Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Diversity of Diversity

I was lucky enough to get to hear the fabulous Cynthia Leitich Smith speak at our local SCBWI meeting about diversity yesterday. It was a great presentation with time in small groups to discuss diversity in the books we've read and loved and to create a list we could share. Each group chose their top 3 titles to share. Our group tried to choose books that may not have been championed widely and it led to a great conversation. I think all of us walked away having been introduced to new titles and/or authors.

Cynthia also asked everyone to create goals for themselves with regards to diversity in their own work. Don Tate, acclaimed local illustrator and team member of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, shared that one of his goals is to keep the conversation about diversity going long after the excitement of this initial campaign dies down. That's an important commitment and one I think we should all make.

As a white, suburban American, it would be easy at first glance to assume I have experienced no diversity and therefore, have no personal experience to pull from. That wouldn't be entirely accurate, but I understand the assumption quite well. I know a lot of authors, who wouldn't be seen as diverse, wonder how they can be a part of this diversity campaign; some even wonder if they'll be allowed or accepted into the conversation.

I think it's really important that we consider all aspects of diversity and if we do, I think most of us will be able to relate very well to the topic. It's important and necessary to consider race. It's probably the first thing most of us think of when we hear the word diversity, but we need to think deeper, too. 

That white, suburban American mom may have a cultural diversity that you're not at all aware of (I don't, but many do). She may be Jewish--and yes, that could still put her in an unrecognized and misunderstood category in many parts of the nation, especially in suburbia, or rural America.

What about the community Trish Doller showed us in WHERE THE STARS STILL SHINE? Callie is Greek, but she doesn't know anything about that culture until she's thrust into a thriving Greek American community. But even beyond that, the life she's lived with her mother hasn't been anything close to a "normal" upbringing. Her ability to relate to those who should be her peers is so clearly harmed by this. I think this book explores diversity on several levels.

It's also important to realize that every African American family isn't living a carbon copy life of everyone else who happens to look like them. Diversity has layers. I was raised by a single mom in a small town at a time when there weren't a lot of single moms at the PTA meetings. My mom was widowed, not (gasp!) divorced, but she was still "other," and as such, so was I and I felt it often. I knew the fact that there wasn't a dad in my house made me different. It was a loving, safe household, but I frequently interpreted signals in some disappointing and sometimes even saddening ways. We tend to think that single-parent households are so common today that no one thinks twice, but I know that isn't true everywhere. My daughter had a good friend growing up who was being raised by a loving, supportive single mom but I know that girl felt "other" all too often because of it. There is still, unfortunately, a stigma to that in some places.

Socioeconomic diversity affects kids across the spectrum of race. Every white kid isn't rich and every black or Latino kid isn't poor. Every Asian parent isn't an engineer any more than every one of them owns a restaurant or works in a nail salon. There is nothing wrong with writing a character who holds those occupations, but there's also nothing wrong with writing a Native American dentist. Just ask Cynthia Leitich Smith! 

I spent many years working in the mortgage industry and I worked with native Hawaiian, Mexican, Libyan, and Indian loan officers, and I'm sure many others from diverse backgrounds that I'm not even remembering. When I was just out of high school I worked with two sisters from Fiji. This was the 80s. In Texas. Diversity in our world isn't a new thing, but some of these cultures I just mentioned don't spark memory of any kidlit titles with representative characters. Why not? They're obviously representative of members of our society. 

Like I said, we definitely need to consider race when we're thinking about diversity, but we need to keep thinking and considering and including beyond that as well. And we need to represent race appropriately, which means diversely as well. The number and/or sex of the parents in the household, cultural identity even when someone looks "typical" for their community, mental heath, physical disability, religious practice, type of house (Family living in a yurt? Hey, some do.) -- any of these things can be included and explored to represent diversity and this is in no way a complete list.

I'm not by any means suggesting we should ban all white, middle-class, suburban characters. Hey, we're part of this world, too, but we're definitely not the whole of it. I am who I am and I'm valid, but I live in a world with people who aren't just like me. We are all valid. I want my characters, even when they are like me, to exist in a world that is just as vivid and real as mine.

We're off to a good start. We need to keep thinking, talking, and including. We can all do it. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Cynical Canine Critic Weighs In On My Efforts

 Hardened Eyes
Peeking Out of a Martini Glass
Her Syringe Through the Lens
A Sad Story in a Nutshell

Cynical Canine Critic tosses it 2 bones, says he would have found it 
more palatable if the martini glass had been filled with kibble. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Dance Break!

Okay, not really a dance break, but a break for something silly and fun just the same. These things are far more prevalent on FaceBook, but Courtney Leigh tagged me on Twitter to participate with a blog hop post instead, and I like her so I'm playing. The idea is to let the cursor scroll randomly through a work in progress and share the lines where it lands as possible (terrible) titles. Here are mine:

1. What Happened is She Killed Someone
2. I Extended My Little Finger
3. Like Some Damn Crystal-Rubbing Paranormal Romance Writer
4. With My Luck I'd Get Arrested
5. I Wrapped Up the Rest of My Burrito
6. He Licked the Side of His Hand
7. Hey, Public Couch, Remember?
8. I Knew That as Soon as I Saw Your Green Mane

You anticipate National Book Award potential in number 6, right?

I'm not tagging anyone else because I can't think of anyone who hasn't probably already done this in some form, but my document is open now so I may as well go to work.

Happy writing, dancing, whatever it is you're doing today!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Found Creativity

Happy 2015! I vow at the beginning of every year to try something new related to creating/writing. As 2014 wound down I kept seeing the words "found poetry." When I first saw the phrase, I had no idea what it even meant (Hello from under my rock!). Thanks to some very talented writers, specifically K.A. Holt, E. Kristen Anderson, and Austin Kleon, I get it now. And once I got it, I wanted to try it. And guess what? It turns out to be a great jump-starter for me, not to say that found poems can't stand on their own as an art form, but for my poetically challenged self, they're serving as a great catalyst to my fiction writing sessions. Grabbing a book and playing around with a page for a while kicks my brain into creative mode and may be my pre-writing ritual for a while to come. And I'm going to share them here for a while. It may be awful. It may be a mistake. It may be starting now . . .

I no longer see
Sneaking down quietly
So what of shame
Shame comes only to cover their story
If it were up to God,
She'd say, "Try some."

How different soothing silence
So often carved out of abstract ideas
And topically appropriate

Desperate to be pretty
Somehow to serve beauty
You discover the opposite
Inevitable status in a crisis
Power of the designated caretaker

My doodling on the page seems to grow with each one of these I try, which I think also helps to kick my brain into creative writing mode. I've always felt doodling was a good thing for the brain. I'm not alone in this belief. You can find plenty of articles to support the power of doodling, like this one, or this one. So this found poetry thing may be the super food of creative kickstarters.

** The book I'm using here is MENONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS. I enjoyed this book. Now I'm just enjoying it in a new way.