This is Why Representation is Important

Last week, Slate published an essay by an 11-year-old reader that illustrates perfectly why I believe in the need for books with diverse characters.  “This is Me” by Audrey Hall was a winner in the New York Public Library’s Summer Reading 2019 Essay Contest.  In her essay, Audrey describes how the book Blended by Sharon Draper expanded her universe.

You can read the full essay here, which is well-written and even includes quotes from the book to support her thesis.

Audrey checked Blended out of the library and it quickly became a favorite.  The book features a multiracial protagonist with divorced parents, which also describes Audrey.  She describes how she related directly to the character’s experiences in the book, moving between households and debating how to describe herself.  It was a revelation for her to know that there might be other kids who shared her own experiences. “This book made me feel like I belong,” she wrote.

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An excerpt from Audrey’s essay

I personally could not have written a better essay to describe why representation is important, especially in children’s and YA literature.  Every child should have the same feeling that Audrey had when reading.

38351370Of course, we will not relate to every character we read about, which also expands our minds.  And of course, we can relate to characters who don’t look like us at all. For example, my pen name Mei-Mei was taken from a Chinese character in a Japanese anime.  But I won’t pretend that I don’t automatically feel a sense of kinship with every redhead character that I meet. Being able to see ourselves so directly in characters is such a valuable thing that I want every child to be able to experience it as I have.

For this reason, I have been a fan of the We Need Diverse Books movement, which started as  a Twitter hashtag and has become a phenomenon. I think we have seen a huge growth of diverse books in YA fantasy (my wheelhouse) over the past ten years, and I hope this trend will continue.  I am personally making an effort to read more books featuring diverse characters and, just as importantly, by diverse authors to support the publishing industry following this trend.

Audrey’s prize for the essay was a trip to a NY Yankees game.  I hope she has a great time!  I also hope she grows up to be a writer of many more characters like herself.

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Camp NaNo Poll: Best place for fanfiction?

This July I am participating in Camp Nano, with the goal of writing for 500 minutes.  I’m doing okay so far with devoting time to writing, but I’ve only written two scenes!  Ugh! I think this is because I didn’t have a strong outline like I usually do, so I’m kind of floundering.  I’m a plotter, not a pantser!

campnanoI’ve started on a new project this month, and surprising to me, I’m back to writing fanfiction!  I used to write a lot of Cardcaptor Sakura and Star Wars fanfics back in high school and college, but I haven’t done any in over 10 years now.

Consequently, I’m kind of out of the loop on where to post fanfiction online.  I used to use fanfiction.net (my stuff is still there), but maybe that’s not as popular anymore?  Of course, I do have this blog as well, but I don’t usually post my writing here, and I’m especially hesitant to post fanfics because of the dubious legalities.

So, fellow writers, what do you think?

Camp NaNo Win: An extra-exciting accomplishment

Last month I participated, as I have many times before, in Camp NaNo, which is kind of a spin-off of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, in November.  I like doing Camp because you can set your own goals instead of conforming to the “50,000 word in a month” paradigm of NaNoWriMo.

This April, my goal was to write 10 min a day, or 300 minutes total.  Good news: I managed 400 minutes over the month. So, yay for winning!

Even better news: I finished a complete draft of a novel!

This novel, which I have been calling Ash and Team, is one that I have been working on since NaNoWriMo of 2013.  Six long years. I started this as a practice novel, and I know that actually publishing it would require more research than I have time for currently, so while you will likely never see this story in print (or even in revisions), I still feel really proud of this accomplishment.  It has a beginning, a middle, and an end; it has character development; it has some humor and a magic system; it even has some prose that I really enjoy reading.

The draft is about 44,000 words, which is quite short for a novel, but it is after all a fairy tale retelling.  Also, I tend to severely underwrite in my initial drafts, so if I ever finished it I’m sure it would be a bit longer.

You can read some excerpts from Ash and Team here, and in honor of my first “completed” novel, here’s another brief excerpt from the very (happy) end of the story. Continue reading

It’s National Book Review Month!

Several years ago, SUNY Geneseo created National Book Review Month to “give readers an outlet to bring lesser known works to the forefront.”  This year, NaRMo falls in March, so if you’ve read a book recently (of any genre, including “including children’s books, drama, non-fiction fiction and poetry”), you can go to the NaRMo website and submit a review for publication there.  The only real rule is that the review must be between 100 and 1,000 words, though the website does have some great tips for crafting a review.

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Although I’m not a book blogger per se, I’ve been talking about books since the very beginning of this blog seven years ago.  To my mind, there are three main reasons I write reviews of books.

First, to help other readers.  This seems pretty obvious.  Reviews can help people decide whether they want to read a book or not, which is especially useful when they are going to be spending their hard-earned money on it by buying it.  I personally like to read the 2 star reviews of books on Amazon, because those tend to have more specific, useful critiques than the one- or five-star reviews.

Second, to help the authors.  Many independently published authors depend on reviews on blogs as well sites like Goodreads and Amazon to entice new readers.  When a book only has a dozen or so reviews, every one counts.  So every time I read something by an indie author (often one of my blogger friends), I make sure to review it somewhere to give them some free publicity.

Last, to help me.  Part of the reason I started this blog was to have a space for my thoughts on books and other media.  Reviews are sometimes a way for me to process what I read, as well as an outlet for me to share my thoughts.  Like an internet-wide book club or something.  I do try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but sometimes I dive a little further into analysis than a proper review does.  I also like to do brief reviews when I don’t have too much to say about a book.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve definitely learned a thing or two about reviewing books over seven years.  I can’t even claim that I’m good at it now, and I’m certainly still learning.  Here are a few things I’ve picked up since that first review.

  • Give a picture of the book cover.  Not only does it give your post some visual interest, but it also helps people remember the book better if they come across it again.  Of course I prefer to take a pic of my own copy if possible, but most of the time I just end up using an image of the cover art.
  • A short summary is helpful to give some context of the book.  I’ve been using snippets from Goodreads summaries recently (with attribution of course).
  • I like to review both books that I know many people have read (so I can have a discussion) and also some that I know will be new to readers (so I can convince them all to read it, and then have a discussion).  I also tend to stick to the sci-fi/fantasy genres here on the blog, though I do go outside that occasionally for a special book.
  • For trilogies or series, I will often write only one review for the whole thing (though I often focus on the first book, which helps avoid spoilers).  Since I’m not a book blogger with ARCs or anything, my reviews aren’t usually about current releases, and I’m not sure that anyone wants to read a review of just the third book of a trilogy from five years ago or something.  If you haven’t read the first two already, what’s the point?  And if you have read the first two, but not the third, by now, well, that seems weird, too.

Okay, I’ve babbled long enough.  Do you guys enjoy writing book reviews?  Will you participate in NaRMo this year?  I’m going to try to post a review for NaRMo next week, as I’ve read several books recently.  Have you guys enjoyed reading my reviews?  Even better, have you read any books because I recommended them??

DIY MFA Book Club: My Storytelling Superpower

I’m participating in the DIY MFA Book Club this month, and one of our daily prompts asks us to consider our Storytelling Superpower.

I took the Storytelling Superpower quiz at the DIY MFA site, and after a few quick questions, it told me my result is The Protector.

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“Your superpower is writing superheroes!”

This means my characters tend to be self-sacrificing and selfless (even to the point of martyrdom…).  They have a strong sense of duty and “superhuman fortitude.”  They strive to protect the people and things they love.  It gives Scarlett O’Hara, James Bond, and Iron Man as examples.

I had never thought of my writing this way!  For the result of a goofy little quiz, it does seem to fit my characters pretty well.

I love superheroes of all kinds.  I see superhero comics as a kind of modern mythology, a reflection of cultural aspirations and values.  Even though I’m drawn to grey characters, I don’t write a lot of them (at least not yet…).  Most of my characters have a Lawful Good bent, which I think mostly goes along with the superhero concept.

My last NaNoWriMo project is a great example of this; it features a healer who’s trying to free the spirit of a goddess (while possibly losing herself in the process), and a gladiator-turned-personal bodyguard who gets sucked into her quest.  They may have different reasons for doing what they do, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are both Protectors in their own way.

At first, I thought that another NaNoWriMo project, Ash and Team, threw a wrench in this scheme.  However, although the titular characters Ash and Team don’t really fit this superhero mold, the narrator Meg does.  Meg is Team’s older sister and a friend of Ash, a protector to them both. Way back when I started conceptualizing the retelling, it wasn’t until I looked through her perspective that the story really took shape.  She’s really the heart of the story, despite not being the “main” character.

You can take the Storytelling Superpower quiz, too!  Let me know what your result was 🙂  You can also join the DIY MFA book club here or get a copy of the book here.