Tag Archives: author advice

Is My Character “Black Enough”? Advice on Writing Cross-Culturally

Stacy Whitman photoStacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. This blog post was originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

I recently got this question from a writer, who agreed that answering it on the blog would be useful:

My hero is a fifteen-year-old African American boy [in a science fiction story]. A few of my alpha readers (not all) have said that he doesn’t sound “black enough.” I purposely made him an Air Force brat who has lived in several different countries to avoid having to use cliche hood-terminology. I want him to be universal.

Do you have thoughts on this either way?

Is there a possibility that my potential readers could really be offended that a) I am “a white girl writing a book about black people” and b) that my character doesn’t sound black enough? I’ve looked through your blog and website and haven’t found anything specific to my needs on this particular question. Perhaps I missed it?

…should I use Ebonics or not use Ebonics?

First of all, black people—just as white people or Latino people—are a very diverse group of people. There are people who speak in Ebonics (which I believe would be more accurately referred to as BVE–Black Vernacular English) and people who speak plain old suburban English, people who speak with any of a variety of Southern accents and people who have Chicago accents, people who speak with French or Spanish accents (or who speak French or Spanish or an African language). So the question of whether a particular character in a particular situation sounds “black enough” is a complicated question, one that even the African American community can’t necessarily agree on. Within the community (and I say this because I asked a coworker who is African American, who can speak with more authority on the subject than I can) it’s often a question that draws on complicated factors, such as money, privilege, “selling out,” skin tone (relative darkness or lightness—literally, being “black enough”), and hair texture, which all relate to how much a part of which community a person might be.

The question, then, is fraught with loaded meaning not only to do with stereotypes, but also socioeconomic meanings. The question can also tend to be offensive because of that diversity and the loaded meaning the question carries.

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Lulu Delacre on Transitioning from Illustrator to Author

Author/Illustrator Lulu Delacre

Lulu Delacre is the author and illustrator of many award-winning children’s books, including Hguest blogger iconow Far Do You Love Me? and Arrorró, mi niñoIn this guest blog post Lulu shares the valuable lessons she’s learned in her journey from illustrator to author.

“Me? Write a Story? In a language not my own? I can’t! I graduated from art school!”

That was my reaction to the suggestion of editors and art directors from children’s publishers in New York who saw my sketches back in 1984. From the doodles of my boredom a character had been born, complete with a name and attributes, and I shopped him around in the hopes of illustration assignments.

art from Arrorró, mi niño
art from Arrorró, mi niño

The scheduled interviews led to a meeting with Barbara Lucas, former assistant editor to the legendary Ursula Nordstrom at Harper & Row. Barbara was the first of several great editors throughout my career who have provided me with enlightening advice. “Your character needs a friend,” Barbara said. At that suggestion my self-imposed handicap began to erode. I thought, what if Nathan is asleep one night and a mouse comes into his room and sets up house in his toy chest? That question, the many sketches that followed, the clumsy first manuscript, and my editor’s guidance, led to the first book I ever wrote and illustrated: Nathan and Nicholas Alexander.

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Advice for New Writers from our New Voices Award Winners

New Voices Award sealLast month we brought together past New Voices Award winners to see how they got their start writing picture books. Today, in our next installment in the series, we ask these talented authors to share their advice for new writers.

This year marks our 14th annual New Voices Award writing contest. Every year, LEE & LOW BOOKS gives the New Voices Award to a debut author of color for a picture book manuscript.

Q: What advice would you give to a writer who is just starting out?

Linda BoydenLinda Boyden, The Blue Roses
(our first New Voices Award Winner)

I would ask a question: Why do you write? And if the answer isn’t “Because I must,” then I’d point out that perhaps you aren’t ready yet. Rainer Maria Rilke gave this same advice, though much more eloquently, in “Letters to a Young Poet.” The desire to write should stem from your core. Writers write every day, 365 days a year; some days you might produce 5,000 words and others, only a paragraph, but the habit of daily writing will develop and refine your style.

Being a realist, I would also caution them to not quit their day jobs. Most writers won’t become a J. K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer with the sale of a first (or second, or third) book. It takes persistence and courage. Talent is common, but persistence is the key to a career in writing and courage will buoy your spirits when facing the bane of rejection.

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How to Write Humor for Young Readers

Kimberly Pauley In this guest post, Cat Girl’s Day Off and Sucks to Be Me author Kimberly Pauley offers some advice for authors who want to write Guest Blogger humor. Her books have been called “entertaining, hilarious, and exceptionally creative,” (School Library Journal) and been praised for their “pitch-perfect humor” (Booklist).

My son is five and he’s (obviously) a boy. That means he finds slapstick humor absolutely jaw-droppingly hilarious. Tom and Jerry make him laugh so hard that he will literally fall out of his chair. My husband has (mostly) outgrown that style of humor, however, and tends to laugh at more intellectual Eddie Izzard-style jokes. That’s the great thing about humor-it’s not all one-size-fits all. Different things make different people laugh. So how do you write a funny story to appeal to more than just yourself?

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8 Helpful Links for Aspiring Picture Book Authors

National Picture Book Writing Week

Happy Friday, friends! Perhaps some of you have seen that this week (May 1-7) began NaPiBoWriWee, or National Picture Book Writing Week. Author Paula Yoo started NaPiBoWriWee back in 2009 to celebrate the release of her picture book Shining Star:

I thought it would be fun to challenge myself to write 7 picture books in 7 days. I had been procrastinating writing another new picture book draft for the longest time. So I thought, “What if I force myself to try and write 7 different picture book manuscripts in one week?” Sure, the drafts would be sloppy rough drafts. But at least I’d have 7 FINISHED drafts to choose from when it came to serious revisions and possible submission to my book agent.

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Growing Up without Books: Discovering DeShawn

Tony MedinaIn light of our grant from First Book we asked our authors to reflect on why diverse books are guest bloggerimportant. Guest blogger, author/poet Tony Medina talks about growing up in the projects without books and later as an author witnessing the true power of connecting multicultural books with children of color.

As a child in the Throgs Neck Housing Projects in the Bronx, I did not grow up with books. The only person I saw reading was my grandmother, who occasionally read mass-market paperback fiction and her Bible that was as big as a phone book. If the Bible fell from the top of the dresser where she kept it, it could take your kneecap off and crush your foot in the process! The only time I recall being exposed to children’s books was at school when the teacher took us to the school library and the librarian allowed us to take out Curious George books.

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Tu Books Announces Winner of First Annual New Visions Contest for Writers of Color

[from the press release]

New Visions Award sealNew York, NY—April 11, 2013—Tu Books, the science fiction, fantasy, and mystery imprint of respected multicultural children’s publisher LEE & LOW BOOKS, is thrilled to announce that author Valynne Maetani has won its first annual New Visions Award for her young adult mystery novel, Remnants of the Rising Sun.

The New Visions writing contest was established to encourage new talent and to offer authors of color a chance to break into a tough and predominantly white market. The award honors a fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel for young readers by an author of color who has not previously published a novel for that age group.

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How to Plot a Trilogy: Five Tips for Writing Trilogies

guest bloggerWe’ve invited Karen Sandler, author of Tankborn and the sequel, Awakening, to the blog to share her wisdom about how to plot a trilogy. In her first guest post last week, “The Trouble With Trilogies,” Karen shared the challenges she experienced while plotting the second two novels in her Tankborn series. Today she shares five useful tips for writers taking a stab at trilogies:

Tankborn

Awakening

Five Tips for Writing Trilogies

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How to Plot a Trilogy Part I: The Trouble With Trilogies

guest blogger(cross-posted from Karen Sandler’s blog)

In two guest posts, Karen Sandler, author of Tankborn and the sequel, Awakening, shares her wisdom about how to plot a trilogy.

Part I: The Trouble With Trilogies

Back in my romance writing days, I didn’t write trilogies.  The love stories I wrote were one-offs. Although half of my Harlequin books were all set in the same small town of Hart Valley and had some overlapping characters, there weren’t any connections between the stories. There were two books I did for Harlequin that were part of the Fostering Family mini-series, where the second book picked up where the first left off. Characters from the first book were mentioned in the second, but the main story revolved around a new hero and heroine.

TankbornThen along came Tankborn. When I first wrote Tankborn, I had a hazy idea of possibly writing a trilogy. Then when I signed with my agents and we were getting the manuscript ready for submission, they suggested I write up short blurbs for a second and third book. When we sold to Lee and Low/Tu Books, the original contract was only for the one book, but we later sold them two other books to complete the trilogy.

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How to Plan a Successful Book Launch: Storytelling and Activity Ideas


guest bloggerChristy HaleIn her first guest post, author/illustrator Christy Hale shared ideas for how to plan a successful book launch. In her follow-up post, Hale shares tips for planning storytelling and activities for bookstore appearances. Hale is the author and illustrator of, most recently, Dreaming Up, which was named a 2012 ALA Notable Book by the American Library Association and one of the
Horn Book Magazine‘s Best Books of 2012.

1.     Consider the audience when planning your program. Bookstores host different types of author events. If possible attend other programs at bookstores where you will appear so you can scope out the typical crowd. The time of the event may be a good indicator of the age level likely to attend. At Kepler’s Story Time Sundays, I have read to toddlers and preschoolers with a few older school age children scattered in the mix. A mid-week morning time program at BookSmart in a shopping mall in San Jose drew in moms and caregivers with toddlers and preschoolers. An afternoon program at Linden Tree in Los Altos brought school age children. An early evening program at Reach and Teach in San Mateo was geared toward whole families. My evening launch party at Books Inc. in Palo Alto was mostly attended by adults.

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