Tag Archives: characters

What I’ve learned as a Sensitivity Reader and a Diversity Editor.

I’ve been a Sensitivity Reader and Diversity Editor for my full career as a writer.  I’ve been diligent in my creation of characters and story and have constantly checked my own biases. Being Mixed Blood, Indigenous and Black, I write from my worldview but even then, for the sake of the story, I check myself. And have others check me. Sometimes it’s taken other people to see what what I can’t.

I was often asked by other writers to do the same for their projects, so making this service a job made sense. Makes sense. I have to admit, I began thinking there would be element of teaching in this job and I wondered how I would do that in a manner that was understanding to the struggle writers face if their goal was authenticity. What I didn’t expect to happen was that I would learn so much about my clients and therefore I would get to celebrate the growth of a stronger writers’ community.

This is just a short list of what I’ve learned about my clients, these writers:

  • Writers are trying. They want to be respectful and they’re aware of the possibility they won’t be because they just don’t know some things.
  • Writers believe in inclusivity, even when they don’t know for sure if what they’re doing is enough. Or correct. They believe in it even if the definition of what’s correct shifts on them over time. 
  • Writers have the courage to ask for help. And they strive to understand.
  • Writers may hesitate to develop the character or describe them or give them full dialogue, but it’s from a fear of insulting them. 
  • Writers appreciate the assistance.

They want their words and stories to be seen, read, heard and felt. If whatever the project is gets shut down before it lives its full possible life, then doesn’t that work against the reason to write it in the first place?

I’ve had the joy of working for individuals and publishing firms on beautiful children’s books, YA novels, literary novels, memoirs, nonfiction books, textbooks, website content, inclusivity statements, columns, plays, essays, screenplays and TV shows. I’ve been asked to read specifically for one character, while other times the request is for the full world. There are some incredibly talented writers out there that I can’t wait for everyone to know.

I love this job. I love being of service in this company of writers. And I love all that I’m learning in a time of much needed stories and art.

So if you’re in need of a Sensitivity/Authenticity Reader or Diversity Editor, or a Story Consultant, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

Write on.

Be safe.

Creating a White Supremacist Character

If there’s at least a tiny part of ourselves in every character we create, then what does that mean when it comes to creating bad guys? To creating the narcissist? The evil? To creating the one who wrecks havoc and tears through whatever and whoever is in their path?

Of course, writing to the humanity of these characters is the goal. That’s what gives them flesh. Finding their underbelly, exposing it, and then healing is a goal. Maybe. Destroying them? That’s a righteous goal, too.

I’m thinking about this as I prepare to go back into my novel. It’s been with beta readers and now I’m ready to enter this world again, which means I have to pull up a chair at the table headed up by a white supremacist. Of all my characters, my bad guys, and there’s plenty of them; I write crime suspense so my bad guys do heinous things, creating Raimond Davies has been the toughest.

In Stands Alone, my novel about a Mixed Blood cop who takes on a white supremacist, their ancestors are the soldiers in this war. Which means I wrote their histories, too. I know who Raimond’s father was and what he did to him. I know who his grandma was and how filthy and mean she was. I know who Raimond was as a small boy at the mercy of the adults in his life and how that set him on a course of hatred.

I think that in the many hours I’ve spent with this story, and the many more to come, my own ancestors settle on the loveseat in my office. Native men and women who fought the destructive forces of white men for their families and their tribes. African women who endured unimaginable atrocities and yet never stopped fighting for their freedom. They keep the sage burning, the drums pounding as they wrap their arms around me, whispering that this is the story that I need to tell. That only I can tell. They say it’s okay. That I’m safe from the horror on the page, from the horror in my imagination. They tell me I’m honoring the fight. Their fight.

My fight.

But damn.

Toast! to a Creative Community. Yay! Writers Group!

Deadlines can be a real bitch. Anxiety-inducing, difficult..soul crushing, even, depending on where you’re at with the ebb and flow of our draft.  But deadlines are also markers.  Goal posts on the road.  So, even though I could still feel my skinned knees from crawling the rugged terrain of my writing path (this part rugged, others parts are deep waters and I have to swim, or multiple feet of snow and I struggle to get warm enough to melt the ice that’s blocking me, or open air against turquoise blue skies that I float on…yes, that last one does happen. Sometimes) This most recent deadline was hard.  But…it was for my writers group.  And I am grateful. 

My husband and I raced around yesterday morning to get my tiny house ready for guests. Clean towels in the bathroom, sweeping the floors, dusting and scrubbing and… baked oatmeal.  That’s the coolest part of  hosting writers group for me-  I make my now signature dish of baked oatmeal. Oats, maple syrup, roasted walnuts, berries and bananas, cinnamon…deliciousness that I get to share with my smart creative friends. 

Once the setting is done- furniture moved in a circle, tea brewing, table set, some 80’s music in the background (again, another signature of coming to my house)- my girlfriends arrive. Hugs. Food. Laughter. My house is filled with the beautiful energy of these storytellers.  

When we finally get to the work submitted we all put on our smart caps- using the tools and skill we learned at USC SCA and have applied to our work since then. We share books and movies as inspiration. We laugh more. We support and share.  

For me- we reviewed the half draft of High Card Trumps. A deeply dramatic film that breaks my heart to write. And out of all the notes- what’s working, what’s tender, what are the questions, I discovered that I’m so sorry for breaking my character’s heart over and over that I’m pulling her out of the toughest moments. I literally cut away and show the results. The fallout. The aftermath.  It just hurts so much to make this mother go through what she’s experiencing. She already lost one son in the war and now with Sam… she’s losing it all. Her faith. Her family. Her place in her community. She’s not just floating alone in some vast emptiness, she’s being hurled through her world without direction, without guidance. She’s being torn apart by the forces of life.

I cried.  But these amazing storytellers, my writers group, held me in this space. They teared up, too. They understood the difficulty and supported me as I told them of the emotional angst I feel every time I go to the page, that it’s so hard to keep hurting Dahab over and over. No mother should have to suffer living after her child is gone. That’s a hole nothing can ever repair. And although I don’t know this exactly, I’m blessed that my child is alive and well, I did stand witness as my sister died. My family has endured the pain of death multiple times. I’ve watched my mother suffer a grief that nearly destroyed her. I want to protect Dahab from this so the real pain happens in the cut away.  

My peers, my literary colleagues while sipping tea  with their bellies full of baked oatmeal, curled up comfy on my old furniture in the bosom of my home, they listened with love and told me that they need to see these scenes. They need to see these moments in Dahab’s life. And then they told me that because I’m a mom and I can envision my deepest fears as a mother I’m exactly the person to be telling this story. 

I’m exactly the person to be telling this story. Me. This story. Whew!! 

Today’s Toast! goes out to these women. My creative community. I wish for you all to have a community that holds you and understands you, who loves you just as you are, and for the love and gratitude you give them. 

PEACE