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.


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


[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.


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.


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.


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.



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

Ableism in Literary Gatekeeping

I’ve been thinking about ableism/bigotry in literary gatekeepers again. My last post on this stirred up wank. I’d appreciate it if y’all kept that to subtweets if you must, because I’m through making room for that ableism in my world.

I’ve been writing as always, and forging ahead in this career of mine. I’m working on my 17th full-length novel, and I’ve been pitching agents with an own voices YA—the (*counts*) twelfth novel I finished, about a bipolar girl navigating high school, first love, and institutionalization (sounds cool, right? It is 😊) .

Right now, I’m not making a lot of money off of book sales; most of it comes from the freelance editing/writing/consulting work I do. Deep in my heart, I know I’ve been concentrating my efforts in the wrong areas, and avoiding the work I really need to do. Because, no matter how much I enjoy editing and the other stuff, my goal is to make the bulk of my money off my own books.

In order to make money off of books, however, you have to do THE “M” WORD.

(I mean marketing, not some more interesting “m” word.)

I have five titles already published. I’m proud of those books, and people who read them like them. I’m utter crap at marketing, which is why I’ve been looking for an agent: for guidance and handholding in my marketing efforts, more than my publisher can give. But even with an agent, I’d have to do a lot of that work myself. So what am I waiting for? Why am I not doing it?

Marketing my books is no easy task, however. To start with, they don’t fall easily into a niche (especially my Other Place series). If you were to ask me who my audience is, I would probably say…people? Who like books?

More typical marketing efforts haven’t worked well for me. My romance and other genre fic author friends often try to take me under their wing and get me involved in Instafreebie giveaways, takeovers, anthologies…that stuff is hella fun, and I get great comments about my little romance short stories and such that I write, but it never translates into a major boost in sales. That’s because my full-length books are pretty much in the “other” genre.

Just like me, according to the neurotypical world.

Strangely enough, the only marketing method that gives me a sales bump is when I appear in-person to give talks about my writing and neurodiversity. I sell out of books at events like these, then get an e-book bump, as well. I think this might be because I’m a five-foot-tall, snub-nosed white lady who, as some officers at a recent CIT session I spoke at so aptly put it, doesn’t “look crazy”. I’m non-threatening. I may fidget a lot, but I’m told I’m an eloquent and compelling speaker. At any rate, people just seem a lot more prepared to listen to me in person than they do online.

So, I decided, it’s time for me to do That Thing That I Hate So Much: contact people. Specifically, to try to get book signings.

There’s an indy bookstore in Seattle that a lot of my friends told me to contact, because it was easiest for them to get to. It’s a place a lot like other bookstores I’ve done well at, so I wrote them a little email. I introduced myself as a neurodiverse own voices writer, and said I was looking for a signing to showcase my Other Place series, which is the story of a woman dealing with homelessness and addiction, and a schizophrenic man trying to make it in the art world.

I got a response back: “Thank you for contacting us. We don’t feel your books would be a good fit for our venue, because our clientele aren’t generally interested in romantic suspense.”

Readers, I should have left it at that. But, sometimes I’m so fatigued by ableist what-the-fuckery that I dissolve into a big bucket of can’t-even.  I replied that the books aren’t at all romantic suspense (not adding that I fucking wish they were RS, because then I wouldn’t have to waste so much time talking to bitches like her, and could just do the Instafreebie and author takeover things that work well for RS authors). I tried to clarify what type of books they are…of course, I was just restating what I’d already made clear in the first email. And, of course, she didn’t reply.

I don’t know if literary gatekeepers (and others) even know how ableist they are. From the way they’ve said in the past that I’m “whining”, “bitter”, “delusional”, and that I “don’t know how publishing works” when I’ve spoken up about the ableism I encounter as a neurodiverse own voices writer, I’m hoping not. But, while I may not know marketing from the inside of my dog’s butt (I don’t know anything specific about the inside of my dog’s butt, for context), I do know ableism when I see it. I’m a goddamn expert on ableism. And gatekeepers: y’all are IT.

This events coordinator woman wanted to reject me, because of the visceral reaction people have when they hear someone is “mentally ill”, especially when that mental illness involves psychosis. She went looking for a reason to reject me. It wasn’t a reason that made sense, at all. I mean, the books aren’t by any logical yardstick romantic suspense, and also, how whacked-out do you think I am that I’d believe a bookstore could afford to alienate romance readers? You’re a BOOKSTORE. I don’t care how cultured you think you are: unless you’re a university store where students get their textbooks, romance of some sort is likely your bread and butter, or a good portion thereof. Additionally, even if the Other Place series was  romantic suspense, it would be own voices romantic suspense with neurodiverse characters. That’s not “just” romantic suspense: that’s something that *should* be interesting to a more…(educated? Pretentious? I can’t find the right word here. They’re all inappropriate and/or more insulting than I want them to be)…readership.

I’ll get a signing eventually, but it doesn’t mean that this experience was okay.

So, gatekeepers: y’all are ableist (and prejudiced in other ways). I’m not whining. I’m not bitter. I’m just throwing the God’s-honest truth at you. It doesn’t matter that you already have a book with a neurodiverse character, or by an own voices author, on your list or on your shelves. We’re not a trophy that you can hold up to prove you’re not bigoted. We’re not that “one friend” you have that means you’re compassionate and progressive. We’re authors, writing great books, and you’re shutting us out with your (sometimes unconscious) prejudice.

Get conscious of that shit, because y’all are assholes.

Elizabeth Roderick doesn’t think YOU are an asshole. You read her whole post. If you’d like to check out her books, she’d really appreciate it.

Living in a Tiny House: Part 3

I’m going to give myself a little break this lovely Sunday morning and do another blog post about living in my tiny house, and how I’m working toward my goal of subsistence farming, and independent living as a neurodivergent person.

It’s been closing in on a year since I last posted about this. Yikes! Time gets away from me when I’m so busy.

A lot has happened since my last tiny-house post. My mom had a triple bypass in February, for one. It’s really brought home the fact that all of the hardship that led me back to the family farm in the first place was well worth it, because this is where I belong. I was able to help my mom out and be there for her during her recovery, and it’s brought us closer together as a family.

Winter on the farm



It was a beautiful fall, and an early (and pretty hard) winter. The first hard frost came early in October, and since our last one had been on June 15 (! – really, super late for this

Tomatoes, peppers, and basil from last fall’s harvest.

area), we didn’t get enough tomatoes to can or freeze. I fried up quite a few green ones, though. Just thinking about the fried green tomato po boys and bahn mi (on homemade rolls) I ate is making me hungry right now. So good with veggie bacon and sprouts; or tofu, thin-sliced cabbage, Korean-style turnip pickles, and sriracha mayo.


I tried ripening some of the green tomatoes indoors, but without much success. I’ll hopefully get more ripe ones this year, but there are always some green ones left over when it freezes. I may sauce some of them this year, because green tomato puree/sauce is a great addition to soups, enchilada sauces, salsas, etc.

I did string a lot of peppers, can a lot of peaches, make jam galore, and Kid and I had

Chestnuts and apples – gleaning leftover produce from others’ farms supplements my harvest.

plenty of dried plums, pears, and cherries to gorge ourselves on during the cold winter months and fight off ye olde scurvy. I also gleaned many pounds of chestnuts from a neighboring orchard (gleaning happens after harvest, so is not stealing. It’s produce that otherwise would have been left to rot.) I wrapped those up in tinfoil and roasted them in my potbelly woodstove, quickly learning that you have to score them beforehand or they’ll explode, sometimes right in your face, the shrapnel burning your eyeballs and curling your eyebrows. For those uninitiated, chestnuts are a little difficult to peel sometimes, but they’re SO good—really meaty and savory. I like roasting them in the oven with potatoes and root vegetables, and as a yummy addition to mashed potatoes and gravy. I’m going to experiment more next winter with grinding them into a paste to use in crusts, breads, and desserts. (Making a cookbook of all our recipes is something Kid and I are working on, but we have so much else going on, that it may take a while.)


IMG_2840This year is off to a great start. I’ve been working on expanding the farm business. We opened a little nursery (selling vegetable, herb, and flower starts we grew in our greenhouses). We were able to make costs (pay for the seeds and soil) plus a few hundred dollars on top of that, and we still had ample plants left over to fill our own gardens. I call that a success.

We’ll also be selling fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs—I’m already selling snap peas, turnips, basil, and cilantro. I have plans to start a worm farm soon, to save money on soil next year and increase our profit margin, while increasing the quantity of plants we grow.

I also hope to have enough extra eggs to sell soon, and maybe fresh chicken. The “fresh chicken” thing probably needs explanation…I used to be a vegetarian, but since my financial situation changed and I moved back to the farm, I’ve had to take a more practical approach.

This all started when (fucking asshole) neighbor dogs came in and killed a bunch of our chickens last winter. I’m so poor, that it just didn’t make good economic and moral sense to throw away good protein, so I butchered the poor things. It wasn’t too bad, though it was definitely an olfactory experience, and one that brought me into touch with my place in the food chain; as I labored at cutting out all the bad meaty/organy bits while leaving the good ones, I imagined hundreds of generations before me, working so hard just to feed themselves and their families, at peace with the fact that we are able to live

Home-hatched chick. Name: Penguin

because other organisms die. There’s a sort of meditation to it.


So, anyway, still on the subject of chicken death, last year we had about thirteen chicks hatched on the farm by our own broody hens. Nine of those (eek) were roosters. They were wreaking havoc: fighting each other, brutally gang raping the hens, and traumatizing my parents’ border collie, who is autistic (this isn’t some ableist joke, nor am I comparing my dog to people to be clear—I’m serious, and I’m autistic so I have insight). She’s very noise-sensitive. Whenever the roosters would get into a kerfuffle, she’d pace and whine and be really upset. When a certain rooster crowed, it really set her off: she’d spin circles and snap at that rooster. I really felt for her, because she couldn’t walk away from the situation and it was really triggering for her.

So, before I moved back, my dad would give the roosters away to a guy down at the feed store who would slaughter them himself. I figured, if we know they’re going to be killed anyway, we should just own that fact and butcher them ourselves. My family reluctantly agreed, so we had a good old-fashioned butchering day in the spring. We rounded those cocks all up, my dad killed them and I processed them. I thought it was going to be horrible, but it wasn’t so bad because it was just family work, for a good purpose. We talked with each other so the togetherness could decrease the sting of mortality, and I just thought about those poor, gang-raped hens (it was really awful) and the poor dog, and it was a lot easier.

(Incidentally, if you’re a vegan who wants to harass me about this, I am quite literally doing what I need to survive. I’m neurodiverse, and disabled, and farming is the way I’ve come up with to make a life for myself and Kid. I’m happy to discuss the ethics of all this with you, but please don’t police my choices.)

Home-hatched chick. Name: Nu Egg


I increased our chicken flock by twelve this spring by buying chicks (ten americaunas, and two silkies because I couldn’t help myself), and so far we’ve had seven chicks born on the farm. As I said, we lost some of our flock to (stupid fucking) neighbor dogs, so we’re currently standing at about 30-ish birds altogether. We eat all the eggs now ourselves, but hopefully I’ll have some extra to sell by fall.



We also got two hives of bees!! This is really exciting. I love watching them. The hives are already big enough that we had to add the second brood boxes, and hopefully we’ll be able to put on the honey supers by the end of summer. If all goes well, we’ll have honey next summer.


I increased my vegetable garden by 300%, tilling up a bunch more bottom land by my cabin. I’m growing lots of different stuff, including popcorn (I eat SO MUCH popcorn) and soybeans. I’ll sell some of it, but I’m digging a root cellar to store more of my vegetables and squash

More garden!

. It got down below zero last winter, and was in the teens a lot, plus we had several feet of snow that stayed all winter, so the veggies didn’t keep in the ground at all. I was left having to go to the food bank and purchase food. I’m doing pretty well digging the hole. I’m hindered somewhat by the desire of my dog, my cat, and myself to lie in the cool dirt (which is unproductive in the traditional sense), but more by some physical problems: I’m getting a deep ache under the shoulder blade,

Root cellar—hole in progress

and numb/tingling fingers, with an inability to grasp or lift things with that hand. It makes it hard to dig/hoe, and I have to sometimes rest for days on end (from strenuous arm-using physical labor, anyway) and drink my herbal painkilling tea. If ONLY I had a strong, sexy BOY who loved digging holes and eating fresh vegetables, and who could help me out…but I guess some people are just buttholes and don’t want to move up here, and I guess I’m not helping my cause by talking about how decrepit I am. I’ll get my hole dug by myself anyway. I don’t

shirtless phoenix
Man commonly known as Boy, here looking self-satisfied with the ocean breeze fluttering his beard

need any strong, sexy boys. *flounces*


As an aside, the weird thing is, if I were getting paid to dig someone else’s hole (not a euphemism), I would have quit and gotten worker’s comp for the injury, and would be in physical therapy and maybe having surgery. That would undoubtedly be the healthy thing to do, but I like digging holes if they’re my holes; I have to do it because no one else will do it for me; and I’m afraid of getting treatment because they’ll say, “stop digging darned holes, dammit” which is advice I will not heed in any event, at least not in the summer. So, I’ll soldier on and see what happens with my arm; if I need to get it looked at, I’ll do it this winter when I’m idler (as long as I get my wood all cut beforehand…and as long as Trump’s Deathcare bill hasn’t been put into effect yet CALL YOUR REPS, U.S.-IANS!)

All this farm work takes at a minimum three hours a day, often a lot more. It’s obviously not paying the bills yet (which, thankfully, are minor, because I own my car, have no debt, use barely any electricity (and we’re going solar!), have well water, etc. My only bills are my phone and my car insurance). I supplement this income with freelance editing, freelance writing, and a startup called Authordock that I’ve become involved in. It’s a website that helps writers with their publishing goals: I critique pitches, queries and first pages; give advice; direct clients to opportunities like pitch competitions; and provide resources by composing advice articles and making how-to videos…it’s a really cool project. The result of this is that, now that I’m, as people say, “lazy and unemployed”, I’m actually working 90-hour weeks, and yet making half a pittance. This is another way that disabled people end up making super-subminimum wage: the work we’re able to do isn’t something society values very much, so is underpaid.

I also have, you know, some books published (I’ve had several come out this year, and I have a short story in the next edition of a bestselling anthology, which comes out in a few days). That does bring in a little money, but I have very little time left for marketing, so not much at all. So, I’ll do that thing where I tell you I’m super poor and disabled (not that you should pity me—I love what I’m doing, I just make very little money at it). I don’t have a tip jar, so if you like hearing about my tiny-home and farming adventures, you should consider buying one of my books. People say they’re really good! And they’re ownvoices books, with neurodiverse and queer characters. They’re my way of trying to share my strange world with others. If you buy them, consider giving me a review, and/or recommending them to others who are into that sort of books.

Think of buying ownvoices books like donating to a charity, except you’re not paying forIMG_2873 marketing and executive salaries: you’re making a contribution toward someone’s independent, sustainable living and/or affirmation as an important member of society. In my case, you’re not only affirming my worth, you’re keeping me off the streets or out of an institution, making sure Kid has a stable and happy mom (and new socks when she needs them, which is too often), PLUS you get great books. This is such a win/win/win, y’all!

I’m trying to get an agent to help with the book marketing thing. My publisher is great, but their marketing apparatus isn’t really the best for my kind of books. If I had an agent directing and supporting me in my marketing efforts, I think I’d do a lot better. I have a handful of fulls out with agents right now, of my thirteenth novel—an ownvoices YA contemporary romance/magical realism about a young woman with bipolar psychosis trying to navigate high school, first love, the foster system and the mental health system. Wish me luck!

I have lots of other plans for my life—selling hand-woven baskets, and other crafts made with natural and upcycled materials, for instance, as well as the cookbook and some other things. Plus, I have a short story on contract for another anthology coming out in September, and I’m working hard on writing my seventeenth full-length novel. Another tiny house is also in the works, to give us more kitchen space and Kid her own bedroom. But I think I’ve rambled enough for this post, so I’ll talk about all that later.

Thank you for reading!

About Writing “On Trend”

IMG_1163As a professional writer, it always pays to keep an eye on the industry. No one wants to write a book that they then have to shelve simply because it’s a played-out trend. But, as others have said over and over again, you should never try to write “on trend”. I personally believe that means you should not fail to write “off trend”, either: you shouldn’t decide not to write a book that you really want to, just because you’re afraid it won’t sell.

For one thing, you never truly have shelve a book if you don’t want to. Some things will always be in fashion, and other things come back into fashion again. It’s like when my 23-year-old boyfriend put on Abbey Road, then got miffed when I sang along with all the songs. He apparently thought The Beatles were some great band he’d rediscovered, not knowing that they’d never been un-discovered. Or it’s like when his 19-year-old best friend asked me, “Have you ever heard of this awesome band System of a Down???” Psh, step aside, little man. I was howling along with those fools when you were teething, but I’m glad they’re cool again.

If it doesn’t turn out that your genre is a trend that’s here to stay, and you don’t want to wait until it comes back into fashion (as it undoubtedly will one day), self-publishing and indie publishers are viable options. There is absolutely no shame in either, nor will you ruin your chances of hooking an agent with future books by taking that route.

Let’s look at how a trend generally happens (I’ll use genre trends as an example): someone writes a book that becomes really popular. Agents who really liked the book are excited to sign authors who write similar ones, and publishers snap them up, because readers are voracious locusts who will feast unrelentingly on that fresh crop of books until the stores and libraries are barren dust bowls.

Later, though, agents get tired of seeing query after query for the same darn thing (because writers also loved the book that started this whole mess, too…or because they unfortunately think deliberately writing “on trend” is a good idea). Publishers also eventually stop buying books in that trend, because the market is saturated. It isn’t because readers have stopped loving books in that genre, it’s just that there is now such a thriving crop of them that the locusts will have a hard time devouring them all in their lifetimes, and so it’s hard for one book to stand out and make money. That’s why, like I said above, self-publishing and indie-publishing are viable options for off-trend books: those books still have an audience, and you (or your indie publisher, who might specialize in that niche audience) can find them.

HOWEVER, just because you’re writing in a supposedly played-out trend doesn’t mean you’ll never find an agent or a big publishing deal, even before the trend comes back around. Say you write a spectacular vampire romance. You aren’t trying to copy Twilight, you just have this really powerful story that you HAVE to write, in your own new and different way. If that’s the case, you could probably find an agent that sees that greatness, and realizes they can pitch it with a spin that appeals to publishers.

With regard to trends besides genre trends, specifically the “first person, present tense fatigue” that I spoke about in my earlier piece…I’m sorry, but I find this “trend” hilarious in a way. I was wondering if this sort of thing would happen, since a while back a lot of agents were lamenting that they wanted to see more YA written in first person present. The thing about tenses and points of view is that, unlike genres, there are very few of them. As long as you’re choosing the ones that are best for your characters and story, and aren’t just writing or failing to write it in a certain way because you’re worried about trends, a reasonable agent won’t turn you down just because of that. Unless, perhaps, if it’s second person or future tense (though you could find the right agent for these if you are skillful).

Writing is indeed a business, but it is first and foremost an art. You should write the books that are in your heart, and write them the way you want, whether it’s on trend or not. There will always be more books for you to write in the future, and you will never lose out by telling the stories you hold dear now.


Choosing a Tense and Point of View

12061-strict-woman-teacher-stern.1200w.tnI’m going to talk a little bit about how to choose a tense and a point of view that’s right for your story and characters.

For those who aren’t followers of my blog, I’ll tell you little about myself so you know my qualifications to opine on this subject. First of all, I’m a writer, so I love to see myself write in the same way that some people love to hear themselves talk. I also think my opinions are of paramount importance, also due to the fact I’m of the artistic persuasion, so I will state my views loudly over the boring drone of other people stating their own opinions.

Actually, I hope the above is not true. At least too much. I am, indeed, a writer. I have three published books, and a contract on two more that are set to come out on 3/7/17 and 5/2/17. I have written fifteen books in all (which are in various stages of revision and pitching), and am in the midst of drafting another. These books are in all manners and mixtures of tenses and points of view (though I’ve not used second person or future tense, and I don’t write in omniscient).

I’m also a freelance editor, and an active beta reader/critique partner, which means I’ve helped or tried to help a lot of other people decide the best tenses and points of view in which to write their own stories.

And, of course, I read a lot, and pay attention to how other professionals use tense and point of view as style and literary devices.

Okay. Here we go.

The default tense and point of view for fiction writing is third person, past tense (at least in English and Spanish, the two languages I’m familiar with). This makes sense when you think about the oral storytelling tradition. In most stories, myths, legends, and parables, the narrator is telling about something someone else did in the past. The exception to this is, of course, when someone is telling a personal anecdote. Then the narrative would be in first person, past tense. In the oral tradition, using present tense would be awkward, because that would actually be running commentary of what’s going on at the moment. Listeners might find that creepy: “The savory scent of stewing venison washes over me as Miriam adds carrots and potatoes to the pot. She bends over to fetch the peeler from the bottom drawer, and the hem of her skirt creeps upward, giving me a view of the smooth, delicious curve of her bare thigh.

“Miriam turns to scowl at me. ‘What the hell did you just say?’

“I rub the back of my neck sheepishly. ‘Sorry, Miriam.’ I really shouldn’t think things like that about my mother-in-law.”

Anyhoo, the oral tradition has influenced the written tradition, and it seems most common for books to be written in third person, past tense (this is especially true of older novels). However, you can use whatever tense and point of view you want—it’s no longer uncommon to use first person or present tense in fiction. I’ve also read stories written in second person, though I can’t think of anything I’ve read in future tense.

I will now tell you about how I go about choosing a point of view and tense for my stories. I don’t always consider the following things in the same order I list them below. My mind just isn’t that organized. My thoughts generally resemble a sluggish river roiling with piranhas and crocodiles, but it usually calms down in there eventually and I figure stuff out.

Genre Considerations, In General

One of the things to consider is the genre, although this, I think, is the most minor consideration, unless you’re writing memoir: that’s almost always first person past tense, because you’re telling about something you did or experienced in the past. I think I did read one supposed memoir that was first person present, and I found it so contrived and douchy that I had to put it down…though you definitely could pull that sort of thing off if you did it correctly.

There are other genres that are sort of traditionally third person past tense, such as mystery, westerns, and historical romance. But even with those genres, as with all the others, it’s basically free-for-all: you can do any tense and point of view you want, as long as it works for your character and story.

As a side note, I did have someone recently tell me on Twitter that an agent said they had “first person, present tense fatigue” with regard to YA. I wrote a whole tirade about “trends” here, but it ended up being 700 words. So I took it out and gave it its own post, here.

Back to tenses and points of view…

The biggest things to consider with regard to choosing your point of view and your tense are your main character (or characters), and the nature of your narrative.

Point of View

Let’s look at point of view. First ask yourself, what kind of person is your main character? Do they pull you straight into their head and show you how they think? Are you intimately involved with their thoughts? Is the story at least partially crafted by how your main character sees the world? Then you should probably tell the story in first person, so you can let your character’s voice dictate the narrative.

First person is very useful when you have an interesting main character with a strong or different voice; or an unreliable narrator that sees the world differently than others do, and part of the story relies of the reader having to figure that out. For example, my book The Other Place, which has a schizophrenic main character, is written in first person—his character voice is strong, and the way he sees the world provides a lot of tension and interest to the story.

Conversely, if your character is stand-offish and doesn’t tell you a lot of their inner thoughts (perhaps even their motivations are in question); or the story is very plot-driven and relies on seeing events and character interactions from the narrator’s standpoint, then tell it in third person.

Additionally, if the “vibe” of the book depends a lot of the setting or scenery; or if the narrator voice is what’s really interesting (as is the case in a lot of humorous books, like Terry Pratchett’s or Carl Hiaasen’s), then you should write in third person.

If the book is very much driven by the narrator voice, and relies on the humor or drama involved in seeing events from more than one character’s point of view within a scene, then third person omniscient is warranted. Be careful with omniscient, though; it’s the easiest point of view to do badly, and you’ll end up confusing and putting off readers if you spread them too thin and make it difficult for them to identify with any one character, without letting them identify with the narrator voice. It’s better to choose one character’s point of view, or change POV only in chapter/scene breaks.

If you have a very hands-on character who tells you all your thoughts, but perhaps their voice isn’t as distinct, or part of the story relies on being able to see character interaction and other environmental factors from outside the main character’s head, consider writing in third person close point of view. That’s when it’s in third person, but you have a lot of inner dialogue (and no head-hopping at all).

I’ll touch briefly on second person. It can work well if your character is a certain kind of crazy (I am myself “crazy”, as I tell you about endlessly in my other blog posts, so please humor me in my use of this word, because I love it for some reason). I’ve seen second person used to great effect with characters who see themselves as not being exactly in control of their own actions, and yet still at the center of the universe. I don’t know if that makes sense, but if you can’t describe exactly why the narrative of your story needs to be in second person (or at least have a very strong sense of why), you probably shouldn’t write it that way.

It also works best, in my opinion, if only portions of the book are written that way, so readers don’t burn out.

And as for first person omniscient… just don’t, unless your character is a supernatural being of some sort.


Moving on to tense. This choice is also driven mostly by your character and your narrative. If you’re writing about someone who sees the world as very immediate…perhaps they don’t do well with taking the “long view” and contemplating their actions before they act, or they experience what’s going on right now very strongly for one reason or another, then present tense is the one you want to use. The best example of this type of character, as opposed to other types, is in Carl Hiaasen’s Native Tongue. Most of the book is written in third person (sort of omniscient), past tense, but when the narrative slips into the point of view of Pedro Luz, it goes into present tense. Pedro Luz is this completely steroided-up, bullheaded bully who is heavy on the action and not huge on thinking things through, so the change in tense is completely organic. Hiaasen does it so well that you hardly notice, and just slip naturally into the character’s point of view.

My book The Other Place, which I mention above, is also written in present tense, because the main character experiences the present so strongly that it sometimes takes over his whole perception and makes it difficult for him to remember that this too shall pass.

Also, if your narrative relies on the feeling that the character arc and story arc are unfolding in real time, as opposed to being told by someone looking back on events as an older, wiser person with knowledge above and beyond that which they had at the time, then it’s best to go with present tense.

If none of the above things are true, you might be better off defaulting to past tense. Still, it’s your call, and you can definitely choose either tense or point of view on a mindless whim and make it work.

As for future tense…I’ll leave discussion of that to someone with a graduate degree in literature.

If anyone has other thoughts on how to choose a point of view and/or tense, I would love to hear them!



Nightmare on Query Street

I’m finally dropping by again to mention I’m going to be a mentor in the awesome Nightmare on Query Street contest. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a great way to get your query and first 250 words polished and in front of a slew of great agents. It’s for a wide range of genres: the only things not accepted are picture books and erotica. Check it out! http://www.michelle4laughs.com/2016/10/mentors-for-nightmare-on-query-street.html

Pitch Wars #PimpMyBio: “Coming Out” About My #OwnVoices Book

I’m late to the Pitch Wars #Pimpmybio party, which is odd, because I usually have a bad habit of showing up way too early at most parties.

I just this morning resolved to enter the contest. This will be my third time entering Pitch Wars, and I’ve entered with a different manuscript each time. The first time, I entered the very first novel I’d ever completed, the first in a series of seven YA urban fantasy novels. I’ve since put that series on the back burner; it needs serious editing with my now-more-trained eye before I pitch it again.

The novel I entered last year, The Other Place, is an upper YA/NA contemporary magical realism novel. It’s about a young man with schizophrenia trying to make it as an artist, find love, and find his place in the world. This book was released by Limitless Publishing on 7/5/16.

Yes, I know. I’m a published author, and so I feel a little shy entering Pitch Wars. I know (from experience, unfortunately) that some other contestants are likely giving me the stink-eye, wishing I’d step aside to give the less fortunate a chance. But I don’t have an agent, and really want one; my books are getting great reviews, but I’m a marketing doofus and I think I could get wider exposure if I had an agent on my side, holding my hand and cheering me on.

This competition brings in some of the best aspiring authors in the English-speaking world, and I know I don’t have any more talent or chance of being selected than a lot of the unpublished entrants. The fact I’m published and others aren’t, isn’t a measure purely of talent, but also of hard work and persistence. In fact, no matter how awesome I think my manuscript is, I don’t have a ton of hope it will be chosen. That isn’t the real reason I’m entering this contest. I’m entering because, in past years, I’ve made so many great friends in the Pitch Wars feed, and I’d love to make some more. I’m also entering because I’ve had so much going on in my life lately, both good and bad, so I’ve not been doing much querying. Pitch Wars will make me focus on trying to find this book a home.

The book I’m entering this year is entitled True Story. It’s a diverse YA romance. The main character is a seventeen-year-old Native American foster girl with the unusual name of Mike Charley. She isn’t trans; she was named after her grandfather by her bipolar mother, who thought Mike was his reincarnation.
This is an #ownvoices book. I’m not Native (though I have family in the same tribe Mike’s mother was from), but Mike has bipolar disorder with episodes of psychosis, like her mother did…and like I do.
I’ve been hesitant about pitching True Story as an #ownvoices book, though I know it might make some people more curious about it. I only recently “came out” about my neurodiversity, and it has definitely been a mixed bag. I’m lucky that my diversity isn’t visible; most days, I seem like a perfectly normal, if maybe somewhat eccentric, person, so not a lot of people knew about my neurodiversity. Since I opened up about it, I’ve gotten such a wonderful outpouring of support, but I’ve also suffered a lot of negative and hurtful comments.
Bipolar is a condition that comes with many misconceptions. People either think you’re a howling nutjob, or that you’re being attention-seeking: “I get mood swings, too, and you don’t see me crying about it.” I’m not a howling nutjob on most days, nor am I particularly attention-seeking. These stereotypes are hurtful.
When I wrote True Story, it wasn’t my intention to “educate” the world about bipolar disorder. I was just telling a cool story about a wonderful girl. But now that the book is written and edited, and steaming up the windows in its boisterous urge to get on the road, I really do want to find a wide audience for it, to show one insider’s perspective on living with bipolar.
I also think it’s important to have YA novels with bipolar and otherwise neurodiverse main characters. After my first episode of psychosis when I was 15, I was terrified. I thought my brain would completely desert me; that I might lose control of myself and hurt people. That’s what most people think “psychos” are, after all: homicidal maniacs. Most books reflect these misconceptions, and portray psychotic characters as killers or otherwise evil antagonists. At best, characters with psychosis are often complete wastes of space, objects of nothing more than pity and contempt, and are there only to be somehow “saved” by a neurotypical character.
Because I’d swallowed all those stereotypes, it was decades before I had the courage to admit even to a doctor that I’d suffered psychotic episodes. Instead, I got pretty good at managing them myself. I tried to avoid the situations that might trigger them, and I self-medicated. A lot. When I was in my late teens, I discovered that heroin made my brain chill out, and eased my crushing episodes of (sometimes suicidal) depression. It took me years and a trip to prison to kick that habit, but I eventually found healthier ways to deal with my symptoms.
But those ways don’t always work, especially when you’re like me and don’t even try to control your episodes of mania.
I love being manic. My last manic episode started in the summer of 2013. That’s when I first started writing in earnest: I finished seven novels in a year, and another five in the year after that. However, the episode coincided with a huge shift in my marriage dynamics and caused it even more strain. My husband became very insulting about my inability to “grow up and act right”. His behavior felt very abusive to me, which triggered both my bipolar disorder and my PTSD and made my behavior even more erratic. I ended up having a psychotic break last summer (my first one in more than a decade), and a few close brushes with suicide, before the relationship finally ended for good.
My dream with regard to True Story, and my other books (and other authors’ books) with neurodiverse characters, is that people will read them and be less afraid to talk about their own experiences with neurodiversity. I want people with mental illness to know that they aren’t “less” than neurotypical people; they’re not dangerous or creepy, or in any other way unfit to take their rightful place in society. Then maybe they won’t have to go through some of the stuff I’ve gone through.
So I’m standing up (with somewhat trembly knees) and proudly declaring that True Story is an #ownvoices book. I know my admission that I have a serious mental condition might make some agents leery of working with me, but I console myself that they might not be a good match for my work anyway. When I finally do get an agent, that person will see my value, and will believe in me and my writing. They won’t buy into the negative stereotypes about bipolar disorder or PTSD. They’ll know people like me can be productive, professional, intelligent, and easy to work with.
So, that’s why I’m entering Pitch Wars: because I deserve to; because I believe in my books; and because I believe in myself and others like me.
Thank you for reading this. I’d love to hear your comments and get links to your blogs, as well. Like I said, making new friends is one of my main goals in entering Pitch Wars.
Good luck to everyone!