Character Diversity—Should You?

 

 

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If I wrote a story and everyone in it was just like me, it would be um… boring. Even to me.

Writers know this, being the smart and savvy readers we are.

Instead, we write stories populated with individuals who are not only different from us, but different from each other. We work to understand their multi-dimensional personalities and to portray the most interesting bits of them in our fiction.

Male authors write female characters and female authors create male characters. Timothy Hallinan perfectly captures a ten-year old girl in his Poke Rafferty series. If Arthur Golden’s name wasn’t so prominently displayed on the cover of Memoirs of a Geisha, I would’ve sworn a woman had penned it.

Still, I’m sure there are plenty of examples of writers getting it wrong.

Interestingly, Hallinan’s series is set in Thailand, and Golden’s world was Japan. These two authors not only jumped gender and generational attitudes, but cultural and ethnic ones as well.

There’s some debate about whether that’s a wise thing for an author to do. Should a white woman even attempt to write about someone of color? Curiously, the negative assumptions seem to be directed toward white authors, not the other way around. Or maybe, it’s just where my attention is naturally pulled.

To me, it comes down to one word: Sensitivity. Promoting stereotypes is worse than using clichés. To me, it falls into the racist, or homophobic, or just plain ignorant category.

It’s also important to get input from people who are intimately familiar with the culture, the race, the sexual orientation, of a character you’re creating.

Having said that, I probably won’t ask for any input from White Supremecists about the characters I’m creating. But then, I’m not sure the word “sensitivity” is part of their world. Is that wrong of me?

Where do you fall in this debate? Does it matter? Do you care? 

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Guest Post: Judy Penz Sheluk

Welcome back to frequent Mysteristas guest Judy Penz Sheluk talking about her latest in the Marketville Mysteries series, A Fool’s Journey!

How an Eyeglass Case Inspired the Name of a Bar

I own a lot of eyewear. Shortsighted, I’ve been wearing daily contact lenses for years, most recently geared to astigmatism (fabulous invention). The problem is that in order to read with my contact lenses, I need computer glasses and a pair of slightly stronger reading glasses (I have 20/20 reading vision without contacts). Out in the sun, I have a very stylish pair of sunglasses purchased at the Raleigh, N.C. airport. If I decide to forgo contacts for the day (and I do try for that a couple of days a week and always if flying), I have prescription eyeglasses and prescription sunglasses, and another pair of computer glasses.

If you’re counting, that’s one pair of contact lenses, two pairs of computer glasses, two pairs of sunglasses, and two pairs of reading glasses. I sometimes joke that when I travel, I need a separate suitcase just for eyewear. And until recently, I never dreamed that they would provide inspiration for the name of a bar. Allow me to explain.

I was midway through the first draft of A Fool’s Journey, book 3 in my Marketville mystery series, when I introduced a new character: Benjamin (Ben) Benedetti, a former white hat hacker and IT specialist. Ben is along for the ride to assist Callie Barnstable with her investigation into the case of Brandon Colbeck, who left home in March 2000, never to be seen or heard from again.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term “white hat hacker,” here’s a brief excerpt from the book between Callie and Ben:

[Callie] “Chantelle tells me you were a white hat hacker. I googled it, though I’m not sure I should trust Wiki as my source.”

“What would we do without Wikipedia?” Ben asked, smiling. “The term ‘white hat’ is from old Western movies where the good guys wore white cowboy hats, and the bad guys wore black cowboy hats, or at least that’s the cliché. A white hat hacker is an ethical hacker, a computer security specialist employed to break into protected systems and networks to test and assess their security. Their job is to expose vulnerabilities before malicious hackers, known as black hat hackers, can detect and exploit them.”

“It sounds interesting.”

“It was, but not as interesting as your line of work. Lance tells me you and his ex-wife are private eyes.”

“Not exactly. We aren’t licensed investigators and we don’t do typical PI stuff, like spying on a cheating spouse or what have you. I like to think we’re hired to find out the truth about the past, and bring it into the present.”

Okay, so we’ve got that settled. But what you don’t know from that excerpt is that Ben has walked away from the IT life and now owns a bar called Unwired, a recently opened pub in Marketville that strongly discourages the use of mobile phones, tablets, and other electronic devices in favor of conversing with the ones you were with. It is not an establishment where you take a quick pic of your BFF drinking a beer to post on Instagram.

And now, finally…here’s the eyeglass case that inspired the name of the bar:

What can I say? My mind works in very mysterious ways.

Readers: Would you visit a bar like Unwired? And can you commiserate with my eyewear overload?

*****

About A Fool’s Journey: In March 2000, twenty-year old Brandon Colbeck left home to find himself on a self-proclaimed “fool’s journey.” No one—not friends or family—have seen or heard from him since, until a phone call from a man claiming to be Brandon brings everything back to the forefront. Calamity (Callie) Barnstable and her team at Past & Present Investigations have been hired to find out what happened to Brandon, and, if still alive, where he might be. As Callie follows a trail of buried secrets and decades-old deceptions only one thing is certain: whatever the outcome, there is no such thing as closure.

*****

Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of the Glass Dolphin Mystery (The Hanged Man’s Noose; A Hole in One) and Marketville Mystery series (Skeletons in the Attic; Past & Present), and the editor of The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense. Her short stories can be found in several collections. Judy is also a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Vice Chair on the Board of Directors. Find her at judypenzsheluk.com.

A Fool’s Journey, the third book in Judy’s Marketville series is now available on Kindle and in trade paperback at your favorite bookseller.

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Too Much of Good Thing?

For the past six or so months, I’ve written several posts about my amazing writer’s group and our reinvestment in the group, as well as our craft. It’s been a great summer together! We’re still working on getting back into a regular rhythm, but we’re meeting for critique sessions as often as possible, and we’ve made a significant effort to meet and write, whomever is available, if our usual critique session won’t work for the whole group. These writing sessions have allowed me to really dive into my WIP – sometimes I work on my outline, other times I develop my notes, expand my character sketches, or spend time on world-building. It’s all time well-spent.

We’ve also recently kicked off a daily texting check-in. We each have different writing goals, either based on words or time spent writing, and we send a text with our accomplishment. It’s been fun, and we get so excited to see each other’s messages come through. I find myself feeling more accountable for keeping to my goals than I would have otherwise, and momentum is an incredibly important aspect of writing for me.

The fascinating side-effect of my improved diligence, of revisiting good and regular writing habits, is that I feel energized, excited, and enthusiastic about developing my story. Which is great. Wonderful! Lovely. But, I also find that I have the occasional new story idea. Or a couple.

Actually, I’m swimming in ideas. Which sounds like a fantastic problem to have! And it is, truly, but now I’m struggling to concentrate, to finish one story before I jump into the next. I’m a pantser at heart, although I’ve learned to value and prioritize creating a high-level outline, and that means that its hard for me to slow down and capture enough detail about my ideas that I can successfully come back to them later. The inability to recapture the idea makes me anxious about losing it completely, and I begin to lose momentum on the current project, bouncing back and forth like some errant molecule pinging around.

Can there be too much of a good thing when it comes to writing, and having a plethora of wonderful story ideas? Nah! Just a need to better capture the key details of the idea, and the self-discipline to focus on one project at a time. No problem, right?

Interview: Stephanie Kane

Let’s get to know Stephanie Kane, author of A Perfect Eye.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

An early swim in an outdoor pool followed by a big iced coffee and writing a good scene or chapter, with breaks for gardening, reading the newspaper or doing a crossword puzzle, capped by a quiet dinner with my husband or friends.

What made you interested in writing this particular story? 

I write to scratch an itch, to explore some issue or idea that bothers me. In A Perfect Eye, the bad guy is a forger-turned-killer, a failed artist with a grudge against the art world. I wrote it to look at the relationship between deception and art.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

I’m drawn to heroines with unique perceptual traits, villains with twisted psychological (not financial) motives, and themes that go to beyond them both.

A Perfect Eye’s heroine is Lily Sparks. Lily is Conservator of Paintings at the Denver Art Museum. From the time she was a little girl, her father trained her to be hyper-observant and rational about what she perceives. But is what you can see with your own eyes all that matters? Can a lie be beautiful? Or, in Lily’s case, can you love a parent who deceives you?

My legal-thriller heroine is Jackie Flowers. Jackie is a criminal defense lawyer who is a better lawyer because she is dyslexic. Seeds of Doubt asks if a human being can be a “bad seed”. Extreme Indifference’s title comes from a type of first-degree murder based on indifference to the victim’s welfare. What about a judge’s indifference to how his rulings affect the people who come before him in court?

Tell us about your main character. / Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters

Lily is a mash-up of Audrey Hepburn, CIA agent Carrie Matheson in TV’s Homeland, and the Greek goddess Athena. Lily has Hepburn’s gamine glamour and wit and Carrie’s offbeat doggedness and dedication. Like Athena, goddess of wisdom and the arts, Lily sprang full-blown from her father’s head.

Tell us a bit about yourself. / Where do you see yourself in five years – this is the time to dream big!

In five years I hope Lily will have to come to terms with her dad, committed herself to her lover (FBI agent Paul Riley), and mopped up all or most of the villains whose dastardly deeds were inspired by the Denver Art Museum’s works of art. And that I’ll be around to tell those stories.

*****

About A Perfect Eye

Some are born with a perfect palate, others with perfect pitch.

Denver Art Museum’s Conservator of Paintings Lily Sparks was born with a perfect eye. When the museum’s billionaire benefactor is brutally murdered, the grisly tableau stuns her: it’s the human embodiment of the museum’s prized landscape by famed Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte.

Lily comes to believe the Caillebotte was forged and the killer is a painter the art world spurned. But as she confronts where art ends and fraud begins, she must face the deceptions in her own past

*****

Stephanie Kane is a lawyer and award-winning author of four crime novels. Born in Brooklyn, she came to Colorado as a freshman at CU. She owned and ran a karate studio in Boulder and is a second-degree black belt. After graduating from law school, she was a corporate partner at a top Denver law firm before becoming a criminal defense attorney.

She has lectured on money laundering and white collar crime in Eastern Europe, and given workshops throughout the country on writing technique. She lives in Denver with her husband and two black cats.

Extreme Indifference and Seeds of Doubt won a Colorado Book Award for Mystery and two Colorado Authors League Awards for Genre Fiction. She belongs to Mystery Writers of America, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the Colorado Authors League

#InstaWriMoChallenge

I’m just figuring this whole social media thing out. So I’m pretty much doing just about anything anyone suggests as long as it doesn’t cost a lot of money. A few weeks ago, I took a Sisters in Crime webinar from the fabulous Dana Kaye during which she advocated to picking two platforms and work on developing those. So I’m doing more Facebook and Instagram.

What’s Instagram? Basically pretty pictures with hashtags attached. The purpose of the hashtags is to make your post more visible and searchable. Say if you hashtagged #sistersinmystery and someone on IG followed that hashtag, they’d see your post. And maybe they’ll like it and start following you. Which will come in handy when you’re promoting your next release.

Screenshot (20)But what to post? Inspiration can dry up pretty fast with that cursor bleeping at you. Fortunately, NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month site is promoting an #instawrimochallenge. NaNoWriMo is a platform (I think that’s the right word) where people collect through the nets and tubes to share banging out a novel over a month. We post our accomplishments and frustrations, and we commiserate. It’s a nice way for a bunch of introverts to interact from the comfort of their home office wearing their pajamas. Even introverts need some, if very little, human interaction from time to time.

The nice thing about the #instawrimochallenge is there are daily suggested posts. Whew! So I have my inspiration for a month mapped out for me. I can do this. Here’s a sample of some of my favorite posts on Instagram: a mock cover of my next Maeve Malloy Mystery, Hell & High Water, an outline I doodled of the first act of Hell & High Water while sitting in the car waiting for grandson to get out of rock gym, and a menu of the foods that are consumed in Hell & High Water.  I created the graphics on canva.com which offers a free account but you get much better stuff if you pay for it.

So, darling Mysteristas, here are todays questions: Writers, what social media do you find useful? Readers, what do you follow? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or something else I’ve never heard of? All of youse: post your FB, IG and Tw handles in the comments and let’s all follow each other.

I’m https://www.instagram.com/keenan.powell/. If you follow me, I’ll follow you back. Promise!

We Are the Phoenix

On this 9-11 anniversary, a day of remembrance, I am always reminded of the phoenix.  On that day, the world held its collective breath, and the solid ground beneath our feet shifted.  We all have our stories to tell of that day, of where we were.  

I was at my writing desk, totally absorbed in my characters’ world, when the phone rang.  It was my daughter, calling from university.  

“Mom, where’s Dad?” she said, worry in her voice.  She’d grown up accustomed to his busy travel schedule for work.  

“He’s in D.C.,” I said, “at a meeting near the Pentagon.  Why?”  

Well, that was a tense day.  

Later, when my fingers stopped shaking long enough to call his cell phone, I got the ominous, recorded message that all lines were unavailable.  (Who records those messages??)  

He ended up driving his rental car all the way home to Colorado–in just 2 days.  

In the aftermath of those tragic and chaotic days, no one knew what to expect next.  For us writers, we didn’t know if the book business–or any other type of business–would rise again.  

It did.    

Writers can take a lesson from this reminder, because we have our own share of attempted knock-downs.  

Ideally, we keep queries and short stories in the marketplace at all times.  My own goal is to keep a dozen short stories out, trying to find a home, and a novel query pending.  This means I receive rejections almost daily.  One time I got five rejections in one day!  Talk about a knock-down…

Personally, I’ve lost an editor three times, a publisher twice, and an agent once.  Luckily, I’ve never lost the rights to my works, but I know many writers who have.  Some writers even have to re-invent themselves in order to write again.  

The bottom line is that we never give up.  In spite of adversity, we don’t let those punches keep us down for long.  We are the phoenix, and we always rise again!  

“A Signed Book Makes a Great Gift”

I am sure that all of you would agree that a signed book makes a great gift. I first heard this little “catchphrase” several years ago when Hank Phillippi Ryan closed her book signing with it.  At a recent signing for “The Murder List,” her familiar closing reminded me of the impact that a book, especially a signed book, can have on someone.

The gift of a signed book is uniquely personal. It requires thoughtful selection and planning; the giver makes a specific effort to find not just any book, but that book, a signed book, whether by going to a signing or contacting a specialized book seller. The recipient of a signed book has a unique and personal gift, one that can be read, enjoyed, and shared with others. (And, returned to the lender since signed books are almost always personalized.)

A signed book can also start an unexpected chain of events, usually involving more books. In fact, I’m writing this today because I bought a signed book as a gift for someone, and I am going to share how a signed book brought me here.

Sometime in 2008, (I know because of the book I purchased) I wanted a gift for my dad. I saw a notice in the newspaper that T Jefferson Parker would be signing “California Girl” at Book Carnival, a book store in nearby Orange, CA. I had never been to the store, and I had never purchased a signed book, but since my dad was an avid reader, I thought this would be a great gift. As a bonus, since I had read and enjoyed some of Parker’s previous books, I could read the book as well. (Win-win)

This was my first signed book purchase, and it changed my life.  I subsequently purchased more signed books for my dad and for myself. (Dad shares them with other relatives and gets them back because they are personalized.) After many events at Book Carnival, I joined their monthly book club and read books by many “new to me” authors.

I continued to attend signings, and one fateful day I met Diane Vallere. She pointed me directly to “Mysteristas.” At first I just read comments, and later I began sharing my thoughts. Vallere also encouraged her readers to post short reviews of her books on merchant sites, so I did. That led to reviewing a few more books, then reviewing lots of books, starting my own review blog, pairing with NetGalley and Edelweiss for review copies, and posting monthly on Mysteristas.  

So here I am, all because I bought a signed copy of a book to give as a gift. Blame it all on Jeff Parker and Diane Vallere.

Now, do you buy signed books as gifts?

Do you sign your books to give to friends?

At your signing events, do people share that they are giving books to friends?

Do you have funny book signing stories to share?