writing

Am I Allowed to Write This?

(Yeah, I know this is controversial. Please hear me out and read the post in its entirety before passing judgment. Thanks.)

There’s been a recent trend in publishing lately, which can be summed up in the phrase “Stay in your lane.” Essentially, ‘if you did not have these experiences, if you do not share the same skin color as your character, then you are not allowed to write that character.’ That seems severely limiting if you ask me, but it is what it is. Who are the gatekeepers who enforce this rule? Agents? Editors? Publishers? Twitter? All of the above? I don’t know. I get the intention behind it, and as far as intentions go, it’s a good one. Noble, even. I just don’t know if the policy as a blanket rule is a good one.

writers-block-calvin

I recently wrote a draft of a novel that I now realize I’ll probably never be able to traditionally publish if publish at all. The main character of this novel is black, which for the most part doesn’t factor into the plot (its a fun, sci-fi werewolf story), but there is one scene where the main character gets into a fight with her (white) boyfriend for physically beating up another kid in their school who had called her a racial slur. She’s of the opinion that physical violence isn’t justified except to respond to physical violence or to protect oneself, and he disagrees.

Before I continue, here’s a little background on myself. I am Jewish. My grandparents were literal slaves in Auschwitz, my aunt was murdered by Nazis as an infant, just for being born Jewish. As an obviously recognizable Orthodox Jew (yarmulke and everything) I’ve faced my fair share of anti-semitism. Folks have thrown pennies at me or yelled, “Kike,” as they drove by, among many other incidents. This one time, a guy on the train yelled, “Jew-maggot,” at me, then proceeded to go on a tirade about how I’m personally murdering blacks and Palestinians. And in all this, I never responded, never raised a fist. Oh, I was angry, but I didn’t think violence would do anything but make the situation worse. Then, there was this other time, when I was a teenager, I ran into a distant relative, and as we were catching up, a girl walked by. My distant relative immediately started sexually harassing her (verbally, but it was some pretty vile stuff). Before I’d even realized what has happened, I’d decked him, knocking him to the ground with a punch to the face. I don’t think that was the right thing to do, and I probably could’ve defused the situation with words, but I did what I did. I think I find it easier to take the non-violent approach when it concerns me being attacked, but when it concerns another group, I have a harder time doing so.

quote-if-you-cannot-write-well-you-cannot-think-well-if-you-cannot-think-well-others-will-oscar-wilde-36-35-09

I used these incidents came out in my manuscript. You can’t say it isn’t about my own experiences, because it is, albeit not exactly. I am not black (nor am I a woman), so I suppose my entire manuscript will forever remain a file on my computer. Because I don’t match up EXACTLY  with the character I’m writing about. Because my experience doesn’t match up EXACTLY with the character I’m writing about. (I’m also not a werewolf, though apparently, that doesn’t seem to be much of an issue.) Because Twitter or whoever decided I’m not allowed to write about it.

I have a story to tell.

But you’ll never read it.

Messages in Writing: Put Down the Hammer

I’m a big sci fi guy. I used to love Doctor Who, although lately I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it. Meanwhile, I recently binged my way through The Orville, which I loved. Both shows are written by writers with similar politics, trying to explore political and philosophical issues through the lens of sci fi (as good sci fi generally does). So why was it that I enjoyed The Orville while being turned off by the recent season of Doctor Who?

The major difference between the two shows is how they explore their subjects. The Orville will raise an issue, explore it from both sides, tell you what each character thinks, and leave it to you to come to your own conclusions. It lets you think. Doctor Who on the other hand (I’ve noticed this with Supergirl as well) will show an issue, demonize anyone who holds an idea different from the writer/main character, hits you over the head with their ‘answer,’ telling you exactly what you should think. Even if you agree with everything they’re saying, its still patronizing.

The Orville is sci fi. Doctor Who is propaganda.

This realization made me realize what I hated about one of my shelved manuscripts. It was pushing a message, where my answer was the ONLY answer. And it just sucked. Rule of thumb, tell a good story before telling a good message, and second, don’t tell folks what they should think (or at least don’t make it so obvious), and instead let them come to the conclusion on their own. If you’re a talented enough writer, they’ll end up exactly where you want them anyway.

You Made a Mistake

9dc160c083b52d649612e63c5677b056609e70c647d02d83f7f33779ff2a356b_-original

Obviously, before putting out a book, a writer will do everything within his or her power to make sure the product is as flawless as possible. That’s why its always a little embarrassing to be told that someone found an error in your book.

6a0133f0b2fdc2970b014e8b8ef552970d

However embarrassing it is, I find myself grateful to those who bother to let me know. Honestly, constructive criticism and being told how you can make your book better is far more useful than praise . As a writer, I want to put out the best book I can. But as a human, I’m prone to mistakes, and when it comes to my own writing, I can often be blind to it. So when something is pointed out to me that should be fixed, be it a typo, a factual error regarding the city layout, or a suggestion regarding possible stylistic improvements, I try to fix it as soon as I’m able. And what is amazing about digital and print on demand is that these errors can be fixed almost instantaneously.

Every writer wants to improve, but we can’t learn from our mistakes if we aren’t aware of them. Slight embarrassment is a small price to pay to put out a better book.

Marketing Failures

A little while ago, I offered a short story ebook for free to anyone signing up for my mailing list. No one signed up. Not one person. I didn’t understand. I had people who view the post and even the mailing list page. Heck, the post that I announced I was giving away a free short story had numerous likes, yet no one signed up to the mailing list. Not a single person. Every time I would check to see if anyone signed up, there would be a this feeling in my stomach over overwhelming dread. And for good reason.

2012-07-18b

Failing is horrifying. It reminded me of when I used to make animated shorts. I would spend months animating a little 4-7 minute animation, and I was lucky if I could get 50 views after a couple of months. What’s worst of all is seeing horrendous books and youtube videos that are way worse than mine, yet get more views or sell better. But every time, I lift myself up. And her I am again. Last week I released my first novel. Will it sell? I don’t know. It hasn’t been selling as well as I’d hoped up until now. I do have other marketing plans though, which I have not yet put into effect. Additionally, I’m still working on the second book, and they say the more books in your backlog, the better the series as a whole does. Here’s hoping there’s some truth to that. Unlike the mailing list idea, I’m not ready to write my book off as a failure. Not yet. But regardless, my failures will not define me, and I genuinely believe that with enough work and effort, I can make A Spark Ignites a success. I’m putting myself out there. Because I’m a creator, and that’s what creative people do. Failures be damned.

SparkIgnitesDigitalCover

Description:  Matt was just a regular teenager, dealing with homework, hormones, high school drama, and an obnoxious older brother. He found his life complicated, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle. Then, when Spark, the city’s greatest superhero unexpectedly dies, Matt finds himself in possession of the hero’s costume and gadgets, with a note asking him to carry on the legacy. Finding himself unable to refuse, he reluctantly begins his superhero career, hoping he can live up to the name of his predecessor. Not knowing the first thing about being a superhero, Matt soon finds himself overwhelmed. Will he find himself in an early grave, just like his hero?

Meanwhile, an aging supervillain, the Inventor, creates a powerful device capable of killing thousands. An elaborate plan is put in motion that could lead to the destruction of everything Matt holds dear. Will he be able to figure out the how to stop him in time? And when evidence arises which indicates that Spark’s death may not be the accident everyone believes it is, Matt finds himself consumed with trying to uncover the truth. Will he be able to get to the bottom of this mystery? And if so, will he be able to handle the dark reality behind it?

A Spark IgnitesKindlePaperback