Survey Analysis: How Far Is Too Far? How Much Is Too Much?

YA-bobby-socks-puppy-lovetIn my post from last month, “How Far Is Too Far? How Much Is Too Much?” I talked about how authors of young adult books are including more profanity, sexual situations, drug use, and other controversial content in their novels. I was really curious to find out in greater detail what readers of all ages thought about various difficult topics. Leveraging Google Forms and Sheets, I created a survey to find out.

The survey was both a success and a failure. On the plus side, I got almost 200 responses, which was more than I expected. On the negative side, only six of those responses were from actual young adults. The rest were from grownups (18 and older) who read young adult literature.

I promised to provide an analysis of the results, so here they are. Please note that I’m not claiming statistical significance here. I’m not a stats person, though I do consider myself something of an Excel ninja. Though it’s interesting, I would caution against reading too much into the data I present below. When in doubt, write the book you want to write.

Respondents

From sharing my results with various groups, I managed to get a total of 195 responses. The demographic section of the survey tells us a little about the people who completed it.

Age

As I mentioned above, the overwhelming majority of people who responded to the survey were adults. The breakdown by age category is here:

Age Category

Respondents

Percent

12 – 14 years old

1

0.5%

15 – 17 years old

5

2.6%

18 – 29 years old

28

14.4%

30 – 39 years old

94

48.2%

40+ years old

67

34.4%

Gender

The overwhelming majority (86%) of respondents were female. Here’s the full breakdown:

Gender

Respondents

Percent

Female

167

85.6%

Male

27

13.8%

Something else, or I prefer not to answer

1

0.5%

Last year, I was at a writing conference, attending a panel about writing young adult fiction. During the Q&A, a woman stood up and asked the question: “What can be done about the perception that YA is dominated by females?” I actually laughed out loud when I heard this. All four panelists were women. Maybe 80% of the audience were female. This isn’t a “perception” … it’s a reality.

Location

Survey respondents came from 27 US states, plus some international locations. However, because of my circle of friends (and also because of the groups where I went to solicit responses), the vast majority of the responses (54%) came from people who live in Utah.

Here’s the breakdown of how many responses came from each location;

Alabama (1), Alaska (1), Arizona (14), California (7), Colorado (4), Hawaii (4), Idaho (11), Illinois (1), Indiana (2), Louisiana (1), Maryland (1), Michigan (3), Minnesota (1), Nevada (5), New Mexico (1), New York (2), North Carolina (1), Ohio (1), Oklahoma (1), Oregon (4), South Carolina (1), Tennessee (2), Texas (8), Utah (105), Virginia (2), Washington (5), Wyoming (1), Other or International (5)

Average number of books read per month

I thought it would be interesting to know whether the respondents were voracious or more casual readers. Because of this, the survey asked how many books, on average, each of the respondents read.

Books per Month

Respondents

Percent

less than 1

17

8.7%

1 or 2

50

25.6%

3 or 4

64

32.8%

five or more

64

32.8%

Percentage of books read in the young adult genre

Finally, I asked what percentage of books each of the respondents read in the young adult genre.

Books in the YA Genre

Respondents

Percent

less than 25%

33

76.9%

25 to 50%

79

40.5%

51 to 75%

45

23.1%

75% or more

38

19.5%

Methodology

Using the word “methodology” automatically makes things more scientific, right? Well, probably not, but I did have a method to my madness. For every topic or subject matter in the main section of the survey, I asked respondents to rate their comfort level using the following rating scale:

  1. Very uncomfortable. I actively avoid books like this, and won’t read them at all.
  2. Uncomfortable. I have a low tolerance for books like this, and sometimes stop reading if I encounter the topic.
  3. Moderately comfortable. I don’t seek out books like this, but I don’t avoid them if the story is good.
  4. Comfortable. I don’t mind reading books like this, and often enjoy them.
  5. Very comfortable. I enjoy reading books like this, sometimes seeking them out specifically.

To analyze the responses, I considered a 1 or 2 to be negative (discomfort) and a 4 or 5 to be positive (comfort). The 3 responses were neutral, so I ignored them for the purposes of analysis. Using this methodology, I created Pro/Con comparison for each item, and then compared them as percentages.

As an example, the first question asked the respondents’ comfort levels with “Bible” curse words like “damn” and “hell.” (I actually asterisked them on the survey so nobody could complain about being exposed to profanity). In the results, I got 60 5s, 63 4s, 61 3s, 8 2s and 3 1s. (Yes, three people indicated they were “Very uncomfortable” with encountering the words “damn” and “hell” in a YA novel. Go figure.) Adding the 4s and 5s and the 1s and 2s together, I got a Pro score of 123 and a Con score of 11, or 91.8% Pro and 8.2% Con. Make sense?

So let’s look at the individual sections and scores. To reduce clutter, I’ll provide just the Pro and Con tallies and percentages for each item. However, you’ll find a link to a PDF with the full scoring at the bottom of this post.

Language

I grouped the questions about language into three categories: “Bible” curse words, scatalogical and “body part” curse words, and F-bombs (which my teenaged son calls the “Elder Swear”). The results didn’t really surprise me:

Language

Pro %

Con %

Stories with characters who use “Bible” curse words (d**n, h**l)

91.8%

8.2%

Stories with characters who use scatalogical or “body part” curse words (s**t, a**, d**k, c**k, c**t, p***y)

30.5%

69.5%

Stories with characters who drop F-bombs (f**k)

23.2%

76.8%

On one of the groups where I posted this survey, a group member took me to task for grouping words like “shit” and “ass” in with the body part swear words. The names for female body parts, she claimed, were used more for sexual power games than for curse words. I can see her point (to a point), but I was just trying to do a survey, not make a statement about gender politics.

Sexual Content

As far as I can tell, one thing that distinguishes young adult from middle grade fiction is the introduction of sexual situations. (Sometimes, when meeting other writers, I like to joke that I write “middle-grade erotica.” It’s just fun to see the looks on their faces as they try to parse that.) As in all of the categories, I ordered the items based on what I expected the relative comfort/discomfort levels to be.

Sexual Content

Pro %

Con %

Stories with lots of sexual content but no actual sex between teens

42.9%

57.1%

Stories that talk frankly about pornography and masturbation

12.8%

87.2%

Stories depicting hetero sex between teens

19.9%

80.1%

Stories depicting sex between teens and adults

7.8%

92.2%

Stories depicting taboo sex involving teens (incest, BDSM, etc.)

5.5%

94.5%

One aspect of the results surprised me: overall, the respondents were slightly more comfortable reading stories about actual sex than about pornography and masturbation. I don’t know why, but I was really taken aback to see that readers found simulated, solitary sex more disturbing than the real thing.

The last question in this section is interesting in the sense that it doesn’t seem that the “Fifty Shades of Gray” phenomenon has trickled down to the YA reader. E.L. James’ books pushed BDSM into the mainstream to a certain degree, but that’s not happening for adult readers of YA fiction.

LGBTQ+ Content

Like it or not, young adult fiction tends to be heteronormative in the sense that it assumes that most boys like girls and most girls like boys. (It reflects the real world in this way.) Since I personally know a number of readers who intentionally steer clear of books with gay and lesbian protagonists, I figured it made sense to ask these questions separately.

LGBTQ+ Content

Pro %

Con %

Stories with major LGBTQ+ characters, in which the characters’ orientation is incidental to the plot

57.7%

42.3%

Stories with major LGBTQ+ characters, in which the characters’ orientation is crucial to the plot (including “coming out” stories)

39.9%

60.1%

Stories with minor LGBTQ+ characters

73.8%

26.2%

Stories depicting sex between LGBTQ+ teens

13.0%

87.0%

Stories depicting sex between LGBTQ+ teens and adults

5.9%

94.1%

YA readers seem to be more accepting of LGBTQ main characters if their sexuality isn’t directly tied to the plot. The big difference in comfort levels between the first and second items above kind of surprised me. Minor gay and lesbian characters (I was careful not to use the word “token”) seem to be more acceptable to more readers.

Substance Abuse

I remember being shocked, as a young teenager, reading about teenagers drinking and smoking in The Outsiders. I was probably 13 when I discovered that book, and nobody in my sheltered circle of friends did any of that stuff. My kids had a very different experience. In my kids’ school, vaping and seems to have replaced smoking as the default bad-habit-du-jour.

And remember: The Outsiders was published in 1967. Teens have always smoked and boozed and used drugs.

Substance Abuse

Pro %

Con %

Stories depicting teenagers smoking or vaping

64.2%

35.8%

Stories depicting recreational drug use by teens

38.0%

62.0%

Stories depicting alcohol use by teens

50.4%

49.6%

Stories depicting the abuse of prescription drugs by teens

42.1%

57.9%

Stories depicting the sale or purchase of illicit drugs by teens

36.8%

63.2%

I actually expected the Pro scores here to be a little higher. It’s possible that the older audience skewed the numbers here to the Con side.

Mental Illness

There has been a huge effort over the past several decades to destigmatize mental illness. In the past several years, I’ve read YA books with protagonists who have Tourette syndrome, with severe depression, and even sociopathy. Readers seem to see mental illnesses as just another obstacle for characters to overcome.

Mental Illness

Pro %

Con %

Stories focusing on protagonists dealing with mental illnesses

95.1%

4.9%

Stories that prominently feature self-harm (cutting and other self-injury)

52.5%

47.5%

Stories focusing on protagonists who have eating disorders

85.5%

14.5%

Stories depicting characters with suicidal thoughts or who attempt suicide

68.1%

31.9%

The one surprise here is the balanced Pro/Con score for self-harm. From what I can tell, in the United states, around 6-10 percent of teenagers intentionally hurt themselves, with “cutting” being the most common activity of this type. At the same time, less than 3 percent of of teens struggle with eating disorders. With self-harm being two or even three times more common than eating disorders among U.S. teens, you’d think it would be a topic more people would be comfortable reading about. Not so, apparently. That self-harm is significantly less acceptable to readers than suicide should be an eye-opening fact.

Abuse and Violence

I’m not certain I got the questions in this category “right.” Violence is a staple of growing up—kids beat up on each other all the time. I tried to think of the types of abusive situations that might cause someone to put a book down.

Abuse and Violence

Pro %

Con %

Stories depicting sexual abuse involving teens or children

17.9%

82.1%

Stories depicting sexual assault involving teens or children

19.5%

80.5%

Stories depicting domestic violence

43.1%

56.9%

Stories depicting other kinds of violent situations

68.1%

31.9%

Interestingly, the Pro/Con rating for sexual assault is within half a point of the rating for hetero teenaged sex (see above). And the readers I polled are more comfortable reading about sexual assault than about consensual sex between LGBTQ teens. That last question is kind of a catch-all, and doesn’t really say much about anything.

Social Issues

Speaking of catch-alls, this last category was exactly that.

Social Issues

Pro %

Con %

Stories involving bullying (real-world or cyber)

92.2%

7.8%

Stories involving racism, racial discrimination or racial inequality

89.3%

10.7%

Stories involving sexism, sexual discrimination or sexual inequality

83.2%

16.8%

Stories in which teens talk about or get an abortion

46.6%

53.4%

Stories involving firearms

88.5%

11.5%

Stories with heavy political content

67.8%

32.2%

The bullying question was a gimme. Bullying is so pervasive in all aspects of teenagerhood that I would defy anyone to come up with a single YA novel that didn’t feature bullying of some kind.

I wasn’t surprised by the Pro/Con ratings on the “ism” questions. I was pretty surprised that my respondents were more comfortable reading about teenagers with guns than they were about teenagers getting abortions. (But then, I had a very Utah-heavy population that responded.) The question about politics was also interesting. I wasn’t expecting a two-thirds Pro rating on that one, though I’m not sure whether I expected it to be higher or lower.

 

Conclusion

Again, since this turned out to be essentially a poll of adults, I’m not sure how much we can extrapolate regarding teen readers. It’s worth pointing out, though, that adult readers of YA fiction are often the “gatekeepers” who buy the books, put them on library shelves, assign them for classes, and so on. So grownup attitudes about young adult fiction are still worth considering.

You can download a more detailed analysis of numbers below. Enjoy!

YA Fiction – How Edgy Is Too Edgy?

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David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, volunteers with young people, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play was subsequently published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at blog.bakerdavid.com.

We ALL Need Superheroes

There has been much buzz lately about the blockbuster hit Wonder Woman, and I have to agree with those that say the buzz is for a GOOD reason. I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say that there was so much about this movie that hit my heartstrings and made me ponder many things, long after I left the movie theater. A week and a half later, and I’m still processing and enjoying the message and the story, and I can tell you this: Wonder Woman gave me hope about multiple things both personal and on a large-scale, at a time when I think I needed her.

Wonder

(^ When you just HAD to snap a picture of an epic scene because you thought you might need it for later).

One more thought has been rattling around in my brain about Wonder Woman, and it involves the pre-viewing buzz. Prior to seeing this movie, I did my best to stay away from spoilers and so really had no idea what to expect — except for the fact that this was a superhero story, which I typically enjoy (non-spoilers note: it is so much more than that). However, I had seen more than a few times on social media that people were urging all of their friends to take their daughters to see this movie. I was invited by a group of women to go see it a few days after I’d already seen it. As I reflect upon my own viewing of the movie, I completely understand this sentiment. Wonder Woman fought for so much, for her loved ones, for herself, and for humanity. I understood the call to take daughters to see this movie because as a woman, I was very inspired.

However, I did not take any of my daughters with me to this movie.

Okay, so I don’t have any daughters. But I went with my husband and two young sons (ages 6 and 10). We had planned to take the kids to see a movie that day, but our sons chose Captain Underpants. Nothing personal against the briefs-wearing caped crusader, but my husband and I wound up arguing (yes, literally arguing) over who would be the *cough* unlucky person to go to see Captain Underpants because he’d taken them to see Trolls, and I’d taken them to see The Secret Life of Pets, and honestly, neither of us wanted to go see this movie that day. My husband then said to the boys, “We aren’t going to see Captain Underpants today. But maybe we should all go see Wonder Woman. Because you know — your mom is a Wonder Woman.” ❤  *cue heartmelt*

I waited for the counter-argument. I waited for one of my sons to say, “But that’s a movie for girls. But we want Captain Underpants!” There was none of that, and aside from one brief pout from the youngest one, we went and saw Wonder Woman. And my boys, husband, and I all loved it. My boys especially loved seeing Princess Diana as a little girl, they loved how funny and determined Diana Prince was as an adult, and perhaps most of all, they loved how kickass Wonder Woman was.

superhero 2

Here are some direct quotes of what my boys had to say today (about a week and a half after we saw it as a family):

“I liked how Wonder Woman could do all of those cool things, like jump this huge distance and land on a building, and how surprised she was that she could even do it.” *makes flying noises*

“I liked when she tried to blend in and how she was trying on normal clothes but wanted to make sure she could fight in them.” *kicks and punches the air*

“I liked the part when she was figuring out things about people and our world for the first time.” 

“I liked her as a little girl when she was learning how to fight, just like I do karate.” *does awesome karate moves*

“There are too many cool things to say them all, Mom.” 

Wonder Woman is a story for everyone, you see, not just for daughters and sisters and mothers and female friends. Men and boys need to see kickass women as much as women and girls need to see kickass women. One way we can empathize with people from all walks of life is to experience their stories — and this applies to readers and writers of stories as well. When I was younger, I loved Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. I read (and reread) Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t when I was in elementary school (and asked my mom tons of questions about each, which she frankly answered, bless her heart). My oldest son is an avid reader, and while his current favorite series is Tyler Whitesides’ The Janitors, he also loved Judy Moody.

If only we could live long enough to read and write ALL the books. Writers often talk about the need for writing and reading diversely. Usually we mean writing about groups that aren’t widely represented in stories, and this post and others explain why writing diversely is so very crucial for our readers to understand different perspectives. Yet as authors, our books may be categorized and marketed as girl’s books or boy’s books, as women’s fiction, men’s fiction, gay and lesbian fiction, multicultural fiction, and so on (I’ve even seen the category “men’s adventure fiction” pop up somewhere). These designations are primarily for marketing toward target audiences, as these stories depict women’s life experiences, or the experiences of LGBTQIA+ characters, or the singular experience of a man’s adventure, I suppose. But as a reader and writer, there is great value in crossing those bridges and experiencing (through reading) and representing (through writing) a wide variety of struggles and triumphs, just as my sons experienced the struggles and triumphs of Princess Diana / Diana Prince / Wonder Woman and now have an even broader perspective about certain things. And okay, I’m not going to lie when I say my heart melted when my 6 yo hugged me and told me that I’m like Wonder Woman (he didn’t tell me why, but that’s for him to decide).

When I was a teenager, I read my dad’s Ken Follett, Tom Clancy, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz paperbacks, and I enjoyed them (Ken Follett’s “men’s adventures” were some of my favorites, TBH). But my dad also had his Danielle Steele paperbacks that filled up an entire shelf on his floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and I read a lot of those as well. I still remember the day when he gestured to his personal collection and told me that I could read anything I wanted to because I could be anything I wanted to someday.

Maybe even a superhero.

____________________________________

HelenHelen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager (and this post explains why). An author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romance-suspense LOSING ENOUGH. You can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com.

On Writing Diversely: A Message About Race

I need to talk about one of the elephants in the room: Race.

We need to talk about race, for many reasons. In society, we still have a long way to go before we achieve equality among different races. In the world of fiction too, we have a long way to go before different races are equally represented. Hence the campaigns and organizations such as We Need Diverse Books — because not all of us can find ourselves represented in books, and when we read, we seek out those connections.

As readers, we need to read diversely. Reading allows us to sink into someone else’s skin for a time and experience his or her life — all from the comfort of our chair. Not only is it important to make connections with ourselves when we read, but we have to make connections with others. I would argue that one of the most valuable things that we can develop in our human lives are our relationships with other humans. Scientific research shows us that reading fiction can help us develop empathy with other humans — and reading diversely can allow us to have empathy and much deeper relationships with other human beings from all walks of life.

As writers, we need to write diversely. Writing diversely occurs when we create and write characters and issues that are not widely represented in literature. Writing diversely doesn’t necessarily mean writing characters that aren’t white. Writing diversely could also mean writing characters that are LGBTQIA+ or ones that have disabilities. Writing diversely could be telling the story of an immigrant or a member of a religious minority. Depending on who you are, writing diversely may mean you are writing about you, or it may not. The world is a diverse place, but if we don’t represent this diversity in our stories, we are not showing our readers the real world.

tree

Can all writers do proper justice, with both authenticity and sensitivity, in representing diversity? We’ve all heard the argument, “An X person can’t write about Y because the X person doesn’t truly understand Y’s struggles.” A counter-argument is that you, as an author, can empathize with someone else’s struggles by drawing parallels from your own experiences. Maybe this is possible, depending on what those experiences are. But maybe not. To develop a better sense of empathy, you could interview people who have lived those struggles and write these characters based on your research and your comparable experiences. An X person can do justice to Y with sufficient research, right? Maybe, depending on your level of empathy and your experiences. But maybe not.

I’m Asian-American. If you are not Asian-American and if you sat down and interviewed me, I could tell you about this one time I walked into a restaurant in small-town America, and how I smiled at a young family — a man, woman, and their son. I could tell you how the woman’s eyes grew round and her face became ashen after I smiled at them. I can describe exactly how the man’s mouth twisted in a distinct leer. I could even describe to you how confused and hurt I felt when the woman grabbed her young son and pushed him between herself and the man as though shielding him from something contagious — me. I could tell you how when I left the restaurant and drove home, my chest hurt and nausea set in. I could tell you how much I dreaded leaving the house the next day but how I put on my big girl pants because I had to be strong for my own children, and because…. honestly, other much-less-subtle examples of racism have been directed my way since I was a little girl and I always put my big girl pants on. I could tell you how the wall feels around my heart, the one I’ve constructed to protect me from the next time it happens.

If you’ve never experienced racism, you might be able to get a sense of my experience and create a character that reflects the truth of a person that has endured racism. Maybe. Or maybe not. (This happened to me exactly one week ago, by the way. Maybe I will put it into a story.)

If your story relies upon a struggle or conflict deeply rooted in race, I would argue that it would be very difficult to capture those struggles in your writing without actually living through them. I didn’t say it would be impossible — but I think writers need to be deeply aware that they cannot just stick on a “different race” hat and know exactly what it feels like, even after conducting interviews and research. Most people who are not POC express initial shock or disbelief when they hear stories like the one I’ve shared above. On the other hand, the people who nod and have the glimmer of immediate understanding in their eye, the ones that say, “I know what that’s like,” the ones who really aren’t surprised at all, are the people who have also been at the receiving end of racism. Sadly, I could probably write an entire book about my personal experiences with racism (but I prefer writing fiction). An analogous example: one of the stories I have on my ever-growing list to write is inspired by two friends of mine who got engaged last year after gay marriage became legal. “Declan” had a very traumatic coming-out experience, but “Patrick” described to me a very positive one. “Declan” and “Patrick” really want me to write this story, and I wholeheartedly agree that their story would be a great one to tell. However, I do have to reflect on whether I (a straight, Asian-American woman) am really the best person to tell their story — a question that needs to be asked. Also, sometimes in representing people from all walks of life, we may not get things right, and here is a helpful post from Misa Siguira about what you can do when that happens: When your book gets called out for being problematic.

Race does not define everything that we are as people. If I were to write this woman (me) as a character, what kind of character would she be? Would she necessarily have to be Asian-American just because I’m Asian-American? I’ve published four novels, and out of the dozens of characters that I’ve created, three have been specifically Asian-American: one main character and two secondary characters (over two novels). Does the fact that I’m Asian-American make these characters more legitimate than if a Caucasian author had written them? Or does the fact that I am Asian-American somehow make my characters that are Caucasian, Latino, or Black less valid than if someone else had written them? Does the fact that I’m a U.S. citizen, born and raised in upstate New York, invalidate my characters that are immigrants? Or does the fact that I’m a straight female invalidate my writing of characters that are LGBT and/or male?

I would argue no. I would argue that we can all benefit from writing diversely. But I would also argue that when writing diversely, you need to do it well. You need to write your characters as the people that they are.

Yes, I’m Asian-American, but when I’m going about my day, I’m unaware of my race probably about 99.9% of the time. Exceptions to this are when I’m visiting my mom and we go to an authentic Dim Sum (Chinese) restaurant, and then I pay attention to the food and the names of my favorite dishes as the servers shout them out in Cantonese. I’m also aware of the feeling of camaraderie among the Chinese people in the restaurant that are enjoying the same food as me and my mom. But when I’m staring directly into the mirror, I’m focused on fixing that piece of hair that always stands straight up, or I’m checking my teeth for spinach, or I’m making sure my eye makeup is still where it’s supposed to be. I’m not aware of my own race when I stare at myself in the mirror. Similarly, when I’m walking down the street, I’m unaware of how I look to others. I’m just me. I know how I feel. Socially anxious, easily distracted, and looking out for opportunity to do a random small act of kindness. In other words, I’m just like everyone else.

Another quick but important example to illustrate this: When Tasha, one of my best friends who happens to be Caucasian, points me out in a crowd, she describes me by talking about the streak of color in my hair. When I first see Tasha, the first thing I notice is the color of her cardigan (she has lots of beautiful cardigans). Hair-streak color and cardigan color. Not skin color.

We still have a lot of work to do. We need to be better. We need to be more inclusive. We need to read diversely. We need to be better at writing diversely, but we need to write with care. We cannot treat people differently because of their race, and it saddens me that I feel it necessary to even say that. But that’s where we are.

Here are just some of many useful resources for writing diversely (Many thanks to Rosalyn Eves for sharing these). If you would like to share others, please do so in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Writing in the Margins: mentorship for authors from marginalized backgrounds; includes resources to connect with paid sensitivity readers.

DiversifYA: shared stories, interviews, blog posts, and roundtable discussions to introduce (YA and other) authors to diverse stories of all people.

Writing with Color:  Tumblr blog dedicated to resources and advice for writing with ethnic and racial diversity.

We Need Diverse Books: articles, writing opportunities, and additional resources for authors from diverse backgrounds.

Resources for Writing Marginalized Perspectives: articles and additional resources, including book recommendations, for writing marginalized backgrounds.

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helen2Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romances LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (coming soon). You can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com.

The Blindspot

As of the writing of this post a little movie based off of a book has made its way to the theaters. And with that there came some backlash. The movie I’m referring to is Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and the backlash came from an interview with the director Tim Burton.

In this particular interview the director was questioned about the lack of diversity in the casting as with the dozens of main characters only Samuel L. Jackson has a different skin tone. Tim Burton is quoted as saying in response “Nowadays, people are talking about it more. But things either call for things, or they don’t. I remember back when I was a child watching The Brady Bunch and they started to get all politically correct. Like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black. I used to get more offended by that than just… I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.”

I’ll start by saying that I grew up watching Tim Burton films, and I’ll end by saying that I wasn’t offended. Could it have been said better? Absolutely. Was what he said untruthful? No. All he said was as a white man all the characters in his head are white. If that’s the scope he views the world from then that’s how it will be. He wasn’t paying attention to his blindspot. Not to mention that the majority of the characters in the source material are all white as well…which is a fact he should have led with.

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As much as we may want to see diversity in all books, with social media hashtags of #DiverseYA, etc., we all kind of have a blindspot. I’m black and grew up in a mostly white area once I was ten. As I grew I can count on one hand how many books I was exposed to that had black characters in them, even less if you take away the ones where those characters were more than slaves. But looking back I can count no books that I read with Hispanic or Asian characters. Let’s not forget people with disabilities, non-straight people, and Native Americans.

I started by saying that I didn’t see what was truly wrong about what Tim Burton said, and I still do believe that. However that doesn’t negate the fact that there does need to be more diversity in all media that we come across so we can understand each other. For example, my daughter read Everyday by David Levithan a couple years ago and became the biggest champion of the book because she could see herself in the main character A. A was an entity that inhabited a different person each day, male and female, different races, etc. This leads to A having an attraction to people through their character or personality, not their gender. It was my daughter’s “aha moment” as to who she actually was. For a year she loaned the book to anyone she wanted to know the true her.

We all need that moment, but will not reach that moment until we make a conscious effort to see what’s in our blindspot. Gene Luen Yang issued a challenge at the National Book Festival for readers to read a different medium of storytelling than they were used to. I’ll take it to another level and ask for you to read wholly different than you do now. If you read mostly men read a few books from women, if you read mostly from Caucasian authors then read something written by anyone else, mostly English speaking writers try something that needed to be translated. Broaden your reading life to strengthen your writing life. The world is full of different hues, and that should be the same for your created ones as well.

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Matt Williams is an avid reader, a collector of many pens, an ever improving father of two, and an all-around fanboy. When he’s not wrestling with cats or a long commute you can find him hunkered down writing something imaginative. He’s working on publishing his first book Beyond Here, a middle grade story involving a coma and a singing flower with a bent stem sometime in 2016, along with a few projects with his other daughter.