Ep. 197: Can I Write a Main Character Outside my Race?

Today in this mini-episode, Rachael talks about whether it’s a good idea to write outside your race, as well as what to do when you’re bored stiff by your own book. And what about virtual retreats? 

How Do You Write Podcast: Explore the processes of working writers with bestselling author Rachael Herron. Want tips on how to write the book you long to finish? Here you’ll gain insight from other writers on how to get in the chair, tricks to stay in it, and inspiration to get your own words flowing. 

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Rachael Herron: Welcome to “How do you Write?” I’m your host, Rachael Herron. On this podcast, I talk to authors about how they write, what their process is and how their lives fit together. I’ll keep each episode short so you can get back to writing.

[00:00:15] Well, Hello writers! Welcome to episode #197 of “How do you Write?” I’m Rachael Herron. Thrilled that you’re here, it is a mini bonus episode today although it might not be so mini cause I got some things to say and I’ve got a bunch of questions to answer. So stick around. What is going on around here? Big news you may have already heard, but J Thorn and I have stopped doing The Writer’s Well. For a many really good reasons but if you are a fan of the show, don’t worry, mom and dad are not divorcing. We are still together, just not doing the show anymore. We love each other just as much, but we’re both going kind of new directions in our careers, which you all will hear about as we move forward and we needed to cut back on some things. And this was a thing that we immediately agreed, needed to go. Even though it breaks our heart. So, that show The Writer’s Well was awesome. If you’ve never listened to it, start at the beginning, there’s 190 episodes and basically we talk each other through the process of becoming full time writers. [00:01:28] I had only been one for a few months when we started the show and he became one the next year, and we’ve been talking to each other for the last four years and it’s been wonderful. And I miss him already. I missed the listeners already, but it gives me more time to do the things that are important to me right now. So that was a big thing that happened this week. And what else, I am about to finish that last revision of Hush Little Baby before copy edits. And I always say it, but I’m always discovering again that, this is the sweetest spot, all the words that are in the right place, they’re going to stay and I’m just massaging them and making them better and fixing a little bit of plot stuff, but, and a little bit of character stuff, but very minor so it’s really, really enjoyable and fun. And I should have that done tomorrow. So that’s exciting. And what other news? I also got a new computer because my old six-year-old MacBook air finally gave up the ghost. And I have to say I’ve got a new Mac book pro loving it, except that in order to plug in anything that is USB, you must use a USBC hub, and the only way to keep that from disconnecting the wireless is to wrap the hub in tinfoil. So my brand new, very expensive computer is sitting on my desk with a hub that is wrapped in tinfoil. And people I think that is janky. Come on, Mac. Get it together. However, I love everything else about it. And perhaps my computer won’t crash all the time, including when I am making podcasts and videos and being on zoom, it’s pretty important. [00:03:04] So that is fun. A shout out again to YNAB. YouNeedABudget Y-N-A-B.com. They are the ones who taught me how to use money at a very late age and allow me to do things like put money away every month for the new computer. So even though this was an expensive computer, I just moved the money over from where I had it in a special savings account for our next computer in our family and paid it off in full. And that gives me a lot of pleasure and a lot of pride. I just, honestly, we put it on the Apple card in order to get like the money back, but I just paid it off and it felt so good. It felt so good to be able to do that. So if you’ve, if you struggle with money, if you struggle with debt, YNAB.com got us out of $125,000 worth of debt. [00:03:53] So it was no small thing when I learned how to use money. Long after I should have knowing how to use money. So yes, gonna answer some question, but first of all, let’s talk politics just for a minute. You listeners are so wonderful. I got some pushback emails and comments from the last show in which I kind of castigated Trump. And what I love is that many of us all agree that 98% of us want the same things. Even if we are on different sides of the political spectrum, we want to be happy. We want to be free. We want the people who are not treated fairly and equally now. To be treated fairly and equally, we all want that. We want our families to be safe. We all want to be loved. And I love that kind of reaching across the aisle. We’re humans. That’s what we want. Even if we’re using different words and different rhetoric. However, I would like to talk just a little bit about some stuff that has been happening and how I feel about it. It’s been another emotional week and first of all, real quickly, COVID deaths in the United States of America have reached 180,000. If Trump and his group had put together the correct response, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, as well as many other research reports and other countries reporting we could have had 90% fewer deaths and 90%, fewer contractions of the disease. [00:05:38] That means that 18,000 people would have died, not 180,000 people who have died because we did a bad job. Everybody else. In the world, most countries have a lockdown COVID, they’ve eradicated it and they are now back to business. They’re doing sports and going to schools and going to libraries safely, without fear. We screwed that up. So royally, I’ll put the link to the research in the show notes. HowDoYouWrite.net But I can’t do the math real quick. 162,000 people would have been saved had we acted earlier just like everybody else in the world has, this is why we can’t leave our country. We are not allowed to go places because America is too dangerous. No one will let us in right now. And that drives me in cra- that drives me insane. Just absolutely crazy. The people who are behind Trump, many of the people who vote for Trump, they are, many of them are pro-life. This however is anti-life and there is no way that there’s any possible way to excuse- sorry about that, the death of 162,000 Americans who didn’t have to die. 18,000 of them probably would have. But 162,000 who didn’t and those numbers are still going up. Taking a deep breath. Another thing that has happened last night was the Republic, the national convention. It’s this week, it’s been really fun and amusing to watch on Twitter. [00:07:12] However, Mike Pence said that a federal officer was shot and killed during the riots in Oakland, California. That is absolutely true. But he failed to mention that the person who killed the federal officer was a right wing extremist member of the Boogaloo movement, Steven Carrillo. He’s a 32-year-old air force Sergeant who came into town in order to perform this killing during the BLM protests. He is a white wing extremist and Mike Pence, absolutely deceived people when he said, when he tried to cast it off of the riots had killed his officer. No, Steven Carrillo did. He is now in jail for it. The fact is, is that right wing extremists have killed 329 people in this country. And Antifa, antifascist. Like I am, I am a guest fascism have killed zero. Absolutely not one. Right wing extremist 329. Antifa, none. BLM movement, none. This week, Jacob Blake was shot seven or eight times. They’re not quite sure yet in the back by a police officer. Look, I worked for the, the police department for a long time. Cops are trained not to kill anyone unless a life is being threatened. They’re trained not to kill anyone unless a life is being threatened. It doesn’t matter what’s on their record. It doesn’t matter what’s in their car. It doesn’t matter unless they have a weapon in their hand and could kill someone. They shot him in the back as he opened the car door where his three children were inside. Thank God that Jacob Blake is alive. He’s going to be paralyzed if he makes it, I hope that he does so he can sue and own Kenosha. He absolutely deserves that.  [00:09:16] The next night during the protests, the town Kenosha was filled by right wing militia who wanted to help out the police. They actually asked the chief of police to deputize them, the chief refused. However, 17-year-old, white boy, Kyle Rittenhouse drove 30 miles into Kenosha with his long gun shot, three of the protestors killing two of them, and then walked out past the officers while people screamed at the officers that that kid had just killed people. He went home, he was not stopped by the officers. He went home, and slept. He went home and slept and then was arrested the next day. He, he was in the front row at a Trump rally in Des Moines. Very, very front row. He’s very blue lives matter. He’s very pro-gun. Blue lives matter is not a thing people. You’re not born a cop. You can’t, you, when you take off your cop uniform, you don’t, you’re, you can’t be identified as a cop. Although that could be argued. I can usually pick a cop out from a long way, even when they’re not in a uniform. It’s about the voice, but they’re not born that way. Black lives cannot take off their skin. They are in danger all the time when they are walking around this country because systemic racism has been embedded into every single facet of our society. [00:10:50] And it’s really, really exciting right now, as we are finally becoming a country that is talking about this, where white people are talking to white people and calling them in their bullshit and I really appreciate that we can have this dialogue that you and I can talk about this in a reasonable manner. And li- listen, you know this about me already though. I am not interested in talking about it in unreasonable manner. I like to deal with facts, things that are true. And all of this stuff I know is hard to talk about. It’s hard to hear. So I thank you for listening and for thinking about this stuff and for whatever you are doing to try to help anti-racism to try to move two-word racial justice in this country. It is not something that I can do. It’s not something that you can do by yourself. It’s something that we all have to do together, which is why I talk about it on the show. And honestly, if it offends you that much, you shouldn’t listen to this show. So peace be with you. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass, but the majority of you, like I said, 98% of you are good. [00:12:09] And you know, that the stuff that is happening is wrong. And with that, I will just say, thank you for whatever you are doing. Not just tweeting or Facebooking, but actually, what are you doing? What are you doing to affect change? Just ask yourself that. Please feel free to let me know what you are doing to affect change. I would love, love to see that. I’ve been more on Twitter lately. Please feel free to hit me up there because it’s an easy way to respond back. And I’m RachaelHerron there. So politics to the side. Now let’s move into some writing questions. I told you, this was not going to be a mini episode, even though that’s well, we’re calling it. [00:12:50] Okay. So here’s a great question from Thomas who always has good questions. He says, my question is, “Do you have any coping strategies to share regarding that phase in revision when you feel like you just can’t go on anymore? When you’re so sick and tired of the story that you just want to move on and leave the work unfinished. I’m about two thirds through, with the second draft in my first book and I’m finding myself exhausted at times. Taking a break is really not an option for me because when I set my mind on something, I’m so stubborn that I just have to push through somehow.” Oh, I was not going to tell you to take a break. Some people, for some people that can work. For me, I’m more like you Thomas, I cannot take a break when I’m trying to push through something. I am a pusher, I’m a mover. I like to get my shoulders up against the door and all of my weight behind it to push that door open. I am completely where you are during every single revision of every book and during the first draft. Usually about two-thirds of the way through, I lose all hope and all heart and especially when you’re in that second draft, it is the hardest draft to write. This will be the most that you struggle with your book. Usually there are exceptions, but this will usually be the biggest revision out of many. And I call that the Hoot, that you’re right in the middle of the who cares draft. Cause nobody cares. Nobody outside of your brain is waiting for this book, even though a friend or a spouse might say, can’t wait to read your book. Nobody’s waiting for it. Nobody’s lying in bed right now thinking, “Oh boy, I can’t wait to read Thomas’s book. [00:14:27] Nobody cares, including ourselves. We lose the heat and the spark of the idea, and it happens to everyone. So when it happens to all of you who are listening, be pleased, that means you’re a working writer and you’re in exactly the right spot. What I do about that is, I’d like to have some kind of touchstone image in mind, it could be a scene in the book. It could be the kernel of the idea that got you to want to write this book. Something that can still excite you, when you think about it. It could be a phrase, a quote. It could be a line from the book itself. It could be a line from music, whatever inspired you to write this book, write that down. If you can’t remember, which is usually my case, I flipped through the book until I find something that excites me. And I write that down because I can look back at that and say, this is why I’m writing it. What is your reason for writing this book? What change do you want to make on the world with this book? Write that down and get excited about it. The other thing that I do is I look forward in my, I usually have a sentence outline. So I know all the scenes that are coming up and I will, if I hate the scene I’m in, I’ll jump forward to the scene that I’m most excited to write next. So I don’t really go out of order and I never go backwards. But I sometimes jump forward if I’m just not feeling what I’m doing. And unfortunately, a lot of times when you do that, you realize later you didn’t need that scene you were actually stuck in that you were working in. But don’t tell yourself that now. Because your- the forefront of your brain will say, no, of course I need that chapter. [00:16:15] That is part of my book. It’s part of my thesis, it’s part of where I’m going with this. So believe that for now and just move forward to the next thing that you’re excited to do. The other thing is just butt and chair time. And you know that Thomas when you sit down and you open up the damn document and you look at the damn file again, and you say, okay, I’m here for 45 minutes or an hour and a half, or whatever it is you’ve got that day and I’m just gonna work and you just keep putting one foot in front of the other. The problem with the who-cares-draft-feeling is it can last for a while. I usually want to get out of it in a couple of days. And honestly it usually takes me a couple of weeks, maybe up to a month to get out of? And that is just sitting in the chair every day, kind of dreading what I’m doing, disliking what I’m doing and every once in a while catching something that is really beautiful and feeling okay, maybe there’s something in this book, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that I believe that the book I’m writing is a very bad idea and I should never have spent this time on it and I should probably throw it out. It’s not an exaggeration. That is how I feel and that is how a lot of writers feel when they are in the position you are in. So just remember, that you are doing it right and keep moving forward. Keep moving forward, it’s, it’s like the sun going behind the clouds. You know, when we talk about it in meditation there, the sun is still up there somewhere. It just takes a while for those clouds to move out of the way. And the only way to move those clouds is to keep doing the work. So that’s a terrible, mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean? Thank you, Thomas. You always get the best questions. [00:17:52] Maggie, also an excellent question asker. Hello Maggie. She says, “You have mentioned a few times that you keep getting edits that your thrillers are emotional more than stabby, and we know you write gorgeous women’s fiction.” Thank you. “So what prompted the move to thriller and what keeps you wanting to write in it?” So I love reading deep, dark women’s fiction that is about family drama, family trauma that needs to be fixed. I love writing it and I love reading it because I am good at character work. I am good at knowing how people relate to each other and how badly wrong that can go. However, I’m one of those people that in difficult times, I like to read books in which the people are having a harder time than I am. Many people during difficult times, like we’re all going through right now. Many people reach for lighter, happier, softer books and I do that sometimes. I know I told all of you about the house, The House in the Cerulean Sea, which was just one of the lightest, most delightful books I’ve read in years. [00:18:58] And that just cheered me up. But other times I like to know that this woman is going through terror, trouble, stalking, whatever it is. And my heart beats faster and I’m lying in bed reading, and I know she’s going to be okay because I’m reading this book. I can think of one exception of a thriller where that wasn’t true and I’m still mad about it. But I won’t say it cause I don’t want to spoil anything. But, but if you read it, you know which one I’m talking about. And I like, so thrillers for me, kind of give that happily ever after, that a lot of people get from reading romance. Thriller gives me, usually the feeling that everything is gonna be okay. Tana French, no spoilers. Tana French has done a couple of books in which it doesn’t end up okay. But somehow she manages to meet and surpass reader expectations. So that can be done too, but that’s why I write it because I love it so much. I would say the majority of the books I read are thrillers followed by memoir, followed by a women’s fictions and nonfiction. And I do read quite a bit of nonfiction too. So, yeah, I write all those things because I love all of those things. Thanks. That’s a good question. And then Maggie says, “Authors rave about your retreats, Europe and local. Do you see a place or value in virtual retreats with the new normal? If so, what core elements of your- in person retreats would be essential to retain in a virtual format?” I love this question Maggie, because I am putting together, as soon as I get this deadline done and another deadline, I’m putting together a virtual retreat. So, I will keep all of you posted, but I have been to a couple of virtual retreats, and went in highly skeptical. Thinking I’m at my house, I’m on zoom. This was actually pre-pandemic even.  [00:20:54] How can this be a retreat? And it depends on how the retreat leader structures it, basically when you’re doing a virtual retreat, the retreat leader should put a very clear box around the time in which you are inside that retreat. So there needs to, you need everyone who is attending, needs help delineating that space for themselves so that it isn’t a normal day. It’s not a work day. It’s not a day where the kids are swinging from your arms. It is a day that you need to be supported, to be available for the retreat, for the other participants to do the work. And I honestly think it can be just as good as an in-person retreat. And maybe even better because you get to sleep in your own bed at night and I have such sleep issues. I love doing the retreats but I never sleep on them, honestly, because of those sleep issues. So I love going to bed in my own bed. I think I’m gonna do a one-day retreat to start and if that goes well, I might branch it out to a two or a three-day retreat, but that would probably just be in the mornings. Because two or three days of sitting in front of zoom, doing things that would be too much for anyone, but a one-day retreat would kind of, it’s going to be kind of all day with a couple of big breaks in it. So if that is interesting to you, make sure that you are on my email newsletter list for writers, which you can subscribe to at RachaelHerron.com/Write   [00:22:22] I swear to you Maggie doesn’t even know that I was planning on doing virtual retreats, I don’t think so. Thanks for asking that, Maggie. Also Maggie, you know me really well. If there’s something that I need to put into my retreat that you want to make sure I don’t leave out, let me know. Speaking of the retreats though, I cannot foresee a time where I’m going to feel completely comfortable leading an out of country retreat. Again, I am still out $20,000 from the hotel in Barcelona from March. They, they tell me every single month that they are, they are refunding the money this month and I still don’t have it. So you know, really gun shy that money belongs to my retreatants and I haven’t been able to give back to them. And that is essential for my mental health. So it’s gonna happen. I will get that money. But I am once bitten, twice shy. I am really nervous about leading another retreat in these days, besides, who knows when we’re going to get to leave the country. So until then, virtual retreats, I think are going to be really fun and awesome and useful. And that goes for anybody. Anybody can write to me, tweet at me, and tell me what you would like to see in a virtual retreat. That’s going to be fun to put together. So thank you, Maggie.  [00:23:40] And another question, last question from Anita, and this is a fantastic question. For my next novel, I’ve chosen a- Oh, there’s something, okay- a 16-year-old protagonist who is an immigrant from Peru. I’m always worried that I will be accused of misrepresenting a culture that isn’t my own, although I’m half Latina and my husband’s Peruvian, it isn’t the same. Should I write this book or should I only write characters, who is this, who are the same as me, half white and half Latina? If the answer is, yes, please also speak about authors who write a main character of the opposite gender, or does this quote unquote rule only applied to race. Thanks. Anita, you are an own voices writer. This is my professional opinion and others may disagree with me on this, but the fact that you are half Latina, and that your husband is Peruvian, it means that you can own this experience of a Peruvian immigrant. I would be more concerned if you were trying to write a black character, and the reason for that is if we are writing a story that is about a person, the main character who is a race that is not our own, I really believe we should be holding the place for that book to be written by a person of the same color of- as the main character. [00:25:11] However, in our books, we want them to reflect the multicultural world in which we live. So if we are a white writer, don’t have all the characters around your main character, be white, have them be gay, black, Asian, disabled, all the things that you might not be. Just like, I am sure your friend group is or could be, if you wanted it to be, that reflects actual reality? But if we’re white, main character should be white. If the writer is not white, I think that they should be writing in the race that they are. The exception for that and this is a really weird exception and this is where I may get- I might get a lot of email about the show, but the exception to this is, if you’re black or if you’re Latin X, or if you are a Bipoc writer, I say you get to write a white main character whenever you want. Because reverse racism isn’t real. So, Bipoc writers get to write whatever the hell you want, keeping in mind that perhaps a Latin X writer might not want to write a black character, that character might not want to write a Latin X main character, but if you all want a bright white, any time, absolutely. You have been living in this white supremacist culture. You get to write in it whenever you want. It’s kind of like me being queer. I’ve written three or four queer characters right now. But I write about straights all the time because we live in a heteronormative society and I’m able to do that. So boy, am I getting a lot of email for this, but anyway, Anita, absolutely write that character it’s fabulous. Yeah, the other, the other question about gender I feel very comfortable writing about men, writing from a male point of view because we live in a patriarchal society and I know a lot about men because of that. Men who write in women’s voices, with a woman main character I’m also totally down for that. As long as they can use their imagination, maybe get a sensitivity reader and don’t have their breasts move boobly when they walk down a set of stairs. Cause I think we’ve talked about this recently, but men, no woman ever thinks about her boobs unless they hurt, unless they’re flapping around as she’s running. [00:27:44] No woman ever looks down at her body and says, “Hmm, my breasts are sexy!” It doesn’t happen. And I have seen it hundreds of times in male written books, including the first page of this New York Times’ bestseller. A bookseller actually took me over to the book while we were talking about it. She goes, check this one out. It was on the New York Times’ best seller list. It was number one that week and that happened on the first page, the male writers’ female main point of view character looked down and admired her breasts. It doesn’t happen men. So otherwise, the gender thing I think is a to me is much more of a flexible, just like, just like gender is a spectrum. People play with that, but keep in mind what you’re doing. Try not to be offensive. Sensitivity readers are amazing. Pay them well, and that’s what I got to say about that.  [00:28:40] So, wow! What a fun, exciting show. I have a lot of opinions today, apparently to share with you. And if you’ve been watching on YouTube, sorry that my face froze. I was worried that I lost all the audio, but I didn’t. It’s still there. So that’s fabulous. I guess I’m still struggling with this new computer a little bit. I want to say thank you for listening. Thank you for supporting me, thank you for letting me support you. That is truly the second most important part of my job. The number one most important part of my job is the writing. The second most important and really beloved part of my job is supporting you. So please let me know how I can do that better. If you would like to pledge to Patreon at the $5 level, I can be mini coach too, and answer any of your questions. That’s at patreon.com/Rachael. And I hope that y’all have a good week that you stay safe from hurricanes and fires and floods and COVID, and remember some self-care as well as getting some writing done. Okay my friends, we’ll talk soon. 

Thanks so much for joining me on this episode of “How do you Write?” You can reach me on Twitter, twitter.com/RachaelHerron, or at my website, www.rachaelherron.com, you can also support me on Patreon and get essays on living your creative life for as little as a buck an essay at www.patreon.com/rachael spelled R, A, C, H, A, E, L and do sign up for my free weekly newsletter of encouragement to writers rachaelherron.com/write/

Now, go to your desk and create your own process and get to writing my friends.

The post Ep. 197: Can I Write a Main Character Outside my Race? appeared first on R. H. HERRON.

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Ep. 197: Can I Write a Main Character Outside my Race?