Fighting The Chill

Informational Tidbit: Squirrels don’t hibernate. Really, when it comes to the bitter cold, we just sleep a lot. And boy, oh boy, do I feel like sleeping.

Idaho has been plagued with winter storm warnings lately. The Treasure Valley (Boise and surrounding area) is supposed to get more inches of snow today. School’s been cancelled so many times this year (and look, it’s only January 18th), that my kids are having to attend on the holidays, such as MLK and President’s Day. And dragging my furry little rear out of bed every morning has been difficult at best.

It might’ve been the flu I caught. Squirrel flu? Eh. After a miserable last Tuesday where the wet snow soaked through my coat to douse my skin while I dug a path out of the drive way, I came down with a fever that took me down and out until Thursday night. It certainly put a damper on getting a strong start on my exercise and writing goals.

On a positive note, that story of mine I mentioned in my last IWSG post did find a home. I’m pleased. Now I just need to finish Murder Most Fowl and Isto.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking when it comes to Isto. This thinking started a while back after a discussion with my friend Dani about Lexa’s death on the 100. It deepened after a post by Mason Matchak. It’s gotten even deeper after discovering Laura Wise’s blog, where she reviews diverse reads on the racial, orientation, and disability spectrum.

Honestly, I’m scared I’m doing more harm than good. Here it is: I killed a gay character. I killed a character with black skin. And I don’t see how I could have done things differently for the overall story (spanning 4 books). Laura’s perspective adds to my worries because I have “magically fixed” people with disabilities.

Mason kindly let me email him with my many terrors. His response helped bat down some of the insecurity I have about it. The story is what it is, and I will finish writing it, but I guess I need help steeling myself for the disdain my brain is envisioning as the response.

I don’t want to be disdained. Of course, the other part of me tells me, “Don’t worry about it. Nobody is going to read it anyways.” *sigh*

They say ignorance is bliss. Too true. I didn’t know magically fixing disabilities was insensitive or that there were bigger tropes tied to my characters’ deaths. Now that I know, I feel a bit like scum.

But that’s the point of raising awareness, right? Becoming aware. I can just try to do better, though I’m not expecting much love for my big books.

Has awareness about certain topics made you consider how you are treating those topics? What are your thoughts about hurtful tropes? Have you found any in your work after the fact like I did?

Loni Townsend

About Loni Townsend

Wife. Mother. Writer. Ninja. Squirrel.

34 thoughts on “Fighting The Chill

  1. I’m so sorry about your flu and how cold and snowy Idaho is. Keep bundled up! Yay for your story finding a home! Sometimes pc-ness goes overboard. I’m sick of hearing that people who aren’t a certain ethnicity can’t/shouldn’t write any characters of that ethnicity. Doesn’t that defeat the point of trying to write stories with diverse characters? Plus, fiction is FICTION! It’s not true, only the imagining of an author — and no one should stifle another person’s imagination. Good luck with ISTO. 🙂

  2. I do not like snow. Living in Kansas City, we don’t get nearly as much as you do but so promise in 10 years, I am relocating to the tropics, somewhere. Lol. Follow
    Your instinct. If your story ended in such a way it feels real, then I doubt it will be as detrimental as you might think. Congratulations on all your victories!

  3. Hey, I hope you’re staying safe with the weather and your sickness! Drink lots of hot chocolate and rest. 🙂

    Also, thanks for the shoutout. 🙂

    As for Isto, you’re probably OK. It’s not as if gay and black characters *can’t* die, ever. They just tend to do that more often, either due to unconscious or overt bias, but more often because they tend not to be central characters, and secondary characters get killed more often. I think that’s the thing. It’s like, if you have characters like that who live, that mitigates it somewhat. If their deaths make sense (family guy sacrifices himself for his husband and kids, for ex) that’s probably better than “black guy always dies first in a horror story.” How you handle it depends. There are tropes and cliches to avoid, but I don’t believe there’s any blanket “don’t do this” rule. If that makes sense.

    There’s no real consensus on “how to write diversity” among writers or minorities, either, because people are very different, each “issue” brings a variety of tropes, and how people choose to handle them varies on what story they are trying to tell. Even an author writing about something pertaining to them can get negative blowback from readers who share that aspect. There are resources on common tropes and how those can be hackneyed and offensive, or resources for finding sensitivity readers for a first draft. For instance, I’m doing a sensitivity read right now for my friend who is writing a female protagonist; he wants to know if there are any things about daily life or interactions with others that he may have overlooked due to being a man.

    There ARE some people who will say “men can/should never write women characters” and “white people should never write POC characters,” and while I get where they are coming from, I personally would like my writing to reflect the diversity present in reality. So I wouldn’t limit yourself. Part of the issue as well is that diversity in publishing doesn’t reflect the diversity of real life, so often, a stereotypical portrayal will be the only available portrayal. If there are more books which reflect our diverse world, the stereotypes will eventually be drowned out by nuance. 🙂

    Re: disability cures: I’m somewhat conflicted on this because if I could cure my disability with magic or whatever, I probably would. However, I tend to get a liiiiiittle bitter about cures in fiction because such things aren’t available to me in real life, or at least not without their own costs. People get annoyed by insta-cures because they often don’t reflect the realities of living with a disability; frex, a permanent solution is often cost-prohibitive (think about how many people choose contacts and glasses despite Lasik surgery being a thing), or even “permanent” things require a lot of maintenance over time. Even someone in total remission for cancer must still go to get regular checkups and be on their guard for the rest of their life in case the cancer returns. Even though I’ve been through physical therapy, I still need to do daily exercises or risk losing all the progress I’ve made. The fictional correlation to this would be: Darth Vader has bionic limbs, but he still needs his sci-fi tank and breathing suit. However, authors have responded to critiques of their work on this point! 🙂 For instance, in ‘Graceling,’ the author “cured” a blind character; in ‘Bitterblue,’ she expanded on it to give the character balancing limitations and “costs” for the solution. I think Disability in Kidlit did an article on the difference between the two books.

    Anyway, if you spend all your time worrying about offending someone, you’ll never write anything. 🙂 A draft is great for messing stuff up, and you don’t have to worry about being stereotypical or PC or insensitive there…That’s for later work. Second drafts. Beta readers. If you want a fantastic example of an author’s process in this regard, I’d recommend ‘A Time To Dance’ by Padma Venkatraman. The author is Indian and was trained in the music for classical Indian dance, so she had a background there, but she wrote about a disabled dancer and needed to consult others for realism. Her acknowledgments detail her process and credit the people who helped her. ALSO IT’S JUST AMAZING. OMG. need to review. lol

    • Thanks for the comment and feedback. 🙂

      I’m going to need a few sensitivity readers for Isto. I’ve got several characters with various ailments including bipolar disorder, alcoholism, panic disorder, leukemia, and memory issues (thus why disabilities are pinging on my worry radar). Most are secondary characters, but they are still there.

      I will try not to think too hard on it while drafting. I’ve still got a long ways to go to finish this draft.

      • Laura W

        Yeah, worrying about all this stuff in the drafting phase is just going to stress you out. I wouldn’t overthink it at this point. 🙂

    • Last night, I got to thinking about disabilities in stories, and realized I had a blind character in Happily Ever After that was published in A Bit of a Twist alongside your story. I think I handled it okay, but I didn’t have a sensitivity reader for it. I’d be interested in your opinion if you happen to read it.

  4. Sorry about all the snow.
    Certain topics I just avoid. I could only write from my personal perspective and that’s not what is popular.

    • Yeah, there’s that too. Religious convictions make things more difficult.

  5. I think a writer should just write their story. I agree with Lexa’s comment 100%. Really, writers could offend anyone at any given moment with anything we put in our stories. The point is, we don’t do it intentionally. If your story calls for the death of a gay character or black character, then the story needs it. It doesn’t mean a thing outside of your story’s world.

    • I did it 3 years ago, unintentionally. It wasn’t until I became aware of the tropes that I started to feel bad about the potential damage my thoughtlessness might have caused.

  6. I’m sorry. What if your characters had a different background/lifestyle/skin color? Then it would be okay to kill them off? I’m with Lexa on this one. I hope you’re feeling 100% better.

    • My thoughts have gone down this path too. It’s like, I could remove these aspects from the characters (except, really, I can’t because it plays into the story), but that would defeat the purpose of trying to get more diversity into my story. It’s not that I went into Thanmir War trying to add diversity, but I did, and then I killed them. (I also killed off women and children and dozens upon dozens of nameless guys and men who have twin brothers, but I don’t feel bad about killing all those people.)

  7. Sending lots and lots of hugs your way. You just rest and get better.

    • Thanks. I managed to get some sleep last night, so hopefully I’ll be coherent today. <3

  8. I can relate to the chill. Even though it’s probably far warmer in L.A. than where you are, it’s been raining a lot (which is a good thing for our part of the world) and I’ve been so cold.

    As for the writing, I wish I could add something to your conversation, but all I’ve been doing is writing blog posts of late and as my topics get tougher, I find less visitors are commenting. I guess the serious stuff isn’t what a lot of people want to deal with.

    Your attempts at raising awareness for the issues that captivate you might be slow going, but sometimes you reach one person at a time and can only hope that somehow your message will take hold.

    Just keep writing what fulfills you and keeps you motivated. Hopefully somewhere along the line you can make a difference in the way you are attempting to do.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    • The cold certainly does suck. I grew up with it, so I’m a bit more acclimated to the heavy snow falls, but it certainly doesn’t make me enjoy it more, especially when it comes to driving in it!

      I’m slowly becoming more aware about topics as I meet more people. I tend to shy away from talking out about them because I don’t feel I have any authority to speak on them. But I enjoy educating myself, and sometimes I just need to get it off my chest.

  9. Magically fixed is better than not fixed at all. If that’s how your story should flow, stick with it.

    • I suppose there is that!

    • Laura W

      Ok, but you see, many many people would disagree with that, because they view their disability as an integral part of who they are, like their skin color or hair length or gender. This is going to vary depending on the condition, sure, but disability is just what bodies do. It is often seen as bad, especially with mental illnesses being seen as indicative of moral failings rather than simply due to neutral chemical processes. There are many ways to live a good life while disabled, though.

  10. Ack on the flu! Poor, poor squirrel. 🙁

    Interesting points here. Killing characters always needs to have a point, so I would think as long as that’s happening that’s okay. From my POV, I think if a character get’s healed from a disability there has to be a price–something else fails either in that person or someone they care about or the person who casts the spell. Or maybe it’s temporary or something. Again, I think it’s just the way it’s handled.

    So, far I haven’t run into after-the-fact tropes. But I’m sure one day I will.

    • Oo, and I’m going to go read those sites/articles.

      • Me again. The killing of characters suddenly made me think of Star Trek and if a red shirt person was in the landing party, they were killed first.

    • The magical healing comes into play with the guardians in my story. They can accept becoming a guardian, therefore getting help with what they are struggling to deal with on their own, but in return they are bound to their elemental master/mistress for eternity. That puts them subject to the elemental’s will (potentially becoming a puppet if the elemental wants them to do something) and changes their priorities, so the elemental will always come first in their concerns. In book 3, Cera loses her decade-long lover because she wants to search out a cure for her father on other worlds, and her lover accepted becoming a guardian to her younger siblings, so he won’t leave them.

      So yeah, there’s a cost for the cure. If you don’t want to live your life beholden to someone else, then you might not want to accept the cure.

  11. Wish I could throw some Florida heat your way. Or we could swap or something.

    Don’t beat yourself up. You’re just writing the story you have in your head. And you didn’t just kill characters just because. There was a purpose to it.

    Congrats on your story finding a home!

    • Thank you. I would certainly take some of that heat if I could. 😀

  12. Irk…I hope you feel better. I’ve been praying I don’t get the flu from my husband or whatever my daughter has/had. Still not sure if hers is gone.

    This post made me think about what I’m currently working on. Now I hope I’m handling these things right…

    The one thing I try to keep in mind while I work my way through feedback I’ve gotten is that I can’t please everyone. The story is mine to tell.

    • Yeah, I know I can’t please everyone either. I’m just worried of crossing that threshold from “not my thing” to hurtful, no matter how unintentional.

      I hope you stay healthy!

  13. The flu is the worst 🙁 Hope you’re feeling better. I definitely avoid certain topics in my writing as I’m not sure how to pull them off or that I might offend someone unintentionally. It’s a tricky one. You got a lot of really interesting comments. I’m encouraged by the folks who say write what you feel driven to write and don’t worry about unintentionally offending someone.

  14. I will send you positive – and warm! – thoughts from here in FL! Hang in there, Loni – feel better! 🙂

  15. As the colds are running through my family, I can feel your pain, although I suspect your flu was worse. I don’t know if I can send you much warmth from Michigan, but when you’re feeling better, curl up next to your warm typewriter and use the cold weather to get some writing done.

  16. I’m glad that I was able to help a little. >_< I never meant that blog entry to suggest that writers shouldn't write the stories the way they see them, only that I think we writers should be aware of what it can be like when under-represented people are treated poorly in fiction. But like I said in the e-mail, I don't think that's an issue your stories have.

    Hope things warm up for you soon. ^_^

  17. I just may not listen enough to other people to be worried. That, or I don’t kill gay characters. 😉 Or black characters. Or any characters apparently. *grumble grumble* (My editor recently made me resurrect one.) You know, I think you just have to write the story the way you feel inspired to write it, wherever you’re at. The rest will hopefully get straightened out in the beta reading/editing. =)

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