One Writer’s Journey

March 13, 2018

Diversity: More than Harriet Tubman

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:06 am

Yesterday I read Danene Millner’s New York Times piece, “Black Kids Don’t Want to Read About Harriet Tubman All the Time.” In it, she discusses the fact that books about stand out individuals like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr are great.  After all, everyone should know about these people.  But black children need to read about more than people who did something first or otherwise stood out.

They need to see their reality reflected in everyday kids and adults doing everyday things.  As Millner wrote, they need books like Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day. They need the works of Andrea Davis Pinkney and Eloise Greenfield.

I’d like to add a few authors to her list.  They also need the books of Pat McKissack and Jacqueline Woodson. I would also add two individual titles – The Quickest Kid in Clarksville and Ada Twist, Scientist.


As an author, I’m going to have to noodle over how to address this.  I could interest a publisher in Hidden Human Computers because it was a stand-out story.  It was previously unknown.  It was a big deal.  When I wrote Women in Science and Women in Sports my editor and I tried to select a variety of people to represent.

One thing that I’m going to do is pay careful attention when I read.  When a publisher illustrates a book of experiments, what about the kids performing these experiments?  Are they diverse?  When I read about music or costumes or food, are all of the examples European and American?  Or are they diverse?

Still noodling this over.  I hate that idea that young readers may feel left out because they don’t see themselves in the pages of the books on their classroom shelves.





March 20, 2017

One Gay Character, One African American: Are you Just Covering Your Bases?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:13 am
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Recently, I read a post over at the Nelson Agency about the dangers of informing a first-reader at an agency or publisher that your manuscript has LGBTQ+ character or that it is diverse.  This particular reader said that when he read things like this in a query letter, he felt like the writer was going down a check list.

One gay character.  Check!

A trans character.  Got it.

Someone who is questioning.  Present and accounted for.

The suggestion is that, instead of stating this, you should just tell about your story.  If these characters are an integral part of it, the diversity will be obvious.

I can understand this request.  Diverse characters are fantastic but they need to belong in the story, and not like sprinkles on a cup cake.  They need to be part of the cake itself.

Back when I was a paid reviewer, I ended up reading tons of teen chick lit.  I’m female but I generally did not connect with these books written “for a female audience.”  For one thing, shopping is not my thing.  I do it to feed myself and avoid exposure to the elements.  But these female characters LOVED to shop.  And, to help them out, they all had a gay best friend.

He offered dating advice and fashion tips, often picking out the perfect shoes to go with that darling prom dress.  Oh, heaven help me.  This character was never key to the plot.  Never.  He was just there.  And gay.  Providing all sorts of essential diversity.

When you are creating your story, your plot should spring from the characters.  The characters shouldn’t be there just so that you can strike them off the list whether we are talking diversity of the racial, ethnic, religious, or LGBTQ+ variety.  It all needs to fit and work together instead of reading like that table of mismatched items at a yard sale.




March 9, 2017

Welcome to Sesame Street!

This is a great opportunity for any writer who can pursue it.

Sesame Street Writers’ Room is a new fellowship opportunity from the creators of Sesame Street. Who is it for?  New writers from underrepresented racial backgrounds. Sesame Street has always represented diversity on screen and this is a behind-the-screen opportunity for people of any of these groups: Asian, Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic, Native American, Middle Eastern, or multiracial (two or more races, which may include white).

Applicants must:

Be 21 years-of-age at the time of the fellowship  this summer (dates online)

Have an 11 page script to apply

Be able to get to New York City for week night discussion sessions.


This really is an amazing opportunity to hone your script writing skills.  To find out more, visit the Sesame Street Writers’ Room here.  The application is due at the end of the month so don’t delay!


February 16, 2017

Reality vs Perception: When What You Know Isn’t Main Stream


Fort Davis, Texas

Tuesday I saw an article in Smithsonian. “The Lesser-Known History of African-American Cowboys.”  Whoa. It was a surreal moment because I grew up knowing all about these cowboys.

An electrician by trade, my father was a history buff.  We toured every fort we passed, scoured museums and walked paths reading signs.  I grew up hearing about these cowboys as well as the buffalo soldiers.  We discussed the African American families that moved West after the Civil War as well as the escaped slaves that found homes as members of various tribes. Lesser known?  Honey, I grew up on this history.

But the problem is that what we KNOW may not be well known by the dominant culture.  A friend of mine wrote a mystery set in a small, fictitious Missouri town.  She has a four way stop in the middle of town and now I’m trying to remember what was there.  Post office, bank and something else maybe?  Her editor, a New Yorker, challenged her on this.  “These things don’t exist.”  This same editor had never heard of the New Madrid fault let alone the New Madrid earthquake.  Missouri reality is apparently not “mainstream.”

Not everyone you deal with from either coast is going to be so immune to other realities.  But some people truly have not heard of the things that we assume are “known.”  That’s why making sure that diverse books are available is so important. Books on all cultures and time periods and different types of science need to be out there.  Thta way the kid who comes home with a bag full of books every week has access to a wide range of stories.  In twenty years, she’ll be the one looking at Smithsonian saying, ” Little known?  I read about that when I was 8!”



January 18, 2017

Lee and Low: Changes in Leadership

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:00 am
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cheryl-klein-headshot-1-e1484342544751Seriously, my plan is not to report on only markets this week but when I see an announcement about a press or editor I love?  Yep.  You’re going to hear about it.

If you aren’t on Twitter you may not know that yesterday Lee & Low books announced a change in leadership.  In March Cheryl Klein will join the company as the new editorial director, replacing Louise May who has done so much for the publisher.

On March 1, 2017, Louise May will become editor-at-large.  In this position she will continue to work with her list of authors and illustrators to add more titles to the list.  May has clearly played a key role in making Lee & Low what it is today.  Her backlist includes many award-winning titles such as Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore’s Parrots Over Puerto Rico (Robert F. Sibert Medal winner), Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown (Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor), The Pot that Juan Built by Nancy Andrews-Goebel (Pura Belpré Award Honor),  and Etched in Clay by Andrea Ching (Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award).

Cheryl Klein’s commitment to diversity has been evident in the books she published at the Arthur A. Levine Books imprint of Scholastic.  Such titles include, Shadowshaper, If I Ever Get Out of Here, Marcelo in the Real World, and The Princess and the Pony.  In addition, she was a founding member of the Children’s Book Council’s Diversity Committee.

I for one am excited to see the books that come out of this pairing.  Klein is definitely a powerhouse with a mission and Lee and Low and its readers are sure to benefit from her talents.


November 2, 2016

Character Diversity: Don’t Create a Character Checklist

Ithe_hammer_of_thor‘m almost finished with Rick Riordan’s The Hammer of Thor, the second book in the Magnus Chase series.  This book was just what I needed.  I’m really appreciating Riordan’s relentlessly cheeky sense of humor.  That said, I had reservations early in the book.

The two main characters in the book are Magnus Chase, formerly homeless hero, and Sam, a Muslim Valkyrie.  For some reason, that character didn’t bother me.  Like Magnus Chase, she is the child of a Norse god but unlike Chase Sam does not consider her father a god.  He may be really powerful, but as far as Sam is concerned there is only one God.

Both of these characters are from book #1 in the series but when Riordan introduced a new character, I felt like he might have a checklist going.  Person of Color, preferably Muslim — Check/Sam.  LGBQT or Gender Fluid character — Check/Alex.  Like Magnus, Alex is also a demigod but Alex is also transgender and gender fluid.  I briefly felt like Riordan was just trying too hard to hit all the diversity high points.

But I was so appreciating the humor that I kept going and I have to say that I’m glad I did.   Why?  Because I feel like I came to a hasty judgement.

In part, this is because I really like the character. Like my brother-in-law, Alex is a potter.  Alex is also more than a little cheeky with personality to spare.  Riordan didn’t just slap the label transgender on a character.  This is truly a part of who Alex is and that is reflected in choice of art form, tattoo/symbol and more.  It also explains the total melt down the character has upon becoming a resident of Valhalla.

When you create a “diverse” character, you have to make them completely 3 dimensional and believable.  You have to make whatever trait it is that makes them diverse truly a part of them.  In short, you have to make them a strong character just like you would with any other character in your story.

I’m guessing that Riordan didn’t need me to tell him that.


August 28, 2015

Diversity: What is Casual Diversity?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:46 am
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Since I’m now writing books that fall into the category of diversity, I decided I better educate myself when I ran into a new-to-me term — Casual Diversity.  Casual diversity is when diverse characters populate a story but the story is not about diversity.

For example, let’s say you are writing a series of fantasy novels.  In this fantasy world, some characters have amazing powers but these powers are often feared. In most territories within this story, these characters live under a veil of suspicion and have to directly serve their king or queen.  Only one territory is different but it is also geographically separated from the others and harder to reach so there has been less cultural exchange.  Your story is about a gifted character who wants to prove, to herself and others, that she isn’t all that bad even if her gift can easily result in someone’s death.

What the heck does this have to do with diversity?  This story idea may sound familiar if you’ve read Graceling, Fire or Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.  Her stories are about characters struggling with magic. They are not about diversity, at least not directly.  And yet there are two men who are a couple and also two women. These aren’t the many characters but important secondary characters.  Casual diversity.

But not all authors and editors love this idea.  The concern that I’ve seen expressed most often is that in an attempt to create books with diverse characters, authors will more or less randomly assign a culture or race to various characters.  “She’s black.  He’s native american.  And that one?  That one’s muslim.”  While I can see their concern, to me that just sounds like sloppy characterization.  After all, we should all know the backstories for our characters and a character who is Black, Native American or Muslim will be shaped in subtle ways by their background.

Personally, my greatest concern is that these diverse characters will fall into stereotypes and cliches– the gay best friend who loves to shop, the sassy black girl, Chinese genius, and the black male athlete.  Let’s face it.  I’ve seen these characters.

That said, I don’t think that casual diversity is a bad thing.  In fact, I think that it’s a necessary thing.  We’ll know we’ve finally got it right when books that appear to be casually diverse are populated by three-dimensional characters that are both read and compelling.






August 10, 2015

Diversity: Write It or No

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:26 am
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MuffinIf you study writing markets, you’ve seen the call for “diverse manuscripts.”  Editors want fiction with diverse characters.  They want manuscripts that deal with diverse topics.  They want pieces that relevant to diverse readers.  These calls leave many writers wondering – is this something I should try to write.

I came into children’s writing from a slightly different direction than most writers.  My background is in history and anthropology.  In anthropology we were taught how difficult it is to study your own culture.  The belief is that you are simply too close to judge the ideal (what we say we believe) vs the real (what we really do).

Imagine my surprise when I entered the world of publishing and heard, “No.  If you aren’t part of the culture, don’t write it.  Quit stealing the stories that belong to people who actually belong to these groups.”

So, which is it?  Can you write a story if you aren’t a part of that group? Or should you leave it be?  Personally, I think you need to consider some things before you decide.

Why do you want to write this story?  If the answer is “There is a lot of money in diversity and I want my share” then back off.  Any manuscript that you attempt just for the money will lack the verve that comes to a manuscript you really believe in.  If, on the other hand, there is something about this particular story that just won’t let you go, proceed to question #2.

Do I have biases that will keep me from doing a good job?  Sometimes we simply cannot see a topic clearly because of our biases.  Avoid writing about things that touch on your pet peeves.  Have a topic you tend to get on a soapbox about?  Leave it alone.

Am I willing to do the research?  Try writing about a topic with which you have no personal experience and you are going to have to do a lot of research.  If you’re not ready to take that one, leave this story for someone else.  If, on the other hand, the idea of the research excites you, this may be a manuscript for you.

Am I willing to listen when someone tells me I have something wrong?  Writing from another perspective means learning to think in a different way.  Your character is going to interpret things from a perspective that is not only different but may also be contradictory to your own.  To do this right, may require help.

Still not sure you can do it right?  Read my post from yesterday at the Muffin to find out how these worries can block your creativity.


February 10, 2015

Diversity Reading Challenge

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:48 am
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Pam Loves Books, aka The Unconventional Librarian, has created a top-notch reading challenge for those of us who love books for children and teens.  The challenge, if you accept it, is a Diversity Reading Challenge.

Take a look at the graphic to the right.  I have to admit that although I read a wide variety of books, I’m not always incredibly conscious about whether or not they were written by a diverse group of authors.  To meet this challenge, I’m going to have to be more aware, but that seems to be the point.

What are some of the possibilities?  Admittedly, I’m going to interpret diverse rather broadly as in non-European-American.

1.  Sitting here on my desk is Separate is Never Equal.  The author is from Mexico.

2.  I’m not going to cheat and use book #1 again, but on my desk I also have Dreaming In Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices.

3.  What could I read for this one?  I like nonfiction so I’m considering Susan Kuklin’s Beyond Magenta.

4.  Again for me and nonfiction, but I will probably read A Boy and His Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz.

5.  I’m tempted to go with the old favorite Hooway for Wodney Wat which I would not have chosen if I had considered how hard that would be to type.  But I want to read something new so I’ve requested Ben Rides On.

6.  I just read Josephine but I’ll look around and see what else I can find for this one.

7.  I’ve requested Firebird.

8.  I’ve requested On a Clear Day.  

9.  Another request, this time for Nathan Blows out the Hannukah Candles.

10.  One City, Two Brothers was awesome, but I want to find something new to me.

11.  Hmm.  I’ll admit.  This is something I generally avoid.  Call me whimpy.  Maybe The Mockingbirds?

12.  I’ve already read My Two Moms  and Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mother’s House.  Any suggestions for this one?


December 12, 2013

Lee and Low: Publisher Continues to Grow

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:17 am
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Lee and Low is one of those publishers that I tend to keep an eye on not because my work is a great match for them but because they published my friend Lynn Rubright’s book, Mama’s Window.  

Just a few weeks ago, they acquired another publisher, Shen’s Books.  Shen’s Books was founded as a retailer in 1985.  They began publishing books in 1997 with an emphasis on cultural diversity and tolerance.  Their also focus on introducing children to Asian cultures.

Shen’s Books will be an imprint of Lee and Low, which will publish backlist titles as well as new titles.  The Shen’s Books imprint will release seven reprints in early 2014, as well as one new title in the spring.

Lee & Low is the largest U.S. children’s book publisher that specializes in diversity. It will be interesting to see where this new acquisition takes the company as a whole.




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