KidLit Authors and Illustrators: Time To Step Up

This past week author Daniel José Older laid down some hard truth about the illustrations for the children’s book A Fine Dessert[1]. In the video below he points out that slavery is an “open wound” that America as a whole has been lying about to itself “forever” and that illustrations showing black children as slaves smiling, happy to work hard making fancy food for massa are a problem. Please watch the whole thing, because Daniel really lays it out and what he says is important.

He followed up his panel appearance with a piece in The Guardian that highlights the severe lack of children’s books with African-American people in them.

In 2014, only 5% of the 3,500 children’s books published were about black characters; Christopher Myers has called it “the apartheid of children’s literature”.

This doesn’t even take into account other groups of POC. I suspect that there are very few Latin@, Asian, and Native American characters in kid’s books as well, and that’s just naming three groups.

The article points out that the publishing industry still suffers from the Highlander problem: There Can Be Only One. This has to be addressed, no doubt. At the same time, we should also address the other side of the equation: Authors.

On the panel, Daniel acknowledged that “a book is a creation of a village, just like people are,” and he’s so very right. That means no single entity within the village–editors, publishers, authors, marketers, reviewers, readers–is solely responsible for fixing these systemic problems. However, each entity within the village should do whatever is in their power to effect change[2].

We need more authors from diverse backgrounds writing books with characters like them, and we need more of them to get published. We also need more authors from all backgrounds writing books with characters that aren’t like them, characters that come from minority, marginalized, or oppressed groups, characters that aren’t often found in children’s literature. We need those characters drawn in ways that reflect the vast divversity even within said groups. We need authors and illustrators to create books that reflect the truth of people from these groups, even if that truth is uncomfortable. We also need authors to create books that reflect how the world should be and could be for kids from these groups. Because it’s just as important to look forward and to speculate with hope as it is to look back with clear eyes and reveal hard truths about the way things were and how that impacts the way things are.

We need all of these things. Right now.

Now we get to the part where some authors say: I agree with you, but just look at what happened to Sophie Blackall (the illustrator) or even Emily Jenkins, the author. They tried and they got it wrong and they got attacked!

Yes well, that’s art[3].

Less flippant answer: It’s always worth it to try, to fail, to try again and be better, to learn from your missteps, to grow and keep trying.

Others will rightly point out that this growth that comes out of failure has an impact on people beyond the author, and that is true. It’s imperative to then do your best to learn from others’ mistakes and to put in the work so you can avoid the obvious pitfalls.

How?

This is the part where what I say sounds like a pitch, but it’s honestly not.

Here’s how: You learn how to write the Other sensitively and convincingly. It can be done. You start by reading the book Writing the Other: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. Or, you start by taking Nisi and Cynthia’s workshop in person or online. Or, you start by taking a another workshop or class about writing and the Other online or at a university or at a convention or conference.

And yes, Nisi and I are teaching a class on this topic next month. (You can register here if it fits in your schedule, and you can get announcements of new classes here if not.) And we’ll keep teaching it whenever we can throughout next year and hopefully beyond. Because this issue is important to us, as it’s also important to Cynthia Ward and Daniel José Older and many, many, many other authors and editors and teachers.

Look for these opportunities. Read the book, read articles and blog posts and talk to people and listen. Because we need more authors, especially authors who already have relationships and contracts with publishers, to say: children’s books should be for all children, not just some. Also to say: children’s books that include Black and Latin@ and Japanese and Native American and Nigerian and other characters from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds are for all children, no matter their background, because we are all people and all of us deserve to be reflected in books and all of us deserve to be seen by the Other (relative to yourself) as people worth knowing and understanding.

We need this now. Let’s get it done.

By whatever means necessary.

 

Footnotes

  1. If you haven’t yet heard about the controversy, there are summaries, illustrations, and reactions from various folks, including the author–the illustrator is in the video–at Bossip and VH1[]
  2. For an example of what publishers and editors can do, see this blog post by the LEE&LOW staff.[]
  3. Also, I wouldn’t characterize the criticism as an “attack” though I know some will[]

New Class: The Art of Writing the Other – Weekend Intensive

When: December 11th 7PM Eastern to December 13th 10PM Eastern
Location: ONLINE via Google Hangout
Price: $250 + service fee
Registration begins: November 6, 2015

This is a new version of our class condensed into a shorter time frame (2.5 days) that also costs less. The material covered in this course is similar to our previous 6 week classes, just heavily concentrated. This class is for writers who cannot commit to regular meetings over several weeks but can devote one weekend.

The class is appropriate for all writers (fiction, plays, comics, screenplays, and games included) from all backgrounds and any skill level.

Please see the registration link for all details, including schedule.

Miss this class? Sign up for our mailing list to get notifications when we give it again.

Tempest Challenge #16: Archangel by Marguerite Reed & Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett

Took a long hiatus, sorry! I wanted to get out the last of the Wisdom from WisCon suggestions. This week’s books feature characters that AREN’T isolated from their families and communities, plus gorgeous writing and awesome covers.

This week’s challengers: Margurite Reed and Gretchen T of A Room of One’s Own bookstore.

And, as always, you can support me making Tempest Challenge vids by clicking the links below when you…

Buy Archangel (The Chronicles of Ubastis) by Marguerite Reed from A Room of One’s OwnPowell’s, or Amazon; or Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett from A Room of One’s OwnPowell’s, or Amazon.

New Class: Short Fiction Workshop at the Brainery, Fall 2015

I’m one of the teachers for the Brainery’s short fiction workshop this semester! Check it:

This course is an intense practicum in speculative fiction writing and students can expect a traditional graduate-level fiction workshop, concentrating on understanding and implementing the various aspects of speculative fiction. These aspects include craft issues such as characterization, point of view, narrative structure, style, and voice. Although this class is designed with a flexible schedule in mind, students are expected to commit to the same standards as expected of graduate-level creative writing courses, including: deadlines, feedback, and accountability.

Click here for all the details, including price. With this class you not only get a workshop, but Master Class roundtable sessions with Ken Liu and Amal El-Mohtar, two of my favorite writers.

The 6 Elements Of A Good Author Website

The other day on Twitter Sofia Samatar laid down some truth:

Yes. All the yesses. +1, co-sign.

Every author should have a website, even if you’re just beginning and have only one thing published. Heck, even before you have things published. You should always take as much control over your online presence as you can. That starts with having a good website[1].

Having a good, clear, professional-looking website does not require a lot of technical knowledge, a lot of money, and a lot of maintenance. But if you’re not very technically inclined and feel intimidated by creating a website, there are people who are happy to help you. Some will do so for free, some for a small fee, and some who are pros and charge pro rates. But before we get into that, let’s break down what an author website should have on it.

The six elements you need:

  • Homepage
  • Blog
  • About
  • Publication List
  • Events page*
  • Contact

Homepage

With many author sites it’s a good idea for this to be a static page. Yes, my homepage is my blog. I regret this decision! Especially now that I don’t blog here as much. I’ll likely change it soon. Having a static page allows you to highlight what’s new–such as a new book or story–and give an at-a-glance view to your visitors to the important info about you and serve as a portal to the rest of the site plus other important sites[2]. This is where you’ll list the social networks you’re on and your profiles on Amazon, Goodreads, etc.

Blog

BUT I DON’T WANT TO BLOG you might be screaming right now. That’s fine. Just because I say you should include a blog it doesn’t mean you have to update that blog every day or hour. You don’t even need to call that section Blog. You can call it News, Announcements, or something similar. The purpose of this section is for you to have an easily updatable place to put the kind of news and info readers like. Not just when your book is published, but when it gets a nice review, when it’s nominated for or wins an award, if you’re interviewed or otherwise mentioned in the press, pictures from your book signings or other appearances, when you publish a new story, when you start selling merch, or whatever.

Of course, if you want to have a traditional blog, even better. But don’t feel compelled to make your blog section an online journal if that’s not your speed.

About

In addition to talking about yourself and your amazing work, your About page should contain or have links to your official bio (I have a public Google Doc with a long and short version), your official photos (link to the hi-res versions of images, don’t embed them) and photo credits, and hi-res versions of your book covers. This makes it really easy for folks to grab this info without you having to search it out each time.

This is also the place to list your social network and other profiles.

Publication List

This one is self-explanatory. The only thing I’ll suggest here is that you make it attractive! However, a simple list with links is fine, too.

Events Page

This one had a star next to it because it’s only really necessary if you make a lot of personal appearances and do many signings. Those who’ve published a book will need this section, maybe not if you’re just publishing short stories at the moment. In that case, the announcements on your blog should suffice, just be sure you have a blog category called Events or something like that so they’re easy to find.

There are lots of ways to maintain an Events page and I have no particular best practices. Check out what other authors do for ideas. I do suggest including info on this page on how people can request to book you for events, signings, and the like.

Contact

Always have a way for people to contact you! Always. I prefer to have contact forms because then no one is getting your actual email address unless you email them back. And it cuts down on spam. And if you don’t mind if fans ping you on social media, mention that here, too.

I Am Not Tech-Savvy And Can’t Make My Own Website

That’s okay! There are several options below for creating a website easily without needing technical acumen. But if you still feel nervous about it, there are people who will help you. Some for free, some will charge a fee.

I used to design websites for a living. I don’t anymore, but I still set up WordPress for folks who need it because, for me, it’s simple and doesn’t take much time. If you really need an author website and have $75, I will set it up for you on WordPress.com and walk you through the basics and show you how to update it on your own.

If you need a more complex website, or want an installation on your own host (explained below) and a customized design, there are other folks who can help you. My friends Stephanie Leary and Jeremy Tolbert are both WordPress experts and make beautiful sites. They charge pro rates. They are worth it.

If you’re a person willing to help authors create simple websites for free or for a fee, scroll down to the comments and let us know! Please say whether you work for free or charge and include a link to your website or portfolio.

What Should I Use To Make My Website?

I always suggest that people use WordPress to make author websites. WP is a blogging platform, but it’s easily used as a whole site management tool. It makes updating simple, and you can get a nice look without knowing any code. It’s also free. You can set up a site on WordPress.com or get your own hosting and set it up on your server for free.

There are other options, such as drag and drop site builders on SquareSpace or similar. I’m not a huge fan of those, but as long as they allow you to have all the elements mentioned above with little fuss and at your level of technical comfort, go with what works for you.

I do not suggest using Blogger, because it sucks. LiveJournal and DreamWidth won’t work because they are mainly blogs with a little bit of functionality for static pages, but not enough.

Tumblr is a possibility because you can create static pages, add your own domain name, and mess around with themes enough to customize. However, I find it all really hard compared to WordPress and the resulting site not as functional or easy to maintain.

WordPress.com or Host It Myself?

If you want to set up a site completely for free, then you can go with WordPress.com. Someone on Twitter asked if a site URL like authorname.wordpress.com projected an unprofessional vibe. In my experience, not as much as authorname.blogspot.com or an AOL.com email address. It looks perfectly legit to be on the .com site.

If you’re still nervous about it, you can put your own domain on a WP.com site so it looks like authorname.com even though you’re still using WP.com on the backend. WordPress will sell you a domain name themselves, but it’s a bit less expensive to buy the domain elsewhere and pay the fee to attach it to your WP.com site. I use NameCheap where .com domains cost less than $11 a year.

The drawback with WordPress.com is that you have to use the WP themes they list[3], you can’t install one you just find somewhere. You’re also restricted to specific plugins. Plugins are awesome–they add extra functionality to WordPress and there are a handful I cannot live without.

For the most control over themes, plugins, and domains, you’ll need to get your own hosting account. My main advice here: DO NOT GET GODADDY. It’s just best to look elsewhere. I use MDD Hosting and pay less than $20 per month. There are tons of good hosting options out there–ask for suggestions on social media if you don’t already know of a company. And always read the reviews before you sign up.

Not sure if you need a hosted site or can just stick to WP.com? Start out on WP.com. You can migrate everything, including comments and images, over to a hosted WordPress installation later if you decide to switch. The process is easy.

You Need A Good, Clear Website Of Your Own

You don’t need to spend any money to get one started, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get the little extras that make it feel even more professional, and you don’t need to know anything about code to create and maintain it. If you need help, help is available. If you have questions, ask. Let there be no barriers to you having a good, clear website.

Footnotes

  1. After you have a website, the next step is to create profiles on high profile social networks and other author-related websites so that you can craft your Google search results the way you want to. But that’s a different post….[]
  2. If you want an example of a site with a static front page, look at this other site I built[]
  3. These days there are way more good-looking themes than there were when I moved away from WP.com. For author sites, I suggest checking out Satellite, Writr, Fictive, and Wilson. There are many more free themes to choose from.[]

New Class: Writing the Other Online – Fall 2015

Writing the Other Online Fall 2015 will take place from September 26th to October 31st weekly on Saturdays at 10am Pacific
Location: ONLINE via Google Hangout
Price: $450 + service fee
Registration begins: August 26th, 2015

Writers know that it’s important to write about characters whose gender, sexual orientation, religion, racial heritage, or other aspect of identity differs from their own. But many are afraid to do so for fear that they will get it wrong–horribly, offensively wrong–and think it is better not even to try.

In truth, as author Daniel Jose Older puts it, when writers create characters from backgrounds different than their own, they are really telling the deeper story of their own perception. It is possible to write the Other sensitively and convincingly, and this workshop can start you on the path to doing just that.

Drawing on and updating decades-old work by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, authors of the acclaimed reference “Writing the Other: A Practical Approach”, this six week online course delves deep into learning this sometimes tricky skill. Authors Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford will combine lectures, discussions, and writing exercises in a safe, supportive atmosphere.

The class is appropriate for all writers (fiction, plays, comics, screenplays, and games included) from all backgrounds and any skill level.

Miss this class? Sign up for our mailing list to get notifications when we give it again.

I Challenge You To Support and Signal-Boost Marginalized Voices

Rise Together

If you’re not a person who follows news about gaming or gamers, you might have missed a thing that happened. Tauriq Moosa, a media critic, left social media due to sustained harassment over something he wrote on the Internet. Yesterday, Moosa wrote something else that I want you to read. I’m quoting extensively. Still, read the whole thing.

Lots of folks are trying to show me support. I really appreciate it, but what I would appreciate it more if you took your energy in fighting battles with people who don’t care about me to raise the voices of minority folk. Maybe use this time to try get more people employed who aren’t straight white men.

Instead of the collective being one that shouts down marginalised folk, let the default collective be one that raises us up and doesn’t let us be drowned out by bizarrely angry and dismissive others. The status quo is broken and solidarity for marginalised voices should be a constant for progress, for looking and moving forward; solidarity shouldn’t only exist for when things dissolve. Things are already broken and supporting one another is how we continue.

As you might imagine, I know Moosa’s feel on this one. And I agree 100% that the status quo should be about raising up voices and not focusing on whatever asshole flavor of the month comes along to push us down. I’m not saying don’t argue with them and don’t challenge them–you can’t change their minds. I have proof. You might convince someone watching, though–I’m saying don’t let that be the whole of your work.

There are some defenders (not just of me, in general) that I can count on to ride out of the darkness and skewer obvious bigots on their lance. It’s not hard. And it makes everyone feel better. But then how much work do these defenders do when there’s no prejudice monster to slay? How much public work? How much energy do they expend on taunting the enemy vs touting marginalized artists?

The SFF community has quite a few popular people with giant platforms, and the majority of these people are generous with their platforms. Because the majority are great people! However, I wish that those big platform people would take a minute to look through their last 40 promotion/signal-boosting posts, their last 40 shares on Facebook, their last 100 tweets, and count up how many times marginalized voices get the boost vs people from the dominant culture.

You might be surprised by what you find[1].

Don’t cry about it, though. Seriously, I do not want to hear you crying about how you tried and you do sometimes and you didn’t mean to and and and. What I want from you is to commit yourself to doing better in the future.

Make conscious choices to promote more marginalized voices. Seek out more books, short stories, music, art and the artists and writers who create them. More guest posts, more cover reveals, more vlog embeds, more links, more GIFs. Write thoughtful responses and companion pieces to media criticism that focuses on the issues marginalized people face, and always link back prominently. Give credit to other people’s ideas loudly, in boldface, so that it’s harder for people to say only you and others like you are the expert voices on this stuff. Don’t feel like you know enough or know enough people to do more? Ask your friends, ask the Carl Brandon Society, ask Twitter. Go for balance, or go for imbalance in favor of folks not from the dominant culture. Keep a literal tally so you know for sure.

Take all that anger you feel when someone like Tauriq Moosa is hounded off of social media or when someone like me gets dozens of hate-filled tweets and turn it into a cavalcade of attention for artists and writers who need it (that includes the artists and writers under attack).

Side benefit: it really pisses off bigoted haters when the person they’re trying to tear down gets built up by people with more social and cultural juice than they have.

Main benefit: it gives marginalized voices a better chance at recognition, which could lead to more opportunities for them to get paid for what they do and thus do more of it.

Footnotes

  1. Or, you may find that you’re already building up more marginalized voices than not. Awesome! I appreciate the heck out of you. Do me a favor, though? Nudge your high profile friends, please. Thanks.[]

Coming this September: In the Shadow of the Towers anthology

In the Shadow of the Towers cover

Douglas Lain put together a fantastic new anthology called In the Shadow of the Towers: Speculative Fiction in a Post-9/11 World, and I have a story in it! Until Forgiveness Comes, to be exact. I’m quite honored to be in the company of so many great stories. Particularly There’s A Hole In The City by Richard Bowes, still one of the best post-9/11 stories I’ve ever read.

Pub date is September 1, and you can pre-order the book now from Powell’s or Amazon.

The version of the cover I grabbed off of Amazon is different from the one I saw on Doug Lain’s website a while ago. That version did not have my name on the cover. No idea which is the final, so I guess it will be a fun surprise! (I honestly don’t think it’ll be this version.)

I’m trying to decide if there’s still a chance at getting the radio play version of this produced before September. The script is done, I’d just need a cast, a place to record, a director…. You know, minor stuff.

This Week’s Episodes & Assorted Links – June 13

A new episode of the Tempest Challenge is live. Second ep wherein I turn over challenging duties to the friends I saw at WisCon.

This week’s books feature women in lead roles, queer characters, lushly drawn worlds, women of color wrestling with the future and the past, plus deep questions about the role of religion in human history.

Our guest challengers: Meghan McCarron and Chesya Burke

Between the two of them they recommended three standalone novels and two series. That officially brings the Tempest Challenge reading list up to 37!

If you missed any previous episodes, do not fear. There’s a playlist. Or, you can go through them on the new Tempest Challenge Tumblr.

I quite enjoy having special guests! I’m looking forward to this being a regular thing when I go to cons.

Share a little bit of yourself screenshot

Episode 9 of the JEMcast is also live now. This week we discuss “The World Hunger Shindig,” one of my favorite episodes. Though I am somewhat irked at the white savior complex issues that pop up in the Holograms videos. The part where they ride off on a rainbow while shooting glittery, magical grain into African soil is a bit over the top.

Also, I continue to hate Rio.

Assorted Links

As always, please watch, listen, and share widely!

Tempest Challenge #15: A Stranger in Olondria, Solitaire, Water Logic, Kindred, and the Parable series

Lots of books on the list of recommendations this week, all courtesy of our guest challengers from WisCon. That dealer’s room is full of must reads. Another reason to go next year :)

This week’s books feature women in lead roles, queer characters, lushly drawn worlds, women of color wrestling with the future and the past, plus deep questions about the role of religion in human history.

This week’s challengers: Meghan McCarron and Chesya Burke.

And, as always, you can support me making Tempest Challenge vids by clicking the links below when you…

Buy A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar from Powell’s or Amazon; or Solitaire: a novel by Kelley Eskridge from Powell’s and Amazon; or The Elemental Logic series by Laurie J. Marks from Powell’s or Amazon; or Kindred by Octavia Butler from Powell’s or Amazon; or Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler from Powell’s or Amazon.