Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Holiday

My holiday gift to you is a short story (OK, flash fiction) I wrote featuring characters from my second book, Being God. Malik Kaplan's mother is Catholic and his father Jewish, so when the relatives get together to celebrate the holidays, festive is not always the right word.

If you read to the end I hope you enter the contest for a chance to get a free seat in my writing class on crafting diverse characters and situations - Adding the Spice of Diversity to your writing.   The class begins in February, winners will be announced the second week in January.


“Hey there, rocket man.” Mom’s eldest brother, Willie (I would have been a priest, but…) tries to rub my head, like I’m seven instead of seventeen. His new girlfriend giggles.
I nearly barf.
Our house is the spot marked X for the last day of Chanukah, which comes on Christmas Eve this year. The whole Chanukah/Christmas thing used to confuse me. I mean, Catholic mother, Jewish father. Neither all that heavy into religion, what did they expect? I was almost six before I understood there was a difference between Mom lighting a tree and singing hymns, and Dad lighting candles and chanting prayers. The dual season gives me more of everything, including a mountain of Chanukah gelt, chocolate coins wrapped in gold paper to make them special.
I also get more relatives.
I’m surrounded by family; Catholics, Jews, and a few uninterested in the idea of a deity but wanting their own version of gelt: free food. Mom takes her role as the wife of a black Jew seriously, fixing latkes from a non-traditional recipe that includes jalapeño’s because Dad likes them. She put up mistletoe as part of her yearly impossible mission of turning us into an old-fashioned Christmas card family, shiny black and brown faces and cheezy smiles.
“Where’s your husband?” Tyrese, Mom’s younger brother, clutches a crucifix like he’s begging God’s forgiveness for even entering this house. “It’s dinnertime.”
The door opens, bringing a blast of winter air and Dad. I catch a whiff of motor oil as he passes me and leans in to kiss Mom’s cheek.
“About time, Dwayne.” Willie sounds like an unforgiving parent. “We’re starving.”
“Sorry, I had a last minute customer snafu,” Dad says.
“You’re the owner; don’t you have people to handle Christmas Eve snafus?”
“This was a special customer,” Dad says gently.
Tell him to stuff it, Dad.
He never does. His brothers-in-law aren’t hot stuff. They talk smack about Dad, as if running an auto shop makes him dirty. Dad knows all about engines; they can’t even change the oil in their cars. Uncle Willie asked me once if a hemi was a disease. I know Dad hears how they rip into him. Yet every year he smiles and invites them back.
“I’ll shower and be right down.” Dad runs upstairs.
Mom herds the guests into the dining room. Instead of following, her brothers move to a corner.
“She abandoned her religion for that jerk and he ignores her over some ‘special customer.’” Willie makes air quotes, just like the girls at school.
“Don’t disrespect my dad,” I say angrily.
“He disrespected my sister first,” Willie says.
“You just hate on him because he makes more money than you.”
“Anyone could make money if they’re willing to get their hands dirty.”
“Not in front of the boy.” Tyrese tries to cut his brother off.
“You’ve said worse,” Willie insists. “This kid’s the mistake that forced Sis to marry Dwayne.”
“Mistake?” I can’t be a mistake. My head spins.
“You’re the best thing Dwayne ever did,” Tyrese says. “No one blames you.”
“Take your blame and shove it.” Dad steps to my side. His hair is moist around the red kipah on his head; his eyes spit fire. “Neither my son nor my marriage was a mistake.”
“Maybe we should go.” Tyrese fingers his crucifix.
“No.” Dad’s lips tighten, hands clench at his side. “My wife wants you here. You’ll stay to make her happy.”
Dad and I enter the dining room together. “Would you perform the mitzvah berakhah?” The familiar scent of motor oil still clings to him.
“But…you always do that.”
“Not today.” He smiles. “You are the best thing I’ve ever made. You say the blessings.”
My hand shakes when I take the shamesh, the server candle, and chant the words I learned at Beth Shalom in Chicago; the blessings thanking God for miracles performed for our ancestors.
Baruch atah Adonai Elo-heinu Melech ha’olam asher kid’shanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah
As I light the other eight candles of the chanukiah, I give silent thanks for my personal miracle, standing beside Mom.
There are no mistakes in our family.

Click here to enter contest for a free spot in Adding The Spice Of Diversity To Your Writing class

Saturday, November 15, 2014

SCBWI Prarie Writers and Illustrators Day Diversity session

Today I am off at Harper college in Palatine, Illinois for SCBWI's annual Prairie Writer's and Illustrators day, a conference for filled with authors, illustrators, editors and agents. There are contests, workshop sessions, portfolio reviews, and general information sharing and networking. This year they are featuring something new. Lunch and Learn sessions, where people will meet and discuss different issues. I will have a table where people will come to discuss diversity and multicultural issues in children's books (which is just about my favorite topic).  I've got handouts discussing
  1. Why we need diverse books
  2. What these authors and Illustrators can do
The discussion will include the #WNDB movement, some of the historical issues in getting diversity and multiculturalism into children's books, how diversity is more than most people thing, the need for authentic voices, along with ways attendees can be more mindful of stereotypes and caricatures while still including diversity in all its facets (race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical and mental disabilities and much more) in their writing.

God, I'm on my soapbox already.

I'll also be giving a shout-out to a new group forming, the Association of Children's Authors and Illustrators of Color.  We are authors and illustrators out to meet the need for children's books featuring characters of color. Our website, ACAIC.ORG will be launching later this year.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Writer's group farewell

I am about to be completely, almost scary honest.  I'm an author, and I belong to multiple writing groups, we share our work, do critiques, give feedback, share tips and all that stuff.

Last night I attended my very last meeting of one group.

To me it's an example of what happens when good ideas go bad. There is a lot of turnover in the group. New people are allowed to walk in, read and begin critiquing with little background and no training. As a result, it has become a group of people who live to hear how great their writing is. I've recognized the problem, when I have something to critique people gush about the story details  but seldom have anything helpful to say about the writing and possible areas that need improvement.  We have several people doing memoir-type books and the so-called critiques have become gossip fests as people reminisce about an event, either the one being written about, or something similar that happened to them, or even once about something they saw on TV that was similar.  Last night I was trying to tell one young writer about plot and point of view, and the others jumped in saying "it's a fable, it doesn't need all that stuff."  The story involved a dying mother talking to her child, and one member whose father recently died gushed over the similarities. Forget that the story was in essence a soliloquy, it made her remember her own loss and cry, and that was enough for her.

I'm all for encouraging new writers. I'm teaching a class right now and have students with lots of questions who are eager to find ways to improve their writing skills instead of just having someone tell them they are stars and gush over the subject matter.  Social clubs have their place. So do venues where people read their writing and everyone applauds. But those aren't critique groups they are cheering sections.

Here's a question. What do you expect from a writer's group, Accolades? Self-affirmation? Criticism? Tell me, am I expecting the wrong things?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Class - Man Talk starting in November

**CLASS BEGINS** Man Talk Workshop.  Presenter: B A Binns

I am giving a four week class in November, entitled Man Talk, with the nitty-gritty of making your male characters sound real.  This is designed for those of us blessed with two X chromosomes who need to write about those people who happen to be XY. I'll share what I've learned from men, teachers, and shrinks about writing male characters of every age, while researching for Pull, Being God and Minority of One

As a special note, week three includes the opportunity for class participants to get individualized critiques from me on their own writing. Come join me, it will be fun and painless and there's only a little homework.

The class is sponsored by  Outreach International Romance Writers. For more information and a syllabus, look at:
Dates: November 1-30, 2014
Deadline October 29, 2014
Fee: OIRW Member $20
Fee: Non-Member $25
Registration: Non Members
Registration: OIRW Members

MAN TALK is designed to help writers make their male  characters talk and act more believable on the page. This is meant for both beginner and Intermediate level authors.  If you’ve ever been told that your male characters (hero, villain, and even minor characters) act a little too feminine or don’t seem realistic, this class can help change that.

We begin by building a guy from the brain out and understanding the filters he uses to see his world.  The lessons include:
A review of the impact of cultural issues
How the child and adult archetypes fit in without creating stereotypes
Backstory and how to use his personal history to make readers believe that whatever he does, it is exactly what a guy like him would do. 
Verbal and non-verbal communication styles
How emotions are handled (yes, there is more than just anger), as well as friendship, fights, and love. 
When to use the male POV and when to avoid it.
And finally, how much reality readers really want.
There are outside readings and homework. So bring your guys (the ones on the pages) and we will search for solutions. Please come with a male character from a WIP or one that you are developing, along with any specific issue you want addressed.  Please bring your specific issues.

Attend, and don't be a lurker


 Week 1 Building our fictional men from the inside out

The Male Brain

 Male Archetypes

YA guest lecturer

Week 2

External influences, including culture

His backstory
M/M guest lecturer

Week 3



Feminine Markers


(Note, during week 3, critiques of short excerpts of student writing are offered)

Week 4

Friendship, fights, and love   

What are romance readers looking for in the man on the page (i.e. how real should you be)

And yes, there is homework.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Cry of the Sea - DG Driver

Tell us about yourself and why you write for young people.

I am a member of SCBWI and have been a published author since 1995. When I first started writing, I was in college getting my degree in Drama, planning to be an actress. I wrote for fun. A friend asked me to write a children’s play for his theater, and I was hooked. I did and still do perform, but I have been a teacher (in Special Education) and writer foremost over the past 20+ years. As Donna Getzinger I published many books, including six highly acclaimed non-fiction works with Morgan Reynolds publishers. Cry of the Sea is my first YA novel and first novel as D. G. Driver. I also had a short story titled “The Jamaican Dragon” published in an anthology of pirate stories called A Tall Ship, A Star and Plunder.

Cry of the Sea is intended for readers 12 and up. Juniper Sawfeather is 17, but the story is very PG.

What made you decide to write Cry of the Sea and create Juniper

I originally came up with the idea for Cry of the Sea in 1999. It was the 10th anniversary of a major oil spill on the West Coast and was all over the news. I wondered what would happen if a mermaid were to wash up on the beach with the other injured animals. The story slowly came to life after that. I chose to make Juniper American Indian because we studied the American Indian cultures every year in the 3rd/4th grade class I taught, and the tribes of the Northwest were always the most interesting to me. I also was a huge fan of X-Files back then, so I really didn’t want to create a paranormal story about a talking mermaid, but more of a Science Fiction type story about what it would be like if mermaids were real creatures.

Tell something Juniper you want young readers to grasp.

Juniper is a smart, sensitive girl, but she has a hard time because her parents are very outspoken environmental activists. She is unpopular more because of that than because she is American Indian. At the beginning of the book she wants nothing more than to get away from her current life and start somewhere new. The mermaids allow her to find her own cause and her own voice. She realizes that she is more than what others think of her.

How do you see your book fitting into schools and into the concept of Windows, Mirrors and Sliding glass doors.

One of the things I’ve been reading over and over in the articles about diversity in books is that readers want novels, particularly fantasy novels like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, but with non-whites in the leading roles. People are looking for stories that are not about the race of the protagonist but rather a regular story that features a protagonist of color. Cry of the Sea is not a story about a girl being American Indian. It is a story about a girl who happens to be American Indian finding herself in the middle of an adventure. She is a bright girl with a good heart, and she faces a lot of the same pressures any teen girl faces: difficult parents, a crush, bullies, best friend trouble, and homework. But she also faces a whole lot more once she stumbles upon the mermaids.

Tell us a little about your research and efforts to make the character accurate

Juniper is definitely not a stereo-typical American Indian. She is a modern, teenage girl from the suburbs. I looked into which Tribal Nations were in the Washington State area and decided which one made the most sense for Juniper. However, her mother is not American Indian, so I don’t have her living on a reservation. There are references to Juniper’s heritage, and her father is very proud of his heritage. However, as mentioned above, Juniper is less concerned about being seen as American Indian than she is of being seen as the daughter of these extreme environmentalists. Once the plot of the story really kicks into gear, no one is focusing on the color of her skin.

I wanted Juniper’s father to tell a legend that would make him wonder if American Indians had been somehow aware of the mermaids far in the past. I read a lot of mythology from the area about the sea animals and life on the Northwest Coast. I wound up inventing the myth I used for the novel, but it was loosely based on a real legend of warriors who were turned into killer whales. Additionally, I found out about a real event called the Potlatch, where people make necklaces and throw them into the sea to celebrate the killer whales. I decided to adapt that to fit my story as well and have it told by a news reporter who has both Spanish and American Indian ancestry.

What you have done to insure quality in terms of content, editing, and appropriateness for the age range.

My novel is not self-published. My publisher, Fire and Ice is an indie press, an imprint of Melange Books. I had an editor, Megan Orsini, who helped me fine-tune the book and make sure it was in the best shape possible. She had me rewrite the first chapter six times and the first page two more times after that. I was thrilled at the cover art by Caroline Andrus and that she found the perfect image for Juniper’s face. I have a daughter who just turned 13, so I admit that I wrote it “clean” enough so that she and her friends could read it. I’ve already presented it at a couple schools, one being a public middle school, and it has been well received.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell

1. A short bio about yourself and why you write for young people. 

Patricia Hruby Powell danced throughout Europe and the Americas with her dance company, One Plus One. She has earned advanced degrees in Dance (Temple University) and in Library Science (UIUC). Her awards include choreographic fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council; a storytelling award from Creative Arts Institute and for writing she has received the Boston Globe Horn Book Nonfiction Honor 2014, Parent’s Choice Gold for Poetry 2014, Bologna Ragazzi Nonfiction Honor 2014 as well as awards from Western Writers of America and the American Folklore Society. Her picture books are Blossom Tales and the bilingual Navajo/English Zinnia: How the Corn Was Saved and Frog Brings Rain. Her books with Chronicle are Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (January 2014) and the forthcoming documentary novel Loving v Virginia in 2016.

1. Why you wrote this book and created these characters 

I write for young people because I just might have something useful to say to them. I started JOSEPHINE while working as a children’s librarian at the Urbana Free Library and got to know a group of unfocused preteen African American girls who attended the library daily. I thought Josephine who could do anything she set her mind to do, would be a good role model for all young people but especially marginalized young people. I want people to know who Josephine Baker was.

The book is advertised as being for readers second to fifth grade. There are some reviewers and many teachers who see JOSEPHINE suited to middle school kids, due to the mention of difficult subjects (the 1916 riots of St. Louis) and also suited all the way through high school readers. (It has been cited in Harper Bazaar’s UK July 2014 edition as a book for adults). Being a picture book draws people in; being 104 pages long, makes it a book for many ages.

Tell something about the characters you would like young readers to grasp. 

Josephine did just about anything she set out to do. She became a world-renowned dancer and singer, a civil rights worker, a mother to 12 adopted children, a war hero. We should all be so fearless.

How you see your book fitting into schools and into the concept of Windows, Mirrors and Sliding glass doors. 

When I show JOSEPHINE to large groups, I see the faces of African American (and Hispanic and Asian) kids light up. I realize they don’t often see themselves in the books they see in school. They see themselves in Josephine. It’s very gratifying.

A little about your research and other efforts to make the portrayal of your characters culturally accurate 

My first connection to Josephine is that of our both being dancers. I know dance intimately. I did many years of research on this book, reading all of Josephine Baker’s 5 autobiographies in French, many biographies about Josephine, watching hours of early and later footage of her dancing, listening to recordings of her singing, listening to her being interviewed. I visited the neighborhood in St. Louis where she grew up. I know her well. I have continued to do primary and secondary research into the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. It’s a cliché, I know, but I have many black friends.

Any words form your publisher, reviewers or readers you would like to share?

“Baker’s entire life spreads out in this tapestry of words.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A life devoted to self-expression through dance and racial harmony is celebrated in this lavish, lengthy picture book.” Kirkus starred review

“Clear and lively descriptions of Josephine’s story play out creatively in the text, introducing readers to basic principles of poetic structure in storytelling and offering an accurate portrait of a woman who fought for racial equality and civil rights through her life’s passion: performance. Reluctant readers of nonfiction and poetry lovers alike will be drawn to this book’s musical, theatrical nature, making for a fun, enriching, and holistic reading experience. This unique and creative work is a first purchase.” SLJ starred review

“Powell and Robinson create a biography of a woman whose life and art are inseparable.”—Shelf Awareness for Readers, starred review

“In this incomparable biography both Powell and Robinson convey the passion, exuberance, dignity, and eccentricity of their subject through words and pictures that nearly jump off the page.” Horn Book starred review

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Offenders - Jerry Craft

The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention! is an action / adventure story designed to teach kids about the negative effects of bullying. It's the story of 5 school bullies who get superpowers, but instead of turning into cool heroes, they take on the characteristics of the kids they pick on.

I write for young people because when I was a kid, I didn’t like to read. I only read Marvel Comics and whatever books I was forced to read in school. As an adult, I realize the importance of reading and do what I can to reach reluctant readers. I focus on creating characters that are interesting enough to get a kid to read a book on his or her own.

Guided Reading level – W
Grade level Equivalent- 5
Interest level- grades 5-8 (middle school reader) Ages 12-up

You can see more of my work and learn more about me on my website.

Tell us why you wrote this book and created these characters

I wrote “The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention!” because it seems as if bullying has reached epidemic proportions. Many books that I see are about kids who ARE bullied. My book is about the kids who are DOING the bullying. One teacher told me she read one of my books in class and a young girl gasped and said, “Oh no, I just did that to someone this morning! I didn’t realize it was bad. I have to go apologize.” I couldn’t ask for more than that.

Tell something about the characters you would like young readers to grasp.

Since I have loved superhero stories since my Marvel Comic days, The Offenders is about 5 school bullies who get superpowers, but instead of turning into cool looking heroes, they look like the kids they pick on. So one gets really smart, but physically uncoordinated; one gets super thin; one gains 100 pounds; one gets two large metallic buck teeth; and the girl who calls kids mousey shrinks down to the size of a mouse! Now they have to protect the school, but they’re too embarrassed to go outside. It’s a lesson in Karma!

Plus, when the kids transform, they trade physical characteristics with each other. So it’s hard to like a kid, or not like him because of how he or she looks. Because it changes.

How do you see your book fitting into schools and into the concept of Windows, Mirrors and Sliding glass doors.

One of the things I’m most proud of is that the main characters are 3 boys and 2 girls from very diverse backgrounds; both racially and economically. I did a LOT of research to avoid traditional stereotypes and to create characters that kids want to know better. It’s also a perfect book for schools because it makes kids aware of how their words and actions can affect other kids’ lives. There’s also plenty of humor and excitement, so it never comes across as a lecture. We all know how much kids “love” lectures. ;)

I tried to be descriptive enough where kids can see what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes, and enjoy the walk.

Share a little about your research and other efforts to make the portrayal of your characters culturally accurate

I am most proud of Dexter Diaz, who is Puerto Rican. As an African-American man, I have always been acutely aware at how stereotypes have shaped the way that our kids have been portrayed. So the last thing that I wanted to do was to be guilty of that myself. So after I wrote Dexter’s chapters, I gave them to two friends who are Puerto Rican, and asked them to be VERY critical. One is a male author, the other is a mom (obviously female).

They told me what they liked, and told me where they thought that my portrayal was inaccurate. So I kept working on it, until it had passed both of their tests. The same goes for Bobby Bonderman, who is a Korean boy adopted by White parents. In fact, this was probably the most research I have ever done for a book, and I’ve illustrated and/or written about 18.

I also hired my two teenage sons as co-authors to give authenticity to the characters. So if the characters are playing a video game, they made sure I didn’t have them playing Pac Man or Space Invaders. I had a mom email me to say that after reading the book, she finally knew what her kids were talking about!

What you have done to insure quality in the finished product in terms of content, editing, and appropriateness for the age range.

First, I never do any book that I don’t want my kids to read, so there’s never anything inappropriate in my work. I was also fortunate to get 2 schools to test my book, before releasing it to the public. One school in upstate NY chose it for their “One School, One Read” program. So not only did I hear from kids, but I also heard from teachers and librarians. To me, that’s the ultimate seal of approval.

Most recently it was chosen for PACER’s first ever bookclub. PACER is one of the world’s leading anti-bullying organizations. They are the ones who made October National Bullying Awareness Month.

Here’s what they had to say:
Creative, funny, and engaging – this book presents a unique look at the dynamics of bullying. With a diverse cast of characters, the book illustrates that bullying affects everyone – and that the students who are bullying can change their behavior and make their school a more positive place.
— PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center

So after gathering initial feedback, the version that I have now is EXACTLY the way that I want it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Soda Bottle School by Suzanne Slade

In a Guatemalan village, students squished into their tiny schoolhouse, two grades to a classroom. The villagers had tried expanding the school, but the money ran out before the project was finished. No money meant no wall materials, and that meant no more room for the students. Until they got a wonderful, crazy idea.

Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of 100 nonfiction books for children. Her most recent release, THE SODA BOTTLE SCHOOL: THE TRUE STORY OF RECYCLING, TEAMWORK, AND ONE CRAZY IDEA, shares the story of children in Guatemala who built their school out of trash. Ms. Slade often writes about ordinary people who achieve extraordinary things with the hopes that her books will inspire children to pursue their own dreams, passions, and crazy ideas.

This book is perfect for ages 7 to 107 (The author's 101-year old Grandma likes it!)

Tell why you wrote this book and created these characters

Several years ago I went to the annual Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. and spotted a colorful, plastic wall made out of old bottles and trash. The display explained how the tiny town of Granados was facing two problems in 2007: their trash piles were too big, and their school was too small. The village had no garage dumps—no place to put their trash. The school was so crowded that two students had to use one desk. The situation looked hopeless, until the villagers got a crazy idea. When I discovered how 200 children created a school from old soda bottles and trash, I literally got “goose bumps” (this always happens when I find a story I have to share.) Although I had many projects waiting on my desk back home, I knew I had to share their story.

Tell something about the characters you would like young readers to grasp.

The children in the book are based on real students in Granados. The main character, Fernando, is a remarkable boy who kept a positive attitude during the long, grueling building process. The story also shares the phenomenal teamwork of the entire community as they worked together for 18 months to build a school. I hope this true story helps young readers see that sometimes a seemingly “crazy idea” can be the perfect solution to a problem, and that with persistence and cooperation, they can achieve things others might say are impossible.

How you see your book fitting into schools and into the concept of Windows, Mirrors and Sliding glass doors.

I hope this book serves as a window into the Guatemalan culture as it shares how those students worked side-by-side to create a school that was big enough for everyone, a sliding door which allows readers to imagine what it would be like to live in a place where the schools are so crowded that children are willing to get blisters on their hands to create a bigger school, and a mirror which helps readers see that their “crazy” ideas can come true, and that teamwork is a powerful entity that can accomplish almost anything.

Tell us a little about your research and other efforts to make the portrayal of your characters culturally accurate

I co-authored this book with Seno Laura Kutner, a teacher at the Granados school, who played a big part in the building project. Working closely with Laura was crucial in ensuring the story details, as well as the illustrations, were accurate.

Are there any words from your publisher, reviewers or readers you would like to share?

After the Granados Soda Bottle School was completed, other communities in Guatemala decided to solve their growing trash problems (and overcrowded school issues) by building schools out of trash. To help with these projects, I’m donating my profits from this book to Hug-It-Forward, a nonprofit organization which helps fund new bottle schools.

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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Heartbreaker Blog Tour Feb 9-14

February is the time for love and romance...and heartbreak. Follow me on the Heartbreaker's Blog Tour, Feb 9-14, for a chance to win a Kindle and learn more about diversity in books and my newest novel. Minority Of One explores the question: What if you were the only one of your kind?

Check out the following stops where B. A. Binns will be featured on the Heartbreakers Blog Tour: (Links will be available on tour dates)

    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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Participating Authors:

B.A. Binns: Minority of One (All The Colors Of Love, 2014)
Tina Bustamante: As Waters Gone By (Leap Books, 2013)
Eileen Cook: The Year of Mistaken Discoveries (Simon Pulse, 2014)
D.G. Driver: Cry of the Sea (Fire & Ice Young Adult Novels, 2014)
Christine Duval: Positively Mine (Bloomsbury Spark, 2013)
Laurie J. Edwards: writing as Erin Johnson. Grace and the Guiltless: Wanted Book 1 (Curious Fox, 2014)
Janet Gurtler: 16 Things I Thought Were True (Sourcebooks Fire, 2014)
Sara Hantz: In the Blood (Entangled Teen, 2013)
Brenda Hiatt: Starstruck (Createspace, 2013)
Denise Jaden: Never Enough (Simon Pulse, 2012)
Jenny Kaczorowski: The Art of Falling (Bloomsbury Spark, 2013)
Jen McConnel: The Secret of Isobel Key (Bloomsbury Spark, 2013)
Jeri Smith-Ready: This Side of Salvation (Simon Pulse, 2014)
Judith Tewes: TBA (Bloomsbury Spark, 2014)