Friday, September 28, 2012

Multicultural Characters in YA

I know this is a well-discussed topic, however, I wanted to discuss it a bit more. One of the recent emails I received from my agent—gonna take me a while to get used to writing/saying that. My Agent!—listed all the things she loved about my ms. Diversity was one of them. She mentioned a specific passage she thought was handled well.

My MC is Cuban-American. She is second generation American and doesn’t speak much Spanish. I thought hard about that when she came to me as this tall, awkward, olive-skinned, Cuban girl with a love of auto mechanics. I don’t speak Spanish, although I’m on my way to learning. I didn’t want her to be CINO: Cuban In Name Only. But I didn’t want my book to be full of my flawed Spanish either-lol.

I had two things going for me. 1. I was writing this book in English and therefore, I didn’t need that much Spanish and 2. I used to live in Miami. Anyone who’s lived in, visited, flown over southern Florida knows it’s almost like living in Cuba. I had a diverse group of friends, ate Cuban food, danced in Cuban clubs with Cuban men…hem-hem, getting off topic. My point is I decided I had enough knowledge to create a character with first generation, Spanish speaking parents and make it as authentic as my experiences would allow.

One of my MC’s best friends is Jewish. As he is a side character and we don’t meet any of his family, and I didn’t want to play on the stereotypes, there are only certain things that will point to his Jewish-ness. I did consult with a few of my Jewish friends with some of the things I had him saying and doing. One thing in particular was his Jew-fro. He has very bushy hair and while I couldn’t see that being offensive, I wanted to check and make sure.

My MC’s other best friend is black. I didn’t really have to consult with anyone as I have personal experience being a 16 yr old black girl-lol. Although, I was never the daughter of a mega-rich rapper who just crossed over to action film star. But even as I tried to stay clear of stereotypes, they are there for a reason. They are based in some truth.

Years ago I was speaking with a fellow writer who explained why she wasn’t comfortable having a main character of a different race. She said it was because she had no experience being a black, Asian, or Hispanic woman so she couldn’t write them authentically. Well, I’ve never had any experience being a man, a white woman, a vampire, or a werewolf but I write them. That’s what research is for. That’s what exposing yourself to other cultures is for. I think these are things we owe to our readers. Showing them other worlds means showing them worlds with other races outside of the one you currently inhabit.

With all that said, you have to be comfortable to write well. So maybe everything I just said won’t matter to you. But it is a huge market that’s being underrepresented.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


This story is a year in the making. I queried The Sheldon Fogelman Agency back in June 2011, sending along three chapters. The request for the full came in July. At the time I had a few other fulls and partials out and was happy to add one more to the list!

In the meantime I began writing another book. I continued to check the forums for any information on all the agents who currently had my work—you know, just in case there was a scathing update about them that turned me off. All the while I wrote and bit my nails to the quick!

Well, a few rejections came in. *Bummer* But my new philosophy was, all those who rejected me just made room for my agent to come.

After about two months, I knew I hadn’t heard from a few agencies, namely The Sheldon Fogelman Agency. I waited another few weeks and then sent out emails for status updates. Only one agency got back to me.

Three guesses which one.

That scored them major points with me, because not only did they get back to me, but they got RIGHT back to me—within a few hours. The submissions coordinator, Amy—who is now an assistant agent—assured me that I had not been forgotten and had apologized for the long wait. Um…I could totally be patient, cuz what was the alternative? Telling them that I wouldn’t wait for them to consider my work? Yeah, cuz I just went crazy, right?

Over the next five months I sent two more status emails. Both emails were responded to quickly and both gave me a bit more hope as they said things like, “The fact that we haven’t made a decision about your manuscript is a good sign.” Apparently, my manuscript received a very positive first read and needed to be read by the rest of the staff. Once I knew that, I was content to wait…well, content-ish.

Then one day in April I got an email from Janine Hauber saying she managed foreign rights at The Sheldon Fogelman Agency and was now taking on her own clients. She was very interested in working with me if Platinum Diaries was still available.

Hell yeah it is! ‘Course, I didn’t write that, but I was screaming it—in my head since I was standing in line buying some much needed summer clothes-lol.

Long story, short—I know, too late, right?—she asked for revisions and sent me the most wonderful email with her views on what worked and what didn’t. That email seemed to awaken all these ideas and thoughts I hadn’t even known I had about my manuscript. That has to be the most awesome thing about having an agent. She loves my story and can guide me in the right direction.

We actually had two phone calls. The first, I knew she wasn’t going to offer, because they are a very collaborative agency—which is something else I love—and she needed to talk with me first. You know, make sure I’m not crazy, or in my case, have my crazy well contained-lol.

We had a great conversation. She answered a lot of my questions and I answered hers. Then, she took the revisions I made and passed them on to her colleagues. After they read it, an editorial meeting was set to review Platinum Diaries as well as the manuscript I’d been working on in the meantime. While this was going on, I went on a 10-day cruise-lol. I came back from vacation on September 9th. Took the 10th to decompress and emailed Janine on the 11th. As luck would have it they were having the editorial meeting about my work that day!

She called me at 5pm that night and offered to rep me!!! I tried not to scream my acceptance, but I’m not sure I succeeded.

It was a long wait, but I think it was meant to be. And it really didn’t feel like a year, not when I kept writing and living and doing all the other things we writers do to distract ourselves. I’m just really happy with Janine. It’s a wonderful feeling to talk with someone who is excited about your work and gets your characters.

So there you have it, my “how I got my agent” story.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When to Disregard a Comment

As I’ve been working with critique partners for the past few months, the one thing that’s always come up is when to heed or ignore a comment given about your work. Luckily, with this last project, I haven’t had many comments that I disagreed with. However, in the past I’ve had some feedback that nearly blew me off my feet.

From rude, to ignorant, to right out of left field—like they’d been reading someone else’s book and confused it with mine. These types of comments are easy to flush away, even though they often stick with you.

It’s the ones that are kind and thoughtful and full of respect for your work that make you bite your nails to the quick trying to decide if you should follow it or disregard.

I recently had a comment that had all the makings of a stress induced ulcer, but somehow it didn’t:

My wonderful crit partner, Abby suggested that I delete an entire chapter! What?! Oh no she di’nt! LOL. Now, being on both ends of that type of suggestion, having given similar advice to a crit partner of mine and having been given that advice by Abby, I know she did not offer that advice lightly. To be honest, I only read the first line of her long comment—which went something like this: Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think this chapter is needed.

I stopped reading there. Not because I was angry or heartbroken that she didn’t love every last inch of my novel. I stopped to think. I ran through that chapter in my mind and although there were some sweet moments with the male lead and his mother, the chapter didn’t add much to the story. Not only that, but it took away tension from the female lead and from the big reveal at the end. It took about 30 seconds to realize the chapter needed to go. I went back and read Abby’s full comment and her insight made it all the more clear that the chapter should go. I don’t regret cutting it.

I know that isn’t always the way it goes with comments given about your work. Some people are WAY off the mark. Sometimes you just can’t or don’t want to see the flaws being pointed out to you. And sometimes, you just have to go with your gut.

How do you all do it? Are you a gutster, letting that gut reaction to suggestions be your guide on whether you yay or nay it? Do you gather up other opinions and then let the majority rule? Or do you take all suggestions thrown at you like a giant magnet? :-)