Category Archives: Prejudice

Controversy: Should You Use It In Your Writing?

Controversy is surprisingly easy to find. If you want to, you could live your entire life in controversy with someone but why in the world would you want to? Whether it’s any good to have in life or not, controversy is useful, and possibly essential, in writing. However, this is only true when it’s used correctly. Some good examples can be found in the following (books are listed as I remember them, so in no particular order):

1. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson – Controversial subject: rape
2. 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – Controversial subject: suicide and bullying
3. The Color of Water by James McBride – Controversial subject: race and class struggles
4. Shine by Lauren Myracle – Controversial subject: homosexuality and hate crimes
5. Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen – Controversial subject: abuse and neglect of children
6. After by Amy Efaw – Controversial subject: teen pregnancy and infanticide
7. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult – Controversial subject: prenatal genetic modification
8. Room by Emma Donoghue – Controversial subject: kidnapping, assault, and survival

This list is by no means complete, but all of these books are sitting on the shelves of my closet right now, so I can vouch for them. All of these books approach very different subjects from very different angles, but they all have at least one thing in common: they take a serious, multi-prong look at a very serious subject that can, has, or will affect hundreds or thousands of people. As long as you don’t treat the subject lightly (I’m not saying you can’t make a serious subject funny; just look at the movie 50/50), you should be able to handle any subject in a way that will only offend about a third of the people who read it.

What brought this up? Recently George Takei posted a link on Facebook to an article about a pair of identical twin boys, one of whom, at the age of fourteen, is in the process of undergoing gender reassignment and has changed her name from Wyatt to Nicole.

There is so much drama, tension, and controversy inherent in this story (and you really should read the entire article no matter what side of the fence you’re on; it’s incredibly interesting and enlightening). I would not be surprised to find at least a handful of authors inspired by this story and now feverishly building a story around an idea similar to the story of Nicole and Jonas Maines.

Awards: Is It Better To Win Or Be Falsely Nominated?

It’s already all over the internet, but more publicity is not a bad thing, especially in this case.

Visit the official site here.

Lauren Myracle was recently honored by the National Book Awards for her novel Shine, a story about a young sleuth who investigates a hate crime. Allowed to bask in the glory for only a few scant days, she was soon told that the announcement had been a mistake. The book they’d actually meant to nominate was Chime by Fanny Billingsley. Blamed on some sort of internal error (rumor has pinned it on either phone static or conspiracy), it still didn’t stop the foundation from asking the unbelievable: “I was asked to withdraw by the National Book Foundation to preserve the integrity of the award and the judges’ work,” she explained to the NY Times.

Um… Excuse me?

Talk about adding insult to injury! Is her book really so far below your standards that you can’t even leave her as a nominee, National Book Award judges? Yes, I’m talking to you. Do you not realize that this whole mess probably would have blown over and been forgotten if you had simply left Shine as a nominee?

Now, I have not read Shine (in fact, I honestly didn’t even know it existed before this), but I’ve added it to my to be read pile. In fact, I think not winning the award has done Shine more good than winning ever could have done. Not only will the book’s readership grow, but the National Book Awards has agreed to donate $5,000 (five times as much as she would have received as a winner) to the Matthew Sheppard Foundation, a not-for-profit aimed at “encouraging respect for human dignity and difference by raising awareness, opening dialogues, and promoting positive change.”

The recap? Lauren Myracle walks away from this fiasco with dignity, the respect of the literary world and the media, and $5,000 for a charity that obviously means a lot to her. The National Book Awards judges look like total jackasses, have spent five times the amount they usually do for this single prize, and ruined the “integrity” of their precious award.

Lauren 1 – National Book Award Jerks 0

Want to read more? Here are some blogs and news articles I’ve found about Shine‘s withdrawal:
Lauren Myracle tells it like it is on Huffington Post
Libba Bray (Pardon Libba’s French 😉 )
Julianna Baggott
TIME Entertainment
The Guardian
LA Times
NY Times

Want to donate to the Matthew Sheppard Foundation? Click here.

Writing: Why Age Shouldn’t Matter

I found a notebook recently while going through my desk. In it are blogs I had written and planned on posting but never did… probably because I’d misplaced the notebook. I’m going to go through some of these posts, edit them, and get them up eventually. This particular topic had been submitted by Elisa Bell.

I once heard someone commenting on a story they’d read. They extolled the narration, called the plot inventive, said the characters were lively. “Overall, it was quite wonderful for something written by a fifteen-year-old.”

I’ve never quite understood that phrase: “It’s quite good for a…” Would you think it wasn’t so good if the author was older? What makes it good, but not good enough to be held to the usual standards of goodness? What would you think of the story if you had no idea how old the author was?

If there is some alternate set of standards for young authors, where’s the cutoff? When does an author start being measured by the “normal” set of standards? High-school graduation? Legal maturity? Legal drinking age? The birth of their first child? At what point does one stop being a junior author and start being an author?

Honestly, age shouldn’t matter. You either like a book or you don’t. To judge by something as transitory as age is ridiculous. I know sixteen-year-olds who have seen more in life than some thirty-year olds.I’ve read books by middle aged authors that were horrible and some books by teenage authors that were just was bad; but I’ve also read books by both groups that blew my mind. In the same way you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t judge a story by its author. Let the tale speak for itself and then like or dislike it for itself, not the person who wrote it.

Books: Genre Prejudice

In one of my first posts I wrote about the YA stigma, but after working in a bookstore for the past two years I’ve realized that YA isn’t the only category with a harmful stigma attached. For example, I recently had a customer tell me she wanted something light to read in between school assignments. I said, “How light? Girly and frivolous or just something with a happy ending?”

“Completely frivolous,” she said. “I need something I don’t have to decipher.”

Having delved into the romance genre in the past couple of months, I started toward that section with a few books in mind that I personally enjoyed reading. But as soon as I handed her one, she looked at me as though I’d taken her into erotica and handed her a book on fetishes.

“Romance? Can’t you recommend something in lit?”

I could, but why? I had five or six books that would have been perfect for what she was looking for and she wouldn’t look at a single one simply because of their shelf location. WTH?

Now, I have to admit to holding a few genre prejudices myself, especially concerning romances, but I would like to think I’ve started to get over that. Still, it’s interesting to see how many challenges an author faces that really has nothing to do with their actual work. Just where their book sits in a store could cut them off from a huge portion of their potential audience because of prejudices like these. So I’d like to propose a vow.

Place your hand on your favorite book (you know, that one you found by accident and devoured in a day?) and say:

I hereby promise not to judge a book simply by its classification. I will give all books at least one page, one chance, to grab my attention before relegating them to the ranks of the unread.

Authors everywhere thank you for your attention.