Getting her right.

wtoI just read a book that I want everyone in the world to read: WRITING THE OTHER by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. These two ladies, with a whole lot of gentleness and humor, have written a book that doesn’t just give fantastic guidelines for writing characters outside the dominant paradigm, it shows us new ways to see, how to take another blinder off. Race, Orientation, Religion, Age, Ability and Sex are all discussed. (I wish it had a more eye-grabby cover; it looks like a dry academic discourse, when it’s actually easy to read, fun and exciting.)

The love interest in my latest WiP is the daughter of a general, in a dystopian setting, where a common enemy has made for more racial unity, but feminism has been set back. This girl is gorgeous, self confident, and she kicks ass; my MC doesn’t have a chance. She’s also black.

Y’know that internet list that came out about white people getting described like food? Ugh.
I want to get it right.
I want to create a real person who can stand on her own, no matter who reads my book, not a piece of cardboard cut out with a white person’s scissors. So I went looking online for some help on how to write a transracial character. I found a lot of articles about whether I should in the first place: the Root has a great one, a few that made me feel spanked before I even set words down, and some blog posts where I learned more from the comments than the articles.
But Shawl and Ward’s book was the only one I could find that guides a writer beyond “the unmarked state” and gives examples of how to write a minority character, and even has exercises that open the brain into seeing and writing a bigger picture. There are two essays at the end that are fantastic, too, both by Nisi Shawl- Beautiful Strangers: Transracial Writing for the Sincere, and Appropriate Cultural Appropriation.

About two hours after I finished WRITING THE OTHER, a colleague posted a piece on Beyonce’s feminism. It’s a terrific article that made my brain turn inside out; while I don’t have the experiences of an African-American woman, I’m incredibly passionate about the universals Dr. Bianca Spriggs writes of: female identity and sexuality, independence, self-expression and creativity.
Have you met Bianca? She’s an artist, a poet, an activist, an actress, and I get to work with her every few years where we have these amazing conversations about art and writing and feminism and creativity and sci-fi and, and, and, that seem to pick up right where they left off the previous time we met. However, when our conversations turn to race and discrimination and social imbalances, I rarely have anything to offer other than naive questions; I don’t have the knowledge to “go there.”

So why am I writing a woman of color?

Because there is an embarrassing lack of diversity in popular literature nowadays, and I want to be a part of the remedy, not the problem.
Because the story takes place in a post-modern urban setting where white people aren’t the only survivors.
Because she’s an awesome character, and I love her.

And with what I’ve learned from Shawl and Ward’s book, and what has been clarified into usable and concrete advice, I feel like I’m a whole lot closer to getting her right.


Well Woven

Always2d-200x300Amanda Weaver’s book, ALWAYS, is a delight. A quick but intense read that spans six years, this angsty romance is a coming of age story, for both our protagonists. We watch Justine grow into her career in the music industry and we see her mature emotionally, as well. We also see Dillon come to terms with his codependency with his best friend, and how he learns to be honest with himself.

The story shifts PoVs effortlessly between the two, and though there is no doubt in our minds that these two will eventually find their always, watching them getting there has you cheering them on (and occasionally wanting to wring their necks.)  Some parts felt obvious–the train wrecks hitting these two are obvious from a mile away–but Weaver writes each situation almost from the perspective of a close friend, with hints and warnings and the grace not to say I told you so…

The glimpses into the music scene are interesting and well written. I would have loved to see even more of those moments, when you feel our two working together; their “musical chemistry” is as interesting as the sexual tension.

I enjoyed Dillon, he’s a good guy, and patient; we learn more of who he is by his interactions with others than by seeing him act on his own, but Justine is just plain terrific. What I love about her, and what makes this book so wonderful, is how she makes her principles and stands by them. Even in the beginning, when she’s just a young girl trying to make it in a world where excess is the norm, she doesn’t compromise, and by the end, we are so sure of her strength, we trust all the decisions she makes.

I’d rate this book 3 signed indie albums, 5 angsty late-night phone calls, and one awesome and sweaty bike ride.

Mad Gentlemen

I finished two completely opposite books this week. Enjoyed them both immensely.

15102GENTLEMEN AND PLAYERS by Joanne Harris (CHOCOLAT and others) was a fantastic novel about a boarding school, a murder, and being on the outside looking into a world you’ll never get to be a part of-

My stepfather recommended it. He plays chess, though regrettably, there is actually very little chess in it, other than some puns on names, and a few allusions in the theme. The cover probably grabbed him, and though a little dull, it’s symbolic and suits the story well enough.

It’s a mystery, so I won’t tell too much, and even though I guessed much of the outcome quite early, I still enjoyed the ride, and how everything is revealed at the end. I read a lot of mysteries, so I caught on quick; my stepdad didn’t. I think it’s a matter of perspective.

The book is perfectly edited, and though it jumps around in time, it still reads smooth, seamlessly. There is something so refined about it, like looking at a sculpture in a museum- this book is a work of art. The voices are distinct, one can pick it up anywhere and know which PoV one is reading instantly. The descriptions of the school grounds are gorgeous, and the characters, both the protagonist and the antagonist, get inside your head and stay there.

I’d rate it four pawns and a queen-side castling.

Death of the Mad Hatter

The other book, DEATH OF THE MAD HATTER by Sarah J. Pepper, I picked up at the Georgia Indie Author Event, purely on cover lust. The author chatted me up, so I bought it. Got it signed, too!

I love indie books the way I love street art exhibits and coffeehouse musicians; I get excited by grand ideas and raw talent. The execution doesn’t have to be flawless, in fact, it shouldn’t be. This book’s rough edges scrape a bit in the boy’s PoV; a little to much recognition of Alice Mae’s clothes, and not what is inside them, and the voice swings purple and flowery. I felt too much of the author’s femininity in Ryley’s voice.

The book itself is clever, perfect cover, front and back, with tiny Mad Hatter motifs in the corners, and chapters are clearly subtitled so the reader knows who and when they are.

But the plot is twisted and absurdly complicated and “wondrous,” and I adored it. In this mashup, our protags must escape prophesies and Hearts’ evil orders, and solve mysteries in both this world and the one “down the rabbit hole,” and the reader is sucked along for the ride, willing or not. Alice Mae is a Luna Lovegood on a sugar high, and I loved her.

I rate it 4 chipped china teacups and one missing button eye.


Behaving Badly and Bathing Suits

shoppingIn the hoopla of’s new stance on ARC reviews, and the goodreads blacklists of Authors Behaving Badly, and even Anne Rice’s taking offense to a woman using her book in a craft project, the wisest thing a writer can do is keep her mouth shut when she gets a subpar review.

Accept it, be grateful that one’s book has been read, appreciate that someone took the time to voice their opinion, maybe even take some criticism to heart. And, above all, grin and do a little happy dance that the number by the little stars under your book went up.

Because, especially to a new author, reviews matter. Most of the good book promoting websites with affordable advertizing for self pubbed writers jury what they endorse. Many won’t accept books with less than 25 reviews. The contests for the “breakthrough novel” often require more than that.

But what happens when a review  makes statements that go against everything in your gut, as a woman, as an artist, as a mother, as an educator?

Keeping your mouth shut feels like cowardice. Like you are perpetuating a stereotype that you’ve fought all your life, that was part of the impetus that drove you to write the book in the first place.

Angel and I received a review for Odin’s Murder that contained the following statement:

I felt like the book was written by someone who was imagining what happens at the sleep-away camps for smart kids at their school, and imagines how smart kids must act and feel. Since I was in this crowd at school myself, the whole thing rang very false. All the ‘chicks’ (author’s word, not mine, and it puts my teeth on edge) were totally hot and in bikinis and ready to get a little naughty. *facepalm* That’s really not what happens with smart kids. I promise. And also, quite a few of the people in my gifted and talented classes were… uh…. let’s go with NOT the pretty people.

And yes, I can defend our characters and their actions and language and get bitchy about the reviewer’s generalizations and do all the things that authors shouldn’t do, but that’s just silly and not the point.

My umbrage: Why can’t smart girls be pretty?
Should romance books for young adults only be written about people with below average intelligence? Where is it said that kids with brains don’t have a libido? At what IQ score is a young woman not allowed to revel in her sexuality?

And most importantly, what is the cutoff number on the SAT’s that demands one wear a one-piece bathing suit?

For the record, I was a smart kid. I wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a pretty person. I was awkward and poor and underdeveloped and had issues with authority. But the Vermont Governor’s Institute for the Arts was an incredible program, and going there threw me into a huge mix of kids from all over the state just like me. And for those 3 weeks, where I was judged by my creativity and my talent and my brains, I was beautiful.

A bit of history:

smallFive years ago I started writing a book. Then I realized I knew absolutely nothing about writing, jumped on line, and wandered into fanfiction.
I met amazing people, and got incredible feedback on some unlikely stories. I learned about discipline (no, not that kind. Well, yes, okay, I learned some about that, too), about maintaining a voice and a theme, and a great deal about what women want to read. I learned to knit, too.
Even better, I discovered what I like to write.
Three years ago I stuck a snippet from my old WIP in a crit blog. An agent was lurking and asked the host to have me send a partial. I rushed to finish, sent it; she asked for the full immediately. A nail biting month later, I got some extremely encouraging criticism, and a request for revisions. I revised. I polished. I ate chocolate. I sent it off. Six months later, a polite rejection.
So I ate three king size Snickers to drown my sorrows, read up on how to write a query, and sent off the MS to a dozen agents all asking for submissions to the genre. Nada. Some were polite. 3 of them, immediately after sending their rejection emails, mocked my book’s title openly on twitter.

Did you know you can get a subscription for chocolate on amazon? It just shows up on your doorstep. This is genius.

I threw myself into new projects. A year ago, I wrote ODIN’S MURDER, with Angel Lawson. She gave me a crash course on self-publishing; I’m still reeling.
yarnBut I don’t like leaving things unresolved. The halfdone cashmere basketweave cowl at the bottom of my knitting bag haunts me; I feel guilty when I cast on something new. The finished, rejected MS skulked, a monster under the bed when I tried to take a new lover. So I hired two editors; smart discerning freelancers I knew wouldn’t blow smoke up my ass, and with their advice, turned THE SCENT OF FLAMES (yeah, new title. It really was bad) into something I didn’t have to hide anymore.
Now I’m thigh high deep into several new projects; a witchy dystopian, a sexy cyberpunk thing, and a few secret projects that make me grin and rub my paws like a gargoyle.
Now if I can only finish that cowl.

The Scent Of Flames

Something is rotten in the town of Hortonville.
Lars Fjorden just wants to talk to Violet without making an idiot of himself. But keeping cool isn’t easy with a mother overwhelmed by grief, a brother bullied at school, and a best friend unable to get past the accident that killed both their fathers. Add arson and recurring dreams of an awkward angel, and he might not survive his senior year–at least not sane.
Seraphima is called down to a tiny Vermont town of unusual girls, unpredictable weather, and unresolved tragedy. Her mission: to keep her nephew safe as he discovers his powers, while getting used to her own mortal body, college prep classes, and boys who ask her to dance.
Sera must teach her charge there are more things in Heaven and Earth than he’s ever dreamt, as Lars battles the fires that threaten those he loves.

Available at amazon

Angelic Questions

angel crowAngel Lawson’s third book in her Wraith series, Grave Possession, comes out next week. These books are dear to my heart, and I’m so excited to know how this trilogy will wrap up. Angel let me pick her brain a little with a few questions.

Give us a summary of the book:
Jane’s grown up a lot since Shadow Bound. She’s going to college away from home. She has a new boyfriend. And she’s no longer afraid of her ability to connect with ghosts. In fact, she’s using her connection in a deeper, scarier way that ends up with dire results.

Grave Possession is third in a series, but can it stand alone? Do I need a spoiler alert for those who haven’t read Wraith and Shadow Bound?
Honestly? I don’t really think so. It definitely builds on the other books and at the request of some of my pre-readers they did not want a lot of background description. You don’t need a spoiler alert but you may not be able to follow it as easily.

Jane has gone through so much in the last two books. Can you tell us her state of mind at the beginning of Grave Possession?
She’s happy. And very confident. Maybe a little too confident.

What do you like about writing a protagonist Jane’s age?
I’m pretty sure I’m perpetually 16-18 years old. Somehow I got stunted in that age range. Girls that age are transitioning a lot. Growing up and maturing. Learning about themselves and life. Love, school, work…how to feel out boundaries. It’s an exciting time and place.

Several of your books contain imagery or a theme involving crows. Are they apart of your everyday life, too?
I have 5 crows that follow me everyday. And they are everywhere near my home. I love that they are more and more common in every day life. I want to stop writing about them but I can’t.

You’ll be at the GA Indie Author Event April 5th. Will the Grave Possession paperback be available for signing?
YES! Along with all my other full-length books!