A Persistent Optimist

If you’ve only read my horror short stories, you may be under the misconception that I am a pessimist at heart. It may surprise you to know that I’m actually the exact opposite. I’m one of the most optimistic people you may ever meet actually. Note that doesn’t mean I’m bubbly, just an optimist.

I’ve been that way for most of my life and I strive to continue to be optimistic even when faced with some very bleak circumstances. If you ever meet me in person, you’ll know that I really do try to share that optimism with others too. (It’s a side effect of being an INFJ I think.) When a friend is in a really deep hole, I’ll pull out a shovel and slowly work to help them out of it. I consciously try to make the world a better place, even if it is through other-worldly horror stories or heart-wrenching fantasy. To continue this not-so-official goal of mine, I’m taking part in the “We Are The World Blogfest” cause the world needs to be a little bit more bright and cheery.

Basically the We Are The World Blogfest means that on the last Friday of the month, we all will post something positive and human. Something that gives you faith in humanity again. Isn’t it a refreshing change?

My April addition mixes a few things I love: short stories and technology.

These little short story dispensers sit in the center of a shop, usually a cafe, and you just plug them in and give them network access. All a user has to do is walk up, hit a button, and a random short story gets printed out. Now these stories can be filtered depending on the environment, such as stories targeting children or targeting a particular genre. Now as you can imagine, they’ve been quite popular in France, but they’re slowly trickling into the US as well!

Store owners love them because people will come in just to get a story, and then they are more inclined to come again since they’ve scoped out the environment. It’s a great draw for customers. Writers (like myself) appreciate them because they get our work out in front of more readers. And as for humanity as a whole? Well I think getting any kind of artistic or literary work out to the public for free is a good thing. We need an excuse to step away from our phone games and work email and conversations to step into a world built on words.

I’ve already signed up for the English version of this to submit a few stories of my own, but they don’t have that portion as beefed up as the French version yet. And unfortunately my French isn’t good enough to decipher everything yet. You can bet I’ll be keeping an eye on this though! I’m eager to see this take off!

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Black Panther: The Game-Changer

When I watched Black Panther the other day, like other audience-goers, I was blown away. Everything about the movie was incredible, from the plot to the characters, from the acting to the music. It was an incredible experience. I think the main reason there are so many people going back to watch it again and again though is more than it being a beautiful movie, it’s because it’s a clear game-changer.

Hollywood has a tendency to find one aspect of a film and cling to it as its reason for success, or its reason for failure. “An all-female comedy fails? It must be because nobody wants to see an all-female comedy.” I worry that Black Panther will be treated the same way. “Oh, a majority black cast in a superhero movie got this much love? That must be the key to producing another just like it!” This mindset could lead to a series of copycat films, all trying to be the next Black Panther, entirely missing out on what made this film so groundbreaking.

What makes Black Panther incredible is the respect that it shows. It gives a nod to both African cultures and traditions and to the dysphoria that many African-Americans feel about their country. There has never before been a film that has not only acknowledged the pain of having your culture stripped away from you, but also admitted to the anger and resentment that causes. Black Panther handles both with grace and elegance all under the guise of a superhero film. It found a way to express that pain while still being consumable by audience members aged 13 and above.

That kind of clever balancing act is tough to beat. And while I’m hoping that this film will herald a new series of all-black casts with major funding and box office pull, I worry that taking away only that lesson will lead to this being a phase instead of a new era in films. As a movie goer who would love to see more unique ideas and even more diversity in Hollywood, I still can’t help but be worried. I’ve seen subcultures be used as trends in films before and I would hate to see the power and dignity of Black Panther be wasted by Hollywood executives eager for a quick buck.

 

Young Adult Books Prove It Is Possible

There’s something about the teenage years that fascinate us. That’s become clear simply from the amount of movies and books that star teenage characters. From high school romances, to young wizards battling a Dark Lord, to teens surviving in a world of utter destruction, the appeal is undeniable – but why? Why does the plight of teenagers pull at our hearts so much? Looking at the age group itself is misleading. You can’t just write a book with a teen in the lead and call it YA. It requires more than that. It requires complexity.

YA books capture something that is beyond just an age group or a setting. It captures that changing point that occurs somewhere after we hit ten and before we reach our twenties. It could be argued that this is the most formative portion of our lives. It’s a time when we have little control, but at the same time are expected to make concrete decisions about our future. It’s a time to learn proper morals and how to subvert social systems. Teens are expected to fit into groups, but somehow express their uniqueness. They may be given the keys to a car, but are told not to drive too far.

Being a teen in today’s culture is a series of gray areas. The oldest child in the family may experience more restrictions than their younger siblings. The child of a dentist may be expected to follow in their parent’s footsteps despite their lack of interest in the field. They are surrounded by unspoken social rules that they are somehow expected not to break. They learn by example. They learn by failure. They learn by watching others make horrible mistakes, and by making their own. Every day requires remaking themselves and remaking their view of the world. They have to break off a piece of themselves and reshape it to the size they are told it should be. For some teens this process is easier than others. Some only go through a difficult time during these years, others go through a living hell.

Good YA books understand this complexity. They understand the struggle, both external and internal. They understand that teens are trying to forge themselves into the adult they will be: a mixture of what is expected and what they want. Growing up is a compromise between the old guard and the new, and some may not be given the choice to compromise at all.

In my novella, The She-Wolf of Kanta, I try to capture this internal tug-of-war. I try to show how Mercy is pulled between various groups, and how her future is hardly ever her own to choose. She is a victim of the society she lives in as much as she is part of it, but she must learn that she can forge her own path. She must learn that she has the ability to choose for herself what her future will be. Even if it means risking her life.

Perhaps that is the most inspiring part of YA books. They show that it is possible to resist expired social norms. They show that it is possible to be the person you want to be instead of who you are told to be. They show that it is possible to change the world. In fact, teens are doing that right now.

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This is the first in a series of weekly blog posts where I analyze aspects of books & media from teen representation to diversity. I hope you’ll join me.

The She-Wolf of Kanta will climb onto bookshelves April 17th. Available now to Pre-Order.

Writing Diverse Books

If you’re at all involved in the writing or publishing scene, you know how big of a push there is right now for diverse books. There is a very sad dearth of novels in the world that have protagonists who are a Person of Color (POC). Historically most novels don’t have any POCs except maybe a token one here or there. These characters are often relegated to having the smallest role in a story, if they have much of a role at all. Current novels are trying to tip the scales so that people don’t have to reach so far to find protagonists that represent them that they can connect with. Hence the hash tag #WeNeedDiverseBooks was born.

I’ve tried to embrace this more in my writing, especially in the novels/novellas that I write. My WIPs of the last couple of years have all had protagonists who are POCs, but as you can see from my picture on the sidebar, I am a white woman and therefore will always have more difficulty in writing from a different perspective from my own. However that doesn’t mean that I just don’t do it because it’s more difficult, it just means I do more research to do it properly. There are plenty of things in writing that I’m not an expert in, but have to learn about to write it realistically.

I strive in my stories to write all my characters as realistically as possible, that includes flaws, mistakes, backgrounds, etc. It’s important to do the research to represent your POC characters realistically as well. I thought I’d do a shout-out to one resource that I’ve found invaluable in this: Writing with Color. This site has been incredibly helpful for me, from helping to point out appropriate skintone descriptions to describing hair, they have a ton of useful content available. As useful as their site is though, that should only be part of the research.

Stuff Mom Never Told You is an excellent podcast that’s gone through multiple hosts in the past year or so. However you can still find all their excellent podcasts online, which still reference books for even further research. Here are a few of my recommendations:

I consciously try to put more women and POCs into my stories. I think it’s important to get more stories into the media that include POCs so that there’s a higher chance that we’ll see them more represented in movies and television shows, so there are fewer incidents of tokenism and caricatures and just outright racism. It’s a slow process, but slowly the arena seems to be changing for the better.

My novella coming out on April 17th, The She-Wolf of Kanta, includes a teenage black woman who has to survive a town rampant with werewolves and human trafficking. A novel I currently have out on submission, Stolen, includes another teenage black woman who is kidnapped into another world and has to somehow prove that she is a reincarnation in order to survive. The novel I’m currently writing, The Seeking, has a teenage black woman who is in a loving lesbian relationship, but also must hide from the entire town for a full day each year in order for her family to keep it’s place of power. Diversity is very important to me, and sharing stories that include diverse people is a major goal of mine.

And what about the LGBTQIA+ community you might ask? Let’s save that for another post, but trust me, it’s just as dire.

Why I Blog

This post is supposed to be a talk about “who I am and why I’m here”, something that really makes more sense for an initial blog rather than one that’s been around a while. At the same time, I thought it couldn’t hurt to reflect. I did just do that a few days ago for 2015 after all.

When I first started this blog, I didn’t really have a plan in mind. I only knew that if I didn’t have a place to keep track of the stories that I wanted to publish, I was going to forget one. Wouldn’t that be embarrassing for a brand new author? I went back and looked over my first three blog posts, almost six years old now.

I had never worked on a blog before. The most I had previously was a professional school site that had links to my resume and whatnot. I was super excited that my first short story had been picked up (omg, someone wanted to pay for my writing?), but every time I opened a new blog post, my mind went blank on what to say. I’ve gotten (somewhat) better about it over the years, but it still doesn’t take much for my brain to close up. Stories I can come up with, but blog posts? That’s an entirely different beast.

So why do it? Why do I put these kinds of posts up in public? Well that’s a complex answer. It is, of course, a place to keep track of my stories, but I could have just as easily done that in a spreadsheet. I could have just made a static site like I had before. No, I think the reason I came to blogging and why I still blog is because I love seeing people’s reactions. It’s similar to the happy feeling you get when your tweet gets hearted on Twitter or a post gets liked on Facebook. I know it’s only temporary and it’s just a handful of bytes that don’t mean much in the bigger scheme, but it sure does make me feel good.

We authors are always scribbling our ideas, our dreams, and our nightmares down on paper. We work on them when others are enjoying their favorite television series or relaxing on a game. We work on them while putting aside time with friends and family. We work on them despite drama at work and stressful traffic and a pile of dishes in the sink. Then we slide our works out into the light of day, and most of the time we don’t hear anything back. It takes a lot of scribbling before we hear anything, which means that much of the motivation has to come from the inside. Through blogging and letting people know about the process, the research, the heartache, the excitement, the fulfillment, I want to share how these stories get made. I want to share what it’s like for me, and maybe hear about what reading them felt like for others. I want to be able to look back on the hike up this steep hill and see all the people who have been changed by mere words.

I know my blog is just a small little cranny in the corner of the interwebs, but I like to think I keep it pretty cozy here. I see the same folks visiting, liking my posts, and commenting, and it makes me feel like I’m not alone scribbling away in the dark. It makes me feel like I’m surrounded by friends and encouragement. Maybe that sounds simplistic and optimistic, but even though I write horror stories, I’m actually a pretty optimistic person. I want to share the stories in my head (because it can be pretty crowded in there).

That’s why I blog.