Writing Cross-Culturally

Pennies Michelle and Julie meet in real life at last week’s Madcap Retreat

This month, The Winged Pen’s own Michelle Leonard and Julie Artz were lucky enough to attend Madcap RetreatsWriting Cross-Culturally Workshop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Not only was it a blast to finally meet up face-to-face, but the long weekend was packed with great information and resources. We’d like to share a peek at what we learned with our readers.

Highlights

We were surrounded by many talented writers of various backgrounds and made many new friends for life. The faculty (pictured below) included Leigh Bardugo, Daniel José Older, Nicola Yoon, Adi Alsaid, Danielle Clayton, Tessa Gratton, Heidi Heilig, Justina Ireland, Julie Murphy, and Natalie Parker. Dhonielle Clayton

Your characters should have several layers of description that comes through in your story.

  • Outside identity:  race, skin color, physical features, names
  • Belief system:  religion, traditions, sexuality, gender, fears
  • Frame:  family structure, house rules, foods

Cultures are not a monolith. Be as specific as possible about who your character is on the outside, inside, and the frame around them.

When describing skin tone and hair, use make-up and hairstylist hair terminology (google is your friend!) to avoid character description pitfalls like “pale” (pale compared to whom???).

DJ Older

To get past good vs evil, to a more nuanced view of conflict, you have to understand the power dynamics of the characters in your story world.

Some examples of types of power:

  • Institutional power (posse of armed men)
  • Community power
  • Magic – the physicialisation of power
  • Health/ability
  • Spirituality/religion
  • Economic
  • Education
  • Acceptance
  • Beauty
  • Heteronormative/Gender
  • Reproductive
  • Race
  •  Age

The crisis of your book must be determined before you develop your character. The crisis can be anything from your character “needs a hug” to “he’s gonna die.” Ultimately, all stories are about who has the power and how it’s used. Check out DJ’s Buzzfeed article about writing about “other” characters.

Justina Ireland

Microaggressions are indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group. They are often transparent to you, but not to others. Microagressions remind outgroups that they are outside the norm or social standard.

Example: A store owner following a customer of color around the store.

How do you prevent microaggressions?

  • Write with savage empathy by seeing the character like an individual.
  • Write for your entire audience.
  • Consider how people from outgroups will consider your depictions.
  • Acknowledge your blind spots and get help from others in writing characters unlike you.

Resource for sensitivity readers and more: Writing in the Margins

Another good resource good on microaggressions (not shared by Justina, but relevant) from The Atlantic.

Tessa Gratton

Metanarratives are an overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provides a pattern or structure for people’s beliefs and gives meaning to their experiences. Metanarratives are repeated until they seem like facts, but rarely reflect reality or what we want for future generations.

Basic western fantasy coding

  • Good: white, European Christian, pure
  • Evil: black, non-European, non-Christian
  • This comes from history
    • Medieval recreation of West v East (greeks v Persians) by Christian historians
    • Crusader ideology

Because this is the default, you must actively work against this metanarrative.

Nicola Yoon

It’s hard to hate what you understand. Avoid stereotypes because they’re not the truth. They are lazy. (Examples: sassy black woman, nerdy Asian, overbearing Jewish mom, demonization of poverty.)

How to write cross-culturally?

  • Diversify your life. Specificity is the key to building real characters. OK, they’re sassy. And then what?
  • Empathy + craft
  • When you engage in stereotypes, people see it as a moral failing but it’s really a failure at the craft level. You did not inhabit someone else.
  • When you write characters, be specific, write against stereotypes, and do no harm.
  • Use sensitivity readers.

Heidi Heilig

Cultural appropriation is adopting or using the elements of one (usually minority) culture by members of another (usually dominant) culture. Often the original meaning of those elements is lost or distorted, and this is disrespectful and oftentimes harmful to the members of the original culture.

Julie Murphy

Things to avoid in body representation:

  • Applying moral value to food and fat vs. thin.
  • Nobody “feels” fat. It’s not a feeling!
  • Just because you write a fat character in a book doesn’t mean that you need to explain why that character is fat.

Leigh Bardugo

Good worldbuilding:  playing god and not being a jerk about it. You should read work by “marginalized authors to learn how to build worlds that don’t make people feel like shit.”

N.K. Jemisin’s work is an example of excellent worldbuilding with diverse characters.

Adi Alsaid

Start your story as close as possible to the event that throws the main character off footing. Watch this very important TedTalk by Chimamanda Adichie on the Danger of a Single Story.

Book Recommendations

There are so many amazing things happening in kidlit, it’s hard to narrow down a list of recommendations. But here are a few:

Angie Thomas – The Hate U Give

Daniel Jose Older – Shadowshaper

Leigh Bardugo – Six of Crows

Heidi Heilig – The Girl From Everywhere

Nicola Yoon – The Sun is Also a Star

Julie Murphy – Dumplin’

Alex Gino – George

Donna Gephart – Lily and Dunkin

Additional Resources

Take Gene Luen Yang’s April Reading Without Walls challenge.
NaNoWriMo’s Preparing to write about diverse characters
Justina Ireland’s blog about writing about people unlike yourself.
WNDB We Need Diverse Books resources for writers
Writing With Color
Intersecting Axes of Privilege
Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) statistics on children’s publishing
Disability in Kidlit Tumblr and website

The best part of our weekend–all the amazing friends we made! ❤️

We hope you’ll enjoy a few blogs from our new writing friends so you can see different takeaways from the MadCap Writing Cross-Culturally Retreat. Please feel free to share any resources or questions you have for writing cross-culturally in the comments!

Aimee Davis’ blogBroken Girl Cured by Love: On Tropes and the Lies They Tell

Anna Jarvis’ blog: The Wonderful World of Writing and Friendship

Jordan Kurella’s blog: We Could Be Heroes, For Every Day

Sarah Viehmann’s blog: Favorite Quotes from MadCap

Carrie Peter’s blog: MadCap Retreat: March 2017

Book Birthday! THE SHADOWS WE KNOW BY HEART by Jennifer Park

Congratulations to our very own Winged pen Member, Jennifer Park. Her debut YA novel, THE SHADOWS WE KNOW BY HEART (Simon Pulse), releases today!

Jennifer joins us today to tell us about her book and announce the lucky winner of her swag giveaway.

Jennifer, welcome and congratulations! Tell us about your book. 

In this haunting and luminescent debut novel, a girl’s complicated family life starts to unravel after she finds herself falling for a mysterious boy who lives in the forest behind her house.

Leah Roberts’s life hasn’t been the same since her brother died ten years ago. Her mother won’t stop drinking, her father can’t let go of his bitter anger, and Leah herself has a secret she’s told no one: Sasquatches are real, and she’s been watching a trio of them in the woods behind her house for years.

Everything changes when Leah discovers that among the sasquatches lives a teenager. This alluring, enigmatic boy has no memory of his past and can barely speak, but Leah can’t shake his magnetic pull. Gradually, Leah’s life entwines with his, providing her the escape from reality she never knew she needed.

But when Leah’s two worlds suddenly collide in a deadly showdown, she uncovers a shocking truth as big and extraordinary as the legends themselves, one that could change her life forever.

Fantastic! Where can our readers purchase a copy?

 Barnes & NobleAmazon, or their local independent book store.

And now, for the big announcement (drum roll, please). Who is the winner of your swag package? 

The winner is … Laurie Lascos!

Congratulations Laurie! Jennifer, how does Laurie collect her prize?

I will send her an email and ask for her mailing address.

How exciting! Jennifer, thanks for dropping by!

Thanks for having me!

Jennifer Park grew up on the bayous of southeast Texas daydreaming of fantastical worlds. A former middle school art teacher, and current Ocean Artist Society member, she now lives tucked within the East Texas pines she loves. When she’s not writing, she spends her time overloading on soy mochas, hoarding chocolate, and managing her herd of one husband, two kids, numerous dogs, a shamefully large number of garden snails, and one tortoise named Turquoise. Sometimes she does look out the window and hope to see Bigfoot.

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production, and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: STAND UP AND SING!

I don’t normally review picture books, but when one of my fellows at The Winged Pen mentioned there was a chance to review STAND UP AND SING! Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice, I jumped at the chance. As a singer, social justice advocate, and fan of Pete Seeger, how could I not? The truth is, this book is important–not only because of the accomplishments of a man who committed himself fully to his truth, and to bringing people together to make real change in the world. It’s important because of the divisions, and diversions, of our world right now. As Peter Yarrow, folk-famous in his own right, says in his forward, “What Pete taught us is how to keep on keepin’ on, how to keep on singing, how to not become cynical, and how to turn challenge and adversity into greater determination and love for one another.” I can’t think of a more timely message, for adults and children of all stripes, as well as for musicians, artists and writers.

The book is a biography, and right from the start, it’s clear that the author, Susanna Reich, put love and effort into her research. She’s given us Pete’s early life, through the dark days of the depression, and shares how music gave him a way to connect to the experiences of others. He took these experiences and made music a vehicle to share his hopes and fears, and to bring people together.

Pete Seeger’s work to support Unions, as a key player in the Civil Rights Movement at Dr. King’s side, and as a pacifist, are explored without shying away from some of the dangers and challenges this brought into his life. Without being moralistic, STAND UP AND SING! tells the story of one man, and how he found a way to come to terms with things he disliked about the world–a way which gave others strength and courage to continue fighting for social justice. The illustrations by Adam Gustavson, are atmospheric and evocative throughout.

The book is not a light read. It offers deep, age-appropriate, insight into Pete Seeger’s life, but although there’s a lot of text, it is balanced by the number, and quality, of the illustrations. STAND UP AND SING! is a book that families and classrooms can, and in my view should, share together as a way to have important conversations about what each of us stands for, how we choose to stand, and being yourself, even in the face of great adversity.

Gabrielle Byrne lives in the rainy wilds of the Pacific Northwest with her husband, two daughters, and a wide variety of critters. She writes middle grade fantasy, and is a mentor for the Pitch Wars contest. You can find her on twitter at @GKByrne. She’s represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management.

Bill Blume and the Teenager Vampire Hunter

 Bill Blume

Website: http://www.billblume.net/gidion01.html

Bill works as a 911 dispatcher for Henrico County Police.

He served as the 2013 chair for James River Writers.

Despite the red covers, little blood is spilled. Gidion is the younger male version of Sookie Stackhouse and Veronica Mars.

A fast-paced thriller. A witty boy. Written by a police expert. Fresh spin on the vampire trope from the hunter’s perspective. Appropriate for MG and YA readers. Last, but not least: funny.

As Gidion closes in on the Richmond coven, he must save his teacher, his girlfriends and his BFF who is a feeder.
A cunning assassin brings more danger. Three generations of secrets spill and shatter Gidion’s beliefs about vampires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sussu: After writing a review of the exciting duology “Gidion’s Hunt” and “Gidion’s Blood,” the story of a vampire hunter, I thought the next logical step was to ask Bill Bloome for an interview. Welcome Bill to The Winged Pen.

Bill Blume: I remember your review, because it made my day when I saw it. My son was an advanced middle-grade reader when the first book came out, and it was cool to see someone recognize it wasn’t a book that’s exclusive to the YA crowd (even if that was the originally intended market).

Sussu: What choices did you make in order to make the story attractive to boys?

Bill Blume: The main reason I knew boys would be more inclined to like it is probably the most obvious: the protagonist is a boy. The YA market targets girls most of the time (folks more knowledgeable than I am have helped me realize just how complicated an issue that is). I think part of the reason Gidion works well for boys is because his character hits on a lot of the things every boy wants to be at that age: smart, tough, and clever. One review of the book called it a mix of Blade, Encyclopedia Brown, and John Hughes films, which isn’t far off the mark. Most of all, Gidion is at that age where he’s fighting to prove he’s ready to be an adult, which I think any reader at that age can relate to.

Sussu: Why did you choose to write a vampire novel with no gore?

Bill Blume: It’s funny you mention the gore, because I get mixed reactions on that. I certainly don’t dwell on it, because I’m more interested in exploring Gidion’s search for answers. Gidion is basically like a love child of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Michael Westen from Burn Notice.

Burn Notice brought a common sense approach to spy work, and Gidion brings that same kind of common sense way of doing things to hunting vampires.

Sussu: I think kids will connect with the realistic and believable aspect of the story. How did you choose your vampires?

Bill Blume: My goal, before I even realized it would be a YA novel, was to write the best damn vampire hunter story ever. I wanted it to feel as real as possible, like this could happen around us with most people never noticing. Most of all, I wanted my protagonist to be all human. So many supernatural series make the big bads so tough, they have to give the heroes powers to even the playing field. Keeping Gidion de-powered meant going the other way, making the vampires more human, too.

Sussu: Did working in TV news help you as a writer?

Bill Blume: Honestly, no. The biggest contribution had to be working as a 911 dispatcher, which I’ve done for 15 years now. If you’d told me years ago that working in law enforcement would help me write a vampire hunter novel, I’d never have believed it, but it informed the book a lot.

Sussu: What TV shows or novels influenced you?

Bill Blume: Have to give Burn Notice its due. The voice for Michael Westen is also Gidion’s. The guy I got to voice Gidion in the book trailers even watched clips of the show to get the cadence. Only reason I started watching the show was because I was teaching a training class at work and was told I sound like Michael Westen (they were right!).

Sussu: How cool! What is a word you live by?

Bill Blume: The best word to describe me is probably “stubborn.” Haha! It can be such a negative trait so often, but it can be helpful when you need to finish something that requires a long time to stay focused. Writing a book takes a long time, and you doubt yourself more than you don’t as you’re writing. I’m 80,000 words into a non-Gidion YA book that’s very different for me, more character-driven than plot. There’s no guarantee it’ll get published, but by God, I will get this rough draft finished before the end of the month. Very different voice for me, too. Gidion comes naturally, this new character does not.

Sussu: Does that mean no more Gidion’s books?

Bill Blume: Sadly, Gidion is shelved for the moment. The first two books need to prove themselves a little more to the publisher before they will greenlight a third. A manuscript was started, and I know where his story goes next, but the first two books also provide his first major arc. A third book would start him on a new journey, and one day I plan to go back. Don’t think I could abandon Gidion. He’s become a part of me. His quirk for good luck charms and numbers has even infected me. He also turned me into a big, BIG Tim Drake fan. I collect DC comics now to follow Tim, and before that I was a Marvel fan all the way.

 Sussu: It was wonderful having you here. I appreciate your time.

Bill Blume: Thank you! This was a lot of fun.

 

If you liked this interview brought to you by Sussu Leclerc, visit her blogs, at Novel Without Further Ado and Book Riders for MG readers. Connect with her on Twitter and Pinterest. Thanks for reading.

 

Picture Book Author Interview: Camille Andros

I’ve been obsessing about this picture book for almost a year now. Finally, finally, finally March is here! CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED releases March 14th and would make THE. BEST. EASTER/SPRING. GIFT. POSSIBLE!

Charlotte is a serious scientist. She solves important problems by following the scientific method. She has all the right equipment: protective glasses, a lab coat, a clipboard, and a magnifying glass. What she doesn’t have is space. She has so many brothers and sisters (she is a rabbit, after all) that she is too squished to work on her experiments! Can she use science to solve her problem? This funny, satisfying story is a playful introduction to the scientific method and perfect for inspiring an interest in STEM subjects.

Bunnies! Science! Two of my favorite things! And here to tell us more about Charlotte is author Camille Andros!

Welcome to THE WINGED PEN, Camille, and congrats on your debut picture book, CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED. Tell us about your inspiration for Charlotte and the STEM focus in this book.

I was in the shower (where all the best ideas are realized) when I decided I wanted Charlotte to be a scientist. I always loved science as a kid but felt like I wasn’t smart enough to be one. I want kids to know that being a scientist can look like a lot of different things and if they love it, they should do it!

Absolutely! Science is for everyone! Charlotte is a rabbit with many brothers and sisters, which causes her a bit of trouble. Tell us about your “qualifications” for writing a story about a character with a BIG family. 🙂

The original idea for a bunny story with a big family came from my husband. Together we have six children. My husband is the sixth of ten children. All those ten children have their own children so there are sixty-seven cousins. When everyone is all together it is eighty-nine people. On my side of the family I am the oldest of seven kids and there are twenty- four cousins and forty people when we are all together. My kids have a total of eighty-five first cousins.

I cannot even imagine all those nieces and nephews! What do you hope young readers take away from your story? 

I hope young readers never stop asking questions and know that being a scientist can look like many different things. Loving your family and learning how to best get along with them doesn’t hurt either. 😉 

What is your work/writing schedule?

I wish I had a regular schedule, but I take each day at a time. At the start of each day (or the night before) I figure out what the most important things to do in that day are. Sometimes it is working on a story, sometimes it’s revising, sometimes it’s doing stuff like this-doing interviews, recording podcasts, school visits. And sometimes–it’s laundry. It’s different every day.

Do you have any strange writing habits?

I don’t think this is super strange but when I am creating something totally new, I snack. A Lot. Chocolate, ice cream, popcorn, chocolate…;) But when I am revising I am all business. No treats/food.

In that regard, we are identical twins. I just have to stretch out revising long enough to lose any weight I gain during drafting! Which writers inspire you? Is there a recently published book you’d heartily recommend?

I love Virginia Lee Burton, Barbara Cooney, Alan Say, Kevin Henkes, Phil and Erin Stead, Mac Barnett, Adam Rex, and Jon Klassen. There are so many more.  I think one of the most beautiful picture books in the last few years is SWAN-THE LIFE AND DANCE OF ANNA PAVLOVA by Laurel Snyder Illsutrated by Julie Morstad. It’s exquisite.

Tell us a little about the other books you’ve sold.

Next year I have a book coming out with Julie Morstad as the illustrator called THE DRESS AND THE GIRL. It’s about a girl and her favorite dress and how they get separated from each other when the girl’s family immigrates to the United States. It’s about love and loss and their journey to find each other again.

Oh, that sounds lovely and I love the immigration theme. What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?

Right now I’m working on the second Charlotte the Scientist book that will also be coming out next year.

CAN. NOT. WAIT for both of those books! Okay, my friend. Buckle up for the lightning round. *Hands Camille a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Hmmm maybe to have the ability to apparate. To think about a place and be able to be there would be awesome.

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wooden and sharp.

Coffee or tea? Hot Chocolate 😉

Sweet or salty? Both

Dog, cat, or other? Neither (sorry-I have six kids instead of pets)

Plotter or pantser? A little of both.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there? Never give up. The writers who are published are the ones who just kept trying.

Great advice! Thanks so much for joining us, Camille!

Here’s an adorable picture of Charlotte wearing her safety goggles for you to swoon over while you hop on over to Goodreads to add it to your TBR.

CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED would make the perfect gift for all the little scientists in your life and is available for pre-order through your local indie or through one of the following links.

Indiebound

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

 

Camille always carries a small black notebook on her travels to far-flung places to record the stories she imagines (even on the days when “far-flung” is her backyard vegetable garden.) She has her BA in Health Science, is an EMT, and won 1st place in the school science fair as a kindergartner. She’s addicted to the smell of a newborn baby, which may explain why she has six children! Dancing ballet for 14 years left her with an appreciation of beautiful things – warm fresh bread, a quiet sunset after a hectic day, and a new picture book. Find out more about Camille by checking out her website or following her on Facebook or Twitter!

 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.