Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Don't Give Up!

I don't know about everyone else, but I've been feeling pretty helpless with the state of politics these days. We call, we march, we protest and continue to lose to bigotry and ignorance. I had the great opportunity to meet with RI Congressman Jim Langevin this weekend, hoping for some strategy. If you're feeling like I am, he said to keep being vocal. We only lose when we're silent. If you're in a red state, call your reps. Repeatedly. It does help. And for blue staters, don't forget to call your reps and tell them when you support their legislation. Mr. Langevin thanked me for supporting him on bill HR 3497 to limit automatic weapons because, usually, he only hears from the naysayers. The intelligent, compassionate side of Congress is still there for us, and they need our help, so let's make sure we give it to them!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Reviewers are Your Best Resource

If I've said this before, I think it bears repeating. Book reviewers are an amazing resource for writers. Why? Because they read, a lot. Possibly as much or more than the editors and agents we're pitching. They've seen it all. They know what's been done a thousand times. They know what's unique. They know what's missing from the market, and ultimately, they are your readers. They are who you really need to sell this book to, and they are letting you know exactly what they want and don't want, right there on Goodreads.

I say this because I read and I review and I write, and the book I'm pitching now is a product of many, many hours of work and plotting inspired by reviewers.

It started out as a revenge book, because who doesn't love a plucky teen girl seeking revenge for her murdered family? Lots of people, which is why lots of authors have used that as a basis for their plot. I was already at work on it, making plans, adding characters when I read a review for another book that said...

Oh boy, another revenge plot.

It was a blow to my plans, yes, but a necessary one. Trying to break into an already saturated market as a new voice with no publishing cred...well, I have to be different. That one line pushed me back into my plotting and forced me to think about what I really wanted to accomplish. Where did I want my character to go? What was she seeking? Where did I see her ending up? Ultimately, there was another way to get her there without sending her in as a vengeful assassin.

So how do you start?

Read the reviews for books you love, your mentor texts. Read the reviews from reviewers who feel like you do, who gave it five stars and put it at the top of their reading shelf. What did they like about the book? Was it the same things you liked about it?

Then read the one star reviews. What did they hate about it? Do you agree or disagree? Is it just a matter of taste?

On the flip side, read the reviews for the books you didn't love. Why did the five-star reviewers give it five stars? Do you agree or disagree?

Keep in mind that books, like art, are VERY subjective. Someone's Van Gogh can be another person's Monet and neither one is right or wrong. (Except if you don't love Monet, you're wrong.)

Once you have your notes, you can start weaving new ideas into your own novel.

  • You loved the way Author A wrote her dialogue, but didn't like the controlling male love interest. 
  • A reviewer said that although the revenge plot was tired out, Author B added a new twist by making the MC a girl with autism. 
  • Another reviewer loved the world-building by Author C, but thought the character was a Mary Sue.

Now back to your novel. What did Author A do to make her dialogue so inviting? Are there ways you can infuse those things into your work? Is there something unique about your main character that you can showcase? What about Author C's MC made her a Mary Sue? Was it an inability to act? Was she another plain girl everyone loved? What can you change about your MC to avoid falling into the same trap?

It's something I like to call Frankensteining. Take a piece from this, a part from that, meld it with your own ideas and start piecing together a novel. None of this is different from simply reading and making notes. But you have a whole team of readers making notes alongside you, who have read things that are still on your TBR pile, or ARC's of books that aren't on shelves. So utilize it. Don't be another revenge plot!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Explain it to a Five-Year-Old: Moana Costume

I read this article yesterday about a mom who thinks it's not okay for a white girl to dress as Moana.


And when I see stuff like this, I immediately imagine having this conversation with my five-year-old

"Hey, we got the Halloween costume catalog. Do you want to pick your costume for this year?"

He takes the catalog and flips through a few pages, stopping on page three, where his chubby little finger drops to a picture of a girl in a Moana costume. "This one."

I turn to my five-year-old son, the product of French and German descent. I look at his crystal blue eyes, rove down across his ivory skin, to pink cheeks complete with angelic little dimple. If you were to Google image search, "little white boy," his picture would be at the top.

My lips curl into a cringey smile. "Are you sure? You haven't even looked through the whole book."

"I'm sure. Can we go get it now?" He bats his long lashes.

I take the book from him. "Why don't we just look at the other pages?"

Angelic smile turns to frown. "Why? I thought I could be whatever I want for Halloween."

"Well, you can, but you don't want to dress up as something that could hurt someone's feelings."

"Moana hurts people's feelings?"

"No, no." Desperately searching through catalog to find a costume that might tempt him more. "Moana is wonderful."

"I know. She's brave, and she can sail, and she can sing, and do you remember that part with the giant crab? That was my favorite."

"Oh I know, and you're absolutely right...it's just this might not be the best costume for you."

"Because I'm a boy?" His eyes droop, lashes flattening against his cheeks.

"Oh no. Dad and I don't care about that."

"Then why would she hurt people's feelings?"

I close the book and take a breath. "You see Moana is a character based on the Hawaiian people."

"Yeah. It's cool that she lives on an island, and her outfit has so many colors."

"Yes, yes it is. But we're not Hawaiian, so we wouldn't want anyone to think we're making fun of her."

"I'm not making fun of her. I like her."

"Yes, yes." Struggling to find the right words. "Historically, European people have used other cultures to make fun of them, so we don't want to do that."

Small brows draw together. "But I'm not making fun of her."

Exasperated sigh. "We're different than Moana. I think we should find another costume." I retrieve the book.

He twists his face in deep concentration while I rip through pages, trying to find some way to end this conversation.

"Is it because she's brown?" he asks.

The book falls from my fingers. "No...well, not exactly."

"But I like that about her too. She's pretty."

"Yes, she is."

"I'm not allowed to be pretty?"

"No. No."

"Then why can't I wear the Moana costume?"

I stare deeply into his blue eyes, tongue tied, fumbling for words...and I can't find them. "Forget I said anything. Let's go get the Moana costume, and then Mommy needs to pick up a bottle of wine."

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


I am so angry right now, angry to the point where my chest hurts, where I want to scream, but I'm afraid no one will hear me. Because no one is listening. The books I write and *used* to consider fantasy and science fiction are becoming less and less fantastical. Corrupt governments, mass slaughter in the streets, threat of global warfare...it's all real, and it's happening right now.

Where we should consider being scanned and prodded and stripped at the airport an injustice; we now consider it a routine. Terror training for kindergartners is as commonplace as learning the ABC's. You now have a reasonable chance of being shot when you go to see your favorite band.

I'm scared.

I'm scared that we're going to forget that things did not used to be this way. I never had to practice hiding under my desk to avoid shooters in school. I used to go to shows without walking through a metal detector. I could wait for my family at the airport gate instead of being ushered by a police officer on the street for lingering too long.

These are some of the freedoms we've all sacrificed by allowing violence to become the new normal.

We've given up the right to feel safe, to learn, to dance, to be innocent, to live.

In my stories, I often write about a heroine or a group of heroes who stand up against injustice and prevail. We want it to be someone else. We want to be able to trust in our government that they will fulfill that role.

They aren't.

My biggest fear is that nothing will happen, nothing will change--again. In two months time, we'll all be complacent until it happens again. But we can't let this happen again. Every life that was lost yesterday, every sobbing mother, or buried child, or human being fighting for his life is on us. All of us. For being quiet. For forgetting. For expecting someone else to fight.

Call your senators and reps, and not just today, every day or every week or every month until things change. Whatever you can manage. Set a reminder in your calendar. Make your call on the same day you pay your rent or your car payment. Keep fighting for those who can't fight anymore.

I'm tired of being angry.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Go Fund Me: Psychic Needed

*I probably don't need to say this, but this is a work of fiction. 

Most of you know what happened to Jonah. For those who don’t, my brother is dead. He overdosed on heroin that no one even knew he was doing. We were all ignoring him then. Not anymore.
It started right after the funeral. We all came back to the house and sat around, eating cheese and crackers, telling stories about my brother. I told Aunt Lois about the time my kite got stuck in the maple tree out back and how Jonah climbed up to rescue it for me. Then he got stuck, and we had to wait for my dad to get home because I wasn’t strong enough to lift the ladder. 
Jonah was always that type of guy, the guy to do things without thinking about how he would get out of it later. The same with shooting up heroin. The same with what he did after he died. You see, I think, when it was his time to go off with the other ghosts, he decided to stay, and just like the maple tree, he’s stuck.
After all the cheese and crackers were gone, I went upstairs to my room, exhausted from crying all day, and I crashed on my bed. I looked up, and there, written in black ink on the ceiling was, “I’m still here.” It was Jonah’s handwriting, a little shakier. My mom yelled at me for playing a sick joke, and she made me clean it up.
But it kept coming back.
So I had my best friend, Sam, bring his sister’s Ouija board over to try and get in touch with Jonah. Instead we found a spirit named Cletus, who told me I should go out with my best friend Sam, which leads me to believe the whole Ouija board thing is a load of crap.
I suppose, from there, I could have lived with my dead brother leaving messages on my ceiling, but then two days ago, I found my parents standing outside the bathroom door. They turned when I stepped behind them, and Dad said, “Why would you do this?”
“Do what?” I asked, and Dad showed me.
The mirror was shattered, glass covered the floor, and the pieces had been rearranged to say, “Help me.”
Trying to convince my parents that my dead brother did it and not me, landed me an appointment for family therapy. They assume that I’m so upset over Jonah’s death, I’m making a not-so-subtle cry for help.
That’s not it. I promise.
My brother is still here, and I need to help him, like I should have helped him before, when he’d been breathing. It’s too late for that, but I can get him out of the tree. I can put him to rest. That’s why I need money. I need to a hire a psychic to exorcise my brother from this house and send him where he belongs. Please help. I owe him this.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Writing Diverse Characters

Even as I wrote that title, I broke out into a sweat. I'm a privileged white lady. I'm not supposed to talk about this stuff! But I'm also a writer, so I'm supposed to talk about this stuff!

It's common knowledge that there is a lack of diversity in YA (and many other places). We need more stories with people of color, different faiths and sexuality to both star in and write stories for teens and young adults. I'll admit, most of my early manuscripts are a whole bunch of white kids doing white things. Those books were terrible, for many reasons, that being one of them, because it made my work inauthentic.

I grew up in Arizona, and half of my friends, coworkers, classmates, were Hispanic. Speaking with a librarian friend, she asked me, "So did you put a black person in your book to make it diverse?"

"No," I said. "There is a Mexican doctor and a Native American girl in my book because it all happens in Arizona." I let the place and the time direct my cultural mix because that's what's real.

But they were secondary characters. I was still too scared to make any of the leading characters POC because ya know, I'm a white lady, and I see all the negative opinions swirling around white ladies writing diverse stories.

Maggie Stiefvater, All the Crooked Saints.
Keira Drake, The Continent
Veronica Roth, Carve the Mark

Now please note, I haven't read any of these. From the sounds of it, mistakes were made. But Maggie Stiefvater's book isn't even out yet and people are already waggling their fingers. Maybe we should give her a chance? Especially because she's Maggie Stiefvater, and her work is, for the most part, incredible?

Which leaves me with a lot of questions:

It's pretty common for me to write about things I'm not. I've written about doctors, space travelers, police officers, dads, brothers, soccer players...I did my research, and I'd do the same for writing about anything else I didn't fully understand.

So can writers of color not write about white people? Can men not write women characters?

I remember, way back when, I read Wally Lamb's, She's Come Undone. The entire time I was reading, I thought Wally had to be a pen name, or a nickname, something short for Wallamina (I didn't say I was smart!) Then I get to the back and see a picture of some white guy who wrote this wonderfully emotional story about an overweight girl.

That's what I want. I want to be able to write about a young black girl and have people think with every word that the author has to be black. That, to me, is authenticity. That, to me, is really stretching your imagination as a writer. And that's what stories are all about--becoming someone else.

But when you're trying to write something true, there are going to be things you don't want to hear. I wish there wasn't racism or sexism or hate in the world, but there is. And if I were writing about a struggling young twenty-two-year-old, fresh out of college, starting her first job, some suit-wearing bigwig would definitely pop by her desk, drop a stack of paper on her, and say, "Make two copies of this for me, Honey."

It doesn't mean I'm sexist. I'm just trying to paint a true picture of the world, and that really happened to me. But does that mean it happens in every office? God, I hope not, and I think that's another thing to remember. My twenty-two-year-old white girl story is not representative of EVERY twenty-two-year-old white girl story.

My former roommate said the most profound thing to me once. "You shouldn't not tell someone's story because it's sad. You SHOULD tell it because it's sad." And I especially love the double negative. She's absolutely right, though. It's the stories that make us sad or angry that make us think. I don't want to read fluffy stories where everyone loves each other and rainbows burst from our eyeballs...so I'm not going to write them.

The key, that I mentioned above, is research. Sensitivity readers. Avoid cultural stereotypes. Stop and think if what you're writing is a true experience or what you THINK is a true experience. I recently hired a sensitivity reader, and she pointed out a couple of improvements I could make to my gay character. I made them. It was two lines of additional copy, but that could mean the world to a reader.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

This is what you get when you let your child name things

We're starting our mini-farm at the new house, where I often hear the theme song to Green Acres* playing in the back of my head. Pretty much any time I touch a rake or shovel or gasp...an axe. I'm still too afraid to handle a chainsaw after watching an episode of CSI where one guy hacked his entire arm off with one. That would definitely be me.

Anyway, we're starting slow, with small animals that are unlikely to kick us, bite us, or leave shovel-size poop on the lawn.

Our two rabbits - named Hippy and Hoppy (this is only one of them, but they look EXACTLY the same)

And our chickens: (also not all of them) Grimlock, Sideswipe, Strong Arm and Bumblebee

If you haven't guessed, the rabbits were named using absolutely zero creativity whatsoever, and the chickens are named after Transformers, thanks to my almost 5 year-old-son, who has both a limited grasp on the English language and names beyond television, his classmates, and family.

None of this has anything to do with writing, unless of course your character is a five-year-old, and you want to know about the ridiculous names they pick for things. For everyone else, it's just pictures of cute animals--enjoy!

*For those who don't watch Nick at Nite, HERE is the Green Acres theme.