Monthly Archives: March 2017

Please, call me out!

Bullhorn.In the last few years, calls for diversity in both writing and publishing have gained more and more attention. We still have a long way to go in terms of representation, but I find the current dialog encouraging. Something I’ve seen on the rise recently (or at least getting more widespread attention recently) is readers discussing books with representation they find problematic. A disappointing, though not surprising, result of this is backlash against the readers who call out problematic books.

There have been so many cases recently. A reader points out a harmful depiction of a character’s race, gender identity, mental illness, etc. The author responds with public claims that they’re being attacked. Friends of the author gang up on the reader and cry bully, sometimes without even seeing the original review or statement that “attacked” the author.

I applaud authors who try to write diverse characters respectfully. Those who do their research, who learn about the cultures and experiences they’re trying to represent, who work with readers who share their characters’ identities, are doing some great work. And even they get it wrong sometimes.

I am a cisgendered heterosexual white woman from a middle-class background, and not all of my characters are cis hetero white women. I do a lot of research, and I do my best to listen to members of the communities my characters belong to. And I know I won’t get everything right. First of all, there’s no universal Black/Latinx/trans/Deaf/etc. experience, so different readers from those communities may respond differently to my characters. But, as a writer, I’m writing for my readers. Especially my Black/Latinx/trans/Deaf/etc. readers.

So if I write something that hurts those readers, I want to know. I want to know as soon as possible, because I don’t ever want to do it again. And if you call me out in private, I’ll publicly share what you found harmful or problematic, so other writers can learn from my mistakes, and so readers can hear me say, “I got this wrong, I’m sorry, and I’ll do my best to do better.”

Authors, we need to be more open to criticism, especially when it comes to matters of representation. Good intentions are great, but if I step on your foot, whether I intended to do so or not, your foot still hurts. If I’m a decent human being, I won’t gather my friends and demand you stop crying and suck it up because I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’ll apologize and be more careful of where I step in the future.

Good representation can save lives. And bad representation can really, really harm our teens. Here’s just one story, but there are many, many others. Follow awesome people like L.L. McKinneyJustina Ireland, and Debbie Reese and you’ll see what I mean. Listen. Learn.

And if you’re called out, don’t attack the reader who’s trying to save other readers from getting hurt. Apologize, and do better next time.

Readers, if I step on your foot, please tell me.

Advertisements

Organizing a prom dress giveaway

Project Fairy Godmother Prom Dress Giveaway.This month I organized the First Annual Project Fairy Godmother Prom Dress Giveaway at my library. I was overwhelmed and humbled by the positive community response — when we put out a call for donations, over 300 dresses came in, and the event was shared both in person and on Facebook and Twitter many, many times! This was truly a group effort, and I could not have done it without the help of many people. If you think an event like this would be good for your community, and have questions for me, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! And if you want another perspective, check out this blog post by the extraordinary Regina Townsend that gave me the idea for this program.

November/December

I started planning for our mid-March event in November. The first thing I had to do was make sure we had a place to store donated dresses. Thankfully, we have a lot of storage space in our basement, and were able to lay down plastic sheets so the dresses (stored in garment bags) would not get dusty. I also reached out to co-workers and community members to see if anyone had clothing racks we could borrow to store donations and display them the day of the event. Thankfully, word of the program spread to someone who suggested we talk to Community Hospital, who let us borrow some clothing racks that they use for their Coats for Caring program in the fall.

January

We began collecting donations just after New Years’ and continued up until the day before the event. Next year, I plan to give myself at least a week between accepting the last donations and holding the program. I was fortunate that Circulation and Maintenance staff were extremely helpful in collecting and storing donations. We collected dresses and prom-related accessories, including shoes, purses, jewelry, and shawls.

I also reached out to local businesses that provided prom-related services, to ask if they would be willing to donate anything. One local salon offered discount coupons, and another donated gift baskets to be raffled off. A local jewelry salesperson also donated a few pairs of earrings and rings. Finally, a staff member’s wife who does alterations volunteered to do free alterations at the event.

February

Promotion, promotion, promotion! I continued collecting donations, and advertised the event everywhere I could think of. In addition to the library’s social media, I sent flyers to my contacts at the local high schools, and our Marketing Coordinator promoted the program on the local radio station. The local paper contacted me and ran a front-page article about the event, which really helped spread the word. I’m also fortunate to have the student body president of the public high school on our Teen Advisory Board. He reads the announcements every day, and talked up the program in the weeks leading up to it.

I also started getting dresses cleaned in February. A local dry cleaner offered us a significant discount on cleanings, and was even kind enough to drop off clean dresses and pick up the next round of gowns at the library. They expressed interest in partnering with us again next year, and I look forward to working with them!

Finally, I arranged for a mix of staff and volunteers to help with the event.

March

I continued to promote the program and collect donations. Our Maintenance manager helped come up with a setup for the program room and built temporary changing rooms in the most impressive transformation of a storage room I’ve ever seen.

The day before, a volunteer and I spent the whole day sorting dresses by size, then by color within each size. I would not have finished on time without this volunteer’s help. As it is, we started at noon on a Saturday, and even with the help of two volunteers we were still getting things ready at 11:58. Next year, I’ll give myself an extra day to set up.

On the day of the event, I had volunteers working the “checkout” (all we asked was to see a high school ID), tracking how many dresses were given away (30 total) and what schools the shoppers came from; returning dresses that didn’t fit to their racks; helping girls as “personal shoppers”; and staffing the accessory tables.

We also had a red carpet and a photo booth just outside the program room. I’m debating whether to have these again next year or not; if I do, I think I’ll try to get the photo booth inside the program room, because no one really took pictures in their dresses. We also had giant thank you cards for our local partners for shoppers to sign as they left.

In all, this program was a lot of fun, and I consider it a big success for our first year. Working in a community where seventy percent of our students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, my goal with this event was to help our teens have a memorable prom without their having to stress over how to afford a dress. I look forward to hosting this event for many years to come.

Got questions about the Project Fairy Godmother Prom Dress Giveaway? Thinking of hosting your own giveaway? Let me know in the comments!

Writing advice from Albert Einstein

Happy Pi Day! In honor of Einstein’s birthday (3.14), I’d like to share some of my favorite advice from the physicist and how it applies to writing.

"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Or, put another way, give yourself permission to fail. Don’t be afraid to experiment with a new genre, a new format, a new type of character or viewpoint. There’s a good chance your first attempts will be messy. Aren’t all first tries messy, though? Van Gogh wasn’t born a master painter. NBA stars weren’t always the best player on the court. And most bestselling authors have been rejected by agents and publishers many times. Let yourself make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes.

"The only source of knowledge is experience."“The only source of knowledge is experience.” In other words, learn by doing. The best way to improve your writing is to write a lot. The second-best way is to read a lot — to experience and study others’ storytelling techniques.

What’s your favorite writing advice?

School-Library Partnerships

Library eBook.One of my favorite parts of my job as a teen librarian is partnering with local schools to promote a love of reading for pleasure. During my school visits, I always tell students how they can get a library card if they don’t already have one. Recently, however, I’ve been working with teachers and department heads at one of the local middle schools to provide eCards for all of their students.

eCards allow students to access several of our digital platforms — Axis360hooplaOverDriveFreegal, and Freading — using their student ID number as their library card number. While a full library card (which all students in our community can get for free) provides access to these resources as well, eCards expand access to eBooks and audiobooks for those who need it most: the ones who can’t get to the library to sign up for a full card. I am so excited to bring these resources to our students!

If you’re thinking about setting up a similar partnership, here are some things to consider:

  1. Who is your contact at the schools? In order to make the eCard program a success, I had to have buy-in from the head of the English Department. We had several meetings to work out the details, and when we were ready to go live, I was invited to present the resources students could access at a meeting of all the school’s English teachers.
  2. What will the logistics look like? How often will new students be added to the public library’s system? How often will those who leave be removed? Does every student have an ID number? Are all student IDs the same number of digits? Our Collection Services Manager had to work with our vendors to ensure students’ information could be added to our system so they could log in to our digital platforms.
  3. How will you tell students about it? In addition to promoting eCards on our website and social media, I have been talking up these digital resources when I visit classes and showing students how to use them.

We’re still in the early stages of using eCards, so I’ll have another post later with an update on how things are going. In the meantime, if you have any questions about starting a program like this at your library, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!