Over the past few months I’ve been following discussions on
Twitter about the need for diversity in books. Not just in kids’ books but
across the board stories should reflect society around us. These conversations
struck a chord. Done right, these stories will be richer and more appealing. (I touched on diversity before on this blog)
Looking around at my family, friends and coworkers, I see
diversity. Not just in appearance, but also in – hidden – disabilities. But in
the books on my shelves I find far less diversity, and what I find are often
stereotypes or idealized versions; I’m missing the natural, and to me
comfortable, blend of peoples.
Digging a little deeper, I find that most of the ‘good’ guys
& girls in novels are often described as beautiful, gorgeous, attractive or
pretty. Whereas the ‘bad’ guys & girls tend to have their physical flaws
described in terms that make it sound like those flaws are part of why they’re
the baddies in the story.
Yet, again, looking around me and at the people I hold dear,
their physical beauty might not match that of an airbrushed model, but I find
them infinitely more beautiful in their lack of perfection. Their life stories,
depth of character and individual suffering, have made them truly beautiful in
Looking at the books and stories I’ve written so far, I
realize I’m guilty of putting beautiful people in them too, though I rarely
describe them as such, there is a lack of diversity. Because calling out beauty
is such a part of the mainstream entertainment narrative, it crept in unconsciously.
Though, admittedly, it’s harder to put diversity into historical fiction –
except for Sophia’s clubfoot which was not uncommon to the time and location in
book 1 of The Coming Storm - because there was so much less travel and
immigration in the times before the jet engine. I hope to add more diversity
into the sequel to my – as yet – unpublished WWII trilogy which starts in
France and moves to Morocco in book 2 (I'm happy to send the first chapter to you, just ask in the comment section).
This led me to look more carefully at the characters I’m
creating to populate my whodunit. My protagonist will now be far more quirky,
counting the steps on stairs every time she takes them for example, she will
have hair that misbehaves and she won’t have that perfect shape (and let’s face
it, the definition of physical perfection changes every decade anyway). Her friends
won’t be the token diverse but will reflect the mix of friends I have and will
be well developed secondary characters with depth and personality.
Once our books and stories (and TV and film) start truly and
naturally mirroring our society, will
the cultural narrative around acceptance and inclusion change. Though this year
has been very tumultuous politically and socially, it has brought many toxic
narratives into the light, forcing us to look at our preconceived notions and
prejudices. And, with effort, forcing us to look deeper than the pretty
pictures so that we can grow and learn and accept.
Let’s hope publishing is truly ready for the diverse
characters the audience wants. Wish me luck.
It was a dark and stormy day, the rain came down in buckets. People ducked under umbrellas, wrestling the wind and trying to avoid the puddles as they entered the bookstore. I had a front row seat and enjoyed talking with readers, struggling writers and friendly people looking to chat.
Building that writing career, one book, one signing, one reader at a time.
If you missed it, you can always order it from your favorite bookseller or directly from the publisher, Untreed Reads, and while you're there you might want to let them know you will be wanting a sequel. (trust me, you will, it's the publisher who needs a nudge)
I came up with an idea for a murder mystery, in the classic Agatha Christie style, but had no idea how to go about crafting one of those. Rereading many of Christie’s books is a lot of fun, but I get so into the story that I forget to look for the patterns that make up the puzzle.
Next, I tried Christie’s notebooks. That yielded some good clues as to how it was done, but still something was missing.
I felt I needed something more to put it all together and write one of my own.
Sitting in a meeting at work one day it came to me. We were talking about how best to seed a sales funnel with marketing content and how there are distinct point along that funnel where say an email recipient will click on a link and look at a product. Just as there is then another point where looking at the product data turns into a request for a presentation which - hopefully - turns into a sale.
So too with the whodunnit puzzle. You start off with many suspects and through a series of turning points along the funnel the number gets whittled down until you have the culprit.
Now before you think it’s simple and straightforward, let me assure you it’s not. Just like the customer journey is no longer linear, there are many double backs, red herrings and blind alleys in creating a satisfying murder mystery.
But the funnel idea with pivotal points where suspects are cleared and clues are added or lost, is a sound one. It gives the writer a place to start putting information for the puzzle, because the writer needs to know who did it and why, but also who the other players are and what part they play.
If anything it’s a fun exercise in writing and it may just yield a story or a book. We’ll see.
In the meantime, a short and fun murder mystery - Tulip Craze - can be found on my website under the ‘shop’ tab. As always, sales are secure through a vetted 3rd party and use PayPal. I won’t get to see any of your information.
I never thought I would join Twitter, certainly not with how busy I already am. Always said it wasn’t for me, but then in January I changed my mind. I thought it might be a good place to do a little marketing for one of my books. I thought I could tweet a line or two out of Out in the Dark from time to time and it might generate some interest and new sales.
But little did I know all that was possible on Twitter. I’ve connected with agents, participated in hashtag pitch events where I’ve received interest in currently un-agented and unpublished work.
I’ve met people looking for information, or sharing their unique art and lives. I’ve had conversations - short 140 character ones - with people all over the world.
I’ve found story ideas and research leads and a place to share stories that have relevance, such as Tales from the Fountain Pen, which has stories in it that resonate with what is happening in the US today.
Twitter also gives me breaking news and reactions outside of mainstream media, which in the world we live in today, is necessary.
Sure you find unpleasantness too, but these days you find that even in the grocery store checkout line. By far I’ve found the good outweighing the bad. But maybe I’ve been a tad more selective in who I follow as I learn to navigate this brave new world?
When I started working on my current book in progress I
realized I wanted my main character to have certain abilities which help her
solve an art theft with international implications and work as part of a shadow team for the FBI’s
art squad. (Also see this blog post)
I had some knowledge and minor experiences with what for
lack of a better explanation you could call psychic abilities/phenomenon.
But what I really wanted to know more about was the nature of energy, the many
ways energy works, not just for or on an individual but also how energy
interconnects all living things.
When I first arrived in Boulder, CO, at the beginning of my
new adventure, I met a woman who is a Reiki master. We talked for some time because
I was curious and knew nothing about Reiki. After those first few hours of
talking it sounded like Reiki offered a good starting point. Something
practical and not just book knowledge. There’s only so much a lay person can
read about quantum physics.
I got ‘attuned’ to level 1 and though I started it as purely
research, I now find myself actually offering healing energy treatments to others. I’m strongest
from a distance even a very great distance – probably because of my deep interest in the nature of energy,
I push myself to reach further - and I’ve gotten reports back of remarkable
benefits after I ‘send Reiki’. It’s only adding to my understanding of energy
and allowing me to create a far more human, yet complex, character for my
“Reiki is a simple, natural and safe method of spiritual
healing and self-improvement that everyone can use. It has been effective in
helping virtually every known illness and malady and always creates a
beneficial effect. It also works in conjunction with all other medical or
therapeutic techniques to relieve side effects and promote recovery.
amazingly simple technique to learn, the ability to use Reiki is not taught in
the usual sense, but is transferred to the student during a Reiki class. This
ability is passed on during an "attunement" given by a Reiki master
and allows the student to tap into an unlimited supply of "life force
energy" to improve one's health and enhance the quality of life.”
We write to learn and explore who we are and the world
around us. I don’t recall who said that first, but it’s true.
PS: Animals love it too and will ‘ask’ for it
from me when they need it by pushing against my hands and positioning themselves just so under my hands.
In the beginning there were the simple forms to fill out per story character: favorite color, height, eye color, best subject in school, best friend, worst friend, favorite music, etc. But I now see that’s no different than the simple introductions at teambuilding events or summer camp.
Instead of sharing around the campfire, let’s dig a little deeper for truly rich characters.
I put one of my main characters in a novel I’m working on - SuperSense - on the couch and applied some psycho-analytic tools to find out who she really is. The results surprised me.
I assembled skills learned from many books and diverse workbooks.
The process takes you beyond the basics and beyond archetypes, into the heart and soul of your character. Much of the information I learned probably won’t make it directly into the novel, but it will inform Natasha's behavior, her responses, her choices and her actions.
Next up I grabbed at the villain in the story and discovered the similarities in background, but differences in how they each opted to use that background. How past trauma and upbringing affected the choices they each made.
We all have things in our past - good or bad - that changed us, made us question our path and choices. If we’re willing to look at those events and find a way to understand how they shaped us, then we can use that information to grow and also to develop richer characters for stories.
For example: using these psycho analytical processes I was able to discover the reason for Natasha’s reluctance to use her special skills even though she’s sought out by others to use them. I now see the internal conflict she wrestles with almost daily, which is only exacerbated by the initial response she gets from her highly science-driven and logical teammates when she’s tossed into the team.
Natasha was raised by her grandmother (this was news to me until I put her on the couch) and her grandmother was a celebrated psychiatrist who kindly dismissed the girl’s abilities as a form of ‘hysterical’ coping mechanism after the traumas in her early life.
You can see how that might set up feelings of shame and a reluctance to open up to others about the skills she has.
I am still refining this character building tool for writers, but I am open to sharing the information and potentially setting up a series of online workshops if there is enough interest.
Leave a comment, email, tweet or even an old fashioned snail-mail letter to my PO box (address on www.elynnhwriting.com) and I will respond.