Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Adding the Spice of Diversity class for authors

Some of you know that I give workshops and teach classes for authors and readers.  One of those classes is Adding The Spice of Diversity.  Originally given as a Workshop at the 2014 Chicago North RWA Spring Fling conference, the material will now be presented as an on-line course in August.

Comments from Spring Fling:
Thanks you so much for the great workshop at Spring Fling. In the car on the way home, I figured out how to solve a major problem with one of my short stories, thanks to some of the things you said. - Mary Driver-Thiel

My new online class, Adding the Spice Of Diversity to your writing is being offered in August, 2014 in association with the Low Country RWA chapter. Find out more about the class and register at LRWA Workshop site

Course description:

Many authors fear inserting diverse characters and settings into their work for fear of creating a stereotype of not getting it right. This course will explore both the reader’s need for something different, and ways to put those different characters on the page free of stereotype. This includes characters from different races, ethnic backgrounds, and with disabilities.

Course outline:

Week 1 What is diversity/multiculturalism? (It may not be what you think) Why is it important to writers/readers
Write what you know, and what you don't know, learn
Week 2 Taking ourselves out of the story, putting the character in
Introducing your characters and settings to your readers. Sometimes the hardest work happens at the start.
Week 3 Backstory - Getting to the heart and soul of a character Avoiding cliches and stereotypes
Week 4 Final touches & Resources Keeping it together, revision and editing and keeping things real
This is a four week class and will include homework assignments. The target Audience is beginner and intermediate writers and anyone interested in about adding diversity and multicultural elements to their writing.

Interested in taking the journey? Register at LRWA Workshop site 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Books filled with life's quirks, kinks, and diversity - #weneeddiversebooks

Diverse books for young readers were plentiful at the Chicago Black Authors tent this weekend at the 2014 Printer's Row Literature Festival in Chicago, Il.

We faced a steady stream of interested kids, parents and teachers both Saturday and Sunday.  I had the misfortune of selling out my stock of copies of Pull early on Saturday, but the supply was replenished for Sunday. And, although people listened when I talked about that book and how the hero deals with life in the aftermath of domestic violence that left him and his sisters orphans, teachers and people who work with youth were all ears about Minority of One. The hero is a black, gay teen, but it's not the story of a difficult coming out. Instead it's the story of his day-to-day life after he comes out to accepting parents. It's a hero who happens to be gay, but also has to face other issues. It was also my best seller during the fest with some adults saying they wished they had seen a book like this years ago, especially those dealing with at-risk youth.  Kids of all races had already told me they wanted more books about what high school and life is really like.  That's what the independent authors of Chicago Black Author Network are trying to present to them.

Life, with all its quirks, kinks, and diversity.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Super Fan

I have this Superfan named Michael. It's always nice to know someone out there reads--and loves--my books. He took upon himself the task to make my books easily available to others. He had to special order my new book, Minority of One from his local Barnes and Noble  because they don't carry it. And then, he persuaded them to obtain copies and put them up for sale. He spent several weeks having meetings with people at his local B&N to get them to give the books more than just a listing in the catalog.

Here they are, Pull, Being God and Minority of One, all on a Florida B&N stack among the Top Teen Picks. Even more, he's talking to local kids about the books, especially kids of color.  He'll soon be  sporting a brand new BABinns fan T-shirt. He'll also have info cards to spread out, in the store and local hang-outs for kids.  I'm proud of him, and proud to see that at least in this store, the top teen shelf shows diversity.

This was one of the suggestions from a multicultural discussion at the CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center) listserve earlier this year. We developed action items and tangible ways to do more to get diversity into the hands of kids. Michael, I salute the work you did.  Barnes & Noble, I salute you for giving this a go.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

End of Year School visit

On Friday I traveled the 144 miles to Bloomington Illinois to meet with freshmen at Bloomington High School. I was invited by Keran Johnson, the school's retiring Library Media Specialist (she's in full countdown mode).  We met last fall when I spoke at the Illinois School Library Media Association in Springfield, and she mentioned how much she wanted an author visit at her school before she left. Over the months we corresponded, trying to find some way to make it happen. At times we almost gave up, but miracles can happen. I guess we have to thank the snow gods, thanks to the need for snow days to make up for closings during the horrific winter, school did NOT end on May 23, the originally scheduled date.  So at the last minute, they were able to fit an author visit in the school year.

While I did not know that my day would begin with the first period class at 7:30 (I am so not a morning person) I got there and got to work.  I actually got there the night before. The drive took about three hours (2 1/2 according to Mapquest, but they did not include the construction slowdown in I55) Keran put me up overnight in her lovely home, and treated me to dinner. Then it was rise and shine and face the students.

The teachers and I
During the day I faced five classes from two English teachers, along with some kids who got passes to attend one of my session.  The groups listened attentively (OK as attentively as kids who really wanted summer vacation to begin already) could.  I talked about writing, and the author's responsibility to craft a story that reaches out and grabs a reader and sucks them in.  And about the readers bill of rights, most especially the right to stop reading any story that bores them.  I admit to valuing that right just as much as I value the right to read anything, the right to reread and the right to skip pages.  I talk to lots of reluctant readers, and I think many of them are or become reluctant because they don't realize they have the right to dislike things other like, that right to read anything they like, and the all-important right to not finish if they are not hooked.

The school put together a poster for me to advertise my school visit. I loved it and just wished I could take it home with me. None of the students, and it was a culturally diverse group, had any issue with the faces on the cover. Kids really don't seem to be put off by that, although publishers and booksellers seem to think only white faces on a cover will sell. Learning that my 2014 release, Minority of One, featured a black gay teen, perked up their interest. And when they asked me about my work in progress and I mentioned the heroine of that book is going to be bi-sexual, several of them wanted to see it NOW! (Sorry, it's just started so they have to wait until at least 2015).   I also shared lunch with some eager future authors, and we discussed the writing process.

Like the group I spoke to a few weeks ago in New Orleans, these kids were interested in multicultural books.  We talked about crafting believable and likeable characters, which is where I start my stories. I read the beginning pages of Pull, my first published YA novel, and of one of my short stories and watched them perk up and tell me to keep going. I left the teachers with a list of book choices the kids could start with in deciding on a summer read for the contest, but reminded each student it was up to them to find the book that best appealed to them. Describe your likes to a librarian. Or maybe pick a book off the shelves at random. Read chapter one. If it doesn't appeal to you, don't try to force yourself to read it. Toss it and find something else. 

All of this was to prepare to set them a challenge. Summer is a time when many kids want to do anything except read. I challenged them to go out and find something, fiction, poetry, an anthology, non-fiction, memoir, even fan fiction or magazines. Something they will feel so strongly about they will want to come back and recommend it to their friends. Because if they do, they will win prizes that include t-shirts. There is no requirement they read a specific book (I was pleased that several of them inquired about my books) or that it be fiction (non-fiction, graphic novels, memoir etc work just fine). This is not a replacement for any summer reading set by their teacher.  But it is incentive for the eager readers, an inducement to reluctant readers, and a hope that some of them will find that maybe reading isn't all that bad after all and share that with their friends.

Over the summer and the beginning of the fall years, these freshmen kids (now sophomores) will enter their recommendations int he school system. They have to add in a blurb about why this story was recommended. And then, they have to get their friends to vote on the best recommendation. The library will collect the votes, and I will send prizes to the top three. I am looking forward to hearing from the teachers and sending out prize packages.

And happy retirement, Keran.
I teach online classes for writers, give workshops on reluctant readers and writing, and presentations to schools and libraries. If you are interested in a school, library or conference visit, use my contact page to send me an email

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Look at the kids and see why #weneeddiversebooks

As an African American author I look forward to the annual Romance Slam Jam conference. for readers and authors of black romance.
RSJ Authors
This year was the 19th RSJ and the theme was "Romancing The Big Easy" and the get-together was in Kennar Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans. The conference covers four days of fun and informative events that included spectacular new Orleans cooking, an awesome high school brass band, a half-day seminar from Mark Coker of Smashwords, a well-attended booksigning, and the Emma awards ceremony with a special tribute to the late Francis Ray.

Smashwords seminar

This year the event included something new. A C Arthur and her street team arranged a special “Teen Scene” luncheon. Several Louisiana schools and libraries sent teens to an author meet-and-greet on Saturday May 10. As the author of three YA novels, Pull, Being God, and Minority of One, I was one of four African American YA authors invited to talk to the kids.  Other YA authors included were
  • AC Arthur who writes the Mystix YA series (Manifest, Mystify, Mayhem and Mesmerize) under the pseudonym Artist Arthur. 
  • Sheila Goss who writes street fiction for teens under the pseudonym Sparkle.
  • Celeste O. Norfleet  who writes YA for Kimani Tru

As an author, it was a joy to see a room filled with teens who hung on your every word. They did not know us, some had never heard of any of us before or seen an African-American author in person, much less four in the same room. It was inspiring to see these young people, hear their comments about reading, and to be pummeled by questions from aspiring young writers. The event grounded me and helped me remember why I write YA fiction. It was all about enthusiasm, a host of new readers, and seeing them get over the shock at seeing actual published black authors. You could tell some of them had not fully believed authors who looked like them really existed.

The kids many publishers claim don't read scrambled for books and then stood in line to get those autographed. Four were assigned to interview me, and I was pummeled. Two argued over who would get to introduce me and share what they had uncovered. The winner had been one of the quietest girls in the room. But she stood next to me with pride as she introduced me and my work on getting more diversity in YA and children's fiction.

When it was time for general questions, several attendees had lists. One was impatient for a prize raffle to end so she could keep going on her list. We were together for several hours, talking all through lunch (I loved the bread pudding). The adult sponsors finally had to pull the kids away to get them back on their bus to go home.

Kids of Color are absolutely hungry for books about them, and for authors who look like them.  I have been writing for years and have been to several writers conferences, conferences for educators and librarians, and many schools.  This is the first time I looked into a room full of young faces and felt like a true role model. I applaud the conference for organizing the event, and hope to see it repeated next year.

P. S. For a little contrast, take a look at my companion post about my adventures at a different conference. It gives more information on why the twitter-verse is exploding at  #weneeddiversebooks  -

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

This week I was asked to do this week's post on The Writing Process (as if I have a for-real process.)

I want to thank my friend and fellow author Ellen Parker or inviting me to join The Writing Process
blog hop. Ellen writes Romance from the Heartland and you can find out more about her at

What am I working on?
I'm in the middle of multiple projects right now.
  1. I have to come up with an ultra-short story for a publisher who likes my Flash Fiction (he's been publishing me for the last few years and this month mine is the Featured Story). 
  2. I'm preparing the Kindle version of my third contemporary, multicultural YA novel, Minority of One.
  3.  I'm in the middle of editing a fourth YA novel about two teen cello players who end up dealing with a murder before I send it off to my agent. 
  4. Last but absolutely not least, I have dusted off an old adult romance novel I abandoned in 2009 while writing my YAs and and trying to get that into shape. Unfortunately that story deals with the newspaper industry, so it also needs modernization. (Who knew the world would change so much in only a few years)

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I beleive in creating a diverse cast of characters and letting them be as realistic as possible. My tagline - Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men and the People Who Love Them. I want to put the write kid into the right story, be he/she white, African American, Hispanic or of any other race or ethnic group.  And since many of my characters are male, I often find myself adopting the male persona and POV. I find I am much bolder as a guy than as a girl!

Why do I write what I do?
I believe everyone has a story, no matter what their age, gender, race, culture or ethnic heritage.  And everyone, especially kids, deserve to see someone they can relate to on a page. I have dealt with universal issues, especially father/son conflicts, but also such real-life areas as domestic violence, culture clashes, and adoption issues. These things impact everyone, not just the majority culture, and I want to reach the kids who seldom get to see themselves reflected on the pages of the books they see.

How does your writing process work?
For me it always begins with the character.
I admit to mild schizophrenia, I seem to accumulate alternate egos in my head. But instead of seeing a doctor for medication to vanquish them, I let them live. I get to know them. I seek out their strengths and try to figure out what lessons they need to learn to overcome their weaknesses and make them better, more complete human beings.

Once I know the characters, I pull together a plot, the events and turning points necessary to make them change and grow. For David Albacore whose weakness was a near-crippling guilt after his mother is killed, that meant PULL found ways to help him save others so he could retrieve himself. In Minority of One I needed a plot that would let Neill realize he had a right to his own future, not one others planned for him.
For more information, catch me on Goodreads or my website,

Interested in checking out the process used by other authors? Next Monday there are two exciting writers:

1.  Patty Blount, who writes novels for teens that feature kick-ass characters who can certainly save themselves, but prefer having friends to help along the way. Her debut novel, SEND, featured an unlikely hero in Dan Ellison, a bully searching for forgiveness after he causes a classmate's suicide. SEND was a Junior Library Guild pick in 2012. Her latest story, SOME BOYS, is a story about rape and rape culture, and will be released in August, 2014.

You can find Patty's Writing Process on March 31 at

2.Shannon Kennedy lives and works at her family business, a riding stable in Washington State. She writes mainstream western romance as Josie Malone and young adult fiction as Shannon Kennedy. She currently has 11 books under contract, eight in print and three that will be released this year. Visit her at her websites, and to learn about her books.

Her writing process will be up on March 31 at

Friday, February 14, 2014

What If You Were The Only One Of Your Kind?

Today is the last day of the Heartbreaker's Blog Tour. It's your last chance to win a Kindle and read posts about me, diversity in YA books, Minority Of One that follows a gay black teen and a straight white girl as they each seek answers to the question,
What if you were the only one of your kind?

Check out the following tour stops. And don't forget to enter the giveaway for a new Kindle.

    Feb 9 A Life Bound By Books for a synopsis of Minority of One and an in-depth look at the main characters, Neill and Sheila.

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