Don’t Bleach and Iron Your Work: Guest Post by Alica McKenna Johnson

Today’s guest post was written by Alica McKenna Johnson, who ‘writes about snarky girls, kind boys, and the adults trying to keep them alive.’  You can check out Alica’s blog here, and say hello to her on Twitter here.

Today, Alica’s talking you writers out there who are stuck in a white-bread world.

The floor is yours, Alica!

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Don’t Bleach and Iron your work.

Tips for adding diversity to your writing.

*I cheat. My YA series which has many people from different cultural backgrounds as well as taking place in different countries. I have written it in 1st person. My MC is female who was raised without an ethnic culture of her own, but was exposed to many cultures and lifestyles growing up in group homes in San Francisco. I don’t have to know how the other characters cultural background influences their perspective- I only have to know what they show my MC. And yes they do show cultural differences, but this is not as in depth as other POV’s need to be.

*I read books written by people and about people from many different backgrounds. I also watch foreign and LGBT films. And yes a media portrayal of people from other countries isn’t necessarily a clear picture. Neither is my book. It’s a fantasy- a story of fiction, and the books and movies allow me to add little details that make my characters come through clearly. They also help me to break stereo types.

*Basic research. I read travel books- specifically children’s books as they give a greater sense of culture flavor. I also watch travel shows- Bizarre Foods and No Reservations being two of my favorites.

*I’ve take classes on writing about people from other cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Two of my favorites were How to Write Realistic Native American Characters and How to Write Realistic Gay Characters. I loved both of them and learned a lot! I learned what stereotypes are and what things are culturally true. I learned that like everyone else there is a huge range of personalities and backgrounds.

*I’m not afraid to offend people. I don’t go out of my way to offend people, however if I want my curvy blond to be panting for the sexy black waiter with the great round butt, then that’s what I’m going to do. That being said- I will do research and ask someone who is black to read my story and see what they think. Is every black person going to be happy? No- but I can’t make everyone happy anyway. There are white characters I don’t relate to at all. I ranted through the movie 30 Days of Night because I lived in Alaska and there were big technical errors- it happens. Tell your story, research, get advice, do your best, and write.

*Not everyone grew up in a cultural household. I’m mostly German; you wouldn’t have any idea of that by watching my life. I have a friend who is Zuni. Going into her house gives you no sense of her cultural background and she grew up on a reservation and still practices the Zuni religion. I have a friend whose family is Italian. At Thanksgiving they have turkey, stuffing, smoked octopus, pasta, and pumpkin pie. You get a sense of her culture because that is how her family lives.

Just because your character has brown skin doesn’t mean they identify or were raised in an ethnic and cultural environment. You don’t have to be perfect, you can stay within the things you know and are comfortable with. Maybe your Chinese character has a Buddhist alter in their home and hates egg rolls. Mix it up!

*We are all people. Under the bindis and jeans, bling and manicures, Chanel no 5 and sandalwood, we are all people. We want to feel safe and loved and special. We want a home, a family, and to be happy. What that looks likes differs from one person to another. A home in the burbs with two kids and a dog can be the dream of an interracial couple, a lesbian couple, yet might be a nightmare for an Indian couple.

No matter what your skin color or who catches your eye, lust, longing, love they all feel the same. Does the shape of a mouth change the passion and nervousness of a first kiss?

*It’s okay for them to have flaws. While stereotypes are wrong concerning everyone of a race, religion, or sexual orientation some come from a problem, issue, or quirk that is common within that community. There is an alcohol problem among Native Americans; they also have a higher risk of diabetes. Not all Native American have either of these issues, but they are a concern within the Native American Community. Don’t believe me, go to tribal websites and see what programs and services they offer, many have drug and alcohol programs and some have nutrition/diabetes programs. People have to deal with drugs, alcohol, abuse, and gangs- it doesn’t matter what color they are, who they have sex with, or how much money they make. Having a character dealing with these issues doesn’t mean you are stereotyping them.

We are all people with stories to tell. So tell them. Be brave and see your characters uniqueness. Don’t Bleach and Iron you’re books, no one wants to read that. Delve into your creativity, your heart, and your mind. Imagine what life is like for someone else- you do it all the time- unless some of you really are vampires and werewolves.

And for those of you creating whole new worlds- there is no excuse for not having more diversity in your characters. You don’t have to deal with social issues in a steampunk alternate universe with dragons- just let that go and have people living together peacefully (well except for the soul sucking demons).

For expanded versions of these tips, plus foreign film reviews to help you broaden your cultural knowledge come to my blog www.alicamckennajohnson.com

Stick, Stack, STUCK.

Normally I don’t blog about writing.  I don’t know why I shy away from it exactly.  Maybe I think it’s a waste of time for me to write about writing when I could be writing instead of writing about writing.

Sorry about that last sentence.  Horrifying.  *cringes a little*

But here’s the thing: I’m stuck.  Like, uber stuck.  Stuck like poor Ollie. (If you don’t know who Ollie is, read this.)

Last winter I decided to re-write my work-in-progress from a third person perspective.  Holy cow, it blew the whole thing open.  I loved the added dimensions to the story, the ability to shift view-points and see what’s happening through different perspectives.  It was a good thing.

But as I did it, the story shifted.  And since the story blossomed into one of epic proportions, a little shift  can cause a huge earthquake down the line.  I feel like I’m navigating those story-line waters pretty well right now, but I’ve been plugging away at it for so long, I’ve come to a problem with the third-person perspective.

It’s grown stale.  I’m feeling more and more disconnected from my characters, who I love.  They are vibrant, each with their own story to tell.  But I feel like I’m losing them into a two-dimensional world.  Some days that world feels one-dimensional.  Some characters have blended into the computer screen entirely.

So now I’m toying with the idea of re-writing…again, in first person.  But honestly, I’m terrified of writing more than one character in first person.  What if I can’t make each voice unique?  What if everything becomes unbelievable because every character sounds the same?

Oh, the doubt and self-loathing.

Tell me I’m not the only one stuck in life.  Maybe it’s not in writing.  Maybe it’s a yoga pose you can’t master.  Maybe it’s an inability to make the perfect pie crust.  Maybe it’s that you’ve let your dog’s toenails grow too long because clipping them eebs you out.  (Maybe every single one of those examples comes from my own life.)

I am one messed-up Midwestern chica.

*crooked grin that says I’m smiling, but I’m not happy*

Myn

Underwear Drawer

Good morning, friendlies.

It’s Monday morning, and I have a thousand things to do today (mostly laundry-cleaning-grocery shopping related.  Basically, the scourge of motherhood).  But thanks to an insanely busy week last week (including a garage sale to raise funds for Annabell), very little attention was given to this blog.  So I’m putting off the dull duties of hausfrau for just a little longer, to ask a question of you, my dear readers:

What’s in your underwear drawer?

A while back, I read somewhere (it was ages ago, and I don’t remember whose blog it was, so I’m afraid I can’t give credit where credit is due.  If it was you, feel free to comment and leave a link!) about an author who, in order to get to know her characters better, went through their imaginary underwear drawers to see what they kept hidden/stashed there.  I loved this idea!  Even though I had all but finished the first three books of my series, I decided to do it, because it sounded like fun – I am a born snooper, and the chance to snoop through anybody’s drawers unhindered is super-appealing.

It took awhile, and was harder than I thought it would be, but it was oh-so-good.  But then, in the moments after I was done, grinning at the secrets I’d unearthed about my characters, I found myself wondering: What do I have stashed in my own underwear drawer?

My grin turned to a frown as I thought about it.  Nothing.  I don’t have anything hidden in my underwear drawer.

Really?  I asked myself.  Nothing?  Surely there’s something.

I immediately marched into my bedroom and dug.  Nothing but undies and other unmentionables.  My frown deepened as insecurity turned me to my hubby’s drawer.  Surely he didn’t have anything stashed there, either.  Surely I wasn’t alone in the nothing-but-underwear underwear drawer.

Wrong.  Tucked in the back, in a little cedar box were some momentos of his grandfather and great-grandfather, along with a card I’d given him on our wedding anniversary a few years back.

I turned and marched into my kids’ room (I’m not proud of it).  Tooth fairy keepsakes, special toys, birthday cards, all sweetly tucked into their underwear drawers.  Even my three year old has treasures stashed there.

I sat myself on the floor and thought:  How is it all of my family kept treasures in their underwear drawer, while my own was lacking?  I mean, come on.  I’m a stasher, folks.  Of gargantuan proportions.  We’ve nicknamed the space between the wall and our bedframe ‘China’ (aka, the other side of the world) because of my fondness of stashing things there (don’t judge).  And don’t even bother trying to open my desk drawers.  They are crammed-full of heaven-knows-what to the point that opening them is difficult at best, deadly at worst.

So why does my underwear drawer lack little secret treasures?  Am I that uninteresting, that non-sentimental that I own nothing secret and precious enough to hide in a place few would think (or be brave enough) to look?

I chewed on this for days.  It made me cranky.  There was a three-day span of time where I became snarky and cantankerous as I wondered: Am I a boring, heartless person?

Then I came out of the fog.  It started with a little clay heart that hangs from the lamp on my desk.  My son made it for me in kindergarten, for Valentine’s day.  He’s nine now, but every time I look at it, I remember that little six year old boy bringing it home with the proudest smile on his face.  Next to the lamp on my desk is a pinecone.  My seven year old brought it to me about a year ago.  I don’t know why I’ve held on to it.  He just loves nature so much, and I think that’s sweet.  Downstairs in a cedar chest I keep photos from college, along with a note from a guy I had a crush on.  In the linen drawer in the hallway I have a photograph of my mother, gaily laughing in an eternally happy moment.  As I thought about it, I realized I have thing after thing stashed somewhere in my home.  I’ve simply never thought to stash them in my underwear drawer, because my underwear drawer just isn’t big enough.

That’s been the funny thing, for me, with writing.  It causes all kinds of self-inspection.  Before beginning this process of putting pen to paper, of bringing a new world and all its inhabitants to life, I would have never given a rat’s tail about my underwear drawer, and what it could reveal about the kind of person I am.  An unexpected fruit from the labor.

And it makes me wonder…do you stash things – precious treasures or ugly secrets – in your underwear drawer?  Or do you keep your cherished things tucked in various places around your home where you bump into them now and again?