Saturday Summation – 24 June 2017

Bits and pieces of things that caught my eye not only for my own interest, but enough to want to share with you, too…

Reading Stuff:

The more authors I follow on -Twitter or blogs or wherever- who are part of marginalized populations, the more access I get to their books – and that has been a great way to expand my reading repertoire to include some fantastic books. I work in two elementary schools alongside media directors/specialists, and one thing I’ve discovered is that unless it happens to win an award, these kinds of books do not make it into librarians’ sight lines. “We often see the same books on bookstore and library shelves that we see reviews of in major publications, and these might be the same books our friends and teachers are buzzing about, too” is what Alaina Leary says in her post about supporting the diverse books movement. And what this is really saying, is that books by authors from marginalized populations are not in these echo chambers. I appreciate her post on the different ways we can do this. As an add-on, I will put in a plug for the writing organization I am a member of – Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) and their open-to-the-public “Many Voices of Women’s Fiction Book Club” – usually at least two books are featured, and you can discuss them within the FB venue like you would in a face-to-face book club. Plus, book giveaways! I happily won Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn from the last meeting. June 28 will have us discussion The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel and The Thunder Beneath Us by Nicole Blades.

File this one under “patient perseverance”: if you’ve been wondering when a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story would hit the video format, Netflix now has it. Let’s go check it out this weekend:

Writing Stuff:

I’m not a big superhero or comic book movie person, but I was more than willing to go see Wonder Woman with my family. Have you heard about the “No Man’s Land” scene? I all out cried during that scene. Seeing a woman out there, defending that stronghold? So so powerful. I’ve seen a few (and really only a very few) talk of the movie’s cheesiness, but I really like what Vaughn Roycroft has to say in this post about it actually being sincerity, not cheesiness and how really, this is exactly what we need in our world right now.

Don’t want to spend money on a master’s degree? That’s okay, Brian Rashid thinks writing a book is just as good. He’s not entirely wrong… if you are doing your research right, you can definitely become an expert (and we’re talking non-fiction here, of course), but points 2-5? Can’t say I really agree with any of them, to be honest. On the other hand, it does take perseverance to write a whole book. Hm. Thoughts?

As someone who writes non-linearly and therefore thinks in terms of scenes rather than following a guideline through a plot, I can appreciate some of the points Chuck Wendig makes in this post about “how to write a scene”. One of the things he mentions is “As with the story, start the scene as late as you can.” And, as Wendig clarifies, without always confusing your reader. The first line of each scene needn’t be like the first line of a book – ie, it doesn’t have to pull you into it in the same way, but the reader only needs to be grounded enough in the “who” and “where” in order to delve into the mysterious “why” of the scene.

A couple of days before I read this post by Heather Webb I was feeling – well, I don’t know if optimistic is exactly the right word for it, but at least motivated again for one of my current writing projects. And then the next day I slumped down into the dungeon of despair. My nephew posted something about personal failure and I remembered how I am with him – how we handle it is always more important than the failure itself. And then, Webb’s post came along and I see myself in a lot of it. This isn’t the first time I’ve talked or shared about this kind of thing, and it definitely won’t be the last… because the reminder is always necessary.

Emotion is key for drawing us into most stories. Some don’t care as much about this characterization and really just like the procedural novel, but for all else – feeling what a  character is feeling is what gets us lost in a story. Angela Ackerman’s post about ways to show these emotions is fantastic. So many physical and authentic avenues to pursue. As I’ve developed my craft, this is where I’ve spent most of my time.

This post from author Karen Strong is perfect for looking inside my own head when it comes to both the drafting and revising process. Things like “I’ve been scared to write anything new” during late revisions feels spot on sometimes. Anyway, it’s another form of support to know successful writers encounter this same thing and validates some of my thoughts and journal entries, too.

Song of the Week:

I’ve been hearing Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill” a lot recently on the radio and I like it pretty well. I mean, he’s young and still has lines like this in his songs:

Me and my friends have not thrown up in so long, oh how we’ve grown (Bless.)

But I kind of love this song just for the honesty of these lines:

Had my first kiss on a Friday night, I don’t reckon that I did it right

But I was younger then, take me back to when

 

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In Search of Grace

It’s the end of a school year and though students are done, I have a few more casual days to head on in to work to finish things up. And then, for the first time in several years, I have the summer off. This was a conscious decision as I did have the opportunity to work throughout the summer, and it was appealing, because along with the extra cash, it would have stretched me a little, putting me just outside of my comfort zone and therefore bumped up my learning experience.

However, for various reasons, it seemed a better decision to pass on that opportunity at this time and for the most part, I’m excited for the time off (I mean, obviously.) One of the influences on my decision was time to focus on writing and the neverending search for that elusive thing called publishing. Another influence was my kiddos. For the most part they are self-sufficient, specifically my older two, but my youngest is struggling with the transition from elementary to middle school and quite frankly, is going to need more than his high-school aged brothers. Neighborhood friendships are not what they once were as the kids have gotten older and interests have changed. And to continue being frank, none of my kids has been very successful navigating their social side in the tween years, so I remember that as my kids grow older, they do not need me any less. They just need me differently.

A new purpose to having the summer off has surfaced, too. I’m off to find my grace. It’s slipped away from me recently, and I need it back.

I have a job that I really enjoy. I work in two different elementary schools in technology support. I get to help others, I get to work with kids sometimes, it offers a lot of problem-solving, I learn new things, and it’s generally rewarding. I work with some really great people in both schools – I continually tell others how lucky that is! And even in the last days, when a lot is going on and the workload is more intense, and I’m exhausted at the end of the day, I still enjoy the work.

What’s the problem, then? Well, it’s been the slow build-up, of course, of my circumstances. I’m going to skip over the details of what my job has looked like throughout the year beyond the rewards of it and jump to the end: It’s the high expectations from some who forget that I’m only one person and only in each building for three hours. It’s the last minute – literally – requests and demands during a time where my one person, not-many-hours-to-do-it, non-teacher pay position is not enough to give everything. How much “above and beyond” do I give willingly? And if I give unwillingly, how do I manage that? I’m not afraid to say “no”, and have done so when it felt right or necessary. It’s the “yes” part that has led me to this conflict.

The lack of grace doesn’t come in the amount of work or the level of expectations. While I’m not right in everything I’ve expressed with family and friends about all that has gone on with my job, I’m also not all wrong. No, it’s not the professional assessment. Rather, it’s how I’ve handled it all. This is where my grace disappeared. Each day I drove to work telling myself, “New day, new attitude. It’s all good. Go with the flow.” And each day I failed and complained to the wrong person or in a crabby manner about it all. When had I become this person? When had saying “yes” become a thing to give begrudgingly? And why did I feel I had to bemoan something that fundamentally wasn’t an unpleasant thing to do? I know why I was frustrated, but I also wish I hadn’t expressed it in ways that I did – and still am doing.

And so, this summer off is a different sort of gift – it’s a needed one. One in which I will search for the return of grace. I suspect I will find it primarily in my kids. But I will also find it in my writing, even if not as much as I originally planned. I will find it in a return of regular walks. I will find it in my reading. I have been re-reading the Anne of Green Gables series and it’s just what I needed. I have a great stack of other books waiting for me (including a new Sarah Dessen!), but I am thinking I might do some other re-reading of favorite books, too.

Then, I will remind myself of how lucky I am – first, that I can take a summer off (HUGE privilege, don’t you think? I am very aware of this and truly grateful.), second, that I have a job I really do enjoy, third, that I work with stellar people, and fourth, I have a partner who supports me in whatever my job is on any given day.

How do you regain your grace when it has slipped away from you? How do you re-charge?

The following song is on one of my novel playlists, and I especially love this version and the way they play out the pause before the last line in this refrain makes me smile – grace. 🙂

“If you call my name out loud
Do you suppose that I would come running
Do you suppose I’d come at all
I suppose I would”

Posted in Giving, Musing | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Anne, Adaptations, and the Power of Nostalgia

“I reckon every idea was modern once, until it wasn’t,” Matthew Cuthbert says in Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery, and as Anne would say, this line would lead Matthew and me to be kindred spirits. Most of the time, “new” only means “change” and humans often struggle with change.

Fans of beloved books or original movies greet modern adaptations and re-tellings with a remarkable unpredictability. Re-make Dirty Dancing? ONLY AN IDIOT WOULD DO THAT. New Beauty and the Beast? OMG YES MORE MORE MORE. (I’m just going to go on record here and say I disagree with both fan statements given here. It’s the internet, after all, and I MUST log my opinion.)

duty_calls

Photo credit: XKCD

Me, I’m usually really curious when it comes to something I have loved. When Go Set a Watchman released, most around me said they couldn’t bear to read it because they didn’t want to ruin their experience with To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve come ‘round to letting go of that kind of thing because I have discovered that so many other books come along that enrich my life in similar ways that can replace old favorites. I like to think that we can manage to hold both a memory and a the “modern” thing together. And so I read Go Set a Watchman. You can find my “pre” reading thoughts here and later my review, here.

 

Thus, with CBC/Netflix’s release of Anne with an E, I couldn’t help but be curious. I love and have loved dearly the Anne series. I’ve read Anne of Green Gables an unknown number of times and the entire series almost as often. I watched the 1985 CBC/PBS adaptations (the first two films, anyway) and to be honest, I didn’t love them. I know most of my friends and family did, and maybe I would like them better now, but in 1985, I was young and fresh from reading the books and the actors for both Anne and Gilbert didn’t *quite* match how I saw them in my head and when you’re 14, that’s a big deal. Also, if I remember correctly, plotlines were kind of blended too much – and again, that was my 14-year old perspective, one that hadn’t seen many book-to-movie adaptations and I wasn’t in love with that.

But. Those 2 movies captured the books in many other ways. Even if I wasn’t a huge fan of Megan Follows, I think she did a good job of grabbing Anne’s spirit and imagination. Marilla’s and Matthew’s characters were spot on.

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Seriously, so beautiful. (Photo credit: anneofgreengables.com)

The set design was beautiful and blended scenes or no, the films did truly capture the story – the essence of the books.

 

And then the reviews trickled in for the Netflix Original version, Anne with an E. This one Sarah Larson in The New Yorker was the first one I read with post title of “How Not to Adapt ‘Anne of Green Gables’”. It came across as very disappointing, but then, guess what? I got curious. Because, was it really just someone who only loved that 1985 adaptation and couldn’t get past that, or was it really that disconcertingly different? And really, is it only nostalgia that is getting in the way? (Let’s be honest: Yes, yes it is.) Vowing not to judge it before viewing it, I determined to at minimum watch the first episode.

I enjoyed the first 90-minute opener. It was pretty true to the book with one exception – which I’ll come back to in a second. Cast is good. AmyBeth McNulty looks closer to my own vision of Anne than Follows. Matthew, Marilla, Mrs. Rachel Lynde – all good. Aside from Anne being 13-years old already in this version vs. 11, I liked how it all played out and, still being CBC, the panoramic views were almost as wonderful as the 1985.

But really, I wasn’t comparing it to that early version – rather I was comparing the interpretation of the book itself. And by episode two, you can really see the change up. Showrunner Moira Wally-Beckett is quoted in The New Yorker: “I wanted to ground it in the foundation of some of the story and some of the plot that’s already there but not fully explored,” she said. “So it’s like I sort of open up the spine of the book, reach in between the lines of the pages, and chart some new territory.” And this she definitely does. During the ride back to Green Gables, we get almost PTSD-like flashbacks to Anne’s earlier placements which correlate to the book, but of course in the book, Anne speaks more matter-of-factly about them. Certainly in the book we see Marilla and Matthew read between the lines of Anne’s words, but in Anne with an E, it’s much darker in its representation.

In the next couple of episodes we see typical added Hollywood-style drama, and that was kind of annoying – Anne is sent away (after a re-arrangement of events) and we have a lot of one episode of Matthew going through some heroics to get Anne back. And then… this is where true Anne fans might falter… Anne is the center of much ridicule everywhere she goes, including her first days of school. She expresses a “beyond her years” inappropriateness when sharing what she knows of sex and parents all shun her. Then a fire happens at Ruby Gillis’ house and Anne saves their home because of worldly knowledge, which is what brings everyone ‘round again to decide to like her. Additionally, we meet Gilbert in very different circumstances (he steps in as White Knight in the forest as Anne is intimidated by some other boy – can’t remember who) and the conflict between the two of them arises from other issues, too. “Carrots” comes into play, but when it does, it actually feels very out of place.

There are a lot of other things like this throughout, and no one needs me to point them all out, but I will sum up some feelings about the show as such:

Pros:

  1. I was emotionally invested. Three episodes in and I felt heartsick for both Anne and Marilla at various times. I cried with Anne when she cried.
  2. Anne is spirited!
  3. I liked the casting for Anne, Marilla, Matthew, Mrs. Rachel Lynde, and Diana.
  4. A lot of the dialogue was taken word-for-word from the book.
  5. If you never read the books, this interpretation definitely fits in with what dramatic shows look like right now. It’s a good blend of period storytelling with a modern, realistic slant for our more uncertain times that we currently live in. Biedenhorn says this in her EW review:

“And it’s worth noting that Anne’s gritty realism is, of course, much closer to what life actually would have been like for a turn-of-the-century orphan. Given the heaviness of shows dominating the conversation these days — from Game of Thrones to 13 Reasons Why to This Is Us — inventing a dark side might help Anne With an E fit into today’s TV landscape.”

  1. It made me remember just how often I read the books in years past because I knew exactly where things strayed. Ha! In this same vein, watching that first episode made me want to re-read the series so badly, I promptly cracked open the first book the next day.
  2. At the time of posting this, I am mid-way through Anne of Avonlea and really want to write Gilbert’s story. This might also be a “Con” because What, How, When.

Cons:

  1. Anne is too old. It took away too much of her innocence, which to me is key to her adaptability.
  2. I was not keen on Gilbert – although, I will say he looks and acts more the age he is supposed to be in relation to Anne. I think it’s easy to forget that Gilbert is, in fact, 2 years older than Anne, and if in this version she is 13, then he definitely seems more like 15 in this version.
  3. While Anne’s dialogue was taken exactly from the book (mostly) as were some scenes, the effort to give it a more austere feel seemed to generate far more work in rearranging and re-writing scenes to still match the dialogue. It seems to me that the darker nature of some bits could easily have been magnified with what was already there. Or, ditch the exact dialogue altogether if it’s going to come to the much broader strokes of interpretation anyway.
  4. After 3 episodes, I was done being curious and preferred the Anne and Company inside LM Montgomery’s pages instead of Walley-Beckett’s. As mentioned in the “Pros”, I can see the appeal for an un-christened Anne Shirley viewer, but for the rest of us, nah.

I have more “pros” than “cons”, but of course, if I’m not going to keep watching it, then list content vs length obviously holds more weight. I do not feel, as Biedenhorn and Larson do that this version is a “betrayal”, rather that it is a different, more modern take on it. And, taken directly from Montomery’s  world, Matthew is okay with modern, so maybe we can be, too…but then, Marilla is in charge, so I guess she’s not wrong, either. 😀

(On a side note… remember when an awful new cover came out for the book a few years ago? I stand by that outrage.)

Here’s a little clip to give you a taste – for more, or for validation in skipping it altogether:

Posted in Reading, Viewing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Saturday Summation – 20 May 2017

Bits and pieces of things that caught my eye not only for my own interest, but enough to want to share with you, too…

Reading Stuff:

James Patterson and Bill Clinton as co-authors on a novel? I might even read that when it comes out. What an interesting pairing. I got a kick out of Book Riot’s follow up post on “dream” president-novelist pairings, too.

In my last summation, I listed Still Life, the first of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books in my recommended reads. I chose to listen to it on audiobook, and I was hooked. Beautiful writing…and a narrator who truly gave it justice. I am hooked. I recently finished the second book and am excited to start listening to the third. I noticed that at some point, Ralph Cosham stopped narrating and I wondered what happened – and then found this article. He died in 2014. I’m so sad, knowing that eventually I’ll have to let him go. If you are an audiobook fan, who is a narrator you have grown especially attached to?

Writing Stuff:

I recently finished Becky Albertelli’s latest book, The Upside of Unrequited and loved it. I mean, it was great on many different levels and honestly, I can’t doubt at all that a good part of it was that, as this Slate article mentions, she had “totaled 12 sensitivity readers” for it. TWELVE. That’s getting due diligence right. I am really happy to see more articles popping up about sensitivity readers. There are still some who will still call it a “trend” (the same ones that say “diverse books” are a trend), and sadly, they are the same ones who won’t figure out WHO a sensitivity reader is when they attempt to find one for their own novels. But, for all the rest of the great writers and authors out there – yes to all of this attention to this area of beta reading.

A new trend in writing posts I’ve seen lately has writers questioning the emphasis on getting the first line and then the first five pages right. Dave King talks about the folly of nailing those first five pages, but then the rest of your story doesn’t match. I think, of course, that if you are an established author, those first five matter only slightly less. A debut author in some ways, only gets the one shot. But it is absolutely true that those five pages mean nothing if the rest of the novel can’t back it up.

Amy Nathan offers some good insights on the importance of more than mere find-replace when it comes to writing in on POV, then changing your mind and switching over to another. What I really think is interesting is that many might think that first person POV is the most personal and close one can get to a character, but she discovered that deep third person created a wider lens for readers to get to know her protagonist – and that is an important distinction to understand when doing a changeover in the drafting stage.

Some readers love character description – I have one crit partner who always comments on my manuscripts about wanting to know more about how my protagonist looks like in the opening pages. Yet, I am more like this author, and don’t care as much. I like to know distinguishing traits that might especially pertain to the story or how characters interact with one another, but beyond that, I’m good with filling in the blanks. And really, Edgerton’s comment in this post on how a reader firmly believed he had detailed a character’s physical description when he had not actually done so is fascinating. There’s more to this craft than flowery words, indeed.

 

Song of the Week:

My 10-year old has friends who know the Hamilton music soundtrack well, and he has been asking to listen to it forever. I’ve finally given in – insisting that we listen to it the first time around together. We’ve finished the first act and with all that we’ve been going through as a country in the past few months, I can’t help but always have this song in the back of my head.

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Saturday Summation – 06 May 2017

Bits and pieces of things that caught my eye not only for my own interest, but enough to want to share with you, too…

Hey. Long time no linking, yes? Let’s start getting back into the swing of things…

Writing Stuff:

One of these days I’m going to read my copy of Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel, but until then, I sure am glad he is a regular contributor to Writer Unboxed. His most recent post talks about pulling readers in through “spells, palls, and poisoned apples” – ie: having your characters become enthralled or embroiled which usually means the reader will fall in line with the same trap. Check out his guiding questions to get you going.

Looking for a concrete way to show not tell? Consider how your characters show love for one another. Fae Rowen gives some suggestions of how characters can show love through real life examples and fictional ones. I know this is one of my favorite ways to drop in character connections (and to read them… I definitely notice them even when the action isn’t explicitly explained) and I think it’s good to note that this kind of thing doesn’t have to mean romantic love; it can and should include friendships. Who doesn’t like to read about a best friend showing up with a bag of french fries and fountain Dr. Pepper to demonstrate how clearly they know you?

Author Jenny Cruisie frequently analyzes TV shows for storytelling techniques, but as agent Janet Reid says, movies are good, too, especially for their compact amount of time to hook and keep its audience. I mean, make sure you are using similar category movies to compare with what you write. Fast and Furious Nfinity isn’t going to help with the pacing in my Oprah-endorsed novel. (I don’t think it will help with any novel at all at this point, but, anyway…) For me, there’s pacing examples, but I most love movies that have balanced storytelling and authentic characterization (ie, not over-the-top, cliche, etc). Her is a good movie for this. That movie had you believing in love with an AI and the premise was probably the most realistic look at our future that I’ve seen in a while. Hidden Figures does a great job with compressing a timeline with authentic character behaviors and even though the end is a bit too Hollywood for my tastes, the rest of the drama was balanced in the ideas of Maas’ post I listed earlier – we are enthralled by both characters and situation. Anyway, check out more of what Reid says and the example movie she mentions.

 

Reading Stuff:

Here’s a thing… you know how when you’re looking at a product on Amazon and see the “add to cart” button… and often assume that it is automatically choosing the actual Amazon source link (as in, you’re getting it from Amazon, not a third party seller)? Turns out, this “buy” box is now a changeable thing. This may or may not matter on everything, but it turns out, it can affect an author’s book sales. I recommend reading the post for full explanations and details, but tl;dr upshot is: if you are buying books from Amazon, take a moment to help the author out and make sure the seller choice you click on really is from Amazon.

 

Publishing Stuff:

Chris O’Brien starts a post this week with “There is a current trend, specifically on LinkedIn, to pronounce certain careers dead.” And honestly, it’s a trend all around to pronounce things dead. What does that even mean, to claim something is “dead”. Once upon a time print books were on the verge of being “dead”. Land lines are now considered “dead”. Who even uses email anymore? Right? Well, you can imagine I will refute. And I do… but in this case, I will bring us back ‘round to O’Brien’s point in that the role of literary agents is not dead. At all. (And since were sort of on the topic, print books went back on the rise in the past couple of years. A RESURRECTION!) Probably the key point in his post is that, like any other profession and industry, literary agents have learned to adapt to the continuing changes.

 

Miscellaneous Stuff:

This is just kind of a miscellaneous thing to drop in here, but since we’re talking a bit about authenticity – Bill Gates has once again reminded us that he doesn’t think technology should overtake all parts of our lives. His kids (and hey, my kids, too!) didn’t have a smartphone unit age 14. Limit screen time. I like this article mostly because of the authentic nature. My partner and I are huge tech people, but I think because of that, we try to recognize its limitations, too. I think we sometimes expect the big tech giants to be all about tech all the time, but then we peek into their personal lives and think, huh, guess not! Also, for a long time I’ve really held a lot of respect for Bill and Melinda Gates.

 

Recommended Reads:

Yeah, so the last time I listed some recs was December, so though there were many I rated 4- and 5 stars, I’ve limited my list to those I wrote reviews:

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch (A) (my Goodreads review)

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie (A) (my Goodreads review )

Funny Girl – Nick Hornby (A) (my Goodreads review)

Truly, Madly, Guilty – Liane Moriarty (A) (my Goodreads review )

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas (YA) (my Goodreads review )

The Mothers – Brit Bennett (A) (my Goodreads review)

American Street – Ibi Zoboi (YA) (my Goodreads review)

Still Life – Louise Penny (A) (my Goodreads review)

The Upside of Unrequited – Becky Albertelli (YA) (my Goodreads review)

Currently reading: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold in print and A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny by audio.

Song of the Week:

My ten-year old told us his fourth grade class will be singing this song for their music concert next week. And as much as I sometimes grow tired of people responding to all who express their rage over what is happening in our country with “Be Kind!” as though fighting for justice is unkind… I can’t argue a group of elementary students singing this song by Lori McKenna (and don’t tell me it’s Tim McGraw’s, McKenna wrote it) and trying to emulate its spirit.

Posted in Parenting, publishing, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writing While White: Sensitivity Readers

First, I offer a scene in a current WIP of mine:

He thinks over the question. Does everyone hate him? Betsy’s voice talks in his head, telling him “hate” is too strong a word – she works with small children after all – but in truth, he doesn’t see much difference between hate and any other of the similar emotions that express dislike. If someone says they don’t like onions, then they avoid them at all costs, which seems pretty much like hating them, too. If a co-worker tells his boss that they hate working with him, but still does, he doesn’t see how it makes much difference.

As far as he knows, only one person in recent years has actually gone to his boss with such a strong complaint. Maybe everyone else feels the same way and his boss hasn’t told him. Justin usually keeps most of his thoughts to himself at work and imagines his own dialogues where he gets to say anything he wants and ask all the questions he wants to make people talk clearly. He already imagined the conversation between himself and colleague that hated him. It went something like this:

“I hate you.” (He realizes that this conversation already clearly marks the difference between his fantasy conversation and reality, but isn’t the sentiment clear? This way he can simply accept the statement and move on. It’s not that he is happy that this person hates him – or dislikes him or wants to avoid him like onions – but it’s not altogether pleasant to hear much more after such a declaration.)

“Okay.”

“Do you want to know why?” (He figures some reality is necessary. He’s not going–)

“Justin?” Lucia’s voice cuts in, pulling him back outside of his head.

“What?”

She smiles. “You kind of disappeared for a moment there.”

“I’m right-” he stops and punches his leg before he can reveal that even now, at age thirty, he still mixes up literal and metaphorical uses for verbs. He was going to say “I’m right here. I could not have disappeared.” But obviously that isn’t what she meant.

“Yes. I do that sometimes. I don’t know if everyone hates me. They haven’t told me.”

She nods as though she miraculously understands. “I’d rather just hear someone tell me how they feel rather than them being all passive-aggressive about it.”

She only sort of understands, but it’s something. He tries to ignore the slight lift of his heart.

“Well,” he says, “I wouldn’t know if someone was acting passive-aggressively. I’m not very good at figuring out emotions that aren’t obvious. For example, I really have no idea if your comment just now was passive-aggressive. For that matter, I don’t actually understand what ‘passive-aggressive’ is. I mean, I know what it means, but whole concept still confuses me.”

This character, Justin, is one of two protagonists in this piece. Some might have guessed that he has some degree of autism. Have I done him justice? Fairly? Balanced? Without stereotype? I’m trying to do so, but as a neuro-typical writer, I can’t be sure. Naturally, I have lots and lots more research to do before this even gets out of discovery draft stage, and then after that, when this finally gets to penultimate draft stage, I will be in search of what is called a sensitivity reader for one of my beta readers.

What is a sensitivity reader, you ask? Author Natalia Sylvester gives a lot more detail and useful information in her post on Writer Unboxed, but basically is someone who is a part of a population that you are not, but you have written about. For example, when the time comes, I will want at least one person – preferably male – who has autism to read my manuscript about my character, Justin. That reader can help flag areas that don’t ring true and more importantly, let me know where I’ve gone off the rails and leaned too heavily on inaccurate stereotypes or other biases.

You see, as a writer within the dominant population groups (neuro-typical, able-bodied, cis-gendered, straight, white) I need to be especially aware of how I am portraying my characters who are from marginalized populations because really, how irresponsible is it to just mix it all up and misrepresent? How many times have you picked up a book and gotten angry at how the author has gotten you all wrong? If you are reading this, and you aren’t white, I know this happens All. Of. The. Time.

A friend of mine shared this meme awhile back on FB, and while it is an obvious exaggeration, I’m pretty sure many female readers can relate:

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Do you see how this feels? Can we imagine something like this for a black reader always reading about how he is big, intimidating, and so often the bad guy? Can we imagine something like this for the Asian-American girl who is always portrayed as small and meek? If something as basic as a male writer constantly sexualizing his female characters can annoy us as female readers, what must it be like for a reader in a twice marginalized population where they are put inside a box that symbolizes years and years of misrepresentation?

Writing the Other and doing it well has gotten a lot more attention recently, and even better is that the concept of hiring sensitivity readers for our manuscripts has made it to public news. NPR had this article about growing use of sensitivity readers, and the last bit of it is my takeaway line from it: “Because people don’t realize the power of words and the power of bad representation — it can haunt people.” And before that there was this one from the Chicago Tribune – “[Dhonielle] Clayton, who is black, sees her role as a vital one. ‘Books for me are supposed to be vehicles for pleasure, they’re supposed to be escapist and fun,’ she says. They’re not supposed to be a place where readers ‘encounter harmful versions’ and stereotypes of people like them.” The key in there is understanding the word “harmful”, as in, doing damage in how we represent a population that is different than ourselves.

Writing “diversely” – or what would be nice to start recognizing as writing authentically – continues to ride the forefront of critical issues facing fiction writers today, and some authors and writers are expressing fear of even trying to write authentic worlds. What if we get it wrong?

Well, without question, we’ll get it wrong. We’re always going to get something wrong, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing the best we can. In truth, this fear is a good thing, because it gives us more motivation to do our due diligence with characters and situations that are not within our immediate life experience. It means we absolutely should avail ourselves of sensitivity readers to help us get as much of it right as we can.

Publishing is already skewed towards white authors, which is hugely problematic as it is, so if we are going to skate on this privilege, the absolute least we can do is to try to offer the most authentic representation we can in our stories.

I cannot deny that I, too, am worried about how my stories will be received by readers who fall into the marginalized populations. One of my manuscripts features a main character who is trans-female and another who is a bisexual, Latino male. One of my beta readers is transgender and that was absolutely by design. His feedback was essential. I have another manuscript where the protagonist is Latina, which is core to that story. Numerous times I have debated with myself on whether or not I have a right to tell her story – because let’s be honest, Latina authors do not need me to tell their story, and many would never want me to. I have a couple of people in mind to ask (hire) as sensitivity readers when the time comes, and maybe that will help me decide whether it should even be presented for public consumption.

In other words, I feel that same fear that other authors and writers have expressed. It’s a good thing. I mean, it shouldn’t paralyze us to the point that we don’t even include Other characters in our stories at all, because that’s counterproductive. But it does ensure that I put in the effort to get it right – or at least as right as I can. Having reservations is okay. How we deal with those reservations is key to producing the best manuscript possible. It prepares us for the inevitable criticism… which will then help us do better the next time.

As a final note, a resource: Author Justina Ireland started up a database of sensitivity readers for hire. Lots of possibilities and ever so helpful in trying to connect with one. Fantastic resource and many thanks to both Ireland and those who have been entered into the database.

Thoughts? Or maybe you have criticisms for my writing sample at the beginning? Feel free to give me what I need to hear on that, too.

This song is so appropriate for many things right now, and it works for this, too. History has its eyes on us, let’s not be willfully ignorant and mess it up, eh?

 

 

 

 

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Commit – Continued.

 So, January happened.

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I considered writing a post about “how to write while the world is effed up”, but there are already lots of posts out there like that and let’s be real, though they might be doing wonders for others, they aren’t actually helping me. Advice, have I none.

Instead, I’m remembering my one-word resolution, “COMMIT”. It’s time to put words to the page, even if it’s only a few words a day. I know writing helps me. I know it. So, time to commit.

I’ve got my current manuscript playlist going as I continue my efforts to put running in as a regular routine – or even walking – and I will get there.

Perhaps I should re-open a manuscript I started a while back, but set aside. Maybe starting fresh will be the way to go. Maybe gleaning some optimism that my current manuscript doesn’t need a major overhaul is enough to energize me. Who knows? All I can do is commit to trying.

And the beautiful thing about writing is that reading is a necessary part in developing the craft. How lucky that I have several books to recommend as a result of so much studying!

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch (A) (my Goodreads review)

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie (A) (my Goodreads review)

I Was Here – Gayle Forman (YA) (my Goodreads review)

Funny Girl – Nick Hornby (A) (my Goodreads review)

And so, a few words at a time, with books to nourish, I commit to the writing thing that has known, positive results.

And if you are lost, may you find your way again soon, too. I am rooting for you!

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