DIVERSITY MATTERS

by Bonnie Schroeder
 
Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.
 
The recent uproar over the lack of non-white nominees for the Academy Awards got me thinking, because I seldom explicitly depict people of color in my books and stories. I don’t think I’m a racist, so why is that?
First off, although I have many friends who are Black, Asian and Latino, I don’t think of them by that label. I think of them as my friend who was with me during a traumatic purge at our former employer, or my gal pal who shares my love of classical music. And so on.
Therefore, I don’t often assign a racial label to the characters I write about. Many of my characters could be black or green or blue or purple, but it’s not relevant so I don’t go into it.
Should I?
The reason I ask is that our books and stories are often source material for films and television programs, so in a sense, diversity starts with the writers. But is it myjob to impose diversity? I’m not sure.
When I was working in the business world, I certainly enjoyed a diverse assortment of co-workers, many of whom became close friends. Then I retired and spent more and more time in my home community, which has a predominantly White population. I didn’t notice the change at first, preoccupied as I was with making the transition from worker bee to independent writer.

Then I joined a Tai Chi class at the local Y, and the first people to welcome me were an Asian couple. The teacher was Black. A graceful Filipina taught me some of the moves. Suddenly, my world grew more colorful again—no pun intended there, or maybe it is. And I realized how I’d missed hanging out with people who didn’t look or talk like me. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

We need variety and color in our lives; it enriches us and makes the world more interesting. The universe offers a panorama of colors, shapes, sizes, sounds, tastes and smells to experience.
But back to my question: should I be more explicit in my character descriptions to make it clear that the protagonist or her friend or her boss is a particular race or color? Is there a way to denote ethnicity—to make my writing more polychromatic—without being obvious or patronizing?
After all, despite the self-important proclamations of certain performers, Hollywood would be nothing without the written word. So to circle back to my original premise, your book or my short story might be the starting point.
Sometimes the story or the situation demands a character be a certain race, but often he or she could be any race, at least in my stories. Then the reader can decide for himself or herself if the character is Black or Asian (or Martian.)

 

Weigh in with youropinion on this admittedly tricky subject. Do you consciously include a variety of ethnicities in your writing? Do you think it’s a good thing to do? Or is it better to let the reader fill in the blanks and imagine a character in any color they want?

Where Did I Get That From? Childhood Reading from Across the Pond with Rosemary Lord

Rosemary wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House! She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now,  English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies. 


WHERE DID I GET THAT FROM? – My Childhood Reading bug…. by Rosemary Lord

Luckily for me, I come from a family that loves reading, loves books.

My dad always had his head in a book: mostly mysteries. Shelves were lined with well-

thumbed Agatha Christie novels, Lesley Charteris’ Simon Templar The Saint books. Dad read George Simenon’s whodunits about Inspector Maigret, in English and in French. From my mum and sister, Angela, came the gateway to a swathe of other adventures.

Johanna Spyri’s Heidi is one of my earliest recollections. Even today, when things get too much, I think back to the grassy Swiss mountainside where young Heidi lived with her grandfather, her best friend was Peter-the-Goatherd and her diet was toasted bread and cheese washed down with milk straight from the goats. Yum!

Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children followed – three children, living alongside a railway track, trying to solve the mysterious disappearance of their father.

It was Enid Blyton’s books about The Famous Five – five young friends who get involved in school-holiday adventures – that got me interested in mysteries, long before I discovered the grown-up Agatha Christie titles.

My brother Ted says that, when he was old enough to join the local library, his Library Card was his proudest possession. “That first Saturday, I was allowed to take out The Secret Island (by Blyton). I dashed home and read it cover-to-cover. Later that afternoon I hurried back to the library to return it and take out another book. The Librarian told me I could only take out one book a day! I was devastated.”

I graduated to one of my sister’s favorite authors, Noel Streatfeild. Ballet Shoes was the first in the tales of three orphaned girls enrolled in a dance academy. Each girl’s dream takes them in different directions. My sister wanted to be a ballet dancer – I harbored secret dreams of being an actress, at that time.


While, on the other side of The Pond, American girls steeped themselves in the adventures of Nancy Drew, I had now discovered Pamela Brown’s book, The Swish of the Curtain. This was a series about seven stage-struck children who form an amateur theatre company. Brown was 16 years old when she finished this, her first novel. Her income from the book paid for her to attend R.A.D.A and become an actress.

It was Brown’s book, Maddy Alone, that took me in a different direction. When a film company arrives in the local town to shoot, Maddy is ‘discovered’ to play a big role in the movie. I then realized that it was movie-acting that I really wanted to pursue.

As a side-line, I loved the rebellious, naughty adventures of Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren, and followed her fashion sense: the freckles I had in spades and I liked pigtails and her red-and-white striped stockings.

As I grew older, I raided dad’s Agatha Christie collection, then onto his F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Chandler books. Ah! ‘America here I come,’ was my new song.

With a steady diet of Hollywood Movies on Sunday Matinee on ‘the telly,’ a direction began to emerge.

So I did start out as an actress in England on ‘the telly,’ on stage and in films – amidst 101 boring ‘temp’ jobs. I wrote articles for the English magazines to pay my way, never thinking for one minute that I would ever really be taken seriously as a writer.

I ended up in Hollywood working as an actress for years. At the same time I was writing articles about Old Hollywood, becoming more and more hooked on the history and the mysteries of Tinsel Town. Until I finally became a published author with Los Angeles Then and Now, followed by Hollywood Then and Now. The world of acting was a fading image in my rear-view mirror. Who needs acting!

With the lectures and conferences I attended, I was introduced to an amazing new world of writers. Many were mystery writers. We spoke the same language. They were immediately encouraging, supportive and generous with their knowledge. I began to write mysteries set in Old Hollywood. I finally felt at home.

Today, when I meet up with my family, we still talk books and writers – just as I do with my writer friends here in Los Angeles.

Lucky for me, the seed was planted early in our family. I think we learned to read almost before we were big enough to hold the books.

So, fellow bloggers and dear readers, what are your earliest memories of reading? The first books you read? Which books had the most influence on your growing up – on your life? I’d love to hear the American counterparts of my literary diet.

Forward Into the Past by Miko Johnston

Miko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.
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She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at
 Amazon.

When I was a kid, I loved imaginary games, where you established a world and then went there to play. Until kindergarten, many of the other kids in the neighborhood would join in, but by second grade, they’d all abandoned make-believe for Milton Bradley, preferring the organized play of board games to pretending, which they viewed as childish.

Board games like Monopoly and Life held no interest for me. The object was to win, and while skill played some part, winning depended on luck, literally a toss of the dice. Even without knowing what would happen, you knew the limits of what could, and it always ended the same way, with only the name of the winner changing. But even worse, to play you had to follow a precise set of rules, and I hated to follow rules when I played. With make-believe, you set up a situation, give yourself, your playmates, and your surroundings roles, and then see what happens. Two chairs and a blanket becomes a fort, or cave. A bed serves as a life raft as you flee a sinking ship, or the deserted island where you land. The network of cellars that interconnects apartment buildings on a city block are the tunnels and alleyways where the good guys and bad guys dart about and hide out, planning their strategies for battle. The goal wasn’t to win, but to experience an adventure. To have fun.

I sought out younger companions to continue my penchant for imaginary play, but eventually they, too, stopped. But I never did.

When you don’t have playmates to share in the experience, you create the games in your mind, including all the characters, the setting, the situations, the problems. You play it at night in bed, before you fall asleep. You daydream it when there’s nothing better to do. Maybe you write it in a notebook.

When I became a teen, many of my friends had crushes on some singer or actor. I was rather naïve, but I saw an opportunity, picked a harmless teen heartthrob and joined in the fun. A few of us would make up fantasies of what it would be like to be with these men, or at least, who we imagined them to be. They were really empty shells, with the physical presence we saw on album covers or on television, which we filled with all the qualities we imagined they would have. All the qualities that would appeal to a shielded thirteen-year-old, that is. But at a certain level they, and the fantasy lives we shared with them, became real to us.

Yes, I did play with board games, coloring books, paper dolls and real dolls. Outside we’d jump rope, play hopscotch, tag, or handball with my friends. It was fun and I enjoyed it, yet I always elevated make-believe to the highest level of play, and in a sense, I still do.

Is it any wonder I became a storyteller?

Images Aren’t Only for the Outside of Your Novel!

In the quest for reader respect, self-published authors are always struggling to make our books as visually appealing as those of our traditionally published colleagues. Book cover artists can design a great cover that is formatted correctly for both digital and paper editions. One thing that I hadn’t considered was using artwork to spruce up book’s interior!

The idea came to me when I was reading a book that I can’t put my hands on. (How embarrassing.) So, I looked in another book, One Foot in the Grape by Carlene O’Neil. I’m obviously not a genius, because I straightened the image and it’s still sideways, but you can see the cute grape under the title.

Inside, at the beginning of each chapter, is another cute vine and grape leaf image. (Notice that I’m getting better, and the picture is only upside down.

Anywho, I wondered, why couldn’t I use images to spruce up my Pet Psychic books and my new novel, Civility Rules? Maybe paws for the pet psychic and a bow tie for the civility series? First, I needed artwork that I could use. I visited several sites.

Dreamstime 
Can Stock Photo
Shutterstock
123RF 

I finally decided on Dreamstime, which allows me to use the images I purchase at the Standard License level for up to 500,000 print copies of my book. Ebooks aren’t counted. WARNING:  Be sure to read the fine print v-e-r-y carefully to make sure you are purchasing the size you want and that it is available for commercial use. Some images are only available for blogs and other non-commercial use. SECOND WARNING: Make sure you don’t purchase a vector image unless you have the appropriate (and expensive) photo software, such as Adobe Photoshop.

The pricing system can be confusing. Most sites sell their images by points, so you have to purchase points before you download the image. My two images cost 30 points, or $34.99.

I’m not a formatting expert, nor am I a technical wiz (see above photo disasters), but to test it out before I bought the images, I merely inserted clip art and found that it worked, as least in the ebook copy.

Here is the Kindle preview page.

Just this one little step helps with reader perception by giving my books the look of traditionally published novel.

Sometimes, it’s the little things.