Thursday, June 21, 2018

How Can non-LGBTQIA+ Authors Use Their Privilege This Pride Month?

How Can non-LGBTQIA+ Authors Use Their Privilege This Pride Month? 

This is a question I've been asking myself for years. Best case scenario, all straight authors prioritize the voices of members in the LGTBQ+ community, buy their work, and credit them whenever possible. But already being someone who writes and publishes regularly, I felt I could do more. So I did what I thought was best: I asked.

Below is the dialogue I had with several authors who regularly write LGBTQIA+ fiction, including E.L. Reedy & A.M. Wade (Writing partners and siblings! Can you say dynamic duo?), Kate LarkindaleM. Pepper Langlinais, and Melody Wiklund, author of Eleven Dancing Sisters I think you'll find their conversation to be thought-provoking and fun! 

Me: So first question will actually be a statement: Happy Pride! Tell me about yourself and your books, especially those containing LGBTQIA+ characters!

ER: Thank you! Our book, Upon Broken Wings, is about finding hope in even the darkest situations. Our greatest goal in the writing was to hopefully save lives. It follows two young teens who attempt suicide. One, Andrew, manages to take his life, the other, Kiernan, ends up wandering around in a ghost state as his body lies in a coma.

KL: Happy Pride! I'm Kate and I'm a writer living in New Zealand. My books almost all have some LGBTQIA characters, even if they are not the central focus of the story. My debut novel was An Unstill Life which is an F/F love story about a girl whose friends abandon her for boyfriends at the time in her life she needs their support most. She finds what she needs with the school 'freak'.

ALP: I write as M Pepper Langlinais, and my novel "The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller" is a 1960s British spy story featuring a gay main character. The book is actually made up of three novellas, and the first novella is "St. Peter in Chains." That won a Blogger Book Fair award for LGBT back in 2013, and a screenplay adaptation I did won Table Read My Screenplay and was given a professional table read at Sundance Film Festival.

MW: Happy Pride! I have an f/f novella in Kissed which is about a lesbian and her bi best friend competing for the attention of a possibly queer new girl... and also maybe realizing that they're more interested in each other. I also have written a novella that's an f/f retelling of a somewhat obscure Russian fairy tale, and that will be coming out sometime this year...not yet sure when. It involves a princess, a peasant girl, and a mysterious talking fish.

Me: Okay, question two -- Why do you write books/stories with diverse characters?

AW: The world is not made up of identical clones. We all have fears and foibles and all must deal with hardships in our own ways. Having someone "normal", someone lame, someone mentally challenged, and someone very young allows us to see that fact. We all feel abandoned, betrayed, hurt, angry, loved, alive, and so on, and our story shows that despite all those differences, they all forgot the same thing--we are not alone. For each of us, there is at least one person who can and will stand by us and give aid and comfort, IF WE JUST ASK.

MW: To be honest, I didn't start writing f/f entirely on purpose. It began when I was writing a theoretically m/f novel...and then realized that my female main character was really crushing on a girl. [...]It's something I use to express my own sexuality (irl I'm debatably closeted) and it's also just something I enjoy doing--I often find writing relationships between women, whether romantic or platonic, more interesting than writing relationships between women and men.

KL: I want to write stories that reflect the world we live in and the world is made up of a vast array of people who are different to one another. I like writing f/f stories especially because there seem to be far fewer book exploring love between two women than between two men.

Me: Agreed! I'm loving these answers.

ALP: I do it because I think diverse characters are more interesting to write and to read. Also, every LGBT+ book I'd read seemed to be about that character struggling with his or her sexuality. I wanted to write LGBT+ characters who were already comfortable with that but maybe had to deal with others being uncomfortable. I feel like that's true to their experience too, as much as coming out is.

ER: Diversity is the spice of life. Despite what an alarmingly growing number of people who learned nothing from WWII might think. The differences between us are what gives the human race such staggering potential… If we don’t annihilate each other first. Also first rule of writing. Write what you know.

Me: That leads right into my next question -- I am straight and white, and in all my books, I've written queer and racially diverse characters. How do you feel about authors writing what they have not themselves experienced?

KL: If we all only write what we know, books wouldn’t be nearly as interesting to read. I think as long as you research where you need to, it’s fine to write outside your own experience. I mean, Stumped is about a teenage boy amputee and I’m not a boy or an amputee, but I did my research and I’ve been told I captured the experience and emotions really authentically.

AW: I hope, as writers and even readers, that we have been observant and listened to the world that exists around us. I am short, old, female with all my limbs. However, I live with a young male amputee and a young male on the autism spectrum. I do not know EXACTLY how they feel or how they would react in a given situation, but I have watched them grow, learn, and adapt to life's curveballs. I hope that shows when our characters say or do something in the story. A few readers have said they felt "real". That's the best compliment, I think.

ER: Writing what we have not ourselves experienced is the great thing about fiction. We get sail the wild seas, fly skies of distant worlds. As long as we as the authors make it believable--in other words, let the reader experience the worlds we create then writing what we don’t know can be a wonderful thing.

ALP: I certainly worry about getting things "wrong." However, writers rely heavily on their imaginations--whether writing fantasy or stories based on reality. Still, I don't want to offend anyone, and I try to listen to feedback from those quarters. (Luckily, it's been mostly positive.) If we weren't willing, as writers, to write things we hadn't experienced, we would have very little to say. [...] Still, I understand why some might be wary. LGBT+ people, people of color, differently abled people--they don't necessarily want us filtering their stories for them. They want to speak for themselves and be heard. That's something publishing is still trying to address by having more diverse authors, editors, agents. But I don't think that should stop US from writing the characters and situations that speak to our hearts. So long as we treat them with respect.

KL: Exactly. I totally believe people should write their own experiences and own voices are important, but I don’t think people should be afraid to write outside their own experiences either. As long as they do it in a knowledgeable and respectful way.

Me: Last question-- What do you think authors of privilege (any type, white, straight, abled, and otherwise) should be doing to a) prioritize the voices of marginalized folks and b) present "real" diverse stories in respectful ways?

AW: Well, doing in depth research is the beginning of any good writing. Putting oneself in the place of a character and realizing how differently things could be done or said, if the character was not like you, would give that perspective. Reading books and news stories describing how other abled persons were treated and using how that made you feel--angry, sad, frustrated, heart-broken--would also help shape that respectful creation of diverse characters. Just noticing people around you as you live, sadly, often shows how diverse characters are treated or expected to act. Living with my two special boys, I've seen examples of how NOT to treat people and how prejudice makes people expect them to act or be, and they don't see the real, live people behind the handicaps.

ALP : I agree that thorough research is key. I'm planning a YA contemporary update of "Twelfth Night" (just did one of "Hamlet"), and the MC will be transgendered. Luckily, I know a number of transgendered people so that I can run things by them. I think, too, it's important to show these characters as empowered, not to be all "oh, isn't it sad that he's in a wheelchair." Differently abled people don't want pity, just acknowledgement that they ARE part of this world. (That's not to say that there won't be moments where the wheelchair gets in the way or is frustrating for one reason or another. It just shouldn't be the defining factor of the handicap.)

ER: The first thing, is to throw out any preconceived notions about what is going on in someone else’s life, be they marginalized in any way or not. We, writers, get to make up quite a bit in fiction, but when it comes to making characters of any minority group, to be real, so-to-speak, we cannot fake it. We must either walk in their shoes, or at least take the time to get to know them, see how they live, learn their personal trials and tribulations. [...] I’ve met more people than I can count from so many cultures. The language barriers have been a massive challenge, but I’ve gotten to work with so many wonderful people—I’ve learned how just a few minutes a day chatting can open eyes and hearts to the differences between us. That should be our mission as writers when it comes to characters: learn about someone, understand them, and share that wisdom with our readers. If just one person can have an ah-ha moment and change their own preconceived notions—wouldn’t that make the worlds just a little bit better?

KL: Buy books by diverse writers, read articles and stories by diverse writers, talk to people who are not like yourself. Research. But always remember, the similarities between us are larger and more numerous than our differences. If you’re uncertain about how you’re representing someone, reach out to a person in that community and check that you’re not going to offend people. And adding to that, books about diverse people don’t have to be about the thing that makes them diverse. So many books With gay characters are about coming out and the issues surrounding that. I’d love to see more books where gay characters or characters with disabilities have their own stories and lives outside those things.

Me: Love these answers! Thank you so much for this interesting conversation! I feel blessed to work with such sweethearts. 😊

So what's the first step? Buying these books, silly! Follow the Amazon pages linked at the beginning of the blog, and get reading.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Teacher Appreciation Day

Hello, all! 
I haven't written in quite some time (please don't check how long... it's embarrassing), but inspiration hit today. That's because it's a very important day: Teacher Appreciation Day! 
For those who don't know, when I'm not writing, I am teaching. And it is hard. Best case scenario, I get to be a parent, instructor, disciplinarian, shoulder to cry on, life coach, language expert, behavior manager, figurative firefighter, secretary, mandated reporter, and me all in one day. This time of year, I also have to be a test administrator, a cook, a Dr. Phil stand-in (middle school drama is REAL, my friends), and much more. Worst case scenario, I will take a bullet for your child, and I may not even be able to save their life.

But I go home smiling.

Every. Single. Day. 

Because even when it's not Teacher Appreciation Day, I know how important my job is. Even when they are driving me nuts by seeing how loud they can clear their throats until I start yelling, I go home happy. And that's for one reason, and one reason alone.

I love it. 

No, I love them.

They are worth it, every last one of them. They are worth every sleepless night I lose worrying about the girl with the eating disorder or the boy who is getting abused at home. They are worth the mountains of paperwork. They are worth the days I spend engineering lesson plans that please the state, my boss, my students, their parents, and me. They are strong and sensitive and immature and intelligent and complicated and annoying and wonderful. They are, right now, my whole life.

And, yes, I have days where I cry my way home from work because I'm frustrated or feel helpless, but there are also days like this:

Some kids dressed as the Romanovs
for a living museum assignment
 (Rasputin included!)
The real Romanov family... spot on, right? 
After converting Edgar Allan Poe short stories to
scripts, here are my kids in costume getting ready to perform their plays on stage
The anthology in which about a dozen of my kids are published.

So despite the fact that it is Teacher Appreciation Day, this one is for you, kiddos. You are endlessly cherished, and we believe in you every day you walk into our classrooms and beyond. Go into the world, and do great things.


Your teachers.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Obligatory New Year's Resolution Post

I'll be honest: I've never done this. I mean, yeah, I have made New Year's resolutions before, and I actually (usually) keep them. But I've never announced my resolution to the masses, mostly because I'm not vain enough to believe that anyone actually gives a single crap. But -- at the risk of sounding completely stereotypical -- 2018 feels different.  

I have a few personal resolutions that, like usual, I'm going to keep to myself. However, this year I am going to make a public resolution, one that pertains specifically to my writing. 

In 2018 and beyond, I am going to stop looking backwards.

This seems obvious, I know, but give me a chance to explain. I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at old writing and lamenting my word choice, typos, or sentence structure. This chapter would have had much more impact if I had only done this. This novel could be elevated if I had spent more time on it and done this. It's exhausting. And I used to think that it was a necessary step to getting better at your craft. Now I think otherwise. 

Yes-- you should always look to past missteps to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. But what you shouldn't do is fixate, obsess, and - worst of all - feel shame about something you've created. We all cringe at some of the early things we made, but those products are still valuable. They represent the you that existed before. And now you've grown. That's okay. That shouldn't be a source of embarrassment; growth is miraculous! As artists of any type, we should be celebrating these perceived failures as what they really are: prototypes or drafts or practice rounds that inevitably lead to a bigger, better, and more satisfying creation.

 "Do your best until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." -Maya Angelou. My mom is forever quoting this to me, and today, this really rings true. No one expects a creator to be perfect. We expect creators to grow and change and above all, to keep creating. If you can do that, well, you can do anything. 

Long story short, since I decided to stop looking backwards, I outlined a new novel, wrote three drafts of the first chapter, and one draft of chapter two. 

It doesn't feel perfect, but it feels good.
And that's enough. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thankful for Reviewers

With Thanksgiving disappearing along with November, I thought it would be fitting to quickly write about something I'm thankful for: reviewers. I know we authors harp on this all the time, but seriously! Leaving a review is one of the best ways you can say thank you to an author whom you admire. Reviews help the book gain visibility to bestseller lists, promo opportunities, and other readers. The more reviews, the more credibility the book has. Not a perfect system, sure, but it's the one we have.

So if you've reviewed any of my books, thank you!



The Separation just reached its 25th review on Amazon, which -- although small -- is a milestone to celebrate. You help to encourage other readers to pick up the book, and for that, I can't thank you enough! And if, perhaps, you wrote a negative review like this one, I STILL  thank you. Because that review convinced a bunch of people to read my book if only to see if it was really so bad as this woman described. I'd be lying if I said that didn't bring me just the smallest morsel of joy.


Have you read something of mine recently? Like it? Despise it? Either way, leave a review! It only takes a few minutes, and it gives me meaningful feedback. Go on Amazon, Evernight Publishing, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads-- heck, write a blog about it. Tell your neighbors. Write a bill board! Okay, maybe don't do that last one. But you get my point, right?

Love an author? Leave a review. And for those who already do, we salute you. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

How to Support an Author -- Without Even Buying a Book

Okay, so let's be real. We want you to read our books. I have one coming out this month, even. It would be pretty great if somebody read it. But I get it -- books require some disposable income that we don't always have. So if you can't spend on book-buying but you still want to support authors, here are some pointers.

1. Support them on social media
At the risk of sounding like everyone else, social media and marketing are nearly synonymous these days. That being said, following an author on all forms of social media that you have can be not only helpful to the writer, but also really fun for you. You get to keep up with new developments, see giveaways before other people, and sneak a peek into a writer's life. And don't forget, sharing is caring! 

This includes crowdfunding-esque sources like Thunderclap, Daycause, and more. For example, with a new release coming up, I have a Thunderclap that needs 100 supporters; in other words, 100 people need to support the cause by allowing the program to automatically share a message from their chosen social media. Things like this aren't always common knowledge to readers, but most authors know them intimately. Help us out, free of charge! 

2. Leave a review
Let's say you've already read the book. It costs nothing at all for you to take five minutes and leave an honest review. Many people use reviews to help them decide to buy a book. Not to mention, sites like BookBub and others use reviews as an indicator of a book's worth. Right or wrong, we need reviews to survive.

3. Spread the word
Far and away, the best method of marketing is word of mouth. So if you want to support an author, recommend them to your friends. Talk them up to librarians and independent bookstores who may want to order something new. Suggest their books to anyone who asks for something new. 

See? Easy! And not a penny spent. 

One more thing...I know not everyone loves eBooks, but consider this: an eBook copy of one of my books is under five dollars. Less than a trip to the gas station. Less than a movie ticket. And you get to read it for hours and keep it forever. 

Just think about it. Your independent and local authors are worth it. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Literary Ladies: Why I Don't Want an All-Female Lord of the Flies

Okay, so this post is a bit of a rant. It's just that as a woman, as a reader, and as a writer, I have a vested interest in female characters, and I can't keep my mouth shut about it anymore. With all these new female-driven remakes (think Ghostbusters, Lord of the Flies, and other projected projects), I thought it was time to discuss. 

First off, I don't want a remake of old male-driven stories. All that tends to do is create flat characters who aren't authentic because woman was injected into the story to appease the masses. That only adds to the problematic archetypes we're already fighting including...

1. The Super Sexy Lady
I actually became shockingly enraged recently having invest a lot of time into trying to read the book The Magicians. I disliked the book for a variety of reasons, but chief among them was this: every woman was exactly the same, and every woman was nothing more than a voluptuous sexy-pants that didn't really have much more depth than that. Take, for instance, this quote:

"The woman was disarmingly, almost inappropriately pretty--"
And then later: 
"She was pale and thin and unreasonably lovely, with a broad, ridiculously sexy mouth."
But when describing men, we get something like this:
"His stomach was a sizable hump, his hair a crazy gray Einstein half-noggin."

While I don't think any of these descriptions are stellar, I have a clear image of the man. I know what he looks like. The females, on the other hand, are vague images that float away because they are as insubstantial as characters as their descriptions would have you believe.

2. The Fallen Woman
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP WITH THIS. Everyone from Flaubert to Judd Apatow is guilty of this little trope. You create this character who is unattainable, vaguely cold with some sort of mental hang up, and somehow irresistible. In the end, there are two options. A, the woman self-destructs like in Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. Or B -- the option I refer to as the John Green option -- the woman is lusted after by some self-proclaimed pathetic nice-guy loser, and she hurts him (think Love, the Netflix show, Looking for Alaska... the list goes on). Both are predictable. 

3. The Sweetheart
Everybody loves a sweetie, including me! But when that sweet woman has absolutely no personality, it's mind-numbingly boring. And no, I'm not saying that every character must be strong, self-assured and confident. I think a self-conscious female character can be very dynamic. But a lack of personality (cough cough BELLA SWAN cough cough), is something different altogether.

Look, I could go on, but I won't. My point is this: We don't need female-driven remakes like Ghostbusters and Lord of the Flies. We need original, dynamic, complicated female characters that are telling their own stories. We need characters who -- likable or not -- are reflections of real human women. That's what we want. Nothing more.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Confessions of an Awkward Author

So it's come to my attention that we writers tend to have a lot of secrets. I thought that it would be fitting - given I just made my magazine debut in First For Women this month - to confess a few of my own secrets.
I'm mostly a glutton for punishment, but there is a small part of me that hopes you'll be brave and confess your own secrets in the comment section!

1. I struggle with biting off more than I can chew.
--In writing and in life. And it's not that I can't handle all the things I throw myself into (at 110%, top speed, I might add), it's more that I can't handle it when I don't do everything absolutely perfectly. Failure at something I'm new to is a learning experience. Failing at something I thought I was good at usually throws me into a tailspin. 

2. I don't know how to balance humility and promotion.
Probably any business owner/person with their own brand has this problem. I'm not sure how to take credit for the hard work I've put in when I accomplish
 something. I'm not sure how to remain humble and still promote my work. I constantly worry that I'm erring too much on one side or the other.

3. I still fear rejection, every single time.
Even with Evernight -- who has graciously accepted and published everything I sent their way -- I am terrified that my work won't be accepted. And I get rejected all the time. The suspense created waiting for an answer is actually worse than the rejection letters that I get on the regular.

4. I am still learning.
I'm in a writer's group. I'm going to grad school. I will always be learning, no matter how many things I publish. There will always be someone who knows more than me, and that's actually really comforting to me. It means I never have to stop growing.

5. I sacrifice socializing for writing, but not just because I need to meet deadlines.
I also do it because I truly love to write. I also enjoy being by myself. Maybe that doesn't gel with everyone, but I need my me-time. I think everyone should learn how to be comfortable alone before adding anyone else to the equation.

And that's not even all my neuroses! But I felt it was time to air them out, so hear they are. Have your own confessions? Let them out! I'd love to hear them, and the truth will set you free.