Recently someone in publishing told me, “You’re not really a YA author.”
It bugged me, but I wasn’t sure why, because middle grade rocks. If the only readers I ever reached were ages 8-12 I’d be a happy author. I love kids those ages as much as I love teenagers. So it shouldn’t bother me. But I think I’ve finally figured it why it does.
As an older teenager, I would have loved my books. The Goose Girl, Book of a Thousand Days, Dangerous, as well as my books that are considered younger like Princess Academy and Ever After High. And I have a lot of teen readers. I get emails from them. I meet them at signings, alongside those valiant 8-12 year olds. So I bristle when anyone suggests that my books aren’t actually for them. I don’t like labels that might get between a reader and the book that’s right for them.
So how do I label what I write?
Some say “upper middle grade,” some say, “lower young adult,” but I have plenty of readers who don’t fit into either camp. And I realize that I’m just tired of exclusivity. Exclusive clubs always give me hives. Those who try to make something like feminism an exclusive club, for example: “You’re not a real feminist if you’re a stay at home mom”; “Well you’re not a real feminist if you exclude stay at home moms,” etc. The narrower the definition of who can be a member of something, the less I want to be a part of it, whatever it is. (btw I do consider myself a feminist, in all its inexact nebulous importance)
What do you think? How would you define young adult? Some say books written for ages 14-17. But that’s weird too, because can we really be sure of author intent? Authors have written plenty of books without a specific audience in mind that ended up being great for older teenagers. So is it just the age of the protagonist? We know that’s faulty. All of my middle grade books have older protags, and there are plenty of other examples where that rule doesn’t work. Tone and story style and substance are way more important in finding a reader than the age of the protag. Is it by who likes to read the books? That’s tough too. I regularly get fanmail from readers ages 6-to-grandparent. Some suggest that the YA label is just for books with more graphic content (sex, swearing, mature themes). I bristle at that too. I agree that books with mature content belong more in upper YA than MG, but I also think it’s an erroneous assumption that teens are uninterested in and incapable of appreciating any story that doesn’t have sex, swearing, mature themes. There are all kinds of teenagers. There should be all kinds of stories.
Age ranges are tough. Teachers know, just because all the kids in the class are the same age doesn’t mean they’re at the same level in reading, math, maturity, comprehension, etc. Parents know that what one child was ready for at a certain age, another wasn’t even close.
I wish we didn’t have labels. I wish we didn’t have age ranges. I wish we could all just be matched to books we might like regardless of our age or what age range the publisher has to declare the book for.
But at the same time I’m conflicted about this because I love that there’s such a strong YA community, a community that calls BS on those who try to marginalize or demean teenagers, who values them as humans and believes passionately that they deserve their own stories. And the same for children and toddlers and babies and women and men and everyone. We all need champions. And the label of “Young Adult” has helped develop a community of champions for teens. I love it. I want it to remain strong and grow and grow. I just don’t want it to limit itself in exclusivity.
What do you think? Am I wrong? Is the YA and MG distinction clearer than I think? Have age labels shamed you for reading something apparently not in your age range? How do they affect you? How do we employ the helpfulness of age ranges in books without limiting who the books might be best for?
My friend Christine Heppermann’s book POISONED APPLES: POEMS FOR YOU MY PRETTY released this week. This collection is an unabashedly feminist look at girls, body image, and eating disorders told through the lens of fairy tales, designed for young adults.
In honor of the 10th anniversary of Princess Academy and the upcoming publication of the third book in the trilogy, Bloomsbury has redesigned the jackets in this series, with artwork by Jason Chan. I’m excited to reveal them here at last!
The Forgotten Sisters pubs in hardcover March 3, 2015, with the rejacketed paperbacks of the first two at the same time. The first review is in, a starred review from Booklist!
"On the day that Miri is to return to her beloved Mount Eskel, she is summoned by King Bjorn of Danland, requesting her to travel to outer-territorial Lesser Alva where she is to tutor three royal sisters. If the King of Stora chooses one to marry, war will be prevented, and it’s up to Miri to succeed. Unhappy but dutybound, Miri accepts the task, only to meet three wild girls who spend their days wrestling on the floor and hunting and fishing in the swamp. …Action packed and wellpaced, the story’s depth incorporates artful negotiation, the importance of education, and citizens’ equality and rights. This final installment of The Princess Academy trilogy certainly leaves room for more books if Hale were so inclined. Won’t she reconsider?"
“At the very end, I read her an audience question that said something like, “How do you think your shows have changed the position of African-Americans on television?” After a little pause, she said one of the things she’d learned was that on shows with Only One (only one woman, only one black character, only one Asian person, only one gay character), that’s when the Only One is required to be about nothing except that characteristic. She said her hope was in part that just by having more than Only One on her shows, she gave those characters room to develop and to have other things about them be important. She hopes that — and here’s the rub — by consciously increasing diversity overall she makes the race of each character less limiting, less defining.”—
This is so true for me in books as well. As long as we have so few diverse characters in books, they are expected to do the heavy lifting for everyone else, as if they represent every Black or homosexual or mentally ill or Muslim or whatever person IRL too. The more diverse characters we have in books, the more they can be characters and not representations. The answer is more, more, and more.
How do you come up with such GREAT ideas for your books? I'm a pretty big fan. I've read Princess Academy probably like six times, Austenland two or three, The Books of Bayern, all that jazz, and HOW do you DO it? I would LOVE to write, but the ideas I have are only about half there. How do you make a plot, how do you even do any of that????
I always wanted to be a writer. But I remember when I was younger being worried that I could never have enough ideas. Now I have to fight them off with a stick. The longer I live, the more books I read, people I meet, experiences I have, stories I write, the more ideas I have. Please be patient with yourself. Being a writer isn’t just about having ideas. It’s about writing. Practice your instrument before composing a symphony.
it is not right you say that the idea that it's natural for boys to violate unconscious girls is unfair to "wonderful, sane, and respectful" men. using the word "sane" this way just contributes to the widespread idea that people who commit violent crimes do so because they are mentally ill, and throws actually mentally ill people (who are more likely to be victims than perpetrators) under the bus.
You’re absolutely right. Definitely the wrong word choice. I hadn’t been thinking of the literal definition of the word, but it’s easily read that way so I should have chosen another. Thank you.
[for mature readers, please get your parent or guardian’s approval to read if you’re under 14]
Some recent events prompted me to look back on last year’s discussions about rape culture and consent, and a followup post. Several people commented anonymously about a related matter that I think is really important. I’m going to repost some of those comments here. Some cultures and religions advocate for celilbacy* before marriage. I completely respect and support those who make that choice, but there is the misconseption that celibacy=silence, that the decision to not have sex outside of marriage means one cannot even talk about sex outside of marriage. And often the taboo of communicating about sex extends into a marriage. This silence leads to misinformation, misunderstanding, and a sometimes crippling separation between spouses.
I personally want to advocate for parents having long, varied, open conversations with their children, both sons and daughters, about sex, consent, what it’s about, how to communicate, how to listen to your partner, how sex is about the pleasure of your partner and when your partner is enjoying it, your own pleasure increases. And I’d also like to advocate for couples who are having problems to please open up that line of communication. Please go see a counselor together. It’s not too late. There should be no stigma about seeing a marriage counselor. Marriage is weird! How on earth can two people maintain that close of a relationship over years and years when both are changing? We all need some outside, non-judgemental help sometimes.
I want to respond to Lizzie’s comment that there are women who wouldn’t want to have sex EVER if they had to give their consent enthusiastically before they did it.
My big question is, why don’t those women want to have sex? Is it because women innately don’t like sex and men innately do like it? I don’t think so, because in other cultures, trends are different. In some cultures, and I’m especially thinking of some things I learned about from the Renaissance, women are seen as the sexual predators and men as the sex that has to protect themselves from the other sex’s advances.
Here’s my story. When I first got married, I gave my consent willingly AND enthusiastically in the beginning. But over time, my husband started to pressure me to do it when I didn’t want to, to the point that I actually felt like I was being raped at times, but I told myself I was being crazy or too sensitive because I never really told him NO, so it couldn’t be rape, right?
But over time, as that happened more and more, my enthusiasm for the whole thing really waned. Now, I only do it when I’m feeling really guilty because it’s been a long time, but I’m never enthusiastic about it.
I can’t say for sure what would have happened if my husband had accepted that I didn’t want to do it /all the time/ and not pressured me back in the beginning, but I suspect that we never would have gotten to this point if he had done what the boy in Mary’s story did - if he had cared as much about my feelings as he did his own and not pressured me.
I think he was afraid that if he didn’t pressure me, I’d never want to do it. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I wanted to do it, I just wanted to feel like I mattered when we were doing it.
But the culture we’re in right now shaped the way my husband and I related to each other from the beginning. It says that if you don’t have sex whenever your husband wants it, he’s going to find it somewhere else. A counselor even told my husband that if I didn’t have sex with him whenever he wanted it, or at least twice a week, he would be a lot more susceptible to having an affair or looking at pornography. What kind of counselor does that? One who thinks that men have to have sex a certain number of times a week or else they just won’t be able to help acting out those desires with someone else.
How much of that is true biology, and how much is shaped by our culture? I certainly don’t know the conclusive answer to that, but I think a lot more of it is culture than we generally think it is.
The reality is that there are many reasons for differences in drive, and hopeful asking by one partner is pressure to the partner who struggles with sex for one reason or another. I am approve of the contents of these posts, but my advice is different. If you have problems with sexual differences, get professional help as soon as possible! We all get embarrassed talking to doctors and counselors about something so intimate as sex between two committed individuals, but the alternatives are worse. If you experience pain during sex and repeatedly engage in unenthusiastic sex, if you don’t discuss it with your partner and seek professional aid, you will years down the road be “someone’s spouse,” and to your horror both people are scared and scarred. Resentment will build. Neither will understand why others have sex at least a few times a month, but they struggle with managing it once every six months, and when they do it is not fulfilling. So, you avoid the whole issue and are just great roommates who love each other, but somewhere deep in your hearts have some mistrust, hatred, and wounds. It all comes to a head when one person feels that they have foregone romantic love long enough (they never cheated) and decides that leaving wouldn’t be that bad. It’s unfair to both to be unable to have romantic love. And she does love him, she asks him to stay. The wounds are so deep, and they begin seeing a counselor. They can get to romantic love again, but they still feel deeply confused at times. They occasionally still avoid it, but they do so because it really isn’t that important anymore. If it happens, great. If not, that’s okay too because their focus has changed. Each is forgetting themselves and simply loving the other.
People, please go to counselors and doctors at the first signs of trouble. If it’s a doctor issue and the doctor doesn’t understand our help, change doctors. Don’t live with it. Brushing it under the rug has far reaching consequences. Same with the counselors.
Someone’s Wife, that is unfortunately my story too. I was about to type it up after reading Shannon’s post, but you have done it for me. Thank you Shannon, for opening my eyes to something that on one hand I have been someone naive about (what goes on in the world, and how important it is that I must work to educate my children about it), and on the other hand something that I have dealt with for over a decade, and not really understood just how to express my feelings about.
*alert reader Quinn alerted me to alert reader Miranda’s comment on Goodreads reposting of this post, which I hadn’t seen, but is an excellent correction: “Great blog post: I would just like to point out that there is a difference between celibacy and abstinence. Celibacy is when someone decides that they are going to completely abstain from marriage and sex, forever. Abstinence, which is what I think you were meaning in the first paragraph, is restraining yourself from indulging in something, such as sex or alcohol. You cannot advocate for celibacy before marriage because celibacy involves swearing off marriage.”
This post is continuing the discussion from the past three, and again, is intended for those 14 and up. If you are younger, please get parent/guardian permission before reading.
I have so many more thoughts and questions about this topic, but I want to step back now and highlight some of your voices before bringing this discussion to a close on my blog for now. I am so happy to hear how many of you are talking about this in your homes and classrooms. There were so many comments that impressed me and felt important and mini-conversations going on in the comments. Let me just pick a tiny few to repost.
Commentor Mary Lou Hart: “Consent really is an important part of the discussion and I don’t think it is the murky grey area it is being made out to be. I am reminded of a story from a girl friend who in high school told a boy ”Yes” to having sex. Then as it got down to the last moments she was more scared then excited, he noticed asked a second time “Are you sure you wanna do this?” and she said No. His response was to say okay and take her home. Years later she told me “He could have continued on, I wouldn’t have fought him and I wouldn’t have felt I could claim rape because I had said yes in the beginning. But the fact that he respected me enough to listen and ask made a huge impact on me. I was no longer an object with which he wanted to interact for his own pleasure. My pleasure matter too.” This is what we need to get to. Where either party can say no, at any point, and be listened to as a person and respected.”
From Megan Whalen Turner: “You said…that people commit crimes because they think they can get away with them. I wanted to add that they commit crimes because they don’t think they are *really* wrong. File sharing is a good example. People who would never, NEVER, steal a book out of a bookstore will steal an electronic copy with only a moment’s hesitation and a little defensive rationalization. They don’t really think it’s wrong, just maybe a little illegal, but not for a good reason, therefore, it’s actually okay.
"This is what rape culture tells rapists— it’s not *really* wrong.
"Sure, there are the rapists who jump out of bushes and violently assault women. Then there are the boys at Steubenville who talked about the rape, took pictures of the rape, joked about the rape and then were visibly stunned to be convicted of, you know, RAPE.
"It makes sense to be careful. It makes sense to teach our children to be careful to avoid being a victim of *any* crime. But I believe, really, really believe, that every time we publicly suggest how a woman or a girl can avoid getting raped what we do is reinforce the idea that if they *don’t* do these things then it is not *really* wrong to rape them.
"I am sick of every single variation of "Yes, but that girl shouldn’t have …"
"I understand people’s good intentions when they say that women should take self-defense classes and that girls shouldn’t get drunk at parties and that we shouldn’t walk in the dark alone. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. If you tell girls and women that this is "just the way it is," it means that you are making sure this is the way it will *always* be.
"It’s time we made an effort to change our focus in these conversations. I think we need to make a deliberate effort to stop talking publicly about how women can avoid rape and start talking publicly about how men can stop being rapists. After all, we have already heard for several thousand years how women can avoid rape. I’m not worried about women not getting the message."
From a teacher who emailed me privately.
"It is difficult to not consider my own experiences when reading your thoughts on the subject. The abuse I suffered in my youth has been a relentless wound that has followed me well into my adult life. Funny how quiet, yet persistent it can be. I was in my 30’s before I could fully understand my "history". I held onto shame and a sense of culpability for decades. I had assumed that the fact that I was not beaten or threatened made me an accomplice. While the adult mind might understand that shock and horror can be paralyzing, when you are raised in a culture that tells you that your body is a temple and you should go to your death fighting for its virtue, it is hard to reconcile any delay in one’s response to its violation.
"It did not help that I was a child growing up in a HIGHLY conservative home. I was told it was not okay to "talk back" to grown ups. No one ever gave a scenario where it might be okay to say "no" to one. Sex was a taboo subject, outside of the "school maturation program". Funny how that taboo led to every single one of my sisters suffering from one form of abuse or another. I share this with you to say that if I had read a blog like yours when I was in my youth, I would have been given the language to see my situation a little differently. Instead, it took a lot of therapy, money and "letting go" to come to the conclusion you give your readers.
"As I have worked to come to terms with my own history, I have often looked into the eyes of young women in my class and found an all too familiar shame reflected back. Your conversation is necessary. It is vital to the health of the every 1 in 4 women out there who walk around carrying an unnecessary sense of responsibility for something in which they did no wrong."
I think it’s vital that we listen to the stories of rape survivors (boys and girls, men and women). Until all of us understand how devastating rape can be on an entire life, we might not be motivated enough to enact our small part in helping to eliminate rape culture.
One commentor linked to this amazing post, a mother writing an open letter to her two sons about sex, consent, and rape. I think it’s a wonderful model—this is how clear we need to be, both in the home and in schools. I want to add that for those parents who believe that sex is for marriage alone, that is easily added to this same discussion. I believe that any person who chooses to wait until marriage to have sex should still have the exact same understanding of what sex really is (and should be), and what rape and consent are.
I was surprised and bit disheartened by how many of you objected to the definition of consent, as first offered by, Dianne E Anderson: “Consent is an enthusiastic, unequivocal yes.”
Chuck says, “Consent must be unequivocal it does NOT need enthusiastic…If she implicitly and explicitly makes clear that she’s willing to have sex it’s not rape no matter how unenthusiastic she may be.” Chuck, this is not the legal definition of consent. It’s an extremely wise definition that we’d all be better off to live by and the definition I believe we should be teaching to our children. Wouldn’t you rather that your partner was enthusiastic? Why would you want to proceed if she/he wasn’t? (Also, probably not a great pickup line: “Hey baby, want to have some willing but unenthusiastic sex?”)
What are we worried about here? Yes is such a wonderful word! Don’t we want to hear that from our partner? Yes! Yes please. Don’t we want to be sure that our partner is as excited and willing as we are? Don’t we want there to be no doubt? Just imagine a world where all those entitled high school football players had parents who taught them “Consent is an enthusiastic, unequivocal yes.” Imagine those frat boys one commentor mentioned, sitting on their porch chanting about raping women—if they instead had been repeatedly and lovingly taught that “Consent is an enthusiastic, unequivocal yes.” Wouldn’t everyone be better off embracing this ideal? Why fight this brilliant idea when there are so many more important things to fight? Like, say, rape?
john doe asks, “What if the two parties disagree on what it was?…do you need to get consent in writing now?”
Yes, do that. If you have to ask, then yes, yes, yes. Sounds like you’re walking a line, and one that can be horrifically devastatingly life changing and even life ending for many a victim. If you’re not sure if she’s consenting, then ask her to sign a consent form, a napkin, your belly—whatever. And then her consent (or non-consent) will be perfectly clear. You’ll protect yourself as well as your partner. Do that. Please.
Let’s err on the side of clarity, can we? When we have girls and women regularly taking their own lives to escape the horrors of a post-rape life, then clarity is the least we can offer.
Are we worried that enthusiastic consent is too hard to get? Say a woman says, not tonight, honey. And he gets to kissing her neck and murmuring sweet things and she changes her mind and is all in. Great! Or say a woman says, not tonight, honey, and he tries his usual moves and she’s not feeling it and still would really rather not. What happens next is very telling about how healthy their relationship is and what kind of a man he is. If she really doesn’t want to, and he doesn’t care because he does, then that’s abuse. That’s unhealthy. And if that sounds like your relationship, you both should get counseling. I mean that kindly and sincerely. Counseling could really help. When sex is more about the pleasure of the other than about your own, then your pleasure increases. That should be the goal. That’s when it’s the best.
Any other worries about a clear consent? That a partner might reluctantly say yes and so you decide it wasn’t enthusiastic enough and don’t go through with it? Then you did the right thing. You protected them, you protected yourself.
Are you worried about the slippery slope? (full disclosure: I don’t believe the slippery slope argument is valid in any discussion. I believe it’s false rhetoric.) But let’s explore. Is the worry that if a guy wants to has sex and doesn’t hear a clear an enthusiastic yes but goes through it anyway, then she might call rape on him?
Well, 1st, depending on how it happened, it might very well be rape. And, 2nd, if you’re okay having sex with someone who really doesn’t want to do that with you, then counseling is a good idea. Again, I mean that kindly and sincerely. Sometimes survivors of rape and abuse have a hard time enjoying sex again, and that’s something normal that a partner needs to know and respect, and counseling together is an excellent idea. But if that’s not the case and you just enjoy having sex with someone who isn’t enjoying it with you, then STOP IT AND GET HELP. And, 3rd, if you’re choosing to sleep with someone who you’re worried might falsely call rape on you, then it’d be a good idea to choose not to sleep with them. Foregoing sex in this instance would be a wiser, better, happier choice for all.
Sex is a physical communication, but it needs to be proceeded by a verbal communication to make sure it means the same to both partners. We need to talk. When sex is a taboo topic, abuse and rape is more rampant. When we’re willing to talk about it, understand how it should be, communicate with our partners, we’re striking a huge blow to rape culture and creating healthier relationships for ourselves.
In order to end rape culture, we all need to be on board. Men and women. Girls and boys. Everyone. We have to care deeply about stopping this epidemic and protecting our sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers, ourselves. We have to be clear. What is rape. What is sex. What is consent. I’m honored to be talking about it with you here. But what I really hope is that these thoughts might spark the conversations that really matter: the ones between parents and kids, between partners, in families and among friends. The more we talk and think about it, the more aware we become, and awareness always proceeds significant change.
I want to talk about something disturbing, and I hope you’ll bear with me. If you’re under 14, please skip reading this post unless your parent/guardian okays it. If what you read troubles you, please find someone mature who you trust to talk to about it. I’m not an expert on what I’m talking about here. I am a woman and a parent and am speaking from my own observations.
On Saturday, I joined a conversation on twitter about rape culture and wanted to continue that conversation here. All of us know rape=bad. All of us know someone(s) who have been raped (even if we’re not aware of it) and/or been raped ourselves. It’s horrifyingly common. But until reading about the events in Steubenville, Saratoga, Penn State, Nova Scotia, and Torrington, I hadn’t realized just how wide spread rape culture is in our communities. (and I realize, it’s far, far worse in many other parts of the world)
Rape culture is an environment that is conducive to rape.
Most potential criminals will not commit a crime unless they believe they can get away with it. This is just natural. People have a strong sense of self preservation. We are children sometimes—we want what we want and we want it now. But as we get older we’ve been conditioned by society to withstand impulses that we know are going to get us into serious trouble. Some microcosms of society are more lenient to particular crimes than others.
Let’s look at the American South in much of the last century. Lynching was obviously against the law, and yet in that post-slavery and pre-civil rights era, terrible acts of racism were committed because the perpetrators believed (rightly in most cases) that they could get away with it. People of color were murdered in front of witnesses who never testified. Criminals bragged about their acts, but they were never arrested. Or if they were, the all male/all white jury didn’t convict.
Racism still exists, but how common are lynchings today? That culture has been squashed through education, changes in generations, and a more fearless justice system. Though there may be people just as hateful toward others as there were then, they no longer believe they can get away with lynchings (and rightly so), and so they no longer commit those crimes.
What we have broadly in America (and much much more severely in other parts of the world) is a rape culture. Rapists believe (often rightly) that in certain circumstances they can get away with sexually assaulting someone.
When a well-dressed, employed, non-prostitute, non-drug addict, non-immigrant woman gets violently raped by a stranger in a dark alley and immediately gets medical attention, there’s no question it’s rape. Everyone thinks it’s horrible. It’s not her fault. The law and society are on her side. It may be hard to catch the rapist, the trial could be a nightmare, the woman will fight just to survive in the aftermath, but no one questions the word “rape.”
But change the details of the victim and the rapist, and rape culture allows a horrible act some leniency. Here’s some of the points from the twitter conversation:
Rape culture asserts that when a guy is cute and popular he couldn’t possibly be a rapist because any girl he chooses is lucky to be chosen.
Rape culture asserts that accused rapists are innocent till proven guilty (as they should be) but sometimes denies rape accusers the same courtesy. A rape accuser is commonly called a “slut” and “whore.” This happens even if the rape occurred in front of witnesses, while she was unconscious, when she repeatedly said no. Recently two rape accusers committed suicide after being bullied for speaking up.
Rape culture thrives in places where it’s forbidden to talk about sex. This is a big, big topic and one I want to tackle in its own post. I hope you’ll join me back for that discussion and that we can keep it respectful and open-minded.
Rape culture is encouraged by the idea that males are characters of choice and action and females are present to please the males. While boys and men are frequently the victims of rape, the vast majority of those targeted are women and girls, so I think it’s important to look at how we allow girls and women to be portrayed in stories and media, and ways our culture is encouraging that attitude. The attitude that when a girl is passed out a party, a group of boys would see no problem taking advantage of her any way they want. Her purpose is to please them. She is not a human being to them. The idea that it’s somehow the girl’s fault, that if a girl is passed out it’s only natural for boys to undress and assault her, is so grotesque and not to mention untrue and unfair to the majority of wonderful, sane, respectful men and boys in the world.
Rape culture says, “but how could it be rape if she was married to him?” Again, that idea that a woman has no free will of her own. She belongs to her husband or boyfriend or any man who wants to use her as he will. So strange that anyone can still think that way! And yet many do.
Rape culture praises a woman’s appearance and sexual attractiveness above any other quality.
Rape culture thrives in communities where protecting the public image is more important than anyone’s life.
Rape culture insists males can’t be rape victims because of course males always want sex under any circumstance.
Rape culture is most effective when people believe there’s no such thing as rape culture. When it’s invisible, when we think “that’s just how things are” instead of realizing that we’ve helped create these artifical rules.
Rape is not a woman’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem. And as the news has shown us, the villains in rape aren’t just the male rapists. The problem is created by everyone who stands by and doesn’t speak, who lets things occur. Who doesn’t try to stop a rape, as in the Penn State atrocities, and then go immediately to the police (real police, not just campus police). Who aren’t willing to testify as a witness. Who forward photos and videos of a rape to other students instead of showing them to the police and NO ONE ELSE. Who make jokes about rape. Who whisper about a rape accuser, call her a slut, victimize her all over again on social media. Who help create the kind of culture where potential rapists feel safe doing whatever they want. Because they know they can get away with it.
It’s up to all of us to make sure they don’t. And the very first step we need to take is simply to talk about it. So let’s talk.
Thanks for your comments on the last post. The school district that banned my books also got rid of all their K-8 librarians. I see a correlation. I can’t express enough how important librarians are. I’ve visited about 200 schools to do assemblies and writing workshops. Within a minute of meeting the librarian, I know exactly how the event will go. If the kids will be engaged, excited, and leave the assembly eager to go read a book, or if they’ll half-ignore me as some other adult blabbing about nothing. The relationship the librarians has with the kids and the prep they do prior to the assembly is 50% of how it goes.
The librarian is the heart of the school, the center of literacy. I don’t mean a book-checker-outer. I mean a Librarian. There are many library aides that are extraordinary and go above and beyond, but in my experience a fulltime, MLS-trained librarian is consistently phenomenal. They know books. They curate a library perfect for their school’s population. They booktalk and get kids excited about reading. They match the right books to the right kids, which is the #1 key in turning a “non-reader” into a Reader. They know the school’s curriculum and work with teachers to integrate the right books with what they’re teaching. They organize literacy events.
Research shows: Kids who are confident readers have a chance to excel in any subject they face. Kids who aren’t confident readers will struggle in most subjects. Teachers and parents don’t have to be alone in this mission to engage kids with books. Again, librarians make all the difference.
Hug your librarian today! Do you have a fulltime librarian in your school? Write a note to the superintendent or district execs thanking them for valuing librarians! If you don’t, maybe write a note expressing why you think it’s important. They’re often looking at numbers. If they don’t understand the added value a Librarian brings, they’ll just think, “Why hire a librarian with a master’s degree to just check out books? We can get someone for that on minimum wage.”
I could hire a lot of people to do something for minimum wage rather than a professional: like add a new electrical outlet in our garage, tile our bathroom floor, do my taxes, fix my car, set a broken bone, cut my hair. When something matters, when we want it done right the first time, when we value it, we get a professional. When we value children and literacy, we make an effort to staff our schools with professional librarians.
Last night about 100 people in our neighborhood gathered to take the #IceBucketChallenge. The idea is, either donate $100 to ALS research or let someone douse you with a bucket of ice water (though you could do both!).
One of my best friends, Janae, is living with ALS. Here she is (on the left) with Team Janae in the background. Before ALS, Janae was a runner, and she still is driven, stubborn, intelligent, fierce, funny, and wonderful. Team Janae runs races in her name in support of ALS research.
Here her cute, retired parents get doused with buckets of ice water.
Janae and friends react to her parents’ freezing baptism. What a remarkable group of women this is, each so talented, such a force in their individual way.
I can't get enough of Princess Academy. I really can't. It's one of my absolutely favorite books ever. But when I recommended it to my sister, she took one look at the title and told me she didn't want to read it because simply by looking at the word "Princess" (and the cover picture of the handholding mountain girls) she knew it was a Barbie book. *huffs in exasperation* It's so silly and kind of annoying. Did you get a lot of this audience turn-off when PA came out?
Thank you! And yes. And continue to get it. It turns out “princess” is a polarizing word. I didn’t think much about the title when I was writing it. I used Princess Academy as a working title from the beginning, always thinking that we’d change it before it was published. I was neither aware of the vitriol aimed at princess stories from some nor the draw princess stories earned from others. I just used the term “princess academy” a lot in the book but didn’t think we’d keep that title since it could seem misleading. After all, there are no actual princesses in the story. (or are they all princesses?) If I did it all over again, maybe I’d try a different title, I don’t know. But I like how the story has a typical princess story title and yet works against that formula. The unexpectedness of the story vs. the title works for it in the long run. Despite the title, this book has been my most successful. I have to thank word-of-mouth for that!
Just got this email from my husband, who is working in the other room:
If anyone is concerned about shouting, this is a brief transcript of a call I just received (the second from this number that I had earlier determined to be a scammer)
Me: Di-ga. Them: …Yes, this is Michael from Microsoft Support. May I ask who I am speaking to? M: My English is no good. T: I’m sorry to hear that. I am calling about a virus M: UN VEE-ROOS? T: Yes, a terrible virus on your computer M: UN TAY-REE-BOOL VEE-ROOS? T: We can remove that virus for you if you can provide us with some information M: Me gustan los virus T: I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t catch that. If you could M: ME GUSTAN LOS VIRUS T: Is there a better time that I could call? I can tell you that it is in your best M: AY! LOS PUERCOS! ESTAN SUELTOS! T: Your best interest to save your M: NO! AUXILIO! AUXILIO! ME ESTAN COMIENDO! T: Your M: AIEEEEEE! [I hang up]
“I’m definitely Pro-Selfie. I think that anybody who’s Anti-Selfie is really just a hater. Because, truthfully, why shouldn’t people take pictures of themselves ? When I’m on Instagram and I see that somebody took a picture of themselves, I’m like ‘Thank You’.
I don’t need to see a picture of the sky, the trees, plants. There’s only one you.
I could Google image search ‘the sky’ and I would probably see beautiful images to knock my socks off. But I can’t google, you know ‘what does my friend look like today?’
For you to be able to take a picture of yourself that you feel good enough about to share with the world - I think that’s a great thing”—Ezra Koenig being the most adorable human being ever (via damnthosebands)
Some challenge the reality of our rape culture; that is, a culture that enables and excuses rapists, blames the victims, and prevents or impedes prosecution and prevention. I wonder how they can when we’re constantly getting news stories like this one:
A bricklayer is convicted of raping an unconscious woman. The judge at sentencing seems reluctant to have to put him away for 5 years. Here are some quotes:
"I do not regard you as a classic rapist. I do not think you are a general danger to strangers. You are not the type who goes searching for a woman to rape. This was a case where you just lost control of normal restraint."
Pardon me a moment while I vomit.
Excuse me, your grace, does it matter to the victim if she is raped by a stranger? Could it even be worse, somehow, that she knew him? Trusted him enough that she and her friend stayed over at his house and slept on his couch? Perhaps you’re right and he’s not a danger to strangers. Is that supposed to make the women he knows feel any better? Does that lessen the horror for the woman he raped? “just lost control of normal restraint.” Yeah, just. Coulda happened to anybody, eh, judgey? Poor fella, just lost a little control and, bam, violently assaults an unconscious woman. Easy to do, like slipping on a banana peel or forgetting to turn off your car’s headlights or picking up a baseball bat and bludgeoning someone over the head.
Let’s get some more judgey gems:
"She was a pretty girl who you fancied. You simply could not resist. You had sex with her."
This doesn’t require any commentary, does it? We all recognize from these words, uttered to a convicted rapist by his judge, that rape culture is rampant and things are seriously, seriously screwed up?
"could not resist…" Poor men with no ability to control themselves. It must be so, so hard for them to live in a world where they just can’t resist committing violent crimes, no free will, no control of their own bodies whatsoever. Besides, if girls are pretty, they’re practically asking to be raped, right, judgey?
Also, can we please stop using the phrase “had sex with” when talking about rape? He raped her. It was assault. It was violence. He forced himself on an unconscious woman. He did not care about her. There was no possibility of mutual pleasure. This was not an expression of his “fancy,” a way of saying, “hey, you’re pretty and I like you!” Flowers would work for that. A text message perhaps. An invite out to tea. This was a selfish, violent, hurtful attack.
It’s no wonder so many young girls are confused about what sex is. That so many girls view sex as something that happens to them, not something they participate in, when a man can “have sex with” an unconscious woman. No wonder some men feel entitled to do whatever they want to a woman when even a judge talks about rape as though it were a natural consequence of a bloke fancying a lass.
And the thing is, the judge even recognized some of the terrible consequences that came of this otherwise delightful bloke temporarily unable to resist violently assaulting a pretty girl. He said of the victim, “She was clearly upset at the time. The consequences continued. She was unable to work for a while. She has had to take anti-depressants. She has lost her cheerfulness and outgoing spirit.”
Please, let’s talk about sex. About what it is. About what it isn’t. Let’s talk about women, the safety and respect they have a right to expect. Let’s talk about men, their obligation to educate themselves on what sex is and what it definitely is not. And let’s talk about rape. Let’s keep talking about it till there isn’t a judge, police officer, teacher, parent, friend in the world who doesn’t understand so this. Will. Finally. Stop.
“This is a scifi superhero story. It doesn’t have time to be an issue story. I too appreciate so much books about the disability experience or any experience that isn’t in our default canon. But that’s not what I wanted to write. I wanted to write a fast-paced, kickbooty, twisty adventure story, and I wanted the heroine to be a real girl who I hadn’t met in books before.”—Author Shannon Hale on her book Dangerous in an interview at Disability in Kidlit (via diversityinya)
Amazon is involved in a commercial dispute with the book publisher Hachette, which owns Little Brown, Grand Central Publishing, and other familiar imprints. These sorts of disputes happen all the time between companies and they are usually resolved in a corporate back room.
But in this case, Amazon has done something unusual. It has directly targeted Hachette’s authors in an effort to force their publisher to agree to its terms.
For the past month, Amazon has been:
—Boycotting Hachette authors, refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette’s authors’ books, claiming they are “unavailable.”
—Refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette’s authors’ books.
—Slowing the delivery of thousands of Hachette’s authors’ books to Amazon customers, indicating that delivery will take as long as several weeks on most titles.
As writers—some but not all published by Hachette—we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want. It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation. Moreover, by inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery, Amazon is contradicting its own written promise to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.”
All of us supported Amazon from when it was a struggling start-up. We cheered Amazon on. Our books started Amazon on the road to selling everything and becoming one of the world’s largest corporations. We have made Amazon many millions of dollars and over the years have contributed so much, free of charge, to the company by way of cooperation, joint promotions, reviews and blogs. This is no way to treat a business partner. Nor is it the right way to treat your friends. Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon, we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business. None of us, neither readers nor authors, benefit when books are taken hostage. (We’re not alone in our plea: the opinion pages of both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, which rarely agree on anything, have roundly condemned Amazon’s corporate behavior.)
We call on Amazon to resolve its dispute with Hachette without hurting authors and without blocking or otherwise delaying the sale of books to its customers.
We respectfully ask you, our loyal readers, to email Jeff Bezos, c.e.o and founder of Amazon, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell him what you think. He says he genuinely welcomes hearing from his customers and claims to read all emails from this account. We hope that, writers and readers together, we will be able to change his mind.
“Mindy: I opened my review of Dangerous by saying that the first time I read a character like me (with a congenital limb deficiency) in a book and she turns out to be a superhero. Tell me about your decision to write a superhero with a limb difference.
Shannon: I don’t think I ever thought about it like that, in the same sentence. For years I’d wanted to write a superhero story. And for years I’d wanted to write about a person with a congenital limb deficiency. And I’d wanted to write about someone from Paraguay. And someone who loved science. And someone who was homeschooled. And someone who was burdened with the middle name of “Danger.” And everything just came together in this story. People with limb deficiencies exist in life but not so much in books, and I felt that lack. I don’t think I’d be the right person to write an issue book about disability. But I thought I could write a superhero story, and I thought I could write a character who has one hand.” [read more]
In honor of Disability in Kidlit's one-year anniversary, you have a chance to win a hardcover of Shannon Hale's DANGEROUS! Simply leave a comment on the WordPress post or reblog this Tumblr post. (Yes, doing both increases your chances!) In one week, we’ll select a single winner from one of these locations. This giveaway is limited to US addresses.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the segregation of ideas. I know several people who choose to live in a certain place because everyone there thinks like they do (I know both conservatives and liberals who have expressed this to me). I do think that can be a more comfortable way to live, but I wonder about the consequences.
A friend of mine pointed out to me that in the past, we all got our news from one of the same three very similar news sources. Now there are enough that people can choose to watch the cable channel or read the magazines or blogs that report the news interpreted according to their own world views. As we live with those who think like us, get news from those who think like us, it becomes easier to vilify those who don’t. Often conversations of disagreement are either avoided or become a contest of shouting opinions.
My husband was just telling me about research he read that the more diversity there is, the more innovation. Historically, places in the world where everyone thinks, looks, tries to act the same, progress stagnates. I think it’s healthy for us to live in a world of diversity of all kinds.
For me this applies to books. I know people who will only read books by authors who share their own world views. Comfort reads are great. I love books where I slide into the author’s way of thinking and writing. But I also learn more by reading books that I don’t always agree with. If the author shares ideas I disagree with, it makes me think and helps me strengthen my own understanding of the world. Even with writing style. I love when the writing is smooth and I can turn off that internal editor. But when the writing is off for me, my internal editor is hot and active, and while the reading isn’t as enjoyable in some ways, the exercise strengthens me as a writer. I learn to better understand what I want as a reader and how to craft a story I’d want to read.
I’m home all this month (hallelujah!) but it’s been a travel-heavy year and will continue to be so. I won’t be at ALA (but ARCs of THE FORGOTTEN SISTERS — the 3rd and final PRINCESS ACADEMY — will be there!). I’ll be at SDCC this summer before I hit the road in October to tour for THE PRINCESS IN BLACK.
Here are some random selfies from my spring trips to TLA, BEA, IRA, & Teen Book Con, in no particular order.
Jessica Day George and I were on the same plane to Texas. In the airport we ran into Matthew Kirby…
…and Jim Di Bartolo.
David Levithan modeling the fried green tomatoes we ate in New Orleans.
On stage at the Teen Book Con in Houston with Emery Lord, Brendan Kiely, Rachel Hawkins, and Jason Reynolds
…also with Tess Sharpe and Bree Despain…
…and Laurie Halse Anderson keynoting, showing the slide of all the authors who were there. What a fun group! We had a blast. Thanks, Blue Willow Books!
For some reason, I did this.
With Laini Taylor and Cecil Castelucci in…where? I think Houston. It all runs together. But I remember we played a very funny card game in a hotel lobby till late at night with Bree Despain and Eliot Schrefer. Well, not too late. We ain’t kids anymore.
Trent Reedy, Elizabeth Eulberg, Sarah Mlynowski, and Sarah Mlynowski’s hand
Dean Hale, I told you to stay away from Tori Spelling!!!
At lunch, Varian Johnson and Alaya Dawn Johnson (no relation!) show us they can salsa.
Laini Taylor and I model Daughter of Smoke and Bone masks.
The fabulous E. Lockhart. Have you read We Were Liars yet?
During our panel on “Kick-Ass Girls” I invited the audience and fellow panelists Elizabeth Eulberg and Maggie Steifvater to do the Wonder Woman pose and feel the power! (we’re on the table, because why not). Also it was Mother’s Day.
In the hotel, Dean wants to see if he can walk on the ceiling.
Chillin’ by the river in San Antonio with Nathan Hale, Tom Angleberger, and Jenni Holm. Man, I love those kids!
With my good pal Michael Buckley. He’s like a big brother to me. When he’s not like a little brother to me.
In NYC, having lunch with Brandon Mull and his wife Mary we found a Diane Von Furstenberg sample sale. Brandon models a dress I thought about buying. (the idea of a sample sale is better than an actual sample sale)
In New Orleans for IRA I did a panel with Sean Williams, Garth Nix, and Maggie Steivater for Spirit Animals. At the signing, my ARCs of book 4 (FIRE AND ICE! Out next week!) didn’t show up, so I mostly just watched them sign. And took photos. And gave them helpful pointers. I’m sure they were thrilled.
Dean models a “This princess wears black!” t-shirt
At our signing for THE PRINCESS IN BLACK in New Orleans. I am at a loss for words about how excited I am to share this book with everyone.
Doing some dangerous moves with PRINCESS IN BLACK editor Sarah Ketchersid.
After years of narrowly missing each other, Dan Santat and I finally meet! I loved BEEKLE.
BEA, New York City, Michael Buckley and I emceed the first annual Slushpile Family Circus, an author and illustrator variety show. Libba Bray opens the show with her incredible set of pipes and pack of sass.
Michael Buckley sings Lionel Richie’s “Hello” while Tom Angleberger, Phil Bildner and Gareth Hinds juggle, as you do.
Comedy sketch with Jason Reynolds, Brandon Mull, Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl, and Maryrose Wood.
This photo started out with me pretending to karate chop Daniel Handler’s injured knee, when he took my hand and placed it there. I swear! I’m totally innocent! Also important to note that the last time we were together was also in Javits (for NYCC last fall) and I was wearing this same outfit. Surely he believes I’d been there all those months, just waiting for his return.
After this lovely gentleman by the name of John Green waited in line for both of my signings at BEA, I thought I needed photographic proof that John Green is a fan of mine.
Kate DiCamillo signs a copy of LEROY NINKER for my kids after hearing we’re all big MERCY WATSON fans…
Then we try to take a photo together but can’t decide of we’re sitting/crouching…
In a recent post about diversity, I wrote: “No one is truly able-bodied: we have missing limbs or chronic illnesses or mental illnesses or even glasses or allergies or freckles or fat or some way our bodies or minds aren’t exactly like some impossible transcendent ideal.”
I understand why some mistook this piece of my post. I dropped that in there without enough explanation, so please allow me.
Growing up, I viewed the world as two separate groups: the Normal people and the Handicapped people (that’s the word used in my childhood). The Handicapped people were blind or deaf or in a wheelchair. And I wasn’t. And I felt bad for them and determined I would never bully any Handicapped children if I ever met any, (though I never did—or at least, I thought I didn’t).
As I grow older, I see such a fallacy in that way of thinking. I understand why our language has terms like “able-bodied” or “whole-bodied” and “disabled,” etc., but I find that dichotomy isn’t really truthful. Disability/Able-bodiedness isn’t an either/or situation. It’s a continuum.
Is it as difficult for a myopic person who must wear glasses to navigate the world as a person who is blind? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Is it as difficult for a person who is fair-skinned and must wear sunscreen and hats whenever in the sun to navigate the world as a person who has xeroderma pigmentosum? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Is it as difficult for a person with a bad knee who must wear a brace and hesitates on stairs as someone who is paralyzed from the waist down? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Our world is designed for the able-bodied and it’s a mark of an empathetic civilization when we try to accommodate all abilities.
I’m not trying to diminish the difficulties and challenges people with disabilities face. But I am trying to normalize the idea of disabilities because they are normal. Some disabilities are undoubtedly more life-changing than others. But I think it might be healthy for everyone, even those who are considered whole-or-able-bodied, to recognize that they’re on the continuum too. We all are. We all have challenges that separate us from an impossible ideal of physical and mental health. Recognizing that can help us to not just sympathize with those who have more physical or mental challenges than us us but actually get closer to true empathy. And an increase of empathy only makes the world better.
Once we get rid of the either/or way of thinking, then possibilities open up wider. A child with a disability won’t feel as Other (because really, aren’t we all disabled some way?) A person without a disability won’t feel uncomfortable around someone who has one because aren’t we all in some way? Readers who are considered “able-bodied” won’t have a hard time relating to a character who is disabled because, again, aren’t we all?
Our bodies and minds are so magnificent. So diverse. So unique.
In the same way, white and non-white is another really weird dichotomy. E.g., in the US so many of us are mixes of many different nationalities, ethnicities, religions, genetics. The idea of pertaining to a single race is getting blurrier and blurrier. In a few decades people will look back and find the whole “white” vs. “not-white” idea really weird.
What do you think? Is this line of thinking disrespectful? Is it even possible to change how we think about disabilities? How can we change our language to get rid of that dichotomy? What have I not considered here? I absolutely don’t want the last word on this nor do I think I have all the answers. This is something I think about and would love to hear your thoughts too, either here or on my blog.
New to the Annual Children’s Book Art Silent Auction and Reception at BEA this year, The Slushpile Family Circus, an entertainment and comedy variety show displaying the non-authorial talents of various children’s writers and illustrators. Masters of Ceremony Shannon Hale and Michael Buckley will emcee with their trademark Verve™ and Panache™ the phantasmagorical cavalcade of “talent” and showmanship.
Come witness such luminaries as David Levithan and Jon Scieszka display never-before-witnessed “talents”! What shocking tricks will Pseudonymous Bosch and Melissa de la Cruz be up to? We would give you a sneak peak of the hidden talents of Brandon Mull, Jason Reynolds, and Paul Zelinsky but we’ve been sworn to secrecy! Jarrett Krosoczka, Maryrose Wood, and Scott Westerfeld will amaze and delight! Libba Bray, Daniel Kirk, and Tom Angleberger will provoke and alarm! And who will be the Mysterious “Talent” Guest? Come one, come all and witness the bizarre, the unusual, but the always entertaining Slushpile Family Circus at this year’s Silent Auction!
Every six months or so, I see an essay devoted to the absence of religion and characters of faith in young adult literature. Google “religion in YA” and you’ll see plenty of posts which rightly address the fact that only a small percentage of the books marketed to teenagers by major publishers include any reference to religion. Most of these are consistently found in historical fiction.
Studies show that a lack of religious content in YA books is not due to a lack of adolescent interest in matters of faith. According to Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (2005, Oxford University Press), 60% of teens say that religious faith is an important part of their lives, and 40% pray every day. Thirty-five percent attend weekly services of some kind, while another 15% go to church at least once a month. One in four report that they are “born again.”
I know these facts to be true—not only from survey data, but from personal experience.
Right now, children’s literature is seeing an intense flare-up in the ongoing conversation about the diversity crisis in children’s books. While this conversation has been going on for decades, now social media has given the people having it megaphones, and they are using them to brilliant ends….
This past week, a group started a campaign on twitter #WeNeedDiverseBooks that trended for days. Blogs, twitter, tumblr, instagram facebook were lit up with people sharing photos, stories, ideas about how diverse books are both wanted and needed.
Diversity just means “reality,” i.e. books (and movies, etc.) work best when they reflect the richness and variety of the real world rather than only representing one sliver of it. But diversity most often connotes race. And so lots of race questions rise up in this conversation, such as, is it okay for writers of one race to write from the point-of-view of a character from another race? Lisa Yee wrote her thoughts about this, which I appreciated.
Here’s my own experience. When I was drafting The Goose Girl, I originally was going to make Bayern an African-type continent, everyone there having a deep-brown-to-black skin, while Kildenree would be the European-type continent with pale skin. I was inspired by Le Guin’s Earthsea books. But I quickly realized the story required Ani to hide in Bayern, so she couldn’t look too different from the Bayern people. I could have chosen to make Ani dark skinned as well but I decided not to, out of misguided respect and fear. As a white person, I was hesitant to try to speak from the point-of-view of someone of another race, even in a fantasy setting. I felt like I only had access to the heritage of my own bloodlines. So I based Bayern on Germany, both because the tale was recorded by the brothers Grimm and because it is one of the lands of my ancestors. I’m not saying that was the wrong or the right choice (I don’t believe there was necessarily a right or wrong here), but that this was my creative process.
When I began a new series with Princess Academy, again I felt that I only had rights to the lands of my ancestors, so I chose to base the setting on Scandinavia. And the research and writing was a lovely experience for me.
While I was drafting Book of a Thousand Days, I was also studying about Mongolia, because my parents were about to go live there for two years. And the more I learned, the more the research slid naturally into the story I was working on. Perfectly. As if that had been my intention all along. I had a moment of crisis. I wanted to base the setting on medieval Mongolia, but did I have the right to appropriate a land I had no blood or familial ties to for my story?
Eventually I decided, yes. I am a human being. I can take inspiration from the stories of our shared planet. It was a little easier for me to make this jump since I wasn’t writing a true historical setting but a fantasy kingdom inspired by a historical setting.
Dangerous is my first young adult book not set long-ago-far-away but in our own world. I don’t remember my exact thought process in deciding to make my main character biracial with a Paraguayan-American mother and white American father. There was reason to have a bilingual character and the choice seemed interesting for the story. The supporting cast also has a Russian-American, African-French,
Korean-American, German-American, and African-American. These choices make sense in the story, but if this had been my first book, I don’t know if I’d dared to make them. Again, out of misguided respect and fear, I might have been hesitant to try to embody the experience of a character who has a different race than me. I think that would have been a mistake. This story makes more sense, is richer, and is truer with the diverse cast. If I’d tried to write this story with an all-white cast, that would have been forced and untrue, because it wouldn’t have reflected the actual world the story takes place in. Making creative choices from a place of fear (even fear mixed with loving and honest respect) is never a good idea.
I appreciate writers who are respectful of other cultures and experiences. And I don’t think that every book needs to have a diverse racial cast. A book set in a town where everyone is white can exist. Those stories matter too. But I always want to make sure I’m open to what the story needs. And all stories (ironically perhaps, but especially fantasy and science fiction stories) need to have a foundation of truth in order to work. And the truth of our world is colorful, rich, expansive. I think it’s wise, as writers, that we’re always checking ourselves, making sure we’re not just defaulting to all white, straight, able-bodied, non-religious, etc., characters. Not defaulting to Neutral. But keeping our stories open for the possibilities of diversity.