do understand that there are lots of ways to make mistakes and ultimately in either of these cases I feel certain had the agent loved the pages more, my ethnicity would not have mattered. 
But, there are reasons the own voices movement gathered some steam.  It is because people with greater knowledge and understanding of a culture tell stories that fill a gap.  People diving into the tiny details of their culture, tell stories that in the end are more universal. 
But we've all also seen the Lee and Low numbers on publishing diversity and the Ripped Bodice numbers.  There are still more white people writing stories about everything.  
But, it is easy, as a white person, to think that the reason your story isn't getting acquired is because it's not diverse.  
The thing is, as we know from the Lee and Low numbers, a lot of people - agents and editors - are getting stories that fall outside their cultural knowledge.  Of course, a good story is a good story.  But stories that fall outside your area of cultural knowledge can cause harms that you yourself had not been trained to know about.  That doesn't make you a bad person.  But it means collectively, the industry has to do better.   
If I wrote a great story about a group that is woefully underrepresented in fiction then yeah, it is especially incumbent on me and the others involved in bringing this story to people to make sure the book does what it is supposed to and harms the least amount of people. 
So, a deal announcement was recently made for a person who grew up on Hawaii but is not Hawaiian, who appears to have been inspired by a random thing that she saw in a cross cultural display that she may or may not understand to be a cross cultural display. (Deal announcements often don't allow for subtleties.) 
And it matters. The book may be great. But an author who's been out there saying she should get to tell stories about native Hawaiians because most of them are dead these days - well, it does not appear that she is approaching the subject with sensitivity or cultural understanding. 
Am I saying no one can write about anyone else? No! Am I saying if you are going to assume that because you grew up next to something that you understand it without doing work, then it sounds like you aren't ready? Yes.
So I started this with a discussion of agents, because I think agents and editors need to think about this too. If they are acquiring stories, they need to figure out how to ask what makes you qualified to tell this story? And yes, hire sensitivity readers. But you should know people to call to look at it before you acquire. Because sometimes story problems are big. And you owe it to the author and agent to know what kind of ask you might need to make in the editing process. And if you don't know, then why are you acquiring such a story?

Edited to note: The author in question has pulled the book. The concerns that got us to this point remain.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Talking Theater - Newsletter

Over on the newsletter, I'm talking about ways to fill the theater-sized hole in my heart right now.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Three Interesting Things

1. Susanna Barkati talks about the limits of labels in regards to being a biracial Indian and British American.
2. YA Pride has had a number of wonderful guest pieces this week, including this one from K. Ancrum about how fanfic provides a safe haven for readers and writers. 
3. Sarah Kuhn's Angry Asian Man piece on community, burnout, and kindness is just an amazing read.

Edited to correct numbering.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Forced Change

I've been working on a project where I talk a lot about authorial choices.  And one of the things that came up was that fiction likes using things like pregnancy, car accidents, death of a family member, because they are moments that make it very clear to the audience that whatever happens after this moment, the character will be changed. 
Well, and then my computer died.  To be clear, a piece of the power cord broke off inside the computer such that it can no longer be charged and of course, a new charger cannot be placed inside it.  In the middle of a pandemic. 
And because it's a pandemic computers are very popular items these days, where many households now have multiple people who need to do multiple things all requiring an internet enabled computer.  So yeah.  I should have a new to me one next week.  And in the interim, I have a small computer that basically has enough memory to have about 4 things open at any given time (Ie about 62 less things than I normally have open).  I hadn't used this one in a while.  It was purchased for its portability, but well, was never the choice for the everyday computer. 
And I'm very lucky.  I can afford to take a few less productive days.  I can afford to replace my computer.
I am never going to be grateful to be spending money for a thing I wasn't planning to purchase this year.  But it has given me time to reflect when the last time I allowed myself to have a few days where I didn't have to get six to ten things done. Perhaps a slowdown is not a bad idea.  I've been encouraging others to take vacation days even if they spend them sitting on the couch in front of the same laptop just chilling.  And I have been failing to follow my own advice. 
So, I'm going to give that a shot. 


Thursday, August 20, 2020

Three Interesting Things

1. This piece about a joke t-shirt, so fully encapsulates a thing I have witnessed so many times that I had jokingly been calling it sexual osmosis.  (As if folks seem to think that their proximity through marriage or other partnership to a culture means they know it likely better than you do.)  
2. This piece on Vivan Stephens, a founder of RWA, is an interesting look into how some of the issues RWA is grappling with were baked in from the start.  Also she is an incredible woman, well deserving of such a lengthy piece.  
3. An oddity at the Linz chocolate factory meant that there was a brief chocolate snow shower.  (Note: Video autoplays no long after opening.) 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Goodbye to a Pocket Friend

I met Corey Alexander who also wrote as Xan West on Twitter.  They had such a thoughtful interest in books, particularly romance books that were demonstrating protagonists find and falling in love that there might not be quite as many of.  I said to someone when I first heard they had passed, that they had excellent taste in books, which of course I consider an incredible compliment.  They also did a lot of work talking about things that romance and publishing could do to make all books better and safer places for readers.  It was a joy for me to see a rec list from Corey because so often I would have read two of them but not the others, and the two I had read I adored, so I knew this list was meant for me.  
It looks like it may have been complications of diabetes that led to their death, which is a sad reminder that our current healthcare system makes things tough for folks with chronic illnesses, and that the pandemic has only exacerbated that.  
Here's their round up of their fave YA they read last year
And here's their list of fave romance they read last year.  

Monday, August 17, 2020

Hope is a Discipline

I first heard this from activist Mariame Kaba.  As a person who has a high positivity strength, I find I sometimes have to remind myself of this.  I think this can often be the case, that folks who tend naturally in one direction, hit a speedbump in something and have to work a bit. Because we tend to build and practice things around the stuff we aren't as good at, it can be easy to let the stuff we are good at slide.
And of course, the challenge is there are people out there who assume things are going to work out without doing any work.  And gosh, wouldn't that be nice.  
When Mr. Rogers said to look for the helpers he was talking to kids.  So, we have hopefully, in a variety of ways, become the helpers that kids of today would look to.  And of course there are days when that is a lot.  
But thinking of hope as a discipline, rather than a thing that magically shows up when you need it, is helpful to me.  It means I can practice, I can get better.  And if I'm having a day where it seems hard, I might need to think about changing my practice or seeking out new teachers.  

Friday, August 14, 2020

Newsletter - Part 2

Over on the newsletter, I've got part two of figuring out what to read and maybe how attending virtual book events can help.  

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Three Interesting Things

Content note:  Discussion of a documentary about sexual assault.  
RAINN has resources here:  The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7: Telephone: 800.656.HOPE (4673) Online chat: online.rainn.org EspaƱol: rainn.org/es  

1. This discussion of the behind the scenes editing concerns with the folks behind the documentary series "Surviving R. Kelly" was fascinating both, as the story notes, now that it has been nominated for an Emmy, and because, I do think on balance the series centered the survivors, but there were moments watching it where, as someone versed in reality TV tropes, I braced a bit that they were going to veer in a different direction. Also, warning that the link that follows contains an accompanying story image, where the perpetrator is larger than the survivors.  
2. I was saddened to see that this (and additional announcements since this piece) was the result of the weeks of pushing on the part of the various Bon Appetit video employees.  I wish them all well in their new and/or adjusted roles, and hope this push towards salary transparency will benefit them in the future. 
3. Tom and Lorenzo did a piece on Elle Wood's pink dress in the final act of "Legally Blonde".  Note: as "Legally Blonde" features sexual harassment, there are references to sexual harassment. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Viruses are Not Punishment

A friend of mine mentioned a comment a coworker made. I share this not to co-opt their story but to note a thing I expect we are all going to face. 
A co-worker commented they were low on leave because they had to quarantine when my friend got sick. 
Now it's possible they meant it the way you refer to lots of things. Like I am out of bread because I ate it all yesterday. 
It is human nature to try to dive in to find errors in what people who got sick did, so that we can feel assured that we would never do the thing that they did and therefore we will be safe.
As someone who has been wearing face coverings everywhere for months, upping the hand washing, limiting people interactions, and turning down offers to visit both family and friends, I get it. I am working hard to do everything I can to keep myself well, and also those I interact with as safe as I can.
But I also recognize it's an imperfect plan. The virus itself does not care how many masks I own, what song I sang while washing my hands, or how often I sanitized my phone. The virus is going to infect when and where it can. I will not get bonus points for the days I didn't leave my apartment. If I get it, I certainly want to be able to provide a good accounting of my movements to the appropriate people. 
But my contracting an infectious virus will mean simply that a virus whose sole purpose is to snack on humans got me. It will not mean I am or was less good than those who are uninfected. And yes, I know that there are folks out there taking less precautions than me, willingly and unwillingly. The virus does not care. It's going to get the people it can. Some of them will be making their first tiny exception. Some won't. The virus does not care. 
And, the reality is this. Crappy leave and sick day policies are neither the fault of the virus or the folks who contracted it and possibly exposed you. In fact, if I had to guess, I would suggest that crappy leave and sick day policies are part of why we're going to see infections continue. Here in DC small businesses are only required to offer two sick days for the year. Many teachers I know get very few sick days, because schools recognize so many holidays. So why would you need more? So we can tell people to skip work if they feel sick, but we aren't backing that up with policy. 
And I have to tell you, my last company mostly believed sick meant you checked your email only four times that day. 
So, all of this is to say, this pandemic is revealing and exacerbating some huge flaws in our society. That is barely the fault of the virus. It is not the fault of those who are sick. 

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Three Interesting Things

1. It appears some jewelers are seeing a surge in engagement ring purchases.  
2. NPR Life Kit has some suggestions, with illustrative comic, of handling COVID 19 related conundrums. 
3. Rick Steve's wrote about the possibility of new discoveries even while at home

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

RWA and Other Writers Groups - What is This Health Insurance Stuff

As you may be aware, I have worked in health care administration.  I am obviously not anyone's personal health care subject matter expert, but here's some information that I think might be clarifying.  
RWA announced here, that it and various other book industry groups have signed with LIG solutions to provide health care options to members.  They also have a FAQ here. I am going to try to answer some questions I think may be less clear.  
-Folks who have fiction writing as a day job are generally considered sole proprietors of their business.  Sole proprietors are not allowed to team up and get group insurance rates for reasons that probably don't matter so much, they just aren't.  If you and your writing business operate as a larger business type, the rules are a little different and so association health plans might be on the table for you.  
-This only helps folks who live in the US.  
-These are still going to be plans available through your state or federal marketplace.  There are a couple of things that will then follow from this.  
+ If you have access to a plan through an employer, depending on the size and negotiating power of said employer, the employer sponsored plan is likely to be cheaper than any individual plan out there.  Not always, but often.  
+ If you, like me, enjoy sifting through multiple plans, or have a good idea of what kind of plan you want, then you may prefer to do your own research.
+ If you really wish you or a trusted friend liked sifting through multiple plans to figure out options, while the LIG person may not be your friend, they are a useful resource for such research.  Especially if terms like PPO, POS, and  HMO make you cross eyed.  
+ Because these plans are essentially out there already, your access to the writer's organization is just facilitating your access to the consultant, not the plan itself.  


Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Conflicted Thoughts About Sports

I miss sports. I can only imagine how tough this has been for the athletes, for the office, stadium, and arena staff.
I know testing availability has gotten better but I have very mixed feelings about prioritizing getting sports back in session instead of say schools. 
I wrote a letter expressing my concerns about librarians where libraries are open and almost all the issues with libraries apply to sports. 
I am pleased the various players unions negotiated new terms for this season including easy opt out. But I don't know that the folks who clean the stadiums, who staff the cameras, who wash the towels have been given the same opportunity. I hope so. 
And I confess that I feel like this is such an American approach, although I have seen comparisons to gladiators, that we have prioritized making stuff for us to watch over making it safer to shop and go to school. 
And I confess, I'm a little mad at how many tests sportsing safely will take. 
I may still watch. Which I know makes me part of the problem. (In the days when I still watched football, I had adopted a sports bar, using the convoluted logic that at least I wasn't adding to the ratings. Pandemic takes that option off the table.) 
I missed sports. But I remain a little conflicted about its return.

Monday, August 03, 2020

What Watching Chopped Will Teach You About Feedback

1. Sometimes you left an ingredient off or you screwed something up and you just have to sit there and take your lumps.
2. Sometimes they love one thing and hate another. 
3. Sometimes it seems like they wanted to critique something.  Like I loved the crunchiness but it was a little too crunchy.  
4. Sometimes they just wanted you to do something else. They will tell you you should have gone more Greek or should have picked a different cheese. You should have fried it instead of sauteed it. Sometimes they might be right. And look, the judge's feelings are valid. But sometimes the only important part of the feedback is they wanted something else.
5. Sometimes you made a technical error, and because they were watching they spotted the problem and have basically been waiting the whole round to tell you.
6. Sometimes they will start making the critique about you and not the food. They will tell you you didn't respect an ingredient or that you seemed too flustered or too nervous, or basically will talk too much about you and not the food. 
7. This is especially true if you are a young chef. Or a female chef. Obviously being critiqued is part of the show.  But sometimes, especially in a show that asks you to do something entirely different than the whole rest of your career, you have to accept that very little of what they can tell you will be useful going forward.