Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Prayer to the Silent

An "It's Complicated!" post by author Cynthia Leitich Smith

Nobody wants to be called a bigot or a traitor.

Meanwhile, nearly every author must write characters and situations that spring from beyond her own experiences, identity markers and comfort zone. If your specialty is, say, nonfiction about creatures of the sea, perhaps not. But muse on the global environmental-industrial-health effects of overfishing or, hey, toss in a merman, and believe me, you’re right back in the thick of it.

If you live in the world, you’re in this conversation—and, yes, staying quiet is a statement, too. What that silence means may vary from writer to writer, but for far too many, it’s a product of fear.

You, the fearfully silent, I’m talking to you. Have you ever thought “I’ll mess up” or “they’ll reject me,” and then set aside a story or character or plot line?

If so, you’re not alone. As a teacher and mentor, I’ve heard those thoughts expressed countless times.

Usually, “I’ll mess up” comes from those seeking to reflect someone different from themselves. Different in terms of culture, ethnicity, region, religion, sexual orientation, social class or another attribute that folks use to, at least in part, define themselves and each other…one that carries with it baggage and lends itself to heightened sensitivities.

You who care so much that you’re immobilized, silenced, I’m asking you to make yourselves heard. You already know how. Set aside preconceptions, take advice, study. Make friends and listen to them—when they talk and when they’re quiet. Risk rejection. Ask permission. Take no for an answer. Don’t take no for an answer. Weigh differing opinions. Admit mistakes. Learn from them.

Love large, and never forget you’re working for the young who may not have a voice but could be affected, for worse and better, by yours. Here’s a hint: You’ve made real progress when you start “getting” inside jokes. To laugh with is to be simpatico.

Usually, “they’ll reject me” comes from those reflecting a less-than-role-model character or situation within their own community or one that conflicts with mainstream priorities and expectations.

I understand that you don’t want to upset your auntie or that university professor who’s been such an advocate. I too have felt the pressure to sit pretty in the curriculum box and craft text the grownups will consider precious or important or, perhaps worst of all, safe. I ask you: Do the perils of ruffling the literati outweigh your commitment to young readers? To your art?

I applaud the lionhearted—the Ellen Wittlingers and Coe Booths and Cassandra Clares and Benjamin Alire Sáenzes—but pray for more of them. I pray for you.

I can’t promise that you won’t make a mistake or be unfairly criticized. But all writing stems from courage. If writing for and about all children requires more courage, then hunt it down.

Own your awesomeness and redefine this conversation. We’ve been self-congratulating, self-flagellating, cycling, and choir preaching too long. Make me less bored. Please.

Open your teeth and roar.


  1. Thanks Cynthia for the blog but the message isn't clear. For example: Do the perils of ruffling ...outweight your commitment to young readers. If writing about all children require more courage, then hunt it down.
    There are many authors out there who write about Diversity and have Diverse characters as main characters. But it's impractical and unfair to ask authors to fight a fight for years against all odds. Authors of Diverse YA fiction will switch to write Regular YA fiction if the odds of their books reaching children are much higher. Best wishes with all your books.

  2. Lovely post, Cynthia. It made me think of a conversation I had with a biologist about what makes humans different from gorillas with whom we share 90 something percent of our DNA. My friend said with out a moments hesitation, Empathy and Imagination. Gorillas don't tell each other stories.

    I was so struck by that and it reminds me that there is no human experience that is out of reach of my own empathy and imagination. I don't need to be the same class, gender, age, orientation or race as my character. I just need to be a human fully engaging my capacity to understand the nuances of other human experiences.

  3. You're speaking directly to me in this piece. Thank you. I am gathering up the courage to revise a novel in which a native-American boy plays a minor role. Due to fear of judgement, I've been toying with cutting out him in the story entirely. I'm still not sure how I'll handle this, but know that your post has encouraged me to let him stick around for a little bit longer - maybe forever.

  4. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment and good wishes, Giora. Most appreciated. I'm tremendously sympathetic to the struggles writers face in connecting our diverse work to young readers and in making ends meet. Each of us and all of us must do what we think is best for our careers and families.

    But, going big picture, yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. Writing books with characters from a variety backgrounds/identity markers arguably may lower our odds of publication and risk sales--in the current market framework.

    But it's necessary to doing our job well. Diverse YA fiction is the new regular fiction. Or it least it should be.

    Those of us in the U.S., for example, are now in a "minority-baby" majority nation and an increasingly connected world.

    So the answer has to be to change the current market framework, and this conversation is a step in that direction.

    I know it's not fair to put so high a burden on authors. But we are the ones on the line. On the bylines. It all starts with us.

    If we don't write the manuscripts in the first place, there's no process to fix.

    Hang in there, and please know I'm rooting for you.

  5. Of course we will make mistakes. Even if you are of the culture or other "diversity division" you are writing about, you can only write from your own experience as a member of that group. Other members of the same group will have different experiences and may believe that you "got it wrong."

    I think writers have a responsibility to do their best to avoid stereotypes and two-dimensional characters. But I'll never be a boy yet may write about boys; I'll also never truly be European even though my heritage stems from that continent. I'll never be anything but the complex person I am, yet I have to be able to write about people other than myself. It would be awfully boring to do otherwise.

  6. Thanks, Liz!

    Rosanne -- empathy and imagination. I occasionally put words on Post-It notes and use them for a boost, for inspiration. These two definitely work for that.

    Debbie, beyond traditional character building, there are resources in the children's-YA literature resources section of my official author site (and Debbie Reese's blog) that may prove useful to you, even for a minor character. For this challenge--or any kind of writing research--I recommend the iceberg approach. Go deep, even if we only see the top 10 percent.

  7. Lots to think about and act upon. Thanks for challenging us to step outside of our comfort zones and stretch.

  8. Thanks for the challenge! Expressing yourself without fear of judgement is always difficult but we do need to try. Even if it is a mew at first.

  9. Jeanette, I agree that we can do our best while stretching and that both are important. I'm not actually an angel, for example, even if my grandmother does see me that way. ;-)

    And thanks, Carmen, for chiming in. You're certainly among the most caring and sensitive writers I know.

    1. Oh, come on, Cyn...we all know you are an angel! I would, however, not stereotype all were-vampires as being angels just because you are.

  10. Varsha, you're a wonderful example of an author who, in her work, has both honored her heritage with T is for Taj Mahal and yet remained "un-boxed" (by choice) with the success of How Many Kisses Do you Want Tonight?

  11. Big Yes and a wahoo on this post. I have run into this criticism numerous times in my writing career. First as a journalist, when I wrote articles that stretched me outside the polite box and into police cars and strip bars. Then, later as a screenwriter, when I was hired to write a coming out story. Oddly (or perhaps not) most of the criticism came from co-workers who thought I shouldn't write a particular story if I wasn't gay or Jewish or African American. The criticism rattled me. But I learned that as long as I am true to my characters' hearts and I write the best possible story, then, I have done my job as a writer. As Roseanne said, 'I just need to be a human fully engaging my capacity to understand the nuances of other human experiences.' Bravo.

  12. Hi all,

    Thanks, Cynthia, for directing people to my site.

    Debbie---my first question for you would be "what tribal nation" is your Native American character from? Does he live in an urban or rural area, or on a reservation? Is he tribally enrolled? Is his tribe federally recognized?

    I think Cynthia's "go deep" like an iceberg is right-on. We might only see the top ten percent of who your character is, but for him to ring true, all those questions are important ones, and you need to know the answers and how those answers shape his behaviors. Maybe they don't, but I don't think you can know whether they matter or not until you've done that in-depth work.

    Some time ago, Cheryl Klein pointed to an essay by BJ Marshall. (Here's the link: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/49-FE2-MulticulturalFiction.html#WordsInTheDustCaseStudy)

    There's a box of tips in it. One of the tips is "Avoid cliches and stereotypes." I think it should say DO NOT USE cliches and stereotypes. "Many moons ago" raises my hackles, as does using "sun" and "moon" as a "Native" way of referring to night and day and the passage of time. Consider what that seemingly simple "Indian" way of writing about night and day says... That we're all alike. That we Pueblo Indians would have said "many moons ago" and so would Cyn's tribe, over in a different part of the country. In reality, we'd be as likely to think alike (in our respective languages) as the French and German would! There's a French phrase (I'm guessing) for how they refer (in French) to the passage of time. And, there's a German one, too. Translating them into English, what would they be? My point is to think real hard about those cliches and stereotypes, and don't use them. If you go deep, as Cynthia suggests, you won't use them because you'll KNOW IN YOUR GUT that it would be wrong to do so.

  13. What a beautiful challenge. Thank you for the encouragement to push or at least nudge boundaries.

  14. I think this is exactly what a lot of writers need to hear. I often hear the same objections and worries--what if I get it wrong? what if I offend someone?

    I think also a supportive writing group or other support system is important to seek out. One writer once wrote and asked how to tell if her character sounded "black enough" because her (all-white) writing group said he didn't sound write speaking perfect English. She grew up an Air Force brat; she was writing about an Air Force brat who happened to be of a different race than herself. There will be similarities and differences. She was on the right track, but needed to find that safe space in which she could ask "stupid" questions and get sincere answers that would help her figure out where to go next.

    1. Having a safe place to ask questions is important, but I would argue two things: her black character could speak perfect English or he could speak improperly like every other American teen. I teach at a reasonably diverse high school and I've found teens often sound similar regardless of race or culture. At times, there are subtle differences because of their backgrounds, but not as much as you'd think. It's more about the "popular" slang/phrases than it is about race. So, I would caution someone against trying to "sound black or Latino" etc. Instead, focus on sounding like a teen and add subtle differences, if needed, due to the character's educational experiences, regional dialect, etc. If the characters come from the same town and same school, for example, then they would likely sound very similar regardless of race. I hope that makes sense.

    2. P.S. Just saw that you wrote extensively about this in the Resources section. Very informative. Thanks.

  15. Oh dear. Didn't sound "right," not "write." My hands are typing ahead of my brain.

  16. I'm honored, Jeannine! Nudging is a perfectly valid place to start.

    StaceR, that's interesting, the concept of a "safe" place. Everyone feels vulnerable at times. Sometimes writers from underrepresented communities fret that their truth won't jive with mainstream stereotypes--especially "benevolent" ones.

    Lindsey, thanks for your comment! It's interesting that the pressure to keep with what's "appropriate" plagues writers for adults as well.

    We're so used to hearing criticism for reflecting experiences that our young readers face every day. Usually, their youth is cited as the reason.

    The idea that writers should be limited to characters of their precise backgrounds, if it ever held any sway, simply can't apply to books for today's young readers.

    The classrooms I visit are diverse in every way. I've strolled the halls of a Texas high school with a boy who was out and proud and wearing rainbow suspenders. I've been drawn aside by a Choctaw boy in Iowa whose classmates assumed he was Latino (and he thought that was a "safer" choice). And I've gotten mail from girls who're delighted to see a female Asian-American heroine, absent of the stereotypical trappings.

    If we're going to have our self-representing character (assuming that's our choice) interact with others, the only answer is to stretch.

    Thanks to DebbieR for offering Debbie more support and direction.

    (Everyone, be sure to come back each day for more perspectives and look for DebbieR's post at the end of the week.)

    By the way, I'd like to give a shout out to children's author Mitali Perkins' excellent blog, which has featured posts on related considerations including tips for writing across and within race and culture.

  17. There is a great comment that Mitali Perkin's put on the Highlights Foundation page - that essentially says that people who have held all the power should ask themselves if it is their story to tell.

    My question is not whether authors should have courage to write outside of their race, certainly people of color do not want to be so restricted. It is why so many editors who are "not of color" are more willing to embrace those characters if they are. And why so many authors and illustrators are restricted from placing their works when they write from an authentic place that doesn't fit a steretype.

    It is tough being an author or illustrator regardless of race. But let's not pretend the playing field is level for those whose ethnicity is under-represented in literature - not by a long shot.

  18. Thanks, Cyn. A clarion call, definitely. And is there anything better than a conversation around the table of a thought-provoking book? Well, maybe writing that book...?

  19. Very interesting. As a Latina, I tend to feature diversity in my writing. I hadn't really given much thought, however, to authors who don't necessarily from a "diverse" background themselves. Definitely food for thought.

  20. Wonderful comments, Christine. Thank you. I think that's a question--"is it our story to tell?"--we all have to ask ourselves. It becomes especially compelling when the topic is very specific and there's quite possibly room in the market for only one book.

    Cheryl Klein, who'll be posting on Thursday, is a far better person to ask about editors' perspectives and purchasing patterns (though perhaps she or someone else will chime in here). I agree that the playing field isn't level, and I'm ready to see that change.

    Lovely to see you here, Julie! I'm all for that conversation. Perhaps you should get to writing right now. ;-)

  21. It's a blessing that it comes naturally to you, Linda. Good luck with your MFA studies!

    1. Thanks--I'm looking forward to my first residency!

  22. Great conversation.
    Last week in an author-illustrator school visit with 5th graders in Maine, I was invited by teachers to talk directly about race and culture, as a followup to units they'd been studying on immigration, culture and multiculturalism. I shared with students the concept of majority and minority identity and how different that experience is:
    - if you are one of many, you absorb the idea that you are "normal" and therefore rarely think of that aspect of your identity, because, as one 5th grader remarked, "you don't have to."
    -If you are one of a few, your difference is highlighted and often becomes defining, because people are constantly pointing it out.

    So when it comes to portraying characters who are different from us - whether by race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. - that challenge is increased if we're also crossing from the majority (or dominant, in the case of gender) to the minority/non-dominant experience. That feeling of "I might really mess up here" is heightened because as a majority-group member, we might not have thought that much about that piece of our own identity and therefore don't feel as comfortable addressing it. (For example, 70% of white families report never talking to their children about race.)

    I told the kids that another way to think of it was that majority="I have a lot to learn." The solution? As Cynthia spells it out above: "Set aside preconceptions, take advice, study. Make friends and listen to them—when they talk and when they’re quiet. Risk rejection. Ask permission. Take no for an answer. Don’t take no for an answer. Weigh differing opinions. Admit mistakes. Learn from them."

    And don't forget to explore your own story, especially the parts that you've never thought much about.

    Want to add a shout-out to illustrators here, too. Don't miss the opportunity to make the world of your characters as delightfully colorful as the classrooms where those books will be shared!

  23. Anne, thanks so much for sharing with us the insights you offered to and gleaned from the kids. "you don't have to." -- the mouths of babes.

    Thank you, too, for offering a shout out to illustrators. With my last two picture books, I especially appreciated that, even though the texts didn't specifically call for it, the communities reflected were diverse.

  24. Great post, Cyn, and thanks for the shout-out. I always tell people the way I think about characters who are different from me is to start their characterization at the core, the place in which we're all alike, and build the character from there out to the place in which we're all different. If that makes sense.

  25. Thanks, Deborah!

    Makes sense to me, Ellen. I'm so grateful for your writing. You're an inspiration.

  26. I'm inspired, Cynthia! Although the focus here is to write/illustrate diversity, I feel this is also a message for everyone, whether author, editor, agent, bookseller, librarian, etc., to take this advice and go beyond the book. It's a call to explore, learn, and engage cultures different from our own, people different from ourselves. Let's be unafraid to break out of our comfort zone, regardless of whether we're in a minority or majority. We must be fearless in how we grow our own personal community, and that in turn will help us be fearless in bringing diversity to our books.

    I am editor, hear me roar!

  27. "Own your awesomeness" is going to be my new mantra!

  28. Roar on, Connie! I certainly hope you're right--it's going to take the whole team to make the progress we need to see. Go book folks! Go human family!

  29. Thanks Cynthia. Great post. I am trying to write outside my comfort zone. And I do worry if I'll get it right. My main character is Mexican-American. My husband and his family--ours too--are Mexican-American and I don't want to get it wrong.

    I so agree this is an important topic. My daughter's adopted from China yet most of the characters she reads about are white.

  30. "Diverse YA fiction is the new regular fiction. Or it least it should be."

    I'm glad you said that. Some ideals are so engrained in our culture that we aren't even aware of them. Pardon my own assumptions, but to my admittedly code-sensitive ears, "regular fiction" is just another way of saying "fiction with an all-white cast." If a character's ethnic makeup isn't directly referenced, the leading assumption is that character is white, and that needs to change.

  31. As a Caucasian writer who has a multicultural cast in my debut book, it didn't occur to me to write it any differently. The characters were there because they were leaping off the page, begging me to tell their story. And I didn't feel that being white disqualified me. I have family members from various backgrounds. Just because I'm white doesn't mean everyone related to me is white. Or that everyone they love is white. Or that only white people went to my school. Or that all my friends are white. So for me to write an all white cast would feel more disingenuous than for me to write outside of my race etc.

    Ellen beautifully summed up the characterization of characters who are different than us.

    This is a large conversation regarding a wide array of diversity etc. So many types of people out there to write about. So many types of writers with a sea of vastly different life experiences to draw from. That's why it's important for all of us to bring our best to the literary conversation, to connect with readers, and to hopefully broaden their world or make it a better place one page at a time.
    When we dig deep and stretch transferring honest emotional truths to tackle different character's experiences, frailties, strengths, and emotions, that is when magic happens.

    We come from different parts of the country and can bring those experiences to the table. And while this may sound naive, at the heart of every character, there is just that. A live, beating heart belonging to a character that is running across our pages. And isn't that what it's all about?

    Humanity. Story. Love. Life. Loss. Valuing the commonalities and respecting the differences.

    I don't want my stories to whisper. I want them to roar.

  32. I love it, Monica! Hooray!

    Natalie, I expect great things. Good luck with your manuscript--love is the best place to begin. Many blessings to you, your family and especially your daughter. How old is she? Feel free to write me directly. If you'd like a few suggestions, I'm always happy to brainstorm book lists!

  33. A wonderful conversation. For me, the issue is this: we are in the business of truth telling and we each have our own truths to tell. Who has not asked themselves--regardless of what they are writing--did I get it right? Or deeper, did I get close to the truth I was reaching for? The honest answer is always no, I didn't get close enough. No, I have to try again.

    We write of the world as we see it and the world is multicultural, multifaceted.

    We absolutely do have to ask the question Christine quotes from Mitalia's site: is it my story to tell? If the honest answer to that question is yes, it's mine, then tell the story let go of the doubt. You cannot write from a position of self doubt. My story will always be different than yours, even if you and I are twins.

    I am often comforted by Georgia O'Keefe's words, which I keep by my laptop: "It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it."

    Remember, though, that O'Keefe spent a long time looking at, thinking about and a digging deeper into the truth of her specific desert.

  34. Debby - You are so right. The world is indeed a very multicultural and multifaceted place.

    And that's what makes it beautiful. And when we are true to the characters we write, looking at all the aspects of their particulars, our stories become three dimensional.

    And I agree that we can only tell the stories that are ours to tell. I believe that is the only way they will ring true.

  35. Adrianne, some of it, I think, is a function of our talking about "multicultural" as if it's a genre rather than a universal. If an agent or editor isn't looking for "multicultural" books, it sounds neutral. But is it? Is the impact?

    Lindsey, I look forward to reading your debut. It's wonderful to have new voices in this conversation. And what you say rings true. We live in a diverse world; it should be natural, automatic in our writing. But it isn't for everyone and that's why I wanted to talk about self-censorship, the forces behind it, and the under-representation that results.

    Debby, thank you for thoughts on soul searching and encouragement.

  36. thanks for this conversation. it's just what i needed to hear, today. my current book isn't a safe book neither is it paranormal or dsytopian. it is a difficult book with complicated, difficult characters that i love and that i had to write. i wasn't worried at the time about who would read it or what was safe, only that i had to tell it.

  37. Good luck with your manuscript, Valerie! Certainly, young readers love speculative fiction, but realistic fiction still has a lot of support and advocates. I look forward to your complicated, difficult book.

  38. I am done with 'safe' and currently 'roaring' with my novel's characters. I hope the world is ready...

    Rosie Pova

  39. The idea that we can only tell stories that are ours to tell is a troubling one. If that were the case, then a writer can only "write what they know," which we all know is impossible if we are to create a cast of characters that mirrors reality and speaks to the varying aspects of life. No one has or can experience everything. We are all telling stories that don't belong to us.

    Unfortunately I've seen the battle cry for authors to write multiculturally tempered with the belief that white writers don't know what it's like to be a minority and so they must be patronizing or using their "privilege" to perpetuate stereotypes. THAT is one of the big reasons writers are afraid to step outside their own culture—because they have been criticized and attacked for it in the past, even when making sincere efforts "get it right."

    I genuinely hope there comes a time when it doesn't matter what the background of the writer is, so long as she tells an honest story. As I said in another discussion a few months ago, why make white writers into the enemy when so many want to be allies? Instead of focusing on what they're doing wrong, wouldn't it be better to recognize what they did right, and then gently showing them where their understanding faltered?

    It's not a fight of "us" against "them." It can't be. Not any longer. It needs to be "all of us together" fighting against prejudice, not other people. It's a natural response for people to dig in and defend themselves when attacked, but when weapons are lowered, differences and disagreements can be discussed in a way that brings unity instead of tearing apart.

    To sum up: Even if someone belongs to a majority, it doesn't automatically make them the enemy. Perhaps they might be one of the cause's greatest allies. We'll never know, if they're not given the chance to stand on the same side.

  40. I can speak for the whole world, Rossy, but count me ready and waiting.

    Michelle, when I hear the phrase "our stories to tell," I don't equate that with any particular pedigree. My recent novels include protagonists who're Chinese American and Mexican American respectively, and I'm not a member of either of those groups. But the characters' journeys--the challenges they faced, the imagination necessary to conjure them--that was me. Mine. Nobody else could've told their particular stories the same way or with such personal passion.

    If it's a comfort, I can honestly say, as someone who's been active in this conversation for going on two decades, that the writers I talk to, including those from underrepresented groups, are all for inclusion of minority *and* majority voices, defined broadly. There are plenty of folks who feel that way and are active in children's-YA publishing today.

    This conversation has been an inspiring step toward embracing the "all of us together" approach you describe, and I so appreciate your contribution.

  41. Thank you. I put aside work I researched off and on for a year and a half because I was scared to speak for another. Maybe someday, when I've matured as a writer, I'll try that book again.

    The irony is I slipped into another project with the same issue: I must speak for a culture that isn't mine, one with a history that isn't always pretty, one where it would be easy to paint with broad strokes. While this sometimes terrifies me, I firmly believe, I must believe, that I am first and foremost speaking as the child I'm creating, not as a representation or commentary on a particular culture.

    Who we are as humans should transcend all of our differences. This is what is lending me courage.

  42. I think what Christine was getting at with the phrase "ours to tell" was in speaking of particular parts of history that are still open wounds. Here's the quote: https://www.facebook.com/notes/the-highlights-foundation/mitali-perkins-on-writing-with-an-authentic-cultural-voice/366314070052662

    "When to cross a border of race, culture, or power in creating fiction? If a particular community is processing a shared experience of suffering through the healing power of story, maybe it's time for our 'outsider' version to wait. When we have more power in society than our protagonist, it's always good to ask whether to speak on his or her behalf. If we still feel compelled by the story, we must lean heavily on research, imagination, and empathy. Always, love deeply within that community and listen well. Someone once said that to cross a border of power to tell a story, a writer better live there first, shut up, and hold a bunch of babies."

    1. The hold babies quote is from James Ransome. I wrote about it at my blog. It was a historical fiction conference. He was asked why he had not illustrated a story w American Indian characters. It was a brilliant answer about trust and the perils of research-only writing.

  43. Caroline, it sounds like there's a theme in your work calling steadily to you. Best wishes with it, my friend. I look forward to reading those books.

    Stacy, thank you for the clarification/context. Most appreciated--as is the great and groundbreaking work you're doing every day.

    Let me add that, while I'm encouraging writers to embrace diversity in their manuscripts and open themselves to writing across borders, I also think there is something to say for varied community representation in publishing and the conversation of youth literature.

    There are some remarkable stories that arise from personal experience, and there is the added dynamic of role modeling to young readers.

    When I talk to teenagers about my fantasy novels, for example, I reference in passing my mid-to-southwestern background, my tribal affiliation, that I was first-generation college and went onto law school, and that I live with cats. Not because any of that's the hook for my novels, but so that mid-to-southwestern or Native or would-be first generation college or friends-of-cats kids will know that someone they have XYZ in common with has a voice that is heard. And so maybe they have a voice that matters, too.

    Being a writer for young readers is about the writing, but it's also about the kids themselves. The audience matters, must be respected, and should be elevated and empowered at every opportunity.

  44. Cynthia - This is indeed an important and weighty covnersation to iniate, and you are, in my mind, one of the perfect folks to do so. For years, I have looked up to you as a writer, a woman, an individual, and a force. You roar, and you have been one of those wonderful writers who has helped pave the way for this conversation to broaden. Thank you for that and thank you for encouraging others to let themselves be heard.

  45. I've never let fears hold back my writing, because my characters wouldn't let me. They gnawed at my brain and took away my sleep until I took down their dictations. That said, I have met with criticism, but not enough - lol. I think banned books have an exotic mystique that urges people (especially young ones) to read them. My books haven't been banned (that I know), but I have drawn angry words from, as Albert Einstein would say, mediocre minds. Anyone not open to honest expression is mediocre, at best.

    All we writers can do is tell the truth as we know it. The future of the world depends on us.

  46. "Diverse YA fiction is the new regular fiction. Or it least it should be." It's so exciting to hear someone say this! It might not translate to sales, etc., but it translates to a better humanity, and that part is worth it. It goes exactly to what Ellen W. is saying--we can start (as writers) with the places where we're all human. And stories can lead us both places--to that universal place, but also to the appreciation of the beauty that makes us different. Great conversation all around!

  47. Lindsey, I honored. What an incredibly kind thing to say. Thank you.

    Selene, it sounds like you're in great hands -- following your characters where they lead.

    Kirstin, I'm all for a better humanity. It's that dual approach that will make it happen -- appreciate the universal and the specific.

  48. Cynthia, thank you for beginning this topic. As an author, I've written a number of books for reluctant readers with diverse main characters and have found those resonated with young readers. A "twist" in my recent picture book was that the story was about acceptance and diversity, but the main character who needed acceptance was caucasian; all the other characters were multicultural. I was concerned about being silent, and it took many revisions and a special publisher to see the value of that theme :)! Truthfully, I am a bit worried about the upcoming reception of my soon-to-be-released MG/tween novel, which has a few Hawaiian main characters, some of whom seem very unsympathetic -- until almost the very end. It makes me nervous that readers might put the book down (or, their Kindle down) before finishing it and will have a very negative impression about them and the book. But, as you say, I had to gear myself up to not be silent, and I hope young readers will finish the book. Many mahalos for your inspiration.
    Margo :)

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  50. Margo, most people know that there is no community immune from prejudice. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for biracial children, for example, to face rejection from a few folks on each "side."

    Beyond that, I've talked to many writers who were worried that readers would make assumptions about their work based on an excerpt, and, alas, it does happen. But we can't write defensively and say anything meaningful.

    Best wishes with your upcoming release--and keep in mind that a certain amount of nervousness just before any book is published is totally natural.