What Happened with WriteMentor

I’ve gone back and forth, back and forth, about whether I need to write this blog post. When people are smearing you all over the writing community, it’s hard to just sit back and take it. But I’m exhausted, and scared. I can’t take any more abuse and bullying. I just want it to go away.

However, I’m not the only person who has been a victim of the particular group that’s smearing me and ruining my life and career. Anyone familiar with YA Book Twitter knows which group I’m talking about. It’s headed by a few very popular authors who have a lot of connections and power in the industry. These people do a lot of great things, have a lot of great ideas. But they also have a lot of problems.

These authors have a big following, and those followers apparently think they can do no wrong. Everything these authors say, their followers back them up. Whenever they call people out (which is a lot), those folks get drowned in a sea of vicious ally tweets. But every time these authors display problematic behavior of their own, their fans accept their excuses, believe their gaslighting, and attack the people who are calling them out.

Now, a lot of people are afraid to speak up and express their opinions about anything, for fear their opinion will be deemed “wrong” and they’ll be subjected to painful dragging.

People in the back threads of YA twitter whisper about it a lot, but what can you do? These are the folks who can—and do—destroy the careers and reputations of writers, bloggers, and readers over issues which often seem really minor and subjective to anyone not caught in the echo chamber of YA Book Twitter.

A lot of people have suffered because of this group. I’m one of them. At this point I have nothing else to lose, it seems like, so I feel like I should step up and talk openly about all this, for the benefit of those who still do have something to lose…and in the faint hope that perhaps YA Twitter can make some steps toward healing and acceptance.

I don’t know if I’m doing the write thing. But I just need shit to change in YA Twitter. A lot of us do. So I’m gonna have this convo, for better or worse, in hopes that folks actually listen for once.

So.

A little over a year ago, on the date THUG released, I wrote a blog post.

I’ll backtrack a bit. For those who don’t know, I’m an Own Voices writer. I’m neurodivergent and queer.

Being an own voices author is really difficult. In my case, it involves disclosing a whole bunch of things about myself that don’t exactly look good on a resume and cause a good deal of prejudice to come my way. But I decided at a turning point in my life that I’m going to be honest about my neurodivergence and embrace it, because people like me have nothing to be ashamed of.

My first book I pitched with a neurodivergent main character is The Other Place. It’s written in first person, present tense, with a very different sort of voice because the main character is schizophrenic.

I got all sorts of really exhausting rejections on that one. “Great writing, I just can’t identify with the character.” “I really wish this book were more about overcoming schizophrenia.” “Our reader recommended we take this on, but we already have a book about schizophrenia on our list.” There were other rejections, too, but they basically boiled down to “This is just too neurodivergent.”

I did get The Other Place published, though! Hooray. Then I moved on to pitching a YA with another psychotic main character and started getting a lot of the same kind of rejections.

So, anyway, THUG came out. I was excited for it, because it looked like something I could identify with, even from my white point of view. My partner was almost killed by police when he was having a nonviolent, unarmed psychotic episode, and everyone tried to blame him for it. I was so glad to have a book that talked about the problem of police violence coming out.

However, I hated how the publishing industry was patting itself on the back for publishing that book. Why wouldn’t they publish it? It’s just a great book. They didn’t deserve any of the kudos. Those go all to Angie Thomas.

Going back to the blog post.

At the time, I had literally about ten blog readers, all of them neurodivergent people like me and all of whom I knew pretty well. So, I felt comfortable in my audience and didn’t over-think the post too much. I told about my experiences, went on about how happy I was THUG was being published, but indicating that the publishing industry has a long way to go. I said I felt like they were using own voices writers as trophies, holding us up saying, “Look what we did!” Then, they’d go back and reject a bunch of other own voices writers because they already had their trophy, thanks.

I know now that including THUG in that post was hugely wrong. Yes, I know the book is important on its own merits, and I thought I’d made that clear in the post. But, you know, when writing from my own point of view, for my own friends—especially because I’m autistic and have very different social consciousness than most people—I don’t always correctly anticipate how stuff looks to others, and how it can hurt them.

The first comments I got were from my friends, that they liked the post, but it was fairly quickly that someone who wasn’t my friend pointed out that I’d done it wrong.

However, the way they pointed it out? They told me that I was “trashing” THUG and “griping” about the industry.

Hold up, I said. I’m not trashing the book. And I’m a marginalized woman talking about my experience as an own voices author. That isn’t griping.

People started calling me all sorts of saneist and ableist slurs and saying stuff that triggered my PTSD. But I did finally (after about 15 minutes) get it through my thick skull that, oh, wait, I can see through all their ugly ableism what they mean. I apologized and changed the post.

But this is YA Twitter. That wasn’t enough for them. I was dragged by literally thousands of people who said that I didn’t have a right to speak up as an Own Voices writer, that I can’t write, that my opinion doesn’t matter, that I need to shut up, blah blah blah. And when I pointed out that, hey, I’m trying to listen here, but you’re being awfully ableist with some of this shit, they said I was using my neurodivergence as a “shield” or “weapon”.

Now, I can understand how neurodivergence could seem like a shield or weapon to folks who only pick up the identity when they’re trashing other disabled people. But for me it is something that is with me always. It affects every word I say, everything I do, every thought I have. It can’t put it down, even when I’m in a good mood. Even when I’m alone. It is who I am. It causes me a lot of problems: I misunderstand what people say. I say the “wrong” things. I freak out. I withdraw. Sometimes I believe everyone is a spirit sent to give me clues that will lead me to the afterlife. But there are a lot of cool things about me, too.

So, here I was, a neurodivergent human being, trying to cope with millions of tons of abuse. I almost ended up in the hospital. I was eventually diagnosed with an exacerbation of my PTSD because of this incident.

I shouldn’t have included THUG, it’s true. But I apologized and changed the post, and the underlying point I was trying to get across is still relevant: publishing has a long way to go before it’s really unbiased. I don’t think what I did deserved what I got.

After that incident, I was put on a block list. I had agents who had my full ghost me. And I kept getting abuse.

More than a year later, I’m still getting abuse. And it is abuse. When there’s nothing you can do to stop it—no amount of apologizing, introspection, and learning about oneself that you can do to satisfy people—then it is just straight-up abuse. And these people are intent of driving me out of the industry. I guess they think that kicking a marginalized woman out of publishing is a big win for diverse books.

Recently, I volunteered to be a mentor on WriteMentor. I was really excited to help another neurodivergent author get into the industry. But soon after the sub window opened, the organizer, Stuart White, approached me. A friend had told him if he didn’t kick me out as a mentor, then this group that had abused and bullied me before would tweet that the contest was problematic. They told him that POC wouldn’t enter the contest because I was a mentor.

So, he dumped me. “It’s just business.”

It doesn’t matter that entrants get to choose which mentors they submit to, so prospective mentees wouldn’t have to deal with me in any way if they didn’t like me. It doesn’t matter that several neurodivergent and disabled folks said they felt more comfortable entering the contest because I was involved. It doesn’t even matter that I’m not out here being problematic – at least no more so than any of us. I wrote one blog post that some people took issue with, which I edited and apologized for within minutes of being called out, and otherwise I’m just a neurodivergent activist out here doing my thing to make the world better.

None of that matters. Ask yourself why none of that matters, and why it’s so important to kick a neurodivergent activist out of publishing because of what I did.

I’m not the only marginalized person these folks have bullied. In fact, they do it so much that they’ve been written up several times in mags with huge circulation. They especially enjoy trashing on disabled and neurodivergent women, it seems like. When they’re called out on it, they make a million excuses, and blame their victims…which is what they accuse their victims of doing. But with them, it works, because they’re popular. They’re the cool kids.

It sucks.

I feel like I’m back in middle school, trapped in an environment that is completely controlled by these cool mean girls, and I have to remind myself every moment that they’re not the whole world.  It doesn’t matter what I do – they’ll twist it to make it look like I was trying to do something else. They’ll point out every mistake, every failing. They’ll call me “stupid” and “gross” and “trash” and “useless”. Anyone who thinks of being my friend, they’ll tell them, “You don’t want to hang out with her. Did you hear what she did?” Even if my friend is not persuaded by those arguments (and cool girls are persuasive – that’s part of what being cool is), they’re left with a choice: stick by me, and be ostracized with me, suffer the same abuse that I do. Or ditch me and save themselves the trauma.

I don’t blame people for picking the latter. I really don’t. But it’s something we need to stop doing if we’re going to evolve as a community, as a species.

I always say that intent does matter. If a person (especially someone neurodivergent with communication issues) says something and you misinterpret it, why would you claim injury when they try to explain what they really meant? Doing so is weaponizing your neurotypical privilege – the privilege of understanding language in the way the majority does. The privilege of communicating easily with others.

But, I have to say: intent doesn’t matter when you uphold discriminatory systems, like Stuart White did. He may have gained ally points for caving into pressure, but in the meantime, he caused real and measurable harm to a marginalized woman, and to the community as a whole. One fewer neurodivergent writer will get a mentor, thanks to Stuart White.

If you don’t see that as a problem, then just admit you don’t care about neurodivergent people and go home.

“But you deserve this harassment because you’re racist!”

Ok. Sure. Except I’m not out here being any more racist than anyone. I work on my mistakes and biases. The group that called me out, doesn’t. They’ve showed their asses so many times: putting ableist slurs in their books without apologizing, piling on disabled women for just existing, saying extremely heterosexist things, refusing to take down memes that are insulting to First Nations people. They never apologize, and they always do it again. But somehow those of us who make one wrong move that we immediately apologize and feel awful for deserve to be ostracized for the rest of our lives.

When popular people make mistakes, folks gloss it over. They make excuses. They forgive and forget. But the rest of us aren’t so lucky. One mistake or oversight can cost us our whole career – or worse. If we cross the wrong person— who is powerful, and toxic, and will not let it go – they will destroy us.

I know that these folks have endured bigotry and trauma in their pasts, and that’s where some of this venom comes from. Trauma in our past can make us see threats where there are none. It can make us read ill intent into people’s words and actions that isn’t there. I know, because I go through this, too. But part of healing is learning to work through that trauma and not have it affect your relationships. I try really hard to not make others pay for my PTSD-driven interpretations of their words and actions. If I freak out because they’ve said something that hurts or offends me, I take their word for it when they say they didn’t mean it that way. Their intent does matter – way more than my PTSD reaction does. My feelings are still valid, but I don’t have the right to make others pay for that. Making others pay is where toxicity starts.

Having your feelings hurt is harmful – but if the person who hurt them didn’t mean to, is that true harm? And do you have the right to intentionally harm them in return?

Just because a person is marginalized doesn’t mean they aren’t bigoted. We’re all bigoted. We all need to work on it. And we all need space to improve and do better. If we can’t offer that as a community, then soon there will be no space for any of us.

Just because someone is right sometimes— does great things and has great insights sometimes —doesn’t mean their ideology is perfect. None of us are right all the time.

These are complex issues, and we need to allow room for the discussions of the complexity without shutting each other down and only letting the blue check marks speak.

I really want to just give up. But writing is all I know how to do. It’s a coping skill for me, which has got me through some really tough times: abuse. Homelessness. Prison. Addiction. And worse. I can’t give it up. But I’m gonna be switching up how I go about my career.

As Kid says, I’ve been through worse, and I’ll make it through this, and I sure hope she’s right.

All the other ones who have been hurt by this group, or any other bullies: you’re not alone.

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Query for Hoodlum Army

Hey, all~

This is weird, but I’m asking for input on this first draft of my query on here. I’ve decided to concentrate on pitching this one, since it’s more “normal” (meaning: it does have an autistic character, but neurodivergence doesn’t come into play in the plot). So, tell me what you think:

HOODLUM ARMY is a suspenseful romantic comedy, complete at 77,000 words.

Can crime make the world a better place?

Maryann wants to start a cooking school for disadvantaged kids, and Rob wants to save his parents’ farm. When they both try to raise money by robbing the same bank at the same time, they’re thrown together in what turns out to be an adventurous and altruistic crime spree.

To reach their goal before Rob’s parents’ farm is auctioned off, they have to rob thirty banks in sixty days. Dubbed the “Hoodlum Army”, they become a social media sensation. A cop and FBI agent are a step behind as the duo steal across the country. A couple close calls are enough to convince Rob and Maryann that there’s something illegal going on with these lawmen, and that prison might be the best outcome if they get busted.

As the game heats up, the Army set their sights on a bigger target: Larry Lemon, a bombastic billionaire with immense financial holdings ripe for pilfering. They get help from an unexpected quarter—Larry’s own family—and realize the stakes in this game are even higher than they suspected.

Even when you’re a crook, money isn’t the most important thing. Right and wrong are slippery concepts, but some things are worth stealing—or dying—for. They just hope the latter isn’t necessary, and that it’s possible for this tale to have a happy ending.

Invisible Friend Jesus and the Baggage

Invisible friend Jesus sat beside my bed, his back against the wall and his long legs pexels-photo-463467.jpegstretched out in front of him. He was reading a Janet Evanovich hardback. Stacks of books lay beside him, and the walls around him were plastered with collages, drawings and graffiti.

“There you are,” I said.

He glanced up from his book and raised an eyebrow.

I pressed my cheek into my pillow and sighed. “I feel like shit.”

He marked his place in the book with one of the socks on my floor and set the book down. “That doesn’t surprise me. Look at all that junk piled on you.”

“Huh? There’s no junk piled on me.”

He rolled his eyes and stood up, then began lifting things off my back. He stacked them up against the wall: suitcases. Duffel bags. Boxes. There were enough to fill a U-Haul.

“Oh,” I said. “I guess there was junk piled on me.” The weight gradually lifted until he’d removed the last bag, and I lay there, dizzy with relief, as he unzipped one of the suitcases.

He dug in it and pulled out a plush duck, one of its wings torn, its fur stained and matted with what might have been spilled mocha. “Why are you keeping this?”

I sat up, stretching my newly-freed limbs and rolling my neck. I shrugged. “Donno.”

“And this?” He pursed his lips quizzically, holding up an acid wash jeans jacket with the arms cut off and Metallica written on the back in Sharpie.

“Ew, throw that one away.”

He tossed it into the air, and it disappeared. A feeling of relief and comfort stole over me.

I leaned back on the wall and watched him as he continued to dig through the detritus of my personal baggage. “How long can you carry that stuff for me?”

He shot me a smirking glance. “As long as you want. Are you sure you don’t want me to throw it away, though?”

The idea of removing all that weight from my shoulders forever was incredible. Amazing. What kind of beautiful life could I have if I weren’t weighed down by that junk? But the thought whisked away, my shoulders slumping. “I couldn’t live without my baggage. That’s just not how the world works.”

“If you say so.” He gave me a lopsided grin and pulled the weight from my shoulders, holding it up for me to see: a large athletic sock, full of… “Are you really going to eat these?” He pulled out a clump of dusty, melted-together hard candy.

“No, probably not.” I hugged my knees. “I know I don’t really need all that stuff, but it’s so hard to let go of.”

“I know.” He held the sock upside down. More disgusting candy and bits of broken plastic toys fell out into a pile on the floor. He waved his hands over it like a stage magician. “Mumbo jumbo, bibbity boo.” The pile vanished.

I squinted at him. “You’re not gonna, like, make fun of me for carrying it around, even though it makes no sense?”

He gave me a look and laughed. “Am I going to make you feel guilty and ashamed for wanting to carry around loads of guilt and shame? Fuck, no. That’s not what I’m here for. That’s what other people are here for, apparently, but only because they’re carrying around their own shit, and it’s heavy so they want to foist if off onto others.”

“People are weird,” I said.

He giggled and pulled a broken jewelry box from one of the duffel bags, tossing it into the air. It turned into a swarm of ladybugs, which buzzed out the window into the spring sunshine.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author. You can help her lift some of her financial baggage by checking out her books on Amazon

Liberals: Stop Being Assholes to the Mentally Ill -#NeverAgain

gun-revolver-fire-firing-370202.jpegRight now, President Trump, a Florida Sheriff, and millions of citizens are talking about how involuntarily locking up mentally ill/neurodivergent people is the answer to the U.S.’s gun violence problems. According to them, corralling all the “savage sickos” in hastily-erected, for-profit hospitals is in everyone’s best interests. Registering and rounding up neurodivergent people is much more practical and desirable than registering or confiscating people’s guns; Second Amendment freedoms apparently are more valuable than Fourth Amendment freedoms.

As most of us should know by now, neurodivergent folks are only responsible for 1% of gun violence in the United States. Beginning another Aktion T-4 wouldn’t even have any discernable effect on gun violence in this country. But neurodivergent people are often the ones to pay for neurotypicals’ violence.

This stark ableism doesn’t matter to most Americans, because it doesn’t affect them. We’re not really human in their eyes.

Liberals reading this are no doubt nodding along, albeit without much emotion. Most of you think all this talk of locking us up is just bluster. Nothing could ever possibly come of the sitting U.S. President loudly calling for the wholesale imprisonment of a whole class of people, who have committed no crime other than to be born with different brains. To most of you, it’s just another annoying thing right-wingers say. It’s no real threat to you.

You need to take this seriously. Liberals: YOU AREN’T HELPING.

I hear the things you say. The jokes you crack when Trump calls for our involuntary hospitalization: “Well, Trump should be the first one in, crazy as he is!” I hear you talking about how life was better before Reagan shut down all the mental hospitals. “All the sudden, the streets were full of screaming wackos.” Did you know those hospitals he shut down were hellish places where we were sometimes warehoused naked in bare rooms, hosed down for sanitation? Did you know we generally got no treatment other than perhaps a five-minute visit from a psychiatrist once a month, and no medication save for body- and mind-destroying chemicals like Thorazine?

Homelessness was actually a step up for the mentally ill. But all you care about is that, before, you didn’t have to see us.

So, when the time comes to round us up, you will sit by, telling yourself it’s a good thing for society, and even a good thing for us.

You feel not a whit of compassion or empathy for mentally-ill people. It doesn’t occur to you what it might be like to be locked up for no reason, even under the best of conditions (and they won’t be the best of conditions). To you, we’re not human, so it doesn’t register that we have feelings, thoughts, a life that we want to live.

For the most part, Liberals don’t actively campaign for us all to be locked up. However, they do say mentally ill people shouldn’t be able to get guns. Well, okay. But you know that means you’re taking constitutional rights away from a marginalized group for no reason, right? You’re denying us the liberties you enjoy, simply because of how we were born. And think through what it would entail, to take those rights from us. It means that, whenever someone got a diagnosis, our doctor would have to report us to the government and have us put on a list, so that we couldn’t get guns. Does that sound cool to you? Hint: it’s not.

Did you know that a domestic violence conviction doesn’t preclude someone from having a gun? That’s a much better predictor of gun violence than mental illness, but it doesn’t occur to y’all to ban those folks (who are already known to the government, because of their conviction, and who actually did something wrong), instead of the neurodivergent. (Those who want to jump in and say they ARE banned from having guns, please do your research. That ban only prevents them (in some limited cases) from BUYING guns, and has a billion loopholes that have allowed a large number of men with DV convictions to be mass-shooters with legally-obtained guns.)

Liberals don’t stop there with the ableism, though. They tell people not to “humanize” folks like Nikolas Cruz by pointing out that he might be neurodivergent. I have news for you: he is human. Human beings are the ones who take high-powered semi-automatic weapons and shoot other human beings. In Cruz’ case, it was because he was apparently a white supremacist, and had a violent personality. Yes, you can throw in the neurodivergence (though as I stated before, statistically, neurodivergence and violence are inversely related, so it doesn’t make sense), but then you’d also have to take a look at how society systematically shunned, tortured and mistreated a lonely and confused little boy until he grew evil enough to do what he did.

That’s not an excuse for him, though. Society tortures and shuns all neurodivergent people, all the time, and most of us don’t ever hurt anyone else.

Neurodivergence is not a predictor of violent behavior. However, Cruz had been reported to the police and FBI dozens of times for violent behavior. Strangely enough, violent behavior is a predictor of violent behavior, whether you’re neurodivergent or neurotypical.

Despite all this, liberals are willing to throw neurodivergent folks under the bus in order to feel like they’re keeping their kids safe. Statistically, ableism is a lot more likely to harm their children than gun violence. It’s estimated that one in five people suffers some sort of mental illness in their lifetime, and every one of those people will be hurt by ableism. I don’t know how many people are hurt by gun violence, but it’s definitely not 20% of the population. So, they’re actually hurting their kids with their ableist shitfuckery, not keeping them safe.

I’ve waited until the end of this to make something clear: I’m completely in favor of gun control. But if you have to take away neurodivergent folks’ liberty and humanity to do it, it’s not worth doing.

However, here’s some good news that is so fucking common sense that I shouldn’t have to say it: YOU CAN HAVE EFFECTIVE GUN CONTROL WITHOUT TAKING AWAY NEURODIVERGENT CIVIL RIGHTS. In fact, taking away our rights will have close to zero effect on gun violence.

So please. Fight for gun control, but leave us out of it. And take our president seriously when he talks about locking us up. Stand up to him when he says shit like this, instead of laughing it off.

Thank you.

Elizabeth Roderick is a savage sicko who writes about screeching wackos. You can explore the wonders of Neurodivergent culture (and support a marginalized artist) by reading her books.

Diverse Books and Writing What You Don’t Know

rainbow book(revisiting this post from 2015)

Write what you know. It’s a trite piece of advice for writers struggling to find a subject to which to put their pen, and a dire warning to those embarking on literary excursions into the unknown.

Many feel this saying is a load of crap. After all, if we can only write what we know, then we have no business even writing a memoir: our view of ourselves and our experience is so myopic, and our blind spots so extensive, that we can’t claim to truly know even what’s going on in our own lives. However, when we plunge into writing about something we don’t know, it pays to be cautious. After all, when you’re an “outsider” with respect to your subject matter, those on the inside are going to know if you get it wrong.

I’ll start with this piece of advice: Write what you want. Writing is an art, and stifling that art with a bunch of rules and warnings isn’t going to help anyone. You have something to say, and so say it, with your whole heart and to the best of your ability. But I’ll add this caveat: if you’re going to write about a type of character or situation that exists in contemporary life and yet is outside your personal experience, I advise you give it deep thought. The agonizing, soul-searching variety of deep thought. Your characters, and your readers, deserve no less.

Most of us have heard of the We Need Diverse Books movement. It is a worthy cause. Stories, both fiction and nonfiction, are an integral part of social change. Books help connect readers with people and situations that they may never encounter in their day-to-day life, and can broaden understanding and acceptance in a way that no amount of preaching or direct social activism can do. Books are a safe way to explore situations that we’d be frightened to become involved in in real life, and can help to lessen our fear and misunderstanding of those situations. For instance, a person frightened of foreign travel might be more comfortable after reading a million guidebooks. The more different cultures, lifestyles, and ways of being people are exposed to in books, the more comfortable they’ll be with it in their real lives.

It is precisely for this reason that we need to be mindful of how we portray our diverse characters. I’m not saying that we should never let a diverse character be anything other than a shining beacon of perfection, so that we don’t give readers the impression that all people of that diverse group are “bad”. Quite the opposite. What I’m saying is, the character has to be realistic. We have to be comfortable in that character’s shoes. We have to know them like we know a human being, and relate to their struggle, before we write about them. Otherwise, we’ll get it wrong. We’ll portray them as an issue, instead of a character, and we’ll miss an opportunity to let readers identify with them on a human level. And yes, we can end up doing actual, measurable harm to real people by reinforcing stereotypes and misconceptions.

I love it when books have diverse characters, but when I hear editors or agents say, “If there’s no diversity in your books, don’t worry: it can be added,” I cringe. It is possible to deliberately add diversity in this way and still have a great book. But, if you’re adding diversity purely for diversity’s sake, be very cautious. After all, if you’re inserting a diverse character just to make the novel more marketable, then you are exploiting the group to which that diverse character belongs. If you’re changing the color of a character’s skin, giving her a limp, or modifying his religious practice, take a long moment to get to know that character again, because you have changed who they are. Make sure you don’t overlook, misunderstand, or gloss over the issues that the character might face in their daily life. Otherwise, you run the risk of your character being a blue-eyed guy with shoe polish on his face asking John Wayne to smoke-um peace pipe.

You’ll have readers that identify with your diverse characters, and if you tell their story incorrectly, you’re selling those readers short and hurting them on a personal level.

This concept also applies to characters who are members of groups which may not traditionally be viewed as “diverse”. If your character is dealing with issues of any kind that you haven’t dealt with personally, make sure you put thought into it. For instance, I’m a recovering heroin addict, an ex-con, and a victim of physical and sexual abuse. I have thrown books across the room and cursed authors’ very souls for, in my view, misrepresenting these issues. I’m really tired of reading about poor, battered women who suffer their completely evil, idiot husbands stolidly until the day they rise up with unblemished inner strength to assert themselves. I know it may sound counterintuitive to some of you, but I feel belittled by this narrative. Abuse is ugly; it changes you. It weakens you. And it can make you stoop to the level of the abuser, because you know no different, and because you’re so scarred and hurt that you can’t function in a healthy manner. I do recognize that not all survivors of abuse see it this way, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling that my story is being exploited and told incorrectly for profit, when I read a book that gets it “wrong”.

Additionally, I’m tired of seeing drug addicts portrayed as objects of pity or contempt; complete hot-mess wastrels; soulless beings with no hope, intelligence, or inner life. I especially hate this narrative when said addict ends up seeing the light, and becomes a pink-cheeked, happy and productive member of society within the course of 350 pages.

It’s also annoying just when people get details wrong: heroin addicts with dilated pupils (opiates contract the pupils), or about a character “melting” black tar heroin in a spoon (it doesn’t melt; you have to dissolve it in water). The details are easy to research, and the rest, well, all I can say is that drug addicts are people, too. Drugs can make people into a hot mess, it’s true; but that hot mess can be interesting to examine, and you’ll make your story better if your character is well-rounded.

And, as a psychotic person, when a book about a “psycho killer” comes out, I have a legitimate fear reaction. People like me are beaten, imprisoned, and killed because of wrongful stereotypes like this. The same for some other marginalized groups. Misportrayals can do real harm, and you don’t want that on your conscience. So, do your research if you’re writing about characters from different walks of life as you. And, the best research is not academic research, but experience*.

If you want to have marginalized characters in your books, but don’t share that marginalization, I say go for it…but put thought into it, and seriously consider having your diverse characters be side-characters, and not main characters. Also, don’t write characters with marginalizations that you’ve only read about. If you don’t have a diverse group of friends, then you might not be the right person to be repping diversity in literature. But, seriously, we all have diverse friends, right?

I have a lot of Mexican-American characters. I speak Spanish and have lived most of my life in areas with a huge Mexican-American population, so I’m comfortable writing about the culture—usually from an outside point of view, because I may not know the internal issues of being Mexican-American, but I can speak to my experience as an observer, and so my characters can as well. I also have Mexican-American beta readers, so if I mess up, as I always will, they can help me with it.

I also often write about characters with mental illness/neurodivergence. I am mentally ill, autistic, and have psychosis. However, when I was writing a book with a schizophrenic main character, I reached a point where I felt like I was getting it wrong. So, I went down to the local park and made friends with a young schizophrenic man I’d seen hanging around.

My friendship with Phoenix was never about writing a novel. I don’t hang out with him because of his mental illness, but because I enjoy his company. He’s an amazing, intelligent, and hilariously funny person.

Hanging out with him taught me a lot about myself as a neurodivergent person, and opened my eyes to the way ableism affects us all. We were kicked out of bars, restaurants, casinos and libraries because people were uncomfortable with his behavior (mine too, to be honest); I had to intervene with the cops and the courts when he was arrested for no crime other than being schizophrenic. I spent horrible, anguished days and nights, crying and worrying, when he was institutionalized, or in the hospital after someone misinterpreted something he said and beat him into a coma. Certain experiences with him have triggered my own episodes of psychosis, as well, which were of course frightening and draining.

My Other Place Series wouldn’t be what it is without Phoenix. I would have missed so much of the joy, the beauty, the horror, and the subtleties of the schizophrenic experience if I hadn’t spent time with him, because seeing psychosis from the outside, and really being part of someone else’s experience, is different than experiencing it myself. The more insight we have into life and people of all kinds, the better our writing will be.

Just like I don’t hang out with Phoenix because he’s mentally ill, I didn’t write my book about the schizophrenic character because he is schizophrenic. I wrote it because he’s an interesting character, with a really good story to tell. Readers will identify with characters, and want to spend time with them, if they’re interesting people, and not just a list of symptoms and diagnoses or character traits you gleaned from internet research.

Putting thought into it doesn’t make you exempt from criticism, however. Nothing will. If, someday, a reader gets angry at me for getting a Latinx character wrong, well, it will upset me, and I’ll listen, but I’ll have the consolation of being able to talk about it with my Latinx beta readers and friends and do better next time, so it won’t destroy my love of writing.

And, y’all, I get criticism about my own voices characters. Nothing makes you exempt. Criticism is part of being a writer. Even when we are writing from experience, we won’t know all facets of that experience. Every experience is valid, and incomplete. (Note: please don’t harass own voices writers because their experience doesn’t match yours. Truly.)

Even if they don’t resonate with everyone, I am comfortable with and proud of my books. I think they can add to people’s understanding, rather than detracting from it by creating false impressions.

This is what we should strive to do when we write, whether it’s from a diverse perspective or not, and whether our tale is a lighthearted romantic comedy or a dark “issues” novel.

Always treat your characters (and your readers) with the respect they deserve, and you will be able to bear any criticism with dignity.

*For the love of God, man, don’t apply this concept to writing about drug addicts and ex-cons. I’d rather your characters be trite and wooden than for you to go get thrown in the slammer for a PCP binge you embarked on for novel research.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor. You can find THE OTHER PLACE and her other books on Amazon.

Piece of notebook paper with words written in pencil: What if I'm not a real person and it hurts now."

The Neurodivergent Experience: It’s Never About Us

[Content warning for just about everything you can think of. If you’re having a bad day and don’t wanna hear about the horrible things neurodivergent people have to put up with, have this picture of a puppy and go read a nicer article]Picture of smiling, panting, tricolor Australian shepherd puppy on the beach

These are particularly bad times for neurodivergent/mentally ill folks. They’re trying to cut our benefits and health care. They’re constantly trying to make it easier to have us involuntarily committed and sterilized. Every day, it seems they come up with some new way to torture us in the name of a “cure”. The headlines are full of stories of police killing us for no reason, and we all know that those stories are just a few of the many abuses which occur on a daily basis to people like us. And yet, they continue to blame the neurodivergent for every highly-publicized violent crime that happens, as well as for the dangerous and destructive behavior of our (very mentally-healthy) president.  Yes: they hurt US, and then gaslight everyone and try to say it’s OUR fault.

But when we speak up, we get comments like this one here on my last post. People tell us we don’t know what we’re talking about. They think we’re unreliable narrators, and can’t be trusted to manage our own lives or even know what our own lives are about:

“Police are just doing their jobs when they illegally detain, harm, imprison, or kill you—they have no way to know that you’re not really dangerous.”

So, we have to prove to the police that we’re NOT dangerous in order to not get shot? We have to prove we’re NOT committing a crime in order to not get harassed or arrested? If we’re not holding a gun; if all we’re doing is yelling, or pacing, or crying, they have no reason to think we ARE dangerous, and we’re not committing a crime by showing emotion.

Like I said in my previous post, statistics show we’re no more violent than sane people are, and that we’re a good deal more likely to be hurt BY neurotypical folks than we are to hurt them. Especially when it comes to police: they’re more likely to hurt us than the other way around. So yes, it does follow that, when neurotypical folks lock up neurodivergent folks, the dangerous people are locking up the less dangerous people. In fact, we’re often hurt in the act of being locked up (usually for no reason).

It does follow.

“We all have problems; ableism isn’t real, people are jerks to everyone.”

Nope. You can’t be locked up for committing no crime. You can’t be forcibly sterilized. People don’t give you bleach enemas in an attempt to cure you of being neurotypical.

People are jerks, yes. But people are bigger jerks to neurodivergent people. Don’t think you understand what it’s like. You don’t.

“I heard a third-hand story of someone who was very nearly hurt by a schizophrenic person once, and therefore it’s completely right to lock up neurodivergent people.”

I hear this sort of story a lot. The only time it’s first-hand is when it’s being told by someone who worked as an ER medic or some such—someone else with a skewed sample size, because they only saw the folks who were in crisis, and were being forcibly detained and put in a position of high stress and danger (and therefore were actually defending themselves and not inciting violence. Don’t @ me telling me “the medics were trying to help them, they weren’t defending themselves.” If a group of people grabbed you and tried to tie you to a gurney, and you didn’t want them to do that, you’d fight back, too. We’re human beings, you know).

You’re forgetting a little thing called lived experience, which trumps your third-hand anecdote every time. Do you know what else trumps it? The statistics that show neurotypical people are more likely to injure us than the other way around.

Yes, there are neurodivergent people who are violent. That doesn’t mean you get to lock all of us up…just like the fact that neurotypical people are more likely to be violent toward me doesn’t mean I get to lock up all neurotypical people.  (That however would be a course of action supported by statistics.)

There’s so much else going on in that comment (and in others that I get every day). The takeaway is this: A neurodivergent person can’t speak out without someone telling us we don’t know what we’re talking about—that they, a neurotypical person, know better than we do. Literally, if we say we had eggs for breakfast, a neurotypical person will rappel from the ceiling and ask us if we’re sure we aren’t hallucinating or confused, if maybe we had oatmeal instead. Our voices, experiences, and opinions are constantly silenced and passed over in favor of “experts” or our family members. These folks can be some of the most abusive toward us, and yet the narrative is always centered around what can be done to help them: what makes our caregivers, family, and friends more comfortable. Usually, that’s finding easier ways to lock us up, sterilize us, render us unconscioius or inert, “cure” us, or find a way to detect our neruodivergence in utero so that we’re never born in the first place. Do any of those things sound like civil rights to you? Would you like any of those things done to you?

Just because we’re different, doesn’t mean we don’t want what anyone else wants: quality of life. We’re don’t exist in this world just to make you comfortable. No one does. If your neurotypical neighbor stays up all night singing loudly along with the radio, you don’t try to have him sterilized so he doesn’t have similarly-loud children, or make sure he’s medicated into a stupor. And yet, because we’re neurodivergent, you think you have the right to do that to us.

Even when talking about the realities of our everyday life, the way everyone does, we’re told we’re “oversharing”; that we’re making others uncomfortable; that we’re “whining” and “complaining” and that we should be more positive; that we’re triggering others with our stories.

It’s always about others’ feelings.

Is it any wonder we lose it sometimes? And yet we’re not afforded the luxury of venting our feelings and frustrations, again by the nature of being neurodivergent. Our emotions are too strong and messy for neurotypicals to deal with. When we display them, we’re ostracized and chided at best. We lose friends, we lose jobs, we lose everything that makes us happy. At worst, y’all beat us, lock us up, or kill us, just for speaking our minds. I have personal anecdotes, if you need them—read my blog, or my memoir, or ask me.

People don’t listen to us and constantly speak over us. Is it any wonder we feel isolated? Is it any wonder we commit suicide, because it seems like no one cares?

But, there are people who do care, who do understand. Never forget that.

All you glorious crazy people out there, I want you to know I’m listening. I’m here for your joy and your pain. You are important, and your feelings are valid.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor who is crazy as fuck and wants to tell you all about it. You can find her on Amazon.

Just Because You’re Paranoid Means They’re Out to Get You – Oppression of Neurodivergent People in Our Society

[Rape, abuse, assault, ableism]

It’s a hell of a time for a marginalized person to be in PTSD therapy.

I went into therapy to get help with dealing with trauma from a lifetime of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Instead, I’m learning ways to cope with the ongoing abuse and threats to my person and wellbeing that are just part of being a neurodivergent person living in Trump’s America.

The therapy I’m doing is called Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) which is something like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I’ve tried a lot of different therapies for my PTSD, and have always given up pretty quickly because they dredge up old memories and send me into crisis, without actually giving me any tools to improve my life. But CPT seems to be working. It helps me to separate my emotions from my intellect and deal with them more rationally. (I wouldn’t have been able to do this earlier in my life. It’s a lot easier now that I’m on medication and stable.)

The problem is, the world isn’t safe, especially for people like me and my daughter, and there’s only so much you can do to control your emotions when they’re based on a valid threat.

Sane and abled people—as well as a lot of neurodivergent people who simply haven’t experienced certain kinds of oppression yet, for whatever reason—don’t understand the stress neurodivergent folks are under. When we speak out against it, they tell us we’re being crazy and paranoid, thus adding to our oppression and making life less safe for us.

This threat is real, and it seems to be growing lately in the United States (and surely other places, but I wouldn’t know).

I’m going to take you through the threats that we face, to try to give you an idea of what it feels like to be someone like me. I’m going to do that in the form of a CPT Challenging Questions worksheet.

A Challenging Questions worksheet is where the patient writes out the negative beliefs that trigger and sustain emotional crisis, and work through them in an attempt to see them more rationally and change the patterns of belief and behavior that screw up our lives so badly. This is because I – along with countless other marginalized people – have PTSD from bigotry.

Belief: People want me dead, or want to torture me, because I’m a neurodivergent woman.

The majority of people reading this are rolling their eyes. “Oh, come on. No one wants to kill or torture you. Get a grip.”

Remember you had that thought. The fact you’re having it belongs squarely in the category below, as evidence that my belief is true. You may not see why yet, but keep reading.

Evidence For the Belief:

  1. Involuntary commitment

This seems simple enough, but for people who haven’t been locked up, you’ve probably never even thought about what it means.

Involuntary commitment means that you get locked up when you haven’t even committed a crime. It means they lock you up simply for being neurodivergent. They’re constantly trying to make it easier to do this, using the few demonstrable incidents where mentally ill people hurt or kill people as evidence that “clear and present danger to themselves or others” is too high a bar. They want to be able to lock us up just for having a diagnosis, and effectively, that’s usually what happens. I’ve had friends locked up for being schizophrenic and having a Swiss Army knife in their room somewhere. I’ve had other friends locked up simply for being nonviolently angry at someone. Involuntary commitment is used as a tool of coercion, manipulation and abuse against us.

“Yeah, but, dangerous psychos need to be off the streets,” you say.

This almost universally-held belief is very strong evidence in favor of my belief . Sane folks want people like me to be locked up just for being neurodivergent, and locking someone up in a mental institution is literal torture on so many levels, and is morally suspect at best. It has been used as a method of oppression of all manner of neurodivergent people for hundreds of years, and (despite neurotypical folks’ belief that it’s difficult to get people committed) most people who are put away against their will aren’t a demonstrable threat to themselves or others. Neurotypical people are scared of us for no good reason because they’ve been taught to believe we’re scary and out of control—and to not believe us when we say we’re not—so they think we’re a threat to ourselves and others just by existing.

You’re rolling your eyes again. “No one wants to lock up someone like you. Just the dangerous psychos!”

What sane people don’t know is that there aren’t very many dangerous psychos—we don’t have a higher rate of violence than people without mental illness. Neurodivergent people are a lot more likely to be hurt by sane people than we are to hurt others.

So, when a sane person places a neurodivergent person in involuntary commitment, the dangerous person is locking up the less dangerous person.

Yes, there are neurodivergent people who truly are a danger to themselves and others—just like there are neurotypical people who are. Most people who get involuntarily committed just simply aren’t a danger. We’re in crisis (a crisis often caused by the oppression and ableism we experience on a daily basis, and therefore avoidable). We need compassion and understanding. We need help. Sometimes we just need to be left alone.

The data show that locking someone up involuntarily very rarely provides any actual benefit to the neurodivergent person. All it does is scare us, stigmatize us, anger us, make us feel ashamed and, more often than you think, it leads to us being physically hurt or worse.

Yes, involuntary commitment can serve a purpose. However, not only is it vastly overused, it very rarely serves the purpose for which it is designed. It’s torture. Pure and simple.

  1. Bleach enemas/spinal taps/forcible sterilization/therapies that cause PTSD and physical injury.

Oh, you haven’t heard about this stuff? Read the links above, and do some more research.

This is real stuff that happens to neurodivergent people in the here and now. People do it to us in an attempt to cure us of being who we are. Society thinks it’s okay to torture us, because they believe our lives aren’t worth living unless we are “cured”.

We don’t need to be cured. We need help with some of our symptoms but mostly we need respect, acceptance, and supports.

It’s not okay to do this stuff to us. It’s not okay to think about doing this stuff to us. If you’ve considered it, you need to be ashamed of yourself, do some soul-searching, and do better. Our society is ableist, so the idea that neurodivergent people don’t deserve or can’t handle our bodily autonomy is mainstream, so I’m not surprised you had it. But the fact it’s a mainstream idea doesn’t make it right. It is just another piece of evidence that my belief is true.

If your beliefs uphold a system that tortures and kills neurodivergent people, your beliefs are very wrong and need to be discarded.

  1. High incidence of violence toward and murder of neurodivergent people

Here are some more statistics, also. Neurodivergent folks are more likely than neurotypical folks to be hurt or murdered.

“But you guys probably did something to deserve it.” Toss that widely-held belief into the “evidence for” bucket, Steve!

The very fact that we’re more likely to be hurt and murdered by sane people than the other way around is pretty definitive proof that you’re the scary and dangerous ones, not us. If anyone deserves to be hurt or killed, it’s folks who believe neurodivergent people deserve to be hurt or killed. I’m a really nonviolent person, however, so you won’t have to worry about me trying to hurt or kill you.

  1. High incarceration rate and high rate of police violence against us

And more reading on this here. There are laws that disproportionately target neurodivergent people. Not just involuntary commitment laws, which target ONLY us, but laws against homelessness, loitering, public disturbance.

People don’t hate the neurodivergent…they just don’t want to see us in public.

We’re not hurting you by sleeping on park benches, ranting to ourselves on street corners, etc. We truly aren’t. If you’re so offended and scared by the fact we exist and are different than you, then perhaps check your ableism and leave us the fuck alone.

Drug laws also affect us disproportionately. A large amount of substance use and abuse is self-medication of the symptoms we don’t like. That ALSO IS NOT HURTING YOU. YOU JUST WANT TO PUT US IN JAIL ON BASIC PRINCIPLES. I can’t say this enough.

Police also tend to shoot us, beat us, or take us to jail for no reason, because they see a neurodivergent person and immediately think we’re creepy or dangerous simply because we’re not acting neurotypical. I’ve been harassed by police and arrested for being neurodivergent. My ex-partner was almost shot for the same reason. This even though evidence shows that if police and other responders have training in how to deal with us compassionately, the outcomes are immeasurably better and very rarely result in violence. If you treat us with respect, kindness, and compassion, we will almost always respond in kind.

Most police contact with us, we’re not being violent or posing any sort of threat to others to begin with, anyway, so we should just be left alone. There’s no probable cause to make contact with us, other than the fact we’re neurodivergent. All too often, someone calls the police because they’re worried we’ll hurt ourselves…and the police end up hurting or killing us. At other times, we’re just yelling or “acting suspicious”.

There’s no reason to even engage with us. But police still do, and they escalate the situation until we end up hurt, incarcerated, or dead. That’s not our fault. It’s the police’s fault.

I participate in Crisis Intervention Training with the police. Not all of them are bad. Some of them truly do want to help. They have a long way to go to learn to combat their ableism, however, and until they do, we’ll continue to be hurt, killed, and locked up for no reason.

  1. Rape, abuse, domestic violence

Neurodivergent folks are more likely to suffer these things, and we’re less likely to be believed, or to have any way to escape it, than neurotypical people are.

I know this firsthand. It’s why I’m in PTSD therapy to begin with. I’ve suffered rape, physical and emotional abuse, and assault on more than one occasion. I’ve been homeless on several occasions because it was my only alternative to abuse. And I’ve been not only disbelieved but outright accused of being at fault for my rape, assault and abuse…even by the police. And yes, because I’m neurodivergent. If you wanna know more about how all of those things went down, peruse my blog or ask me. Or, (and this would be a first!) you could just take my word for it.

  1. Removal of supports

We’ve never had a great safety net, but now this administration is actively working to remove access to the medical care and programs that keep us alive and healthy. A lot of neurodivergent people can work, but the most vulnerable of us can’t…not because we’re not capable, but because people don’t want to deal with the neurodivergent and our atypical work habits.

Since we can’t work, we’re seen as lazy losers. Our existence is devalued in our society. We’re seen as burdens.

Useless eaters.

This is happening right now in our society, and it’s scary. It is a quiet form of eugenics…but so was Aktion T-4 at first. It WILL get louder, because neurotypical people won’t even admit that it’s happening. They think that people who truly need supports can still get them. That if we’re “truly disabled”, we can get SSI and easily support ourselves, or whatever. None of that is actually true, though. It’s really difficult to get on disability supports (financial or otherwise), and even if you can, it’s incredibly difficult to survive on the crumbs they give you.

Making sure every neurodivergent person in the country had the health care, housing, and supports they need to get by—whether they can work or not, and in whatever capacity they can work—wouldn’t cost that much. It would be literally a few dollars a month in taxes for the average U.S. person. But you’d rather see us struggle and die.

  1. General Apathy about Neurodivergent Rights

Most people roll their eyes when you tell them oppression of neurodivergent people is a thing. They tell us we’re just crazy. In denying that the oppression is happening, they’re adding to that oppression, and enabling it to get worse.

Neurodivergent people are among the most forgotten and mistreated people in the world. Even among leftists, we’re considered the “other” marginalization, if we’re considered at all. But the most vulnerable people on the planet are neurodivergent folks with other marginalized identities. Mental illness and neurodivergence affect every other marginalized group, so you’re not doing social justice any favors if you think fighting against ableism is less important than fighting other forms of bigotry, or that it doesn’t have anything to do with your own cause.

I see this oppression on Twitter and out in the world every day, and not just from the right-wingers. People on the left will straight up tell a neurodivergent person that they’re whining and being a snowflake for speaking up about ableism. They’ll tell us that we’re “not helping” the cause by engaging in “minor-issue pseudo-activism”, and that we should fight more important battles. A lot of the time they’ll just ignore us or mock us, because they’re not interested in being aligned with embarrassing and gross people like us. We don’t make good poster children. No one likes the mentally ill.

Another one for the “evidence for” bucket, Steve. Gosh, that bucket is getting full.

So, there’s some of the evidence in favor of my belief being true. It’s not all of it. I could go on all day. But I’m tired and have other shit to do.

Evidence Against the Belief:

I’m still alive.

This is all I have. I may have been locked up, homeless, in physical danger, in crisis with no supports, subjected to abuse and rape…I may have experienced all these things at one point in my life, and I may still experience scary ableism on a daily basis, but I’m still alive.

I haven’t been killed yet, and am not currently being tortured.

Is Your Belief a Habit, or Based on Facts?

Well, Steve, it’s sure based on facts. But it’s true my fear and anger are sometimes perhaps out of proportion with my current circumstances. I’m so used to being attacked that I always think I’m under attack, so it’s based on habit, too.

In What Ways is Your Belief Not Including All the Information?

Not everyone wants me dead or tortured. There are some really great people out there. I have a lot of love in my life, a lot of friends. I find compassion everywhere I go. And yet everyone—even other neurodivergent folks—has at least a seed of ableism. We’re capable of overcoming it, though. We’re capable of great and beautiful things.

Also, I have more sane privilege than a lot of people, although that thought may actually be an example of minimizing my trauma, the same as saying, “Well, he beat me, but other people get beat worse, or killed, so I don’t have a right to complain.”

How is Your Belief Confusing Something that is Possible with Something that is Likely?

Well, I sure hope that Aktion T-4 doesn’t repeat full-scale in the U.S. I hope that my kid & I are never killed for being neurodivergent. And we certainly won’t get hurt or killed every time we leave the house. Usually things are okay. Most days are okay. Therefore, a lot of my fear and anger comes from confusing something that is possible with something that is likely.

But I will get hurt again because of my neurodivergence. And…God, I hate saying this…so will Kid. It’s a given.

How is Your Belief Based on Feelings Rather than Facts?

In the end, I have to look at this question, and shrug my shoulders.

My fear and anger aren’t serving me, even if they’re somewhat justified. I have to examine those feelings, and then let them go, so I can function.

This exercise is part of that process.

Oppression isn’t academic to us—it’s not our feelings being hurt, or us being offended. Oppression causes trauma. It makes us have to work through these feelings, which takes a lot of time and energy and can lead to unhealthy behavior. It contributes to PTSD. So, please stop oppressing us. You’re causing real damage to real people.

If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this, thank you for reading. I hope this was helpful to you in some way, or informative. If it was new info, please take it into consideration in your life. Work on your belief system with regard to neurodivergent and mentally ill folks, so that the world will be safer for us.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor who spends a lot of time in her tiny home, screaming her frustration to her best friends—a potted orchid, an Australian shepherd, and a satanic cat. You can find her on Amazon, and she wishes you would, because she’s poor as fuck.

How to Be a Writer

I hate advice on how to be a writer.

People say, “Real writers use pen and ink. They write every day. They have inborn talent; are obsessive about grammar; and subsist on tea, chocolate and cat kisses.”

My least favorite writing advice is that old nugget spouted by Hemingway, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I truly don’t mean to call folks out, but there was a writer on my Twitter timeline the other day who coughed up this particular oft-polished gem. “Writing isn’t relaxing. It’s not musing. It’s not a journey. Each word is ripped from your soul like a malignant tumor, and splatted onto the page, while you writhe in anguish.” I’m paraphrasing; it was something to the effect that writing was a process akin to trench warfare or medieval torture, that any of us are lucky to survive intact, but I can’t retrieve the original tweet, because when I responded “naw” and suggested that maybe writing was a bad fit job for him, the guy (it’s always dudes who have this particular advice, it seems like) blocked me. Some folks can’t dig my snark.

The thing is, writing is whatever you make it. Whatever method (or lack of) you use to get words onto a page, to tell your story, is the right way.

For most of us, writing is sometimes hard, sometimes easy. Sometimes it makes us laugh, other times it makes us scream like we’re getting our teeth pulled without anesthetic (what, you guys aren’t screamers? I get the paramedics called on me at least twice a week).

For me, writing is a coping skill, and a job. For others, it’s a hobby. And some think of it more as a lifestyle.

All of us are writers.

None of us have a monopoly on what it means to spew words out onto a page, and none of us have the ultimate secret of how best to accomplish it. Ultimately, it’s just something you do, for whatever reason.

My Successful Queries

Writing a query is a daunting task. When I was facing down the prospect of writing my very first one, it seemed impossible. How can I condense an 80k-word novel into one paragraph, in a way that’s engaging and meaningful? How can I convey the amount of heart and soul I put into my story in a trite marketing pitch? And how can I possibly make my query stand out amongst the dozens (or even hundreds) that an agent can get in a single day?

A lot of writers say that it’s more difficult to write a query than write the novel. I’m squarely in that camp. Knowing which elements to include, and which will just confuse things, can be seriously headache-inducing. It’s a completely different skill than writing a book. But it’s an  important skill, because querying is how most authors find agents and publishers. If you can’t write a good query, it doesn’t matter how amazing your book is: agents will never know, because they’ll never read it.

Like any other skill, query-writing can be learned. There are lots of how-to articles out there. I always recommend the amazing Query Shark, which is a great way to learn the elements of a query, and get an idea of what works, and what doesn’t. You get to see how they’re pieced together, and see a reaction of a top agent to each element.

I thought I would also (gulp) use some of my own queries as examples, to dissect the elements.

So, here we go! This first one is for TRUE STORY, a YA contemp that I’m currently trying to find a home for. This query has gotten me quite a few full manuscript requests. My comments are in brackets.

Dear Ms. Mumblemumble [ALWAYS use their name. Never use the generic “Dear Agent” or “To Whom it May Concern”]:

I’m querying you because you indicated on Twitter that you’re seeking YA own voices books [Agents love to hear why you’re querying them specifically. They want you to be particularly interested in working with them, as well]. I am seeking representation for TRUE STORY, a YA contemporary romance, with elements of magical realism [genre], complete at 73,000 words [word count]. It’s an own voices book that deals with mental health issues [if you don’t know what an own voices book is, ask me. If your book is own voices, it’s a huge selling point, but if it’s not, don’t worry].

17-year-old Mike Charley is a girl, named after her grandfather by a bipolar mother who thought Mike was his reincarnation. Now Mike is in the foster system, and constantly in trouble: for running away from sketchy foster parents, for skipping school. The only safe place for her is in the fantasy worlds she writes about [This is an intro to my main character, and hints toward one of her goals: to overcome the things holding her back from happiness (stigma, hurtful past, bullying)].

Then she meets Vaughn, and is drawn against her will to the handsome, talented artist. There’s a connection between them that sets her spine tingling [intro to the secondary character. If it’s a romance, this is always the love interest. Also introduces another goal: get together with the guy she likes 😊].

When a car accident puts Mike in the hospital and Vaughn in a coma, Mike begins to have visions. Their fates are intertwined, and Vaughn’s life is now in Mike’s hands: she has ten days to complete the book she’s writing, or he’ll never wake up [This introduces the main conflict, and the stakes: “…or he’ll never wake up”].

This belief lands her in an institution, but Mike knows she’s not crazy [more conflict]. Trapped and helpless, not allowed to write, the day fast approaching when Vaughn’s father pulls him off life support, Mike has to find a way to finish her book…or a way to join her boyfriend in death [stakes: do it or die].

[The “meat” of my query is 176 words. That’s a good word count.]

I am an active writer, musician, and freelance editor. I have had five books published by Limitless Publishing: the romantic suspense Love or Money and four books in my magical realism Other Place series. I have two short horror stories set to come out in the 13: Déjà vu and 13: Night Terrors anthologies—an internationally bestselling series of anthologies. I am a neurodivergent person, and a neurodiverse rights activist who speaks at forums and events [My bio is long. It shouldn’t be longer than this, in most fiction queries, but most of this is relevant/interesting stuff. You want to let the agent/editor know that you’ll be a good person to work with, and you have attributes that are marketable—that you’re interesting as a person, and not just a great writer].

Thank you for your consideration.

Elizabeth Roderick

elizabethroderick@att.net

[phone number]

[Always contain contact info].

This query certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it is working for me, because it briefly introduces my characters, conflict, and stakes, with just enough specifics to help set it apart from other books without giving too much away.

Here is my query for THE OTHER PLACE, which got me multiple full requests, and an offer:
I am seeking representation for THE OTHER PLACE, a YA Contemporary novel with elements of magical realism. It is complete at 74,000 words, and is a stand-alone novel with series potential.

Justin just wants to draw and be left in peace, but when his mother takes up with a man who thinks his schizophrenia can be cured with prayer, he has to find a new home or risk involuntary commitment in a Christian mental institution.

He runs off to San Francisco, where he’s discovered by a gallery owner. His bizarre and beautiful drawings create a stir in the art world; people rave about his genius and flock to see his work. Meanwhile, Justin is homeless, couch surfing and battling his mental illness.

He reconnects with a girl named Liria, who has been appearing in his visions since they met back in his hometown. Liria, it turns out, has been sharing those visions. Compelled by their deep connection, she leaves her jealous girlfriend in order to be with him, supporting them both on her meagre income.

They discover that the gallery owner has been hiding something, and Justin realizes that being a genius can have a downside. Surrounded by people who want to exploit his talent, he must fight not only for his career and his freedom, but perhaps for his life.

I am a board member of the San Luis Obispo NightWriters association, assistant editor and columnist for their newsletter. I have recently had a short story published by Akashic Books.

Pursuant to your guidelines, I’m pasting the first 25 pages of The Other Place below.

I hope that seeing these is of some help to you in your own querying endeavors. After all, if I can write a successful query, so can you!


Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor/writer. You can find her on Amazon. Information about her editing services is here.

Do You Need an Editor?

At some point in a writer’s life, we’ll likely wonder whether we should hire a professional editor for our manuscript. I’m an author, as well as a freelance editor, so I wanted to chime in with my opinions and advice on this subject.

Most articles fall squarely in one or another category: YES you ALWAYS need an editor, or NO, they’re a WASTE OF MONEY. In this piece, I’ll discuss both the pros and cons, as well as how to choose an editor if you decide to get one.

If your goal is self-publishing, you probably want to hire at least one editor. Successful indy authors often hire two: a developmental editor, and a proofreader. You will feel more confident about your manuscript if you go through an editing process before publishing, and readers will thank you with their dollars and positive reviews if you do.

I personally would never publish a book without having it go through an editing process, even though I’m an editor myself. We truly can’t see our own work with objective enough eyes to be sure it’s our best effort. Hiring an editor isn’t cheating, or selling out your voice. It’s just part of the process of publishing, and of creating good art.

However, if your goal is getting traditionally published, you may be on the fence about whether you should get an editor before querying. After all, if you get an agent, they will often give developmental critique, and a publisher will always put your manuscript through an editing process before publication. So, why should you bother paying for one yourself?

Hopefully this article will help you decide whether it’s right for you.

PROS

If you’ve spent any time being a writer, you’ll know the value of getting other eyes on your work. No matter how skilled or talented we are, it’s difficult to be detached enough to see our own errors, weak spots, and inconsistencies.

Critiquers and beta readers are invaluable in the revision process, and help us to spot our story’s weaknesses and strengths. However, even if these folks aren’t our family and friends, they might have difficulty being fully up-front with us about our work. If we’re also helping them with their own manuscripts, they don’t want to risk angering us. And besides, who wants to be mean?

Editors, however, are professionals. We get paid to be honest about your book. That shouldn’t mean we’re rude or cruel, but we have no qualms about telling you exactly what we think; after all, it’s our job. You expect it from us. And, we have a vested interest in seeing you published, because that will be another notch in our headboard, so to speak: a point of pride, and a means of getting further clients.

Whenever one of my clients gets a request or an offer, I feel almost as if I’d gotten one myself. I put some of my heart and soul into their book, and my clients always (so far) put me in the acknowledgments when I’ve worked with them. If my name is on something, I have a huge investment in making sure it’s the best it can be.

As much as I enjoy being a CP or beta, it just isn’t the same.

Editors also have more experience than critiquers or beta readers. Our experience can come in a lot of different forms; some of us worked for publishers before hanging out our freelance shingles. Others have degrees in English or Literature. Some, like me, just got our starts with a lot of practical experience such as writing books, short stories, queries, and pitches; judging contests; and being involved in a million critique partnerships.

This experience matters a lot. Writing and editing aren’t innate talents, like some seem to think; they’re skills that we hone through practice, and an editor will bring this skill to bear, helping you craft your novel into something you can be even more proud of.

Be sure you choose the right editor for your manuscript, however. If you get one who isn’t right for your book, it will be a waste of your money.

Being “right” for your book doesn’t always mean someone who is expensive, or even someone with decades of experience. It means they believe in your manuscript and share your vision for it. They need to have a good handle on your personal voice and style, and be willing to work with you instead of against you.

They also need to be good at what they do, however. The only true way to know this is to do your homework before hiring them.

Always research potential editors, ask for references, and have them do a free sample edit (usually first couple pages of your manuscript) to make sure they are not only qualified, but a good fit for you. Make sure they seem enthusiastic about your book, and that their sample edits make sense and seem right (give them time to sink in before deciding this, because often the best editors will strike a nerve, and sometimes it’s difficult to keep from getting defensive when that happens). Email a few of their references and make sure they were happy with the editor’s work. Triple bonus if those clients got requests, agents and publishing contracts after working with them.

Make sure you’re really comfortable with someone before you give them money and hand over your word-baby. A good editor will give you the space and the information you need in order to make the decision, and won’t hound you.

A NOTE ON SENSITIVITY READERS:

There is a lot of bad press out there about sensitivity readers lately. I am myself a sensitivity reader. I’ve worked with many clients, including some of the Big Five publishers, on books containing neurodivergent/mentally ill characters, and characters with addiction issues. I love sensitivity reading, and I’m willing to die on this hill to defend the process.

If your manuscript has a character who is marginalized, and especially if you don’t share that marginalization, please consider hiring a sensitivity reader. We aren’t here to censor your book, but to make it better. We want your book to succeed. A good SR won’t be defensive and actively looking for problems. We will fact-check, and bring more soul, more feeling, and more humanity to your marginalized characters by virtue of our lived experience. Being a marginalized person is complicated, and it’s not something outsiders can easily understand. We can help you to understand, and your book (and your life) will be richer for it.

Most writers would love to have an FBI agent read over their manuscript with an FBI agent main character, correct? They’d delight in having someone to help them on the small details, and let them know how it feels to be in certain situations. It would help the narrative to really come alive. So why is there pushback over hiring sensitivity readers?

The answer, unfortunately, is often bigotry. People are defensive and frightened about confronting their prejudices and misunderstandings which might come through in their writing. That’s normal, and it’s okay, because you can’t grow without confronting these things. Don’t be scared. A good sensitivity reader won’t spend their time berating you. They’ll be relieved you reached out, and will genuinely want to hold an open (if sometimes difficult) conversation about your characters.

Again, be sure to connect with a SR before hiring them, to make sure they’re a good fit for your book, and that they communicate in a way that works for you. Always be respectful of the amount of emotional labor it takes to be a SR, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. As long as you’re truly listening to us, we’ll be happy to answer.

CONS

There can be cons to hiring an editor, believe it or not.

If you put effort into finding good critique partners or beta readers, and put a lot of time and thought into revising your own book, you can get an agent and/or publisher without getting your manuscript professionally edited.

The most obvious argument against hiring an editor is the expense. I haven’t yet engaged an editor prior to sending a book out to agents or publishers. It’s not that I don’t believe in it, I’m just very poor. If you have a few hundred bucks you’ll never miss, you don’t have much to lose by getting professional eyes on your manuscript, but few of us have that luxury.

Another con is that an editor is only one person, and their opinions, while hopefully informed, are opinions and are therefore subjective and personal. Even if their critiques and suggestions make sense to you, that doesn’t automatically translate into revisions that will land you a contract more easily. I have gotten suggestions from professionals (both editors and agents) which resonated with me, only to have a different agent tell me they didn’t agree with that advice, or give me the exact opposite suggestion. So who should I listen to?

There is no right or wrong way to write. This is a subjective business. Being careful in choosing an editor—finding one who is both skilled and shares your vision—can mitigate the amount of “bad” advice you get, but even if you find the perfect editor for your book, not all of their suggestions will resonate, and you can never consider their opinions to be foolproof.

Developmental editors aren’t there to “fix” your manuscript; they are artists, like you, and can only be a partner in crafting your story, not a doctor who cures it of any ills.

Those are the only cons I can think of, but you definitely should take them into consideration.

Hiring an editor is a personal decision. If you’ve already been querying and have had little to no success; if you’re getting conflicting advice from betas and CPs; or if you really want to have full confidence that your manuscript is ready for querying, an editor might be the answer.

Please let me know what pros and cons I failed to touch on. I always love to hear from you.

 

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Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor/writer. You can find her on Amazon. Information about her editing services is here.