Posts Tagged ‘racism’

I’ve been trying to think of the words to say for hours. I’ve been wondering if I should say anything. I’ve wanted to throw myself into anime or a book or into any form of entertainment, because sometimes the made-up worlds are better than the real one we inhabit. In the end though, I had to say something. I think I knew I was going to the moment I heard what happened today. And I had to let you know, I’m afraid in a way I don’t like to be.

Earlier today, a man named Robert Bowers opened fire at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Three different services for three different congregations were being held that morning, with nearly a hundred people in the synagogue. Eleven people were killed and several more were injured, including four of the police officers who showed up to subdue Bowers, who has made numerous statements on social media about the Jews and “invaders,” aka immigrants and refugees. Tree of Life has been active with organizations that help out immigrants and refugees, including most notably HIAS, which may have played a role in Bowers’s selection of Tree of Life as his target. He has been captured and is awaiting being charged, including federal hate crime charges.

I found out about the shooting this afternoon while out with my cousin, who is here in Columbus for an internship. A friend sent me a link to an article about it. I felt my blood go cold, but I didn’t tell my cousin. I didn’t want to ruin the day for him. I’m sure by now he knows. And he’s probably as scared as me.

This is the second mass shooting in the United States that has been associated with one of the facets of my identity. The last one was when Pulse was shot up in Orlando, Florida, two days after my twenty-third birthday. Pulse was a gay nightclub. Fort-nine people died. I’m bisexual. I wasn’t affected directly, but I was affected.

This was worse. I’ve been Jewish, knew I was Jewish well before I was aware I was bisexual. I feel connected to my religion in so many ways. In college, I studied the Holocaust and have pursued it further since. I’ve noticed the climb in anti-Semitism in the United States over the last two years.

And I knew people from Tree of Life. In high school, my synagogue’s youth group would meet up with other youth groups from throughout the region several times a year to hang out and be Jewish as a group. Tree of Life would sometimes join us.

And before my family moved to Columbus, we considered living in Pittsburgh. We even visited to look at houses and to see what the schools and synagogues were like. I don’t remember what synagogue we were considering joining, but for all I know, it could’ve been Tree of Life. And even if it wasn’t, who knows where I might’ve ended up worshiping later in life. Who knows what might’ve happened if my parents had decided Pittsburgh was a better choice than Columbus?

I’m afraid. I’ve known for a while how anti-Semitism in the US and around the world have been making a comeback. I knew it was real. But it’s no longer that far removed from me. It struck close today.

I’m terrified. But I don’t want to be terrified. And, as happens when I’m scared, I have to fight and conquer what scares me.

We need to do more to stop monsters like this poor excuse for a man. Or more like him will copy him. And many more may die.

The Anti-Defamation League said this was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in this country, and that it’s “unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age.” I say that it was not only thinkable, but more than likely to happen at some point. And that’s the problem we need to fix.

People are going to offer thoughts and prayers and suggest armed guards to stop this from happening again. The thing is, the people at Tree of Life were thinking and praying. Among our liturgy are prayers to be kept safe from the enemies of our people. And many synagogues already have security in the form of retired or off-duty police officers. And as we saw at the Stoneman Douglas shooting earlier this year, the presence of an armed guard doesn’t always deter a violent man with a gun and a goal in mind.

I’m a big believer in the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.” I also believe that if you take a step towards a goal, the universe takes a step with you. And I think it’s high-time we treat this chronic disease we’ve been dealing with in the United States for far too long. Very soon, Americans everywhere will have the chance to set the course of our country for the next couple years. I’m asking every American reading this, and all the ones who aren’t, to take advantage of this opportunity to set this course. And to please set a course that involves making the requirements to own a gun as stringent as the ones to drive a car, as well as increased care and research for mental illness, and for higher tolerance for all peoples, not just the Jewish people.

Because in the end, we are all one humanity. Forty-six genes in every cell, five fingers and toes on each limb, same organs and blood that is red and carries oxygen to our cells. And if we can’t make members of our species realize that, what good are we as a whole?

I also encourage you to donate to HIAS and other organizations that try to foster understanding and help those less fortunate than others. Because in the face of hate, the most powerful weapon we have is love. So show love.

Make your voice heard.

Take action.

Because all evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing. And we can’t allow that to happen.

Be brave. Fight back against evil. And above all, be safe.

Thanks for listening.

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It’s been a rough day. Let’s talk the intricacies and difficulties of writing fiction!

I often like to talk like a know-it-all on this blog, but let’s face it, there’s still things I could be better at. Or that I think I could be better at. One of those things is themes. Most stories have them: Harry Potter has destiny vs. fate, prejudice, and our relationship with death; The Shawshank Redemption is about finding hope in a hopeless place, learning to survive and even find ways to thrive in harsh conditions, and, of course, redemption; and The Very Hungry Caterpillar is about how the inevitability of change crafted by thousands of years of evolution and the incessant need to feed to support the process.

Okay, that last one is a huge stretch, but you get the idea. Plenty of stories have deeper meanings and commentaries wrapped into them, like several candle wicks wrapped together to form a new and beautiful candle. Some of these stories are written with the theme in mind, while others arise during the writing of the story. And depending on the kind of story, it can seem odd if a story does or doesn’t have a theme (I wouldn’t expect one from any variation of The Three Little Pigs, but I would expect plenty of thematic elements in an Anne Rice novel).

But how well you carry the theme can vary sometimes. It’s like carrying a tune: sometimes you’re able to do it well, sometimes it varies depending on the tune, and some people, like me, can’t carry a tune that well at all (though that never stops me when there’s a karaoke party going on). With some of the stories I’ve been working on lately, I’ve been trying to figure out how well I carry the themes written into them. And after a lot of thought, I’ve come to the realization that authors are probably not the best people to judge their own work.

Which is probably why we have beta readers and editors, now that I think about it.

With Rose, there’s a big theme of toxic masculinity, especially in the latest draft, that becomes more and more apparent as the story goes on. That theme kind of arose on its own while I wrote and edited and re-edited the story, and I like to think I carry it very well in the book,* though at times I wonder if I’m being a little too obvious with it. Meanwhile, in this novella I’m working on now, there’s a pretty obvious theme about the perils of racism. I’m not too sure how I’m carrying it, if maybe the angle I’m going for or just the way I carry it is the problem.

Then again, some really good stories do go about exploring racism without being subtle at all. Heck, sometimes that’s the point. A Raisin in the Sun makes no attempt to hide what it’s about. And the novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett has been criticized about how it portrays and explores race relations (as well as who’s writing it), but it still gets its point across very well. Maybe I’m doing something right after all.

Despite my own uncertainties about how well I carry themes, I still write and try to carry them as best I can. What else am I supposed to do? I’m not going to give up writing anytime soon just because I’m unsure of how well an idea or a deeper meaning in one of my stories is presented. Hell, I should keep writing, because that’s how I’m going to get better at carrying them. And if I make a few mistakes along the way, I’ll just pick myself up and try again, either by editing the story or trying to write a new one. It beats beating myself up over it, right?

Besides, I may be my own worst judge. What I see as clumsy carrying, others might see as pretty damn good. And that’s reason enough for me to continue writing in the first place.

*Which I hope to have more news on soon. Thank you, as always, for your continued patience as my publisher Castrum Press and I make sure that Rose is up to snuff before publishing.

I came home from the grocery story just a little while ago, and logged into my email after I put the groceries away. I was surprised and pleased to see an email from my fabulous editor, Britney Thompson Mills, with her marks and remarks on the third draft of Video Rage. You know what that means! One more draft and we begin the publication process!

Now if you don’t know what Video Rage is, it’s the sequel to my first novel, Reborn City.  And if you don’t know what Reborn City is, it’s the story of street gangs in a dystopian city-state in Earth’s near future, and a conspiracy involving the leaders of a rising gang known as the Hydras and the leaders of the city. The novel features themes of Islamaphobia, racism, drug addiction, gang violence, and overcoming other people’s expectations. It’s also a bit more realistic than other dystopian stories, with problems that mirror problems of today’s world, and a society that you can actually imagine forming.

Reborn City, my very first published novel.

Reborn City, my very first published novel.

The sequel to Reborn City, Video Rage, follows the Hydras soon after the end of the first novel, as they face the same problems made that much worse, and deal with new threats that are intent on taking their lives. I’ve been working on VR since my third year of college, and I’m glad to see that we’re finally just one step away from publication. So I’ll take a break from working on Rose–I’ve only gotten a tiny bit of that edited, anyway, so no big deal–and get through VR as fast as my little fingers can type.

In fact, I think I’ll start tonight! Look forward to seeing a post with a release date some time in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, why not check out Reborn City? A lot of people have told me that they really enjoyed reading the book, and that they cannot wait to read VR. So if you think it sounds interesting and want to check the novel out, you can find copies in paperback and e-book from Amazon, Createspace, and Smashwords. And whatever your thoughts, please let me know what you think. Review, comment, I love some good feedback, and I would love to hear yours.

And if you’re an author looking for someone to edit your book, why not check out Britney’s website? She’s got great skills and she’ll give your book the touch-up it needs. I speak from personal experience, and I highly recommend her.

That’s all for now. See you in a few hours, when it’s Friday (you know what that means). I’m off to edit!

How many of you are fans of my first novel, Reborn City? I’m hoping a lot of you are thinking to yourselves “I am!” or “It’s something I’ve been meaning to check out”, because I’ve got some good news for you! As you know, I’ve been editing RC‘s sequel Video Rage on and off since I finished the first draft, and that I wanted to have another editor take a look at it before I get it published and into your hands.

Well, here’s where the good news comes in: I met an editor through one of my writing groups on Facebook who was willing to work within my budget. Her name is Britney Mills, and can I just say, she does great work and a fast turnaround? She read through RC within a few weeks, and then read through VR within a similar amount of time. I was like, “WOW!” And she does amazing work. I looked over three of VR‘s chapters last night with her corrections, and it’s all solid suggestions and points. Definitely what I was looking for in an editor.

So now that I have a third party’s feedback on VR, I’m going to dive right into editing tonight, making corrections and thinking about Britney’s suggestions. After I’ve done all that (and hopefully that won’t take more than a few weeks), I’ll send it back to Britney for her to take another look at. Once she gets back to me and any other problems she finds are corrected, I’m going to say “Done!” with VR, send it off to the copyright office, have a cover designed, and once all that’s taken care of, set a release date.

In short, Video Rage will be published sometime later this year.

Yeah, exciting news, right? Especially for my three biggest fans of the first book (aka my mother, my sister, and my stepmom). I can’t be more exact on a release date, but I’m hoping for a summer release. And I promise you, it’s going to be good. Britney told me in her email from last night that one of the things she liked about VR is that it “did a great job of keeping things interesting but not letting me guess ahead of time what is going to happen”. I think that’s a very good sign.

Reborn City

Reborn City

So if you’re looking forward to Video Rage and are tired of the wait, you can start getting ready for more adventures of the Hydras. And if at all you’re now interested in reading the first book Reborn City, it’s available from Amazon, Createspace, and Smashwords. From what people tell me, it’s my most popular book right now, and it’s not hard to see why. The story follows Zahara Bakur, a Muslim teenager in the dystopian city-state of Reborn City as she’s forced to join an interracial street gang known as the Hydras for protection. It’s a great book that includes themes of gang violence, racism and Islamaphobia, drug addiction, and many others (and if you’re tired of dystopian fiction that you can’t imagine actually happening in the world, like Hunger Games or Divergent, you might find RC more appealing).

And if you’re an author looking for an outside party to take a look at your book and make sure it’s up to scratch, I highly recommend Britney’s services. She gives great feedback, does a quick turn around, and I didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for her help. You can check out her website, Writing Unblocked, if you like for more information.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got a few things to take care of today before I start editing, so I’m going to get on that. As more news comes in, I’ll make sure to update you. Have a good one, everybody!

Oh, and if any of you do decide to read Reborn City, make sure to let me know what you think, either in a comment or a review online. Positive or negative, I love feedback, and it helps me become a better writer in the end. Thanks!

I read an article on BuzzFeed yesterday that really upset me. According to the article, emails from the University of Chicago’s chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a historically Jewish fraternity, had been released and revealed a culture of racism and Islamaphobia within the chapter. The N-word was used prolifically, Muslims were called “terrorists” or “towel heads”, a vacant lot next to the fraternity’s house was called “Palestine”, and some of the brothers turned MLK Day into “Marathon Luther King Day”, celebrating with drinking and eating at a fried chicken place.

Over the past couple of years, stories about fraternities and some of the disgusting things going on within their walls have been coming out. Every time I’m absolutely disgusted, but this one hit me in a number of ways. For one thing, I have friends who are part of the Ohio State chapter of AEPi. They are good people, upstanding young men connected to their heritage and active in the broader community. To think they are in any way associated with this scandal just horrifies me.

Alpha Epsilon Pi’s University of Chicago branch is in deep trouble for the emails that have been uncovered.

But that’s only one level that this hit me on. Because this story also brought back memories from when I was young:

I went to a Jewish overnight camp from fifth grade to tenth grade. During my last year or two there, I noticed a disturbing trend among the boys in my year. Swearing was a regular part of camp culture–even the counselors swore on occasion–so saying “shit” or the F-bomb didn’t make me bat an eye. In fact, I reveled in it. We were being adult, we were being naughty. It was great.

But then I heard my friends calling each other “n***er”, and occasionally “faggot” or “fag”.

Understand, there were no black kids or staff on the camp, at least not as far as I know. This was also well before I realized I was bisexual. And my friends assured me their black friends were cool with it.

Even if I believed them, I still told them that I wasn’t comfortable with it, that they shouldn’t say it, or at least not around me.

Maybe it’s because I was bullied a lot back in the third grade (most of it verbal) and it left a big impact on me, but I’m sensitive to when people use words to hurt others. Especially those words. As much as words only have meaning if we give them meaning, these words do carry a meaning bred in deep history, and the meanings are not easily separated from the words. Every time a white person uses the N-word, they’re saying that African-Americans are lesser beings, second-class citizens and do not have the same rights as people with light skin. Every time someone calls a Jew a kike (like when, after a soccer match between my all-Jewish high school and a school of mostly African-American Christians, the opposing team began using the word after they lost the game and things nearly came to blows), that someone is calling the Jewish people a strange people, a parasite that takes money and power and killed the Christian God. Every time someone calls someone else a fag, they’re saying that there’s something inhuman or strange or obscene about being LGBT. And every time someone–not just a fraternity brother–calls a Muslim or a Palestinian a terrorist, they’re saying that entire religion is incapable of being peaceful, that their whole goal is destruction. That’s all completely wrong, and there’s not excuse to use those words.

Even if I had been as eloquent then as I am now, I doubt that would’ve swayed my friends, because they continued saying those words without any care to my feelings. Even when the head counselor of our year had a discussion with us one evening about how disgusting we were being. Even after, while on a field trip to the city, my friend said the N-word and it was almost overheard by a passing black man. They just went on saying all those nasty words and by doing so, they were saying it was okay to say words charged with prejudice and not care whom it might hurt.

For the first time today I wondered if any of my camp friends ended up at University of Chicago, and then at the school’s chapter of AEPi. Those camps have the effect of bringing Jewish teens closer to their heritage. Maybe some of my friends went there and brought some of their bad habits with them.

Believe it or not, this is some of the nicer things this sort of uncaring attitude can lead to.

The only time I approve of those words are when they’re used in mediums like literature or film to illustrate a particular time period or mindset, like in Huckleberry Finn or even in my own Reborn City. The rest of the time, there’s no good reason to say that trash. Not only is it hurtful to the people those words denote, they are harmful to the people saying those words, desensitizing them to the effects of these words. At best, that leads to dumb crap from fraternities and doddering old men in front of cameras or near cell phones. At worst, that leads to hate groups, violence, and lynchings or shootings in churches.

My hope that in the wake of this scandal, people–especially students and teenagers–realize that you can’t be blase about saying the N-word or calling people terrorists because of where they’re from or what their beliefs are. They’re hurtful. They’re damaging. And I hope that maybe the backlash these students will get will teach them and others what happens when you’re not cognizant of the feelings of others.

And I hope my friends from those long ago days aren’t members of that fraternity, and that they learned long before this what your words can do to themselves and to others.

RC cover

It’s been a long time in the making, and a lot of work since I announced that I was planning on turning Reborn City, my science-fiction novel, into an audio book back in August. I listened to a lot of audio samples, contacted a bunch of potential narrators, and even received a couple of auditions. But as of today, I am very pleased to announce that Reborn City has a narrator!

If you’re unfamiliar with Reborn City, it’s a dystopian science fiction novel that follows Zahara Bakur, a Muslim teenager who’s forced to join a street gang called the Hydras, and her involvement in a strange plot involving the gang’s superpowered leaders and the shadowy corporation that rules the city they live in. The novel contains themes of Islamaphobia, racism, gang violence, drug addiction and several others.

It also is a world that has much more resemblance to our own than Hunger Games or Divergent does (just look at the refugee situation these days and how some governments have responded to refugees these days) and I like to think it makes a little more sense than those books.

The audio book will be narrated by Barron Bass, an actor and voice artist based out of New York (check out his website here). I heard some of his samples on ACX, the website I’m using to produce the audio book (see my article on that site here). I liked what I heard, and I started corresponding with him. Once I heard his audition, I had a pretty good feeling I’d found my man. After some more weeks of correspondence, I sent him an offer and he accepted.

Our esteemed narrator, Barron Bass.

Now, I’m hoping we’ll have the whole thing done by early March, but I’m flexible. If Mr. Bass needs more time, I’m willing to give it to him. You can’t rush perfection, after all.

So I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next, which following the production process on ACX is that the first fifteen minutes of the book are recorded for my approval. After that, I give some feedback, and we work chapter by chapter on the book. Once it’s all done and it’s uploaded onto Amazon, Audible, and iTunes, I’m hoping a lot of people decide to check it out and take a listen. Maybe leave a few reviews while they’re at it.

And if RC does well, then maybe I’ll do Snake as well, and any other book I decide to publish from here on out. We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, I’m going to go do my happy dance. Have a good rest of your day, my Followers of Fear. I know I am.

If you’ve known me for a while, I’m big on trying to correct injustices and inequalities. Racism is a big one for me, and when I hear people say “Racism’s dead” or “It’s not as big a deal as people make it out to be”, I’m among those pointing out why those folks are so wrong. In my own fiction I try to create casts that are very diverse, using characters with different sexual orientations, religions, genders, gender identities, ages, and races, among others.

Which brings me to why I’m writing this post. The past couple of days I’ve been working on a new short story that will probably turn into a novelette, based on how many words I’ve written so far. In it, four of the main characters are white, while one of them is black (and in a relationship with another male character, but I digress). While writing the first scene in the story, I was trying to point out the that Fred, my black character, is black. Why? Because I worry that unless I point it out, they’re going to assume he’s white.

Realizing that I was thinking this made me stop and think about my other works. Why do I take the time to point out a character’s race? Do I do the same thing for my white characters? And why do I assume that they’ll think I’m white in the first place?

On that last question, my roommate here in Germany, who has a background in psychology, was able to provide the answer to this question of mine one morning while waiting for the bus: “Most people tend to transfer their own qualities to others, including characters in stories.” That makes sense to me, and I’ve got a personal anecdote to back it up (I know anecdotes don’t count as scientific data, but bear with me): when I was 17 I spent five weeks in Israel and at one point we passed by a bookstore with some books in English. Having already read through the two books I’d brought with me (no surprise there), I went in, browsed the titles, and bought I, Alex Cross by James Patterson. This was my first Alex Cross book, but sixteenth in the series overall, and at first I didn’t find any indications to clue me into the fact that the protagonist was black. It wasn’t till midway through the book that I realized from the conversation between Cross and his grandma that they were black! Had to really adjust my image of the guy in my head right there, as well as several other characters.

Funny what reading out of order and a few misconceptions can do.

But in this line of thinking, wouldn’t this mean I assume all my readers are white? Well, I know for a fact that’s not the case: while I still have a relatively small readership (both in terms of books and blogging), they come from a variety of backgrounds. Some I know personally and off the Internet, and can attest is that they’re not white. What I worry about is that they’re going to transfer my race, which is white, to my characters. And it’s not a crazy concept: if you had never read or seen Harry Potter and heard about it and then saw a picture of JK Rowling, what would you assume the protagonist’s race was? I’d say you’d guess white.

And in a strange way, I’m helping my readers come to these assumptions. Unless I’m noting how pale a characters’s skin is, I generally don’t do anything to indicate a character is white. In Snake, where a majority of the characters were white, I did very little in terms of description when it came to skin color, and yet I’m pretty sure everyone who read the book was able to figure out my characters’ races just fine. The same in Reborn City: except for noting that Ilse has very pale skin, my white characters didn’t get any indications to clue the readers into their whiteness, while every character of another race did get indicators.

So why is there this collaboration between my readers and I? And do other authors do this?

For the second question, I’d say yes. I’ve seen plenty of other authors do this, including idols of mine like JK Rowling and Stephen King. And for the first, I think it might have something to do not just with the transference thing my roommate mentioned, but also with the society I live in. Think about it: while America may have a black president now and there are more people-of-color in the media than ever before, it’s still a very white-centric society. Because of this, I think that means, along with transference, I don’t feel the need to give indicators for white characters because in America, whiteness is still considered “the norm”, and my readers won’t imagine my characters a different color unless told otherwise because they’ve been conditioned to feel that whiteness is still “the norm.”

And I’m sure that if I were of a different race in a different country or culture, the same concept would apply. If I were Middle Eastern writing in Israel, probably all my characters would be Israeli Jews or Palestinians and I’d give indicators for tourists or Ethiopian or Russian Jews. If I lived in China and was Chinese, I’d probably only give indicators for non-Chinese Asians or Americans or something along those lines.

So to wrap this whole post up, the way my mind works, plus the way my readers’ minds work and the society we were raised in all collaborate in this strange need I have to mark my characters so as not to give my readers a false impression. Funny how that works. Even weirder that it makes sense to me as I write about it, and that I’m not sure whether or not I feel anything about it other than it being strange. Maybe that’s just how one should feel about something like this. Not liking or disliking it, but accepting it as one of those weird facts of life.

Well, I’ve gone on and on about this subject for a while now. Now I’d like your opinion on it. Do you think what I’m doing with non-white characters here is strange? Why or why not? And do you ever do the same thing in your writing? Why? Let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts, Followers of Fear.