Friday, April 29, 2016

GUEST POST: What Representation Means to Me by Alexa

Recently, I've noticed that people in the book community have been talking a lot about representation. As a young black female, I think it's cool that these conversations are going around, but at the same time, representation seems like such a broad, vague term that I wonder what exactly do people mean when they say it? Do they have a concrete definition? A special standard? Some sort of instinct they're going by? Honestly, I have no idea, which is why I want to propose the question: what does representation mean to you?

Image courtesy of tiramisustudio at
The first standard for representation I think of is the Bechdel test. For anyone who doesn't know, basically, if you have two women in your book and they talk about something other than a man, yay you! You've just passed the test for representing women. And I mean, that sounds great and everything, but in theory, one could have two women come on the page for about two seconds, talk about magazines and makeup, and that would technically pass the test. Obviously, that's a kind of out-there example, but it does show that, while the test is a nice idea, it's not quite as solid as it could be.

The next one that comes to mind is more of an informal guideline that has to do with non-white characters. Often, people seem to feel that as long as they have one character that isn't white they've done their job of representation. However, many of the black characters I've come across—certainly not all, but many—are either slaves, comic relief, or they act kinda ghetto; seeing as I'm a 21st century girl living in the suburbs who, according to some people, is not all that funny, when I see these characters, I don't feel real represented.

So again, what does representation actually mean? It's gotta go beyond simply being featured and it's gotta be more than having a single conversation in an entire work of fiction.

Personally, I think representation is going to mean different things for different people. Because, if the definition of “representation” is to take someone, create their likeness, and then say this is who they are, with so many people in this world, each one so gorgeously different, I don't see how any work can propose to do that with only a handful of characters. Now that's not to say that including minority characters isn't important or that authors shouldn't try to generate more diversity in their work, but because people are so different and there is so much to us, what's representation to one person might not be representation to another, and I don't think that asking authors to attempt to actually represent a people is fair.

So when I look for reading material, I'm not looking for “representation.” I certainly appreciate it when I see it, but all I'm actively searching for is an engaging story, characters that are intelligent, interesting, and inspiring, people who feel human and real. If they happen to be my gender or color, awesome, I'm thrilled. But I'm also not going to write off the story for not “representing” me in it.

In the end, I'd say that representation is definitely important, but being such a broad term attempting to cover an incredible amount of people, I don't know that it actually works. I don't know that you can expect every author to somehow produce a work of art that adheres to this indefinable, lofty idea. Personally, I think the most important thing is for authors to create the art of their heart and populate it with the smart, strong, relatable characters that make sense for their story. If those characters happen to be of color or they happen to be women, awesome. If not, I can still enjoy it, because I'm not looking for characters that represent me as a black person and I'm not looking for characters that represent me as a women; I'm looking for stories filled with fascinating, lovable characters who show me something about what it means to be human. Characters in whom I can see my heart now and who encourage me to be better in the future.

So of course I have to ask, what does representation mean to you? Do you have a certain number, a standard you're looking for? And is it a deal-breaker for you if you don't find it? Can't wait to discuss this with all of you, and thanks so much for having me, Heather! :D

I'm an aspiring author and a beginning blogger. Find me weekly at Summer Snowflakes and Verbosity Book Reviews.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

GUEST POST: The Significance of Religion in Fiction by Shar

Hey! Today's guest is Shar from Virtually Read! She has brought some food for thought today; enjoy the feast. 

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. Brunei..
Flickr Credit: Bernard Spragg

Religion is a part of life on Earth. I don’t think it matters which religion—Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Zorastrianism, animism—but religion shapes morality and family values and what you do on a certain day of the week and even your friendships and how you see, well, everything. Even though being agnostic or atheist is technically against religion, I’m going to argue that it’s a religious belief at any rate, and will still shape the way you see the world.

Books are written by people who have a religion, or a set of moral codes. They are read by people who have a religion of some sort. So whether a book is high fantasy or contemporary, there are going to be aspects of religion that shape it’s writing and reading. Today I’m going to talk about 4 ways books deal with religion.

1. Nothing. 

Religion is a difficult topic that basically everyone has an opinion on (even if it’s that religion is stupid). (In fact, that’s why I had to write this to be as politically correct as possible). No matter what they personally believe, lots of writers (especially of contemporaries, I’ve noticed, and high fantasy) just ignore religion because it’s easier and avoids controversy. For example, religion is never mentioned or addressed in Harry Potter although it is set in the real world and magic and religion could have interesting conflicts.  But you can’t really get rid of religion, even if you try. In Harry Potter, there are still plenty of biblical parallels, especially in the 7th book.

via Pinterest

2. Be biased.

Like I said, everyone believes something—and that’s going to come out in writing whether you want it to or not. Genres such as Christian fiction promote a particular viewpoint in a way that often is not that inclusive. However, this can be done well—many non-Christians enjoy Narnia, although Aslan is quite clearly a God-type figure and it says some clear things about being saved and sacrificed and such. There are plenty of examples of badly done Christian fiction, but I was not impressed by Anomaly. While I can’t think of examples, other books promote atheism, especially contemporaries.

(Uninvited appearance by Heather: I dunno if it's fair to say it "promotes atheism," but His Dark Materials falls into the anti-religious bucket. Or so I've heard. *awkwardly hasn't read and probably isn't helping*)

3. Make up new religions

I can think of a lot of books that do this, such as the House of Night series or Tamora Pierce’s Tortall. If it’s a fantasy or non-Earth setting, this is sensible because a) it makes sense—why would a made up world have Earthen religions, b) avoids offending anyone, or being biased c) is realistic, because religion’s prevalence in all human cultures seems to indicate that people (even if they’re magical) have a tendency to believe in something.

via Giphy

4. Deal with it

This is probably the hardest and most controversial way to write religion, but also (at least in real world settings—if fantasy, see #3) the most realistic. Religion is everywhere, and in a world that is rapidly getting more multicultural, this has got to be represented in books. People and their beliefs are diverse and overwhelming, but also fascinating. Books with characters from multiple (or even just not common) religious backgrounds can be really informative as well as realistic, if they’re done well. If they’re not, then that’s unfortunate. Books that do a really good job of this include Does My Head Look Big In This?, Good Enough, and Immaculate.

All of this is to say, religion is interesting and diverse and fascinating. For a writer, it’s easy not to include it, because religion is important and matters to people, so they have strong opinions. But the world is a diverse place of diverse opinions about everything, and there’s always going to be something for someone to find fault in. I’m going out on a limb here to say that thoughtfully written religion—whether fictional or real—is worth writing, because it reflects the real world. And the real world might be full of religious conflict, but religions also are pretty interesting, no?

What are other ways books handle religion? Did I miss anything? What are some books that deal with religion really well? (or terribly.)

Shar lives in India, and has classmates of all the religions she’s mentioned. When she’s not busy with school she reads, writes, and sings ABBA. She blogs at Virtually Read.

Monday, April 25, 2016

GUEST POST: Equality in Fiction by Shanti

India - Kalaroos village folks, Kashmir
Flickr Credit: sandeepachetan
Fiction: a place where the borders of reality can be expanded, where social, economic, and cultural boundaries can be challenged, a place to escape to when the world is too much, or not enough.

That’s my definition of fiction. It encapsulates one of the reasons why I love to read fiction: because in a fictional story, all of the horrible things which cause humans to hate each other don’t have to exist.

Oh, and hi, by the way. I’m Shanti, and I blog at Virtually Read and today I’m taking over from Heather to talk about equality in fiction and normalising diversity.

So before I get into my discussion about why I think there should be more equality in fiction, I’ll say my disclaimer: I understand why books do have inequality in all its shapes and forms, because a) it can create plot tension and b) it reflects real situations that real readers deal with.

But a good writer shouldn’t need to have unequal characters to create a good story. And just for once, especially in speculative fiction, I’d love to read a story where women and men; black people, brown people and white people; people of all different sexualities and religions have been equal from the start. Maybe these books exist already, and I just haven’t found them. But fiction should be a place of equality.

Because if fiction is about escaping some of the barriers that people put between each other in the real world, then surely it makes sense to have fictional worlds where the differences between what people look like/do/ believe don’t matter. On this planet there are a lot of historical and cultural reasons why discrimination exists, but I personally think that a narrative without discrimination will often be richer.

Yes, #Weneediversebooks. We also need books where the diverse experience is not a big deal—where, in short, there is equality. I, for one, am sure that it’s totally possible to tell a story where all the characters are equal. Not the same, but equal.

See, that’s the problem with a lot of diversity—if it’s put into books just to be diverse, it can feel awkward or overdone. (and Alyssa has a great post about that here). But if fiction becomes more equal, both in terms of the number of diverse experiences that it shows and the characters themselves being equal, then diversity doesn’t have to be a big deal.

Representation is super important. But for a lot of people (in fact, almost everyone on this planet of ours), diversity of languages, ethnic backgrounds, religion, sexuality and so many other things is just ordinary life. By sectioning books into ‘diverse’ and not, but adding diversity just for the sake of it, it seems as if having that different experience of seeing the world is separate from you. I can say, as someone of multi-ethnic background who speaks more than one language and lives in a place that isn’t West Europe, the US or Australia/New Zealand, that my experience of life is important. But it’s also totally normal to me.

Without equality—in fiction, in the real world, then the experiences of people different from you don’t seem normal. They seem foreign, weird, or other. I love reading—and writing—stories about people who live outside of the developed world, who don’t have white skin. After all, everyone has some story to tell. To me, it seems that telling a good story doesn’t need inequality. It needs compassion and understanding. If diverse experiences can be treated more like the everyday life they are, then that’s a solid first step towards understanding people who are different to you.

So tell me in the comments, Sometimes I’m a Story Readers. Do you agree with me? Would more equality in fiction make the diverse experience more normal? Do you think a story where everyone is equal would be realistic or is discrimination inherent to the human experience?


Shanti is a multitude of things: reader, blogger, student, violist, runner and spontaneous cartwheels. She loves intricate plots with politics and a dash of magic. When not frantically busy doing schoolwork or reading, she can be found hanging out with her family, wearing brightly coloured tights and baking. She loves thinking about reading and life, and can be found at her blog and on Goodreads.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Announcing My Summer #ReadWomen Goals

Lady Writer
Flickr Credit: Federica D'Amico
I feel like this post should not be intense, but it is. Declaring things always feels intense, for some reason. It is saying “I believe in this thing so I’m going to do it.” Here I go—but first, an intersection of two things.

You may recall that I feel sort of bummed by the lack of female authorship in my college courses thus far. I like reading books by ladies, and of books by ladies there are less. In light of this fact, my brain reminded me of a challenge I saw towards the end of last year, a challenge to read only books by women during December. I liked the idea, but due to homework, I was not willing to pull it off.

I’d like to do it now, instead, over summer break. Instead of December, a May through July summer of #ReadWomen.

It feels scary. And ambitious. And weird. But I also really want to do it. With that in mind, I have decided to set myself some goals.

1. Read 30 books by women.
2. Read ONLY books by women.
3. Read 2 plays.
4. Read 3 autobiographies.
5. Read 1 graphic novel.
6. Read 1 book of poetry.
7. Read 1 book in another language.
8. Listen to 2 books on audiobook (preferably #ownvoices).
9. Read 15 diverse books.
10. Read at least 10 new books (that is, books I haven’t read before).
11. Read 10 eBooks.
12. Read 10 books from the TBR list.
13. Review at least 5 of these books on Goodreads.
14. BONUS GOAL: Watch at least 3 movies directed by women.

There are a lot of motivations running behind these goals. For one thing, I haven’t done a reading challenge before and I’d love to try. I also have a lot of books on my TBR that aren’t getting read, and this seems like a fun way to pare down the list. I’d kind of like to prove to myself that I can do this. And, of course, I really want to spend some time with some awesome female voices over the summer that I can bring into my next semester of classes.

I don’t know why I feel like I need to justify it. I just do, I guess.

But those are my goals—and I am going to ask YOU to help me accomplish them. No, you don’t have to do the project, too (although I didn’t think to ask if anyone might want to…). What I need is some help with accountability. It is so easy for me to say things like, “I am definitely for sure going to abduct an ice cream truck this week.” and then instead go on Pinterest and abduct nothing.

That is why I am thinking it would be a good idea to keep my reading challenge progress updated here, where I can be encouraged and swatted (if necessary) towards my goals. Last year, we talked mostly about fandom things on the weekends. Maybe this year it will be #ReadWomen updates and the like instead.

Of course, I would not make a big decision like that without a little feedback. What do you think?

Let's chat! What should Saturday posts look like this summer? free polls

**Hey, sorry if you voted on the last poll. Blogger's doing something weird to the way I usually use polls, so I've switched to a different one. If that was you, please vote again! And if not, then proceed as normal.**

Do you have any reading goals this summer? 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Five of My Favorite Writers

Lists like these are dumb because I will inevitably leave out somebody important, but life isn’t fair and we’d all better get used to it so we’re going to go through with this post anyway. And this post, if the title didn’t clue you in, is going to be about my five favorite writers. Or at least five of them. Please stop expecting great things from me, the ultimate is unbearable.

Flickr Credit: Comune di Schio
Anyway. List:

1. Mark Walden

This goes without saying. There is no way I can say that his is the best writing I’ve ever read, but it is among the most important. The H.I.V.E. series set the stage for how I would come to explore and define morality during my teenage years. It’s a big deal to me. Also, his words haunt my thoughts every day and I can’t help but latch on to writers who do that to me. I’d love to be a writer who could do that to someone else.

2. Neal Shusterman

This is the best writing I’ve ever read. I feel semi-regretful in saying that because I am about to finish my first full year of college and it’s introduced me to a bunch of amazing, incredible writers, but I can’t be a Shusterman snob today. More than any other writer I’ve read, Shusterman captures the teenager’s human experience. He makes me laugh. He makes me cry. He is the only writer who has genuinely made me feel what it might be like to want to kill someone. I’m going to leave my teenage years behind soon, but I want to remember that these books resonated with me and that they knew me. It just seems important. For now and for later.

3. George O’Connor

I feel like I’ve been talking about O’Connor all the time lately, but whatever. Whenever a new Olympians novel comes out, I get it, because I know it will be awesome. What I admire most in his writing is that he managed to convince me to see things from a side I’d never considered before—in fact, he does that in almost every one of his books I’ve read. To bring out the side we don’t see is such an important task, and it’s something I’d like to do myself. It can blow your mind, and it can make everything different. It is awesome.

4. Stephenie Meyer

FINE OKAY YES I LIKE TWILIGHT WE’VE GONE OVER THIS AT LEAST FIFTEEN TIMES. But still, she has to make this list. Sometimes I’m afraid that I’m going to return to Twilight and find that the magic has gone away or that the part of me that loved it is going to have died with my maturation. It hasn’t happened so far, and so far I still find the magic in the same things: death, life, morality, significance, service, love, family, and sacrifice. She addresses the fear of death and of change in such a way that makes sense to me, and I love that.

5. Ludwig Bemelmans

I am putting this down on the list on a whim—it would break my heart too much to choose between the next two runner-ups, so. I’m guessing this isn’t a name you recognized on sight, but if you know the book Madeline (In an old house in Paris all covered with vines…) then you have read his work. The only reason I can think to put him down is that we have the copy in my living room, with all the other children’s books. Whenever I have nothing to do in there, I pull it out and reread Madeline. Again and again. I know the story. Sooner or later I’m going to have that book memorized. And it’s not many pages at all! And yet I keep returning to the story. WHY? I don’t know. But a writer who keeps drawing me in like that is impressive. And worth exploring later.

These are definitely five of my favorite writers. Not the top five, maybe. I don’t know. I hate picking favorites. I thought I could do it and I couldn’t. Oh well. They’re good thoughts on the five I wrote down, anyway.

And in the end, the things I admire in them are also the things I want to emulate, too. I’d like to be the kind of writer who matters to somebody and resonates with them. So excuse me while I reread everything they’ve ever written to figure out where they get their magnets.

Who are some writers you want to be like?

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Sunshine Blogger Award

Kaboom, it is a tag. Thank you to Jameson of Lovely Whatsoevers for tagging me! Here’s to sunshine, and open-ended prompts that leave you second-guessing everything you ever knew about yourself. Or thought you did.

Thank the blogger who nominated you for the award.
Display the banner/sticker/logo on your blog.
Share 7 facts or things about yourself.
Nominate 5 bloggers that you admire.

1. One time I found a dried up dead snake at the park and I brought it home and named it Ferdinand and it was the coolest thing ever until my mom threw him away.

2. One time I made my best friend watch a whole Riverdance VHS because I wanted to watch the Les Mis 10th Anniversary commercial at the beginning. (Also, I love Riverdance.)

3. One time I wrote a paper for my philosophy final in which Socrates, Martin Luther King Jr., Virginia Held, John Stuart Mill, and I all watched Avengers: Age of Ultron and debated the  merits of building Ultron.

4. One time I took the AP Calculus AB test and it was hard but I gave it a try but meanwhile Victor-who-wore-waistcoats-sometimes drew the best drawing of a tree I’ve ever seen instead of doing his constructed responses.

5. One time we were practicing for the AP tests in the old home ec room and I opened all the cabinets and drawers and no one could stop me because I am a free person.

6. One time I held Rosie the Tarantula at the Bug Pavilion because I am brave.

7. One time I convinced some of my friends who were boys to eat peeled branches from trees and apparently it was not the worst thing they’d ever been encouraged to eat.

From elementary school to college, I have had quite of a time of it, ha ha ha.

NOW I TAG the peoples Opal, Victoria, Shar, Shanti, and Liz. Yay me!

What is an interesting “one time” you have to tell me about?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Letter to Brimstone

via Goodreads
Dear Brimstone,

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I have officially finished Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor.

As I reflect on that experience, I’m kind of disappointed to note that you were really my favorite character, and the glimpses of you that shone through the other characters kept me going the whole time. Don’t take my disappointment personally. I like you as a person. But I would have hoped that such a character-driven story might drive me to actually like some of the main characters.

I hate to admit it, but you’re a minor character. Especially after book one. Poof. Just like that. Minor.

And yet you’re the character I kept reading for! You were the character who really got it. You were wise. You were committed. You weren’t a hero, but you were a resurrectionist, and even though that by nature perpetuates suffering… you also perpetuated hope. In more ways than one.

I think we all like to escape into the land of wishes sometimes. Karou’s wishes—for blue hair and for revenge-itches—are the stuff of our fantasies. I wish I could have an ice cream right now, I wish that it would snow, I wish Mom would make dinner… Little do we realize that our wishes only trivialize the reality we already live and blind us to the thing that is more important. Hope.

It’s like an unbroken wishbone. A promise. And I like that imagery, and I like what you did for Madrigal. For your people. For everyone.

But this is the pattern: against all odds, I would really like the first 80% of the books. All three of them. I could manage it. I liked it. And then the last 20% would be me, growing increasingly displeased with the characters’ points of direction and decision-making skills. By the end, I really only found myself satisfied with Mik and Zuzana and Liraz.

At least their stories ended respectably.

Oh, Brimstone. You should have seen the Deus ex machina that happened. Everything looked bad, the future was bleak, and then BOOM AND BEHOLD: a poorly foreshadowed subplot that resolves the main one. No.

You were the cutest part, Brimstone. “Twice daughter of my heart?” I almost died. Not literally… That would be a bad thing to do while I was driving. But my heart died a little bit. It was so cute.

I know these thoughts are scrambled, I know they don’t make sense. They are emotionally driven, embittered by disappointment and exhausted by the times of telling already passed. But it comes down to this: though I didn't love the books, I did love you.

I am glad to have met you, Brimstone. I am glad to store you among Julius Root, Maximilian Nero, Carlisle Cullen, Dumbledore, Atticus Finch, and all my favorite literary fathers, because I am a sucker for those kinds of things, except maybe Dumbledore. I don’t know why I said him.

Anyway. My congratulations on not having to endure the ending of Dreams of Gods and Monsters, and I look forward to remembering you fondly when I’m driving home from school these next few years.

All my best,


Monday, April 11, 2016

Writing Tools Sell You Stuff

Flickr Credit: Melissa Maples
I wish there were lyrics to a great song about capitalism that I could use to start this post, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head, so it is to the point we go:

Writing tools exist to sell you stuff.

*gasp* HEATHER. Don’t reduce [my favorite writing tool] to a consumerist agenda! I wouldn’t be half the writer I am without [that writing tool] to help me!

Yes, yes, yes. We can all get a little protective and/or obsessive over our writing tools, and I get it. Whether it’s your favorite word processor or the place you connect with other writers, it’s yours. It means something to you, and that’s why you share and use it.

That’s okay. I’m not here to say that you should stop using writing tools or that being a better writer means not using writing tools. That would be kind of arrogant of me, I think.

At the same time, I want to talk about it. As writers, people pitch new programs and solutions and ideas to us all the time. They can be flashy, fun, elegant, and hopefully useful, too. But why are they useful? What needs do they meet in our lives? How do they impact what writing looks like in the digital age?

Let me look at a couple tools:

Scrivener Tell me if I’m wrong, but Scrivener compiles and organizes your writing-related files. The word processor keeps your manuscript close to your other WIP materials, and the features helps keep your ideas, plotline, inspirations, research, and the like all in one place for easy access, interpretation, and writing.

Need: to be organized and together
Impact: writers have greater control over the order of their novels and the materials that support it

Write or Die The goal of this app is to keep you writing no matter what. By selecting a system of reward or punishment it forces you to get to the end of writing your story.

Need: to write without stopping
Impact: writers can physically make themselves write (or suffer the consequences)

HemingwayApp I love using this app for my school papers because it checks for formal writing no-nos like long sentences, passive voice, and adverbs. It keeps things tight and specific.

Need: to create crisp prose
Impact: writers have a resource to help catch simple flaws in their writing

NaNoWriMo First, they’re offering the opportunity to do something hard within a solid time span. Second, they’re offering the community and support to help you get it done. It can be tough to sit down and write a book, but with a pre-set goal, time limit, community, and mentorship, it helps people get down to business and write.

Need: to challenge oneself and push through actually drafting a novel
Impact: writers can accomplish big and personal goals in a group setting

This Blog The idea of blogging sold me because it offered an opportunity to write on a schedule and where other people respond to the ideas I share. Though there’s a lot more to blogging than that, it does give me a balance of writing and interaction.

Need: to regularly practice writing for an audience
Impact: I contribute to a product both in terms of quality and quantity with opportunities for feedback I might not otherwise receive

Writers wouldn’t use these products if there wasn’t a need for them. I think there is a need, too—I use only three of these products (Write or Die, Hemingway, and this blog) but I know many writers who rely on Scrivener and NaNoWriMo to motivate themselves. Which is great!

At the same time, I also like doing this because as much as many other people love Scrivener, I also need to have the wisdom to know that if I owned Scrivener, I wouldn’t use it. I’m just that kind of person. It would gather dust on my hard drive while I relied on my own resources to write my book.

That said, ultimately writing tools are good because they help us become better writers. I want to remember why that is. They’re selling me this product for a reason… I’d better watch myself.

What writing tools do you often use? How do they impact you as a writer?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Thursentary: Black History Roundup

For a second there I thought I hallucinated Black History Month in February. Turns out it’s celebrated in October AND February, and the world still makes sense.

I didn’t give a lot of thought to BHM at the time. Most of February and early March was a time of dying relatives and neighbors, work, and midterms. It wasn’t a good time for me to care about other people.
Four African American kids
Flickr Credit: simpleinsomnia
My life is making up for it now. Between my school curriculum and the things I’ve been reading just for fun, March and April have given me a chance to look at African American history from many different perspectives and voices. I thought I’d share some of these voices with you in a roundup of sorts. Most of these are books you aren’t going to access for free on the line, but that’s okay. I’m not Cedric, so it’s not my job to entertain you.


Where do I start? Beloved, by Toni Morrison. It’s true and it’s despicable and it’s amazing. It is about what it means to be women, what it means to be men, what it means to be free after slavery, and what it is about slavery that makes killing your own child seem like the best option out there. There are some things I’m never going to understand… and this book just goes to define those invisible limits.

“Lenox Avenue: Midnight” and “Harlem” and “Theme for English B” are from Langston Hughes. They are my favorite.

Though To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is written by a white author with a white main character, it still shows us a picture of racial injustice in the south. It’s terrible. Also, it’s interesting from a feminist perspective.

If you're a play kind of person, you might check out A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. I kind of want to murder the male main character, but still. Racism, economics, and dreams, pretty much.

Probably it is weird to share your school textbooks with other people. Still. Martin and Malcolm and America by James H. Cone provides a story of civil rights and black nationalism through two of the most famous civil rights leaders. And they aren’t the same, but they aren’t all that different, either. Neither should be forgotten.

On that note, I highly enjoyed Malcolm X’s speech “The Ballot or the Bullet.” I don’t agree with everything he says, but he knows what’s up.

I read The Help by Kathryn Stockett for the first time. It was really good. Again, written by a white woman, but a powerful perspective nonetheless. There are a lot of injustices in there that will stick with me for a long time yet.

(This is cheating because I read it last year but Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson is great, too. Black, queer writer, talking about what it was like to grow up in the sixties and seventies. Read it.)

And though this is not American history, but my World Music class brought the South African national anthem to my attention. It is in four different languages and it is beautiful.

Because I can, I will remind you to listen to Hamilton. It is a musical about the (admittedly white) founding fathers, but the operation is set up with POC in the lead, and the messages address racial freedom in their own way. Plus, it is amazing.

Also because I can, ZOOTOPIA. Like Hamilton and To Kill a Mockingbird and The Help and all these things, it is a discussion of race and feminism and who we are as people, except with animals. It is hilarious, it is touching, and it is a reflection of who we are today. So think about that.


Boom. Reading material for days. Take responsibility for yourself, hunt these down, enjoy them. In the meantime, I’ll be checking out a few of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words and also I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.

Did you do anything for Black History Month (…two months ago, or more recently, I guess)? 

Monday, April 4, 2016

26 Tips for Writers (As Written in 15 Minutes)

Sometimes I forget that Monday exists, so I ignore my need to write posts until I go to bed Sunday night. I have important stuff to do tomorrow, so here’s what I’m going to do: twenty-six tips for writers, fifteen minutes. Edit, publish, go to bed.
Flickr Credit: Dakota
The clock, as you might have guessed, has already started.

Always remember: you are a writer, no matter what. Don’t let the evil voices in your head get you down.

Be prepared. Research not just the content of the novel, but what it means to be in the writing industry, who you want to query, and all the ins-and-outs of this business. Publication doesn’t come served on a plate.

Crying with friends over books is not a choice. It is necessary—whether you cry over other people’s books or your own is up to you.

Don’t argue when you mess up. It’s better to own up and make amends when you offend or hurt somebody.

Even if you don’t want to, keep writing.

Find time to take care of yourself. You are useless to yourself if you are uninspired and unable to stay awake.

Go outside sometimes. I know it sounds terrible but actually it’s important.

Help others! Trading WIPs helps you build up other writers and improves some of your own skills, too!

Invest in yourself. You can’t know everything, but staying up-to-date and educated on subject matter and recent book trends will do you and your WIPs a huge favor.

Just breathe. For serious.

Kill your darlings. Kiss your darlings. Edit everything three billion times. It will get better.

Listen to the voices of the people you’re writing about. Whether they come from another culture, sexual orientation, faith, race, gender, age group, city, or school, they will judge your writing by how well you represent their side of the story. And it means a lot.

Marry rich, because J.K. Rowling is the exception.


Organize. Make sure your plot points, characters, dialogue, and whatever else don’t contradict themselves. You will look like you don’t know what you’re doing.

Practice until your fingers bleed because as my dad often says, “Practice makes better.”

Querying is something to do but only if you have your letter completely perfect. RESEARCH QUERY LETTERS. All the published authors out there swear by this, I think, probably.

Read everything. Read the things you love and figure out why you love them. Sometimes read things you hate and make sure you don’t do that in your writing. Read, read, read.

Swoon over your villain. A protagonist is only ever as good as their antagonist, and it takes your love and care to cultivate villains into beings worth fighting against. Give them the love they deserve.

Thank the people who build you up. It is so important to have a community who supports you, whether that be a writing circle, your family, or online buddies. Make sure they know it means a lot, because you want them around for a good, long time. (BTW: thanks for supporting me here, guys. It’s so gratifying to have amazing readers like you! <3)

Understand that this is hard and it takes a butt-ton of work, but that it is so worth it, so keep going!

Vanquish all of your self-doubt and smush your inner editor into your mental bathroom until you finish the first draft. Just get the dang idea out of you, and then you can start making it better.

Wish. Dream. Make merry. Sparkle. You have something special. Let it show.

X-Ray vision is a creepy superpower. In general, superpowers should have rules and limitations and flaws. Keep that in mind. I criticize superpowers a lot.

You should only ever compare yourself to the person you were yesterday. Otherwise you will be depressed.

Zootopia was a great movie and you should go see it. Just saying. Maybe it will help you write better. I don’t know. But it’s worth it!

HA HA I FINISHED. With a little less than a minute to spare. Consider this a short list of everything that I’ve learned in the four or so years I’ve worked on being a writer.

What advice would you give a fellow writer today?

Friday, April 1, 2016

WBI: Kevin, Stuart, and Bob (Minions)

I realized too late that today is April Fool’s Day and I didn’t have time to come up with some awesome prank. But so what? It doesn’t matter because we are talking about Minions instead! (I am eight on the inside. That’s why.)

Give it up for Stuart, Kevin, and Bob!


WBI Profile

Classification :: Θγ34567#&
Role :: Henchmen (serve evil leaders); Body (represent minion population)
Motivation :: insanity/psychology (evolved to serve evil), insubordination (perpetual minions), lifestyle (seek out said service), desperation (life is meaningless without a boss), personal/material gain (a new boss)
Bonus :: minions (I guess?), family ties (each other)


Their Significance To…

other minions—Kevin, Stuart, and Bob set out to find a new boss for their tribe after years of unemployment. Without work, their lives are meaningless. They set out to create meaning.

each other—though Stuart and Bob aren’t the companions Kevin envisioned having, they are all the family they have on this expedition, and thus are the only source of ingenuity, strength, and friendship to rely upon amidst the struggle.

Scarlet and Herb Overkill—the minions initially hope to be meaningful to this (adorable) supervillain couple; unfortunately, they keep getting in their way. In that way, they are both the Overkills’ greatest allies and enemies.

the English—they take over England for a few days, and mess all the things up for a while. Royalty, panic, drama. I’m sure it was a confusing set of days.

Gru—and, ultimately, they find the employment and meaning they were looking for in the first place with Gru, a young supervillain they will follow into a lucrative movie franchise.


Notable Actions

seek a boss—the minions serve the most evil person they can find, which means Kevin, Stuart, and Bob’s quest fulfills their evolutionary destiny, as it were.

take over England—as mentioned, they invade England for a couple days, which is not so much important because Queen Elizabeth II is booted from the throne, but because they prevent Scarlet from achieving her own dreams of taking over England. It angers her.

hinder Scarlet—and, on that note, getting in Scarlet’s way is the typical result of the minions’ good intentions. They do whatever they can to serve her, but they are also prone to accidents that prevent her from achieving all that she wants to. That angers her, too.


Big Idea

teamwork—there are no solitary minions. The minions are very much a body, and the fact that Stuart, Bob, and Kevin operate as a little body while they are out and about rather exemplifies the importance of their combined efforts. Minions are links in a chain, a single unit. It’s what makes them so potent, win or lose.

basically toddlers—they are so cute. Seriously, this movie had me laughing a lot, and while part of that came from the more complex dialogue, some of it was just the way that the minions responded to the world around them and their priorities. Their dialogue is simple, their desires are few. They’re like little yellow happy overalls boys. And their cuteness is part of their charm.

no evil motivation—the real kicker here, though, is the fact that the minions aren’t motivated by evil. The minions like playing on torture devices like playground equipment, cuddling with teddy bears, and watching TV. What’s interesting about the minions is that despite their innate drive to serve evil, they themselves aren’t evil. They’re actually really nice and cute, and it is ultimately their commitment to service that defines them as characters more than any truly evil character traits we might expect from your average henchmen. I think that’s also why they can be admired by children and accepted by parents. Our entertainment comes from who they are and not what they do.


“And that is how the Minions found their new boss! He was cunning! He was evil! He was perfect! He was... despicable!” –Minions, Narrator

Have you seen Minions? What do you think of the idea of “cute villains”?