Friday, October 10, 2014

Pantsing on a Leash

Wow! It has been a WHILE since I have blogged.  But this is a good thing; I made a resolution to write more in my WIP and write less on my blog/twitter.  I think my [limited baby's nap] time has been more productive as a result.

But I thought I'd share with you this new thing I'm trying.  I call it "Pantsing on a Leash."

What I've Done in the Past

I've always loved being a "discovery writer" and finding the story and character as I write.  I usually picture a character and situation I find interesting and go from there.  As I write, I figure out things like:

What brought my character to this point in time, this place, and this situation?

What is her underlying hope, the one seated deep beneath whatever is happening on the surface?

What life change is just waiting to happen to her?

As you can tell, I tend to focus on the character more than the plot.  I write and rewrite the first three chapters until I get something I like.  In the past, I've then tried to continue the same approach for the rest of the novel.

Problems with Pantsing the Entire Novel

1. I always, always reach a point at around 10-20K where I start to lose interest, and it is REALLY hard to keep going.

2. When I force myself to continue, most of it is fairly unusable and I end up rewriting completely in the second draft.

Presenting...Pantsing on a Leash

I don't know if it will turn out the way I think but this is what I'm trying.  *Horn intro sounds*

Stage 1: Pantsing/Prewriting stage.  I write my usual 15K, revise, have alpha readers take a look, revise again, to my heart's content.  But I limit this stage to 15K, until I feel confident I have a story and character I understand and am excited to write an entire novel about.

Stage 2: Outlining/Brainstorming.  To keep in the pantsing tradition, the outline is very brief, only 1-2 pages.  The important thing here is to figure out the key plot points.  There are a lot of different ways to enumerate the plot points, but I like Dan Wells' approach to this.

If you're like me, you think an outline will bleed your creativity dry.  But you also have trouble writing focused plots.  I think by pantsing the beginning to your heart's content, you probably know enough about your character to take a stab at figuring out the plot points that will work best for her (and you can always change them).

My goal is to be able to write a first draft that is more focused, but to keep my creativity going by not outlining too deeply.

Stage 3: Draft the Good Parts:  Next, I'll skip to the part I am most interested to write in the outline, and go from there.  This is important because I think the section from 15K to the midpoint tends to be a lot of set up and I get very bored writing it.  Since I have both the outline and a beginning, I have a good idea of what has happened thus far.

Stage 4: Complete the Draft:  Finally, I'll revise the beginning as needed and then write up to the part in Stage 3.  I think the reason we often slump at 15-20K is not because we don't know what will happen in the end, but just because it seems like a huge hill to get there.  By writing the end first, we've given ourselves motivation.  The beauty of this is that we'll often find that we didn't need as much setup as we thought.  I can avoid a saggy middle by hitting plot points faster, and thus improve my pacing.  Yay!

Does it work?

Nobody ever said writing a novel is easy.

The hope here is to find the sweet spot that hits the creative side of discovering the story while still writing a usable draft.  If I end up with a draft that I can revise rather than have to rewrite, I'll consider this a success.

I'll let you all know how it goes.  In the meantime, any other pantsers are given free license to try out my non-patented method.

Happy writing!


Thursday, July 31, 2014

10 Difficult Lessons From Harry Potter

Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived!

A recent study indicates that kids who read Harry Potter have a better sense of empathy for the disenfranchised.  Why am I not surprised at all?

What we read makes us who we are.  Stepping into another person's shoes gives us empathy and understanding. 

For Harry's birthday, I thought I'd enumerate some of the important messages kids can learn from Harry Potter.  Some of these are very grown up concepts, eschewing idealism for realism, echoing difficult history and difficult truths.  The world is a gray place, and Rowling was determined to show it.

1. Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Sirius Black was locked away in Azkaban for years because by all appearances he had callously murdered innocents.

2. Your Lineage Doesn't Define You

Hermione proved again and again that you don't have to be "pure-blooded" to be a fan-freaking-tastic magician.

3.  Divisiveness is a Distraction Method Used by Dangerous People
 

The Death-Eaters obsession with "pure-blooded" wizards echoes Hitler's obsession with the perfect race.

4. The Media is Slanted Toward Sensationalism

Rita Skeeter was always more interested in creating scandal than she was in reporting the truth.

5. Even The Highest Elected Officials Can Be Wrong

The Minister of Magic chose to ignore Harry's story about the return of Voldemort because it was easier to do so. 

6. The Finality of Death

I kept hoping that some of the dead characters weren't really dead, but Rowling forced us to deal with loss in a realistic way.  There is no Gandalf the White here.

7. Your Best Friend Can Turn His Back on You

It wasn't a pretty moment, but when Ron succumbed to the jealousy he's always struggled with, and walked out on Harry and Hermione in The Deathly Hallows, Harry had to try to do without him.

8. The Disenfranchised Have Value

Dobby and the other house-elves proved that they had abilities and magic the Death Eaters underestimated.

9. Bullies in the Schoolyard Might Never Grow Up

Lucius Malfoy and the other Death Eaters are a disturbing example of what bullies can become if unchecked.

10. People Can Make Amazing Sacrifices

Severus Snape never loved Harry, but he saved his life again and again, at his own peril. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How To Write A Compelling Query in 4 Steps

Last year, I started a query tutorial using Harry Potter as an example.  Looking back on it, the end result wasn't as polished as it could be.  So I'm here to add a fourth step: POLISH—with a goal toward readability.

Let's review.

Step 1: Introduce Your Character With Subtext

Step 2: Be a Tease Without Being Vague

Step 3: End With the Heart of the Conflict

Step 4: Polish with a goal toward readability.

Agents often tell us they spend less than sixty seconds on each query. Therefore, your sentences should read easily and the meaning should be clear without backtracking.

Below, I've taken another stab at the Harry Potter example. I've broken down long sentences, added paragraph breaks, rearranged the order of clauses.  All with one goal in mind: readability.

Harry Potter arrived on his relatives' doorstep as a baby with a lightning-shaped scar on his tiny forehead.  He's been sleeping in a cupboard ever since.  Although his aunt and uncle spoil their own son Dudley, they've never offered Harry the same treatment. 

Yet on his eleventh birthday, Harry receives something special: a letter from a school called Hogwarts, claiming that he is a wizard.

The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry introduces Harry to a world of potions, magic wands, and quidditcha sport played on flying broomsticks. But in an area forbidden to students, Harry also discovers a three-headed dog guarding a trapdoor. Apparently, his teachers aren't telling him everything. 

Harry and his friends are determined to find out what might be valuable enough for such drastic security measures—and what it might have to do with a break-in at the wizard bank, a professor's mangled leg, and a troll set loose in the school.

When his old scar begins to burn, Harry wonders if he should heed the warning to keep his friends out of danger. But perhaps true friendship means they must risk everything together—including their lives—to keep their newfound home at Hogwarts safe.

What do you think? Hopefully this is easier to digest.  Word count: 200.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Diversity Solutions with Brandy Colbert

photo by Jessie Weinberg
Welcome to the latest installment of Diversity Solutions! The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is going strong, prompting BookCon to create a diversity panel and First Book to expand its 2013 pledge to purchase diverse books

The momentum for diversity is building, but the fight to raise awareness isn't over.  Today we have Brandy Colbert here to discuss the need for diversity in YA and how we can achieve it.

Brandy Colbert's debut is the YA contemporary Pointe, the story of a girl who knows more than she's telling about her best friend's kidnapping case.  Brandy has also worked as an editor for several national magazines and as a copy editor.

Hi Brandy! Thanks so much for taking the time to discuss the hot topic of diversity in kid lit!

Please tell us a little bit about POINTE. What inspired your character, Theo?

POINTE is about a gifted ballet dancer whose best friend is returned home after being kidnapped four years earlier; her life begins to unravel once she realizes she played a role in the abduction. 

Typically the story comes to me first and then the characters, and in this instance, I was inspired by all of the long-term kidnapping cases I've kept up with over the years, especially the one portrayed in the TV movie I Know My First Name Is Steven. 

As for the ballet part, I grew up dancing and I've always loved reading ballet books, but I couldn't think of any recent ones that featured a black character. So I decided to write the one I'd always wanted to read.

According to this post by Lee & Low Books, there is a large gap between the percentage of children's books with diverse characters and the actual percentage of minorities living in the United States. It seems to me that if 37% of Americans are non-white, there must be an untapped market of readers waiting for books about minority characters. Why do you think publishers haven't invested further in books about diverse characters?

The top reason I've heard cited is that publishers are afraid the books won't sell. This is discouraging for many reasons, and can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy if no one is willing to fight for books written by and about people of color. And yes, publishing is a business, but these books were hard to find when I was a child and teen; it's baffling we still have the same problem in 2014, and hard to believe the demand isn't there.

Did you think it is easier or more difficult to get a book with diverse characters published? What was your experience like in the submission process?

I worried so much about fitting into a box when I was querying agents. The first three books I wrote were about black girls, but the plots all had a significant racial element because I didn't see books about black teens just living their lives, and assumed I'd never get one published that didn't focus on race. 

With POINTE, the main character is black and race is openly talked about in a couple of scenes, but the book is primarily a story about a girl who happens to be black. I never mentioned her race in the query, and I was terrified it would be the death of my story once agents got to the part where the main character mentions her race. But my agent and editor both found the diversity in the book refreshing, and I'm very lucky to have ended up with two people who really got it and understood why the story was important to tell on a number of levels.

Do you feel that writing about diverse characters has helped or hindered your career?

I think that in the past few months, people have been more open and honest about the need for diverse books, so it's encouraging to know that readers seeking out those stories might come across my book. We heard it loud and clear from the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign that all types of readers want to see themselves and/or the world reflected in the books they read. 

I'm not sure I'd be able to directly tell if it has hindered my career, but publishing can be a pretty tough business, so the best thing I can do is remain positive and hopeful about putting my work out there.

There is a belief in the publishing industry that books with ethnic characters on the cover don't sell as well. If this is the case, what can we do to change it? What types of covers would you like to have for your books?

I personally prefer books that don't feature characters' faces as I like to imagine how they look based on the text, rather than being shown. That said, it is extremely important that covers accurately reflect the characters inside the book. It's also important to ensure that covers with people of color are designed with the same care as other books, rather than finding the first stock image available of a black or Asian or Latino character and calling it a day. 

I've been in love with the cover of POINTE since the first day I saw it. It's compelling and gorgeous and perfectly fits the story, and I'd consider myself very lucky if my future work was presented in such a beautiful, thoughtfully designed package.

In your opinion, what are the top three things publishers can do to help sales of books with diverse characters?

1. Market books featuring people of color in the same way they market books primarily featuring white characters; don't let these books slip through the cracks.

2. Hire more diverse people within publishing at every level: editors, marketing, publicity, sales, etc. (This applies to literary agencies, as well!)

3. Seek out good work by diverse authors, and don't lean on the excuse that these writers aren't out there. They're out there and they're working hard, because they want their voices to be heard, too.

What are the top three things writers can do?

1. Think about the characters you're writing and the world you're creating. Do they accurately reflect the people in your life? Your friends and family and colleagues and the strangers you encounter each day? Are you taking the easy way out by writing characters who all look, act, and were raised the same way?

2. Support diverse books and authors. Buy these books. Check them out from your library and request them if they're not there. And if you like them, talk about them. Recommend them. Start a discussion about what makes them great and different and important.

3. If you've been writing diverse characters for a while but are having trouble placing your work, don't give up. Keep writing the stories you believe in, and don't assume you can tell what an agent or editor is looking for by their physical appearance or current list. Change is constant and you never know who will end up connecting with your work.

Thanks so much for an inspiring and thoughtful interview, Brandy!

Thanks for having me, Maya!

To learn more about Brandy Colbert, check out her blog or follow her on twitter.

Also, don't miss the other Diversity Solutions interviews with Nathan Bransford, Sherri L. Smith, Stephanie Guerra, Lamar Giles, Aisha Saeed, and Jessica Martinez!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Diversity Solutions with Jessica Martinez

Hi all, and welcome to the latest installment of Diversity Solutions! The cry for more diversity in kid lit has been growing with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign kicked off last week.  Today we have author Jessica Martinez with us to discuss how we can achieve the change we need.

Jessica Martinez is the author of The Vow, a YA contemporary about two friends who decide to get married so that the boy won't have to return to his home country.  She has also written The Space Between Us and Virtuosity.  Her upcoming YA thriller, Kiss Kill Vanish, will be released in October 2014 by Katherine Tegan Books.

Hi Jessica! Thanks so much for joining to discuss the state of diversity in publishing today!

First, tell us a little bit about your upcoming novel, KISS KILL VANISH. What inspired your character, Valentina Cruz?

KISS KILL VANISH is about a girl who witnesses a murder—carried out by her boyfriend, ordered by her father. Horrified, she realizes that nothing in her life is as it seems, so she flees, leaving her privileged Miami life and taking on a new identity. Her past, however, has a way of finding her.

Valentina was inspired by a friend of mine. After we’d known each other for years, she confided that her father and uncle were in jail in her home country and that the family business was a criminal one. I was fascinated by the idea of growing up in a crime family. I wondered exactly when and how somebody would find this out about themselves, and at what point they would go from becoming an innocent victim to an accomplice. All that wondering gave birth to Valentina’s story.

You've written multiple novels with diverse characters. Do you feel a burden to represent their ethnicity when you're writing them, or do you focus more on their individual traits? How do you navigate that dichotomy?

It’s such a tightrope walk! I never want my characters’ ethnicity to be THE thing about them, but pretending it’s not an integral part of their identity would be a huge mistake. For me, the answer is in knowing my characters as entire people.

In THE VOW one of my main characters is Mo, a Muslim Arab American. He’s not your typical anything—totally unique, a little quirky, a little neurotic. As soon as I knew Mo as a real person, I didn’t feel a burden of making him Muslim enough or Arab enough. I understood how he feels about his faith and his ethnicity, but I also understood that he’s just Mo. One individual.

I definitely worried that because Mo isn’t devout, practicing Muslims would be annoyed at being represented this way, especially because it’s already such an under-represented group in YA. But at a certain point I had to put my “what will other people think” fears behind me and write my character’s story, because Mo isn’t a poster boy for anything.

According to this post by Lee & Low Books, there is a large gap between the percentage of children's books with diverse characters and the actual percentage of minorities living in the United States. It seems to me that if 37% of Americans are non-white, there must be an untapped market of readers waiting for books about minority characters. Why do you think publishers haven't invested further in books about diverse characters?

Money. What a dirty word, right? But publishing is a business, and if publishers aren’t financially solvent, they can’t continue paying authors and editors and producing the books we love. Now, whether it’s true or not, many publishers believe that books featuring diverse characters don’t make as much money. There are undoubtedly stats backing that up. At least, I assume there are, but I don’t pay much attention to them, partly because I’m a lousy business woman and partly because if those stats do exist, I’d like them not to affect my writing. I write what I want to write. If it sells, great. If not, oh well.

Have you ever felt any pushback on your books because of their characters, either from publishers or readers?

Never. I’ve had nothing but enthusiasm from my editor for both of my diverse books (I’m talkin’ about you, Anica Rissi!), and great support from both Simon & Schuster and Harper Collins.

Readers have been kind to me too. I’m pretty much the opposite of diverse (white, heterosexual, Christian, woman) so I research like crazy, and then I live in fear of being called out for inaccuracies. Thus far I’ve been spared. Actually, last week a Muslim America teenage boy wrote me some fan mail telling me I got it right, which just might be the best compliment I could receive.

You know what’s funny, though? I get way more “she didn’t get it right” complaints from readers of my books without diverse characters. Some VIRTUOSITY readers said, “this isn’t how classical violin is,” (I actually am a professional violinist) and some THE SPACE BETWEEN US readers said, “she gets the Canadian thing totally wrong,” (I actually am Canadian).

So…. I guess that’s why I can’t write in fear of offending someone. People will respond unpredictably. I’d rather gnaw my hand off than be called a racist, but the truth is, if I’m going to be writing diverse characters, I just might be called that. So, I do my research and I write the stories that need to be written. That’s all.

In your opinion, what are the top three things publishers can do to help sales of books with diverse characters?

Hmm. I don’t know if I have three in me (I really am a lousy businesswoman), but I think the biggest thing they can do is put real money behind the marketing for diverse character books. From what I can see, diverse books are being published, but they aren’t the books with the huge marketing and publicity campaigns. They aren’t the books with special placement at B&N or the ones being pushed at every trade show. If they aren’t making money, it has more to do with a “throw it out there and see if someone buys it” approach than consumer fear of diversity or quality of the books. In publishing, you have to sink money into something to get money back.

Beyond that, I don’t know. I do the creative side, and I hope that publishers buy my stuff.

What are the top three things writers can do?

1. Research. Don’t do it half-heartedly. Just don’t.

2. Be brave. No matter how much research you do, people might say mean things, because diversity is always an emotionally charged issue.

3. Know when to listen and when to ignore.

My friend Jenny Sanchez has a Turkish character in her debut novel THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE (great book!) and a professional review made some snide comment about him being Turkish for no real reason. Perfect example of when to ignore a comment!!! The boy is Turkish. He doesn’t have to have a reason, just like we don’t have to have reasons for being white or African American or Hispanic or ANYTHING! It’s hard to believe that kind of ignorance would come out of a professional review, but it did.

Another time to ignore: when well-meaning people suggest easier storylines so you don’t offend anyone. I had people doing that with THE VOW because it deals with a subject that gets people riled up (immigration, racism, perceptions of terrorism, etc.). I’m so glad I ignored them. Better safe than sorry is terrible advice when it comes to writing diverse characters. How about this instead: Better sorry than silent. 

Fantastic advice, Jessica! Thanks so much for joining us to speak to this issue!

To learn more about Jessica Martinez, check out her website, twitter, and facebook page. 

Also, don't miss the other Diversity Solutions interviews with Nathan Bransford, Sherri L. Smith, Stephanie Guerra, Lamar Giles, Aisha Saeed, and Brandy Colbert!

Friday, May 2, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign, Day 2!

Join the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr!




Thursday, May 1, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign

I'm so excited about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign that was kicked off today! Here's my submission:


That's my daughter sitting next to me, acting very engrossed with Pointe by Brandy Colbert.  I feel certain that there will be more diverse books by the time she's reading YA, but it's not going to happen unless we take action.  In the meantime, I'm seeking diverse picture books to read to her!

Another reason I personally think this campaign is important:




Check out more pics from people all over passionate about diversity on the We Need Diverse Books tumblr page!


Monday, April 28, 2014

Diversity Solutions with Aisha Saeed

Welcome all! For the latest installment of Diversity Solutions, we have with us today author Aisha Saeed! In the last few weeks, the issue of diversity in YA has been heating up, with articles in the New York Times, CNN.com, and Entertainment Weekly.  Here, we focus on how we can achieve the change we need.

Aisha is the author of Written in the Stars, a YA novel to be released in 2015 by Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books.

She is also a contributing author in the New York Times featured anthology Love Inshallah.  Her writing has appeared in places such as The Orlando Sentinel, BlogHer, Muslim Girl Magazine, and Red Tricycle.  She writes a monthly column, Literary Mama, at LoveInshallah.com and is the YA contributor at Story and Chai.

Welcome, Aisha! Thanks so much for taking the time to join us to discuss the hurdles we face with diversity in YA today.

First, please tell us a little bit about WRITTEN IN THE STARS. What inspired your novel?

My YA novel is scheduled to be released in 2015 by Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books. The book is about a Pakistani American teenager who falls in love with a boy in her community against her parent’s wishes. When they find out, the consequences are greater than she could have possibly imagined.

Naila, the main character of the novel, spoke to my imagination for years and her story slowly shaped in my mind’s eye until I finally wrote it. I was inspired to write a story about a Pakistani-American because growing up I longed to see people who looked like me or had the same experiences as my friends or me in print. While this story is not about my own experiences, friends I know have encountered some of the issues my main character faces in the novel and I hope the novel will not only transport readers as all books should do but also speak to people who may be facing similar issues. 

According to this post by Lee & Low Books, there is a large gap between the percentage of children's books with diverse characters and the actual percentage of minorities living in the United States. It seems to me that if 37% of Americans are non-white, there must be an untapped market of readers waiting for books about minority characters. Why do you think publishers haven't invested further in books about diverse characters?

There is definitely a disparity between the number of diverse books out there and the diversity of the general population. I hope for a day that diversity is better reflected in literature and media in general but why that is not the case today, I don’t know. This great interview by the executive editor of Simon & Schuster, Zareen Jaffery, does provide some further insight to this question.

Did you think it is easier or more difficult to get a book with diverse characters published? What was your experience like in the submission process?

It’s hard to know if I had an easier or more difficult time getting my book published but I hope I was not looked down upon for having a culturally diverse story. My agent, Taylor Martindale, absolutely loved the diversity in the story and actively seeks novels with diverse characters and stories. My publisher Nancy Paulsen Books also has many diverse books on their list by POC authors like Jacqueline Woodson and Padma Venkatraman. I have been very fortunate that the agent and publisher I have are both deeply committed to sharing diverse stories with the world. For them, my diverse story was an asset and not a liability. 

I share my story to give hope to other writers hoping to see their diverse stories in print. While the news can often be dire when it comes to publishing diverse stories, and while it may seem that no one is interested in acquiring stories with diverse characters it is not always the case. Hopefully with time it will never be the case.

Do you feel that writing about diverse characters has helped or hindered your career?

Writing about diverse characters has helped my career because writing diverse characters and stories is the motivation and passion behind the stories I write. Whether or not writing diverse stories will ultimately be financially lucrative remains to be seen, but having the pleasure and challenge of writing diverse stories is the reason I write at all. Writing diverse stories is my driving force.

There is a belief in the publishing industry that books with ethnic characters on the cover don't sell as well. If this is the case, what can we do to change it? What types of covers would you like to have for your books?

I was so disheartened to learn about this back when Justine Larbalestier’s book LIAR was given a cover with a white character instead of representing the main character who was African American. It was my first time learning about this issue and since then I’ve seen many other instances of this. That being said, it appears the issue was getting a lot of attention and I hope the attention and controversy that the cover of LIAR sparked is helping to change things.

I am very fortunate because my cover is currently being developed and my publisher is including me in the process and is committed to creating a cover with authenticity. I hope that this is the trend as hopefully more diversity is reflected in literature.

In your opinion, what are the top three things publishers can do to help sales of books with diverse characters?

1. Publishers should encourage booksellers not to place diverse books in special sections marked off for diversity-specific areas. For example, a YA memoir on a girl in Palestine should be with all the other YA nonfiction books, not shelved in a separate section on World History. I have unfortunately often seen this to be the case and when these books are not in the higher-trafficked locations it makes randomly coming across a diverse book while browsing difficult, which results in less sales.

2. Just as there are conversations taking place in the media, on twitter, and by the general public on the lack of diversity I hope publishers are also having these conversations in a formal manner. I hope they are recognizing how important it is and are taking steps to not only acquiring more diverse stories but to nurture diverse authors they already have in their houses. Before anything can change with action, conversations, important ones, must take place.

3. Promote books with POC with vigor and enthusiasm. If diverse books truly don’t sell as well as other books, by not promoting and marketing them with full enthusiasm a self-fulfilling prophecy can be created.

What are the top three things writers can do?

1. Write the diverse book you’ve always wanted to read. And make it the absolute best book you can. The competition is fierce to get published and it gets tougher every day, so take your time, sit with it, show it to trusted review partners, and write the best story you can possibly write. We need more diverse stories and while successful books have a variety of factors behind them, a great story always has a leg up at succeeding over any other.

2. Don’t be afraid to write the truth, including the difficult truths in your book. The truth resonates and the truth sells. As POC we can often feel we carry the representation of our entire culture on our shoulders and we feel pressured to only paint a rosy picture of our culture, our religion, etc. Write the truth because the truth is shades of gray and will give dimensions to everything you say. When you’re simply writing the good it’s something readers can see through but when you write the truth it resonates and people read.

3. Support other diverse authors. Buy their books. Give them away as gifts. Request the libraries to carry them. Promote your favorite POC authors on twitter, facebook and other social media. Word of mouth is one of the most effective tools to sell books, use your words and your actions to support the authors writing diverse stories and hopefully with time we will see more and more diversity in the stories we read. 

Lots of great ideas! Thanks so much for sharing your excellent advice, Aisha!

You can connect with Aisha on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or Tumblr.

Don't miss the other Diversity Solutions interviews with Nathan Bransford, Sherri L. Smith, Stephanie Guerra, Lamar Giles, Jessica Martinez, and Brandy Colbert!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Diversity Solutions with Lamar Giles

For the latest installment of Diversity Solutions, I'm excited to bring to you author Lamar Giles! The issue of diversity in kid lit has been all over the media recently, including in the New York Times, CNN.com, and Entertainment Weekly.  Here, we focus on how we can achieve the change we need.

Lamar Giles is the author of Fake ID, a YA thriller about a teen in the witness protection program.  Writing as L.R. Giles, he has also penned Serpent & Stallion, Live Again, and The Shadows Gallery.

Hi Lamar! Thank you so much for joining us and speaking up on the issues of diversity in publishing today!  

First, can you tell us a little bit about FAKE ID and what inspired your character, Nick?

FAKE ID is the story of Nick Pearson (not his real name) whose family is in Witness Protection. He moves to his fourth town in four years, and makes one friend, Eli Cruz, who dies under mysterious circumstances. When Nick looks into the death, he uncovers a dark conspiracy that leads back to his own, often shady, father.

I wrote Nick for a couple of reasons. I love to tell stories, so that’s the base driver. Also, I wanted to create the kind of character I never saw, but felt a deep longing for, when I was growing up. A kickass black male teen hero. Not the comic relief sidekick. Not the guy who dies first (because we’ve all heard those jokes, particularly in horror and science-fiction, “black guy’s in it, how long does he last?”)

So many people take for granted the power of having incredible heroes who look like them. I wanted to give that gift to some kids who aren’t so fortunate.

According to this post by Lee & Low Books, there is a large gap between the percentage of children's books with diverse characters and the actual percentage of minorities living in the United States. It seems to me that if 37% of Americans are non-white, there must be an untapped market of readers waiting for books about minority characters. Why do you think publishers haven't invested further in books about diverse characters?

I don’t know for sure, so everything I’m about to say is speculation. But, maybe the idea of increasing diversity just hasn’t seemed like a priority to whoever decides on a house or imprint’s direction. I don’t think there are malicious machinations behind the scenes. I’m not saying [in my 70’s Blaxploitation voice] “It’s The Man trying to keep Brown down.”

However, the issue keeps coming up. In recent weeks, I’ve seen at least two major entertainment outlets address the lack of diversity in YA. So, it’s not a matter of ignorance. The whole industry has been put on notice. Going forward, I think the questions we need to ask publishers are: 1) Who are the people in power that care about changing the dismal diversity numbers? 2) What proactive measures are they willing to take to initiate the change? 3) What quantifiable differences are they shooting for?

I say “they” because I’m not a decision maker. I do have thoughts on this, though, and would be happy to have a discussion with any decision maker who wants to chat.

Did you think it is easier or more difficult to get a book with diverse characters published? What was your experience like in the submission process?

It’s hard to get published. Period. Think of all the publishing lore around acclaimed books that initially got passed on for some reason or another. It’s the whole “J.K. Rowling got rejected a dozen times before someone bought Harry Potter.” I wouldn’t want to diminish or inflate any individual’s publishing experience based on where they’re situated within the diversity spectrum. What gets published is often based on subjective reasoning. Does an agent/editor like the book? If so, great. If not, why? The reasons are going to vary book to book and no one is going to admit they rejected something because the main character was non-white, or gay, or disabled, etc. The numbers from the Lee & Low post suggest SOMETHING is going on, but it seems almost impossible to determine if a diverse character hurts a book’s chance as much as a pacing problem, or an info dump in the first chapter.

Here’s what we do know about publishing acquisitions. It’s not enough for a book to be good; it also has to be wanted. Again, thinking of Harry Potter, one of the greatest book series ever, and a bunch of people who “know” publishing wanted nothing to do with the boy wizard. Some bold person with a contradictory belief had to get it, want it, and push it through.

My own publishing experience was one of those multi-rejection ones. FAKE ID took nine months to sell, despite receiving praise from nearly every editor who read it. I did wonder if Nick being a black male scared editors away, but no one said that to me. One editor admitted they didn’t feel there was a market for a teen thriller with a male lead. No one ever mentioned Nick’s race. In a way, it made his race (and mine) feel like the elephant in the room. But I recognize that sensation was internal, no one openly discriminated against me.

The editor who eventually acquired FAKE ID (and my next book, ENDANGERED) happens to be Asian-American, a member of another group that has very little representation in the YA space. She has since moved on to a different house, and my new editorial team has been very supportive of who I am and the characters I write. However, if not for that one decision maker seeing the value in my work, and wanting to move forward with me, you and I wouldn’t be having this discussion now. Make of it what you will.

In your opinion, what are the top three things publishers can do to help sales of books with diverse characters?

1) Consider starting diversity development programs like the major television networks. Not just for writing. But for editing, and marketing, and book design. IF there is someone in power who cares about this issue, then let’s talk about this. As I alluded to in my previous answer, more diverse decision makers would probably lead to more diverse acquisitions. With more diverse books on the market, there’s increased likelihood that something will hit big.

2) Examine the marketing practices used for books that are expected to do well. Do the same thing for diverse books if you aren’t already.

3) Be honest about your house’s numbers (and whether or not you really care). If diverse acquisitions are low, consider ways to increase those numbers incrementally and annually (the example I always use is a 2%-5% increase each year, arbitrary numbers, but, still, a starting point). And if there’s a problem finding the material through usual channels, consider contests or referrals. The more product, the better the chances for success.

What are the top three things writers can do?

1) Remain vocal. Keep the conversation in the public consciousness, and sing the praises of great diverse titles as you come across them. Sadly, that may be the only marketing some of these excellent titles get.

2) Keep writing. As discouraging as this industry can be, we must keep generating quality material to challenge arguments that diverse books aren’t good/relatable/marketable.

3) Educate peers and readers on the issue. A lot of folks see the desire for more diversity as an attack on writers and characters that are generally the norm. It’s not. Whenever I’ve seen this topic in any major outlets, there’s an immediate—almost violent—pushback from people crying “reverse racism” or accusing anyone who’s passionate about the issue of “playing the race card.” If you encounter this in peers or readers, take an opportunity to enlighten them peacefully. Share numbers and facts like those in the Lee & Low article. Try to take it out of an emotionally charged arena, if possible, so we can all move closer to real change.

Thanks so much for your excellent advice, Lamar! It was a pleasure having you on Diversity Solutions.

To learn more about Lamar Giles, follow him on his website, blog, twitter, or facebook.  Don't miss his fantastic recent post, Diversity in YA: Don't BS the Change!

Also, check out the Diversity Solutions interviews with Nathan Bransford, Sherri L. Smith, Stephanie Guerra, Aisha Saeed, Jessica Martinez, and Brandy Colbert!


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Diversity Solutions with Stephanie Guerra

Hi all! Please welcome author Stephanie Guerra for the latest installment of Diversity Solutions! There have been many calls for greater diversity in YA recently.  In this series, we focus on discussing how we can achieve the change we need.

Stephanie Guerra is the author of Torn, a YA contemporary featuring a straight-arrow Latina teen who is drawn into a friendship with a wild-child new chick.  Stephanie recently switched gears by penning Billy the Kid Is Not Crazy, a humorous middle grade novel.

She is also a contributor to the Latin@s in Kid Lit blog, dedicated to speaking to issues of diversity in children's literature.

Hi Stephanie! Thanks so much for joining the discussion and approaching some touchy subject matter!


First, can you tell us a little bit about TORN and how you decided to craft your Latina main character?

TORN is my debut novel, and here are a few lines of synopsis from School Library Journal:

Starred review Gr 9 Up–Guerra’s gritty novel (Amazon Children’s Pub., 2012) is a spectacularly realistic portrait of a teen torn between her former friends and the new girl in school, running the family household and having fun in high school, and being a friend who goes along with anything or one who really cares. Often stories like this are moralistic, with the good girl celebrated and the bad one shunned. But sometimes the choices aren’t so clear-cut... This is a wonderful story with real characters in real situations…–Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA

School Library Journal nails it: at heart, this is a book about friendship. Race is secondary and incidental, not pivotal to the plot. The review does not mention race, and I love that. I decided on a Latina main character because two of my closest friends from high school are Latino. The book is dedicated to one of those friends, Carolyn, and although it’s not a biographical story, I did (with her permission) draw on her family and experiences to build my main character.

According to this post by Lee & Low Books, there is a large gap between the percentage of children's books with diverse characters and the actual percentage of minorities living in the United States. It seems to me that if 37% of Americans are non-white, there must be an untapped market of readers waiting for books about minority characters. Why do you think publishers haven't invested further in books about diverse characters?

I wish I knew the answer to that! It’s hard to speculate, because I’m on the writing end of the industry rather than the publishing end, and while I understand my own fears and motivations, I’m hesitant to speak for anyone else. 

Here’s my best shot, extrapolated from my own experience: Writing—and I assume publishing—books about diverse characters can be an anxious process. I’m white. (I married into this last name.) I’m scared of getting it wrong. I’ve taken the leap three times now and am working on a fourth, and each time, I confront serious self-doubt. On one hand, there’s a significant, much-discussed lack of diverse characters in children’s and YA lit. On the other hand, there are many critics and readers who are ready to jump on the slightest transgression in the area of stereotyping. 

Many white writers have become afraid to attempt characters of color for fear of offending someone for something… we don’t always know what. And I assume some publishers share these fears. It’s easier to play it safe than to risk being called a bigot. My personal belief is that until we can freely write villains from every background imaginable, there is no real equality of representation in literature.

Did you think it is easier or more difficult to get a book with diverse characters published? What was your experience like in the submission process?

My sense is that the quality of the novel—strong characterizations, plot, voice, and language—matters more to publishers than the color of the characters’ skins. It’s hard to narrow down a good answer to your question because there are so many variables involved in the decision to publish a book. My submission process was fairly painless. I sold my debut novel quickly and followed up with another contract for a book about a white ten-year-old with an African American best friend, and then a contract for a series about a white teen and his Russian girlfriend. Both the African-American and Russian characters are central to the plot.

Do you feel that writing about diverse characters has helped or hindered your career?

I’d like to approach that question from two different angles. First, the “business” side: I don’t know whether writing diverse characters has helped or hindered my career. If someone ever declined or acquired one of my books for that reason, I wasn’t told.

Second, the “creative” side: I feel that writing diverse characters has helped my artistic development and stretched the range of my writing voice. One of the great pleasures of fiction writing is the chance to inhabit a character’s world and try on a personality and set of life experiences entirely unlike one’s own. This experience is amplified for me when I’m writing a nonwhite character. I’ve written Latina, Black, Russian and Italian-American characters, and in each case I’ve been stretched creatively and personally. I teach teens from a wide range of cultural and racial backgrounds, and their language, mannerisms, and world views inform my writing to a great degree. I also lean on beta readers of color to vet my books for anything that might cause offense. Both of these practices—working with kids and beta readers—have pushed me to a higher standard as a writer.

There is a belief in the publishing industry that books with ethnic characters on the cover don't sell as well. If this is the case, what can we do to change it? What types of covers would you like to have for your books?

I suppose that to change this problem, we have to buy more books! Give them as gifts! Vote with our dollars.

The second part of your question is timely for me, because I’m previewing covers for my fall release, BETTING BLIND. My protagonist, Gabe, has a Russian love interest who is an important part of the plot, and she’s featured on all the covers I’ve seen so far. The problem is that the designers are selecting all-American blondes instead of Slavic models. Russians are distinctive looking. I’m standing my ground that if this character is to be featured on the cover, she must look Slavic. All this to say, I’d like to have covers that accurately reflect the backgrounds of my characters, no matter how politically unpopular at the moment.

In your opinion, what are the top three things publishers can do to help sales of books with diverse characters?

1. Publish books that feature diverse characters but are not thematically focused solely on race and ethnic identity.
2. Promote those books to broad audiences.
3. Expect and believe that young readers will be interested in stories about characters from a wide variety of backgrounds. I know that’s an odd-sounding prescription, but young readers often respond to expectations. There may be a self-fulfilling prophecy at play here: if teachers and parents and writers and publishers hold an unspoken belief that young readers will only respond to characters from their own backgrounds, they may unwittingly act in way that influence kids to fulfill their expectations. For instance, if we only hand white students books about white kids, we are saying something. So, perhaps if publishers and other adults change their expectations, they may interrupt this cycle and improve sales of books with diverse characters.

What are the top three things writers can do?

1. If a writer isn’t ready or called to attempt a main character from another background, then he or she might consider including diverse supporting characters.
2. Volunteer with kids from these communities. Make author visits. Make an effort to connect with this audience offline or on.
3. Write books that are not narrowly focused on the race/culture/identity experience. Write a book that everyone will want to read. One of the big issues I see in multicultural literature is that if a book features a non-white character, it must therefore be “about” race. This adds a layer of unnecessary pressure and does not reflect real life.

Thanks for a great interview! I really appreciate that you’re asking questions about this issue! Best of luck on this project. (-:

Thank you so much for your fantastic answers, Stephanie!

Lots to think about, folks.  Don't miss the other installments of Diversity Solutions with Nathan Bransford, Sherri L. Smith, Lamar Giles, Aisha Saeed, Jessica Martinez, and Brandy Colbert


To learn more about Stephanie, check out her website, her posts on the Latin@s in Kid Lit blog, or the video below of an 11-year-old reviewing Billy the Kid Is Not Crazy!







Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Diversity Solutions with Sherri L. Smith

Welcome to the second interview in Diversity Solutions! It seems as if the cry for more diversity in kid lit is everywhere in the media right now. In this series, authors discuss how we can achieve the change we need.  Today, I'm so excited to have Sherri L. Smith share her insight into the many hurdles we face. 

Sherri L. Smith is the author of Orleans, a post-apocalyptic tale told after hurricanes have all but obliterated the Gulf states, and Flygirl, a WWII story about a girl who hides her racial heritage in order to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots. Sherri has also worked in film, animation, comics, and construction.

Hi Sherri! Thanks so much for joining us and tackling some of the tough questions about diversity in kid lit today!

According to this post by Lee & Low Books, there is a large gap between the percentage of children's books with diverse characters and the actual percentage of minorities living in the United States. It seems to me that if 37% of Americans are non-white, there must be an untapped market of readers waiting for books about minority characters. Why do you think publishers haven't invested further in books about diverse characters?

In general, there is a discrepancy between representation and actual demographics in all of entertainment—film, TV and books alike. Given that we are a “free marketplace” society, the belief is books (and movies and TV shows) reflect the consuming audience. If most of your readers are tall redheads, in theory you should produce more books about tall redheads. What this does not take into consideration is the reader’s willingness and great desire to read beyond his or her own experience. 

If publishers trusted their readership more, they might open up to more diversity. Additionally, if some clever statistician would crunch the numbers and show that minorities do in fact buy books, and buy a sizeable amount of them, then we might facilitate change. 

Another thing to consider is the global market. A book isn’t a blockbuster anymore unless it’s an international blockbuster. A European publisher once told me my novel, FLYGIRL, was “too American” for their readership because it dealt with Jim Crow race issues, which were alien to their nation. Sadly, racism is a universal phenomenon, including in this person’s country (hate crimes were in the news that very week!), but they could not/would not equate themselves with the deep history it holds in the US. The trick there is, how do you take the minority experience and make it universally relatable? Then it might sell around the world, and the publishers will say “yes!” to that.

There is a belief in the publishing industry that books with ethnic characters on the covers don't sell as well. If this is the case, what can we do to change it? What types of covers would you like to have for your books?

This is a common belief in movie posters, too (my Master’s thesis was on marketing “black film.”). Quite often, if the cast is African-American, there will be a color wash over the image, turning everyone a lovely shade of gold or blue or something non-racial. I have never heard anyone say they won’t see a movie because the person on the cover is a certain color, nor have I heard it said about a book. Then again, some characters sell well on the cover, and some don’t. Donald Duck is huge in Italy, Mickey Mouse is preferred over here. Boys won’t read books with girls on the cover, girls will read anything, or so they say. It seems different cover images suit different audiences. 

To me, the solution is to make better covers. A striking image is a striking image. Period. As for my books, I tend to prefer art to photographic covers. As a reader, I’d rather imagine my protagonist than see them strongly imprinted on the cover. It stifles the imagination.

I have heard stories from authors about getting a rejection from an imprint because they already had a book about a particular minority, as if that disqualifies other stories. Have you had any experience with this?

That’s hilarious—clearly someone is filling a quota, rather than looking for good stories. I can’t say that’s been my experience. I do remember developing a story for a book packager based on their springboard, with no mention of race, so I wrote what came to mind. They came back and asked, “Why aren’t the characters black?” I said, “Should they be?” They had assumed they would be because I’m black. No discussion necessary. That surprised me at the time. Needless to say, that project disappeared shortly thereafter.

In your opinion, what are the top three things publishers can do to help sales of books with diverse characters?

1) Seek out great stories from all kinds of writers—not just MFA graduates.
2) Put some marketing money behind those great stories in the ethnic niche as well as the wider audience, not just one or the other.
3) Stop saving your multicultural titles for February (Black History Month), May (Asian American and Pacific Islander History Month) or National Hispanic Heritage Month—which isn’t even a calendar month, but runs September 15th to October 15th! Not every minority gets a month, and every minority should count throughout the year. You don’t need an angle or a gimmick to force people to read a good story. You just need the story to be good.

What are the top three things writers can do?

1) Write great stories.
2) Write your cultural experience.
3) Don’t be afraid to write outside of your cultural experience. Do your research and walk a mile in somebody else’s shoe. If that cultural group takes issue with it, maybe it will encourage them to tell their own stories, too!

Thank you so much for your excellent analysis and advice, Sherri! 

To learn more about Sherri L. Smith, check out her website, blog, facebook, or twitter.

Also, don't miss the other installments of Diversity Solutions with Nathan Bransford, Stephanie Guerra, Lamar Giles, Aisha Saeed, Jessica Martinez, and Brandy Colbert!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why I Write About India

I recently started the Diversity Solutions series, which tackles some of the uncomfortable questions regarding the relative lack of diversity in children's lit.  I want to explore how we can achieve change, and I believe that starts with honest discussion.

Personally, it doesn't seem like writing about India has specifically set me back career-wise.  I can't be sure of course, but if anything, I think fatigue for dystopia and near-future settings have been bigger hurdles.  Most people in the industry seem enthusiastic about diverse or multicultural books, including those set in India.  The only doubts in my mind, and what motivated Diversity Solutions, are from the apparent disconnect between that enthusiasm and the actual works being published.

In terms of representing the population, the most troubling gap is actually the lack of books featuring Latino or black characters.  For my part, I have made a personal goal to seek more of them out and support them.

In any case, I don't see myself changing what I'm writing to suit the market.  I think most of us write what we want to read, and I have yearned to see more diverse YA, especially fantasy and sci-fi YA. While writing Sky Mahal, I was inspired in part by Alison Goodman's Eon, which presents a pan-Asian mythology that I thought was very cool.  On my nightstand, I have Ellen Oh's Prophecy, which I understand is based on Korean folklore, and I can't wait to read that, too.  Similarly, I wanted to create a cool and interesting world based on Indian history and culture.

I think diversity in SFF is something badly needed both to help create a feeling of universality and to offset some of the narrowness bred by our Euro- and US-centric education system and press.  That very narrowness drives xenophobia at home and ham-fisted foreign policy.  If we can instill a better understanding of the world at large, we will have better leaders tomorrow.

I strive to present a different view of India, one that conveys that developing countries aren't just places where depressing things happen, where poverty and corruption reign.  That is part of India, but it's not everything.  In my writing, even though it is science-fiction, I try to convey that India is a complex place with art and culture and religion.  It's a place with a booming and innovative tech industry.  And most importantly for YA: it also has its own urban youth culture which is not so very different from America's.

In short, I try to convey the relateable and universal experience of being a teenager while imparting something of India's culture and history, and yes -- problems.  Plenty of problems, but I don't call my writing "dystopian" because the problems are really today's problems extrapolated to the future.  To be sure, many of those problems are shared with the US: prejudice and discrimination, wealth inequality, privacy concerns, and the increasing and insidious power of corporations. 

Although not all my novels will try to cover so much ground, I don't know if that passion to share India will ever fade.  Even if I decide to write something where race isn't relevant, I will always strive to use diverse characters because there is no such thing as a default race, and I don't want to perpetuate the notion that there is.

What about you? Why do you write the characters and settings you write?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Diversity Solutions with Nathan Bransford

Hi all! I'm starting a brand new series called Diversity Solutions!

Recently, there have been a lot of great articles discussing the need for more diversity in children's literature. (I almost wept when I read this opinion piece by Christopher Myers in the New York Times.) I think we can all agree that we need to see more people of color in children's lit, but I want to discuss how we can achieve it.  Today, I have Nathan Bransford with some fantastic thoughts on the subject!

Nathan Bransford is the author of the Jacob Wonderbar series, which begin with Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow.  The series features a mixed-race young boy named Jacob who trades a corn dog for a spaceship and sets off to explore the universe--provided he doesn't accidentally break it first.

Nathan is also a popular industry blogger and brings to us his knowledge as a former literary agent.

Hi Nathan! Thanks so much for joining us and sharing your experience on some sensitive subjects! 

According to this post by Lee & Low Books, (which you previously blogged about) there is a large gap between the percentage of children's books with diverse characters and the actual percentage of minorities living in the United States. It seems to me that if 37% of Americans are non-white, there must be an untapped market of readers waiting for books about minority characters. Why do you think publishers haven't invested further in books about diverse characters?

I honestly don't know. When I was an agent I didn't see a shortage of books with multicultural characters and I represented a wide spectrum of books, but the overall stats of what ends up being published speak for themselves.

There is a belief in the publishing industry that books with ethnic characters on the covers don't sell as well. If this is the case, what can we do to change it? What types of covers would you like to have for your books?

I'm fortunate because I feel like my covers accurately depicted Jacob Wonderbar, who is mixed race, but other writers I know haven't been as fortunate to have their characters accurately reflected on covers. At some point there will be a breakout book with a minority on the cover that may upend the paradigm, but in order for that to happen everyone along the way, from author to agent to publisher to booksellers to readers are going to have to believe it is possible and promote it accordingly.

But I think it's too simple to blame this entirely on publishers. When I posted (pretty tamely) about multiculturalism in young adult literature I never had so many people unsubscribe from my blog in one day. I was appalled. Publishers bear plenty of responsibility, but this is a society-wide issue that runs deep.

Um, that is really sad.  Like, really, depressingly sad.  And I agree, publishers are not the only problem.

However, I have heard stories from authors about getting a rejection from an imprint because they already had a book about a particular minority, as if that disqualifies other stories. Have you had any experience with this, either as an author or when you worked as an agent?

I've heard stories like that too, and it boggles the mind. Fortunately it's never happened to me directly, but I have heard stories along those lines.

In your opinion, what are the top three things publishers can do to help sales of books with diverse characters?

There's really only one thing, which is to judge, acquire and promote books based on their quality period. Find and promote great books. And guess what: many of them are going to have minority characters, and covers should accurately reflect that. Readers will find the great books and love them.

What are the top three things writers can do?

1. Don't ever whitewash a book because you think it will help your sales. You owe it to your readers to be true to your own vision.
2. Authors don't usually have much say over their covers, but do everything you can to get the cover you want. Go down swinging.
3. Vote with your dollars and tweets. Buy the types of books you want to read, follow and support the authors you like. Believe that change can happen.

Thanks so much for the fantastic advice, Nathan!

You all heard the man! I'm fired up - are you?

To learn more about Nathan Bransford, follow him on his blog, twitter, or facebook.

Also, check out the other installments of Diversity Solutions with Sherri L. Smith, Stephanie Guerra, Lamar Giles, Aisha Saeed, Jessica Martinez, and Brandy Colbert!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Anything Else is the New Pink



Guess what?  I have a crazy feminist agenda.  I am against femininity.  I am also a tyrant and deprive my baby daughter of choice. And clearly, I was hoping for a boy, not a girl.

Yes, that was sarcastic.  But that is how a lot of my relatives have acted when I asked them not to buy my daughter pink clothes or toys.

Their response baffles me as much as it frustrates me.  To be clear: I love having a daughter.  I am not against femininity.  I am against gender conditioning.

Yes, I am a feminist.  But I'm not sure why that term is supposed to mean I'm a crazy man-hater. My definition of feminist is someone that believes that women are equal to men, that women deserve equal rights, equal pay, and equal opportunities as men.  Is there some other secret definition of feminism I haven't heard of?  Because who isn't for all of those things (and wants to admit that in public)?

Is everyone else not aware that 90% of girl baby clothing at most retail stores is pink or purple? Therefore, by stating no preference whatsoever, the chances are that my daughter would end up with 90% pink and purple clothing.  Now you tell me, is that what is meant by "choice"?

Further, my relatives act as if this delineation in the baby stores is harmless, that it doesn't play a part in gender conditioning.  Perhaps they think that gender roles are something from the past?  But if  gender conditioning is no longer a problem, why do so few women go into math, science, and engineering, even at a time when more women are going to college? Why aren't there more female politicians and executives?

I'm not saying that my daughter has to do one of the above.  But I'm sure as hell not going to let her believe she CAN'T do any of those things.

I believe that gender conditioning starts at the beginning.  Studies have indicated that babies do not have gender specific preferences to color.  Those develop after age two -- when babies have been socialized.  That, and the fact that pink used to be a boy color prior to WWII, tells me that there is nothing intrinsic about girls loving pink.  And I don't want retailers or relatives pushing those gender roles on my baby.

Obviously, she will eventually start stating her own preferences.  But let's face it, those preferences are at least partially a result of what the cool kids are wearing at school, what pop culture is telling her.  If, as a toddler, she longs for princess culture and all the trappings that come with, it will be a learning process for both of us.  I'm not going to be a tyrant.  I'm not going to ban pink, if she's the one choosing it. But nor will I write it off as a meaningless, harmless stage.

The solution is to be aware.  The solution is to not assume that anything is intrinsic.  That means reading lots of books to her and asking lots of questions.  Dear Little B: what did you think of this fairytale?  Would you like to wait in a tower for a prince to come rescue you? Or would you like to go out and slay your own dragons?

It's not about the color pink.  I occasionally wear pink.  So does my daughter--because despite my request, some of it still manages to slip through.  But I don't want pink to own her or define her or limit her.

That's why anything else is the new pink.