book review · Books · gay romance · lgbt · mogai

Book Review: Seer’s Stone by Holly Evans

October is my month to read and plan for NaNoWriMo. It’s a good way for me to get through my TBR pile … if it quit growing. Anyway, I decided to kick the month off with the brand new release Seers Stone by Holly Evans. Part of the Ink Born world, it is full of fun and magic.  Here is the official blurb:

My name’s Kaitlyn Felis, and I’m a treasure-hunting alchemist.
51nauuwe29lI was given the opportunity of a lifetime to work for a mysterious elf called Fein Thyrin. Not only did he give me my dream alchemy lab, one that came with a beautiful part-nymph assistant (she’ll be the end of me, in the best possible way) he’s also hired me as his personal treasure-hunter. To say I was excited is a drastic understatement.

First on my treasure-hunting list? The Seers Stone – it’s a thing of legends, and I’m going to be the first hunter to get my hands on it.

Seers Stone stars Kaitlyn Felis, a fun, feisty, flirty heroine who I quickly fell in love with. Her companion will’o-the-whisp, Wispy, is adorable and adds just the right touch of humor when things are getting a bit dicey. And they do indeed get dicey at points. Kaitlyn might be an alchemist but she also craves adventure and treasure hunting is the perfect outlet for that. While most of the time I find characters like her grating, she was amazingly well grounded and not above calling herself out on her own bullshit. Something I’ve come to love about Holly’s writing is the fact that her protagonists are allowed to make mistakes and be assholes, but they also acknowledge where they went wrong when the time comes.

I will also say that typically I don’t care for characters who sleep around. Mostly because of personal reasons. I’m demisexual and the thought of sleeping with someone I’ve just met is both baffling and terrifying. But this felt so much different. Kaitlyn is all about adventure and trying new things, and sex is just another component of that. It helped that encounters didn’t feel forced and the scenes were sweet and emotion-focused rather than your typical blow-by-blow erotica (don’t get me wrong, I love those too, when in the right place).

It was great to see Tyn again as well as a couple other familiar faces. As always Evans took us to some spectacular places as well as some rather creepy/depressing areas. It’s nice to see such a well-rounded world. Yes, there is wonderful beautiful magic, but there is also a rather dismal and terrifying underbelly as well. And magic definitely has its cost.

Overall, this was a fun, fast-paced read and I’m very much looking forward to more of Kaitlyn.

 

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Characters · writing · Writing FUNdamentals

Blood on the Keyboard: Writing When it Hurts

Blood on the

Okay, so that title is a *little* misleading. I’m not talking about actual blood. Unless you’re like me and tend to have random nosebleeds. Not good for your keyboard. No, the hurt I’m referring to is more emotional than physical. But how so?

You’ve no doubt come across the adage to ‘write what you know’ and likely the opposing viewpoint that this is limiting to your narrative.

However, I’m going to give you a different take on this. Write what you feel. Here’s some overshare for you: I use writing as a coping mechanism to keep my brain from talking me into killing myself. Sometimes that nastiness bleeds over into my writing. Characters suffer and suffer horribly. Mostly because they are a stand-in for myself. I won’t get into the psychology of it. My doctors are aware and even encourage it. Why?

Because it gets those emotions out of my system. It allows me some space from it to look at it rationally.

Now, I know most of you are going ‘what the flying frick Bran, this isn’t what I followed you for.’ But let me show you how this coping skill of mine can help you be a better writer; by showing you how to face those parts of yourself.

Writing What You Feel

A lot of ‘write what you know’ advice focuses on events, places, and people in your life. And yes there is a wealth of material to be gained from your experiences through life; material I highly suggest you mine and refine for use.

Writers who are intimately familiar with their subject produce more knowing, more confident and, as a result, stronger results. — Should We Write What We Know? BY BEN YAGODA 

I have worked in construction most of my life. Though that might be difficult to tell from what I write. I don’t write about construction or anything associated with it. But, I do use some of my experiences from my former job. Working outside year round in all kinds of weather, dealing with sexual harassment, watching someone die in an accident, millionaire homeowners who wouldn’t piss on me if I was on fire. But more than that, I use the emotions those experiences elicited in my writing; the exhaustion, frustration, horror, and anger to name a few.

Instead of letting those feelings sit and fester, I wrote about them. I wrote about characters dealing with the same emotions even if it wasn’t the same situation.

When you write what you feel you are looking for those instances when something really spoke to or affected you. Something that made you passionate. You don’t have to just channel negative emotions, positive experiences are just as effective. Though it helps to have some sort of distance from the event, at least in my experience. You need to be able to look at it objectively and pull out the emotions without causing yourself undo stress.

Let me show you how. Once again this is probably oversharing, but being open and honest is the main part of this process.

Three Steps to Writing What You Feel

As William Trevor once said, “There is an element of autobiography in all fiction that is pain or distress, or pleasure, is based on the author’s own.” We all write ourselves into our characters. It’s only when we start fearing that inner editor that we can end up with flat prose, cardboard characters, and a boring plot. But sometimes that inner editor is our own fear at facing something painful.

I recently started a short story. It’s to be a freebie for my street team and features a pair of side characters from The Jeweled Dagger. It was supposed to have been a quick easy write up of around 5k words. I got about 1500 in and realized the main character Séraphin was grappling with something deeply personal to me. Something I myself have not fully dealt with; reconciling my religious upbringing with my sexuality and gender identity. All progress halted. I simply couldn’t write any further without having to face my own emotions on the matter.

Step One: Take time to explore the event/situation in your mind.

(Note: some experiences are too painful to explore alone, take care of yourself first and foremost).

I spent several days thinking about the situation. I know I have a deep faith in what I was taught growing up. I also know who I am now, but the shame, resentment, and trepidation don’t just go away overnight. Séraphin faces a similar conundrum. His faith in his country or the pull to fully be himself. This lead to the next step:

Step Two: Let yourself feel.

This is probably the hardest part of the exercise, allowing yourself to face full on those emotions and accept them. It is going to hurt. I’m not too proud to admit that tears have been involved. But this is where that fearsome inner editor can be challenged, that voice saying ‘no one wants to hear this’ can be silenced. Your experiences and emotions are valid and real and have every right to make it onto the page.

As for me, this led to the realization that I cannot have it both ways. Either I conform and shutter away a huge part of myself or I leave behind what I grew up believing and find a new way. I spent time analyzing my feelings and then looking at how it related to Séraphin’s situation.  This gave me what I needed to continue writing, which is the next step.

Step Three: Write it all out.

Sometimes this can be as difficult as part two. Writing is letting go, it’s a form of bloodletting, a draining of our psyche rather than our veins. It is scary and painful and glorious all at once. Let it be. Let yourself cry while you write out the pain. Let yourself shiver in your chair while you detail the fear. Grin from ear to ear as you relate the joy. Most of all feel.

I let Seraphin have his doubt, shame, and resentment. I let him feel what I felt and reach his own decision (I’m not giving that away, sorry).

So now a short story that suddenly became too personal has helped me deal with my own insecurities and has that much more emotional punch now. Honestly, every single story you write should have at least something like this in it. If you’re not passionate about your story, no matter what genre or length, readers notice.

 

 

book review · Books · lgbt

Book Review: Blood & Ink by Holly Evans

51n2bwvpdrilIt has been quite a while since I’ve read urban fantasy yet this past month I’ve seemingly been on a UF kick.  While it’s not high on my list of go-to genre’s (mostly due to lack of MOGAI representation) I have enjoyed it in the past. Which is what makes Evans’ book all that much more fun to me.

When I picked up Stolen Ink a few weeks ago, I had no idea what to expect and found myself completely wrapped up in the story and characters. I read nearly the entire thing in one sitting. Thankfully, I’d had the forethought to buy the second at the same time as the first. I delved right in as soon as I had a spare moment. And again the story and characters held me captivated from start to finish. I even took my Kindle to the pool with me so I could keep reading. Evans was kind enough to indulge my Twitter flailing.

All flailing aside, this book was excellent for several reasons. I appreciated the added world building that I missed in book one. Learning more about the magic system was fascinating and I love her take on the fae and Sidhe. There were only a few little things that tripped me up here and there such as repetitive phrases, but overall nothing serious. The characters are lifelike, well written, and believable. The plot buzzes along but doesn’t leave you grasping for context or missing pertinent details.

Mostly I enjoyed getting to know Dacian better. While at times he gets pissy and aggressive, it’s never without reason and I love that he’s allowed to make mistakes and be totally human, selfish and then own up and deal with consequences. It is also nice to see side characters be fully realized with their own motivations and for Dacian to have to adjust his perceptions as he learns things.

Keirn is such a sweetheart and I feel so much for him. I’m looking forward very much to learning more about him in the next book.

The next book, Ink Bound, comes out August 4th! You’re going to want to pre-order this one, I promise you. I’m so glad I did. I can hardly stand the wait after finishing Blood & Ink.

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book review

Book Review: Spectered Isle by KJ Charles

Disclaimer: I was given a free advanced readers copy of the novel Spectered Isle in exchange for an honest review.

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The newest Green Men series is set in 1920s England. The Great War is over, the Twenties are roaring in, the Bright Young Things hold ever more extravagant parties. It seems as though the world has changed for good. But some far older forces are still at work, and some wars never end. The Green Men series covers a motley crew of occult experts, jobbing ghost-hunters, and walking military experiments as they fight supernatural and human threats, save the land, and fall in love.

I’ve enjoyed many of Charles’ novels including their Charm of Magpies Series. This novel almost feels a bit grittier in some ways. Saul is such a tortured soul who is determined to keep slogging along. From the first chapter, I developed respect for him and how he faced his struggles. The revelations on his background later in the book aren’t a complete surprise but they make sense.

Randolph Glyde took me a little longer to warm up to, but by the end of the book, I absolutely adored him and his rather sardonic take on everything. The two of them are excellent compliments to each other while maintaining their individuality. I really appreciated how their relationship grew. It never felt rushed, instead, it was very organic and at times heartbreaking as they each worked to overcome their particular insecurities.

At the beginning, the ‘accidental’ meetings become almost amusing though the undercurrent of attraction is always present. I really appreciated how Charles’ developed both the characters and then allowed them to come together without sex/intimacy being an instant cure-all for their self-doubts.

I also appreciate that the sex is never gratuitous or superfluous. Emotions are just as involved in the scene. The scenes themselves never stretch on too long but are very satisfying. The focus is not on the sex but on the characters, where it should be.

I also appreciated that these two men talked to each other. At one point Randolph takes Saul out to dinner and while the conversation isn’t written out you get the sense that they talked about a great many things. And this isn’t the only time this happens. They talk frankly and openly a number of times. It was so very refreshing to see two men—lonely, emotionally damaged men—actually talk about and admit how they felt. Even going so far as to admit being afraid (gasp).

In short, this novel was everything I’ve come to expect from Charles. Fascinating characters driving along an intriguing plot that is never short of surprises and emotional revelations. I thoroughly recommend this novel and all her others.

You can find KJ Charles here.

You can pre-order Spectered Isle here:

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Characters · writing · Writing FUNdamentals

Writing a Healthy Romance

Romance novels often get blown off by the wider reading community (and especially the literary) as frivolous emotional porn (and sometimes actual porn) lacking any real substance or plot. This couldn’t be further from the truth. However, like all genres, romance does have some troublesome tropes. Some of these tropes are perpetuated in common advice heard throughout the romance community. Particularly when it comes to what constitutes a romance plot and what ‘needs’ to happen at certain points.

There has been some backlash recently against overtly abusive relationships portrayed in some books. So how can we avoid troublesome tropes and instead show a loving, healthy relationship in our romance?

First, what is a healthy relationship? This might seem like a very simple question, but many of us are never taught (even in our personal lives) what it means to be in a healthy relationship. Showing one in a conflict-riddled romance can be a challenge, but one I know you’re up to facing. These points might even give you entirely new ways to write your next story. Just remember these points are character-centric, not plot points. Your plot can and will affect how the relationship develops, but that doesn’t mean it has to be an unhealthy relationship.points for healthy Romance

Take Responsibility:

What this means is that your main character knows their happiness is their own responsibility. They aren’t looking for someone to ‘fulfill’ them or ‘make them whole.’ The idea of two lovers being separate parts of a whole is very unhealthy for both. It is one thing for a partner to have personality traits that complement or support each other. It is very different to completely rely on the other for their personal happiness. It creates an imbalance.

Understandably this is a big trope in romance: finding the one who ‘completes’ you as a person. It’s also fraught with issues. Putting someone in the position of being responsible for your happiness isn’t just unkind, it’s unloving. The moment they can’t emotionally, mentally or physically provide that happiness, what happens? Romanticizing that kind of relationship can potentially mislead our readers into thinking they either must find someone to fulfill this or do so themselves.

This doesn’t mean you cannot write this trope, but I strongly caution you to evaluate why you are doing so. Can’t your main character be happy on their own and still find joy in their relationship? Or perhaps they can find their own happiness with support from their lover? Possibilities abound.

Not A-Fixer-Upper:

We’ve all run across those stories where the love of the main character is all that it takes to make the love interest change and become law abiding, gentle, loving, what have you. Bullshit. Like, really. Total BULLSHIT. Unless the love interest is actively wanting to change and the main character is there to unconditionally support them (or vice versa), this is just … no. We humans are very stubborn and stuck in our ways, and any change undergone to gain someone’s love is often superficial at best and deceitful at worst. In a truly healthy relationship neither partner is going to seek to change the other. They like each other for who they already are. That’s what drew them to each other in the first place. They respect each other. Respect. Remember that word. It’s important.

Balance:

Jane just loved it when John would take her menu away and order for her. He always knew exactly what she wanted. It was so romantic.

Urk. ‘scuse me, had to gag.

Jane, I hate to break it to you but either you are a doormat, or John is overbearing and controlling and you need to hightail it. Even if John really did know exactly what Jane wanted, this relationship would still be unbalanced. And probably not only when it came to ordering food.

A healthy relationship is balanced when it comes to decision making (and yes that includes ordering food). When both partners truly respect (there it is again) each other they will discuss decisions. Respect also comes into play when each partner realizes the other might have more experience in certain areas. If John is a 5-star chef, he might be off the hook. Maybe. Even then he needs to respect Jane’s personal preferences. The ‘alpha’ male portrayal is often (not always) a thinly veiled abuser. Men who must dominate in a relationship aren’t being loving or respectful of their partner. This includes MOGAI relationships too.

If you find yourself writing a lot of these kinds of characters, women characters especially, this might be a sign of internalized misogyny.

Conflict Management:

Oh boy, there’s the big C. Conflict. Romance novels thrive on conflict and tension. But is it the right kind of conflict? Hang on. I’ll explain.

As writers, we understand that conflict is often (not always) the driving force of a plot. James Scott Bell in his book Conflict & Suspense on page 7, says that conflict is a “clash between at least two incompatible sides.” Too often in romance the ‘incompatible sides’ are the main character and the love interest. Which leads to conflict. Lots of conflict.

Conflict is natural in a relationship. However, it should be seen as a time to learn and grow. Too many times in romances a petty argument has both sides slamming doors and proclaiming the relationship over. This is not a healthy relationship. If each truly cared about and respected the other they would deal with their frustrations together. If the two are so incompatible as to constantly be in conflict then why are they even together?

A better method is to have the conflict come from outside the relationship. This allows them to grow together in a partnership as they work together to resolve it.

Show and Tell:

No, no. Not the showing and telling in your prose. Deep breaths. There you go. This showing and telling has to do with your characters and how open and honest they are with each other. Understandably, being open about certain things comes after a relationship has begun or is in it’s early stages. Being able to honestly communicate and respect each other’s feelings is one of the foundations of a healthy relationship. Repressing emotions isn’t healthy and only leads to later conflicts. Not the right kind of conflict either. Again, respect comes into play, on both sides.

This one is a bit mutable depending on your plot and characters, their personalities, where they are in their relationship and how much they trust each other. However, if they respect each other at all, they will be honest and open about their true feelings. They will also find responsible ways to express those feelings. Again, this may also depend on your plot and the characters’ personalities.

Self-Care

This is related to taking responsibility for their own happiness. In order to maintain a healthy relationship the partner must first take care of themselves mentally, emotionally and physically as far as they are able. This will allow them to be properly supportive of their partner.

Partnership

An established relationship should feel like a close partnership, with each individual taking into consideration their lover’s thoughts and feelings before making a decision. This means they need to talk openly about things that concern them and make room in their lives for the other person.

Obviously, plot wise it may seem like a good idea for one or the other to go galavanting off to save the day.  But this is a partnership. They’ve agreed together that they wish to be in each others lives. Could they not face the challenge together and further strengthen their relationship? If not, is there another way the partner left behind could show support or help? If you start looking, I’m certain you’ll find many ways to use this to your advantage.

Agree to Disagree

Your characters are people with their own opinions and beliefs. They aren’t going to agree on everything, and that’s just fine. If they did, it would be not only boring but either unrealistic or unbalanced.

This one is a little trickier because so many romance plots call for there to be something that drives the two lovers apart. Often times this is a disagreement over something, a closely held belief by one or the other, or ideas on how to proceed with a solution to the issue they are facing. Many times instead of talking to each other like adults, there is either no communication or spiteful arguing where one of them leaves until they are forced back together to finally confront the issue together. While this does increase the tension, it strains what could be a healthier relationship.

I challenge you to find alternate ways to introduce tension and reduce the amount of quarreling between the lovers.

Commitment

Your lovers are going to meet challenges. They have to, to test the strength of the relationship. If they are truly committed to each other, they will remain loyal and be ready to work through the challenges together.

Joy in the Other

Why did they choose each other? What is their real reason for wanting to be in the relationship? Is it for selfish reasons? Or only out of sexual attraction? Do they actually enjoy being with the other person? Why? What drew them together? What is keeping them together?

Every relationship is different, and will always have things both partners need to work on. No relationship will be perfect at each of these points, but by working at them together you’ll find yourself writing much healthier relationships that people can still identify with.

 

Now let’s look at how to incorporate this into the theory of 12 Key Romance Scenes as proposed by Michael Hauge.

 

  • The Ordinary World: Your main character in their element. Show who they are and that while they may have a ‘need’ they are secure without needing a partner to feel complete. (Again, not all characters will be able to do this. They might grow over the course of the novel to learn that they are whole within themselves but that doesn’t exclude loving their partner).
  • The Meet: Just what it says. Somewhere in the beginning they meet each other, and depending on your plot there may or may not be instant sparks of attraction. This is a good point to establish mutual respect at some level, even if it is an ‘enemies to lovers’ trope.
  • Reconsideration: Here, many writers (Mr. Hauge included) would advise you to show that the pair are incompatible for one reason or another, or have there be an openly negative response by one of the characters. Why? Let them enjoy meeting each other and want to get to know each other. This doesn’t mean things will be perfect right off the bat. You can always have plot elements that will keep them from being able to get together. It doesn’t have to be the relationship itself that is a source of contention
  • Wise Friend Counsels: Let’s make this Wise Friend Listens instead. Let your character know their own mind and make the decision for themselves. Too often women aren’t allowed to decide for themselves whether or not the relationship is for them. Their well-meaning friend will tell them why the man is ‘the one’ for them. This is often a sign of internalized misogyny on the author’s part, and needs to be very closely looked at before allowing it to stand in your story.
  • Acknowledge Interest: Your main character has realized they have deeper feelings than they thought.
  • First Quarrel: This can go several ways depending on your character’s personality, but use caution and remember that if they truly are invested in the relationship they will respect each other. This could be a good point to show that, and instead of pushing them apart it could draw them together as they talk through whatever is affecting their relationship.
  • The Dance: A lot of writers would advise you to show the relationship development, except it’s always on the fence whether or not the relationship will actually work. There is no set rule that says this must be the case. There are plenty of ways to create tension without that tension constantly being on the verge of tearing the relationship apart.
  • The Black Moment: The relationship is dead? What? Why? Instead of having something internal kill it, why not find some external reason that keeps them apart or makes the relationship impossible. If it is something internal it could be related to the character’s fatal flaw, something they have to overcome.
  • Reunited: Don’t fall for the ‘fated lovers’ trope. Let them come together willingly and because they WANT to be together, not because they were ‘meant’ for each other. There obviously will still be obstacles to overcome, but don’t force them together. Let them come back to each other organically.
  • Complications: This is where those obstacles really come into play. The outside forces aren’t about to let this stand for whatever reason.
  • Finally together: Now they can face their issues as a couple, showing that they have grown together and can face the problem head-on. Their respect for each other allows them to defeat the issue and move on to …

 

Happily Ever After: There is nothing wrong with allowing your characters their happy ending. With the issues this world is facing, people crave something positive and uplifting.

 

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writing

The Pitfalls of Pleading Insanity: How jokes about being a ‘crazy’ writer hurt all writers.

 

2017-04-08 (2)Ah, the crazy writer.  Edgar Allen Poe, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemmingway, Slyvia Plath. The names conjure the image of tormented, alcoholic, or strange souls destined to be on the outskirts of society while they penned the next literary masterpiece.  Several famous writers have suffered from mental illness and have even succumbed to their disease or addictions. Somewhere along the way the image of the ‘crazy’ writer, holed up in a dank cabin and reeking of alcohol and tobacco while wearing a bathrobe and slippers, became the go-to image. This has even been reflected in movies and books.

To society at large writers can seem strange. We’re often quiet, solitary and research things that no ‘normal’ person would consider. But does that make you ‘crazy’?

No.

Some writers have delved into extreme risk-taking behavior for their research but those instances are few and far between. The majority of writers are just as sane as the next person. What makes writers special isn’t ‘hearing voices’ or being addicted to coffee or drinking alcohol like water. It’s the willingness to bare bits of ourselves for the world to see. It’s sacrificing hours, days, weeks, years on works that may never see the light of day. Is that crazy or insane? No. It’s dedication to a craft.

As someone who suffers from a medically diagnosed mental illness that has resulted in being disabled, I find these memes about ‘crazy’ or ‘insane writers’ not just unamusing, but deeply hurtful. You might joke about ‘hearing voices’ but until you’re sitting at you computer and hear someone walk into your house and get up to go greet them to find no one there, or hear someone telling you that you should stick your hand on that hot burner because you deserve to be hurt, or you might as well stab that knife into your gut because you’re worthless, you won’t understand what it REALLY means to hear voices. Being mentally ill means living with this every single day.

It is not like imagining a conversation between your characters. I How to be a Writerdo that. I know the difference—the vast, vast difference —between two.

Besides that, when we say writers are ‘crazy’ we’re robbing them of their actual creative mind. We’re relegating creativity to a mysterious mental hiccup that can’t be predicted or nurtured. This is a grave mistake. We need to emphasize that creativity is not some mysterious, ethereal muse that can only be summoned if insane or inebriated. It is something that can be actively nurtured and grown. Creativity means hard work, dedication and the willingness to learn.

Some of you are probably rolling your eyes and muttering about my being ‘overly sensitive’ and ‘not getting the joke.’ I do get the joke. Sometimes I even joke about being crazy. I am crazy. I take meds for it. But my crazy is a disease. Something that is trying to kill me. Read that again. This disease would KILL me without treatment. I’m sorry but I’d rather you not joke about my life. If I chose to do so, that is one thing, but please—some respect.

This is my personal plea to you, my fellow writer, to not share memes that make fun of being mentally ill. There are plenty of other, much funnier, memes about writing to share.

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Characters · Going Over the Rainbow · lgbt · mogai · writing

Going Over the Rainbow: The Diversity Dilema

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Ever since BookCon 2014 diversity has become one of the new buzz words around the publishing industry and among writers. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks tag showed a massive outpouring of support and desire for diversity in children’s books. While at the time the movement was primarily focused on cultural diversity it has grown over the last couple of years to reflect the need for all kinds of diversity; racial, physical ability, mental illness, sexual orientation and gender identity, and not just in children’s books. While this has been needed for years and nearly everyone your meet acknowledges this to some degree, there has been some push-back. Some authors felt as though they were being forced to write characters that might not fit their stories.

Thus came the rise of tokenism, diversity quotas and many instances of misrepresentation as well meaning authors attempted to correct their lack of diversity. Others refused to add diverstiy, citing the fear of getting it wrong. While the We Need Diverse Books campaign is crucial in highlighting where the industry lacks, it has not helped authors write more diversely.

Writing with diversity is something that every author should strive for. Yet, there isn’t much out there to show you how to do so. I’ve mentioned before, there are some stories that are not ours to tell. Jami Gold had a very helpful blog post about writing more diversely and I myself have written about it in the past. Yet there still seems to be a lot of confusion about what it means and how to go about it.

Especially how to go about it.

So, to that end I’ve developed a worksheet that you will hopefully find helpful in writing more diversely without falling back on stereotypes or feeling as though you’re just filling a perceived quota. The following info graphic is a shorthand version of the worksheet and is something I hope you’ll find both useful and educational.

Diversity Graphic

The Diversity Double Check (Info-graphic text)

  • Are you part of the minority you are writing about? Yes or no?
    • Yes. Awesome. Keep up the good work. Your story needs to be told.
  • No? Do you have access to people who are part of this minority and are you willing to ask questions and do research? Yes or no?
    • No. Please reconsider your stance. Writing truly diverse characters comes from learning about others and being willing to set aside our own assumptions.
  • Yes. Good. You’re headed in the right direction. Now, is your character’s story directly related to their experience as a minority? Yes or no?
    • Yes. Please take a step back and think about why you feel qualified to write about this experience. This is not a situation where empathy can help you write authentically. In order to write this you must have experienced it.
  • No. Alright. Are they the only character in the story representing their minority? Yes or no?
    • Yes. Caution! Why is this the case? You need to have a very compelling reason for this otherwise you may not be showing true diversity.
  • No. Good. You are on your way to a diverse cast. Now, do they have a stereotypical background, occupation or role in the story? Yes or no?
    • Yes. Caution! Why is this the case? You need to have a very compelling reason for this otherwise you may not be showing true diversity.
  • No. Awesome. Last question. Do they die? Yes or no?
    • Yes. Caution! Why is this the case? You need to have a very compelling reason for this otherwise you may not be showing true diversity.
  • No. Fantastic. You are well on your way to a diverse and well represented cast.

The questionnaire worksheet was created to help you ensure your story is diverse without resorting to tokenism or filling a perceived quota. You might find the answers to some questions uncomfortable. All this means is that you’ve uncovered internalized bigotry. This is not a reflection on you, but on the culture and society in which you’ve been raised. Knowledge is the first step to overcoming this perceived default state.

Even those of us who are part of a minority often find ourselves defaulting to white straight cis-gendered characters simply because this is what we see the most. It will take work to overcome this. The worksheet will help you find ways to incorporate diversity into your story—not effortlessly—but hopefully, seamlessly.

It will start you off with big picture questions about your story as a whole, from there it will take you to character specifics to help you better grasp the ways in which to reflect diversity. Lastly, there are a couple of exercises to help you get your muse used to the idea of writing diverse characters. This is not a quick fix thing. You will have to work at this, just like any other aspect of writing. It will take practice and you are going to make mistakes. It is part of learning and being a writer. But, I know you can do it and it will be awesome.

Diversity Worksheet generic (PDF)

Diversity Worksheet generic (docx)

Do you have any questions about how to incorporate more diversity into your stories? Have you found writing diversely a challenge? What about it feels challenging to you? What other kinds of worksheets or help would you like to see from me?

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book review · Books · gay romance

Book Review: Ice in Sunlight

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

 

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“I think I’m supposed to be dead.”

Corwen’s emotions are a frozen wasteland after years of enslavement and abuse. When he’s finally rescued, freedom isn’t enough to thaw the wintry landscape of his heart.

Slowly, his new compatriots teach him that physical intimacy is a sacred gift, that pleasure can be shared without pain. With endless patience, they offer him a different way of being.

In order to be whole, Corwen must surrender the self-loathing he wears like armor. Can he learn to see himself the way his new companions do? Or will he hide from love forever in the icy vault that shields his deepest soul?

Ice in Sunlight is a full-length M/M fantasy tale. It is intended for mature readers only due to adult themes and content.

This is one of the few times I will post a review for a book I did not finish. While I personally did not care for the book I know the style and subject matter are something many might find compelling. Please do not let my personal opinion sway you from picking this book up, there are still many reasons to read it.

While I find Julia’s writing style pleasurable to read and the prose clear and evocative, from page one I found it impossible to connect with Corwen. I appreciated that Julia showed Corwen struggling to cope with the horrible things that had been done to him without having to actually show the abuse itself. His reaction to the changing situation is proof enough.

That being said, after six chapters of listening to Corwen’s derision at being shown kindness and many references to his daydreams of dying I could no longer handle his attitude. It might have helped if there was a break from his constant melancholy. I would have appreciated another viewpoint, such as from Amir, to give me a respite from Corwen’s depression and show me why the trio felt compelled to help him beyond the seemingly altruistic motives.

I finally closed the book on chapter six. I have enough dealing with my own self-loathing, depression and post trauma issues and would rather not read a whole book dealing with someone else’s. Unfortunately, Corwen was not someone with whom I could relate. Corwen has no redeeming qualities outside of his pining after Elias, he’s cruel and manipulative and knows he is. It is what has kept him alive this long. I really wanted to like him, but after spending half a book with him, I was done. I suppose it is a good thing Amir and the others have more patience since I no longer cared whether this frosty young man ever thawed or not.

 

Tomorrow join me on Queer Sci-Fi for an interview with author and editor Ryan Vance.

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