If You’re Not #OwnVoices, Maybe You Shouldn’t Write It

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Trigger Warning: The following discusses self-injury.


A couple days ago, a book blogger posted a photo on Instagram that several members of her audience and the book community felt triggered by. In the photo, she’d painted her hand and arm blue and added bleeding cut marks in gold. When several people politely pointed out that her photo was making them think of self-harming, she became defensive, saying she hadn’t read the book yet and didn’t know that it was harmful. She continued by stating that because she’s an artist, her photo can’t possibly be harmful because it’s art. (See screenshots of the photo and one of her comments here; the rest of her and others’ comments have been mysteriously deleted.)

It got worse from there. While more people politely spoke up and said that they too felt triggered by the photo, she became more defensive and began accusing these people of bullying her. She began deleting anyone’s comments who disagreed with her, and invited her friends to jump in and defend her from this horde of mean people recovering from self-harm. Other people started jumping in, saying “Well, it doesn’t bother me, so it shouldn’t bother you.”

When someone tells you “This hurts me, please stop,” your job is not to get defensive or angry. Your job is to listen to the human being in front of you. An appropriate response would be “I’m so sorry. I had no idea but I’m listening and I’d like to talk about this so I can do better.”

Whenever this happens, though, it’s almost always a marginalized person being bullied by a person of privilege. This blogger had no idea the effect of her photo because she’s never suffered from self-harm. She even admitted it herself, saying something to the effect of “I have depression and anxiety, but never self-harmed, so no one should be bothered by this.”

If you don’t know what the motherloving hell you’re talking about, maybe you should just not.

The book in question is Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth—a book that has been discussed to great extent for its many problematic themes. There are so many issues with this book, it’d take me a whole other blog post and then some to cover them, so I’m not going to go into detail. What I am going to talk about, though, is how privileged authors and their hordes of privileged fans are doing the marginalized communities that they pretend to serve more harm than good.

This should be obvious, right? Gather ’round. I’ll Liz-splain it to you, in case it isn’t.

Here’s how this goes down. Authors like Roth—who don’t suffer from chronic pain or self-harm, and are white—decide they want to tell a story. Maybe their intentions are good. Maybe they genuinely want to shine light on what it’s like to struggle with self-injury and chronic pain while showing the world that dark-skinned people are not dangerous by default. But in their lack of experience, their inherent prejudices show through. You don’t have to be purposely hateful to be prejudiced, by the way. This is another thing that privileged people can’t seem to wrap their heads around, but I digress.

Roth’s portrayal of these themes is problematic because of her lack of experience and neglect to consult anyone with those experiences. Often privileged authors go dancing into writing a diverse book like they’re doing marginalized communities some great big favor. They’re not.

Look, I’m a huge advocate for diverse books. I believe that the more of us who are writing them responsibly, the more normal they become. Readers won’t have to search very hard to find characters like them. But if you can’t be bothered to admit that something is outside your area of expertise and find an editor plus beta and sensitivity readers who do have that knowledge, then you shouldn’t bother to write that book. Leave that space for someone who does know what they’re talking about.

It’s pretty simple.

And if your fans are behaving problematically, posting triggering photos without regard for the people who are very nicely speaking up about it, then your book is acting as a catalyst for abuse, completely condoned by your flippant interview responses.

As authors, we have a responsibility for the weight of our words. There’s nothing wrong with including a particular topic or theme in our books—so long as it isn’t inappropriately glorified or vilified. We can’t control how our words are interpreted, nor can we control our readers’ actions, but we can do our very best to articulate ourselves well. That’s our damned job, after all.

I’ve been seeing a lot of marginalized people asking non-#OwnVoices people to stop writing diverse books, and I’m inclined to completely agree with them. Even when privileged authors do so responsibly, those who think they’re above serving their readers with care ruin it for everyone else. There are so many POC, chronic pain patients, and survivors of self-harm who should’ve had this publishing opportunity over someone who has never experienced these things and can’t possibly understand the perspective she’s written from.

I’m all for bringing diversity into your fiction whenever you can, but this attitude that some authors have—this sense of entitlement that they can do whatever they want and too bad for anyone who’s hurt by it—needs to stop. It’s a message loud and clear to your horde of privileged readers that it’s okay to treat other people with the same prejudice and disrespect.

We see you.

10 Kick-Ass Books I Read in 2016

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One thing I was determined to do in 2016 was read more. I often get caught up in the “should”s, as in I should be _____ instead of reading. (Really, you can replace “reading” with anything. I so need to stop “should”ing on myself!) My goal was to read 25 books; I read 31—or at least, that’s what Goodreads says. I didn’t track all of my reads, so I’m sure this number is a bit off.

The following 10 are my favorite reads from this year, in no particular order. Check them out, and load up your Kindle!


F*ck Love, by Tarryn Fisher

F*ck Love would, gun to head, be my favorite book of 2016. I read it during a weekend while Mike was away at an art show, and I couldn’t put it down. Helena and Kit’s story was absolutely insane, in the best way possible. Months later, I still can’t stop thinking about it. This dark and gritty romance is exactly the tone of book I hope to write someday.

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Lex Talionis, by S.A. Huchton

What’s better than a revenge story? A best friend’s revenge story! Lex Talionis also joined F*ck Love in my list of all-time favorites. This was another one that I couldn’t put down. It’s also got a romantic element that had me rooting hard, plus an ending that is super rewarding.

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Luther: The Calling, by Neil Cross

My mom kept recommending I watch Luther, the show on BBC about a detective who might be just as crazy as the killers he chases. I borrowed this from her and had to seriously reign myself in from reading it in one sitting. I then proceeded to binge half of the series; it’s going to be a while until the next season comes out, so I’ve slowed down quite a bit to savor it. Complex, mysterious, and smart, Luther is one of my all-time favorite characters. It doesn’t hurt that Idris Elba is so damn sexy.

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If I Stay and Where She Went, by Gayle Forman

These books are a back-to-back must. I can’t imagine having to wait for the sequel. I borrowed If I Stay from the library and basically cried my way through it. It was so poignant and heartwrenching. Where She Went was just beautiful, and worth running back to the library for.

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Collateral, by J.C. Hannigan

The final book in the Collide series, Collateral was quite the grand finale. I’ve loved Harlow from the moment J.C. told me about her, and it’s been such a great experience watching her grow and come into her own. A suspenseful romance, Collateral is raw and real. And don’t even get me started on how freakin’ hot Jax is. He’s seriously the perfect boyfriend—and my all-time favorite book boyfriend!

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The Year We Fell Down, by Sarina Bowen

This was the first book—that I can remember reading—with a disabled heroine that fully captures what it’s like to live in a limited body. I devoured it in one sitting because I loved Corey and I absolutely had to know whether she and Adam would be together. Though Adam is only temporarily injured, he’s the epitome of the perfect partner. I haven’t read the rest of the series yet, but I really need to get on that!

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I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai

My sister brought this over one day, urging me to read it. I’d been wanting to, so no argument there! Malala tells the story of how she defied the Taliban and fought for girls’ education alongside her supportive father. It was such an inspiring and enlightening read. I was 13 on 9/11, so I remember it well but there was still a lot that I didn’t know; it was fascinating to read about the global effects of the so-called “War on Terror.” More importantly, Malala’s bravery was so empowering and uplifting.

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Pretty Pink Ribbons, by K.L. Grayson

Going in, I didn’t know that this was a breast cancer book, but I figured it out pretty quickly, as I have several loved ones who have fought breast cancer. Though it’s in a series, Pretty Pink Ribbons is a complete standalone. It’s quite the rollercoaster, emotionally speaking, but the ending is so worth every second of heartache.

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Kaleidoscope Hearts, by Claire Contreras

This was another one that I devoured. Contreras writes so beautifully, and I fell deeply in love with Estelle and Oliver. I related to a lot of their problems, and I got really attached to their friends and family members. I picked up the complete series box set, so I’m still making my way through the rest of the books. Kaleidoscope Hearts was just lovely.

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Let’s Get Digital, by David Gaughran

And now for something completely different! If you’re new to self-publishing or have been at it for a while and looking for a refreshing book with some publishing and marketing tips, Let’s Get Digital is an insightful, quick read. I promptly grabbed Let’s Get Visible to widen my education, and have already learned a lot.

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There were some books that I started but didn’t finish because I just didn’t get into them, and there were others that were re-reads of old favorites. Honestly, I’ve been watching a lot of TV; by the end of the day, I’ve got too much brain fog to focus on reading. Still, I’m really happy with my reads for 2016.

What were your favorite books this year? Let me know in the comments below!

How We Can Save New Adult Lit

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I’ve noticed two things lately that have utterly bummed me out.

  1. The literary category New Adult has become nearly synonymous with “weird soft porn.”
  2. Authors who previously identified as NA writers are now scrambling to escape that description.

This was kind of a cause/effect. I think a lot of authors had certain goals and expectations for NA, then found that readers had another set of notions entirely. I’m seeing more and more frustrated authors. I’m also seeing an almost mass exodus from NA to Young Adult or even adult fiction.

Part of me wants to beg these authors not to leave. The other part of me totally understands. Who the hell can compete with abduction and stalker “romance”?

The problem is, the term “New Adult” became a kind of catchphrase, a wave for authors to ride. Anyone could slap that term on their book and sell it, because there were hungry readers who loved the initial NA invasion and wanted more, now. It didn’t take long for readers to become almost conditioned to think that these non-NA books were NA through and through. Some readers even avoid NA altogether now because there’s a certain connotation that goes with it.

And so the category is dying a fast, painful death. But what can those of us who still believe in NA do? Can we save ourselves from the drowning ship?

I’m seeing some authors re-branding their NA books as YA or adult. While it might make sense for some titles depending on content and subject matter, this is not necessarily the answer. Those three stages of life are vastly different from each other. My problems as a teen, twenty-something, and now nearly thirty-year-old are like comparing VHS to DVDs to Blu-ray. They will continue evolving as I advance.

I still think the lit world needs that bridge. When I was a bumbling nineteen-year-old, I could’ve really used a book like Jennifer Armentrout’s Scorched or Sarina Bowen’s The Year We Fell Down. These books wouldn’t have yet spoken to me as a high school student. As a twenty-seven-year-old—almost 28, oh my—I can read books featuring NA characters and look back on my own years with nostalgia. The older I get, though, the more I identify with books by Jodi Picoult or Diana Gabaldon.

Readers need to be able to relate to characters. Sometimes, those pretend people are all that get us through our days, simply because we know we’re not alone.

If you’re writing NA lit, keep doing what you’re doing. There are people out there who need your books.

I’m not sure that we can defeat those “other” books any more than we can end piracy. All we can do is continue what we’re doing: writing great books that people can relate to. The rest will come.

Update, April 5th, 2016: Wow! When I wrote this post, I figured I was basically shouting into the void. I shared this on Kboards, Stumble Upon, and all over Facebook and Twitter, and the response has been almost overwhelming. thesios on Kboards suggested I band with other NA authors and cross-promote, so I’ve started a little project. For now I’m starting small, by organizing NA authors by genre so that we can cross-polinate each other in our newsletters. The group is growing quickly, and we have a nice variety of genres. I’m so happy that it’s not just me who loves NA so much! If you’re an NA author and would like to collaborate with us, please join our group.

Naming and Developing “Just One More Minute” Characters

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I’m 1,787 words into Just One More Minute. It feels so good to be writing again—but it’s hard. I’m used to writing much faster, for one. Typically I can write 2,000 words in an hour. I wrote for three hours yesterday and was super disappointed. Not only am I out of practice, it’s also a new book, and my arthritis has flared up again. My wrists and hands are sore. So it’s been a process.

I spent a lot of time naming and developing characters. I knew what I was going for and wanted things just right. Sometimes a name will just pop into my head and I’ll know it’s perfect. Other times, I have to search through baby name websites. This was one of those times.

Rowan was easy. I’d already fallen in love with the name and knew I wanted to use it for a character eventually. I toyed with the idea of taking her name literally and giving her red hair, but in the end it just wasn’t her. I wanted someone who looked delicate but with strong, feisty features. I often look for a model to base my characters off of, but none of the gorgeous redheads I could find screamed Rowan to me. Eventually I came across Merritt Patterson. She was exactly who I’d been looking for.

Matt was harder. I knew exactly what he looked like and found a model for him with no trouble. I just Googled “young men with curly hair.” Alex Libby matched the guy I saw in my head to a T. Naming him was harder. I knew I wanted a “normal” name. I usually give my male characters unique names. Initially I was going to name him Daniel, but it just didn’t fit. I spent hours scrolling through baby name sites. Finally I came across Matthew—Matt for short. It fit perfectly.

I spent a whole day shaping them in my development doc. I wrote entire personal histories and then physical descriptions. In some ways, I know these people better than myself.

Rowan:

Mousy brown hair down to her waist, blue eyes. Porcelain complexion; doesn’t tan, usually burns. Full lips. Button nose. Slightly dimpled chin.

She’s short (about 5’2″), and slight. 34B bust.

Typical outfit: tunic, leggings, infinity scarf, wedges or riding boots.

Usually has bare nails, since she works in the food industry—though they’re very neat and well cared for.

Rarely carries a purse. Keeps cash and phone tucked into her boots or, if summer, a wristlet. Everything else, she keeps in her car (makeup bag, etc).

When checking something in the oven, she always says “Just one more minute…”

Matt:

Curly brown hair down to his ears. Green eyes. Light olive complexion; tans easily. Greek nose. Full lips. Light beard.

6’3″. Athletic build.

Typical outfit: Timberland safety boots, worn and comfortable Dickie’s work pants (usually smudged with flour), striped tee or long sleeved henley.

Square hands—worker’s hands. Nails are very short and clean.

It’s true that at this point I know her better. Usually I figure these things out as I’m writing, so I’m not sweatin’ it.

I spent some more time developing the supporting cast. There are still details I’m not sure of, but everyone has a name. I’ll figure out the rest as I go and add it to my style sheet. (I’ll talk about that more in a future post.) I might not find models for all of the characters, but their descriptions aren’t as important as my leads’ are.

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Next up: I’ll talk about how I pants and plot.