Author Interview: Fonda Lee

zeroxober

Post by K.C. Maguire …

This week I’m really excited to present an interview I recently did with debut YA sci-fi author, Fonda Lee, who, apart from being a great writer and fellow sci-fi aficionado, was also a student in the first writing class I ever took many years ago! Her debut novel, Zeroboxer, was recently released by Flux. When I asked her some searching questions about the novel and her writing process, here’s what she had to say …

KC: Zeroboxer is an extremely unique story in that it merges the world of sports (a space-age version of boxing) with sci-fi, politics, genetics, and romance. What gave you the idea for this novel?

FL: Zeroboxer is really a blend of my own experiences and interests. I have a business background, and it was while I was working at corporate strategy at Nike that I first got the idea for writing a story about a young man who becomes a sport celebrity and has to deal with all the pressures and expectations that come with that. I knew I wasn’t going to write a modern day sports story though. I’ve been a science fiction fan most of my life. I’ve been a martial artist most of my life. So sports plus science fiction plus martial arts…

KC: While the story focuses closely on the protagonist (Carr Luka), you chose to buck the recent trend in YA writing and write his story in the third person rather than the first person. Did you make this choice consciously? What were some of the advantages you found in writing from this perspective?

FL: I usually know, going into a story, what POV feels right for the book. I knew Zeroboxer was meant to be told in close third person, so though it was my  conscious choice to write it that way, it never felt like there was any question. I really enjoy writing in third person. It provides such wonderful versatility when it comes to distance; you can be just as much in the main character’s head as with first person, but you can also step back and be a bit more removed at times. First person is like a set of fixed binoculars; third person is like a telescoping lens that you can adjust to see near and far. Zeroboxer is an action-heavy novel and I wanted the fight scenes to play almost cinematically in the reader’s mind, the shots cutting seamlessly from the wide lens to the close up. Can you imagine if all the action scenes were like, “I swung my fist, I dodged, I blocked”? I…I…I…ugh, talk about grating and tedious, like one of those first person video games!

KC: Genetics plays a large role in the story, particularly concerns about an uneven playing field in a world where genetic advantages are possible. Genetic enhancements have always been a controversial topic. Did you have any qualms tackling such a fraught topic in the novel? What were the major challenges in presenting a balanced perspective on the issue?

FL: That’s the great thing about science fiction: it’s the perfect genre to tackle fraught topics. Science fiction has a long tradition of addressing very important and controversial modern day issues through the lens of extrapolation into the future. Iconic science fiction series likeStar Trek and Battlestar Galactic (two of my two favorite shows of all time) handled all sorts of social, political, and technological subjects. My goal as a writer isn’t to take a side or not take a side; it’s to tell a good story. I want people to think about the issues that are inherent in the novel and that exist in our world today, but I want them to do that without noticing any authorial voice. The way to do that is to create the characters, put them in the situation, and get out of the way. In Zeroboxer, Carr faces major decisions but I take no stand on whether what he did is right or wrong; he does what he does because he is who he is. It’s up to readers to come to their own conclusions.

KC: You could be the poster child for a struggle to balance family life, work, and writing.  What advice would you give other writers who are struggling to make time for their writing?

FL: If you figure it out, let me know! All I can say is, treat your writing like a job. If you think of it as a hobby, don’t expect it to ever amount to more than that: a hobby. You probably already have a job, a family, and other obligations. Well, pretend that you just lost your mind and signed up to work another part time job of X hours per week and you can’t back out any more than you can back out of your current job or taking your kids to the doctor. Something might have to give. You might have to watch less television, eat more take-out, give up scrapbooking night, abandon your plans to clean the garage. So be it.

KC: Who are some of your favorite sci-fi and fantasy authors?

FL: I have a lot of favorite authors. Neil Gaiman is a master storyteller; he really excels at making the fantastical feel grounded in our world. I really enjoy Paolo Bacigalupi’s gritty dystopian fare. Both of them write YA and adult, which I hope to do. Growing up, I was enamored with Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series and Issac Asimov’s robot novels; they both played a bit part in turning me into a speculative fiction writer.

KC: What are you working on now?

FL: I’m working on a new fantasy novel. It’s in it’s early stages, so I won’t say more lest I jinx it. I’m superstitious like that.

Thanks for sharing your time and thoughts with us, Fonda! We look forward to your next book and, for those who haven’t read Zeroboxer yet, pick up a copy today and … enjoy!!!

Would You Like a Side of Kick-Ass with your Protagonist?

by K C Maguire

I’m always harping on this so excuse me if I’ve harped on it here before, but I keep getting myself into a feedback loop when writing, particularly when writing for younger audiences, about just how kick-ass my protagonist has to be. I’ve been to plenty of writing workshops where we’re told to avoid “passive” protagonists and to make sure our main characters are quirky and active, but that’s sometimes a problem for me because I (like many writers) am a bit of an introvert and find it harder to relate to active protagonists. Even as a reader I actually like quieter characters a lot of the time. I don’t need my main character to be kicking literary butt in order to be engaged in her story.

I also get a little confused about what folks mean by “active” versus passive. Sometimes I think folks who talk about active protagonists really do mean physically active (think black belt) but sometimes I think they actually mean that the character has agency in her own story – it’s the character herself that makes things happen rather than simply being drawn along by the story.

Thinking about some big hits in the young adult space in recent years, I’m having trouble classifying some well known and well loved heroes and heroines as active versus passive under either definition.

For example, Katniss in The Hunger Games definitely kicks butt (including killing other kids in the Games), but she’s really reacting to a situation imposed upon her. She reluctantly enters the Games in the first book, doesn’t expect to win and certainly doesn’t expect to become the face of a revolution.

And what about Harry Potter? He finds out that he’s a wizard and is whisked off to wizarding school, reacting to circumstances along the way simply to keep his head above water. He doesn’t go to Hogwarts with all sorts of plans and plots in mind (Draco does though!) but he kinda goes with the flow.

And I won’t even mention Bella in Twilight …

What do you all think about the distinction between active and passive protagonists? What does an active protagonist mean to you? How important is it that your protagonist be active to have an engaging story?

Let The Games Begin ….

I’ve noticed lately a lot of YA books billed as “The Hunger Games meets [fill in the blank]”.

It seems that ever since the amazing success of that book, now movie, series there’s been an obsession with dangerous reality games in the YA space.

Now, I tend to really LIKE these books so I don’t know that I’m complaining about the trend, but I have read a lot of them lately and I wonder if we could do without books that are about fights to the death between young people?

Two of the most recent books I’ve read in this genre are “Throne of Glass” (Sarah J. Maas) the first in a fantasy series involving a lead character who is a dangerous assassin, and “Vault of Dreamers” (Caragh O’Brien) about a contest to win a permanent place at a dangerous boarding school for artistically gifted children – the losers of the contest tend to end up dead much of the time. I enjoyed both books and I also enjoyed The Hunger Games, The Selection and a bunch of other books involving weird and creepy contests between kids.

But it did get me to thinking how far we can take the idea.

Then I started thinking of my own kids and what sorts of contests I’d like to see them win.

How about a contest for doing the chores or doing homework, or doing something nice for mom and dad?

Probably that wouldn’t sell millions of copies in novel form but it may put a smile on my face!

 

Neverending Stories: Writing Sequels and Series

by K.C. Maguire

I make no apologies for the fact that I love reading trilogies, quadrologies, series etc, especially in the science fiction and fantasy area. However, I also have my pet peeves about sequels and series, particularly when it seems that the writer or publisher has lost the plot (literally speaking) and is milking the series for all (s)he can get. It’s important to know when a story is done and when it’s time to move on to something new. Of course, I have to admit that sometimes authors who really have lost the plot continue to make money because readers will pick up anything containing their beloved characters, even a grocery list…

Recently, I attended a lecture about fantasy and science fiction writing where the presenter (herself, an established series writer) answered a question about series writing by saying that a series is not an “excuse for repetition, but rather a call to go deeper”.

This statement resonated with me as a reader and I started thinking about techniques for “going deeper” when writing a series. Now, I have to admit that I haven’t personally written any sequels or series myself, so I’m speaking entirely as a reader here. But these are my suggestions for going deeper if considering writing a series:

(a) ensuring the series has an over-arching theme that resonates with the individual books;

(b) changing point of view characters between books;

(c) altering the timelines between books;

(d) introducing readers to new aspects of the social, political, cultural, religious, or geographical features of the fictional world; and,

(e) raising the stakes between books.

These ideas are all interconnected. In particular, all of them relate in some way to the first notion: ensuring the series ties together with an over-arching theme.

We can all probably think of examples of series that use these techniques to greater or lesser effect. One of my favorite YA fantasy authors for engaging in many of these techniques is Maggie Stiefvater. She uses most of these approaches in her Wolves of Mercy Falls series and, more recently, her Raven Cycle.

I’m not sure how many sequels or series I’m ever going to write in my life. But for those who write sequels for readers like me, it pays to think about how to go deeper in the next book and the next book … and the next, and to avoid repetition.

🙂

Are there other ways to keep the reader engaged that I’ve missed here? Share your thoughts …

Happy New Year from the Space City Scribes

New Year

 (by K.C. Maguire)

Here it is. The last blog post for 2014 from your friendly neighborhood scribes.

Looking back on the year, we asked ourselves what our New Year’s Resolutions should be for 2015 and, unsurprisingly, writing more, writing better and revising kept coming up on our lists.

Here’s some of the other things we resolved to do with ourselves in 2015.

  • Monica and Mandy both resolved to win more writing bets against each other. Should be fun to watch!
  • Monica’s also planning to write a “dude” novel and work on her illustration skills. She could practice illustrating dudes!
  • Artemis is planning to learn fencing. Maybe Mandy could give her some pointers (no pun intended … well, maybe)
  • Mandy very sensibly resolved to set more achievable goals for herself, while at the same time resolving to workout, play more, read more and win those writing bets. Good luck with achievability!
  • Ellen L. is going to look for an illustrator to work with in the future which seems to gel nicely with Monica’s resolutions. Monica, meet Ellen. Ellen, Monica. Go for it! Ellen’s also going to WRITE EVERY DAY. (And so say all of us.)
  • Ellen R. is going to eat less and exercise more as well as writing weekly. I’m right there with her.
  • And what am I going to do? Well, I’m not going to finish my MFA but hopefully will finish at least a draft of a YA novel. I want to be a better writer, mother and generally a good person. But if that all gets too difficult, I want to find myself a nice open fireplace with a stack of books and lose myself in the narrative!

What’s everyone else planning? Can writers ever come up with resolutions that don’t involve writing more and writing better? Probably not. Maybe we should all take up fencing instead? Probably easier AND less dangerous to our psyches.

Tai chi anyone?

Happy New Year

From the Space City Scribes

 

 

Slow Beginnings …

by K C Maguire

My nine year old son said to me the other day that while he loves reading (and I know he reads well above his age level so he’s serious about reading), he finds it difficult to start reading a new book. He hates the way that he has to focus on how the characters and story develop before he can immerse himself in it as a reader. I suppose this is the impetus for all those children’s writing workshop sessions where the instructor tells the wannabe writers to always start with a bang (although perhaps not literally an explosion). It’s certainly true that in order to grab the attention of agents and editors the first paragraph, heck even the first line, has to be so arresting the reader can’t put it down. Agents and editors are working their way through digital slush piles that are larger than ever because of the ease of submitting digitally and the fact that so many people want to write. In fact, I managed to enroll myself in an entire 10 week course in crafting strong beginnings in children’s fiction.

But my son’s words started me thinking about the demographics of the readers and their interests. It may be true that it’s not only agents and editors who need a snappy and engaging opening. It might be that the younger readers too want stuff happening really quickly in order to engage with the book. The generation that spends its time on computers and watches endless videos, movies and immersive video games may be so used to the instant gratification of total and immediate immersion in the world of the movie or game that they require the same in a book. While generations who were not so acclimated to immediate immersion in the story might have been willing to spend more time getting to know the characters and their situations, today’s readers may be too impatient for that.

I’m wondering how books like “To Kill A Mockingbird” would fare (or actually do fare) in the hands of today’s younger readers? I’m also interested in what opportunities are lost when readers want stuff to happen so quickly in books to the detriment of intricate settings and slow character development? Is there anything intrinsically better about books that are faster paced or has it simply become a cultural expectation? Of course, I can think of plenty examples of short books where the action is immediate and the pace is fast, but there is also intricate plotting and character development. A recent (horrific) fave in this respect is “House of Stairs” by William Sleator. And there are many popular books for grown-ups that still have slow starts and intricate plot and character development. Did I mention the “Game of Thrones” books for example? But it may be telling that high fantasy is not so popular amongst younger readers because it relies on slower paced and more intricate plot and character development, although of course there are exceptions to every rule: for example, Cinda Williams Chima’s “Seven Realms” series and Morgan Rhodes’ “Falling Kingdoms” series.

I’m really interested in folks’ thoughts on what we gain and what we lose with our obsession on fast paced children’s narratives with snappy openings, and whether there are some genres that lose out more than others.

Author Interview: Deborah Halverson

New Adult Fictionby K C Maguire

I’m truly thrilled this week to be presenting an author interview with author/editor Deborah Halverson. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a number of workshops presented by Deborah and she’s one of the best, most dedicated editors in the business. She also really knows the children’s writing field and has branched out into teaching us about how to write new adult fiction in her new release, Writing New Adult Fiction.

Here’s some info about Deborah …

Deborah Halverson is the award-winning author of Writing New Adult Fiction, Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth, and numerous books for young readers. Deborah was an editor at Harcourt Children’s Books for ten years—until she climbed over the desk and tried out the author chair on the other side. Armed with a Masters in American Literature and a fascination with pop culture, she sculpts stories from extreme places and events—tattoo parlors, fast food joints, and, most extreme of all, high schools. She is also the founder of the popular writers’ advice website DearEditor.com, and she serves on the advisory board for UC San Diego Extension “Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating” certificate program. Deborah speaks extensively at workshops and conferences for writers and edits adult fiction and nonfiction while specializing in teen fiction, New Adult fiction, and picture books. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband and triplet sons. For more about Deborah, visit DeborahHalverson.comor DearEditor.com.

And now for the interview …

KC: You are a jack(Jill?)-of-all-trades: author of children’s books and craft books, editor, social media maven, and mother of triplets. How do you balance everything?

DH: I certainly don’t corner the market on juggling—writers constantly amaze me with the number of balls they can keep in the air and still produce fabulous work. My tactic is to put everything on my calendar (the sight of all the colored task bars and appointment squares has scared people who caught a glimpse of it) and then just march through the rainbow day by day, deadline by deadline—or rather, bird by bird, to paraphrase Anne Lamott. In fact, I mutter, Bird by bird, Deborah, bird by bird so often that my nine-year-old sons have picked up the habit. I recently heard one saying “Bird by bird” to steel himself when he faced a big math worksheet.

KC: What prompted you to tackle “Writing New Adult Fiction”?

DH: I’ve been intrigued by stories about young people who’ve just left the insulated, sometimes even vice-like, bubble of parental control since way back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. I was seeing such stories come to editorial meetings but ultimately get declined because, as much as we editors loved the stories, we couldn’t work out how we’d sell them in bookstores that had no shelves earmarked for them. There were YA sections. There were sections for adult fiction. But what about the in-between stories? There wasn’t even a name for that kind of story then. So when social media and ebook/self-publishing technology created the opportunity for writers of those stories to reach out directly to people who wanted to read them, I was all over it. That was 2012. By then we had a name for it—“New Adult fiction.” I started reading NA novels and comparing how the new adult and teen experiences and mindsets were being expressed in words and stories. It seemed a natural next step for me, with my editorial background and DearEditor.com writer’s advice website, to share what I’d learned in a how-to book for those who wanted write about this heady, scary, and empowering phase of life.

KC: The book covers not only writing craft issues, but also practical publishing, marketing and career development issues. As an author yourself, what is your favorite part of the writing and publishing process, and why? What do you think is the most challenging part of the process?

DH: I love revision!!!!! The magic that happens in that step blows my mind. Good blossoms to great. Intention blossoms to realization. Wordy turns to crisp and accessible. Doesn’t matter if it’s my own writing or that of a writer I’m working with as an editor, I find it intensely satisfying to see a story evolve. On the flip side, I think a blank page is one of the worst things in the world because there is too much possibility,too many opportunities, too many decisions to be made. Once I’ve made some decisions, even if it’s just by writing a paragraph or two, then I feel calmer because there’s something to assess and then reject, improve, or build upon. Then I’m back in my comfort zone.

KC: An interesting aspect of the book is the discussion of the development of the NA market niche largely through early self-publishing efforts. Do you think the niche will now be subsumed by traditional publishers who have recently discovered this vibrant market space, or will self-publishing remain a mainstay?

DH: I think the publishers would have to wrench that category away from the self-published community, and I don’t see that happening. There are too many reasons why the self-publishing model works with the NA realm—its internet-savvy audience, its digital-book foundation, its thriving community of NA writers, readers, and bloggers, and NA writers’ bold entrepreneurship. I expect traditional publishing to help curate NA’s offerings for those readers who want curation, and to partner strongly with writers who want the benefits of a publishing partnership—the professional expertise, the extra promo reach and distribution, and the credibility with certain audiences. But I think that, ultimately, the NA category will settle in as a realm shared by self-published and traditionally published but dominated by self-publishers.

KC: Who are some of your favorite NA authors, and why?

DH: I love to recommend these NA books to those looking for an entry into the category:

  • Hushed by Kelley York. A thriller with an atypical romance, giving the college story a fresh tweak.
  • Paradise 21 (A New Dawn #1) by Aubrie Dionne. You can see the NA experience happening in outer space science fiction. NA isn’t all sex in college!
  • I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. A quintessential NA story before there was an official NA category. Features a 19-year-old cab driver that knows he’s “failed to launch” but doesn’t know what to do about it or have the personal initiative to set about figuring it out. Outside elements push him into embracing life until he eventually starts taking action of his own accord. This book was published in 2009 by Zusak’s children’s book publisher through their YA program because 1) there was no NA category yet, 2) Zusak already had an international reputation as a children’s book writer thanks to his award-winning bestseller The Book Thief, and 3) many publishers publish NA stories featuring 18- to 20-year-old protagonists through their YA programs.
  • Bared to You by Sylvia Day. One of the first NA titles. Day wrote this before she and most others realized there was anything being called “New Adult fiction.” It’s a primary example of NA stories about first forays into career, with romance and sexual discovery as its driving themes.
  • Easy by Tammara Webber. Another pioneer NA title, this one set in college. It explores the important NA theme of what it means not just to survive a trauma but to cope with it and accept or move on from it.
  • After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn. An example of NA fiction that’s neither realistic contemporary nor creature-based paranormal, the genres that primarily launched NA and still dominate. This story—fantastical and taking place outside of college—features superhuman heroes (like “Captain Olympus”) and the people who have to live with them.
  • Ward Against Death (Chronicles of a Reluctant Necromancer #1) by Melanie Card. A fun example of the identity establishment efforts that characterize the new adult time of life. In this story, a young man has been set on a career path by his family—he is a necromancer, waking the dead—but he can’t reject that path because he doesn’t know a more suitable one … yet.

KC: You mention in the book that the NA market contains a lot of romance and you dedicate an entire chapter to crafting believable romantic relationships. Do you think there’s a growing market for NA books without romance or where romance plays only a very minor part?

DH: You ask about romance, but when talking NA there are really two points to parse out: the importance of romantic storylines, and the importance of sexually explicit scenes.

I believe romance will always play a part in NA stories, even when it’s only a secondary storyline. Love is a main area of identity exploration. The late teens and early twenties are prime time for people to explore romantic options as well as their own sexual identities, so it makes sense that NA writers would include romance in their stories. Matters of the heart matter to people once they hit puberty, so romance is a regular element in NA fiction, YA fiction, and fiction for adults.

Explicit sex scenes can be found in many of the pioneering NA books, and so sex has become associated with NA lit and many readers do expect it. But is it a must? Sort of. It makes sense to me that sex is included: premarital sex is more acceptable than ever, and young people are surrounded by other young people equally interested in exploring and equally free to do so now that they’re on their own. The opportunities and interest are there. That said, now that NA has become established and is pushing for a greater range of stories and thematic exploration, there seems to be a call for fiction that doesn’t necessarily get into the nitty gritty of body parts and movements. After all, not everyone who wants to read about the NA experience wants such graphic detail, and not every writer is comfortable writing it. Ultimately, the details of the sex acts aren’t necessary in order to explore love at this stage of life. Serve up emotionally satisfying relationships. Craft stories that build up sexual anticipation through love denied, teased, and toyed with. A much-anticipated kiss can be more dramatically powerful than a perfunctory graphic groping. That’s why I dedicate a full chapter of my book to the crafting believable, satisfying romance. And it’s why I say that explicit sex scenes are currently expected but maybe not so essential in the long run. The degree of explicitness in NA fiction is an evolving element.

KC: What is the most important piece of advice you think a new author trying to break into the NA market should keep in mind?

DH: The NA market is a speed-driven one, with lots of factors making authors feel like they must publish quickly and frequently. I worry about they’re sacrificing quality for speed and encourage them to take a little bit longer to edit and revise. Well written books make for loyal fans, and loyal fans are a vocal bunch. Look at the example of prolific, bestselling Sylvia Day, who spends more time revising than writing. I interviewed Sylvia when I was researching my book, and then she graciously wrote the foreword for it. Here’s what she said of revision: “The revision part of the process takes longer than the initial writing. The writing usually comes very quickly, then the revision will take two to three times longer than the first draft.” Revision is a powerful writing tool. Every spring on DearEditor.com I dedicate a week to interviewing prolific award-winners and bestsellers to examine their revision processes. You can read how 19 writers with 500+ books between them tackle revision and still publish voluminously at my Revision Week Archive: http://deareditor.com/revision-week-archive/

 

(interview originally published at kcmaguire.com)

Writing Under a Pseudonym

by K.C. Maguire

pseudonymIn the September issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, Ronald Goldfarb contributed an interesting article (at pp 67-68) about whether, and when, it’s appropriate to use pseudonyms for different kinds of writing: non-fiction, memoir, fiction based on true stories, pure fiction etc. This is a timely piece in light of criticisms that have been launched at authors like J.K. Rowling as they have tried to escape from their existing author-identities to change genres or to attempt to appeal to different audiences, or if they simply want their writing to be judged on its own merits without all the baggage their name entails.

An attorney, author, and literary agent who himself writes under a pseudonym when he writes fiction (R.L. Sommer), Goldfarb shares some interesting thoughts on the ethics of using false names when writing for commercial publication. I was particularly interested in a quote he shared from the New York Times Ethics column which stated that:

If the goal of using a pseudonym is to stop the reader from prejudging fictional material based on who the author is (or what the author might represent), there is no problem. That’s an attempt to remove baggage. But if the pseudonym’s goal is to actively push the reader into thinking something fallacious about the writer or the material – solely for commercial or critical benefit – the act is mildly immoral. That’s adding baggage on purpose.”

Goldfarb summarizes the ethics formula as follows: “it’s OK to use a pseudonym if it stops readers from unintentionally altering their reading experience, but if it alters a readers’ reading experience, don’t.”

The devil, of course, is in the details. How does a writer know when the use of a pseuondym will alter a reader’s reading experience? For example, if J K Rowling had written her detective stories under her own name, rather than under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, would this have altered the reading experience or not? And isn’t it completely subjective whether and when a reading experience is affected by the identity of the author?

This is not to criticize Goldfarb or the New York Times ethics column. This question is notoriously difficult to answer. Writers like Goldfarb and indeed R J  Palacio who wrote the best-selling Middle Grade novel “Wonder” are involved in the writing industry in their day jobs, and didn’t want their associations with the industry to impact on the acceptance or rejection of their fictional work by agents and editors who knew them personally by their real names. I actually write under a pseudonym myself (big confession time!) when I write fiction because I write academic texts under my real name and I want to keep the identities separate.

I’ve always been fascinated as to when the use of a pseudonym is regarded as acceptable versus as some kind of fraud on the reading public. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the issue …

Writing Diversity

by K.C. Maguire

On reading my copy of the July/August SCBWI Bulletin, I was interested in an article by the Executive Director, Lin Oliver, about writing diversity in children’s books. Like many others, she agrees on the importance of diversity in books for children, but raises questions about who should write diverse characters. In other words, does one have to be an African-American or a Native-American, for example, to write an African-American or Native-American character? I’ve been very interested in this question for a while, particularly since I learned about concerns raised when Susan Cooper, author of the Dark is Rising series, recently released a YA book, Ghost Hawk, in which the main character is a Native-American. Cooper apparently did a great deal of research for the book and her writing is lovely, but she is not herself Native-American. Then I compared that situation with some criticism of Dork Diaries author Rachel Renee Russell, herself an African-American, for not more prominently featuring African-American characters in her books.

A lot has been written about whether white writers should write minority characters, and whether minority authors should feel obliged to write characters who represent their own backgrounds. The answer must be that “it depends”, mustn’t it? As Lin Oliver points out, a writer has to be able to “authentically write” from the point of view of a main character, and if a particular author feels he or she cannot authentically write a character from a different ethnic background, that author may not be comfortable writing the book, and may not write a good book.

I also wonder if the same concerns ring true for gender as they do for race. It seems to me that far fewer criticisms are lobbied against women who write male characters or men who write female characters. I’ve written from the point of view of teen boys and middle-aged men relatively comfortably, but I doubt I could (and I don’t know that I should try to) write an authentic African-American, Native-American, or Hispanic character. I have written characters who are in same-sex relationships, even though I’m a heterosexual middle-aged mother of three.

As usual, the academic in me is raising more questions than I’m answering about who “can” and who “should” write different kinds of characters. I’ve never really questioned why I feel comfortable writing some kinds of characters and not others. And I feel very comfortable writing sci-fi and fantasy characters whose attributes and backgrounds are completely made up, but they’re obviously based on something from my real life.

I’d love to know what others think about writing diversity. There’s a ton of articles about this and I’m obviously not the first to think about it. I know that personally I would like to see more diversity in books, particularly books for younger readers. I also know that, growing up as a white female, I’m not the best person to write characters from other ethnic backgrounds. And I also don’t think it’s fair or appropriate to expect minority writers to feel obliged to write about characters from their own backgrounds unless it’s something close to their hearts as an author. So what’s the best way to ensure that our children experience more diverse characters and backgrounds in the books they read?

Author Interview with Local Houston Debut Author Dee Leone

Bizz and Buzz dee leone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by K. C. Maguire

I’m so pleased this week to be presenting an interview with good friend and local Houston debut author, Dee Leone, whose concept book Bizz & Buzz Make Honey Buns is being published by Penguin Concept Books on June 26, 2014 and is available for pre-order now. Dee will be making a number of local appearances around Houston. Details are available on her website.

When I asked her about her little buzzing friends, here’s what she had to say …

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KC: Bizz and Buzz are hilarious little guys who have some trouble with words. Can you tell us a little about their problems?

DL: The two characters enjoy feasting on honey buns baked by Bear. When the bees want to make some themselves, their friend relays the recipe one step at a time, but Bizz and Buzz interpret the directions in silly ways. Their first mistake is to use a little flower instead of a little flour. In addition to making a few missteps with homophones, the insects misinterpret other concepts as well. The bizzy little bees create a sweet treat that differs greatly from Bear’s, but they end up as happy as can bee anyway.

KC: How did you come up with the idea of the bees as main characters?

DL: When I wake up in the morning or in the middle of the night, sometimes story ideas just fly into my head. I keep a note pad on my nightstand so I can write down my thoughts before they disappear. There are times when I can’t decipher what I’ve written in the dark. Luckily, Bizz and Buzz were morning critters.

The idea to have the bees use the wrong ingredients was probably due to the fact that I was stressed about having to prepare food for an event. It’s just as easy for me to mess up a recipe as it is for my zany little bee characters. When I’m in charge of the menu, you might get something like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, or worse, plums with a chance of worms… but that’s another story.

KC: What other kinds of messes are we likely to see Bizz and Buzz get into in the future?

DL: There are plans in the works for Bizz and Buzz to bungle their way through several more adventures. If all goes well, look for these characters to misinterpret idioms, misidentify holiday figures, and use their talents to join a band. I love these little buggers! My greatest wish is that they will buzz their way into the hearts of children everywhere and motivate them to bee-come readers for life.

KC: You have been working on various different kinds of books as an author/developer – educational puzzle books, middle grade, verse, and easy readers. What is your favorite type of book to write, and why?

DL: Ha! That’s like asking what kind of ice cream, chocolate, or pasta I like best. I don’t have a favorite type of book to write. When one type of project has me stumped, I set it aside and work on something else. I’m better at letting my manuscripts marinate than my steaks.

When writing picture books or leveled readers, I love the challenge of creating stories with so few words. They’re rewarding to write because there’s always the possibility of helping to foster a child’s love of reading at an early age when life-long habits can be established.

Silly verse is also one of my passions. I have a whole collection of school-related poems that I’m in the process of revising. I love to work with rhyme… anywhere, anytime.

I enjoy penning middle grade novels because they tend to rely heavily on voice, a fun aspect of writing for me. I especially like creating characters with humorous sarcasm. In school, I was the shy kid. Whenever the class clown acted up, I had the desire to be funny, too, but only had the courage to show it through writing.

When I was growing up, my mother kept a box full of surprises we could choose from when we became ill. I loved language arts and math, so I often chose books with word challenges and cryptograms. I didn’t mind getting sick from time to time because I enjoyed solving those brainteasers. No wonder I created hundreds of educational puzzles!

KC: What are some of your own favorite children’s books?

DL: I really don’t have a favorite anything except for a sport… gymnastics. So to answer the question, I guess I’ll tell you some of the books I enjoyed reading to my students and to my daughters.

Picture book favorites included anything illustrated by Tomie dePaola, Jan Brett, Eric Carle, or Dr. Seuss. I also had a fondness for sharing The Rainbow Fish and The Ice Cream Cone Coot. For elementary school children, some of the ones at the top of my list were: the Ramona and Amelia Bedelia books, Charlotte’s Web, The Cricket in Times Square, Mrs. Frisby and the RATS of NIMH, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

As far as other favorites, my girls had about a half dozen versions of each Disney story. We lived in Orange County and could see the Disneyland fireworks from our house. We were even visited by cute little field mice the first few days after moving in until we found out how they were entering. The girls named every one of the critters “Mickey Mouse” or “Minnie Mouse” and wanted to hear Disney story after Disney story. One of my greatest wishes is to write something for that company, too… someday, somehow!

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I hope everyone learned something BEE-lievable from the interview. For those interested in following Dee, including worksheets, bookmarks and giveaways, check out her fun pages, available here. I’m also hosting a giveaway of her book on my blog here.