“Well, what CAN I write?”

I often hear that question in all book community circles. in replies of tweets or in Youtube and Instagram comments sections. I’ve heard it during panels at conventions, talks, and interviews.

Publishing is changing. The Young Adult community is growing and becoming more vocal, including the voices of marginalized groups such as POC and LGBTQ groups. Publishing thrives on readership and what people want to read. There’s a rise in vampire romance readership? More vampire romance novels gets printed. This is more or less the same in any publishing departments, but Young Adult communities in particular are thriving on the need for change. But, in all forms of it, there are some that don’t really understand the change; they may find it hostile or angry or even radical.

But questions like these, questions from white writers posed to POC readers and writers are important in our understanding or what it means to write diversely and how important it is.

I’m a white writer. As in, I’m white and a writer. Those two things do not usually correlate, but the more we talk about race and privilege, the more I and many others can see how these two things do affect one another. As a white person, I am more likely to identify and relate to a white character, maybe on a more subconscious level. I don’t exactly exclaim “Huh, she’s white. I like her.” I also see people like me in fiction; in movies, television and of course, in books. As a writer, I may find it automatic to write about white people (though definitely what I aim for). And hey, a white person writing about white people is fine, normal in fact.

But as publishing progresses, as writing and reading change, it is obvious that an all-white cast of characters, especially coming from a white person, is unrealistic. The world is not white people, it never was, but now that people are listening, now that POC writers are finally getting a chance to publish their work, it’s more important than ever for white writers to not get stuck in the old ways, to not see their worlds as all white people, to understand that white stories are not the only stories.

However, there is a difference between writing diversely and writing the stories that are not yours.

Ownvoices emerged as we began to celebrate the stories of gay teens by gay writers, about black teens and their struggles with racism written by black writers. Ownvoices was and still is a rejection of white stories being the only story. And yet, many white writers will have a POC protagonist with racist portrayals and dangerous depictions.

You see Twitter threads and blog posts and articles, explaining why an all-white cast won’t do, and how white writers writing ‘outside their lane’ won’t do too. And it’s where this question comes from ‘Well, what CAN I write?’, but this question is redundant.

Writers, ultimately, can write whatever they want. But it does not mean they are free from criticism. If you are getting annoyed that you cannot write an all-white cast but also cannot write a poorly researched, problematic depiction of a black, gay, disabled, mentally ill etc. protagonist, then should you really be writing at all?

I don’t think anyone has ‘the answer’ to what you can and cannot write. You’re going to mess up, and you’re going to have criticism. It’s normal and should be welcomed. Only you can decide what to write, but I think it’s important to understand that if you write a story about POC, as a white writer, you’re going to be picked to get published over a POC writer with a story about POC.

And is that right?

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Author Intention vs Reader Interpretation

So Twitter can sometimes be a bit of a witch hunt, can’t it?

It really depends on which side you’re on; a lot of people will get unnecessarily harassed, but there’s also the case of calling out people who say silly stuff. You could say ‘problematic’, which is what it is, but it’s got to the point where the word is meaningless now.

This topic has been one that spans decades. I even did a few classes on authorship and the ‘death of the author’ because of the opinions on how subjective a text can be when it’s brought out into the world.

As a writer, you get to know that when a story of yours is published, either through traditional publishing, self-publishing, or even just putting up stuff on your blog, it’s going to be interpreted in a different way to you. Know how I know that? Because that human who reads your novel is not the same as you; there are so many factors that makes a human so unique that their view and interpretation of the same things will be vastly different to yours.

A lot of writers, especially incredibly successful authors who may not have a strong connection to their readers (e.g. lack of social media presence, very few signings/event appearances, anonymous writer) seem to have a struggle processing this. There seems to be this discontent with readers interpreting something different to how you, the author, intended it to be. Now of course, you own these characters and this story (which has also been debated, but we won’t get into that) and so you are able to write these characters and this story in any way you see fit. I’ve touched upon this in my post on having a responsibility to represent in your writing, where I explain you shouldn’t be forced to write something you don’t want to, but as a person in power (in that sphere), you should be more open to creating an environment of inclusion and understanding (plus, having characters from minorities isn’t the hardest thing in the world).

However, you should not be bullied into writing something you don’t want to. You’re the writer, if your story is about a group of straight white men, then that’s what it’s about.

But reader interpretation is all about imagination, experience, and relationship. The reader, as a completely separate human from you, will read this text from a different perspective. Interpretation is completely different to canon, and you just have to accept that. You cannot force readers to see your novel how you see it. The majority of the time, your readers will have a very close interpretation to your intention, because that’s how books work. There is a general consensus on the story’s canon; for example, that plot definitely happened because the book is the evidence, or if it says ‘this character has red hair’, then the reader is probably going to picture a person with red hair.

Sometimes, author’s intention and reader’s interpretation can be blurred and also dealt with in a ‘silly’ (problematic) way. And here you’ll find the inspiration for this blog post:

A few days a go, S.E. Hinton, author of the classic and everyone’s set school text, The Outsiders, was asked whether or not two characters had romantic feelings for each other.

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The answer is no, which she does state. That really should have been the end of it. Johnny and Dally are interpreted by so many as having romantic feelings that she’s probably heard this a lot; this theory is not news to her. The problem is that she then goes on to have a little dig at the person, clearly annoyed that people have this interpretation for no real reason than it is not in line with her author intention:

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S.E. Hinton goes to the point of insulting her readers, calling lgbt romance a ‘weird fantasy’ and even pulling out the ‘I have gay friends’ card.

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Oh dear, oh dear.

Things have spiraled out of control. Not only has the author alienated a large part of her audience (who love her book BECAUSE of their interpretation), but she’s also just shown a part of herself that probably wasn’t a good idea to air to the public, especially when you rely on other’s opinion on your book because hey, that’s how you get paid.

Many people on Twitter took to S.E. Hinton’s side and said ‘hang on, they’re her characters, she’s allowed to write them however she wanted’ and yes, this is absolutely right. However, you cannot control a reader’s interpretation. Johnny and Dally, just like Sirius and Lupin, Spock and Kirk, and Dean and Castiel, are not gay and do not have romantic feelings for each other in the text. That is canon, that is what the authors/scriptwriters have said. However, you as a reader can think whatever the Hell you want about those characters. If you consider two characters in media to be in love then why should anyone stop you? These are characters for you to enjoy, it’s why they’ve been written, and just because the story’s canon may disagree with you in that case, does not mean you’re not allowed to think or interpret the text differently. You are not taking over the story or demanding ownership, you are merely enjoying the story in your own way.

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Hell, this is what English Literature courses are all about! I spent a whole term during my A-Levels discussing the homoeroticism in Brideshead Revisited and I came to the conclusion that these two men definitely had a lot of sex. If Evelyn Waugh rose from the dead and tweeted that wasn’t his intention, I don’t think English Literature would come to a screaming halt and re-work the whole curriculum, I think they’d just consider his intention to be another interpretation.

What do you think? Are you a writer and have strong thoughts about how you want readers to see your story? Do you like to take Word of God as gospel and like to stay strict to an author’s interpretation?

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RTP #3: Crippling Self-Doubt (A Light Post)

Welcome to the post-change up blog, where, if you haven’t read this post, I’ve been making a few changes in regards to my life. It seems the changes this season aren’t stopping, and while I’m changing my schedule, how I manage my time, and the way I look after myself, I am also changing something so huge that it may affect my whole damn career (if it ever gets that far):

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Since I began kneading a story into shape when I was around fourteen, I have been entirely focused on this WIP which, for the sake of not getting confused, we will call it Sci-Fi WIP. Sci-Fi has taken up so much of my time and thought that it has become this very well rounded novel with 100,000 words and has been critiqued by many beta readers. It was part of my dissertation, as well as having gone through bouts and bouts of edits. I even got to the point of researching agents.

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But that’s where it hit me.

I’m a writer who doesn’t necessarily like to stick to just one genre. I find myself pulled to multiple genres that I’d love to write. But it also means that I’ve sensed a pattern when it comes to debut authors and even authors who churn out books; they keep to their genre. It may be personal preference, but there are crime authors, high fantasy authors, contemporary authors, romance authors etc. Authors do not generally branch out, and if they do, they’re already fairly high profile or it’s only a gentle nudge into a different direction.

A part of me is scared. If I manage to get my Sci-Fi WIP published, are the publishers/my agent going to turn around and say “What more sci-fis have you got for us?” Because here is the thing; I have 0. Big fat fucking zero. This is the only sci-fi story I have ever written, because most recently, I have found my genre to be contemporary. Yes, contemporary with a little darkness, with a little magical realism, but contemporary no less.

I had to have a long hard think: if I had to, what would be the genre I would be able to write for the rest of my life? And I had my answer.

In a perfect world, I would be known as Hollie Wilson, author. But I understand that people write to their strengths as well as for the demand of their audience. If I’m going to get a debut out there, it can’t be a sci-fi, because I’ll feel the pressure to write more sci-fi, of which I know I can’t.

But contemporary? Well, I may have some stuff on the back burner constantly when it comes to it.

And so now, I am working on a new WIP, which we’ll call Church WIP. I have 10,000 words of garbage, and I’m excited to actually show you my writing journey.

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Meeting Your Fave: Author Interactions and Book Signings

2016 marked the second year I attended YALC, or the Young Adult Literature Convention, based in the London Film And Comic Con in London. Yeah, I’ll just stick to saying YALC.

2016 also marked the first year I’d be going to YALC to get books signed by my favourite authors. Last year I had the luck of nabbing a spot at a talk in a Waterstones with Leigh Bardugo and getting my copy of Six of Crows signed, but this year there’d be panel and crowds and queues.

While I’m not one to get excited about celebrities and want pictures and signed things with their faces on, there’s something special about your favourite books being signed by the authors who wrote them.

I often see a signed book as a ‘thank you for writing this loveliness’ with the response of ‘thank you for believing in me and my words’, along with a smitten of ‘thank you for helping me pay my rent and buy food’, but before the end result comes author interaction.

Author interaction is very similar to an interaction with anyone where you know them but they do not know you; often through media or a seemingly ‘elevated platform’. Examples include Youtubers, actors, and singers. Youtubers are a most recent phenomenon, with meetups and meet and greets and anything where you have to queue to meet another human who has no idea who you are but you cry because they bring you so much pleasure.

 

At 23, I don’t really cry at the presence of other people. At 23, I do get excited when I meet other people who bring me so much pleasure, people who have also mastered and make a living out of a craft that I so aspire to master and earn a living out of. It’s inspiring, it’s admirable.

I met three of my favourite authors this year and all were absolutely lovely, humble, and friendly. However, when you’re stood in a queue for over an hour to meet another human for 30 seconds to smile and squiggle their name on your book, you get to thinking about interactions and the weirdness of them.

First of all, I decided that I would not get a picture with any of the authors I interacted with. This might seem stupid, and it’s totally subjective. When I met V.E. Schwab, wizard of the written word, I said to the girl, Kate, in front of me, that I felt weird getting a photo.

“I guess you’ll have the memory of meeting her.” Kate said, who was most definitely getting a photo. And she was right, to me, the memory was enough. But at the same time, I felt oddly uncomfortable already that I had to queue to meet a person who hadn’t the foggiest who I was, but for me to then ask for V.E. Schwab to have her picture taken with a random ass person who queued to meet her?? 

I admire the authors who write the books I love so much. They’re talented and their stories deserve to be read. But there’s something strange to me about being in a similar situation with an author as when I’m 5 and with Mickey Mouse.

I also decided that the definition of you know them but they do not know you will be something I live by. Despite having a fairly large online presence and continuously talking to other bloggers and publishers and authors, when I end up meeting said author in a setting such as a book signing, I just cannot possibly assume that they know me.

And while I don’t think you should take my advice when it comes to not getting a picture (you do what you feel is comfortable/appropriate at the time), I would say this; assuming they don’t know or recognize you is a lot easier to handle than “They know who I am because I speak to them on Twitter occasionally.” and then you get to the front of the queue and while they’re lovely and grateful…no, they do not know you, and you can’t muster up the courage (or dignity) to say “Remember me? From Twitter? It’s @hollieeblog. What do you mean you talk to hundreds of people a day?”

Because they do. They talk to a lot of people on Twitter.

You may be lovely to them and they’re lovely back, but there’s a big difference between being polite and actively DM’ing you to meet up (or something else entirely fantastical).

In a more roundabout way which doesn’t involve copious amount of text, here are the bullet points:

  • Do what you feel is comfortable in each situation. They are obviously happy to meet you and sign your merch and have your picture taken.
  • Queuing to meet another human is weird. Asking for a picture with said human is weirder (for me).
  • Authors probably don’t know who you are. If they do, I’m sure they would say. Assume they don’t, despite all those retweets. At least then it’s a pleasant surprise if they do know you!
  • Queues are often long and apparently excellent thinking time.

 

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