A review of I Am J by Cris Beam over at Lucy Was Robbed
I was a little scared of this book. I knew that Beam had it in her to realistically portray the transgender experience, so my expectations were super high. I also knew that a book like this has the potential to be filled with well-meaning stereotypes in order to present the most inclusive picture: of trans folk, of Puerto Rican New Yorkers, of the dream of being a "real boy," and more. I loved this book. J really rang true to me as a character and as a transguy, and his experiences, though not universal (thankfully not everyone has to move out or change schools in order to transition, though some undoubtedly do), were realistic. I Am J was everything I hoped it would be.
But I did have a couple of problems. I found it hard to believe that J, who has been looking around on the internet for information and support since he was eleven, hadn't heard about T (testosterone injections) or a (chest) binder until he was seventeen. I'm willing to let that go as it allows the reader to learn about these things at the same time that J does.
YA Highway: Writing Race in YA. Wow, just wow. Excellent, candid post.
5) I Don't See Color At All!
Yes, you do. There is no such thing as color blind. If you see me, of course you notice that I am a marvelous shade of caramel! I see you and think she is a lovely porcelain! That is completely normal and in no way makes you a racist. It's what you do and think about the difference in skin color that tells the tale.
6) Writers Of Color, I See What You Did There! (White Writers, Don't Be Scared!)
For writers of color, writing whites as EVIL must end. This is equally harmful and wrong. Yes, white characters can be bad. But not every last one you write! Not every white character has to be a racist devil from hell. This is especially true for writing Southern whites. I am a native Southerner and went to school with quite a few. We had a good old time together! I could have done without the country music but they accepted my rap, so rock on, Garth Brooks! No, you cannot write about other minorities in a foolish and disrespectful manner, either. Asians are not a monolithic culture and Latinos are not all from Mexico. Not all Blacks can dance and like rap. We are just as guilty of racial tropes and stereotyping. It is equally wrong for us to do this. We can't be down on white writers for doing it and not look to our own house.
White writers, there is such a thing as being too PC. You try to be diverse and are so scared of offending someone that you wind up writing a character who puts me to sleep. You can write a black character as EVIL! You can make the black girl bitchy if you like. We won't lynch you, okay? Not everyone who is black is hair trigger sensitive, you know.
Which isn't to say I didn't dislike the writing. It seems pretty cleverly crafted; Mina writes in the first person past, and Suna in the third person present. Both of them seem like the perfect ways to tell their stories in relation to the character.
The plot, however, I wasn't so keen on. I think that was mostly because it's such a short book; I don't think there was really enough time for the plot to develop realistically or clearly; the Mina/Johnathon thing, for instance. I was entirely confused as to what was going on there, or what was really going on behind it. They used to be in love, but now they're not? Yet Johnathon is still helping her keep up her perfect facade? But there's more to that, surely... The mind boggles. And, similarly, the Mina/Ysrael relationship seemed pretty rushed. It seemed like they'd just met when they were already kissing. It was, I suppose, like the story was entirely in fast-forward mode, but I couldn't slow things down and really identify with the characters.
Our very own staff member, Nathalie has a guest post for Writers Aganist Racisim
Racism. When you are a girl, or a woman, it’s hard not to also include gender discrimination, difficult not to avoid dealing with the implications behind the label “weaker sex.”
How did racism impact me? My neighbor, 14, grabbed me by the neck and threw me against the wall, whispering things that I won’t write here. I punched and bit. I was 10.
When I moved to France, classmates innocently asked if I wore skirts made of straw in Cameroon and if I walked around half-naked like they had seen on T.V. And other questions of the same caliber.
In an area known for its far-right movement in France, a White kid, in a swimming pool, stared at me for a few seconds like he’d just seen an E.T. and called me “Niger.” Then he fled.
Interview with Laura Atkins, children's literature specialistJacqueline Woodson (in an interview with Rhapsody in Books) recently talked about aspiring authors who submit unpolished manuscripts. How important is the revision process, and does “polishing” diminish a manuscript’s originality? I think of editors who want “universal” stories and so dismiss or distort ethnically-specific narratives.
This is an interesting question. I think the revision process is crucial, and it does not necessarily require losing ethnic and cultural specificity or nuance. Part of this depends on whether you are just trying to write the best book you can, or if your main goal is to get published by a mainstream publisher.
We both know there are problems within the publishing industry, and a tendency to privilege more comfortable and so-called “universal” stories. But there are talented diverse authors being published on both sides of the pond. I would always encourage aspiring authors to revise their stories, but they should do this based on their own aims and goals. I see my job as helping people to tell the best story they want to tell, not to change it to something more universal or commercial (unless they ask me to). Perhaps the best advice would be to revise, to make the story work as well as you can, and then to try to find agents or publishers who seem open to the type of story you are trying to tell – in terms of voice, style, narrative form, etc. But I’m not going to lie. Getting published is enormously difficult, and even more so these days if you aren’t submitting a book that is perceived as having large commercial appeal. Which leads to your next question about self-publishing…
Interview with Karen Lord, author of Redemption in Indigo and The Best of All Possible Worlds
Could you tell us how you worked with the source material/folklore to come up with the fey mythos in your novel?
The West African folktale which inspired chapters two, three and four of Redemption in Indigo, has no talking animals, no invisible spirits, and no magic Stick: only a straightforward tale of a woman who leaves her husband. All the fantasy elements in the novel are fresh additions, drawn from pure imagination and a variety of traditions. I call them fantasy elements, but I believe some fantasy is only science viewed through a glass darkly, unexplainable only at present, and awaiting the mathematician, physicist or psychiatrist capable of making the necessary paradigm shift to discover new rules and realities.
But before we delve deeper into that concept, let's examine these entities I call djombi – what are they exactly? They are a blend of names and concepts, mainly based on the West Indian jumbie with a slight nod to the Middle Eastern djinn. And what are jumbies? People give them various names and descriptions. They seem human until they shed their skin at night, and they can steal the voice of the living to impersonate them. They may be undead who once lived, or undying who were never born. They could be capricious but harmless, like a poltergeist, or downright dangerous. A rolling calf with flaming eyes or a steel donkey rattling through the village, a child with its feet facing backwards (dwenn) luring children into the forest, a beautiful woman with one cloven hoof (djablès) walking down a country road on a moonlit night, a malevolent imp trapped in a bottle (baccoo) wreaking havoc when released – all these are jumbies.*
They could be any sound, or light, or movement, or sudden dread that could not be explained – and more. Whether misperception, hallucination, or actuality, their shapes, their names, and their modus operandi embodied the hidden fears and secret anxieties of those who encountered them.