Monday, April 30, 2012

Da Man is Great!

Sometimes I read online about how a writer has an unsupportive spouse or family who doesn't get the challenges of being a writer and I always think, Damn, I'm so lucky! Because I am. Truly lucky that my husband understands what it's like being married to a crazed writer and absolutely supports me.

I've been working on Book 2 and am under deadline and I have been stressed because as much as I love the story, it was like pulling teeth. Plus with all the personal trials we'd been undergoing since January, writing time had been curtailed severely.

With my deadline looming, I've gone into panic mode. This is not a pretty sight. Panic mode means surly, snappy, nasty, cranky, touchy, and just downright mean behavior. On top of it all, it means the twitch in my left eye has come back. But for the twitchiness, I might have had a chance for passing for normal.

So I was completely stunned when Da Man had my writing buddy, Caroline, call me up and take me to a Marriott Suites for a night and half a day of writing with absolutely no disturbances! While the kids did make sad faces at me and beg me not to go, I admit it was fabulous having a full night of intense writing and the ability to brainstorm with a trusted crit partner. I still have the twitch in my eye, but I'm feeling a bit more confident about making my deadline. And I owe it all to Da Man.

And on top of it all, guess what he got me for my birthday on Ello/Earth Day? Take a look:

Isn't he the best? I think I'm gonna have to buy him that fishing boat real soon!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Last post on Diversity Series

The last post on my What diversity means to me series is not here. It's posted over at the Enchanted Inkpot and it is with STacy Whitman of Tu Books and her author Kimberly Pauley.

Along with the interview, Tu is offering up 2 copies of Kimberly's Cat Girl's Day Off so please don't miss it!

And thanks everyone for reading and caring about diversity!

Friday, April 20, 2012

What Diversity Means to Me - Featuring Janet Wong

We're nearing the end of this Diversity series that I have been running. This will be the last diversity post here on my blog. On Monday, I'll be sending you over to the Enchanted Inkpot for a very special interview with Tu Books Editorial Director Stacy Whitman and her author Kimberly Pauley and a special giveaway.

Today, I want to welcome Janet Wong, an award winning children's book author and poet, to the blog with another perspective on diversity. I hope you enjoy it.

Cover Girl
by Janet Wong

In 1990, Glenn and I went to the County Clerk’s Office in Naples, Florida to get our marriage license. We filled out the form, waited for the license to be typed, and left the office. Waiting at the elevator, I noticed that the license read: Groom-Race-Caucasian; Bride-Race-Caucasian. I am half-Chinese and half-Korean. We marched back in and told the (Caucasian) clerk that she’d made a mistake. “You can just white-out the ‘Cauc’ part,” I said, smiling and pointing to her error. “Then it will say ‘asian’—which is what I am.” She looked at me quizzically and said, “But honey—you’re one of the white races!”

One thing that I hope my books do is to remind non-white kids that they don’t need the “favor” of being made white. And to show the clerk’s grandchildren that the world is not just black versus white, as they might have been taught at home. To encourage kids to become comfortable with who we—and others—are, describing ourselves neutrally by our race and ethnicity the way someone might use “tall” or “red-haired” or “in the blue shirt” but also understanding that racial terms might not be the best description. In a crowd of non-Asian women, I could be described most easily as the Asian one; but in a crowd of thin women, you should call me the chubby one. And in a crowd of chubby Asian females, I am the short one with the MBT shoes, the one with no makeup, the children’s poet dressed all in black.

But it is not enough to simply slap an Asian face on a cover of a book with an Asian theme. The face on the cover needs to match the book; not every Asian cover girl should look like an elegant, long-haired starlet. Take a look at the cover of my first book, Good Luck Gold, published in 1994 by Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon and Schuster):

This is a fine painting. I could not paint such a painting. With a title poem about good luck gold jewelry, this image makes sense. But Good Luck Gold also contains several strong poems about identity, racism, death, and other difficult subjects. Given this strong subject matter, I would’ve preferred a cover that wasn’t as feminine, lavender-pink, and “pretty.” I would’ve preferred a cover girl who didn’t look like a stereotypical “soft Asian girl.” I asked my editor Margaret McElderry to change the cover for the 2nd printing; she said that we could consider it sometime later. Later, around the 8th printing of the book, I asked again. Her reply was that the book had done quite well, so the cover must not have caused any damage.

The opportunity to change the cover for Good Luck Gold finally came when the book went out of print and the rights reverted to me. Now I could be the art director—and make the perfect cover. I found a photo that I liked at and purchased it. I created two slightly different covers—a paperback version with the words of the title arranged in “chop formation” and an e-book with the title displayed on a line. Here is the paperback cover:

I think this new cover fits the content of my poetry collection much better than the original cover for Good Luck Gold. I like the way this child projects toughness (with her no-nonsense jacket and haircut), yet also seems friendly and reflective. I am quite proud of this cover—but there is a small thing that troubles me. After the paperback edition was published, I noticed that there is something odd about the cover girl’s teeth. Either her teeth were altered in some way in the original photo, Photoshopped with a sticky veneer of what appears to be pink bubble gum, or she happens to have a very gummy smile, the kind where the top lip is drawn extremely high. When I look at the cover now, I like to imagine that the latter is true—and that, despite an “imperfect” smile, this girl is smiling proudly, showing her gums in all their pink glory. Because, if book covers are to encourage kids to become comfortable with who we are, we need to celebrate all kinds of cover girls, girls of all ethnicities, shapes and sizes, girls with glasses, big noses, bushy eyebrows, gummy smiles, and crooked teeth. For all our readers, let’s wish for cover girls that say: Hey, you—smile!

Janet Wong ( is the award-winning author of a wide variety of books for children and teens, including Good Luck Gold, A Suitcase of Seaweed, Me and Rolly Maloo, Alex and the Wednesday Chess Club, and Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year.

Monday, April 16, 2012

What Diversity Means to Me - Featuring Dia Reeves

Hi everyone! Thank you all for reading this diversity series! I hope you've enjoyed the different perspectives that have been given - not only from authors but even a YA librarian and my very own wonderful agent. So today we continue the series with one of my favorite authors, Dia Reeves.

I've known Dia online for a few years now and it's been amazing to see her come out with two fantastic books during that time! I was so blown away when I first read Bleeding Violet. Dark and disturbing and violent. This is not for the faint at heart. It was unlike any book I'd ever read. But then Dia wrote Slice of Cherry and completely solidified why I love her so much. Slice of Cherry is even stranger and scarier and gorier. Seriously, if you are a fan of Dexter, you will love SOC. So I'm very happy to have Dia on the blog today.
Ello - Hi Dia! Thanks so much for being here! So can you please let us know how you came to write your book?

Dia - When I was a kid, I never read books about black kids. When I wrote my own short stories, all the characters were white. No one told me they had to be; that was a conclusion I drew based on the evidence at hand, namely, none of my favorite books had anything but white characters. When I got to high school, however, I started reading Octavia E. Butler who not only was black but wrote sf/horror novels about black people. That blew me away. Not long after that, I wrote a story starring a black girl, and I remember feeling guilty, like I was doing something really naughty. Then I realized how much fun being naughty is. I haven't looked back since.

Ello - I'm so glad you were naughty! Although naught is so tame a word to use for an author who writes weird and darkly disturbing horror stories! So why do you think books like yours with POC characters are important to our kids?

Dia - I don't know that what I write is important. Finding a cure for AIDS is important--what I do is all about entertainment. That said, I get a lot of fan mail. Some thanking me for writing about POC characters, but the majority are from weird and crazy fans who can't believe I write about weird and crazy people. Being weird and crazy myself, those are the letters that strike the deepest chord with me, because weird and crazy doesn't recognize racial boundaries. Many people feel different. Even seemingly normal people can feel like they're just faking it. I think the reason I get so much mail of that kind is because people understand what it is not to fit in. Since I write about a town where being weird is normal, all the weirdos tend to relate. It's nice to have your feelings and experiences validated, if not in the real world, at least in a fictional one.

Ello - I love your answer because it is a great reminder that diversity isn't just about race. So here's the last and final question - What does diversity mean to you?
Dia - If you say to a deaf kid, "Hey, kid, you matter," but then the kid can't find books/magazines/movies/TV shows/video games about other deaf kids, then in what way are you demonstrating his importance? The kid looks around at other people being represented and not only does he not feel important--he feels like he doesn't exist. So diversity means being able to see yourself, no matter how out of the mainstream you are, reflected in society. I don't think we're even close to being truly diverse, but I try to do my part as a writer--maybe one day I'll succeed.

Ello - Dia, you're doing a great job and I hope you continue writing your weird and crazy characters for years to come! Thanks so much for being here!

Friday, April 13, 2012

What Diversity Means to Me - Featuring Joe Monti

Today I'm very very happy to bring you an agent's perspective on diversity. My amazing agent, Joe Monti, took time out of his crazy busy schedule to talk about what diversity means to him and give us his perspective as an industry insider. I'm so excited and pleased to turn over the blog to Joe today!

Please welcome Joe Monti of BG Literary Agency!

Why diversity in YA is important -

Back in 1998 when I became the buyer in charge of young adult fiction at Barnes and Noble, Inc. YA the category was kinda pathetic, filled with series fiction with little veins of gold here or there in Blume, Cormier, and the like. This is back in the stone ages where a protagonist over twelve years of age, one that kisses, or any mention of puberty will place you in the realm of a work for a mature reader. I wanted to change that because that wasn’t the world I grew up in, and it certainly wasn’t the world teens were living in then, or now. I bought books with gay protagonists, one of the first was a little gem titled PETER by Kate Walker. Then when that worked, Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat compilation, DANGEROUS ANGELS, then BOY MEETS BOY by David Levithan, EMPRESS OF THE WORLD by Sara Ryan, LUNA by Julie Anne Peters and others. No one thought these books would sell, or reach an audience outside of pockets on the coasts. Yet they sold best in the midwest before the higher density coastal areas overtook those stores.

In summer 2009 incidents of whitewashing within YA literature were brought to light and discussed much online.

But look at this book cover for Angela Johnson’s FIRST PART LAST:

The First Part Last
Here’s a book that breaks two perceived guidelines of sales and marketing: That books with a person of color will largely only sell to that ethnicity, and that books for boys don’t sell, so placing a boy on the cover of a YA is a sales blocker.

This adds the taboo of an African-American guy holding a baby. Sales wisdom will tell you that this book could not sell.  It blew off the shelves. It was awarded The Michael L. Printz award and The Coretta Scott King award.

It worked, primarily because, let’s face it, that guy is hot. Like Lenny Kravitz in The Hunger Games hot. And he’s strong. It’s striking. Also, and in no small part, Johnson’s a wonderful writer.

There is only one thing that will hurt sales of a book: A bad cover. You can have a PoC on the cover and not sell because it’s a weak cover, not because of the ethnicity of the people on the cover. Ditto if you’re blonde or red haired girl.

Speaking of boys, who “don’t read past a certain age” dontchyaknow, they were the initial audience for Christopher Paolini’s ERAGON, which propelled it to #1. The girls started reading it later. The Alex Rider series of books by Anthony Horowitz are tremendous bestsellers, and they are largely read by boys.

Strong female protagonists are ubiquitous now in YA. Just fourteen years ago works like Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK and Tamora Pierce’s LADY KNIGHT were showcasing strong girls who knew how to fight back and find their voices. Where would Katniss or Katsa or Gemma or Tally or Clary be without them? Likely looking for boys to save them or make them whole.

Diversity in YA is important because all of these books above and the books to come are on a continuum. If you narrow the opportunity to allow one of these to succeed as they have, you whittle away the possibility of greatness and we are all diminished. As an agent, I hope to increase diversity with whom I represent and champion.

What diversity means to me?

It means I can say Lenny Kravitz is a beautiful man and not feel at all awkward about being a breeder. It means I can be a New York Yankees fan, yet dislike many Yankees fans for their attitude. It means I can look at the shelves of this teen literary category and see reflections of the people I know and love represented there. It means most of the other men in my family have green or hazel eyes and I don’t. (I’m not bitter!) It means that I can grow up the lower middle class son of a Latina immigrant from Argentina and an Italian immigrant in (still) racially segregated Yonkers, N.Y., a place I thought I could not escape, and meet a Chinese-American girl in high school whom I’ll, eventually, marry. It means my son is Quichua/Argentinian/Italian/Chinese and could actually find enough boxes to fill out on a form, or choose not to.

It means I’m Joe Monti.


Monday, April 9, 2012

What Diversity Means to Me - Featuring Mindy McGinnis

Today I have something a little different for the diversity series. I have my fellow Friday the Thirteener, Mindy McGinnis on the blog today. And it's special because even though she is a YA author debuting in 2013 with Not A Drop to Drink from Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins, she is also a YA librarian. So I asked Mindy if she wouldn't mind talking a little bit about diversity from her perspective as a librarian.

Ello - Hey Mindy! Thanks so much for being willing to talk about diversity. As a librarian, do you think there is enough diverse books in YA?

Mindy - They're out there! But you do have to search sometimes. Matt de la Pena writes some excellent books like Mexican White Boy and a fellow Ohioan, Sharon Draper, writes excellent books about minority teens. Angela Johnson is another example. Also the Bluford series, which is written by multiple authors and written for lower level readers is always popular. These are just examples off the top of my head, so yes, the titles are out there - you just need to grab a knowledgeable librarian ;) 
Ello - How important do you feel diversity is to our youth?

Mindy - It's important. We live in a shrinking world, and while students in many rural areas live in a "white bubble," that won't always be the case. Especially my kids who are going to college, it's important for them to at least be aware of other cultures and have experienced them through reading, if they don't have any other exposure.
Ello - Do you think kids would read books with diversity if there were more of it or more prominently displayed?

Mindy - Kids go for a good cover, period. Anna Banks new title Of Poseidon is a great example of a gorgeous cover where many readers don't blink at the fact that the MC is black - I'm not sure they even notice.

We do have a wonderful non-fiction title "They Called Themselves The KKK" which has a striking cover. I had a student check it out who makes no bones about his racist leanings. When he returned it, he warned me against giving it to younger readers. He was shocked at the content, and it had an impact on him - no doubt. Unfortunately I think a lot of my male students adopt racist leanings because of their home environment, without realizing what they are embracing. That book opened his eyes about what he was promoting, and his actions have changed. 
Ello - So my final question. What does diversity mean to you?

Mindy - Diversity to me isn't just about having choices and options available. Diversity is about actually celebrating the differences, not just accepting them. 

Ello - Thanks Mindy for stopping by the blog! It's great to get a perspective from the "front lines!"

Friday, April 6, 2012

We interrupt this program...

First of all, I'm happy to announce that the winner of the random number generated drawing for Living Violet is ........ Ani Louise!!! Yay!

Since today's scheduled post has been delayed, I have decided to use today to announce that my short story is coming out this fall in the Tu Anthology called Diverse Energies!  The press release is here.

Ellen Oh's "The Last Day" takes a second look at history and considers what might have happened had Nagasaki and Hiroshima not ended the Pacific Theater of World War II.

If you follow Stacy Whitman, Editorial Director of Tu, on twitter, then you may have caught her tweeting about reading my short story and how it made her cry...again.  I also made my 12 year old sob loudly when I read it to her. Yes, it is clearly a comedy.

So the anthology comes out in the fall and I'm very, very excited to be in such stellar company! Especially because my idol, Ursula LeGuin has a story in there also. Yes, my short story is in an anthology with Ursula's. I am verklempt! There's one more exciting piece of news I have but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to reveal it yet, so you will have to wait and see. But please keep an eye out later this year for Diverse Energies and let me know if it makes you cry also!

Monday, April 2, 2012

What Diversity Means to Me - Featuring Zoe Marriott

Thanks to everyone who has been reading and promoting this blog series. I truly believe that if we continue to spread the word about the need for more diversity in YA, that we will see more change. The winner of Karen Sandler's fabulous book Tankborn is Mary Ellen! Congratulations Mary Ellen! Please email me at so I can send you off the copy.

I am so very excited to bring to you today's interview. It doesn't come with a giveaway, because the book isn't available here yet, but those of you who live in the UK, have probably already seen and read her wonderful book. Today, I am so excited and honored to have Zoe Marriott on my blog. 

 I am really excited to get my own hands on Shadows on the Moon. It releases on April 24th in the US. Both of the covers are beautiful and diverse! The UK cover is on the left and the US on the right. Quite frankly, I love both of them! So I'm very happy to have Zoe here with us at the blog today.

Ello -  Hi Zoe! Thanks so much for being here today!

Zoe - First of all - thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog to talk about this subject! I'm overjoyed at the frank, productive dialogue that's taking place on the internet about diversity, and I feel especially pleased that so much of it is happening within the YA community. We rock!

Ello - How did your book come to you or why did you write your book?

Zoe - Shadows on the Moon was the result of a collision of several ideas that had been floating around in my head for a long time without going anywhere. None of them were quite strong enough on their own, but together, they became something special, and the setting of The Moonlit Lands, a fantasy version of Japan, was crucial to that.

I teach a lot of creative writing workshops in schools, and because my first book (The Swan Kingdom) is a fairytale retelling, one of the exercises I have the children do is to try and retell a fairytale of their own. I show them how by asking for suggestions of a common story, and then dissecting it and reassembling it with their help. Whenever I asked 'What fairytale shall we use?' Cinderella was nearly always the first suggestion, which made me groan, as it's one of my least favourites - I find the heroine far too weak and passive. So, to amuse myself, I would turn the thing on its head and say 'What if this isn't a romance? What if Cinderella doesn't really want the prince at all? What if she's just pretending to be sweet and weak because actually she's after revenge on her stepfamily, and she wants to use the prince to get it?'

The more I thought about that idea, the more I liked it and wanted to tackle it for real. But I still had a problem, because the idea of using the traditional Cinderella setting of Northern Europe in the 18th-19th century made me feel suffocated. I did not want to go to that place of powdered wigs and petticoats - there was nothing new to show a reader there. But it seemed important, in a story that was so much about illusions of beauty and control, that the setting be a society that was equally rigid, equally obsessed with appearances, equally ready to reject anything new and different.

I've been fascinated by Japanese culture for years and years. I read Manga like it's going out of style and have shelves of Anime DVDs. I'd been longing to set a story in some version of Japan for nearly as long as I could remember, but I could never find a story that fitted. One lazy Sunday afternoon as I was watching Memoirs of Geisha (one of my favourite films) that 'Cinderella as The Count of Monte Cristo' idea floated into my brain and bumped up against the Japanese images I was seeing and it all just fit. I was so excited that I jumped up and did a victory lap around my living room. I still have the scribbled page of notes that I wrote that day - at the top it says 'WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THIS BEFORE???' because it seemed so obvious once I'd gotten there.

Ello - OMG I love that pitch line! Fabulous! So why did you choose to write POC characters?

Zoe - Well, given that I was so ecstatic to have finally hit on a way to write a story set in fairytale Japan, a matching heroine and main cast was inevitable. I found it really freeing, actually, to know that the setting would be doing a lot of the work for me there. Once I'd made it clear as crystal in the first chapters that this story was taking place in The Moonlit Lands, I didn't have to worry about reinforcing the characters as Japanese (the way I felt I needed to introduce each character by differing ethnicity in Daughter of the Flames, my first multicultural book). It was a given. And this then allowed me to focus on their really interesting, individual features - untidy hair, muscular arms, cat-like eyes, musical voice - rather than describing hair, skin and eye colour over and over.

Once I'd decided for once and for all that my Cinderella wasn't really interested in the Prince (who, of course, would be a native of The Moonlit Lands) I started to think about what kind of person she would fall in love with. Who would be the perfect foil for Suzume, a heroine who was so driven and ruthless, a heroine who was convinced she was unaffected by illusions while at the same time being hopelessly trapped by them? I decided that he needed to be someone from outside that appearance obsessed society, who could see the heroine for what she truly was. I suppose at that point I could have brought in a blue-eyed blonde or something - but I had already decided that one of my heroine's self-destructive behaviours was self-harming, and this made me think about cultures where self-cutting and scarring are not seen as shameful, but as a right of passage. And so I imagined Otieno, a young scholar from a country a little bit like Africa, whose family connections, history and achievements would all be written on his body in the form of scars and tattoos that were worn as a mark of honour and courage. I knew that Suzume's own people would be frightened and repelled by his appearance, but that Suzume herself would see through his skin to his inner beauty, just as he would see hers.

It didn't really occur to me until later on that putting a pseudo-Japanese heroine with a black hero might be controversial. But when it did, I shrugged and thought 'Bring it on'. Thankfully, the response has generally been very positive, which convinces me once again that getting worried about possible backlash before it happens is a waste of time.

Ello - I think your reaction is perfect. You can't be afraid to be controversial. That's what is so great about books! And I'm proud of you for that. Why do you think books like yours are important to our kids?

Zoe - Aside from wanting to write cracking good books that turn children into lifelong readers, I really want to create stories that enable kids to LOOK at the world around them. To see it for what it is, with wide open, wondering eyes. Our mass media is so horribly skewed. It presents this idea of 'normalcy' which excludes and marginalises so many for an idea of commercial viability which is really nothing but blinkered prejudice. People who are black and Asian and Middle Eastern and Hispanic, people who are gay or transgendered or genderqueer, people who have disabilities, disfigurements or illnesses - all have this vision of a world which does not include them shoved down their throats almost 24-7, and they're told 'No one wants to see stories about people like you. Films and TV shows about people like you won't make money. Stories about straight, white, cisgendered, able-bodied people are universal and everyone likes them. You are small and useless and unattractive and you don't matter.'

How can anyone justify that? It's not only cruel and utterly miserable - it's narrow, tasteless and bland. It's like forcing the consumers of media to live on nothing but plain oatmeal when all the world's rich, spicy, varied gastronomic delights could be available to them.

My worry is that this warped version of 'normal' eventually forms those very same blinkers on children's eyes, depriving them of their ability to see anyone who isn't the same as them, preventing them from developing the ability to empathise with and appreciate and take joy in the lives and experiences of people who are different from them. If Shadows on the Moon - or anything I write - causes a young person to look at their own life, or the life of another, and think, 'Maybe being different is cool' I will die a happy writer.

Ello - I am shouting AMEN! I so worry about the same exact thing. It is this reason that makes me so concerned about sending this message out to all writers that it's ok to include diversity in their books and that they shouldn't be afraid to do so. Just like you are doing!   What does diversity mean to you?

Zoe - To me, it means embracing reality. The world is diverse. People are diverse. That's just the way it is. And that is a wonderful thing. Opening your eyes and arms to the world as it really is and all the amazing possibilities created by that crazy, colourful, beautiful can that not make you a better person, a better writer? I read books all the time which have all-white, all straight, all able-bodied casts, presented by the author without (apparently) a second thought. They're still trapped in that sterile version of 'reality' which has nothing to do with reality at all. No matter how good such books are, I always wonder how much better, how much richer and more REAL they could have been if the author had freed themselves from the constraints of the fake, media constructed 'normal'.

Ello - Ok, my last question, and it is a doozy.
As a white woman writing about POC characters, what was your greatest challenge? How did you overcome them to write your book?

Zoe - Ooh, this is going to be a long answer. Bear with me :)

I had an argument with a writer on the internet last year. She said that her characters 'just came to her', fully formed, with skin colour, race, gender, sexual orientation and physical status in place. She couldn't possibly dictate to her creative brain what characters would come. The fact that all the characters that 'came to' her this way were exactly like her - straight, white, able-bodied, cisgendered - was a complete coincidence. And of course there was nothing she could do about it. 'Writing about minorities just for the sake of it would be wrong', she said.

I think a lot of writers use this argument, either to excuse themselves when others point out the lack of diversity in their work, or in their own heads to ease the vague, guilty gnawings of their conscience. But I call bull. I used to say exactly the same thing about my characters, and this resulted in my first book,
The Swan Kingdom - which had a cast of characters all heavily swathed in the thick comfort blanket of my own white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied privilege. Don't get me wrong. I still feel proud of many things about that book. But I know it could have been so much better if I'd tried to reflect something more of reality within the pages, and that I didn't is a source of strong regret to me.

It's stunning how quickly the kind of characters that 'just come to you' change when you struggle out of that comfort blanket of privilege and look at the world as it really is. So that's the first challenge overcome.

Of course, once you've got a headful of characters with all kinds of different cultural backgrounds, sexualities and physical statuses, you've got to have the courage to actually put them in a story. And I'm not going to lie: it does take courage to do that. If you care about getting things right (which I do) and if you seriously don't want to hurt or offend people by accidentally spilling your privilege all over them (which I don't) it can sometimes seem an overwhelming responsibility to depict characters who are so different from you in fiction. If I write white, straight, able-bodied characters, no one assumes I'm trying to make some kind of significant point about all white, straight, able-bodied people. There are so many stories about such people out there. But the second I put a transgendered Japanese woman in my story, the lack of other narratives featuring such characters means everyone assumes mine is intended to represent every Japanese transgendered person in the world. And if I get it wrong, I'm hurting every Japanese transgendered person in the world (or at least, it feels like it).

I think there are two key things you need to do to get over the fear. The first is to make sure that your characters truly are characters, complex and flawed, living in your story in order to serve it in some essential way. If you do that, you're not going to be writing offensive cyphers who only exist to Make A Point. The second is to admit to yourself (and remind yourself frequently) that you, like the rest of the human race, are not perfect, and that you will make mistakes. Inevitably. That's a hard one. You want to get it right SO MUCH, and the realisation that you probably won't 100% of the time can paralyse you if you let it. But once you've accepted it, you can deal with whatever comes.

So far, no one has ever written to me to say 'Your depiction of a Japanese/transgendered/black/disabled/depressed/facially disfigured/mixed race person has offended me, and you suck'. But one day, someone will, and when that happens, I'll be hurt and upset. But I won't turn around and try to whitesplain (or straightsplain, or whatever) to that person just how very wrong they are, and make them take it back so that I can feel good about myself again. I won't throw a tantrum and crawl back into my little privilege comfort blankie and start writing all white, all straight, all-able bodied casts again and say 'So there!'. I won't even try and get them to educate me on how I messed up. Because frankly, after a lifetime of putting up with other people's privilege, the last thing they're going to want is to have to try and fix mine.

I'll tell them that I'm sorry, and I'll promise to keep on educating myself and trying to do better. And I'll thank them for trying my work in the first place, and caring enough to let me know what they think. Because my job is to be the best writer I can be, and that means putting on my big girl panties and doing stuff that scares the ever-loving crap out of me, for no other reason than that it's the right thing to do, without expecting to get a standing ovation from the world in return.

Ello - I'd like to give you a standing ovation right now! Thank you for sharing your words with us here. I truly believe in what you have said here and I hope other writers take it to heart. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

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