Nic Stone Interview: Dear Martin

Black Yale-bound graduating senior Justyce McAllister’s good life at his prestigious, mostly-white prep school takes on a new harsh reality after he’s falsely accused of crimes and roughed up by a policeman while innocently helping a friend. Meanwhile, daily news accounts of young black men being shot or arrested flood the airwaves, stirring up strong opinions among his classmates. As Justyce searches for answers to explain why he’s now facing scorn from his peers despite being a good kid and a star student, he writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When a second run in with police ends in tragedy, Justyce grapples with being powerless to escape systemic racism. He can’t help but question if Dr. King’s teachings are still relevant and starts looking for answers in a place he thought he’d left behind.

Author Nic Stone doesn’t give us the answers, but she frames questions in a fresh, thoughtful way, promoting deeper dialogue helpful for understanding and confronting racism and social injustice. It’s impossible to read DEAR MARTIN without feeling changed, moved. A must-read for high schoolers and older.

I am more than thrilled to welcome Nic Stone to The Winged Pen! Congratulations, Nic! DEAR MARTIN is an important, powerful book that I hope many, many people—especially teens—will read. Writing it must have been difficult both technically and emotionally, but I’m thankful you did. This book will change lives.

Nic:  Eep! Making me blush already! Thanks for having me 🙂

Obviously, Justyce is a pretty level-headed and very intelligent guy. Even so, he finds himself in trouble, serious trouble, many times throughout the story. What do you hope your readers will learn from his struggles?

In a nutshell, that being smart and doing *stupid* things aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, one rarely has anything to do with the other. I, like Justyce, was a highly intelligent, generally level-headed teenager… but that didn’t stop me from keying my mom’s car. Even Einstein was capable of punching someone in the face when he was pissed off, you know? ALL of us have the capacity to let our emotions to get the best of us. We should constantly bear that in mind.

Justyce is black. He benefits from a great relationship with a black professor in the story, but there are also some important white characters who influence and support him. Justyce is very aware of the importance of these white people in his life, but he also feels conflicted about it. Justyce’s internal dialogue about this seemed very heartfelt and brings some important considerations about interracial friendships to the surface. Could you talk about that a bit more?

So I grew up with very excellent white people who, to this day, are very supportive of me and my work, even when it makes them uncomfortable. And it does. There’s also some validity to the notion that once you really get to know another person, their race becomes peripheral, in a sense (hence that whole “I don’t even see you as [insert marginalized racial identity]” statement that, while likely true, is also a microaggression). BUT in order for any relationship to work, it has to be built on mutual respect and concern for the other person’s well-being. There has to be a willingness to set aside one’s own preconceived notions for the sake of stepping into the other person’s shoes and making an attempt to see the world as they do.

But even saying that makes me uncomfortable because I know there will be some (white) people who take it and say “SEE! You’re supposed to try and see things from MY perspective!” People like this won’t do well in friendships/relationships with people who are different from them. Hell, people like this won’t do well in any relationships because they’re too self-focused.

Bottom line here: if you value and respect other people, are open to hearing their opinions and experiences, and have their well-being as your highest priority, you’ll be the best friend anyone could ask for regardless of race.

I know many white people who might be too afraid to read this story. Maybe they think the story will be too angry (IMO, it’s not angry at all) or just not for them. Why should they read Dear Martin?

Exactly because this question exists, lol! This is the thing: if we don’t explore experiences outside of our own, our worlds will stay small. Books are the perfect place to explore other people’s experiences and emotions because… well because they’re inanimate. Even if a book contains someone’s expression of anger, the book can’t hurt you. It can’t lash out or scream at you or punch you in a fit of furious passion. Books are the perfect place to grapple with things that make us uncomfortable, opinions that differ from our own, experiences we could never live because they don’t require an immediate response out of us, you know? They don’t stare at you waiting for you to say something. You can sit with the information. Chew on it. Swallow the meat and spit out the bones. And you can put them down and never pick them up again, and they won’t hold a grudge. In my opinion, stepping outside of your comfort zone to read something that makes you nervous can only make you a more thoughtful, well-rounded person.

Readers who want to know a bit more about the birth of this story should check out your interview at Adventures in YA Publishing. I was thrilled to hear that you’ve got another book in the works. Can you share anything about it with us?

By the time this interview goes live, I will have turned my copyedits in, LOL. Book 2, as we’ll refer to it for now, already has a title and a cover (that I LOVE) and a slated pub date. What I can say about it is that while it’s different from Dear Martin, it deals with another marginalized aspect of my identity (yay #intersectionality!), and it’s the book I wish I’d had back when I was trying to figure some things out about myself.

I loved your YouTube interview with Adam Silvera, especially the part where you speak to aspiring black authors. Your words, “You are power” are so true. We need to read and share these stories. We talked about this quite a bit at the MadCapRT Writing Cross Culturally workshop where you and I met in March 2017, but could you tell us what advice you have for white authors. What can we do to support diversity in literature?

YOU, Michelle, are doing the best thing you could possibly do: reading and promoting books by and about people of color. The other thing I would say to white authors is: be willing to step aside. Just last week, a white author I know was complaining (in private, so the person shall remain unnamed) because a black author at the same imprint—the only black author at this imprint, mind you—got to fly to New York to assist with the photo shoot for said black author’s book cover whereas the publisher is using stock images for the white author’s cover. There was this cry of, “It’s not fair!” and while I can understand how the white author would perceive things that way, frankly, it wasn’t fair four years ago when my first agent struggled to garner editor interest in the first book I ever wrote because they didn’t think a black lead would sell. Yes, it sucks to feel like what you’re creating isn’t being valued, and it’s not any one white author’s fault the industry has a diversity problem it’s working to remedy. But it also wasn’t any one black author or Indian author or disabled author or gay author’s fault the problem existed in the first place.

Buckle up for the lightning round! *Hands Nic a cupcake with frosting the same color as her gorgeous purple lipstick. (Seriously, you need to check out Nic’s lipstick game on Instagram. Bonus: she often posts pics of her beautiful family.)

Nic’s side note: wouldn’t it be amazing if one could eat a cupcake and wind up with perfectly {insert frosting color} lips? Someone should invent that. I would be all over it.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Already have two: I make people and control minds. (Such is the life of a mother/author. **bows**)

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Sakura Stardust Gelly Roll gel pen. (Okay fine: mechanical, 0.5 pt.)

Coffee or tea? Coffee. No brainer.

Sweet or salty?  Both simultaneously? (PLZ DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE I NEED BOTH OKAY #saltedcarameleverything)

Dog, cat, or other? Do human babies count? Because I like those best. Super snuggly without the shedding.

Plotter or pantser? Plotter. In pants.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?  Think critically, stay open to being wrong, and never stop learning. Seriously. These are the best things you can do for your writing and your life.

Thank you so much, Nic, for taking the time to talk to us. And best wishes for Dear Martin and your future books!

Information about Nic Stone’s release party in Atlanta on October 17th is to the right, but for those who can’t make it stop by your local Indie or check out these links to purchase DEAR MARTIN: 

Indiebound | Goodreads | Amazon | B&N

 

 

 

Photo credit: Nigel Livingstone

About Nic Stone
Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. After graduating from Spelman College, she worked extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to the US to write full-time. Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work. Stone lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons.
Website | Twitter | Instagram

 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, an Indie children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

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MYC: Writing “Other” with Sensitivity

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we talked about the Power of Metaphor. This week, we’ll discuss writing “other” characters.

What is writing “Other”?

It simply means writing characters that are not like yourself.

Some writers are terrified to try this. If you’ve ever witnessed arguments about writing diversely or seen Twitter posts “dragging” authors who make mistakes when they tried to do so, you probably understand why!

But, it’s important that the stories we craft represent the world we inhabit. This post at Lit Reactor by K. Tempest Bradford sums up the importance of diversity in our writing and our reading pretty well, especially this paragraph:

 

Seeing oneself reflected in fiction, even if partially, is important for people from marginalized communities and identities. It’s also important for people who align with the dominant paradigm as well. It allows them to see and understand that people who aren’t like them exist outside of narrow stereotypes and also outside of the confines of their own narrow understanding.

 

So hopefully, you’ve included an interesting variety of people from different cultures, beliefs, or abilities in your masterpiece. And if not, this is a great time to tweak a few characters to give your story depth and sparkle.

 

But…

And this is a REALLY BIG BUT

Don’t do it unless you’re invested in doing it well.  

There are a few steps to that process.

Ask Yourself Why????

Why are you writing this “other” character?

Maybe you have a unique perspective. For example, you may have adopted a child of a different ethnicity or maybe your child has a disability and you want the world to see life through her eyes. Maybe your nephew has recently “come out” and you want (with his permission) to use his experiences to help others. Having a personal connection to writing “other” automatically puts pressure on you to get it right.

But maybe your reason is just because you feel it’s important to show that a gay, black, hearing-impaired boy can have exciting adventures. That’s okay too. BUT, you’re going to have to work extra hard to make sure your character is authentic and realistic for your reader. Put yourself in the shoes of the gay, black, hearing-impaired boy who might be read your story. Will he like it? Will he relate to the character? Will he recommend it to his friends?

After you’ve answered why, the real work begins.

Research!

A lot of it. Thoroughly. Yes, it’s a lot of work. But if you care about your readers and you want to make fans, you’ll do it. If you don’t approach your characters thoughtfully, you may do more harm than good and lose readers in the process. One of the worse things you can do is to write stereotypical characters.

Examples: the blind person who can “see” visions, the crippled evil villain, the savage Native American, the gay male who loves theatre, the sassy black girl…

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

As we mentioned in our post about Writing Cross-Culturally, not only are those stereotypes unrealistic, but––especially in kid lit––they do harm. Just like there are millions of different behaviors of a “typical” white girl, the same is true of every character regardless of religious beliefs, skin color, sexual orientation, bodily abilities…

Make all your characters real people. (For more details about how to do this see this post on character development and this one on supporting characters.) Understand what makes them tick, their beliefs, their concerns, their limitations, and their special abilities. This is important even if your “other” character isn’t the main character.

One great way to research is by reading books written by #ownvoices authors. Check out this Kirkus post by Cynthia Leitich Smith for more info.

See below for a list of resources about writing a variety of “other” characters.

Sensitivity Readers!

Yes, you’ll need them. Several in fact. If you don’t know what that is, read this or this. You may have a person in your life who can serve as a sensitivity reader for the “other” that is in your story, but I’d also suggest finding a reader that you don’t know. A reader who doesn’t know you personally will be more comfortable with being completely honest with you and will be able to provide a deeper insight to make your story more authentic. Heads up: If you haven’t employed a sensitivity reader before you submit to an agent, sometimes they will ask you to find one. Sometimes your editor will do that, but you should be prepared to pay a sensitivity reader for their time and experience. And here’s the most important part: LISTEN TO YOUR SENSITIVITY READERS!

One recent example of a book about “other” is Dusti Bowling’s Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. The story is about a girl who was born without arms. But Dusti has arms. How could she possibly write this book? She did her homework and followed up by reaching out to someone who knew first-hand what it was like to live without arms. Check out this Publisher’s weekly post to find out what inspired Dusti to write this book and this interview for more info about her research and sensitivity reader.

Here’s a database for finding sensitivity readers: Writing In The Margins

Own Up to Your Mistakes!

This may be the most important step. Hopefully you’ve taken the first three steps very seriously and done all your homework. But no matter how hard you try, you will make mistakes because you are human. The best thing to do is to very clearly apologize to all those who you’ve offended. (Please note: True apologies do not contain the word “but”.) Accept your mistake(s) and learn from it. Do not blame anyone, not your friend readers, your betas, or your sensitivity readers. It’s yours. Own it. Move forward graciously.

General Resources:

Twitter Handles You Should Follow:

@writingtheother

@diversebooks

@disabilityInLit

Race and Ethnicity:

Gender:

Sexual Orientation:

Disability:

Be brave in your writing, but sensitive to your readers.

Let us know about other resources in the comments! Thanks for reading this week and come back next week to read our discussion about Writing Openings That Hook Readers and Endings That Turn Them Into Fans.

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

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Interview with Darshana Khiani

I’m excited to introduce all of you to Darshana. She is the mastermind behind the blog Floweringminds.com where she features authors and promotes diversity in kidlit. My kind of gal.

Hi, Darshana! I’m excited to get to know you better because we share a love of Richard Scarry and Blondie. That pretty much sums up my childhood!

I’d like to focus on diversity since that’s what you advocate. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen recently in books for children.

Thank you very much for having me. I’m happy to be discussing diversity here.

Ever since the We Need Diverse Books organization came onto the scene in 2014, there has been an uptick in diverse books being published, more discussions on the topic of diversity at conferences, and publishers understanding the need for sensitivity readers. It is an exciting time; I hope this momentum continues and doesn’t get relegated to a trend. We are a diverse nation and our children’s literature should continue to reflect that.

What are some changes you project to be in the pipelines in the future?

I would like to see the continued breadth of stories within the various diverse categories. This will help break down stereotypes and give readers a richer experience. Nigerian author, Chimamada Adiche, gave an eloquent speech on “The Danger of a Single-Story”. Her talk struck a chord with me, as I remembered having to defend and explain my summer holidays in Kenya and India to fellow students when I was a child. Looking back, can I blame my classmates for their unawareness when the only images they saw of those countries were of malnourished, poor, and hungry children on fundraising infomercials? Within any diverse group, there will be a range of people and experiences and it is important for there to be a body of literature to show the full spectrum.

With the political climate being what it is today, there is a need for books where multiculturalism is at the forefront, discussing inclusivity and understanding. As our nation’s awareness increases, I hope we can see more stories with diverse characters where the primary focus is a universal truth and the multicultural part is secondary.

Are there any topics you’d love to read about that you haven’t read yet?

While there is a lot of discussion around racial, gender, religious diversity and neurodiversity, there isn’t much about economic diversity. There has been a smattering of books in MG and YA dealing with economic hardship but not enough. Back in 2008, I remember watching a 60 Minutes segment about the high percentage of homeless kids in Florida wondering if there were books that reflected their reality. Recently, there was a picture book, STILL A FAMILY by Brenda Sturgis, that had a lovely message of still being a family even though the father had to stay at a men’s shelter while the young daughter and mother were at the women’s shelter. Katherine Applegate’s MG novel, CRENSHAW, touched on childhood hunger.

Across the various diverse groups there has been an increase of books coming out in the YA and MG categories, but I’d like to see that diversity also reflected in both Picture Books and Early Chapter Books.

What’s your dream book that you’d like to read or even write?

As for my dream book to read, I’ll let you know once I find it. As for writing, one of the things on my writing bucket list is to create a modern rendition of the Akbar and Birbal Indian folktales. I loved the wit and wisdom in those stories.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I’m learning the craft of early chapter books as I try to convert one of my picture book South Asian characters into the longer format. I’m also constantly writing and revising picture books.

Also, I know you work with the We Need Diverse Books campaign as a picture book application reader. Do you have any advice for authors writing PBs?

Perfect timing! The We Need Diverse Books organization is currently accepting applications for readers until the end of August. Whether you are a picture book writer or a novelist, I highly recommend taking advantage of any opportunity that has you reading many stories in the category that you write. You will gain an appreciation of how fresh, original, and well-crafted a story needs to be in order to stand out.

 Additionally, for picture book writers, I would recommend reading as many current picture books as possible. I read about 250 a year. When I started back in 2011, the focus was on character-driven stories, then quirky and subversive – the market is constantly changing. Finally, of course: write, write, write. Picture books are a bit of a numbers game. The more stories you have out there, the better shot you have at something getting picked up. Kate Messner wrote an awesome post a while back titled “Picture Book Math”, where she discusses her productivity over a year.

On that note, I had better get back to my stories! Happy Writing!

Thank you so much, Darshana for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share with us. 

You can find out more about Darshana on her blog, twitter, Instagram: @dkwriter and Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/floweringminds/

Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out August 15th 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR. She is represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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Cover Reveal, Interview, and Giveaway with Oddity Author Sarah Cannon

Photo of Author Sarah Cannon

The Winged Pen is thrilled to reveal the cover for Oddity, by debut author and pal Sarah Cannon. Read to the end, because there is a giveaway, too!

JA: So Sarah, tell us about Oddity.

SC: I can’t wait for everyone to read Oddity! It’s a Welcome to Night Vale-inspired adventure, so it’s both life-or-death and very tongue-in-cheek. It’s a love letter to geeky fan-children of all ages (and a lot of fun to read aloud!)

JA: The cover is gorgeous. How did it feel when you finally saw it?

SC: I love this cover with the fire of a thousand suns.

I’m so grateful to Katlego Kgabale for her wonderful work, which gives me actual chills. You should definitely follow her on twitter, and keep an eye out for more of her art.

JA: Tell me more about the cover design!

SC: One thing I specifically asked for was to have Ada Roundtree, the main character, featured front and center. Too often, children of color on middle grade fantasy covers are positioned to the left or right of (and behind) a white main character, and over time this communicates a clear message about who gets to have the adventure, and who gets to support the adventure. Oddity‘s cover is one small move toward countering that narrative.

Now for the reveal…

 

 

Do you want to see it? 

 

 

Are you sure? 

 

OK, here it is:

Full Book Jacket for Oddity

JA: I can tell you’re passionate about this topic (as am I). Can you talk about how this book fits in the ongoing conversation about diversity in children’s literature?

SC: Well, obviously, I’m a white lady, so the first thing I’ll say is that while this is a pluralistically-cast book, I’d stop short of calling it a diverse one.

Around three out of every ten Americans are non-white.  Two of ten are disabled. At least one in twenty identifies as LGBTQIA+. Obviously, these groups overlap, but as a general rule of thumb, if more than half of my characters are white, non-disabled, and cisgender/straight, I’m not representing the demographics of my community. Full stop.

As someone who has worked with children since I was old enough to work at all, it’s important to me write for all readers, and to provide a book in which every student I’ve taught can find a reflection of self. I’ve worked hard to get as many sets of eyes on this book as possible, through betas and sensitivity readers. I’ve done my very best to provide quality representation, and I welcome feedback from readers on areas where I could improve. But Oddity doesn’t belong on lists of diverse books, books by marginalized writers do— and let’s be honest— the publication of Oddity does nothing to put more books by diverse authors on the shelves.

JA: Which leads into this giveaway…

Exactly! As an author and a reader,  I actively support #ownvoices writers in a variety of ways, and so I wanted to do a cover reveal that furthers that goal. One of the reasons that children’s books lack diverse representation is because the staff at many publishing houses doesn’t reflect America’s diversity. One organization that has tackled this problem is We Need Diverse Books. Through their Internship Grant program, they make it possible for diverse applicants to accept publishing internships, which are often unpaid and favor candidates who are financially privileged. That’s where I’m focusing my energy today.

JA: Thanks for sharing your story, Sarah. And now for the fun part: FREE BOOKS!!!!!

In support of WNDB’s program, Sarah’s giving away copies of five middle-grade books by #ownvoices authors to readers who make a donation to We Need Diverse BooksThe Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste (sequel out in September 2017!), The Gauntlet, by Karuna Riazi, Cilla-Lee Jenkins, Future Author Extraordinaire, by Susan Tan, Flying Lessons and Other Stories (a short story collection edited by the inimitable Ellen Oh), and last but not least, she has a signed copy of Ghost by Jason Reynolds! Enter to win by posting in the comments below, then emailing proof of your WNDB donation to hellosarahcannon @ gmail.com. Entries will remain open through May 23rd. Good luck!

Oddity book jacketSarah Cannon, author of Oddity, has lived all over the U.S., but right now she calls Indiana home. She has a husband, three kids and a misguided dog. Sarah holds a B.S. in Education. She’s a nerdy knitting gardener who drinks a lot of coffee, and eats a lot of raspberries. She is probably human.

Connect with Sarah on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram, and check out
Oddity on Goodreads, IndieBound, and Amazon.