From A to Z: Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

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Last month, I attended the Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop, put on by Madcap Retreats, founded by author Natalie C. Parker (ed. THREE SIDES OF A HEART). I primarily write #ownvoices point-of-view characters, but I want to include organic diversity in my casts. It’s important to me to write fair representation, so I knew this workshop would be beneficial. Plus, I always enjoy hanging out with writers and authors.

The workshop took place March 9–12, 2017 in the Smoky Mountains, in Tennessee. We stayed in a beautiful lodge that was never warm enough for me! There were hot tubs, fireplaces, and yummy food every day. I got to meet some amazing writers, eat lots of chocolate, and learn so much.

We started every day with breakfast at 8 a.m., then had instruction until noon, when we broke for lunch. Then more instruction and breakout sessions until around 3:30 p.m. There was a break until dinner, and then a panel after dinner. Long days, chock full of great information.

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(via Madcap Retreats)

The big speakers were Daniel José Older (SHADOWSHAPER), Nicola Yoon (EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING, THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR), and Leigh Bardugo (SIX OF CROWS, CROOKED KINGDOM), but lots of wisdom was also dropped by Dhonielle Clayton (TINY PRETY THINGS, THE BELLES), Heidi Heilig (THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, THE SHIP BEYOND TIME), Justina Ireland (PROMISE OF SHADOWS), Julie Murphy (DUMPLIN’, RAMONA BLUE), Adi Alsaid (LET’S GET LOST, NEVER ALWAYS, SOMETIMES), and Tessa Gratton (THE CURIOSITIES).

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(via Madcap Retreats)

There was a LOT of information presented at this workshop, so for the sake of brevity, I’m only going to focus on the things that spoke to me the most.

“Writing is personal, and personal is political.”

As writers, we have a great deal of power. We can lift up, or we can destroy. A carelessly placed word in a book could set off deadly ripples for generations. But the perfect sentence can give someone the strength to try another day.

As a writer for teens, I want to lift up. I want my readers to feel valued and like they matter. So the main takeaway I got from the workshop was that to write well cross-culturally, having empathy is KEY. If you are empathetic to the people you’re writing about, you’re naturally going to want to represent them fairly and with care. You will see these characters as 3D people, not as stereotypes or caricatures.

Writing cross-culturally does not mean simply race or ethnicity. It’s all identity markers, including but not limited to:

  • race
  • sexual identity
  • disabilities
  • religion
  • ethnicity

All of these are deeply personal markers, but also highly political. For some of us, our very existence is political. We are all programmed with unconscious stereotypes, and that carries over to our writing. So, how do we fight this?

In publishing, media, and movies, some groups are only allowed a single story. I’ve touched on this before. That story becomes the narrative for everyone in that group. Black stories are only allowed to be urban or Civil Rights or slavery. LGBT+ stories are all coming out narratives, just to name a couple. This single narrative creates stereotypes. Now, the stereotypes may not be untrue, but they are always incomplete. It robs people of their dignity.

Danger of a Single Story TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie (3:48) (entire talk)

So, how does one write cross-culturally with sensitivity and with care? How does one avoid writing this same narrative, this dangerous single story?

  1. Read widely. Check out books and writers outside of your comfort zone. Look at what came before and how it was received and criticized. Google stereotypes and work to deconstruct them. Learn your tropes, and keep them in mind as you write. TV Tropes is an amazing resource, but be forewarned—you can easily get lost in a weeks-long rabbit hole there!
  2. Write with empathy. See the characters as individuals. Be specific and intentional in creating these characters. Go deeper than appearance, the foods they eat, the clothing they wear. What is in their heart? What makes them vulnerable? Then, write for the entire audience, not just those who share your viewpoint.
  3. Get some diverse friends! Learn about them as individuals, not as one-dimensional figures to serve as plot fodder.
  4. Checks and balances. Get a reader outside your cultural lens. Get a reader from the group you’re writing about. If the cost is prohibitive, consider trade or another service. This is hard, heartbreaking work, and the readers deserve compensation. If you do make mistakes (and we all do and will), it’s OK. Accept it. Listen to feedback, even if it’s uncomfortable. Then, revise!

OK, this is a lot of work, right? Becoming aware of these stereotypes and actively working to fight them is a LOT. So why would anyone decide to take this on, if they simply want to tell stories? The answer is that writers tell truth, and the truth is that we live in a diverse world. And if you’re willing to study things like plot, structure, and pacing, why not study this important and essential part of characterization?

Finally, if you are writing cross-culturally, please be mindful of your privilege and whose spot you may be taking. Many authors of certain marginalizations are still being told “We already have our [insert marginalization here] book for the year, so we’re going to pass on yours.” And that spot is usually taken by someone from a dominant group. Ask yourself, always ask yourself, is this your story to tell? Are you willing to do the work to deconstruct stereotypes and avoid presenting people as one-note? Are you willing to focus on the smaller things, building a character from that soft place inside? Are you willing to be empathetic? If so, then you’re 90% of the way there.

The right book can create empathy, understanding, and possibility. The right book can change the world, or the world of one person. The right book can save lives.

Look at all these people who want to change the world.

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(via Madcap Retreats)


This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.

 

Chicago Writes: Writing Conferences in 2017!

I’m a huge proponent of writing conferences. They’re great for honing your craft, learning about the industry, networking and meeting other writers, and many have pitch appointments and pitch events!

For YA there are many conferences all over. Here are a few great ones you can consider if you’re looking into going to a writing conference in 2017!

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Conferences in Chicago

ALA Annual Conference

June 22-27, 2017: Chicago, IL. The annual conference of the American Library Association.

Cost:

  • (non-member) Early Bird $375
  • By 6/16 at noon $400
  • Onsite $440
  • Single day $205
  • Exhibits only $75

The Writing Workshop of Chicago

June 24, 2017: Chicago, IL. A one-day workshop on “How to Get Published.”

Cost:

  • Early Bird $169
  • Add $29 to secure a 10-minute one-on-one pitch appointment.

Boston Teen Author Festival (BTAF)

Boston Teen Author Festival is September 23, 2017 at the  Cambridge Public Library. The Boston Teen Author Festival is bringing YA to Boston! They aim to unite the best young adult authors with their fans, old and new. It’s mostly for fans of books, but they have offered pitch appointments in the past.

Cost: Free

Bookcon

(more for fans of books than for writers)

Bookcon is June 2-4. 2017 in New York City. BookCon is the event where storytelling and pop culture collide. Experience the origin of the story in all its forms by interacting with the authors, publishers, celebrities and creators of content that influence everything we read, hear and see. BookCon is an immersive experience that features interactive, forward thinking content including Q&As with the hottest talent, autographing sessions, storytelling podcasts, special screenings, literary quiz shows and so much more. BookCon is the ultimate celebration of books, where your favorite stories come to life.

Cost:

  • Saturday Adult $35
  • Sunday Adult $30
  • Children $10

Las Vegas Writer’s Conference

Las Vegas Writer’s Conference on April 20-22, 2017.Throughout the weekend, you will be able to meet and socialize with our faculty, pitch to agents and publishers, and learn from experts in fields connected to writing and publishing.

Cost:

  • Early (until 1/31/17): $425
  • Full (beginning 2/1/17): $500
  • Friday Only: $300
  • Saturday Only $300

Midwest Writers Workshop

The Midwest Writers Workshop is in Muncie, Indiana on July 20-22, 2017. This annual summer conference offers 45+ different instructional sessions with top quality faculty on everything from fiction to nonfiction, marketing, and ways to get your creative juices flowing.

Cost:

  • Part I: Intensive Session (Thursday) $155
  • Part II: Thursday evening, Friday & Saturday $300
  • Part I & Part II: $400

One-Day Writer’s Day Workshops

1-day Writer’s Day workshops. These writing events are a wonderful opportunity to get intense instruction over the course of one day, pitch a literary agent or editor (optional), get your questions answered, and more.

March 25, 2017: The Writers Conference of Michigan outside Detroit.

March 25, 2017: Kansas City Writers Conference in Kansas City, MO.

April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop Philadelphia, PA

April 22, 2017: Kentucky Writing Workshop Louisville, KY

April 22, 2017: New Orleans Writing Workshop in New Orleans, LA.

May 6, 2017: Seattle Writing Workshop Seattle, WA

May 19-21, 2017: PennWriters Conference Pittsburgh, PA

June 8-10, 2017: Carnegie Center Books-in-Progress Writers Conference Lexington, KY

July 22, 2017: Tennessee Writing Conference Nashville, TN

Sept. 9, 2017: Chesapeake Writing Workshop outside Washington, DC

Cost:

  • Early Bird Price between $149-169
  • $29 add-on for one-on-one pitch appointments

Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference

Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference is on April 28-30, 2017 in Colorado Springs, CO. Pikes Peak Writers Conference has a welcoming, friendly atmosphere filled with the topics that interest you the most, and perhaps a few topics that you will become interested in after. You will be surrounded by industry professionals and other dreamers who are eager to learn, connect and network.

Cost:

  • Early bird pricing is $395.
  • Regular pricing is $415 from November 15, 2016 through March 15, 2017.
  • Late pricing is $475 from March 16, 2017 through April 24, 2017.

Romantic Times Convention (RTCon)

RT Con is taking place on May 2-7, 2017 this year in Atlanta, Georgia. While it is mainly for romance, there is a very robust YA section. It also lets you sign up for pitch appointments and you can do Pitchapalooza (like speed dating for pitching!).

Cost: 

  • $450 for Readers

  • $495 Published Authors, Aspiring Authors, Bloggers, and Reviewers

  • $20 for Teen Day NOTE: Teens/Tweens 15 years and younger are required to have a chaperone ($15 per chaperone). Children under 8 years old are not permitted in convention area and/or in workshops and Teen Day Party. Tickets for adults who want to attend the Teen Day Program is $20.  (Does not include the evening party)

  • $55 for FAN-tastic Day Pass (includes the Giant Book Fair, workshops, and the FAN-Tastic Day Party, but not the evening party)

Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators Annual Conferences

Annual Winter Conference in New York (February 10 -February 12, 2017)

The Annual Winter Conference is held over two days with an optional intensive day on Friday. The conference is held at the Hyatt Grand Central at Grand Central Station in New York City.

Note: This year’s SCBWI Winter Conference has passed, but it occurs every winter in New York City.

Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles (July 7-10, 2017)

The Annual Summer Conference spans three days with an optional intensive day on Monday. The conference is held each year in Los Angeles. Registration for the 2017 conference will commence in March, 2017. Many of the biggest authors and illustrators in children’s books will be joining a bevy of agents, art directors and editors.

Writer’s Digest Annual Conference

Writer’s Digest East Annual Conference on August 18–20, 2017 in New York City has panels and workshops as well as over 50 agents and editors. You can also partake in Pitch Slam!

Cost:

  • Before 4/17 $399
  • 4/18-8/17 $449
  • Onsite $499

Online Conferences

Going to conferences can be expensive, so here are some online ones that you can look into attending!

Write on Con

Note: already passed, but it seems the idea will be to repeat this online conference annually.

Feb 2-4, 2017. WriteOnCon is a three-day online children’s book conference for writers and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, young adult, and even new adult. It was founded in 2010 and is now run by a new team of writers who are eager to hearken back to the awesomeness that they remember so fondly from being attendees over the years, while also bringing exciting new elements to the mix.

Cost:

  • $5 general admission
  • $10 to get into live events
  • $15 for extended access (so you’ll be able to see everything for a month after the conference ends)

Manuscript Academy

They offer world-class publishing instruction that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your home or your favorite coffeeshop. Unlike traditional conferences, you simply need a computer, a tablet, or even your smartphone to log in and enjoy the very best instruction from some of the top minds in the literary community. Every online Manuscript Academy conference will give you the full educational and networking value of a traditional writing conference, but without the hassle of travel, paying for meals out, or arranging childcare.

Cost: $225

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This post is brought to you by Kat Cho at ChiYAwriters.com.