Friday, May 30, 2014


Technology's great, when it works.

I've spent a good chunk of the week troubleshooting the ergonomic keyboard on my non-internet computer. You know, the one I write on?

The symptoms vary every time I turn the computer on. At first all the problems were on the left-hand side - I would type "A" and "A9" would appear, for example; then the left-hand side was fine and half the keys on the right-hand side wouldn't type, and so on. And some of the the troubleshooting steps online sources advised me to take involved typing in commands. And don't talk to me about the way computers assume you'll be able to access the internet when you select the "help" button.

But I finally determined at last that the problem was the keyboard, not the drivers or the ports or any of the other things that might be at fault, so Damon'll pick me up a new keyboard while he's running errands this afternoon, and in the meantime I'm swapping the keyboard on the internet computer back and forth in order to get things done online and on the other computer, which isn't inconvenient at all.

Technology's great, when it works. But this sort of thing makes me sad. Writing is still a relatively low-cost business to be in, requiring less start-up capital than any other enterprise I can think of. But writing professionals are increasingly dependent on technology in order to get any work done. I'm less wired up and technology dependent than anyone I know, but I have to have the keyboard; have to have the internet; have to stop dead, despite my brain working fine, when something goes wrong with my tools.

I could keep writing if all I had was a notebook and a pen, but if I lose access to my tech, I'm dead in the water. I can't sell anything if I can't type, print, share files, and e-mail. No starving in a garret and eking out a living by the pen, or even the typewriter, for a 21st-century freelancer. A base level of affluence is necessary to do the work that connects a story to an audience and an author to payment.

Which sucks. I wonder how much great writing we miss, for lack of universal access to the tools.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

House Rules

For the first time in a long time this Memorial Day weekend, everyone in my gaming group had the same three days free. Three days! Gamingpalooza!

We had a couple of pretty intense roleplaying sessions. Without going into details that would make the eyes of non-gamers glaze over, we were experimenting with pushing back against the tendency of the Pathfinder Adventure Path system to force players into a min/maxing style of play which is alien to us. We ran an underpowered three-person party a couple of levels higher than the module writers recommended, with the addition of an unfamiliar optional set of "mythic powers." The mythic powers could easily have overwhelmed the scenario if handled poorly, and they appear to have been designed merely as a new way to increase "power creep" (the ongoing arms race between players and game masters, requiring constant escalation of increasingly complicated and burdensome game elements), of which we are heartily sick. However, the game master gave them to us in such a way that, though we got to control which ones we got, we felt obliged to play them as complete surprises which our characters did not know how to use and didn't feel they could rely on. So while we as players knew that we had a safety net, our characters were making plans and devising strategies that did not take these safety nets into account, and pulling mythic powers out only when we felt cornered by the introduction of unknown factors or pressed by the inevitable disruptions of our plans. Only toward the end, when the Big Bad was defeated, did we feel entitled to start experimenting with them.

The result was that we felt challenged, engaged, and endangered constantly, but did not lose a character. One random encounter almost did us in; one programmed encounter was subverted and turned into a cakewalk due to our proactive data-gathering and sensible use of resources (and we were entitled to the cakewalk because we were proactive); the climax was climactic (which is not always the case); and my character developed what might be called learned pyrophobia, which is the sort of thing that I love best about role-playing games; i.e., the chance to temporarily be another individual with a distinct life experience. We did not get any of those jawdroppingly great moments when everyone is surprised, but we had a lot of fun.

None of us is under the illusion that this particular experiment is a panacea for our problems with Pathfinder. It's obvious to even the most system-mechanically-challenged of us (i.e., me) that the particular combination of solutions implemented here would not work with every adventure path, or every set of characters. But I think we are on the right track. The rigidity of Pathfinder compared to other systems we've used, and the adherence of their Adventure Paths to formulaic structures, has hypnotized us into experimenting and enjoying ourselves less with them. I think we need more house rules. I think we need to use some of the Paths as sourcebooks instead of as modules, make more choices that thumb their noses at the power gamer expectations of the system, alter the structures given to us. We need to do this as players and as GMs, in cooperation and adjusting our approach to our circumstances. As a gaming group we have always been pretty good at this in play. I think we need to go "old school" in prep, too. Stress less, improvise more.

I often see people lock themselves in like that. A writer reads The Hero's Journey and mutilates her story to fit it, as if the structure of the Journey were a universal ideal toward which all stories must strive. An artist learns some useful techniques, and keeps using them even when they are less useful. A player gets bored with his playstyle and assumes he's bored with his game. A person leads a meaningless life, continually striving to hold on to a job she doesn't like to pay for a car she doesn't enjoy driving and buy her kids toys they don't play with. A citizen declares loyalty to a country and clings to that loyalty long after the country has proven itself disloyal to him.

Why do we do this to ourselves? It's depressing.

So cut it out. When you need a house rule, make one. When you don't, don't.

You can be happy and do good work, if you let yourself.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: The Thing You Can't Write About

Something in your life hurts so much you can't write about it. (If not, my goodness, aren't you young and lucky? Keep reading anyway - your time will come. And you'll live through it. We all do, until we don't anymore.)

You can't write about it, you can't even think about it, and it's nobody's business. Maybe it isn't even that big a deal, as you keep telling yourself; not in the grand scheme of things. But it hangs over every part of your life, everything you write and say and do and think and feel, they all refer back to this even when you're not consciously thinking about it. Or because you're not consciously thinking about it. Whatever.

As long as you avoid writing about this, you are avoiding learning things. Maybe learning these things would make your life better, maybe not, I don't know; but writing about it will necessarily make your writing better. Yes, even if the thing you actually write is dreck. You have to write badly in order to learn to write well.

Now, for most of us, The Thing crops up repeatedly when we write, anyway. Maybe we don't realize it till later; but when we do, we often get too uncomfortable, and we stop, and write something safe, and this is one reason why you see some people write the same book over and over and over again. (Other reasons exist.)

So you realize you're doing this and that if you're ever going to advance as a writer you have to write about The Thing, but it hurts too much and you can't.

So back off. Breathe. It's allowed. Let's find you another angle. Because now you've realized that you have to write about The Thing, you'll never respect yourself again if you sit in the middle of your own road quivering like a toxic jellyfish.

So let's back up a little.

There are people in the world you've never written about. That you are even afraid to write about because you're sure you'll mess it up and Everyone Will Know that you're racist or mysogynist or ableist or homophobic or whatever (even though, you promise yourself, you're not really or you wouldn't be worried about it - would you? Whatever gets you through the night, honey.)

So what if The Thing didn't happen to you, but to one of those people you never write about?

How does The Thing play out for that person?

Now, that is an interesting question.

That is a story question, not a quality-of-life, coping-with-my-demons question. That is a specific research problem. You can do Google searches on blind + cancer + mother, or HIV + Hispanic + straight; you can hunt up books and newsgroups and magazines targeting Asian-American mothers and look specifically for discussions within of divorce, adultery, miscarriage, rape, rejection, bullying. Whatever The Thing is, if it hurts, people will talk about it, and write articles about it, in the places where they are comfortable.

And once you find the places where these people you are afraid to write about are comfortable, and listen to them, particularly when they are expressing themselves about The Thing you can't fully express yourself on - they aren't going to seem nearly so alien. That shared experience gives you an "in," a place where you overlap with The Other, and you can build from there. Especially if you are humble and engage and listen and think about the person you are listening to and not just about yourself anymore.

Now, maybe you can't find (for instance) a public forum in which specifically transgender people are talking about the abortion they weren't allowed to have, or which was forced on them, or now regret having (or not having) - but you can read around it. Looking for that place will, if you go into proper research mode, lead you to all kinds of fora and resources for transgender people; and you are going to run across, if not The Thing, other points of common personhood that you can identify with enough to start imagining what The Thing would have been like for a transgender person as opposed to what it was like for you.

And that will begin to make it possible to think about The Thing Itself. The mental and emotional cross-referencing will begin and you can start creating a character. You can even meet real live people who are so unlike you that you're afraid to write about them and start treating them like anybody else: i.e. cannibalizing their traits to build new characters who aren't like any one specific real person but are convincing three-dimensional fictional constructs.

Now maybe, in the end, you still have to write while taking evasive action around The Thing. Maybe you have to invoke magic; maybe you have to go into metaphorical space; maybe, in the end, only you and someone who went through The Thing alongside you would recognize what you're writing about. Maybe, in the end, you'll have a hot mess of a manuscript that will never amount to anything.

Well, when is that not true? When you sit down to write, you never know if you'll have a Mess, a Mediocrity, or a Masterpiece at the end of it. A lot of the time you don't even know then.

But if you get through this manuscript, you are guaranteed to have learned a great deal. Which increases your chance of winding up with a Materpiece eventually.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Public Service Announcement of Permission

Periodically, as I drift around the internet, I run across people sending signals out into the void, asking followers, friends, and random passersby: Would you be interested, would you read, should I do, I want to but I don't know if anybody else would -

Basically, the internet is full of people afraid to access their own creativity without permission. From somebody. Apparently any random person on the internet will do.

So I always stop and give them permission, even if I think the project they describe is cliched, dull, impractical, or otherwise Not For Me. Because that doesn't matter.

Market research is for people who are already in touch with their creativity and are looking to apply existing skills more effectively or direct existing work in the correct direction. Don't mess with it if you're just starting out; if you've never written or drawn anything not for class before; if you're thinking about producing a fan work and feeling insecure; if you're in the process of discovering the creative possibilities of your favorite game + text + Photoshop.

So if you are such a person, listen up. This is your random person on the internet, sending your permission out, randomly.

You are allowed to create something that's terrible, learn from it, and apply what you learned to another work.

You are allowed to create something mediocre, and learn from it, and apply what you learned to another work, or to making this one better.

You are allowed to create something only you care about.

You are allowed to start creating one thing and find out you've created another.

You are allowed to write a full outline and depart from it; to write a full outline and discard it; to write a full outline and stick to it; to blow off outlines and create by the seat of your pants. (Even if you don't wear pants. No one cares what you wear when you create.)

You are allowed to start and finish with a cliche; to subvert it; to make fun of it; to dig deep into it and find the hidden kernel of truth that keeps it coming back.

You are allowed to abandon a project, convinced that it's crap, and come back two years later and realize, It doesn't have to be crap, you know how to do this now.

You are allowed to finish a project for your own satisfaction. You are allowed to walk away from it. You are allowed to cannibalize it for future works.

You are allowed to enjoy yourself. You are allowed to enjoy your work. You are allowed to be driven to screaming frustration, savage self-doubt, and conviction of inadequacy in the middle of enjoying your work.

You are allowed to create something, and share it. You are allowed to create something, and keep it to yourself. You are allowed to create something, and then destroy it (but I don't recommend that; you often hate your best stuff in the heat of creation).

You are allowed to change formats. You are allowed to be old-fashioned. You are allowed to try new things. You're allowed to copy old ones. You are allowed to be weird. You are allowed to be staid. You are allowed to be slick. You are allowed to be rough.

You are allowed.

So go. Make something.

Then do your market research. And while you're doing that - start making another thing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


This plot turns out to have a lot of elements I'm not at all comfortable with.

Which, given that this plot has been emerging kind of like a Rorschach test out of my subconscious, is interesting.

I wonder if I can flip any of it, so that instead of perpetuating tropes that I regard as invalid I can subvert them?

I wonder if I'm wasting my time?

(I must be in the mid-book slump here, if I'm at the "its hopeless I'm wasting my time" stage. This thing's had such a weird trajectory...)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Home, Secret Home

So I was sitting here thinking about today's Garage Sale, and everything I came up with seemed like a variation on a theme, or possibly something I'd offered up before, and I was seriously considering just not doing it today. So I clicked over to another tab and read newsgroups, and found someone mystified by a sporadically damp place inside his garage. A particular spot on the concrete slab forms puddles periodically, but it's not directly correlated with rainfall and he can't find a source of drip. So it was suggested that maybe he was looking in the wrong direction, that the water might be coming in laterally, or even from below. Concrete looks solid, but if you break a piece you can see that it's porous. Murderers have found to their distress that concrete does not necessarily mask what it was poured to hide.

And I suddenly remembered the time I was dismantling the woodshed that was on our property once, including taking apart and moving the woodpile, and how I started finding bits of trash that made me nervous, that started the story generator in my head suggesting that I was shortly going to find human bones or a mummified cat or an enigmatic artifact, relic of some deep-buried crime or at least guilty secret.

What I found was decayed Christmas wreaths, but that's not the point.

When I was in middle school I realized that an awful lot of books started with moving into a new home, and that this was always a much more fruitful process in books than in real life. (Air Force brat. I felt like I'd moved a lot and was an expert.) New homes in books had mysteries, ghosts, hidden treasures! They had not, as all the homes I moved into had, been emptied down to their bones, recently painted and sheetrocked, and all their secrets hauled off in a dumpster. They were not, as most of the homes being moved into at any given time in the late 20th century were, brand-new builds on land that had previously been a ranch or hunting lease or orchard or farm.

But what if it's a secret that the management company selling the place wouldn't find in its clean-and-spiff-up, or its new build; or that even belonged to someone within that company or on a work crew, who chose this place to bury it, in hope of - what?

What kind of secret would depend on the target audience and genre. A brand new garage with an old body under it is a natural jumping-off point for a murder mystery, but in real life it would be a police case, and for a book we want something of personal resonance to the homeowner and her family. So that takes us straight to "ghost," and the problem of learning who the ghost is, and how to put it to rest, without having any control of the evidence or any pull with the police.

"The Clue in the Woodpile" is a good solid middle-grade mystery title, and I couldn't swear to you there isn't a Nancy Drew called that - a lockbox full of odd, not obviously significant objects and messages in cipher.

Maybe you're taking down a stone wall and find a "post office" used by children in pre-internet days to communicate when they couldn't get together reliably. What could have been left so long that could still affect you today?

This is all vague, but the impact of the hook requires specific, evocative items. So you look at your environment and its history. Who used this land? Who passed through it? What history lies unacknowledged beneath your feet? And what consequences does the secret have in this place, today?

Almost any piece of land in the world can be a murder dump site; but say you go with that. There's murders, and there's murders. Do you live in an area where lynching and private justice were respectable within living memory? Could a crime, uncovered now, of which you yourself are innocent, undermine your own claim on a property, or undermine family dynamics that seem solid and essential?

Are you in a former war zone?

Are you sure you're not? Indian wars, range wars, the war on drugs: they all leave their traces; they all have their mysteries, their secrets, their espionage, and their treachery.

And those are just the realistic options! Allow in ghosts, offended nature spirits, local legends and magical traditions (you do too have a magical tradition, even if you only call it "superstition" or "religion"), and think about all that could have been hidden, or what could have been taken and be trying to get back -

Yeah, there's no place like home. Maybe it's time to research your property and see what stories are lurking there.

Maybe next week I'll tell you about mine.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Nice While it Lasted

Writing straight through seems to be done by now. It looks as if it's time to write a scene no one else will ever see from the villain's point of view. The one where she starts scrambling madly. Because it's not enough to know what her plans were, now that it's clear that not one of her plans has survived collision with other people's secrets. In a lot of ways, I'm finding, she's working as much in the dark as the protagonist. Pelin's memory loss wasn't even a contingency plan. It was the inspiration of a moment.

This all means that time is critical to her and that all the unwise moves she's been making publicly have been valiant attempts to keep her balls in the air long enough for them to come down in the correct order. This means I have to shorten the timeline - the pressure on her is enormous.

I wonder if this means I need to expand to her POV?

Part of me hopes not, because I've done a fair amount of alternating POV in my life and I want this to be different.

Part of me hopes so, because I'm writing a lot more words than can fit in the final book just to figure out the plot.

Not the time to decide that.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: The Poltergeist Problem Novel

So, let's talk about poltergeists, because I've been reading books about them - non-fiction books, because that is the only decent kind, generally speaking.

All generalizations are false, but the odds are good that the only good fictional poltergeist stories I've ever read are ones you haven't heard of or, if you've heard of them, didn't know had any supernatural element. Like, The Almost Year, by Florence Engel Randall, which was published in 1971 and is about a poor black girl living for nine months with a wealthy white family, and that was where the focus was in its promotional material. This was a huge mistake - it was promoted as a problem novel and I didn't go for those in 1971. And as a problem novel about a black child written by a white woman it was and is problematical - but as a poltergeist novel, it is flawless, precisely because it is problematical.

The thing about poltergeists is, they happen - don't make any mistake about that! I don't know what they are, and neither does anybody else. They needn't, even, all be the same thing. The word applies to a configuration of disruptive events, involving physical effects with no obvious or even probable physical cause. Any given one might be hoax, fairy, repressed emotion breaking out as telekinesis, hysterical misperception, series of mindbogglingly improbabl accidents, or all of the above - or, none of the above, given the unliklihood of our finite minds framing the question correctly to recognize all the possibilities. So they are a frustrating, but flexible, set of phenomena, able to produce almost any effect your fiction might require.

And this is why the most famous depictions of them - Poltergeist the movie, most notably - are so unsatisfactory. They treat the phenomena as the important, interesting problem, and the solution as a dramatic fight against some external force. And that is just not so. A poltergeist is not, in itself, a problem. It is a symptom of a problem.

Because the other thing about poltergeists is, they don't happen in happy families. They don't happen in loudly, obviously, blatantly dysfunctional families. They happen in families where somebody (or multiple somebodies) is under a little too much stress and the problem is being skated around.

The parapsychological theory of RSPK - Recurrent Spontaneous PsychoKinesis - was dreamed up to account for this. The idea is that psychological tensions are released, by people who happen to have a lot more psychokinetic ability than most people, through unconscious psychic tantrums. Since most poltergeists have one "focus person" on whom most of the phenomena center, and who is often actively persecuted by them, the theory is that the focus person is unconsciously engaging in attention-seeking, acting out, or self-harm that she refuses to engage in consciously, for the very same reasons that attention seeking, acting out, and self-harm usually happen.

I'm not being blithely feminist in that choice of pronoun, by the way. According to the literature, the most common poltergeist focus is an adolescent girl. This meshes nicely with the RSPK theory, since girls are so much more likely to be encouraged to repress the kinds of "energy" (i.e. sexual feelings, anger, and resentment) that the theory assumes fuels the RSPK.

The problem with the RSPK theory, of course, is that the best evidence that psychokinesis even exists involves the subtle non-random behavior of random things like dice and subatomic particles. It's a huge leap from rolling a statistically unlikely number of sixes to starting fires, throwing rocks, levitating beds, or creating a vocal apparition of a talking mongoose. But it does focus attention where it belongs, in fiction - on the unhappiness and tension in the house, underneath the phenomenon. Resolve those issues, and the poltergeist resolves itself, whatever its mechanism; and this is why so many true poltergeist stories peter out with no climax. The people involved are willing to talk about the phenomena; they are not willing to talk about the personal situations that created the conditions that enabled the phenomena. Many family members may not even know them - with nineteen children and servants, the Reverend Samuel Wesley was unlikely to be aware of all the stresses at large in his home at Epworth Rectory, or the measures taken to relieve and master them, and even less likely to record them for posterity at the same time that he was recording the disruptions caused by "Old Jeffrey," the poltergeist that both tormented and amused his family for some months.

Another way that real-life poltergeist stories end is with a failure to resolve. The problems become more and more overt - exacerbated by the investigation of the phenomena, to the point that a focus may feel obliged to produce phenomena. That way lies the full range of coping syndromes; the abuse of recreational substances; the making of poor decisions; even, in the most spectacular poltergeist ever, The Bell Witch, in murder by poltergeist.

A good poltergeist book is not a special effects horrorfest. Movies can do that if it needs doing. A good poltergeist novel would illuminate the personal parts, the dynamics of the household, the stresses and coping mechanisms that investigators only guess at. We can invade the privacy of fictional characters as we would never dare invade that of real people. Are poltergeists and drug abuse the same behavior at their cores? To face up to your poltergeist, must you face up to yourself? What if the focus is a shared one (the Bell Witch murdered father John Bell, tormented daughter Betsy Bell, and was kindness personified to mother Lucy Bell) - does this indicate a codependency? And what happens, in any relationship born of stress, if one party is making a strong effort to resolve the problem everyone else ignores?

I can't think of a single problem novel that wouldn't be improved by plopping a poltergeist into it and seeing what happens.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Another Cooking Analogy

I had a great writing morning this morning. I was working on what I was supposed to be working on, actual drafting of stuff that would go into the final (only by the time I get to the final it'll be much much better because rough drafts always suck; that's what they're for) instead of writing all around it, not thinking about all the stuff I haven't been able to sell, not worrying about the background, locked into the character's POV and feeling my way along, and it all started to crystallize.

Or gel.

Or turn to sauce, which is the chemical reaction I deal with most, that moment in cooking when you're standing there stirring the milk/flour/fat/seasoning/maybe cheese which is thin and drippy and unappetizing and you've been standing there forever and you fiddle with the heat and stir and stir and stir and suddenly you have white sauce. Or gravy. Or cheese sauce. Or whatever variation it is you're making. Total transformation. At which point you count slowly to sixty, still stirring, as it bubbles in that slow gloppy way and then before it all overcooks and turns glutinous and nasty on you, you remove it from the heat with a heart that sings because success. Sauce is one of those things you can only learn by doing, which means learning by failing - over and over and over and over again. And then risking failure some more, because sauce is one of those things that is never guaranteed.

Anyway, the story did this. I am a long way from out of the woods, but in the course of writing through what turned out to be Pelin's linchpin false memory, the one that made it necessary to erase Hirca even though the villain didn't know anything about Hirca, the villain's mode of working turned to sauce. I don't know exactly what all she did, but I know the state of mind she did it in, why she did, and to a certain extent how she did it.

She is scrambling, and has been since her lack of knowledge about the inner states of all the heirs first interfered with what was, to begin with, a simple, workable plan. She is presently tapdancing as fast as she can, and Pelin is the weak point because he's the one she's most confident she controls.

It's always tempting to keep right on going, but I stopped myself as soon as I wrote out the scene, when I still knew the next sentence.

Because you can't stand there stirring forever. You have to turn the heat off, and eat the dish, and be ready to make sauce again tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Unintended Consequences

You know the problem with a really interesting premise? It's always has logical results you didn't plan for, which you realize in media res and have to go back and account for.

In the current WIP, a country was afflicted by a plague about 18 years ago which was virulently deadly to people in the prime of life. This was bad enough to make the age cohort to which a person belongs the most noticeable trait that everyone pays attention to - people between the ages of 40 and 60 attract particular attention as they belong to the "missing generation."

But this means that the "missing generation" is aging out of its peak fertility period, so there should also be either a corresponding shortage of people under 18 or a lot of pressure on the age cohort that came into its prime during those years to produce large families.

Also, age-disparate marriages as people widowed during the plague look for healthy new spouses, both to replace missing heirs and to help raise existing ones; so a fair number of people will have been raised by parents/grandparents/guardians from two different age cohorts.

Also, immigration, as people from countries unaffected by the plague rush to fill the gap.

Which means MOAR WORLDBUILDING and an emphasis on which details about a character to present up-front - the POV character will place everyone he meets on the age spectrum first, plus making note of accents and physical characteristics that might indicate someone who is an immigrant rather than a native; and the clues by which he deduces relationships will be different from the ones the reader is used to. Pelin is unlikely to see two people twenty years apart in age behaving affectionately toward each other and assume that they are parent and child.

Plus my POV character has a certain amount of PTSD and moreover so does everyone else in the country...

Fortunately working out fiddly details and making charts and graphs and timelines does provide mental space in which to let your unconscious work on the actual story.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Yet More Fun with Titles

The Belle Curve.
I'm thinking YA. Southern American high school. Weight issues, realistically handled. Or a transgirl. Or both.

The Songs of Unknown Birds.
Issues of identification in birdwatching analogously linked with mysteries of personal identity. Possibly concerned with an adoptee's adolescent crisis?

Hunting the Eidolon Duck.
An Eider Duck is a real duck. So an Eidolon Duck would be a phantom duck. And it just seems there ought to be - someplace - to go with that.

The Good Sprout.
Where the Bad Seed meets a good sport...

Givers, Takers, Movers, Shakers
A history of utopian communalism? Certainly a community-based narrative, not primarily concerned with a single protagonist.

Cry Me a River
A history of sarcasm. Must include one whole chapter distinguishing sarcasm from irony.

All's Well that Ends
A comedy centering on a disastrous high school production of a certain Shakespeare play.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May Day is for Revolution, Right?

So, today's the start of We Need Diverse Books tripartite campaign, which begins with sign-picture posts (captioned so blind-enabled browsers can read the signs in the picture; this is the kind of detail that people who don't need something often overlook) of reasons why we need diverse books, and culminates in going out and actually buying diverse books.

So make a date with your bookseller this weekend.

I have never understood the mentality that assumed people, especially kids, didn't want to read about people too different from a narrow norm. I have always been more interested in a book if the protagonist wasn't too much like me. I know what it's like to be me. One reason I read is to get a break from being me.

And face it, if you read English-language media, you already have a fair grasp of what it's like to be a cis-het white middle-class American or British person, regardless of who you are.

I tend to write protagonists who are more or less like me, because that's sure ground. In an ideal world, or even a sensible one, everyone would do this and there'd be a proportionate number of available books covering all the bases. This does not happen. People like me are disproprotionately represented in media; and people like John Green are disproportionately represented in awards, panels, and reviews. And this is silly, as well as unfair to everybody. Including the people like John Green, who is not being challenged to be the best he can be by competing on a level playing field with the women of color who have to write and market so much better than he has to, even in order to get a review.

Which places a burden on those of us who partake of privilege, however innocently or unintentionally, to write diversely. This is scary; but it is also exciting to try out other identities. For one thing, it means - research!

Which research is made much harder by the historical narrowness of media representation. (Heavy sigh.) If I want to find out what it was like to be (for example) a medieval person of color, or a blind woman in antebellum Texas, or a nineteenth century Apache little person, I've got my work seriously cut out for me, reading all around the subject and, sometimes, even finding appropriate lines to read between. Ideally I should today know people who resemble my protagonist in some way, and run the work by them, and ask them questions that aren't too obnoxious; which is problematic because I'm not much of a people person.

The internet is a big help with this. But sometimes - okay, a lot of the time - I won't even know what questions to ask. Or that I even know a person who is appropriate to ask, because you can't know if a person you've been talking to online about cats or sewing or gaming is black or autistic or intersex or whatever unless the subject comes up, and why should any of these things come up in those conversations? (So thread drift is your friend.)

Which means that when I try to write diversely, odds are good I'm gonna screw up.

But you know what? I can screw up writing undiversely, too. I'll just screw up in ways that are unchallenging, comfortably familiar. Boring even. I could even be rewarded for those screw-ups, and I am just about mature enough not to want that.

And when I express these concerns about writing diversely - which I know is extremely common; people don't want to lose their liberal cred by "doing it wrong" - to someone from an underrepresented group, they always say the same thing: That none of us should be limited in the points of view from which we write. That saying a white person can't write about American Indians is the same as saying that an American Indian can't write about white people. Which is clearly and egregiously racist.

We can't limit ourselves without limiting others, too.

The reach should exceed the grasp, or what's a heaven for? (That's Robert Browning, a cishet white middle-class 19th century Englishman writing as a cishet white middle-class Renaissance Italian. You see how hard it is to get out from under? I'm sure somebody from an underrepresented demographic has a similar quote I could go for, but it isn't culturally positioned to be in my head ready for use.)

If making the world better were easy, everyone would be doing it.