On Writing: Diversity

Diversity is an absolute good in storytelling. We live in a world with an infinite amount of people with diverse backgrounds who look, talk, and act differently. Telling stories that feature people with various ethnicities, sexualities, body types, and gender identities isn’t an attempt to appeal to the widest demographic or to “pander to SJWs”; it’s just personal-3108154__340honest. Each individual writer might not see every kind of person in their lifetime, and I understand why people could scoff at certain terms like “demisexual” and “gender fluid” if they never met those types of people growing up, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I’m reminded of some advice I once read about writing authentic dialogue: “Everyone doesn’t speak the same way you do; the world didn’t grow up in your backyard.” Don’t exclusively fill your stories with heterosexual white men; they aren’t the only people on Earth.

Of course, nothing is ever actually that simple. As easy as it is to describe a character as Black or Muslim, making that portrayal authentic is its own struggle. How can I write with any certainty the viewpoints of people with different backgrounds? I don’t know their struggles, their mentalities, or how they interact with the people around them. As much as I would love to write a story about a demisexual character, I have to accept that I don’t actually know what it’s like to view the world from that perspective, and writing that character without understanding that worldview could easily be seen as hollow or pandering.

On top of that, even if I were to interview hundreds of people with atypical sexualities to the point that I knew with certainty how to write that character, my heterosexuality would undermine any authority I have over the subject. People could read my work, look at me, and say, “Well, that’s not his story to tell.” I can’t argue with them. No matter how much I research and study people of different backgrounds, any story I write runs the risk of seeming inauthentic. personal-2923048__340For example, if I were to write a story from the perspective of a woman and I included a passage detailing the many annoyances of menstruation based on my experience growing up with sisters who constantly complained about their aching uteruses, I cannot avoid the scoffers who claim that I’m not allowed to describe periods because I’ve never had one. I don’t think they’re wrong for being dubious about my description of an experience I’ve never had, but that suspicion makes writing stories with characters unlike myself much more daunting.

Does having more ethnically and sexually diverse characters even matter if the writers are the same old white men? Representation is great, but if the people controlling the media are all the same race and gender, then what real world benefit is there to diversifying our characters? Perhaps it’s selfish of me to demand that I be allowed to write characters with distinct backgrounds. Maybe the solution to this problem is to encourage people of all colors, genders, and sexualities to become writers so that the market can be filled with authentic stories of people from all walks of life. That would require a major upsetting of the status quo, but maybe that’s what we need.

After writing this, I’m left with more questions than answers. Ultimately, I think as long as we consciously desire to make everyone feel loved, respected, and represented, then we’ll find ways to make that happen. The details will come later. For right now, I’m okay with just accepting the radical notion that diversity is good.

Special guest post by Ian Malone.

 

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A Writer’s Life

work-1627703_960_720“Write drunk, edit sober” was the first hint I had that the writing life might be prone to certain vices. It’s a piece of advice attributed to Ernest Hemingway, the well known alcoholic and womanizer who would take his life in 1962. I’ve seen drunk writing. Even after sober editing, it’s not usually great. Stephen King, in his autobiography/guidebook, On Writing, says he doesn’t remember writing Cujo, and talks about how Jack Torrance, the alcoholic “protagonist” of The Shining, is more or less a mirror image of the writer himself.

Throughout high school and college, I have read and come to love more and more authors who dealt with addictions of various kinds: Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, William Faulkner, Charles Bukowski, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, and Evelyn Waugh are just some of the writers that I can think of who struggled with alcohol, drugs, or a violent mixture of both. Since I realized I wanted to be a writer circa Sophomore year of high school, I have always had a certain fear that I too would succumb to one or multiple addictions, and end my life in the way that so many of the above authors did.

There’s something about the writing life that is prone to both introspective existentialism and a need to battle that using whatever means necessary. Anxiety and depression are staples of the creative writing major in college, and post-graduation, that doesn’t seem to change. The world is strange, awful, and scary, and writers seem to see that in a different light than many people.

Maybe I’m wrong here. Maybe everyone feels the same way that authors do, struggles with success in similar ways, worries about the future, and wants to make their mark on the world, leaving a legacy. I don’t know. I do know that myself and many of my friends struggle with these ideas, and I worry that we will try and fill these problematic spaces in our lives with substances, illicit or not.

I’ve seen good friends struggle with addiction already, writers and not. It’s a scary thing, as there’s no definition of alcoholism. It’s a spectrum. How much is too much is a question that many writers probably ask themselves in the midst of a bender, and I hope it never comes to that for me or any of my friends.

I don’t really have a closing argument or sudden revelation to close this piece. Instead, I want to end with an exhortation to writers: find solace elsewhere. Friends, family, books, movies, the writing process itself, a higher power, anything. Try not to see alcoholism or reliance on substances in a romantic light, and search for meaning, don’t just block out the want to search.

A blog by contributing writer J. Clark Hubbard

Strong Women and the Graphic Novel

batman-2216148__340I recently read an article about how female protagonists in YA and graphic novels are stronger and more empowered than ever. While there are many bestsellers out there with strong female protagonists, I am left wondering:  Are these female characters defined as powerful but in limiting ways? My guest bloggers today are looking into books with strong female characters that face limitations and/or characters that demonstrate independence from gender expectations. Click on the “Comments” tab and see what they have to say.

On Writing about Mental Health

My guest blogger today, Shauna McCauley, is writing about mental illness in current fiction—how to do it, when to do, and if we should do it at all. Thanks for stopping by to read. writer-1421099__340

Shauna writes: In the last thirty years or so, with the rise of pop psychology and general public awareness of mental health issues, mental illness has become an increasingly popular topic among writers of all genres, but particularly horror. It is worth noting that artists, and particularly writers, do often struggle with mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression, so, much of the sense of interior instability that shows up in many works of fiction is actually rooted in the truth that they live with every day.

Where many writers fall in to a dangerous trap, however, is with the more unusual mental illnesses. Most people, even if they haven’t been put in therapy, or on medication for it, have experienced some manner of mental instability, such as depression while grieving the loss of a loved one, or heightened stress and anxiety during a major life change, but it’s hard to understand the unique experience that comes with being autistic, or schizophrenic, or even having dissociative identity disorder. The best stories come from writers who take the time to get to know people with these disorders on a personal level, and learn not only how they think, but to have a deep empathy for them.

One good example of this is Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Later adapted into a critically acclaimed stage play, it tells the story of an autistic boy with a talent for maths, Christopher, in his own words, as he attempts to solve the murder of his neighbor’s dog. Haddon had some experience working with autistic children as a young man, although he does not consider himself an expert, but what makes the difference in this story is the very human way that he presents Christopher. He is complicated, flawed, sympathetic, and, most importantly, he is the true protagonist of this story. Sadly, many writers have not faired quite as well.

Stephen King, in many of his works including Secret Window, Secret Garden and The Shining has presented something very much like Dissociative Identity Disorder. In both stories, one of the protagonists, Mort and Danny respectively, develop secondary personalities that they can interact with, Tony and John. In Danny’s case, Tony is a protective personality that allows him to live with his psychic abilities, while in Mort’s, John Shooter is a product of stress related to marital turmoil combined with an overactive writer’s imagination. Neither of these paint a completely accurate picture of what this disorder is actually like. King, however, doesn’t claim anything other than artistic license, not giving a real name to what these characters are experiencing.

In one story it’s a superpower, while in the other, it’s a monster. More apparent to the current popular consciousness is M. Night Shyamalan’s recent film Split, in which the antagonist is explicitly characterized as a man suffering from an extreme case of dissociative identity disorder, with more than twenty individual personalities inhabiting the same body. He develops this idea that different personalities can have slightly different body chemistries in D.I.D. patients, and uses it to allow his antagonist to create a monstrous, cannibalistic personality that is so physically strong it’s practically invulnerable. While he does very much acknowledge that people with this disorder are usually the victims of severe psychological trauma, he makes his D.I.D. patient into a side show of sorts to make an, in my opinion, unfulfilled point about pain making people stronger.

While it’s a good thing that writers are telling stories about people with extreme mental disorders, this subject should be approached from a place of compassion rather than the sort of idle curiosity that has led to almost a fetishization of it. Non-neurotypical characters are a great way to broaden your own, and your readers’, perspective, but not for the sake of novelty, or trend, or if your interest is only enough to do a bit of research. The key to this is the same as it is in any well written character, to see them as people rather than plot devices.

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

My guest blogger, Miguel Vilas, is talking about the lack of sleep and its consequences. He writes:

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Most people have heard that the average teen needs 9-10 hours of sleep every night and adults typically need anywhere from 7 to 9. But on average, most people do not get enough sleep to the point of feeling rested. Not getting the recommended hours of sleep can have a negative impact on adults in the workplace and also on teens at school.

When people are overtired, they can have a bad attitude at work toward costumers or coworkers. They might give the minimum effort needed for a task or be careless and make mistakes. This also applies to kids at school who can’t focus because they are too tired. Some will fall asleep in class while others will take a nap after school rather than doing  homework.

So what can we do? A majority of Americans lack sleep for all different kinds of reasons, but most of those can be controlled. Many people tend to watch television for an extreme amount of time (bingeing on Netflix or Hulu series); others are on their laptop or iPhone. iphone-410324__180All of these are distractions that can be prevented by simply turning them off. By doing this you will get the correct amount of sleep that is required and the results will be noticed immediately. Lack of sleep is a major problem but can be solved fairly simply.

Reality TV: Cancer or Cure for Society?

My guest blogger this week is Josh McCaleb, who is writing about what reality TV is doing to us. Here’s what he has to say:

children-403582__340Television today is very effective in molding the minds of its viewers, and some programs on TV, especially reality shows, are negatively shaping us. While reality shows are meant to simply show what happens in the lives of some of our favorite celebrities, no script and no filter, they can have a long-lasting and negative effect.

Some of today’s most watched reality shows include Duck Dynasty, The Voice, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and The Biggest Loser. Each program has its own individual effect on society. But despite their original purpose of being entertainment, some of these shows can actually bring a person to a point of depression—yes, it’s depressing to watch families yelling at and fighting with each other all of the time or to see a “favorite” get kicked off.

These are the shows that really get under my skin. These are also the ones that send a negative message to the public, which make them some of the worst things to watch. So next time you turn on the TV, stop and ask yourself: why am I watching this show?

What’s new this week—other than our presidential election? Anyone else nervous about who is about to become our country’s next leader? Of course—and for good reason. This election has been like no other we’ve seen. So, I’m nervous to say the least. And when I get nervous, I eat. Anyone else out there a nervous eater? Many of us resort to food in times of stress, so I thought today’s blog from John David Fuzzell was appropriate. sandwich-434658__180While we’re watching who becomes our president, we should still be watching what we’re eating…and here’s why.

John David writes: Maintaining a healthy diet is essential because a bad diet can lead to many health problems. It is extremely important to be knowledgeable about the effects that bad eating can have on our health. A bad diet typically consists of an overload of calories, carbs, and sugars. Sadly, many are unaware of the reasons behind an unhealthy diet. Here are a few tips to consider:

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  1. Before creating a meal plan, take into consideration the proportions necessary for each category of food. Setting up proportions for each category consists of making out a table and compiling the percentages of each category that a person needs.
  2. Try to balance the following categories of food: fruit and vegetables, meat and alternatives, rice and alternatives, and fats, oils, salts, and sugars.
  3. Try to select less of the fats group and more of the other three groups.
  4. Don’t overload on a certain category of food. Likewise, don’t eat tremendously less than the recommended portion of food for each category.

In conclusion, the level of quality and quantity of the food that a person ingests directly determines the way in which he or she operates.

Dating These Days…

My guest blogger today, Shelby Elkins, is talking about dating and how we don’t take it as seriously as we should these days. Here’s what she has to say:

My generation does not take dating seriously. iphone-410324__180Rather than asking someone out in person, we direct message someone on social media such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter with a cheap pickup line that can end up being degrading. Also, people never call each other anymore. Texting has become a huge part of our relationships and girls think it is romantic to get cute text messages from guys. As technology advances, romance gets lost.

And what ever happened to dressing up for datecouple-260899__180s? Girls and guys used to get dressed up and look their best to go out with their partner. Now going on a date has vanished and turned into people texting each other to come over when they are bored.

We should never settle for just Netflix dates or text message romances. We deserve more. It seems like young people today are not willing to invest in relationships like people did years ago, not just with money, but with time. I think love is worth fighting for and it starts with pushing against what has become our norm.

Smokers, Beware

Guest blogger Tyler Thomas warns readers about the effects of smoking.

cigarettes-83571__180As of 2014, 16.8% (or 40 million) U.S. Americans smoke cigarettes according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking cigarettes not only causes harm to your physical health, but it can also cause harm to your emotional and financial health. Although smoking cigarettes can sometimes relieve stress, it isn’t worth it. Here’s why: Smoking can cause

  1. Bodily damage:  Smoking can cause lung cancer and can lead to collapsing lungs and shortness of breath.
  2. Emotional damage: Smoking can lead to depression and isolation.
  3. Financial stress: Smoking cigarettes can cause financial stress simply because you are spending money daily to buy cigarettes when you could be saving money or spending it on something more useful.

skull-and-crossbones-1418827__180Spending money on cigarettes is spending money to have lung or heart problems. And while smoking is a hard habit to kick, it could end up saving you more than money—it could end up saving your life.

Anxious for Nov. 9th

“Stop using social media as a platform to spew political agenda,” says guest blogger Reagan Smith.  woman-1446557__180He writes: Many dread this season every four years because of the non-stop mudslinging campaigns and tiring speeches, debates, and campaigns. However, this year has just proved to be too much. A Facebook or Twitter user today cannot look at his feed without noticing an article about Donald Trump’s racism or Hillary Clinton’s emails. Many dream of the ninth of November and beyond—those glorious days when our next president has been elected.

Everyone has differing views. Therefore, no one can avoid arguing when it comes to politics. For example, my grandmother is a staunch Democrat, and she will surely vote for Clinton. My mother, while a Ben Carson supporter, has unwillingly given her support to Trump. A cousin “Feels the Bern” but has momentarily cast him aside for Hillary. A close friend has remained loyal to Trump throughout the election, even titling his election speech for Honor Society Vice President, “Make Honor Society Great Again.” I use these examples to show the diversity of people—all of whom I am closely associated with. Even within my small circle, very different views have arisen. This has made me all the more anxious for November 9.

What is even more agitating? twitter-566341__180Looking at social media has been impossible without seeing articles demonstrating how deplorable the opponent is. It is time to leave these political differences in the ballot box and stop alienating others with our comments online.