Ah, vacation

Ah, vacation time, when I can at last have time to pause and read my submissions and prepare my presentations!

No, really, I’m going home to farm country later this week, and I’m going to be out of touch and just hang out with my sister and nephews and maybe a parent or three. I got an AMAZING deal (like, when was the last time you saw a $127 round-trip fare cross-country? Well, NYC to Chicago, so half-cross-country). Then my grandma turns 95 on Friday, and I can tell you because she never goes on the internet—I’m going to surprise her!

But next week, while I’m still on vacation, I’ll be doing some remote work, and it’s all for writers. Here are the details:

Monday, Sept. 18, 8pm ET #DVPitLive video chat: follow the hashtag on Twitter to get the link to the live video chat and join in to ask editors, agents, and writers questions about writing diverse books for children!

Tuesday, Sept 19: I’ll be doing a presentation with SCBWI Carolinas on synopses. If you’re a chapter member, look at your email list or chapter website for details. If you’re not in the chapter, I’m happy to share the presentation again with a different group—let me know!


The state of MG vs YA when YA is so much older now

Let’s talk about middle grade books, young adult books, and that liminal space between, that magic spot of readers ages 10-14 who read up. 

There’s a certain kind of voice you expect from a YA book that tells you “this is about a teenage experience.” It’s different from the exploring/discovery of the world voice we generally hear in MG—it’s more mature, sometimes more cynical. It’s not an adult voice, but it is no longer the voice of a child.

YA has been aging up for about 15-18 years now. In the early 2000s, we called books like Holly Black’s “edgy,” but that sensibility is now par for the course in YA, and generally the books you see shelved in the YA section of a bookstore star protagonists who are 15, 16, 17, 18—very few YA novels star 12-14-year-olds anymore.

This coincided with the vast numbers of YA readers becoming adults, as well—last we heard, more than 80% of YA readers are over 18, purchasing books for their own reading, not that of an actual teenager in their life.

Which for me, as someone who publishes books for children and teens BECAUSE I want to serve the population of children these books are intended for, is VERY frustrating. When books I publish in the YA market for 12-year-olds get dinged for actually sounding like a real 15-year-old is talking (“this book sounds middle grade” to paraphrase one review of one of my books because it didn’t contain romance), I feel like we have fundamentally lost our way if we aren’t serving our target market (or when reviewers don’t remember or don’t care about the books’ target market).

But these are the realities of our current system, so what’s emerging out of it is that MG seems to be picking up the slack for that forgotten, now-underserved tween audience who used to be the core readership for YA books.

Where does that leave the publisher of MG and YA books, though? Do I publish what I’ve always published as YA now as a MG? That doesn’t make sense, either, because the voice doesn’t sound MG–the voice is that of an emerging teenager, not an 8- or 10-year-old.

Yes, 12-18 is a very large developmental gap. We do need to allow space for the older YA—I’m glad it’s finally finding a home. But to then define YA as just what’s happened in the last 10-15 years is to ignore the huge body of work that has been YA for decades before that.I’ve seen more bookstores have tiers (8-11, 10-14, 14 and up, etc.), which is great, but publishing only has the two categories, and B&N only has the “children’s” section (with various subsections) and the “YA” section (now also broken down by genre, but not age), so it’s a challenge to communicate to accounts exactly where to shelve the books, and confusion can arise.

So: if you are a writer for that 10-14 age range, where do your books get shelved? Editors: what solutions have you come across? Readers/teachers/parents, where do you look for books for that age group? Librarians, how do you figure out where to shelve books for that age range?

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!

How to get in on holiday-discount action at Tu Books

Have you been waiting for the right time—for example, a holiday promotional event—to buy a Tu Book or two? We’ll be sending out a special holiday discount to all our e-news subscribers, so sign up for our e-news to be sure that you’ll be in on the action.

You’ll see on that link that there are four options on the e-news: one for everything, one that is targeted for authors and illustrators—including publishing advice and contest announcements, another that focuses just on the books themselves, and another for teachers and librarians that includes classroom helps and links to resources on our site. You can sign up for all of them, or just one or two.

And the discount coupons don’t just come during the holidays—each e-news comes with discount codes just for e-news subscribers.

Las Comadres conference in October

I’ll be at this conference, and hope you can make it as well! Info below is from the press release:

Las Comadres to Host October Conference for Latino Writers

Day-Long Event to Offer Experts, Insight into Publishing Industry Opportunities

New York, NY; July 26, 2012 – Las Comadres Para Las Americas, the national Latina organization, will present a day-long conference on October 6 for Latino writers seeking more access into the publishing industry.

Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference will be held at Medgar Evers College, CUNY, Brooklyn. Joining La Comadres as collaborators are the National Black Writers Conference, the Center for Black Literature, the Foreign Language Department and the Latino American Association, Full Circle Literary, Marcela Landres, and Scholastic, with support from the Association of American Publishers.

Through the workshops, panels and other sessions, writers will gain an insider’s perspective into how to best navigate the challenges and opportunities of the industry.
A highlight of the day will be a full schedule of one-on-one meetings for writers with agents and editors. Participants currently include Johanna Castillo, Vice President & Senior Editor/Atria, Simon & Schuster: Jaime de Pablos, Director/Vintage Español, Knopf Doubleday Group; Adriana Dominguez, Agent/Full Circle Literary; Mercedes Fernandez, Assistant Editor/Dafina Books, Kensington Publishing; Sulay Hernandez, Editor/Other Press; Cheryl Klein, Executive Editor/Arthur A. Levine Books; Selina L. McLemore, Senior Editor/Grand Central Publishing; Christina Morgan, Editor/Harcourt Houghton Mifflin; Lukas Ortiz, Managing Director/Philip G. Spitzer Literary Agency, Inc.; Diane Stockwell, Founder/Globo Libros Literary Management; and Stacy Whitman, Founder and Editorial Director/Tu Books.
Scheduled panels will examine magazines and literary journals, genres, poetry, children’s/young adult writing, fiction, non-fiction, publicity and self-publishing. There will also be a session for authors to pitch their work and get instant feedback as well as an agents/editors panel.

Keynote speaker is author and television personality Sonia Manzano. Having originated the role of “Maria” on Sesame Street, Manzano wrote two children’s books, No Dogs Allowed (Simon and Schuster, 2004) and A Box Full of Kittens (Simon and Schuster, 2007), and will have her first YA novel, The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, published by Scholastic in Fall 2012.

Registration for writers and vendors is now open for the conference.

Las Comadres is a nationwide grassroots-based group of Latinas launched informally in 2000 in Austin, TX. The national networks, created in 2003, have grown to over 100 US cities. Its 15,000 strong membership keeps Latinas connected via email networks, teleconferences, and monthly potluck events in individual cities. In conjunction with the Association of American Publishers, it sponsors a national book club promoting the work of Latino authors and encouraging literacy. The National Latino Book Club is currently celebrating its fourth year

“It’s Complicated” at CBC Diversity

As we’ve discussed on here before, diversity in children’s and YA books can be pretty controversial. Just reading the comments sections at any of the latest posts about diversity can make your head spin, between the people denying that white privilege exists and those saying that even if it does exist, it doesn’t matter, because “people of color don’t read.”

Those things aren’t true, but how do we dispel them? How do we address the multi-pronged issue of getting more diverse books out there?

The CBC Diversity Committee is working to help address this. This week on the CBC Diversity blog, the theme is “It’s Complicated.” Check out Nancy Mercado’s opening post:

The internet can often be a rough-and-tumble kind of place when it comes to complex and layered discussions, but we think it’s possible and necessary to have a respectful and open forum where we are able to chat about some of the challenges that we face, as well as the opportunities that exist when we come together as a community.

This will be a safe space for us in publishing—writers, editors, marketing folks, sales people, artists, anyone involved in getting books to kids—to discuss the issues.

Today, Cynthia Leitich Smith is talking about the fear of saying something wrong. Hop on over and join in on the conversation.



On a related note, here’s some recent coverage of this issue.

The Atlantic Wire: The Ongoing Problem of Race in YA

Huffington Post: Race On YA Covers: Survey Reports A Continued Lack Of Diversity

Jezebel: White Folks Star in 90% of 2011’s Young Adult Book Covers

John Scalzi: Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

John Scalzi: “Lowest Difficulty Setting” Follow-Up

Sarah Ockler: Race in YA Lit: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee-Colored Skin, YA Authors [at SFWA]

Sarah Ockler: Race in YA Lit: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee-Colored Skin, YA Authors [at her own blog]

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, SchlockMercenary.com

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 http://www.leeandlow.com/p/tu.mhtml. Stacy’s blog of writing and publishing advice can be found at www.stacylwhitman.com.

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 karensandler.net.



My LTUE schedule 2012

I’ll be in Utah this February again this year for the excellent science fiction/fantasy convention Life, the Universe, and Everything. It’s the convention’s 30th anniversary this year. Normally it’s hosted at Brigham Young University, but due to scheduling difficulties it’ll be held this year at neighboring Utah Valley University only a few miles away—and a few miles closer to my greatest restaurant love, a restaurant I have yet to find matched in New York City (seriously), Sakura. Seriously, best deep-fried sushi (sometimes called tempura—not just for shrimp!) that I’ve found anywhere. Particularly the Geisha, Spider, Firecracker, Ninja, and Hawaiian rolls. If you’re in Utah and you haven’t discovered this place yet (and you’re not Jessica Day George) GO. It’s SO GOOD.

But I digress. (Good sushi can do that to me.)

Anyway, my point is that you need to attend LTUE, especially if you live in the Intermountain West. Sure, they’ve started charging a nominal fee (it used to be free), but that fee makes sure this great convention can continue to happen every year, giving them a modest budget for facilities, guests of honor, and so forth. The committee that runs the con are all volunteers.

Speaking of guests of honor, I’m looking forward to meeting a longtime internet but not (yet) real-life friend, James A. Owen. He’ll be talking about both writing and illustration, including a whole seminar on how to draw dragons, so if you’re an illustrator, you want to come to this LTUE.

Also attending will be the Writing Excuses team—not just locals Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler, but also SFWA vice president, puppeteer, and author Mary Robinette Kowal, not to mention a number of locally-based pros, writers and editors like Mette Ivie Harrison, Larry Correia, James Dashner, Bree Despain, J. Scott Savage, Tyler Whitesides, Chris Schoebinger, Robert J. Defendi, Lisa Mangum, and many more.

Check out the full schedule here (where there may be some tweaks to the schedule, so you might want to check back before the con), but here’s my schedule:


Thursday, February 8, 2012

10:00 AM—What Exactly Does an Editor Do, Anyway? (Rick Walton (M), Stacy Whitman, Suzanne Vincent, Lisa Mangum, Kirk Shaw)

11:00 AM—Middle-grade books for boys (Tyler Whitesides, E. J. Patten, Michael Young, Stacy Whitman(M))

2:00 PM—Feeling Fake: What to do about that pervasive feeling that everyone belongs in the publishing world except you. (Sandra Tayler, Jason Alexander, Ami Chopine (M), Stacy Whitman)

7:00 PM—A Vampire is NOT your Boyfriend!: Real Vampires (Mette Ivie Harrison, Michael R. Collings, Dan Lind, Stacy Whitman(M))


Friday, Febrary 10, 2011

No panels for me, though I will be around the convention, so I’m open to individual meet-ups for lunch (particularly at Sakura…). I’m also looking forward to James Owen’s main address this day, and the Writing Excuses live podcast. .

EDIT: I have been added to the below panel to give the editorial side:

6:00 PM—Book Bombs: How to make an Amazon.com bestseller (Randy Tayler (M), Robison Wells, Larry Correia, Stacy L. Whitman, Michaelbrent Collings)


Saturday, February 11, 2012

1:00 PM—Writing Cross-Culturally: Mistakes to Avoid, or, How to Avoid Cultural Misappropriation (Stacy Whitman)

This will be a workshop in which we talk about all the mistakes that even well-meaning authors can make in diversifying our writing, and how to use strong worldbuilding and characterization to prevent that. Also: how making mistakes doesn’t mean we’re racist—it just means we’re willing to learn.

2:00 PM—Plots, Subplots, and Foreshadowing (Bree Despain (M), J. Scott Savage, Brandon Sanderson, James A. Owen, Stacy Whitman)


I’m not on the following workshop, but want to highlight it because both Sandra and Mary are people to learn from, and given that the workshop will be two hours long, you’ll get an opportunity to really go in depth.

3:00-5:00 PM

– The Published (and aspiring) Author’s Toolbox: Learning skills for networking, blogging, social media, and self-promotion.  This workshop will teach principles and give you a chance to practice skills to integrate networking, blogging, social media, and self-promotion into your professional life without being the person who annoys and without pulling you out of balance with yourself.

(Sandra Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal)


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.twitter.com (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!


Writing diversity: avoiding the Magical Negro

I don’t know that we’ve ever discussed the concept of the Magical Negro here before, or its equivalent in American storytelling with Asian and Native American characters, and I think we need to. With Tu’s emphasis on protagonists being characters of color, I don’t get as many submissions nowadays using this old stereotype/trope, but it’s one that I’ve seen a lot of in past years because it’s so common, an easy way to add diversity that has a subtle racism in it because of the way it privileges the white main character over the person of color who is helping him (and it’s usually a him).

I just ran into this great post by Nnedi Okorafor from 2004—that you should go read in its entirety—that sums up the trope quite nicely:

  1. He or she is a person of color, typically black, often Native American, in a story about predominantly white characters.
  2. He or she seems to have nothing better to do than help the white protagonist, who is often a stranger to the Magical Negro at first.
  3. He or she disappears, dies, or sacrifices something of great value after or while helping the white protagonist.
  4. He or she is uneducated, mentally handicapped, at a low position in life, or all of the above.
  5. He or she is wise, patient, and spiritually in touch. Closer to the earth, one might say. He or she often literally has magical powers.

Think about even some recent movies and you’ll see this trope at work. (Movies are easy comparisons for me as shortcuts, because they tend to be easier touchstones for a larger audience.)  Cowboys and Aliens, anyone? I was enjoying the complicated character interactions of C&A right up until the end when (SPOILER ALERT) a certain important character dies, which ruined the entire movie for me. Not quite a Magical Negro in that situation, but related to it. American martial arts movies from the 80s and 90s had plenty of Magical Asians teaching young white kids karate or kung fu (yes, Karate Kid,  awesome as it is, falls into this).

Sometimes the trope is fairly benign. So let’s look at Karate Kid. After quite a bit of focus on Daniel, eventually there’s a bridging of the cultural gap between Mr. Miyagi and Daniel—eventually Daniel learns about Mr. Miyagi’s past and we come to understand Mr. Miyagi as a person, which deepens the character development and I think changes the dynamic from one in which his existence in the plot is only to help the main character. Daniel has at least a tiny bit to offer Mr. Miyagi as well, in the form of friendship to a lonely old man. The balance is still in Daniel’s favor, but not as severely as in other stories that use this trope.

In Okorafor’s post, she examines Stephen King’s use of this trope, and she also notes that

King is not a racist. The Talisman, The Stand, The Shining, and The Green Mile are superb novels and I do think that there was good intent behind the making of the characters I’ve mentioned. Nevertheless, these characters are what they are and King does benefit from that fact. Magical Negroes are always interesting, being magical and mysterious, and they make things happen. When a Magical Negro pops up, the story crackles and pops.

The trope is a trope because it can make a story work. Yet just because it’s something that works doesn’t mean it’s something we shouldn’t try to avoid when we can, especially because the trope can be pretty caustic, too—think about, especially, storytelling about Native Americans. Last of the Mohicans and Dances with Wolves are pretty good examples of When Tropes Go Bad: the Native Americans almost always die to leave the land to their white inheritors, and the power dynamic is always tipped in favor of the white protagonist as inheritor of the virtues of the Native Americans. “Native Americans don’t live here anymore” seems to an underlying message from stories like this. The controversial book Touching Spirit Bear comes closer to home for those of us in the YA community.

(Okorafor’s post over on Strange Horizons covers a lot of interesting and important territory on this subject, so go read the whole post.)

How to avoid the Magical Negro trope, or at least the worst version of it? As I think about it, the Magical Negro is kind of a subtype of the Guru character who comes to help the protagonist on his journey. In fantasy, Gandalf is the perfect example of the Guru character. Especially in The Hobbit, Gandalf exists to help, teach, and guide. We don’t know much about him—he’s just this mysterious magical being who helps Bilbo set off on his quest. Gandalf’s role in The Lord of the Rings is expanded a little, and his relationship with Sauron and their backstory more important, but Gandalf is still very much in the role of helper to the main characters, the one who dies so that others can live (getting away from the Balrog)—he just happens to be powerful enough to come back as Gandalf the White, and then AGAIN help the main characters win by bringing reinforcements to Helm’s Deep, among other feats.

But when the Wizard becomes the Magical Negro, we add a racial dynamic to a relatively tired old trope (after all, even if it works for Gandalf, it’s been done so many times) that, especially when the older POC is teaching a young white kid, implies a symbolic inheritance/transference of wisdom and power—especially, as we already talked about, when it comes to stories involving Native Americans in the 1800s.

Occasionally I hear white writers, especially, say things like, “How can I add diversity to my stories, then? It seems like you can’t win. When I do add diversity, I get accused of playing to stereotypes”—the Magical Negro being one, the Black Guy Dies First being another.

I think part of of the solution is seeing past the main character as the most important character to the exclusion of other characters. “Helper” characters need to be fleshed out as independent beings in their own right, with their own concerns that don’t always match up to the priorities of the main character, even if the fate of the world is at stake.

I’m currently catching up on Supernatural Season 6, and there was a really great episode about Bobby, the down-to-earth friend of the family who is always getting Sam and Dean out of scrapes both big and small. (SPOILERS AHEAD) At the end of Season 5, Bobby sold his soul to a demon to accomplish some goal that I’ve now forgotten, the end result of which was to ensure that Satan went back in his cage and didn’t destroy the world. Now in the 5th season, Bobby has to deal with the consequences of that deal. Meantime, Dean has some suspicions about Sam being not quite right and wants to air his worries/grievances to his normal confidant, Bobby. But Bobby now has bigger fish to fry. He has to worry about his OWN soul, literally. Yet Dean’s worries are justified and he really does need help, so Dean has to help Bobby so Bobby has the space to help Sam and Dean.

I think that kind of complication of character motivations makes all the difference. Bobby is sort of Sam and Dean’s Gandalf. He’s always sending them off on quests, or in Supernatural parlance, “jobs.” There isn’t a racial dynamic, but Bobby is a “helper” character most of the time. Yet Bobby is a fully-fleshed-out real person, too, who is just as important as anyone else. He’s not lower in social stature, he’s not obliged to help Sam and Dean out of any other motivation other than friendship/a sense of family. He doesn’t simply exist to serve Sam and Dean and then disappear.

ETA: I know this is already long, but Okorafor has a great point in that same post that sums up what I’m getting at quite nicely:

Part of my point was that Magical Negroes have power that, if harnessed for personal intent, would change the story greatly. What would The Green Mile be if Coffey had been more concerned with escaping than helping? What would The Talisman have been if Speedy hadn’t been there for Jack because he was trying to save the talisman himself, because he thought he himself was capable, too? What would have happened in The Stand if Mother Abigail had been more concerned with helping her own folks make it to a better place than the ragtag group that came along? What would all these stories have been if these characters’ destinies weren’t so tied to someone outside of themselves? If they hadn’t been written that way? The answer: the stories would have been more complex, the characters more human, less lapdog.

Making secondary characters more fleshed-out, real people with their own priorities and individual worth, and less a cardboard cutout, won’t automatically prevent them from still being representative of a trope, but I think it can help mitigate the dynamic. And, of course, more stories starring POC as heroes of their own tales is another solution to this problem. Let’s talk about it some more. What do you think?

**By the way, this post was inspired because I followed a link from Nnedi Okorafor’s post on her bust of Lovecraft, the symbol of her World Fantasy Award, which explores Lovecraft’s racism and the legacy of racism we must confront in fantasy. Go read that as well.