This weekend: Las Comadres writing conference in Brooklyn

If you’re in Brooklyn this weekend and interested in Latino/a culture and writing, you should be at Las Comadres y Compadres! I’ll be doing one-on-one consultations with writers. It’s too late to get a manuscript in for me to read and critique, but I’m still happy to meet with anyone who wants to discuss a project and get feedback that way, and I’ll be around for lunchtime as well. My coworker Jessica Escheverria, who focuses on picture books in the Lee & Low imprint, will also be doing one-on-ones, so if you’re more of a picture book person, she’s the person to meet with.

In addition, the conference bookseller will be La Casa Azul from East Harlem, who will have books on hand from many of the presenters. Who will be there? The keynote speaker is Reyna Grande, who is the recipient of an American Book Award, El Premio Aztlan Literary Award, and an International Latino Book Award. Panelists include Matt de la Peña, Daniel Nayeri, Jorge Aguirre, and Eileen Robinson. You should go!

ALA Chicago and other upcoming shows

It occurs to me that I should specifically note that I’ll be at ALA Chicago this weekend, in case you will be there and want to stop by the Lee & Low/Tu Books booth and say hi. This is the first time since I’ve joined Lee & Low that I’ll be at the conference. If you will be there, be sure to get in touch and let me know you’ll be looking for me, because I won’t be at the booth most of the time; rather, I’ll be out talking to people, attending meetings, and such. If you want to see me, let’s make an appointment to be sure we don’t miss each other!

Coming up, I’ll be in Hartford, Connecticut for ConnectiCon as well—where Tu Books will have a dealer’s room table, and I’ll be revamping my “Beyond Orcs and Elves” talk for the show. Three Tu Books authors will be there as well: Bryce Moore, Shana Mlawski, and Joseph Bruchac, who will also all be on panels. I’ll post their schedule as it comes closer and is finalized. My friend Brandon Sanderson will be the literary guest of honor, and he’ll be on at least one panel and possibly signing with Bryce Moore.

Over Labor Day weekend, if you’re going to be at DragonCon in Atlanta, let me know, because I’ll be there too! Tu Books will have a booth in the dealer’s room there for the first time! We’re really looking forward to it.

Update: handouts

Just wanted to let everyone know: if you’re waiting on me to email you a handout, can you remind me in about a week or two? My home laptop has finally given up the ghost, so I’m without a computer at home for at least the next week or two, and that’s where the last version of the handout lives (backed up on the external hard drive, thankfully). I’m also moving this weekend, so in general it’s kind of nuts right now, but once the computer is back I’ll be glad to share it with you. In the meantime, feel free to browse the “diversity” tag on this site, which will give you many of the same resources, or check out the SCBWI roundup link from a few posts back, in which I linked to the book I discussed on Deep Culture.

LTUE through a cold-fogged lens

As those who went to LTUE can attest, it seems that I caught a bad cold either on the plane or on the moment my foot touched Utah soil, and I was a little bit out of it during the con. But even so, I had a great time, and got to catch up with a lot of old friends, meet new people, and even sit down with some writers I might work with someday. Hopefully I didn’t give them a cold while I was at it.

Normally I’d give a more complete run-down, but others might remember it more clearly than I could due to the fog of this cold, which I’m still getting over. I had the worst time remembering people’s names—I even blanked on the names of long-time friends. 🙁 Sorry, guys! You know I really love you, but names aren’t my forte even when I’m thinking straight, and this week it was very hard to think straight.

I was able to think straight on my panels at least (though with moments of “you go ahead, I forgot what I was going to say”), and my Writing Cross-Culturally presentation was both well-attended (wow, standing room only!) and included attendees who had some great questions. For those who have come to this blog looking for the questions we discussed at the end of class, go to my SCBWI wrap-up, where I summarized those same questions. Also, if you didn’t get the handout and were looking for the links and resources I gave out in class, comment or email me with a request for it, and I can get you the Word document. Or perhaps I can just post it here, but later, once I’ve caught up on all I missed when I was out of the office.


Karen Sandler signing at LTUE

For you TANKBORN fans in Utah, not only is Karen Sandler joining me this Wednesday night at the BYU Linguistics Event before LTUE and attending LTUE itself, she’s signing at the mass signing this Friday night from 8:30 to 10 pm. For more details, check out the LTUE schedule. Well, kind of. It hasn’t been updated with the change (the signing was originally supposed to start at 8 pm) and I’m not sure what room it’s in. If you come to LTUE, though, I’m sure you’ll be able to figure it out from the printed handouts.

BYU event before LTUE

Life, the Universe, and Everything is NEXT WEEK! That means I’ll be seeing many of you then. If you’re unable to attend LTUE, though, and are in the area, you should check out this event. It’s free for any who’d like to attend—you don’t have to be a student. And if you are going to LTUE, come anyway! Karen won’t be on any panels officially, so this is your chance to ask her questions and perhaps even get a book signed after the program.

So You Want to Work in Publishing For Young Readers?

Courtesy Howard Tayler,

If you are interested in working as an author, an illustrator, an editor, or in any other position in the publishing for young readers market, you are invited to come listen to, discuss with, and learn from Stacy Whitman, on February 8th, from 5:10-7:40 pm. in room 251 Tanner Bldg at BYU.

Stacy Whitman is the editorial director of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books. In 2009 while living in Orem, Utah, she founded a small press named Tu Publishing, dedicated to publishing multicultural fantasy and science fiction for children and young adults, which was acquired by Lee & Low Books of New York City and became Tu Books. The imprint launched fall 2011 with Tankborn, Wolf Mark, and Galaxy Games: The Challengers, and will follow up with BYU graduate Bryce Moore’s book this spring, Vodnik. Whitman holds a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College. Learn more about Tu, including submissions guidelines and links to buy books, at Stacy’s blog of writing and publishing advice can be found at

Stacy’s presentation will be a wide open discussion on the publishing business, including, but not limited to the following topics:

  • Preparing for a career in publishing
  • What does an editor do all day?
  • Working with authors and art directors
  • Advice for writers and illustrators on getting published
  • Diversity in publishing and books
  • Genre fiction and children’s fiction

Stacy will be accompanied by author Karen Sandler.

Karen Sandler is the author of seventeen novels for adults, as well as several short stories and screenplays. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked as a software engineer, including work on the space shuttle program and communications satellites. TANKBORN, published by Tu Books, is her first young adult science fiction novel. She lives in northern California with her husband, three cats, and an Andalusian/Morgan mare. For more information about Sandler, visit



Notes from SCBWI Winter Conference

I had such a great time talking to everyone at SCBWI Winter Conference this weekend and teaching the multicultural books breakout. In one of my sessions, we didn’t get to this part of my notes, and for the others, we had to go through the list quickly because it was so long.

One thing we talked about is how the industry itself is working on awareness and furthering diversity among the books themselves and future publishing personnel. Last night, we launched the CBC Diversity Committee, which is working on these goals with other publishing partners. We have a brand-new website (which will gain content as time goes on) and plan a variety of events such as panels discussing diversity, visiting school career days and job fairs, and just continuing the conversation about diversity in all platforms, such as social media. See also some press coverage, where Robin Adelsen, the CBC’s executive director, shares our goals:

To make a difference, we will focus on recruitment by visiting high schools and colleges, providing resources on the CBC Diversity blog and promoting discourse by hosting panel and roundtable discussions.

I also promised attendees of my session that I would share with them the list of questions we discussed that might help us to know what questions to ask when thinking about deep cultural differences, whether we’re talking about writing cross-culturally in the sense of writing from a perspective not our own, or whether we’re thinking about reaching a readership that isn’t entirely our own culture, and if perhaps there might be some ways to express/acknowledge those differences in our writing. In the case of writing from our own cultural perspective, these questions may be less useful, but nonetheless I think they might get us all thinking about how culture affects decisions we make—not as a form of conditioning, at least no more than any other culture, but as a framework by which we interpret the world. Thinking about these questions may help us in our writing as we apply them to characterization, worldbuilding, plot (how a character reacts to certain problems may certainly be affected by cultural attitudes, whether he or she goes with mainstream culture or not, as does how other characters interact with that person, which eventually over the course of a book turns into a sequence of actions that turn into plot), setting, and so forth.

These questions are from chapter 9 of the excellent book A Beginner’s Guide to the Deep Culture Experience: Beneath the Surface by Joseph Shaules. The author was writing to an audience of potential U.S. expats living abroad, with the idea of helping them to think about cultural differences and ways to adapt to their new countries and enjoy the journey, but as I read it, I found so much that is applicable to ways we might think of culture in terms of writing about it, not to mention the adaptation experiences I had living with college roommates from other countries The intercultural experience goes both ways—though I didn’t live in another country, and so my experience wasn’t quite as deep, I still found I had to adapt and learn from my roommates if I wanted to get along with them.

I highly recommend reading the whole book, or at least chapter 9, where he expands on these questions and discusses how the answers are not either-or, good/bad—just choices that don’t have a value attached to them that show how different people choose to handle universal human questions in different ways.

  1. Whom are people loyal to?
  2. Who gets respect?
  3. How do we ensure fairness and efficiency?
  4. How do we manage our emotions?
  5. Who is in control?
  6. What time is it?
  7. How can we judge goodness and truth?
  8. How different are men and women?
  9. Am I in your space?
  10. Shall we look forward or back?

Also: I loved that there were several Koreans in my seminar over the course of the day, two in one session alone! After that session, we got to talking about why and how I’m learning Korean, so I wanted to give a shout-out to the excellent Talk to Me in Korean and their sister site, HaruKorean. I think for those with middle-school aged kids and older, and for us adults looking to learn, it’s a great place to learn Korean both by ear (with the short podcasts that feel like you’re just listening to your Korean friends bantering, yet you’re learning at the same time) and in writing (at HaruKorean you can practice Korean sentences and get corrections from native Korean speakers).

And lastly (but not least), one thing I didn’t get to include in my presentation for lack of time was bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle’s anecdote about how she talks up diversity to her customers, which illustrates well the bookseller-reader part of the diversity in publishing equation. She noted,

“Thinking about our own approach to race in children’s books requires ongoing self-assessment for all of us booksellers, me included. For instance: when I handsell books to customers, I usually gather three to five possible titles and booktalk each one.”

She said that in that stack, she tries to include at least one book featuring a character of color, and if she sees resistance on a customer’s face about the book about the character of color,

“…and they say those coded things like, ‘I don’t think that’s really for him,’ or ‘Oh, she wouldn’t like that,’ you can say, ‘Kids in town LOVE this book!’ (Of course, that has to actually be true. You never compromise your integrity or reputation by pretending a book is good or popular when it isn’t.) And you can make one more gentle try, by saying why you chose that book for that customer’s grandchild…”

…focusing on what’s great about the story—the adventure, the specifics of the plot.

“If they still say no, at least they will be more aware of why they’re saying no.”

Read Elizabeth’s whole post here at the Shelftalker blog.


NY SCBWI schedule

If you didn’t already know, I’m going to be speaking at the end of the month at the New York SCBWI National Conference at the end of January. I’m excited to be talking about multicultural books, particularly writing them—pitfalls to avoid, things to consider when you write cross-culturally, maybe highlight some of my favorites from the last few years for writers to look to as examples. If you’re going to be there—and even if you’re not—feel free to mention in the comments your favorites from the last two or so years, or to give me an example of a mistake that authors or movies make in the name of “diversity” that you wish they would do better.

Before I give you my schedule, though, let me remind you that tonight on Twitter is #yalitchat, where I and Tankborn author Karen Sandler  will be talking about writing cross-culturally. Especially if you can’t make it to SCBWI nationals, drop by tonight at 9 pm EST. Even if you’re not on Twitter, you can follow the conversation at (search for “#yalitchat”) or one of those sites that let you search hashtag conversations (sorry, I can’t think of a good one right now, but maybe someone in the comments might know what I’m talking about and give us a link?).

Here’s my SCBWI schedule:

  • VIP party and Art Show on Friday night (Jan. 27)
  • Presentation on Saturday, January 28th:  11:45 am-12:45 pm, 3:15-4:15 pm and 4:30 pm-5:30 pm
  • Gala Reception for attendees on Saturday from 5:30 pm-7:30 pm

If you’re attending, I hope to see you at one of those events, and if they end up doing a KidLit Drinks Night again this year, perhaps I’ll pop in there too. We’ll see how exhausted I am by the end of the day Saturday!


Beyond Orcs and Elves: Diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy for Young Readers, part 1

Here you go! The first installment. Note that this was written to be spoken, so sometimes the diction might seem a little weird for a blog post. But I’m just going to leave it as-is, because you’ll get the idea.

Beyond Orcs and Elves: Diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy for Young Readers

Ursula Le Guin, way back in 1975 said:Slide2

The women’s movement has made most of us conscious of the fact that SF [science fiction, but let’s include fantasy too] has either totally ignored women or presented them as squeaking dolls subject to instant rape by monsters—or old-maid scientists desexed by hypertrophy of the intellectual organs—or, at best, loyal little wives or mistresses of accomplished heroes. Male elitism has run rampant in SF. But is it only male elitism? Isn’t the “subjection of women” in SF merely a symptom of a whole which is authoritarian, power-worshiping, and intensely parochial?

The question involved here is the question of The Other—the being who is different from yourself. This being can be different from you in its sex; or in its annual income; or in its way of speaking and dressing and doing things; or in the color of its skin, or the number of its legs and heads.

Slide3That was 35 years ago. (I know. I can’t believe it myself.) How are we doing today? I want to talk about the inclusion in speculative fiction for children and young adults of what 74% of the book-buying public might consider the Other in terms of mostly racial but also cultural differences. Perhaps this will help you in writing fantastic creatures or aliens, as well, this idea of writing the Other, but I want to focus on the human element today.


Old-school epic fantasy

  • Campbellian monomyth (guys who start off their adventures in inns)
  • ¨The British tradition”: Victorian fantasists to Tolkien & Lewis
  • ¨My elves are better than yours”
  • Dragonlance: The New Adventures

You may or may not know that fantasy as a genre started long before Tolkien was born. In fact, people have been telling fantasy stories for as long as there have been people. After all, the first fairy tales weren’t just what we now refer to as “myths,” creation stories and just-so stories. They were also fantastical tales told to pass the time or to warn children not to wander in the woods alone.

But let’s just start with the Victorian era, which had its own set of rules, morals and mores, body of literature, and cultural influences. We start with writers like George MacDonald, one of the primary influences on both Tolkien and Lewis, who wrote such tales as The Princess and the Goblin, The Light Princess, and The Princess and Curdie. His books drew upon fairy tales in their use of goblins, and they were fun, adventurous, and even allowed girls to have some adventure, which is kind of rare for the Victorian era!


There were also morality tales in the guise of fantasy—same as it ever was—such as Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, and the touchstone of fantasy touchstones, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

So even back then there was a wide variety of fantastical tales for children, but as often happens, when one book gets popular, a lot of imitations abound, trying to replicate the formula for success. The “British tradition” of fantasy was born not only in the UK, but also in the US.

Then we move through time, hitting upon authors like







I’m just going to let those slide on by, because I want to particularly focus in on the British—particularly Tolkienesque tradition of fantasy, which is popular not only amidst adult fantasy books—the majority of readers of which is teen boys—but also some high fantasy for children. The whole list is on my blog, which is, if you’re interested in looking it up. I just wanted to post this to give us a better idea of where we’ve come from. [NOTE: I posted these in a text version somewhere, but I’m not sure where at the moment. I’ll have to come back and edit it with a link. Or you can just go to the tags on the side of the main page and click “booklists,” which should get you there eventually.]

So, focusing in on high fantasy—books like these:


Now, these are some books I worked on. I’ll get to them in a moment. But they arose out of a long tradition of high fantasy in both children’s and adult books.

My first job as a trade children’s book editor was at Wizards of the Coast, which some of you may know is known for its Dungeons and Dragons game. Or you might know it for Magic: The Gathering. Both games have popular tie-in fiction, and that’s what I first edited at this job: Dragonlance: The New Adventures. The original Dragonlance series by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weiss was published in the 1980s in conjunction with a D&D game by the same name, Dragonlance. The original books haven’t gone out of print in the 25 years since, and have spawned hundreds of books in the shared-world series, including the New Adventures, a series for middle grade readers that I edited.

Dragonlance was part of the larger body of epic fantasy work of the late 70s through the 80s—pre-Robert Jordan—that was eaten up by teens, mostly teenage boys (a trend that continues today). It’s great stuff! Kids and teens love it. Lots of adventure and dragons and elves and just a lot of fun.

One of the hallmarks of this kind of epic fantasy are worlds populated by what has become the standard fantasy races: any combination of elves, orcs, goblins, hobbit-like halflings—called “kender” in Dragonlance, halflings elsewhere—ogres, giants, and dragons (though usually the hero is a white human or light-skinned elf or half-elf, and most often that hero is also a man/boy). I think one of the reasons DrizztSlide14 is so popular is because he breaks this stereotype, though at the same time he reinforces others (he is the only “good” Dark Elf in an entire race of people). Mind you, it makes for good game mechanics (f0r this particular game) to make it easier to play characters. But it’s when individual characters have to fit a mold racially that it becomes problematic, especially now that we’re more than 25 years on from the publication of the original books, which were groundbreaking in their own right at the time.

There are some major tropes in high fantasy that we see a lot especially in older epic high fantasy titles:

  • Elves are beautiful, mysterious, and always good. Except dark elves, who are brooding and evil.
  • Kender can’t do magic.
  • Ogres are all evil. Half-ogres can sometimes be good.
  • Dwarves love to mine and live underground.
  • All hobbits (sometimes called halflings or kender) love to eat.
  • Gnomes are all engineers who blow stuff up, sometimes killing themselves in wild ways in the process.
  • Chromatic dragons are evil. Metallic dragons are good. They cannot change this fact by choosing to be good or evil, either.

Diversity issues have often been tackled in these books, though usually along strict “racial” lines which are really species lines. But each species was a kind of “people,” a sentient race of beings who could sometimes intermarry. All were humanoid. But it was a huge step in the right direction.

But how do we go beyond that?

Slide15Those involved with the adult book side of things are aware of these issues and many are working to address them in a variety of ways, but that’s not the focus of what we’re talking about here today. We’re going to talk about how it affects fantasy in children’s literature. So let’s look at a specific example. In Dragonlance: The New Adventures, we broke the mold a little bit. In original Dragonlance, the hobbit-like kender had a racial trait that they couldn’t do magic. Yes, an entire race of people, according to the rules of this world, were not genetically capable of doing magic.

An entire race of people were genetically incompetent in a skill which this world pretty much required for survival.

Well, not every human or elf was a magic-wielder, either, but the fact that humans and elves had the ability to choose whether or not to try to practice magic (or had the ability to find out if they were capable of it on an individual level, at least) makes it an interesting study in diversity to see that kender couldn’t do magic.

We broke that in the New Adventures, though—and some people weren’t terribly happy with us for doing it—and played with the rules of the world so that this one particular kender could do magic. There was an in-world way we explained it (he was given an older kind of dragon magic by a dragon spirit), but there you go. He wasn’t the only misfit in the group, either—the elf wasn’t all righteous and good, he was a thief. What matters is that each individual in a given group, including even minor characters, should be treated as an individual.

Part of this pattern is that much of high fantasy, at least until recent years, follows the British tradition I was just alluding to earlier—or rather, I should say, the Tolkien tradition. Tolkien did it this way and it worked so well, we should do it again and again!

Tolkien isn’t the only writer to be imitated in this way. We’ve seen it happen with every recent blockbuster, from Harry Potter to Twilight to Gossip Girls to whatever today’s new big thing is. How many boys-off-to-wizard-school books cropped up when Harry Potter first got big? But it is important to look at this tradition and realize how it’s stifled HUMAN diversity in fantasy and science fiction for young readers, and the ways in which writers are breaking that mold.

We don’t have enough time to really delve into a full analysis of each book that follows this tradition or breaks its molds, so I hope that what I say today will be just a jumping-off point for further thoughts and discussion, the end result being more writers of speculative fiction for children thinking consciously about diversity as they write.

How do we get past this old fantasy-world-trope diversity? Not in chucking elves and dragons altogether, in my opinion—it’s fun to play with made-up people and creatures!—but by examining issues of privilege and looking at how we treat individuals within groups, whether human or elf or orc. R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt broke those old boundaries—he’s a misfit. He decided to be good among a people who are dedicated to evil. That appeals to teen readers on a number of levels, but the one that stands out to me is that the character is an individual, who goes beyond the template that drow—dark elves—are expected to have in this fantasy world.

Next time: Let’s talk about whitewashing and demographics.

Beyond Orcs and Elves: a prelude

Now that NESCBWI is over, I will be posting parts of my talk, “Beyond Orcs and Elves: Diversity in Fantasy & Science Fiction for Young Readers” here on my blog. I will be breaking it up over the course of several posts—it was designed as a 40-minute–to–hour-long talk, and it’s just too long for one post. Not to mention I have slides I’ll be putting up (someone suggested SlideShare? I’ll have to check it out once I have time to sit down with it) which need to be incorporated somehow.

I haven’t had time, though, to sit down and split up the talk and figure out where the most natural breaks are. I went straight from a busy week last week to a VERY full weekend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (13 critiques and two presentations over the course of three days) to back to work on Monday, which has left me a little shell-shocked, and all I want to do now outside of work is to sleep. You know it’s bad when you can’t even concentrate on the Sarah Jane Adventures even though you’ve been looking forward to watching the last season!

My evening is full tonight, so it will be at least tomorrow night, if not sometime on Thursday (I’m taking the day off to be home for the delivery of my new couch, which I’m excited about) before the first post of the talk is organized. So keep an eye out until then.