My Fallow Periods

I’m back!

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Hello strangers, remember me? I’m the person that’s supposed to keep this blog updated, even though I haven’t posted in MONTHS. I apologize for my LONG absence, but to be fair you can still find me pretty regularly over at Writer’s Block Party! And I have been much better at keeping up my new(ish) Authortube/Booktube vlog over at YouTube.

STILL, this blog was my first love and I’ve been horrible at keeping it updated. Partly because I did want to try out those other formats of connecting with everyone (vlogging is fun but time consuming, y’all!)

Also, because my writing has…not been going well. So, I thought I might talk about fallow periods and the search for motivation and inspiration when you’re a writer or a creator.

According to Cambridge dictionary “fallow” means: Fallow land is not planted with crops, in order to improve the quality of the soil A fallow period of time is one in which very little happens.

But Mirriam-Webster has a girl’s back because this is the first thing that pops up in their definition:

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Way to both support and subtweet me Mirriam-Webster!

ANYWAY! You get the gist. It’s a period of time where a writer is not writing. There should be a sub-definition that says “a period of time where a writer questions all their life choices and regrets everything.”

The idea of a fallow period for writers is not new. However, if you look at the origin of the word it’s a time when fields don’t produce crops, but it’s ALSO a time when the fields are regenerating nutrients to be able to grow crops again! This definitely changed my view on the time periods when I couldn’t write and how I would treat them. This idea was first presented to me when a CP sent me this post.

So, instead of just seeing periods of time where I’m not creating as a negative, I see it as a chance to rejuvinate my creative well and to refresh my mind. I try to read all the books I couldn’t concentrate on when I was actively writing or revising. I use it to watch all the shows I’d been missing out on. And I pursue other creative endeavors because I know that when I’m actively writing I can’t do many other creative things at the same time. So, right now that’s being more active on my Instagram

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And on my youtube channel!

Still, the idea of most of the things I’m doing is to work toward being able to write again. So I try to find inspiration and motivation in everything I do. I keep journals and lists of ideas as they come to me. And I try to let myself write if I want to, but I don’t set any deadlines and let it just flow naturally. This way, I find that most of the things I end up writing during my fallow periods is very personal and it helps to bring my stories closer to my heart.

What do you guys do during your fallow periods? How do you refill your creative wells?

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Claribel & Kat’s Pitch Wars Wishlist!

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It’s HERE! That time of the year when Pitch Wars is starting up and we are finally able to share our wishlists! Claribel Ortega and I are co-mentoring as #Teamoji this year and we are so stoked! Send us all of your YA fantasies and spec fic so we can devour them! (Nom nom nom)
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First a little about us!

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Claribel Ortega got her start editing student’s often times hilarious ads and ramblings on the back page of SUNY Purchase’s Independent Newspaper. From there, she became a small town reporter, where she enjoyed going to board of education meetings and texting the town mayors about the line at Starbucks. Today she’s busy turning her obsession with eighties pop culture, magic and video games into books. She lives in New York with her motorcycle-riding poet boyfriend & her suspiciously intelligent yorkie, Pancho Villa. She is represented by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary. You can find her at claribelortega.com  as @claribel_ortega on Twitter or making promo gifs for authors and anyone else who will pay her at GifGrrl.com.

Kat Cho writes Young Adult Sci-fi and Fantasy. Mostly ownvoices and mostly involving as much angst as possible (don’t @ me). She has been a mentor or judge in other events such as Author Mentor Match and WCNV. And She is a volunteer coordinator for DVPit. She is agented by the amazing and lovely Beth Phelan at The Bent Agency. Her current MS is a contemporary fantasy based on the Korean myth of the gumiho. She believes the writing world is a community and loves to share thoughts and advice as a contributor over at Writer’s Block Party or on her Youtube vlog. You can also find her on Twitter as @KatCho.

 

So we’re writing this to let any potential mentees out there know what we’re into. What stories catch our eyes? What characters make us swoon? Stay tuned to find out!tumblr_mdrkk5Rivo1rfzj10o1_r3_500.gifWe love a wide-range of fantasy including historical, urban and epic! We are lovers of diverse stories that tell tales that aren’t centered around Western/European origins. We are fans of strong ensemble casts and strong ladies. But, instead of just rambling on, let’s just give you a quick bullet list of some stories we’d love to see (this is not at all comprehensive as we both like being surprised by stories we never knew we’d love).

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So, without further ado, here is our Pitch Wars Wishlist:

  • Ownvoices Fantasy (especially set in worlds inspired by non-Western/Non-European cultures)
  • Retellings with a twist (Think The Star Touched Queen’s retelling of Hades & Persephone)
  • If your book is like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (think emotion/characters/relationships)
  • Hamilton told from the POV of the Schuyler sisters
  • Books that take place over a short period of time (like a weekend or day) think Breakfast Club
  • If your book reminds me of a Miyazaki Film send it to me yesterday
  • Enemies to lovers
  • Misfits/unlikely groupings, Ragtag group of friends or enemies to friends, on a quest or heist, and Multi-POV
  • Anti-heroes, villains journey (think FOTL, Young Elites, Vicious)
  • Bad-ass girl gangs
  • Serial killers in a fantasy setting! (Claribel loves murder)
  • Street smart characters
  • Strong friendships

Wish List in video format cause we’re extra like that:

Things on our oh-no-no list aka don’t send these to us

  • We don’t really do pure contemporary (usually)
  • Fairies/Elves
  • Dystopian
  • Suicide, cancer, or child abuse
  • Abusive relationships presented as romantic
  • Books about race or oppression from the perspective of the oppressor

For your reference, here are some of our favorite Books:

 

Claribel’s Faves:

  • Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  • Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
  • Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
  • The Jackaby Series by William Ritter
  • Vampire Academy Series by Richelle Mead
  • Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye
  • The Millennium Series by Stieg Larson
  • The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
  • Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
  • The Inspector Gamache Series by Louise Penny
  • Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang
  • Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

 

Kat’s Faves:

  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter Series) by JK Rowling
  • Redwall by Brian Jacques
  • Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
  • The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
  • Black Cat by Holly Black
  • Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
  • Darkest Minds Trilogy by Alexandra Bracken
  • Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
  • Blood of Eden Trilogy by Julie Kagawa

And for another peek into our tastes, here are some non-book favorites:

Kat’s Faves

  • Musicals: Les Miserables, Hamilton, Rent
  • Anime: Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Cowboy Bebop
  • Movies: Spaceballs, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pacific Rim, Star Wars (IV, V, VI, VII, Rogue One), Moana
  • Badass TV: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica
  • Funny TV: Psych, Happy Endings, Parks and Rec, Brooklyn 99
  • ALL things Miyazaki, Ghibli: Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Ponyo
  • K-Dramas for dayz: Oh My Ghostess, Gaksital, Heirs, School 2013, Shut Up Flower Boy Band, Goblin

 

Claribel’s Faves

  • Food
  • Video games: Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy (especially VII aka the best RPG of all time, FIGHT ME) Just Dance,The Sims, Harvest Moon, Super Paper Mario, Street Fighter, Grand Theft Auto
  • Puppies
  • Murder Podcasts
  • The 80s
  • Movies: Amélie, Beverly Hills Cop, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Pacific Rim, Coming to America, Pretty in Pink, Wonder Woman, The Goonies, Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Watching YouTube makeup tutorials while eating ice cream then passing out
  • TV: How to Get Away with Murder, Brooklyn 99, Empire, Twin Peaks, GLOW

 

As for our future mentee, both of us really believe in revision. We actually have permanent residency in Revision-town. It’s a quaint little place with cute cottages and pools of our tears. Wine fountains and cheese fountains are equally present. And there’s a nice little path you can take to the top of a mountain where you can scream your frustrations into the uncaring sky. Anyway…what we mean to say is we’re not afraid of revisions and neither should our mentee. Revisions are meant to tighten and polish the MS. At the same time, we also don’t think the path to successful querying is perfection. We’re looking for a story that has potential (and we believe that’s what agents are looking for too).

Our future mentee should be ready to work hard. We want someone who is as kind as we are but as ruthless in making the cuts and changes necessary to make their book the best possible. We want someone who will keep an open mind and be willing to discuss big changes if they arise.

We believe your story will always be yours, we’re just here to collaborate with you and provide guidance and internet hugs and GIFs.

Good luck everyone and we can’t wait to read your submissions!

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Go here for the links to all the other mentor wishlists!

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Pitch Wars Prep Care Package

Hello internet-peeps!

I assume you’re here because you’re considering submitting your manuscript to Pitch Wars! And as a mentor this year, I am so excited to read the entries once they roll in. However, there is still almost a month until the submission window opens. So, I figure there’s a lot of stress-prep going on. And I’m hoping to relieve some of that stress with some helpful guides to help you prepare your submission and your brainz for Pitch Wars.

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The first thing I’ll give you is a bit of advice. While Pitch Wars is a great program that provides both mentorship and platform, it is not the end-all, be-all of pitching your work to agents. I did not make it into Pitch Wars the year I applied and I just used that experience to learn and grow as a writer until I got my agent. So all parts of the Pitch Wars experience can be valuable. (Also the fact that you finished and polished a whole book is a huge accomplishment. You’re all awesome!)

So, what do you need for Pitch Wars? A Manuscript, a query, a synopsis (optional), wine (less optional), and a support system!

Manuscript:

Note: you should have a complete and polished MS ready for Pitch Wars. But I’ll provide you some resources I’ve used in my own writing journey for those last minute touches.

Susan Dennard and the Revision Process

The For Writer’s Section in Susan Dennard’s Blog

Before querying & sub: cutting word count, filler words, & line-edits

Can Your Scenes be Seen?

Pitchwars Mentor Blog

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer

Query:

Some quick advice from me:

  • Comps are NOT a requirement. They’re there to provide some quick insight into what your story is about, the tone/themes of your story, and/or the audience you seek to reach. If the comps you’re trying to include only confuse these facts, considering not having them.

Writing a Query Letter

Query Letter Success

Query Tracker Success Stories

Writer’s Digest Successful Queries

Query Shark

Synopsis:

How to Write a 1 page Synopsis

6 Steps for Writing a Book Synopsis

How to Write a Novel Synopsis

Wine

Support system:

Adventures in Revising(2): CPs, Beta Readers, or hired editors?

#CPMatch on Twitter

Bonus Advice:

Online Contest Pitching: Querying and Pitching in the Public Arena

The Diversity Conversation pt2: Resources and Links

Since there was more interest in my Diversity Conversation post than I expected (and because I do not consider myself an expert on this topic), I thought it might be helpful to provide a more comprehensive list of outside resources. I’ve compiled links to resources for anyone who would like to further their personal education on diversity and the diversity conversation!

I will be updating this with more links as they come to my attention.

***My request to you if you’ve come here to learn more about the diversity conversation in kidlit (especially if you are not part of one, many, or any of these marginalized communities). Please keep an open mind and be ready to be wrong. It’s important to overcome any internal biases that might have been picked up along your life (whether consciously or subconsciously). One of the reasons systemic racism and harmful stereotypes have permeated our world is because we can’t overcome these internal biases because we don’t see how insidious they can really be.***

Also, if you’re here, it’s probably because you want to learn. The BEST way to do that is to follow all the people who wrote these resources in the first place. And to support the authors who are creating diverse content. Buy their books! (Link to my diverse Goodreads books list: HERE)

Basics/Textbook definitions:

systemic/institutional racism

systemic misogyny

internalized sexism,

systemic ableism

how cis/het/straight is presented as the “norm” in our society.

defacto treatment of marginalized

microaggressions that happen daily

Here are resources to learn from about diversity in kidlit:

We Need Diverse Books

Writing in the Margins

American Indians in Children’s Literature

Disability in kidlit

Gay YA

Reading While White

Writing With Color

Minorities in Publishing

Diversity in YA

CBC Diversity

Rich in Color

Malinda Lo’s Guide to LGBT YA

Latinxs in Kidlit

Twitter list of Diverse writers

(it is in NO way comprehensive, but feel free to follow any and all of them!)

Diverse Writers

Okay let’s go more in-depth shall we?

Writing With Color provides Blogs – Recs – Resources

They also provide Writing With Color – Featured Research Guides

Some Marginalized Authors are nice enough to storify conversations and threads:

Violence Against Black Women in Publishing: The Harm Women of Color, Particularly Black Women, Face When Pushing For Diversity (compiled L.L. McKinney)

Justina Ireland on Worldbuilding & Appropriation (by Justina Ireland)

YA: “The Total Experience” Diversity in YA With Beth Revis, C.J. Omolulu, Lydia Kang & Malinda Lo. (compiled by Ava Jae)

How about some videos too?

 

January and February Wrap-Up (Plus future writerly plans)

I haven’t really been doing wrap-up posts, but I realized how much I’ve randomly gotten done/decided this year already. So I figured I’d talk about the books I’ve read, the shows I’ve watched, and plans for 2017!

Here we go!

Things I’ve done and future Plans for 2017

My critique group and I started a writing blog called Writer’s Block Party.

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It was born because we realized that most of our group chat conversations were us dissecting craft issues and books we loved. And we wanted to share our weirdness with the world. We’re also lucky to have a few industry insiders (agent assistants and publishing assistants) in the group. And of course our amazing CP’s who are debuting this year! (Shout out to Foody and Axie!)

I finished a giant round of revisions for GUMIHO and started drafting a new WiP (that I am currently calling Dragon of Joseon). Here’s an inspiration collage/novel aesthetic for DoJ:

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I have decided the main conferences I am going to as well. I am a HUGE lover of conferences because they allow my writer side and fan side to collide in a giant Super Saiyan fusion form!

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BookExpo and BookCon which will be in New York from May 31 – June 4. It’s going to be a return to my old stomping grounds of New York and I am so excited to see old friends and new. I’ll be Claribel Ortega‘s shadow for as long as she’ll have me.

American Library Association Annual Conference (ALA) which will be June 22-27 in Chicago. It’s an easy one for me to go to since I live in Chicago. I am also very excited since my Critique Group is coming (we’re going to celebrate our love for each other by going to Hamilton as well!)

Finally, I am going to Seoul! I always knew I was going (It’s my grandmother-할머니-88th birthday, which is a big deal in Korea as 8 is an auspicious number). But, my cousins, Axie and Christine, said they’d come with me! So we are going to have a million adventures! AND I am going to try to vlog it! So subscribe to my YouTube for those updates coming to you in late April/early May! (Here are preview pics from my trip to Seoul last year)

Books Read

Don’t want to be too proud of myself but I’ve read 18 books in the last two months. This is by far the fastest and most consistently I’ve read books in a long time. I think that once I started writing I spent a lot of my “story” time on my own MS’s. So, I’m really stoked that I got back into my reading rhythm this year! And I’m also lucky that I loved every book I’ve read so far!

Fantasy and Sci-Fi

I read Handmaid’s Tale because I was told it was eerily prophetic for current times and I have to be honest and say I’m a tad worried. It really did feel like some of the ideals that the dystopian society were based on are things that I’ve heard some more extreme parties saying these days. But that might just mean Margaret Atwood was a great observer of humanity. Either way, the book is worth a read, just steel yourself!

Monstress was my present to myself when I finished revisions and it was amazing! It has such creativity and a creepiness that I can never achieve myself so I always appreciate it in other stories. Also, the art is gorgeous.

I finally finished the Winner’s Trilogy with The Winner’s Kiss. Gotta be honest, I wanted more kissing! But I was very satisfied with this trilogy end.

I read the Star-Touched Queen to prepare for A Crown of Wishes coming out this year. And I’m so happy I did. The story was gorgeously written and immersed me in a new world. I really enjoyed the characters (my favorite was Kamala)

Furthermore was a very fun read! I told my CP I wanted to read more MG this year so she suggested Furthermore as our first unofficial MG book club book and I am so grateful she did. The voice in that book was the best! It was so imaginative and fun and I really enjoyed Alice as a main character. I hope that Tahereh Mafi writes a sequel because the worlds were so enjoyable!

Huntress is a prequel type book in the same world as Malinda Lo’s Ash. I haven’t read Ash yet, but after reading Huntress I really want to. It was such a wonderful world built around Chinese mythology and the strong lead characters made me inspired and excited to read more of Lo’s writing.

Historical Fiction

Outrun the Moon was so well done! I loved the characters and really despaired with them as they struggled in their daily lives even before the earthquake happened. I wanted so much for them to find a connection with each other because I do feel like some of the girls were a bit lost. After the disaster hit there was a lot of chaos and coming together and it’s where the main character, Mercy Wong, really shone. She was an amazing girl to follow through a whole story.

When My Name Was Keoko has a bit of personal meaning to me. My grandmother lived through the Japanese occupation of Korea and she does not like to speak of it much. It was strange to imagine her in Keoko’s shoes. It was a story of two siblings fighting to retain their identity while a ruling government sought to strip them of it. But I loved the theme of resilience and honor that was woven throughout.

Contemporary YA

I really should have read Shiny Broken Pieces earlier because I adored Tiny Pretty Things. That being said, it might be good that I took a bit of time so my heart could heal from the first book. It’s so well written from different persepctives of girls who are competing to be the best in a ballet academy. And my heart just broke for each of them. Honestly, the breakout character for me was Bette, I did not expect to care for her as much as I did.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was exactly what I expected, a fun story about two teens feeling a bit lost and finding themselves during one night of adventure.

I am convinced that Adam Silvera gains his power from reader tears. More Happy Than Not is exactly what you might expect from the title (so good job naming this book!). It was a very powerful exploration of mental health and identity and I would definitely recommend it (but have tissues ready).

You guys. You Guys! Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe will forever mark my heart. It is such a great book. It stays with you looong after you finish it. I cannot recommend this wonderful book enough. It has so much heart and such wonderful relationships. Everyone deserves a friend like Dante.

Romance

My cousin got me really into Lisa Kleypas. She writes really fun regency romances and I devoured them in one sitting. I finished her Wallflowers series really quickly. (I read the first book Secrets of a Summer Night in 2016)

Non-Fiction

Each non-fiction book I read gave me completely different feels. I liked Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? because it gave me a laugh during a time I was feeling pretty down. (Though there were many scenes with the Obamas and that made me very depressingly nostalgic)

But the big stand outs were for sure Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala. Noah’s book about growing up in South Africa as the son of a black woman and a white man was very eye-opening. And there were a lot of parallels for some political issues we’re currently facing today in America. It really resonated with me as a reader and it was told with such charm and humor that I was sped through it. (Also, not going to lie, I have a pretty big crush on Trevor Noah). I Am Malala is an important book about learning, bravery, family, love. I didn’t realize I’d gotten the young readers version, so I’m definitely going to get the other version of the book and read that as well. Even if you don’t read I Am Malala (though everyone should), definitely listen to her UN speech. It was powerful and so well spoken.

Shows I’ve watched (Let’s be honest, these are all K-Dramas)

My fave drama so far is Goblin/Dokkaebi (도깨비). It was just amazing. But it also kind of wrecked me in the end. I had a few hang-ups on some weird creative choices (like the age of the main girl). But I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was actually team Dokkaebi-Reaper. BROMANCE! Just look!

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Also you know I love a drama if I make GIFs for it:

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I just finished watching Hwarang (화랑), which was a very fun historical drama set in the Silla Kingdom. It has political intrigue in a way that didn’t bore me to bits (that is such an accomplishment because many historical dramas are only interesting to me during the relationship parts). I also loved the romance in this one. I wish there was more time spent on the friendships (bromance!). But I was very satisfied with this show, partly because of all the eye candy!

It actually gave me my newest love, Park Hyung Sik:

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Which is why I also watched the 2014 weekend drama What Happens to My Family (가족끼리 왜 이래)

This drama actually gave me a lot of feelings and I’m not quite over them yet. But I loved the family dynamics and the love lines and the comedy and the drama of it all. I’m just really emotional so I can’t express myself well about this drama yet.

Finding Hope & Inspiration through Community

Sometimes, when you’re writing you lose sight of things. And sometimes, it’s easy to forget what you’re writing for. I know that I write for myself, for my story, for my heart. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I write so others can read my stories and find something to love too.

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This is when community helps me find my perspective. I love seeing people get excited about stories and books. It’s great to see people that I’ve always respected and cheered for getting book deals and debuting. This year alone, I have multiple friends and CP’s debuting and I am so excited I can barely contain it at times. I think it’s alright to find your happiness where you can. And taking some time away from your own work to be happy for others is not only nice, but I think it’s key to keeping your perspective on the publishing world. If we can’t find like-minded people and form these connections, writing and publishing will feel like a very lonely place. Especially since the writing itself is a solitary activity.

I live for the moments that my CPs share pieces of their work, or an aesthetic collage, or an initial outline of a new idea. These are the times when I can sit back and be in awe of the people I’m lucky  enough to call friends. And I can be inspired by the talent around me. I’ve heard a lot of advice that says when you form a critique group you should find people who are more talented than you, and I’m pretty smug about the fact that I’ve accomplished that.

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My Critique Group is as cool as f(x). Well, I think so at least…

It helps to give us moments of hope when we feel like all we’ve been doing is drafting and revising, drafting and revising. It’s wonderful to see a story that we used to read as CPs go from draft to final MS to sold to book. The thrill of that journey is enough to inspire us to keep going with our own work so one day we can see a book cover made from scratch for the stories we’ve created.

I also think it’s important to still be a fan. Everyone I talk to about their writing journey usually says something along the lines of “I’ve always loved stories and reading.” And I think that’s so key! Being a fan means that we can appreciate the craft and creativity that goes into the field we’ve chosen. We can still be in awe of the beauty and talent that goes into crafting a story. We can have hero authors that (if we’re lucky) we might meet one day (and maybe cry on. NO YOU CRIED ON LAINI TAYLOR).

And, I also believe that writing is not ONLY about the writing. It’s about living a life worth inspiring a story. It’s about reading other stories to get motivation and inspiration. And it’s about knowing what books are out there right now being devoured and loved by the very audiences we’re writing for.

I have this analogy I make about my creativity where I call it a bank. I have a certain amount of words saved up that I’ve collected as I read or watch other stories. And when I write too long without reading I spend all of my words. There are legit moments where I feel so burned out that I cannot form coherent sentences anymore and it feels like I’ve used up all the words in my word bank and I need to fill it again. I hate when these moments happen, but at least I know that I can just go to my TBR and I can be inspired from the very first sentence I read.

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I find joy in almost every part of publishing (reading, writing, revising, meeting other writers). Seeing a CP or friend find success helps because it shows us that good stories can find a home and that talent is appreciated. Taking a moment to bask in the glory of your talented friends can warm some of the cold nights spent revising your MS for the umpteenth time. And it also helps to live vicariously through them as their stories find their audiences. I believe these communities are key to creating a sustainability in this industry so we don’t burn out or lose sight of why we’re doing this all in the first place.

The Diversity Conversation (pt 1)

I’ve watched the conversation around diversity change over the past few years when it comes to literature and YA/kidlit in particular. I took interest for obvious reasons, I am a writer of color who wants to write about my own experiences and heritage. However, even as a POC I was not prepared for some of the hard lessons I’ve learned over the past few years. And I came to realize that it’s because I didn’t have the foundation for it yet. I had to build that first before I could enter the harder conversations and really understand what they were about (let alone partake in them! Which, I still don’t do that often because I am still learning).

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I’m going to make an analogy for this post with the hopes that I can shed light on my own journey and perhaps help at least one person understand how much time it takes to even begin to understand this ongoing conversation we call “diversity.” So, I’m going to compare the conversation about diversity to school courses.

When I was a senior I took a class that beat the snot out of my brain, Biochemistry. I was so wrung dry after a semester of it that I dreamed about it (or, more accurately, I had nightmares about it). However, I still got a very respectable B+ in that course. I know that the only reason I got that grade was because I’d prepared myself for it. I took a year of intro biology, a year of intro chemistry, a year of organic chemistry, plus labs for all of these classes.

My coworker was talking about her classes the other day and said that she was required to take biochemistry but half of the class hadn’t taken intro biology yet. I was floored at how that’s even possible. How could you understand the very complex subjects of biochemistry without taking the intro class first? It just didn’t seem logical! (unsurprisingly most of those students dropped the class)

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The reason I’m telling these strange school anecdotes is to say that I think people should learn the basics before they can join the more advanced classes.

If you look at conversations about diversity in the same way, you should learn the basics in the 101 courses about inequality, systemic/institutional racism, systemic misogyny, internalized sexism, systemic ableism, and how cis/het/straight is presented as the “norm” in our society.

Then you need to take the 201 courses to understand how those concepts affect big picture defacto treatment of marginalized AND microaggressions that happen daily.

After all of those foundational courses, it’s possible to join the advanced courses which are the ongoing conversations about why X book is problematic or Y movie is appropriative or Z author’s Twitter feed is insensitive to the very audience they write for.

I see people jumping into conversations on social media or at a house party to explain why they don’t understand why such-and-such is a big deal. And I can completely understand why they don’t get it. It’s because they don’t have a foundation built up yet. They don’t know the long and hard history of how we got here as a diverse country/society. It’s because they haven’t learned the basics of why this all matters. The issue is that when you take biochemistry without taking biology 101, the only one that suffers is you. When you try to push your way into conversations about diversity without understanding, you’re hurting other people. This is where my analogy ends and the real talk begins.

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We need to stop being so naive to think we already have all the tools to talk about the problems with society just because we live in it. The world is not perfect, we know that much. However, why the world isn’t perfect is up for debate. The thing that isn’t up for debate: other people’s pain. If someone says they’re hurt, that’s it. You believe them.

For me personally, I joined the YA community when I was still learning about my own identity and coming to terms with the idea of writing myself onto the page. I still defaulted to what society told me was the “norm.” I made my MC’s white because I didn’t know if YA audiences would relate to POC MC’s. I also did not know enough about other marginalized communities to speak about their issues. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to communities I’m not a member of, so I still sit back and listen to those kind enough to speak out about it (for free! Seriously, emotional labor is labor and many people do it for free).

On top of that, POC/marginalized can be biased too. Being a racial minority does not stop a person from being ableist or heteronormative, etc. I had to unlearn many off-hand statements I used in every day conversation because I didn’t realize that it was perpetuating an ableist norm. I also had to unlearn some phrases that were cruel to other POC and Native groups. I grew up in the United States, which means I was raised watching TV shows that told me white was normal; and men married women; and boys played with cars and girls played with dolls. My parents NEVER told me that was normal, but society did. And I had to decide for myself if that’s what I would believe or not.

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video source: Unboxing Ableism

We all have to unpack our biases. And we all need to understand the basic foundation of why these conversations are important. Until then, it’s fine to be quiet and listen. There is no need to be active in the conversation all the time. Sometimes it’s enough to just learn. That’s actually why so many marginalized voices speak out, to help people understand.

I don’t mean to scare anyone away from joining an earnest conversation. But it is on you as the “learner” to understand that your need to learn does not supersede another person’s pain. So asking a marginalized person on Twitter to teach you about their life’s history of marginalization in a 15 minute conversation over 140 characters is probably not the place to start your learning. We are in the age of the amazing internet and google is an awesome thing. And once you’ve created your foundation then you can dip your toe into smaller conversations (perhaps start off in a closed community among friends who are willing to explain the harder things. That’s what I did)

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I’d be happy to answer questions if anyone has them and if I don’t have the answers I’ll say that too. After all, I’m still learning as well.

Here are resources to learn from before entering the diversity conversation:

We Need Diverse Books

Writing in the Margins

American Indians in Children’s Literature

Disability in kidlit

Gay YA

Reading While White

Writing With Color

Minorities in Publishing

Diversity in YA

I also have a Twitter list of Diverse writers (it is in NO way comprehensive, but feel free to follow any and all of them!)

Diverse Writers

For even more links and resources go here: The Diversity Conversation pt2: Resources and Links