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  • Writing Characters Unlike Yourself

    I am a white woman and usually find myself writing from a white female perspective. Why? Because I know white women best, seeing as I am one. Sometimes I write from perspective of a man, of people with other sexualities, or of people of different races or ethnicities from my own.

    It’s not an easy task. You absolutely cannot just sit down and write a character based on what you see in the media. You cannot write a character based on your one gay, black, or Jewish friend. If you do this, you’ll be sure to offend a reader, because it isn’t an accurate depiction. In fact, I had a professor who was writing a book about being the only white kid in an all black school. His depiction of black teenage males was both extremely stereotypical (all of the characters spoke in such heavy dialect that they sounded unintelligent) and highly offensive. All black people are not the same–in the way they look, act, talk, dress, etc., etc., etc. This man didn’t and wouldn’t do his research and in the end, will be the one that really looks unintelligent.

    Today I came across an article called “How to Write Women of Colour and Men of Colour if You are White” by Kayla Ancrum (http://kaylapocalypse.tumblr.com), a young adult novelist. I will discuss some key points from the article, but also be sure to read it in its entirety.

    First of all, you MUST do you research. Forget what you think you know about a group of people. If you are writing about a black woman, read a novel written by a black woman about a black woman. If you have a gay character, read a novel written by a gay man about a gay man, etc.

    “Then,” Kayla writes, “I would delve into ‘complaints.’ There are thousands upon thousands of articles where black women complain about their portrayal in media. These complaints are both valid and often eloquently expressed.” This can be applied to any character you are writing outside your realm of knowledge. If you are writing from a gay male’s perspective, think of all the things going on in the LGBTQ community right now. There are bound to be a plethora of blogs about what somebody from that community feels or thinks.

    “Basically, if you are going to write a character who is not like you, it takes work and time. Lots of work and time,” Kayla writes. She’s right.

    Read Kayla’s entire article here: Media Diversified

    Please leave comments to let us know about your experiences in writing characters different from yourself in some way.

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    Elemental Conversations: Damien Cowger

    Damien Cowger’s work has appeared in various journals including The Southeast Review and The Rumpus. He was the winner of the 2012 Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Poetry Contest in the short form category. He lives in Harrisburg, PA and is the Managing Editor of New Ohio Review. Follow him @damiencowger.

    Damien Cowger

    3ER: Was there a specific element that sparked the idea for your poem?

    DC: Honestly, no. I had been playing with the idea of writing about La Llorona, and had already banged out a few raw lines. When I came upon the elements (helix, hammock, cower), they ended up solidifying the idea I was going for. Helix, I think, was the most beneficial.

    3ER: If you could choose any three elements, what would they be?

    DC: Just for the challenge: licorice, gangrene, and phrenology.

    3ER: Describe your writing process.

    DC: My process is incredibly sporadic and arguably pathetic. I’m the father of a rowdy toddler, and the Managing Editor of New Ohio Review. I like to blame these things for my not being more productive, but really, the time is there. I think it’s there for all of us, but PS3s and Hulu Plus are devilish temptations.

    3ER: Who are your favorite writers?

    DC: Kathryn Nuernberger is my favorite poet, and my wife Ashley is my favorite fiction writer. I’d read their grocery lists. In Ashley’s case, I do. But if I didn’t know her, I still would.

    3ER: What book/story/poem do you wish you had written? Why?

    DC: I wish that I’d written the poetry collection Rag and Bone by Kate Nuernberger. I’m jealous of her ability to make colors dance, and her flawless choreography of text and science.

    3ER: Do you write in a certain place? Listen to music? What are your rituals?

    DC: I don’t have a particular place, no. My most successful work starts in my little black book, in pen and ends on my laptop, in Word. With that kind of mobility, I can work when I’m ready—instead of forcing myself to work, which I don’t respond well to. Rituals work for lots of people, people more successful than me, but make me feel claustrophobic and unhappy.

    Excerpt from Damien’s poem, La Llorona Outside Apartment 96:

    I peeked through dusty blinds, sometimes looking over my shoulder

    to make sure that my wife still dreamed of the spiders that cower deep in her brain, and the

    things they snare in elegant webs.

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    Elemental Conversations: Susan Tepper

    Susan Tepper is the author of four published books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry. Her current title “The Merrill Diaries” (Pure Slush Books, July 2013) is a novel in stories spanning one decade that begins in 1976 and takes the reader on a wild ride over two continents. Tepper has received 9 Pushcart Nominations, and shares a Pulitzer Prize Nomination with Gary Percesepe for their epistolary novel “What May Have Been.” www.susantepper.com

    Susan Tepper

    3ER: Was there a specific element that sparked your story idea?

    STThe word helix was very intriguing to me.   It conjured up universes.

    3ERIf you could choose any three elements, what would they be?

    STDirt, diamonds, gloves

    3ERDescribe your writing process.

    STI write every day.  I have a sweet new room I fixed up.  The walls are pale yellow and there are things I like around me.  But for all last year I wrote ‘on the road’ in cafes, hallways, hospital rooms, and wherever else life led me.

    3ERWho are your favorite writers?

    STWilliam Trevor and Edna O’Brien are tops for fiction.  Poet loves include Simon Perchik, Wendell Berry, Louise Gluck and many more.

    3ERWhat book/story/poem do you wish you had written? Why?

    ST: Anything of Hemingway’s.

    3ERWhy do you think writing matters?

    STIt will (hopefully) be saved as a living reminder of how we got through our days.

    3ER: What do you want to tell readers about your piece?

    ST: It made me lonely for summertime. 

    3ER: Where can we read more of your work?

    STMy website www.susantepper.com lists all my published books.  My new book ‘The Merrill Diaries” is available from my publisher Pure Slush Books, and wherever books are sold.

    3ER: Do you write in a certain place? Do you listen to music? What are your rituals?

    STIn the pale yellow room I mentioned above is where I now write.  I don’t listen to music while writing, it distracts me.  I light a vanilla candle in a metal type of shrine thingy from India.

    3ER: What is the weirdest dream you’ve ever had?

    STThat I was dreaming that I was dreaming, that I was dreaming that I was dreaming, etc etc etc.  It went on infinitum…very strange.  I kept trying to fight my way through the layers of ‘dream’ to reach reality but I couldn’t  (in the dream).

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