Writing Across the Color Line

Last week I did an interview for a couple publications that will be coming out around the timeĀ We Hope for Better Things comes out to help spread the word about it. One of the questions the writer asked me is one I expect I will get a lot as people begin to encounter the book:

What did you, a white woman, do to ensure your black characters were authentic?

In answer to that question, I talked about my minor in US History in college and my year of extensive research into the black experience in America before I put pen to paper.

After that, I told her about Nancy, Mary, Debra, and Booker.

At various stages of the writing and revising of the manuscript that would becomeĀ We Hope for Better Things, I asked black friends and writers to read and critique it, looking specifically for issues with black speech and characterization. Looking for anything that didn’t feel authentic to them, or that smacked of misinformation or stereotype.

Waiting for their critiques was sometimes nerve-wracking, especially since some of them were personal friends, not just other writers.

Today I’m with Nancy Johnson (who is now my critique partner) over on Writer Unboxed talking about how we’ve worked with each other to bring out the best in our writing, specifically how we’ve approached questions of race in our writing.

If you’re a writer who wants to populate your stories with a diverse cast of characters but you’re worried about getting something wrong or unintentionally offending someone, come join the conversation!

If you’re a reader who wonders how writers do what they do, come read about it!

1-Week NaNoWriMo Check-Up

We’re one week into National Novel Writing Month and I hope that any of you who are participating are finding success. I’ve been happy with my progress thus far — 15,535 words — and I have to admit it is due to two things: lots of pre-thought and a little pre-writing.

On the pre-thought tip, I’ve been ruminating on this story for at least a couple years, and in the past couple months my disparate ideas codified into something with enough layers and complexity to work for a novel.

As for the pre-writing, in the week or so before November started, I forced myself to write chapter summaries for where I saw the beginning chapters going and managed to get up through chapter 17.

What has that meant for the writing? Well, in this first week I’ve managed just shy of a chapter a day because I already knew the main plot and character points I was going to cover in each. I doubt very much that I can keep up that pace all month with a heavy workload of writing copy for the next catalog and Thanksgiving coming up. But a solid start does wonders for my motivation to push forward, and all those chapter summaries make it easier for me to write in short bursts that I can fit in here and there throughout the day as time presents itself rather than waiting for perfect conditions of a long block of alone time that will not be interrupted.

So what happens when I reach chapter 18 and the summaries are no more? Well, at that point I should be over the halfway point of the novel and the forward momentum of all that story should make the going easier. Plus, I do know the ending already. I may take an hour or so and write out the next five or ten chapter summaries before I go on writing the novel. Or I may find that that would just slow me down.

One thing’s for sure, though. NaNoWriMo came at just the right time for me this year and the progress I’m making on a new story after so much time fiddling with old ones or making false starts on new ones has me feeling much less anxious than I have been in a long time.